Saturday, April 16, 2016

Books of 2016 - #7 "The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey" by Ernesto Che Guevara

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Short Version: Excellent travel diary from Che in his pre-revolutionary days.

I was in Cuba recently and picked this one up at the Havana airport. I was aware of the movie (hadn't seen it), but didn't know that it was based on a book by Che. Ana is a fan so I figured I'd pick it up for the 6 hour plane ride home.

A quick read - it covers Che's trip across South America in the 50s with his friend Alberto Granado. It's funny, touching, and gives a sense of how Che developed into the historic figure we now know. He observes life and struggles across South America, including many encounters with lepers and indigenous people, and he's transformed by his experiences throughout the book.

Books of 2016 - #6 "Men Explain Things to Me" by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Short Version: Terrific collection of feminist essays from the woman who made the concept of 'mansplaining' popular.

My first 5 star book of the year! I bought this for Ana last year while we were staying in Pt. Reyes at the house that hosts The Mesa Refuge. Rebecca Solnit had done a residency there and her Infinite City atlas of San Francisco was there on the coffee table (itself is a wonderful book).

Solnit is famous (for among other things) the title essay of the book, which is noted for originating the concept of 'mansplaining.' For some reason, Amazon categorizes the book as humor, but while it has funny parts, it's quite a serious book. Solnit does a great job exploring various aspects of gender, feminism, patriarchy, etc. All of the essays were great, and I especially enjoyed "Woolf's Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable" and "Grandmother Spider."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Books of 2016 - #5 "Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South" by Angela Stuesse

Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South by Angela Stuesse

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Short Version: Ethnography and history of how Latinos entered and experience life in poultry processing facilities in rural Mississippi.

Really great work from Angela Stuesse - part of UC's Public Anthropology Series, which I came to know of after reading Jason De Leon's phenomenal Land of Open Graves (one of the best books I've ever read). She spent quite a lot of time working with workers in the chicken trade, and goes quite deep into how poultry farming became so big in the rural South.

I learned a lot about how capitalism works from this book, and it's pretty depressing. A bunch of good follow ups from her references and bibliography, which I always like. I'm especially interested in better understanding black labor organization and myths around work ethic.

Overall quality writing and I appreciated the explicit intros/summaries to make sure I was tuned in to the key issues.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Books of 2016 - #4 "God's Eye View" by Barry Eisler

God's Eye View by Barry Eisler

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Short Version: A thriller about surveillance in the post-Snowden era.

Saw some good tweets on this one so picked up the Kindle version. Decent quick read, definitely a page turner. The story brings together some interesting characters and has lots of action. Author is former CIA, and the story and tech involved is at least reasonably plausible. The writing style is a bit over-the-top for my taste but I imagine fairly standard for this thriller genre.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Books of 2016 - #3 "A Little Lumpen Novelita" by Roberto Bolaño

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolaño

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Short Version: Short novel about two orphaned siblings and a few other characters in Rome.

Ana got this book a few years back. Wanted to read some fiction so decided to check this one out. Really short read (maybe 110 pages), translated from Spanish. I like the writing style - tension increases a bit with each chapter.

The main character (written in first person) is an orphaned girl living with her brother in Rome. Two of the brother's 'friends' end up living with them, and some plotting and scheming ensue. I enjoyed the book and the author, but the book ended leaving me wanting more.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Books of 2016 - #2 "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Short Version: National Book Award winner - a long-form letter from the author to his son, trying to explain what it means to be black in America.

Second book of the year, had been interested in reading this one. The author has a way with words, and I love the format - it's written as a letter to his teenage son. As I understand it, he was inspired to write it by so many of the recent killings of black youth and men by police - Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, the list goes on and on.

It's depressing that a book like this needs to be written. The theme throughout the book is how black bodies are always (and have always been) at risk, and often for trivial or arbitrary reasons. Coates uses this thread to teach his son about blackness and whiteness and how he'll need to protect himself as he moves through the world.

I really liked the section focusing on his time at Howard University, and the story of how he visited the mother of one of his slain classmates' mother is pretty heartbreaking. Definitely a recommended read - it's only about 150 pages so it's a quick one but one that will make you think.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Books of 2016 - #1 "My Year of Running Dangerously" by Tom Foreman

My sister has a neat resolution for this year to read a book a week. I'm not quite that fast or ambitious so I'm shooting for 25 for the year. I'll write a little blurb for each one I finish.

My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Short version: Upper-class white guy and former high school track star overcomes no adversity to complete optional recreational pursuits.

Got this book as a Christmas present so decided to tackle it first. Tom Foreman is a reporter, currently with CNN. This book is about rekindling his running hobby via his college-aged daughter's request for him to train for a marathon with her. He'd done them before in his youth and was running 16 minute 5Ks in HS. The book runs through the training and completion of the marathon, and Tom's procession into ultramarathons, culminating in a 50 miler.

Unfortunately, Tom goes into laborious and unneeded detail on his training and races. The race recap of the 50 miler took 3-4 chapters. We ultrarunners hate overly detailed race reports, especially if there are no heroics or broken bones.

It's not that Foreman can't write, it's that there's no meat in this material. Nothing to be overcome, no battles to be won. Just a guy, who has natural talent for running, picking the hobby back up and bonding with his daughter. He and his wife have minor squabbles over his excessive training which is probably the height of the book's drama. Rather than write a book, this material should have been shortened to a page and included with their Christmas cards to friends and families. There is nothing in here to entertain or enlighten the public.

If you're interested in more personal/interesting/impressive stories of ultramarathons, check out Running Through the Wall or Ultramarathon Man.

On to the next book!

-JC