Nine Pints

by Rose George
First sentence: “There is a TV but I watch my blood.”
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Content: There are some mild swear words, and some frank talk about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. It’s in the science section of the bookstore.

This one, kind of obviously, is all about blood: what it does in the body, sure, but more about the business of blood, about donating and transfusions, about the history of bloodletting and leeches, and about the diseases that are transmitted by blood. It’s also about the stigma that surrounds blood: we like it when it’s in our body, but not so much when it’s not. It’s a fascinating look through the world of medicine and science surrounding blood.

I liked some chapters better than others. The chapter on donating reminded me that it’s been a while since I’ve donated, though I know they probably don’t use my blood and plasma for transfusions (something about hormones in a woman). I didn’t like the leeches chapter (it made my skin crawl!). I found the chapters about HIV and menstruation to be the most powerful. George focused on the stigma behind both in third-world countries (though we are not without it here) which I found fascinating.

Then again, I do like these pop-science books. George is much like Mary Roach, picking a topic and delving deep and making it interesting and accessible to those of use who are not scientists. It’s a fascinating book.

Audiobook: The Book of Delights

by Ross Gay
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s irreverent and sweary, including multiple f-bombs.

I was having a week where I was angry at everything. Did not matter what it was, I was just in a constant state of pissed-off-ness. I was scrolling through my audio books, and I landed on this one. “Hm,” I thought to myself, “maybe I need this one.”

I vaguely knew about Gay going in because he visited the store, and a lot of the staff really loved him. (A lot of the customers, too.) But I wasn’t ready for this book back in April, when it came out. I did, however, need it now.

The basic premise is that Gay, a black poet, spent a year — from his 42nd birthday to his 43rd — writing small essays on the things that delight him. Sometimes they wander into memories, sometimes into ruminations on race or the nature of Joy. Sometimes it was just him expressing delight in a simple touch, or the sharing of a flower, or conversation.

Whatever it was, it was all particularly delightful, especially as read by Gay. His reading, for me, was everything. He made me think, he made me laugh, and he made me look for the delights in my own life. (If you want a sample of him reading, check out his poem To the Fig Tree on the Corner of 9th and Christian.)

This book is, simply, a delight.

Running with Sherman

by Christopher McDougall
First sentence: “I knew something was wrong the second the pickup truck pulled into our driveway.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 15, 2019
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It will be in the sports section of the bookstore.

When our Random House rep came and pitched this book, he said (something to the effect of) he didn’t think that a book about burro racing would be a good read, but that this was fantastic. Since we all love him, we took him at his word, and I picked it up. And you know what? He’s right. This IS a fantastic read.

Chris McDougall and his wife ended up in Amish country by choice. They liked the idea of a simpler life, and so chose to get out of Philadelphia and live next door to people who shun most of modern technology. And so, when one of his neighbors (a Mennonite, not an Amish) begged Chris to take a neglected donkey off of a hoarder, Chris didn’t blink an eye. They christened the donkey Sherman, and had to figure out what to do with him. Another one of his friends mentioned that donkeys need a job, and Chris got a harebrained idea: he had heard of (and attempted to run, once) burro racing in Colorado and maybe, just maybe, that would be a goal for Sherman.

So, Chris and his wife Mika and some friends set about attempting to train Sherman for the World Championship Burro race. And the trip is SO worth the ride. Chris takes us through the ups and downs of healing a donkey — and a few people, as well — and prepping and how everything got figured out. And along the way, I was reminded that 1) connection with animals is important for humans (it’s a good thing we have a dog!); 2) connection with community — friends and wider than that, if possible — is important; 3) exercise and being out in nature is important; and 4) fear the thing, do the thing.

And the ending? The chapter in which Sherman got to run the burro race? I legit cried. It’s such a heartwarming and special and wonderful book!

Invisible Women

by Caroline Criado Perez
First sentence: “Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.”
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Content: There is some harsh facts about women’s health and some mild swearing. It’s in the sociology section of the bookstore.

An old high school friend of mine invited me to read this book as part of a book club she started on Facebook. She said she needed a sounding board to go off on as she read this book, and after finishing it, I can see why. Perez’s thesis is that women have not been included in studies — medical, transportation, housing, government, you name it — because the “typical human” is a 30-something, average height, white male. And since women — and I think this includes trans women, though Perez doesn’t talk about that — have different needs, patterns, biological responses, that means the lack of data is literally killing women. It’s an extreme position, but I think she has the data to back it up.

