Friday, December 4, 2020

Wrap Up: November 2020


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Reviews Of Books I Read In November

Last month was Nonfiction November, so I spent it reading true stories. First up was Too Much And Never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. TrumpThe author is Donald Trump’s niece and a clinical psychologist. I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s very short. It was interesting to track Donald Trump’s family history backward and discover how his family became rich and famous. Since the author is a psychologist, she gives her theories about why Donald sometimes acts like a 74-year-old toddler. My feelings are mixed because the author is clearly angry at her family. She was abused by them, so she has every right to be angry, but I wondered if her bitterness impacted her objectivity. Also, the book is very narrowly focused on the Trump family. Since the subtitle mentions “the world,” I expected more discussion of how society creates families like the Trumps and why people are obsessed with them. This definitely isn’t a bad memoir. I found the family history fascinating, but my reaction to finishing it was, “I need more. Where’s the rest?” 


Then I picked up a chunky book: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story Of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. It’s about a group of female factory employees who worked with radium in the early 1900s. The factory owners knew radium was deadly, but they refused to admit it, even when the women were dying from radium poisoning. This book is terrifying! The women were growing massive tumors, and their glow-in-the-dark bones were disintegrating and poking through their skin, and they were spending all their money on medical care that wasn’t going to save them. It’s a worst-nightmare situation. If you’re interested in books about medicine or workers’ rights, pick this one up. It’s slow paced and repetitive at times, but it’s also captivating and worth reading.


Another chunky book I finished was Evicted: Poverty And Profit In The American City by Matthew Desmond. This one is a sociological study of grinding poverty and slum landlords. I respect how this book is written. Sociology books are tricky because the author goes into a community that isn’t theirs and studies what’s happening. The author can’t ignore their own presence because a writer with a camera will change how people act, which will influence the study. The author has to acknowledge their own power. But, some authors acknowledge it too much and make the book about themselves. Then the book comes across as disaster tourism, which is gross. I think Matthew Desmond handles the dilemma perfectly. He keeps the focus on poverty and the people who experience it. He waits until the end to discuss how his presence may have altered the interactions between landlords and tenants. I can see why this book won awards. It’s compassionate, fair, detailed, and well-researched.


The trend of fat books continued with Rage by Bob Woodward. I’m trying to get all the Trump books off my TBR shelf so I don’t have to think about him anymore. This is the follow-up book to Fear, which I read last year and found both thought-provoking and unsurprising. Fear covers the first two years of Trump’s presidency; Rage covers the last two. (Well, it stops at the end of summer 2020. Woodward could write a whole new book on the last six months of the year. I would title it Exhaustion.) If you follow the news every day, then there’s nothing new in Rage, but Woodward has some interesting observations about people’s reactions to Coronavirus. He talks about how he’s a rich white guy, and his parents were rich white people, and that has shielded him from America’s problems. Coronavirus is the first time in his life that the government’s actions (or inactions) have severely impacted how he lives. I think his fear of the virus occasionally makes him overstep boundaries. His virus-related interviews with Trump come across as arguments or efforts to influence the president. As an American citizen, I was uncomfortable with this. Woodward is a journalist, not a Coronavirus expert. Presidents need to listen to scientists, and the media needs to stay in its lane. That’s my opinion. If you’re interested in Trump’s presidency, I recommend this book, even though a few of the interviews made me grind my teeth.



Then I read a memoir: In The Days Of Rain: A Daughter, A Father, A Cult by Rebecca Stott. It’s beautifully written. I love the author’s descriptions of the English countryside. They make me wish I could travel. The book is mostly about the author’s father. He was a Shakespearian actor, a gambling addict, a former prisoner, and a high-ranking member of a religious cult. This memoir is his daughter’s attempt to sort out his messy history in order to understand him better. I have mixed feelings about the book. When the author writes about her own experiences, it’s gripping. She was a paranoid child whose life revolved around the strict rules of a cult. Then a sex scandal caused the cult to fall apart, and her whole life suddenly changed. She didn’t have her church friends or her community anymore. She had to adapt quickly to a new world. I like the stories about the author’s own life, but she discusses a lot of other things too. She talks about her ancestors. And she talks about movies and poetry. That’s where I struggled. The book occasionally gets dry or pretentious or navel gazing. I found myself zoning out and wanting to skip ahead. The descriptions are so good, though. It’s worth reading for those and the author's childhood experiences.


After that was Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, And Why by Laurence Gonzales. It’s a wilderness survival book. It doesn’t have as many how-to tips as I wanted, but I still found it interesting and flew through it. The author uses research on the human brain to analyze real-life survival situations. He weaves the stories with the science, which keeps the book from being dry. My biggest complaint is that he occasionally drops story threads. I was sometimes left thinking, Wait, how did that end? How did he get rescued? If you’re interested in wilderness survival, this is a good book to read. Knowing how your brain works may help you avoid mistakes.


