To All The Books I’ve Read Before (February Book Roundup)

Hello Friends!

I have to confess something. I didn’t think I got too much reading done last month. Finding the time to read was a bit of a struggle. Or, at least, it felt that way. In between fighting the flu and balancing reading and writing on my head while working, divvying up my time and energy for it was…something. But after reflecting on the month, I managed to get through some pretty interesting and varied titles!

So without much ado!

The Poison Squad
Deborah Blum

Poison SquadYes, I just finished it this month. I am a dutiful library patron and I had to give it up for a few weeks. It was really popular in my neck of the woods and one of the downsides of the library system is that you have to give it up if you don’t read it fast enough. Such is life!

The Poison Squad is a lesson in how we have to continually fight for the social change we want to see in our government and the world at large. The book circles back to the argument that we have to keep fighting for the institutions and protections set in place for us. The book was essentially about struggle. Struggle to get the national spotlight on how food gets adulterated and tampered with to make it on the cheap. The struggle to get laws passed to hold companies accountable. Struggle to enforce, struggle to maintain, struggle to update with the times.

I was reminded that history is a long game. Nothing happens overnight. Our modern regulation of food is a century-long struggle that is still happening each and every day.

Diary of a Tokyo Teen
Christine Mari Inzer

tokyo teenAn okay graphic novel about the author’s trip to Japan and how she connected back with her roots. The art style was fun and it was filled with a lot of good info about Japanese culture. It was only okay for me because I didn’t feel like I learned anything new from it. I studied Japanese a fair bit and even visited a place or two in the book myself during a college so I didn’t come across anything I didn’t know. The most effective parts were how she discussed her reconnection with her culture and lessons about growing up. How the world can be a big, exciting and sometimes confusing place and how that’s okay!  If you want a fun primer on Japanese culture, I highly recommend this!

Looking for Lorraine
Imani Perry

A1+3MQC3caLThis is perhaps my favorite book I read in February. I first heard about this book on the Call Your Girlfriend podcast and decided to pick it up after seeing it on the shelves of my local bookstore. This is a lovely memoir about the short life of Lorraine Hansberry–writer, playwright, queer and civil rights activist. She’s most known for her play, A Raisin in the Sun, but this book showed she was so much more than that. I most enjoyed how this was written taking elements of traditional biography and prose. Imani Perry also offers up some self-reflection and her sense of connection of Hansberry on her own life. The writing was very affecting, pulling from Hansberry’s own writings and painting a clear portrait of her life, her passions and her struggles. If you are at all curious about Lorraine Hansberry and the moment she occupied in history, I highly recommend this book.

Clara Voyant
Rachelle Delaney

clara voyantThis is one of two middle school reads that I picked up this month. Clara Voyant is a fun mystery about aspiring journalist Clara Costa who, as a newbie on her middle school newspaper, gets stuck with the horoscope section instead of the hard-hitting news she craves. She believes that horoscopes and other mystical things are a whole bunch of “woo” which she gets enough from her mother and her equally eccentric new friends in Kensington Market. But things get strange when her horoscopes come true and the school’s mascot goes missing. This was honestly a fun little book with interesting characters. It was a real pleasure to see the (sometimes funny) interactions between Clara and her mother. Who can’t relate to a parent you are sometimes embarrassed to be around. Also seeing how middle school politics play out in what’s considered noteworthy gave me a genuine shot of nostalgia as I think back to my (cringy) middle school days.

 

A Properly Unhaunted Place
William Alexander

a properly unhaunted placeRosa Diaz and her mother are library appeasement specialist move to the town of Ingot, a properly unhaunted place. But things are not what they seem. After being invited to the local history festival by Jasper Chevalier, they both figure that all is not what it seems. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s full of fun and scary spooks, some good pacing, and some really fun characters that I loved following. There are also some really important lessons on honoring the past and coming to terms with the more unsavory history of person or place. There were some really good quotes that were beautiful in sentiment.

Friday Faves (#2)

And somehow it’s already November. Seriously, where did the time go?!

the poison squadI have a morbid fascination with poison in all its forms. This week I’ve been reading The Poison Squad by  Deborah Blum. Blum authored The Poisoner’s Handbook which I devoured some months ago. It discussed the New York poison scene in the 1920s listing off how common poisonous compounds like arsenic, cyanide, and ethyl alcohol found their way from common household products to a criminal’s arsenal for murder. The Poison Squad tackles the same topic but focuses on the Wild West of the food industry. More specifically, how rampant fraud, adulteration, and downright poisoning was frequent in the food products most Americans consumed at the turn of the century. A team, headed by chemist Dr. Harvey Wiley, helped in uncovering it all. It’s quite a fascinating read.

Another fave is more nostalgia-related. I rediscovered my love for Foster the People. Foster the People hearkens to a very specific period of my life: high school. When they first came out with their Torches album, it was one of the quintessential albums of my later school days and I only really realized this when, on a whim, my sister started playing their earlier videos on Youtube. I became a smidge teary-eyed while listening to “Helena Beat” and “Call it What You Want.” Yes, I’m that kind of emotional. It also reminds me how old I am.

