Monday, March 4, 2013

The Week in Books

I meant to do this post yesterday, but I was having a Hard Pregnancy Weekend.  A Hard Pregnancy Weekend is when you are gassy, your back hurts, you feel generally miserable, and everything seems hopeless.  That being said, Baby Jack (that's its in-utero name, whether it's a boy or girl - which, incidentally, we will find out on March 21 - but until s/he starts breathing our air, s/he will have an in-utero name) where was I...oh, Baby Jack got a nice official blessing at church yesterday.  Reverend Shelley put her hand on my belly, and did a lovely prayer for the new little life.  It made me cry.

Ok, so, books.  Last week I finished three books.  I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up this pace - a couple of the books in my queue are a bit more challenging and will take a while longer, I think.  But still, it's nice to be getting through my Amazon wishlist.  Every week I go through my wishlist, which has been going since around 2004, and put three or four titles on hold at my library.  Some of them are in straight away, others have a longer wait.  So each week I'm guaranteed at least two or three new books from my wishlist.  I don't feel guilty using Amazon this way, while not buying their books, but instead getting them from the library.  I hadn't bought them up until now, so it's not like they were already getting the money.  Some of those titles have been on there since 2004.  If I haven't bought them in nine years, I'm probably not going to buy them.  Also, there are plenty of titles my library doesn't have, so Amazon is still getting plenty from me, thanks very much.  So I'm feeling ok about it.

This week I finished:

Girl in Translation
By Jean Kwok

This came up as a recommendation because apparently the entire world was going mad for it.  I'll admit, on the surface, it's not the kind of book that would appeal to me, seeing as how it contains very little chick-lit or history, which are my two preferred genres.  It's about a Chinese family consisting of mother and daughter, who emigrate to Brooklyn from Hong Kong, wind up working in a sweatshop while the daughter decides to use her talents in school to try to get the family out of the condemned life they seem to be living.  It's largely based on the author's life, and it opened my eyes to a whole world I didn't know existed.  There were some incredibly moving parts.  Like when the mother, who was paid about $2/hour cutting strings on skirts, found a roll of material in the garbage that they would make stuffed animals out of - some kind of nasty polyester or something.  She was already late for her shift at the factory, and couldn't risk taking it home then, but went back to the dumpster after work, and was overjoyed that it was still there.  She took it home and made blankets, tablecloths, rugs, and sweaters for the two of them, since it was so cold and they couldn't afford to run the heat.  For years, they would bundle up in stuffed-animal polyester to keep warm at home.  Seriously, people live like this.  In our country.  Right now.  People who are here legally, and are working.  That is just not right.  I don't know what I can do about it other than commit to buying clothes that weren't made in sweatshops, either here or in China, but it doesn't seem like much.

Murder of the Century
The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars
By Paul Collins

Ok, this book really got me.  In an age before DNA testing, pieces of bodies start turning up around New York.  The first conclusion everyone comes to is that it's "Medical Students" having a laugh.  But then someone notices that the cuts aren't the kind that a doctor would make.  And then someone at the morgue notices that the pieces fit together.  They eventually find an entire body, sans the head.  So the first mystery is identifying the victim.  How do you identify a victim in a city of 2 million people like New York in 1897?  The second storyline revolves around the newspapers, who decide to step in for the inept police force several times, and actually break open clues.  William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer are at war with each other, and each paper is determined to solve the mystery before the other, and before the police.  You could not make up some of the stuff they did.  When they had a suspect, Hearst's paper rented out the entire building, only letting the police in, and keeping Pulitzer's reporters from coming anywhere near, and cutting the telephone wires at all the pay phones nearby.  Can you imagine a crime scene now where NBC news just takes over, buys the land and won't let any other news outlets anywhere near?  It's just mind-boggling, how the detectives were able to do any work in an environment like that.  Once they had a clue where the head might be, someone spread a rumor that there was a reward for finding it, and over July 4th weekend, practically all of New York was out at the crime scene digging around trying to find the head.  Seriously.  It was nuts.  It was also pretty gruesome.  If you're easily grossed out, this book isn't for you.

The Innocents
By Francesca Segal

Frothy modern-Edith-Wharton-you-can-read-it-in-a-day kind of book centered around a Jewish family in Northwest London.  I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the Hampstead Heath.  But I wasn't keen on the ending, though I'm not sure it could have had any other.  (spoiler alert) Let me just say that all three of the books I read this week have had some kind of unplanned pregnancy, a miscarriage, a considered abortion, or a midwife who specialized in abortions in them, and I don't like hearing about all that when I'm pregnant.  I'm too superstitious.  The book I'm reading right now just mentioned abortion, too, and I had to skip to the next paragraph.  I don't like reading about all that right now.  There should be a warning on books: "This book may contain talk of dead babies.  If you are pregnant, you should avoid it."  So yeah, it was a fun read, but definite dislike on the miscarriage in the ending.

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