I finished Nonfiction November with American Radical: Inside The World Of An Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury. It’s another memoir. The author is an Egyptian-American Muslim immigrant who speaks Arabic and was working as a detective. Then 9/11 happened, and the FBI recruited him to infiltrate a terrorist group. Scary stuff. This book is intense, like a real-life thriller novel. I love the insights into how undercover operations work. They’re exhausting for the detectives who have to stay in character for months, and there’s a ton of legal red tape, especially when law enforcement agencies from different countries are involved. Things get messy. I also liked learning about Islamic terrorist groups. They’re messy too. The terrorists come from different parts of the world and have different morals and grievances. It’s hard to get everybody to agree on a murder plan. The best part of the book is when the author talks about himself. He’s a Muslim who spends months with extremists who use his religion as an excuse to hurt people. He’s always tempted to “save” them or talk sense into them, but he can’t because he’ll blow his cover and possibly be killed. It’s exhausting for him and fascinating to read about. My only problem with the book is that I wanted more history. I wanted to know why the terrorist groups exist and what draws people to them. We don’t get much background information because the memoir is very action-focused. If you like thrillers, you’ll probably love it.







Best Books Of November


1. Evicted: Poverty And Profit In The American City by Matthew Desmond

2. American Radical: Inside The World Of An Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury

3. Rage by Bob Woodward







Most-Viewed November Blog Posts


1. Giveaway: Win A $100 Book Shopping Spree

2. Can’t Wait Wednesday: November 2020 Book Releases

3. Nonfiction November: Best Nonfiction Books Of 2020 (So Far)







November Bestsellers


Here are the books that people bought on Amazon or Book Depository last month after seeing them on Read All The Things! (Don’t worry, the link-tracking robots only tell me which books people are buying, not who is buying them. That would be creepy.)


1. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

2. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

3. Blankets by Craig Thompson







November Life Snapshots


1. I’m stuffed full of holiday cheer! I did nothing in November, but as soon as Thanksgiving ended, I went into Christmas mode. I’ve already finished my Christmas shopping. I put up some decorations. I’m watching holiday baking shows on the food channel. I’m listening to Christmas music as I type this. It’s slightly ridiculous, but I’m having fun. We even put a Christmas tree on the deck because we thought Baby Brooklyn would like it. She doesn’t like it! Or maybe she likes it too much? I don’t know. She stands by the window every night and cries because it’s too dark and cold to go outside with the lights. We tried to give her Christmas cheer, but we just made her extra annoying! Toddlers are already annoying enough without lights to cry over!

So close . . . and yet so far. Also, yes, there's a pumpkin under the outdoor Christmas tree. We didn't have anything else to put under there!


2. Let me give you Christmas cheer too! (Hopefully it won’t make you extra annoying.) I’m giving away a $100 book shopping spree for Christmas. You can win whatever books you want! The giveaway is open internationally. Click here to enter. Entering the giveaway is good for my self-esteem because I’m always paranoid that I’m going to post a giveaway and just hear crickets.





Wayward Googlers


Here is an amusing Google search that led people to Read All The Things! last month. I’m sorry to the unfortunate souls who ended up here instead of finding what they were Googling for.


“Is Treasure Island gay?” Not that I remember. The author doesn’t identify any of the characters as gay in the descriptions. None of the characters identify themselves as gay in their dialogue. There are no same-sex romance scenes. I’m sure there’s an author somewhere who has rewritten the story to make it gay. (Edited to add: Yep, I found the gay version. It’s a play called Treasure Island: The Curse of the Pearl Necklace. When it comes to classics, there’s almost always a gay rewrite.)







All The Things!


Number of unread books on my TBR shelf: 53 books

I’m currently reading: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon





What did you do in November?


  1. What a great month of reading! American Radical sounds fascinating, that's one I definitely think I'll have to check out. I also always love your Wayward Googlers--and yeah, there is almost always a gay rewrite of classics, haha. Glad you had a good month, I hope December is another good one! Getting into the Christmas mood is always a good thing. :)

  2. Oof, looks like a heavy reading month! I really do want to read Rage, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I'm cracking up at the outside Christmas tree. Such a cute idea! IS TREASURE ISLAND GAY??? I love it! XD Have a great December!

  3. Oh, poor baby Brooklyn. Toddlers are kind of funny like that. I personally like your little outdoor tree. I'm all about the Christmas right now too. It's fab!


  4. Neat pic of the tree & baby Brooklyn ... (the pumpkin has lasted?!). I think I should probably read the Tamer memoir ... though will it be frustrating with all the terrorists / not being able to do anything?

  5. I need to get moving on my Christmas decorating, it's right around the corner!

  6. I like the pumpkins under the tree.

  7. That was an impressive month of reading, AJ. And I completely understand your wish to get the Trump books out of the way before the end of the year!

  8. What a wonderful pick of books ! I already have a few on my TBR. I think the gay Treasure island must have come up because of Blacksails with Toby Stephens (great show by the way, and great actor) :)

  9. You read some fantastic books this month! I've been going back in forth about reading the Mary Trump Book. I think you just convinced me to skip it. Honestly, at this point I just want him out of office and out of my life! (if that is possible)

  10. Lol aww, poor baby Brooklyn.
    Meanwhile, we're here debating whether or not to decorate for Christmas because we have a cat that might tear down anything that blinks or dangles.

  11. I totally forgot about November being nonfiction month and didn't read any nonfiction with the exception of a picture book about the Wright brothers. You had some thought-provoking reads. I considered reading both of the Trump books you read, but I just can't dedicate any of my precious reading time to someone who makes me so angry and frustrated. November's best book for me was The Truth Project as novels in verse have been amazing this year.