Ten Favorite Reads From 2014

This has been quite the year for me — finished my last semester of school, graduated with my masters degree, moved across the country (twice!), started working full-time, and settled into life as a adult (whatever that means). I read 63 books in 2013 and thought my goal to read seventy-five books in 2014 would be a stretch. This year certainly felt busier than last year, and I think the fact that I read zero books in February and April and only two in March is a testimony to that.

Yet, here I am on the last day of 2014 with 150 books read! So I guess there is an upside to being hit by a car and unable to do much beside lay on the couch. Although, I would gladly trade away some of my stats for the year to avoid ever reliving that experience.

According to GoodReads, I read 37,678 pages in 2014 ranking this year fifth out of the seven I’ve logged on the site. The numbers might be a bit skewed — this year ranks as third in terms of the number of total books read — because nine of the 150 books I read were comics/graphic novels and 36 were audiobooks.

I didn’t keep a spreadsheets of my stats this year so I can’t break down my reading to the detail I have in the past beyond the basics — 62% fiction versus 38% nonfiction, 63% female authors versus 37% male, 81% library books, and 65% printed books. (For the first time, audiobooks jumped to double digits — a whopping 23%.) Instead, I thought I would offer up ten of the best and most memorable reads of the year. Continue reading

Recent Acquisitions + The TBR Double Dog Dare

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I would have missed this month’s used book sale at the public library yesterday if my phone had not chirped loudly enough with a reminder fifteen minutes before the doors opened. Since I cannot resist a book sale and the library is (sort of) on my way to the grocery store, I slipped on my shoes and headed over to browse the shelves.

Less than an hour later, I left the library with six books for a dollar a piece and a bag filled with what was supposed to be groceries. Food for the mind and soul, I say. Add these six to the three books plus a cookbook my mom brought me at Thanksgiving and my recent acquisitions include:

  • Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
  • The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)
  • Catherine the Great (Robert K. Massie)
  • The Cold Song (Linn Ullmann)
  • Exploring Boston and New England (Fodor’s)
  • Mary Boleyn (Alison Weir)
  • Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
  • Prague (Arthur Phillips)
  • The Space Between Us (Thrity Umrigar)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)

tbr-dare-2014I had to do some rearrange of my shelves to find a space for each book in their new home hence why I will be signing up for the TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by James Reads Books. The TBR Double Dog Dare is not a challenge but a dare to read only those books from your TBR pile between January 1 and April 1. And everyone on the playground knows you cannot refuse a double dog dare.

You can still buy books so, lucky me, I won’t have to skip the library book sale in February. You just can’t read new purchases until the TBR Double Dog Dare is over.

My two exceptions are those books chosen by my book club during the TBR Double Dog Dare and audiobooks I’ve borrowed from the library. I am restricting myself to those audiobooks I had loaded onto my iPod before the TBR Double Dog Dare begins on January 1, but I cannot ban them outright otherwise I’ll have nothing to listen to at work.

I’m looking forward to finally reading those books on my TBR shelf. After all, there’s a reason I purchased them in the first place. And I’m sure the public library is looking forward to me returning the forty or so books I have checked out at the end of the month.

Books About Japanese Internment During WWII

Since beginning this blog in 2008, I have read two fictional accounts of Japanese internment during World War II and one nonfiction account, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. One of those fictional accounts, Obasan by Joy Kogawa, is set in Canada and was required reading for me in high school while the other, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, is set on an island off the coast of Washington in the United States and was one of the seventy-five books on my classics club list. I would recommend all three books especially Guterson’s novel, which is one of the best explorations of the affects hysteria and prejudice can have on a community long after a horrific event occurs.

I remember being utterly shocked as a child when I learned between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans — many of them citizens since birth — were moved from the West Coast following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to internment camps across the United States. It was so hard to reconcile such an action while simultaneously learning about the internment of gays, political prisoners, and Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

Reading Guterson’s novel back in October reminded me of how woefully ignorant I remain about this dark chapter in American and Canadian history so I’ve pulled together a list of nine books to help me “become the expert”. Since I cannot speak to the quality of each book, I’ve copied a snippet of the description from GooodReads in the hopes that will be enticement enough to pick up a copy of the books, which are mostly memoirs, listed below.