Dr. Death and My Morbid Fascination with True Crime Medical Horror

Let me talk about my fascination with medical horror. It’s a bit of a problem making me fretful to pass by a doctor’s office.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a diehard true crime fanatic. I’m fascinated by stories of ordinary people driven to commit monstrous things. Traveling down the rabbit hole of my podcast library will reveal titles like My Favorite Murder, Criminal, Accused, Teacher’s Pet and a whole of horrifying truths of real people who project certain images of themselves out to the world.

It’s a real problem. Something I let haunt my sleeping hours as I lie awake and wonder about the worst impulses of human nature.

dipper lying awake

But strangely… I absolutely love it! And I’m not alone.

But recently, my taste for such tales has wandered into a rather specific genre: medical horror.

I’m not talking about the common trope of mad doctors with bloodlust in their eyes wielding sharp scalpels in slippery fingers as they creep closer to your chest cavity.

(Though not going to lie, those tales are fun too!)

mad doctor_cartoon

No, I’m talking about the real-life kind. You trust medical professionals to do their utmost to make you well. Their guiding principle is to “Do No Harm.” But what if you come out of an operation worst than you did before. The horror of finding yourself convulsing in agony and the doctors and nurses have no idea what’s wrong. Well, all but maybe one or two. And knowing, in the end, they get away with all the trauma they knowingly caused you. They could even do it it to more people because the systems in place to protect you weren’t doing that.

If you all find these topics just as fascinating, I have two recommendations.

dr. death thumbnail

The first is the podcast, Dr. Death. It follows the exploits of Dr. Christopher Duntsch retracing his stint from medical school to his infamous surgical career. Each of his operations left were live butcheries that left most of his patients paralyzed, in chronic pain, or dead. Fair warning, this is not for the faint of heart. The podcast goes into some pretty gruesome details of bone breaking and muscle shredding.

the good nurse

 

The second is a book called The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graebar. The book is a meticulously researched recounting of the life and murder spree of nurse Charles Cullen. A nurse who killed his victims by injecting unprescribed chemicals like digoxin and insulin into patient IV bags. It not only goes over the crimes themselves but delves into the personal life of the man at the center of the narrative. I could hardly put the book down!

 

Do you guys have any more suggestions for similar books, podcasts, TV shows on the same topic? I seriously can’t get enough of these type of stories!

Adventures in Reading (#1)

Hitching It Up On the Oregon Trail 19th Century Style!

I like to go through a nonfiction book and this time around I’ve picked up the Oregon Trail. The basic premise is that Rinker Buck and his brother undertake a modern-day crossing of the Oregon Trail. And the author doesn’t just cross the trail. They cross it with mules, a carriage–the genuine 19th-century experience. Which is just

I’m also using this book for research purposes for my Notes series as it contains a lot of information about Manifest Destiny and trends during the mid-nineteenth century. Here are are a couple of things I learned.

  • Contrary to the popular narrative, mules paved the way into the American West. Horses struggled with the rough and varied terrain. Mules also proved more of an asset in detecting predators because of their inclination for self-preservation
  • The Oregon Trail gets its name sometime in the 1840s. It was originally called the Platte River Road.
  • “See the Elephant” was a common expression used by many travelers.

What I’m Reading In Nonfiction [#1]

As always, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction these last few weeks. Somehow I managed to pick up two books that have Chicago as a major setting.

1893-chicago-fair-white-city-dayThe first, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, talks about Chicago as the site of the 1893 World’s Fair. The work it took to build the fairgrounds while the dark machinations of H. H. Holmes also played out in a hotel of his own construction. As the whole of the United States were struck dumb with awe at the White City. Holmes was murdering people, particularly young women, in his murder palace designed in a way to best secret away the bodies of his victims. Since I recently completed the fifth season of American Horror Story, I couldn’t help but draw between Holmes and James Patrick March of the Hotel Cortez which I’m sure was the intention.

tenor

 

Now I’m reading Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard which centers on the oft-overlooked US president, James Garfield. He was spontaneously nominated at the 1880 Republican National Convention which was held in Chicago that year. This happened despite him giving a speech in support of fellow Ohioan and then-Secretary of the Treasury, John Sherman and publicly decrying his name being put up for nomination as the convention went on.

 

Untitled design
Garfield (left), Sherman (right)

 

Unfortunately, Garfield’s is perhaps most famous for being assassinated. He was a Gilded Age president and in my high school history classes, we were taught a good chunk of president’s during this time were unremarkable. There was so much corruption fueled in part by the spoils system beneath the surface of their administration that their tenures seemed moot in comparison.

But I’m not quite sure how fair this assessment was. I question most of the things I learned in high school history classes and this book has already more keenly interested me in Garfield’s life. Here are a few of the things I learned about the 20th President of the United States:

1) He was raised in poor circumstances. He lost his father at a fairly young age leaving his mother, Eliza, to care for him and his other siblings. Encouraged by her and propelled by his own work ethic, he made the most out of his status by improving himself through education.

2) He lusted after a life on the seas. He set off to be a sailor when he was young acting on this desire.

3) He was a Union hero, during the Civil War and a fierce abolitionist. His strategy at the Battle of Middle Creek not only landed him a Union victory despite his small army but helped keep the state of Kentucky from falling into Confederate hands.

That’s all I have this week! Did any nonfiction book catch any of your interest this week? What were they about? I would love to know!