I found the book to be enlightening — while this is a first world problem, it’s more of a dire issue in places like Bangledesh and India, where assistance from first world organizations (often run by men) don’t think about the how the needs of women in those places differ from the needs of women in the first world, not to mention how the are vastly different from men. It makes me want to respond to this problem somehow, but I’m not entirely sure. Give to organizations that give assistance that are run by women? (That was an awkward sentence…) Vote for women, definitely. But: how do you change thousands of years of men being the “norm”? It’s disheartening. I suppose the least I can do is some of the small things: make sure I’m not defaulting male in my speech, in my thinking (I’ve already had to stop myself a few times) to be more inclusive. Because inclusivity is good. And making sure that women are represented is important.

Audiobook: The Sun is a Compass

by Caroline Van Hemert
Read by Xe Sands
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one out of my audiobook stash primarily because I’m a sucker for travel books, and this one — in which Caroline and her husband Patrick traverse from Bellingham, Washington to the Arctic Circle entirely on foot and boat over the course of six months –seemed to fit the bill.

A biologist by trade, Van Hemert also grew up in Alaska, and has had a need for adventure — or to at least be in the outdoors — her whole life. And she found a kindred spirit in Patrick, who (if I remember right) built his own cabin in Alaska (though he grew up on the East Coast) and lived in it for a year between high school and college. They are the sort of people to decide to spend six months trekking 4000 miles and then write a book about it.

I don’t mean to sound bitter (if I do); they are amazing people. And I’m glad that there are people like them out there. I’m not sure this one worked entirely in audio; while I was transfixed with the story, I was a bit frustrated I didn’t have a map. The places she was talking about (aside from Bellingham; I know where that is) were foreign to me. Sure, I could have stopped the book and Googled it, but I listen while I drive, and it wasn’t practical. That said, I did enjoy her story, the ups and downs of six months of backwoods hiking, and the reminder that the world is a big, wild place that has been here (and will be here) a lot longer than we humans.

Audiobook: Naturally Tan

by Tan France
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s sweary, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I’ve said this before: one of my truly guilty pleasures is reading celebrity memoirs. I’ve enjoyed learning their stories for years, but I especially love them in audio, particularly when the author reads the book. I am a collector of stories, and I feel it’s like we’re sitting in a room and they’re just telling me a bit about themselves. It humanizes them, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

And so, of course, since I love Queer Eye and I love celebrity memoirs, I was kind of destined to love this. It’s not perfect: you can tell that Tan is not really a writer, though he’s super smart, and after a while I did get tired of his use of “but,”. Even so, I did enjoy the book. I found out things about Tan that were super fascinating (and fun: he ADORES Salt Lake City and the members of the church, which I found charming) and I enjoyed the peek into how he got the Queer Eye job and what it’s been like filming the show.

The bonus material on the audio was worth it, too: Tan got Antoni to come and they had about a 10 minute conversation about the show, their friendship, and writing a memoir. Definitely added to my enjoyment of the book!

So, no, not perfect, but a lot of fun.

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
First sentence: “Many gods and goddesses are named in Norse mythology.”
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Content: There’s some odd situations, and a bit of violence. It’s with the other mythology books in the bookstore, but I’d give it to anyone who likes Norse mythology (like K, who wants to read this next).

This is exactly what it says it is: retellings of old Norse myths. Gaiman goes basically chronologically, beginning with with the creation of the nine words and the gods and the creation of Yggdrasil, the world-tree, and goes through to Ragnarock, and what that will be. There are stories about Thor and Loki and Frey and Freya and the giants.

It’s a good retelling, as far as retellings go — Gaiman is a talented writer, and it shows in this — though to be honest, I’m not fond of reading the myths in their original form. It’s kind of like reading short stories; I want something longer, something more cohesive. That said, I’m glad I read them, if only because I could see how Rick Riordan worked the myths into the Magnus Chase series.

I picked this up for book group, which is probably the only way I would have read it. It’s just not something I’m interested in reading. But, that said, I’m glad I read this.