What I’m Reading

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Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Synopsis: Two soldiers on opposite sides of a galactic war fall in love.  Pursued by their enemies, they struggle to keep their young daughter safe.

Review: I’ve only within the last year dipped a toe into graphic novels.  I began with Congressman John Lewis’ March, progressed to Fun Home, gave superhero comic books a shot (unsuccessfully, but I’ll try again someday), and have now taken Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recommendation and started the epic series, Saga. I’m hooked, my friends.  Saga is smart and engrossing, and harks back to the likes of Romeo and Juliet and Star Wars while still feeling fresh.

I’ve read the first three volumes, and am currently biting my nails waiting for the others to become available at the public library. People of DC, give up volume four!

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The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

Synopsis: Kelsea has grown up in isolation, trained to be queen of the Tearling, and warned that she’ll likely be assassinated before she has the chance.  Now nineteen, she’ll attempt to claim her kingdom from the grasp of her regent uncle and an evil sorceress.

Review (so far): All hail book club for getting me out of my comfort zone! My dabbling in the fantasy genre is mostly limited to Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter. Please refrain at this time from pelting your computer screen with small, hard snack foods.

I read the first paragraph of The Queen of the Tearling and considered skipping book club this month.  And then, in a crazed, late-night thirty minutes, I read eighty more pages.  And now I can’t put it down.

I love and loathe being proved wrong so dramatically.

I won’t say that The Queen of the Tearling contains particularly unique or beautiful writing, but what Ms. Johansen does well is putting us inside Kelsea’s head and revealing the secrets of the Tearling to us as they are revealed to her.  In other words, the novel unwinds in such a way that you can’t put it down.  Which is a beautiful thing in its own right.

I do worry about this “evil sorceress” character, as she sounds like a cliché waiting to spring upon us, but we shall see.

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The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck

Synopsis:  Rinker Buck and his brother Nick spend a summer in a covered wagon, traveling the Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Baker City, Oregon. The book is about their adventures — alternatively poignant and hilarious — and about the Trail itself, past and present.

Review: A blogger I like recently called this book “the most boring book [she’s] ever read,” citing Rinker’s* ‘history of the mule’ chapter as an example.  This made me want to cry. What, did you think the Oregon Trail was all bells and whistles?  More like mules plodding and wind blowing day after day after day, with the occasional cholera outbreak or trampling to give you something to journal about.

Snark aside, she’s entitled to her opinion. 

But what she disliked about Rinker’s book is what I like most about it: there’s room in this book for explaining the history of the mule and for introspection about the author’s relationship with his father.  There’s room for dangerous windstorms and Muir-esque scenery descriptions.  There’s room to meet the people who allow — often with utter delight and hospitality — a 19th-century-style wagon to park in their front yards for the night.  This book is as wide open as the prairie and as varied, too.  It’s a journey memoir, my very favorite kind of story (see Wild, A Walk in the Woods, Into the Wild).

*Rinker is such a magnificent name that I couldn’t abandon it in favor of the more respectful “Mr. Buck.” I hope you understand.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Synopsis: Yes, that Barbara Kingsolver. Did you know she’s a biologist as well as a novelist?  And that she’s a memoirist as well as a biologist as well as a novelist? Ms. Kingsolver and her family, after moving to rural Virginia, decide to spend an entire year eating only what they grow themselves or is produced locally, with a few exceptions (like coffee). Animal, Vegetable, Miracle alternates between Ms. Kingsolver’s narrative, her husband Steven’s reports on science and the food industry, and her daughter Camille’s perspective and recipes.

Review: This book made for a heated book club discussion: Ms. Kingsolver’s writing is often self-deprecating, even more so sarcastic, but it’s a difficult business, telling people how and what they should eat. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral didn’t handle this subject as gracefully as it might have, instead tending toward preachy. Camille, for example, writes of judging peers in her college’s dining hall, even being rebuffed after telling them what they should be eating (you don’t say?), herself sensibly nibbling on greens from the salad bar.

I won’t argue with Ms. Kingsolver’s message: I agree that eating locally and sustainably is the best for the environment and for us, the eaters.  But I also know that privileged are those who are able to do this. Ms. Kingsolver lives in a rural, fertile area.  She has land.  She has the means to purchase heritage seeds and animals.  She and her husband work flexible hours, and have two school-aged children who are often home to help tend to the farm.  We’re not all so lucky, and I would have enjoyed this book more had that fact been addressed.

More book reviews:

What I’m Reading, January 2016

Lesser-known young adult fiction I love: part 1, part 2

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