Happy Monday to you all,
This weekend, I went up to the Crazies, a mountain range north of Livingston, Montana for some much-needed camping and outdoor time. I brought the books I am reading now, and also some shorter books about Crow culture, which I am excited to read. I spent so much time grounding myself in the traditions and cultures of the Native American tribes in Washington when I lived there, and I think knowing more about that here will help me feel more connected to the place.
In preparation for a theme that might emerge in my reading in the next few month, I have a job this upcoming fall teaching in a school back in Washington State! I am really looking forward to having my own classroom, and I have a feeling there will be a number of teaching themed books coming up soon.
This week, I finished to incredibly well written books about very different things. I’m sure there are some common themes, but I will not attempt to find them. I really enjoyed them!
Books I finished this week
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
I want to start this review with the statement that this IS NOT a science fiction book in the traditional sense. The astronauts in this story don’t even leave the planet, and the story isn’t about technology or science. This book IS the elegant story of three imperfectly “perfect” people and their families. As this team of three astronauts, chosen for their compatibility and ability, prepare to go to Mars by entering an 18-month long realistic simulation, their families must adjust to their absence.
This book follows the three astronauts and their family members throughout the course of the simulation, exploring each character in-depth. The three main characters are developed richly, and go on utterly believable personal journeys. Their family members are not always as richly drawn, but still interesting.
The thing I love most about this book is that the astronauts are completely believable. This is often something I notice in movies and books about space, where a character is given an issue that makes them “compelling”, but also makes me wonder why anyone would send them into space in the first place. In contrast, in this novel, the astronauts are talented, controlled, and not about to jeopardize their mission or their place on that mission, which is exactly what you would expect from the first three people chosen to go to Mars. Their flaws are there, but not in a way that ever makes you question why they would be on the team.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen (on audio-book)
I don’t actually know why I picked this up, but I am so so glad I did. Anya is a fabulous writer, and her ability to communicate the intense emotion of her memories and also put them into context for an uninformed reader is inspired.
I am not all that familiar with Soviet history, and I would not have wanted to learn about it any other way. While ostensibly about Soviet food, this book traces Soviet history from the time of Anya’s great-grandmother to today. Food is an entry point, and an anchor point to the book, but Anya is willing to stray pretty far from the table when there is a need.
One of the themes of this book that I was especially interested in was Anya and her mother’s love for the “ethnic” foods of the Soviet states outside of simply Russia, but also with her willingness to wrestle with how this particular nostalgia intersects with the political reality of subjugation in many of the same places.
This was a great book and a great read. I have heard there are some great recipes associated with it, so if you want those, I would look for a print copy!
What went well
These were both incredibly good books, and I really enjoyed reading them. While both authors were white women, I felt like Soviet Cooking gave me a window into a completely different human experience, so I still feel like I am on track. Also, this is the first week I have stuck to my “What I am reading next week” choices, so I am pretty pleased with myself about that.
What did not go well
Not much really. I will admit that sometimes when I really love a book, I race through it, and I feel like I may have rushed the endings of both of these books because I loved them so much. Maybe this is why I like re-reading – when I know whats going to happen, I can slow down and enjoy the ride.
What I am reading next week
I found this awesome book called Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “Ph.D., Jungian analyst and cantadora storyteller”, and I am reading this right now. It is pretty detailed, so I think it may take more time then some of the other books I have read recently. I am also listening to Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, her sequel to The Sparrow.