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  • Desert Exile (Yoshiko Uchida) — “To better understand how such a gross violation of human rights could have occurred in America, and how the Japanese reacted to it, the author takes a backward look at her parents’ early years in this country and her own experiences as a Nisei growing up in California. She evokes the strong anti-Asian climate of the years preceding the war, and provides an intimate glimpse of life in one Japanese American household.
  • I Am an American (Jerry Stanley) — This children’s book is illustrated with black-and-white photographs and follows young Shi Nomura, who was among the 120,000 American citizens who lost everything when he was sent by the U.S. government to Manzanar, an interment camp in the California desert, simply because he was of Japanese ancestry. According to School Library Journal, “this eloquent account of the disastrous results of racial prejudice stands as a reminder to us in today’s pluralistic society.”
  • Justice At War (Peter Irons) — “Peter Irons’ exhaustive research has uncovered a government campaign of suppression, alteration, and destruction of crucial evidence that could have persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down the internment order. Irons documents the debates that took place before the internment order and the legal response during and after the internment.”
  • Looking Like the Enemy (Mary Matsuda Gruenewald) — “Mary Matsuda is a typical 16-year-old girl living on Vashon Island, Washington with her family. On December 7, 1942, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and Mary’s life changes forever. Mary and her brother, Yoneichi, are U.S. citizens, but they are imprisoned, along with their parents, in a Japanese-American internment camp. Mary endures an indefinite sentence behind barbed wire in crowded, primitive camps, struggling for survival and dignity. Mary wonders if they will be killed, or if they will one day return to their beloved home and berry farm.” There is also an adaption of this book geared towards young readers.
  • Nisei Daughter (Monica Itoi Sone) — From the New York Herald Tribune review: “In this book, first published in 1952, she provides a unique personal account of these experiences.Monica Sone’s account of life in the relocation camps is both fair and unsparing. It is also deeply touching, and occasionally hilarious.”
  • Only What We Could Carry (ed. Lawson Fusao Inada) — “In the wake of wartime panic that followed the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans residing along the West Coast of the United States were uprooted from their homes and their communities and banished to internment camps throughout the country. Through personal documents, art, and propaganda, Only What We Could Carry expresses through words, art, and haunting recollections, the fear, confusion and anger of the camp experience.”
  • Prisoners Without Trial (Roger Daniels) — “Part of Hill and Wang’s Critical Issues Series and well established on college reading lists, Daniels’ book presents a concise introduction to a shameful chapter in American history: the incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.”
  • Silver Like Dust (Kimi Cunningham Grant) — “There was one part of Obaachan’s life that had fascinated and haunted Kimi ever since the age of eleven—her gentle yet proud Obaachan had once been a prisoner, along with 112,000 Japanese Americans, for more than five years of her life. Obaachan never spoke of those years, and Kimi’s own mother only spoke of it in whispers. It was a source of haji, or shame. But what had really happened to Obaachan, then a young woman, and the thousands of other men, women, and children like her?”
  • Within the Barbed Wire Fence (Takeo Ujo Nakano) — “In 1942, Takeo Nakano was one of thousands of Japanese men interned in labour camps in the British Columbia interior. Their only “crime” was their Japanese origins. Wrenched from his wife and daughter, placed in a labour camp and then an isolated internment camp in northern Ontario, Takeo wrote of his experiences, feelings and reflections with the sensitivity and perception of a poet.”

Books About Food Politics

I’ve written two theses on industrial agriculture, food politics, obesity, and American eating habits yet I still do not feel like I can truly call myself an expert. There are still so many books to read on the topic, so many books still to be written. But if there is a topic I constantly find myself suggesting nonfiction books for, it would be food politics (or, the more sinister sounding “Industrial Agriculture”).

Most people have heard of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan so I left it off my list of suggested reading below, and I tried to provide a mix of styles of nonfiction — narrative, academic, etc — so there is hopefully something for everyone. Of course, limiting myself to eight books means I’m only showing you the tip of the iceburg so I encourage anyone interesting in food to peruse my “food” category for additional titles. Or maybe you have one to recommend me?

