December Reads with Peacefield History

In mid-December of 2017, I challenged myself to read more proactively on a regular basis. To keep myself accountable, I decided to post about my reading habits on Instagram, and then blog monthly about the books I’ve read. 

I only started this challenge midway through December, so I have a total of four books for this month. Still, I’m so glad I started this challenge! I find myself reaching for my book more often, and instead of just lounging on my phone, I open my kindle reader instead. Here’s a recap of the books read in December.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – This was the first book I picked up after I decided to start reading more proactively at the end of 2017. Honestly, I didn’t really love the story. For one, I didn’t really connect with the characters. While the main storyteller, Cora, was well defined, the secondary characters were not memorable. Whitehead also made a decision to turn the underground railroad into a real railroad in the story. This was a genius idea, but the magical element needed to be more clear. I’ve read that his purpose in doing that was so the narrator, Cora, could travel to more locations in a short period of time. I wish that the railroad had almost been written as though it was another character in the story. Instead, it just seemed as though it was an afterthought.

Whitehead set up the book so that each of the locations Cora visited was a different version of slavery. In theory, this is was also a very interesting concept, and it could have been really engaging to see how slavery played itself out in the locations visited. However, it really just made for a confusing narrative. All of history was smashed together. I was reading about elevators, and the Syphilis Tuskegee experiment and slavery museums, and it was all occurring at the same time. The railroad could have been magical, and the rest of the story could have stayed true to the real history. Instead, I spent most of my time confused. I couldn’t delineate what was real and what was imagined. Although this may have been purposeful on the part of Whitehead, it just wasn’t an enjoying read.

Girl at War by Sara Novic (2015) – I chose this novel because it explored a topic I’d like to know about more – The Yugoslav Wars.  In this novel, the main character, Ana, is a 10-year-old living in Croatia when war essentially arrives in the capital – Zagreb. This novel really demonstrated how quickly a family can lose control over everything once a war governs their existence. The story jumps between Ana’s life in Croatia, and her life once she escapes to the United States.

The prose flies, and I finished this book within two weekends. This story was one I found more engrossing, and I found myself thinking about the main character, and turning to the book when I had a spare moment. I would also consider this book for a high school classroom library. There’s nothing particularly gratuitous and the main character is really relatable.

It’s a debut for the novelist, Sara Novic. When I was reading the liner notes, I found out that the author was deaf. She noted that several readers had found her writing to be cinematic. I agree with that assessment. As I was reading, I kept imagining the scenes playing themselves out visually, and that’s not something I do with every book. It’s definitely worthy of a read.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017) – This book was picked after I glanced over the several “best of” book lists from 2017. It interweaves the lives of two families living in a small upscale community in Shaker Heights, Ohio. One of the families is a very traditional upper-class white family. All the kids are college bound, the parents have well-paying jobs, and their house is enormous. The second family consists of just a mother and her daughter – two transient drifters who wander into the lives of the upper-class family and become the source of instant and endless fascination.

I read this book very quickly within just three days. The character dynamics were believable and engrossing, and I woke up early on Christmas Day so I could finish the ending. Without judgment, this book intersects race and class and shows how those beliefs play out within a family. Put this one on your list.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Brunder (2017) – After three fictional books, I decided that it was time for some nonfiction. Nomadland peaked my interest with its investigation of the RV lifestyle that exploded after the economic downturn of 2008. The author followed retiree age RV campers for three years so that she could accurately tell their story. She found that while the RV lifestyle is often touted as a retiree’s dream, many of these campers, van dwellers, and RVers were living this way because they had been forced out of their homes when the economy collapsed in 2008. Most of them roamed the country working low wage jobs – like camp hosts, Amazon stockers, or beet pickers to make ends meet. Brunder even tried her hand working for Amazon to document the physical endurance required by the job.

I’ve always been attracted to the tenants of minimalism, so this book was an intriguing pick for me. Through the profiles of many intelligent people in their 60s and 70s, it demonstrated the instability of the free market system. I definitely don’t plan on living in an RV anytime soon and the Amazon aspect reminded me not to order anything I don’t truly need. (I was rather happy that I had at least purchased the book on the Kindle! At least I didn’t make some octogenarian sprint around a warehouse.) Definitely worthy of a read.

This month I decided to join Book of the Month. Book of the Month offers new releases at discount prices. This makes my heart happy because I always fondly look through the New York Times Book reviews, but can’t really afford to purchase all of the new titles. I also find myself struggling to decide which book I want to read next. With Book of the Month, I’m given five critically acclaimed books to choose from, and I can skip a month if I wish. It’s really helped to feed my reading addiction. You can keep up with all the books I’ve read, and the books I’m currently reading by following my Amazon Reading List.



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