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  • Writer's pictureKatie Breen

What I've Read So Far: Q3 2018

A continuation of my lists from What I've Read So Far: Q1 2018 and Q2 2018, here we have my summer reading. I'm about to start grad school next week, so I have a feeling my reading will very much fall off in Q4, with the exception of LOTS of textbooks and academic texts. I will miss you dearly, leisure reading.

Top Fiction Pick:

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I had heard of this book, but I finally read it once Lindsey Pollaczek of the Fistula Foundation recommended it during my interview with her about obstetric fistula. Set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it tells the story of twin boys growing up at a Catholic hospital. I loved the characters, the setting and history (I honestly didn't know much about Ethiopian history other than that it'd be colonized by Italy for a short time in the 20th Century), and the medical procedures described (not in a gory way - I'm super squeamish, but reading about surgical procedures didn't bother me) - including the surgical repair of obstetric fistulas.

Top Non-Fiction Pick:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou This tells the story of Theranos, the startup you probably remember hearing about and then may remember seeing that its CEO is going to prison. Because the whole company was built on an ever-escalating pyramid of flat-out lies and a mix of internal manipulation/intimiation that will make your worst boss seem like a true leader. This book blew me away. It's like a master class in how NOT to run a company.


Other Fiction:

  • Red Tea by Meg Mezeske This is the debut novel of my friend and former colleague, Meg - and it's a page-turner. Set in Japan (where Meg lived for a while), it's a murder mystery that will keep you glued to the pages til the end. I particularly loved the descriptions of Japanese culture and landscapes.

  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn Y'all know I love me some classic historical fiction, and this one is a gripping man-hunt of sorts. It's set in Europe, about spies and both World Wars. I quite enjoyed it.

  • The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish So this one felt very similar to (the also good) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (which I read in Q1), in that it's another bestselling recent novel about rich Jewish history and philosophy, spanning centuries and locations. This one is feminist, tho! It's set in 17th century London.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini This one had been on my list for a while because Hosseini's The Kite Runner is one of my very favorites. I'd started reading this about ten years ago but stopped because it was too depressing. The second time around, it was definitely still depressing but very interesting, and I quite enjoyed learning about 20th century Afghan political history and the impact of the Taliban's rule. This, and all of Hosseini's books, provide useful context for the political and historical issues surrounding Afghanistan, in a way that is accessible and engaging - and not at all like a textbook or a news article. At its heart, it's a moving fictional story, but the political background of the setting is crucial to the story. His books are definitely worth a read if you'd like to understand more about Afghanistan.

You Can Skip These Fiction Bestsellers, IMHO:

  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See If you like Lisa See's novels, you'll probably like this one. But I find that most of them are great at Chinese historical fiction, and so-so on everything else. I keep reading them though.

  • The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard Classic WWII historical fiction to the point of being generic, but I felt like it never really went anywhere. Liked learning the history though.

  • The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott As usual, I enjoyed the historical setting (Irish-Catholic, early 20th century Brooklyn) but felt like this one didn't have any teeth.

  • The Paris Wife by Paul McClain OMG, this was so depressing. It's about Ernest Hemingway's relationship with his first wife. TLDR: Hemingway was an immature, self-absorbed asshole, and their whole relationship teetered on (or went right over) the edges of emotional abuse. It reminded me of The Talented Mr. Ripley in that the settings were beautiful but I hated the story.  I couldn't stop reading it, but GOOD GOD was this depressing. It put me in a bad mood.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez I know this one's a classic, but I only got through maybe half because I kept falling asleep. Literally.

  • A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton I really wanted to like this one. It starts out in 1940s New Orleans, and I loved that part. Until it went to present day New Orleans. It was depressing and I wasn't in the mood. It was one of those situations where you have to watch in slow motion as a main character makes terrible choices. I got maybe 60% through.


Other Good Non-Fiction:

  • The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron My therapist gave this to me years ago but I never read it because a) self-help books can be super boring and cheesy and this one definitely reads that way at times, and b) I did not believe that I was sensitive because I'm not particularly emotionally reactive, which is the trait that most people associate with sensitivity. What I learned is that I AM highly sensitive, and that my sensitivity manifests itself in a tendency towards overstimulation. This confirmed a lot of what I learned about in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (which is a book that completely changed my life and self-conception, and which I also avoided reading because I didn't think I was an introvert. I was very wrong. You should definitely read it whether you're introverted or not). Both books helped me understand that that your particular nervous system plays a huge role in your personality, and mine is definitely more ratched up at all times than a normal person's. This book definitely helped me understand myself better, including but not limited to my tendency to startle easily, become overwhelmed and irritated by loud environments, have a hard time with change, and even to be sensitive to allergens. Hello, daily Zyrtec.

  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand I was super late to this one, but it was a perfect book for me. Definitely read it if you like military planes and WWII aviation history. Learning about the bombers blew me away - I couldn't believe how insanely dangerous a job it was. Like, it was actually insane that they put men on these horrifically unreliable planes. Most aviation deaths did not occur during battle. Read it. Interesting WWII history, a true story, and generally badass. Plus, most of my WWII knowledge is of the European theatre, and this gave me better understanding of the challenges of the Pacific theatre. Very glad I read it. I enjoyed the entire thing.

  • The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson I really didn't understand the hype. Was cool to learn about the Chicago World's Fair, and the famous murderer H.H. Holmes, but I was pretty bored the whole time. I wanted more murder and intrigue, less explanation of the challenges of constructing a fairgrounds.

  • A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley This one came at the recommendation of a friend who is an academic coach at the University of Colorado, as I was telling her I'm a bit anxious to start grad school and be thrust back into quantitative classes. I've always found math challenging. While this book concentrates on math and science, its lessons are applicable for ALL kinds of work or study. I enjoyed it because it gave me a refresher on some time management "best practices" I want to implement now that I'm going back to school. I don't know that it will help me excel in math or science, but the study and time management tips are useful to everyone. Even if you're just someone with a lot of work on your plate. Definitely glad I read it before starting school again.

  • Epidemiology and the People's Health: Theory and Context by Nancy Krieger Warning: this is a TEXTBOOK for a class I will maybe have to take during my grad program. So it reads like a textbook. That being said, I found it very interesting to learn about the history of epidemiology, and heartening to learn that intersectionality and health disparity (on the basis of gender, race, socioeconomic class, geography, etc.) are major, vital contemporary foci of the field of public health. You probably won't be interested in this unless you want to learn more about how the history of how the medical field has studied and conceptualized disease, and where the field is going now.

True Crime Audiobooks/Podcasts:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (I listened to the audiobook.) A murder mystery. This is from the author of Gone Girl, so if you liked that (I didn't) you'll probably like this. I don't know exactly why I didn't like it, but I do know that the resolution felt too abrupt. There's going to be an HBO mini-series of it, so maybe that will be better.

West Cork True crime podcast series from Audible. A murder case in Ireland in 1996. Do not waste your time. It's super long and ends without solving the murder, and they spend WAY too much time going over boring and irrelevant details. They could have said the same thing in half the time. If you're itching for a good true crime podcast, just listen to the first season of Serial again.

I liked this podcast but I don't really understand the hype. It's about the abduction of a kid in Missouri in 1989, and basically about all of the ways the police department screwed up. It's interesting, but it's no Serial.

This podcast was hugely popular last year, and I understand its popularity to an extent. I didn't know much about the Italian mob in mafia heretofore, especially that in Providence, RI. Cool. But it's not very gripping, there's no particular plot, and I stopped listening perhaps halfway through.


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