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  • Salt Sugar Fat (Michael Moss) — Moss utilizes examples from some of the most recognizable and profitable food companies and brands of the last half century — Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun — to explain how the average American ended up here. His book inspired many conversations with friends and acquaintances and is one of the few I have been able to apply to my eating habits.
  • Fast Food Nation (Eric Scholsser) — If I had to select one book that revolutionized how I “vote” for food, it would be Scholsser’s exposes on the fast food industry. Until Moss’ book, this was the book I would put forth as the best one to begin with.
  • America’s Food (Harvey Blatt) — This book is exactly what I was looking for when I launched the Honors Project back in 2012 and is probably the most academic title on this list. It is, however, one of the few books to compare the problems of the US food system with those around the (developed) world or assess consumption on a nation-wide scale.
  • Animal Factory (David Kirby) — I appreciate how Kirby does not demonize the farmer or the consumer. Instead, he concentrates on how the system as a whole is broken shying away from animal rights and focusing on the environmental and health problems derived from factory farming of meat.
  • The Big Fat Surprise (Nina Telcholz) — I’m cheating a bit because I have not actually read this title. It is on my to-read list and was heavily referenced in Moss’ book. From my understanding, the book looks at the, according to Telcholz, sketchy science behind the declaration that people avoid fatty foods such as butter. And who doesn’t want an excuse to use real butter in their recipes?
  • Bottled and Sold (Peter H. Gleick) — What I liked best about Gleick’s book, which examines bottled water, was how accessible it is. There’s no complicated jargon that makes it difficult to understand the situation.
  • Food Politics (Marion Nestle) — The amount of information contained in this book can be slightly overwhelming, but Nestle is the one author who succinctly dismantles the idea that the responsibility for obesity begins and ends with an individual. I also love her chapter on the food pyramid (now a plate) and how the food industry manipulated it to confuse the consumer.
  • Tomatoland (Barry Estabrook) — By focusing on a single item, Estabrook is able to cover all the hidden aspects of industrial agriculture — its dependence upon illegal immigration, the deplorable working conditions, the bland taste of America’s produce. One of the most shocking facts I gleamed from this book is that consumers cannot achieve variety by purchasing grape or cheery tomatoes instead of slicing tomatoes because each so-called variation in the American grocery story is from the same type of tomato and only differ in appearance.

A November Full of Nonfiction

Over the course of the month, I will participating in Nonfiction November hosted by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Leslie of Regular Rumination, Katie of Doing Dewey, and Rebecca of I’m Lost In Books sharing recommendations, reviewing nonfiction titles and, of course, reading as much nonfiction as possible.

Thirty-five of the 114 books I read between January 1 and October 31, 2014 were nonfiction titles — a smaller percentage than in years past. I blame the decline on grad school for two reasons — (a) there were no textbooks assigned for any of my courses in the spring semester and (b) the push to finish my thesis meant I read zero books during February and April and only two in March.

I certainly hope to increase the ratio of nonfiction to fiction during November as I have several great titles on my shelf waiting to be read. And, by participating in Nonfiction November, I hope to add even more great titles to my to-read list and the stack of books I pick up on my next trip to the library.

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The picture above is slightly deceiving as I read the last three books in the stack — As Texas Goes by Gail Collins, MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman, and The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce — towards the end of October. The picture also does not feature Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra and Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know By the Caged Bird Sings, which I finished on audio last month, or my current audiobook, The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best photo to use but it does give you an idea of the nonfiction books I hope to enjoy during November and shows the breadth in terms of time periods and topics I like my nonfiction to focus on — current politics, ultra-conservative religions, the Holocaust, and cartography. Five of the seven books (including my current audiobook) are written by female authors, which seems to be a common trend in my nonfiction selections. Without even meaning to I tend to shy away from nonfiction written by men.

That said, Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright is easily my favorite nonfiction read of the year with The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce coming in a close second. I tend to tailor my nonfiction recommendations based on an individual’s interests, but both books introduced an extraordinary amount of new information to a topic I consider myself to be fairly well-read in and, the later especially, posed new ethical questions to topics I thought my opinions were firm on. Exactly how I like my nonfiction to be.