Princess Kaiulani: The Last Hope of Hawaii’s Monarchy by Kristin Zambucka, 3/5
This book’s best feature is its generous selection of stunning, historical photos, which are given pride of place, accompanied by numerous excerpts from Princess Kaiulani’s personal correspondence. The author’s written contributions are very sparse and basic, resulting in an overall effect that is more scrapbook-like than literary.
I have now read two accounts of Hawaii’s transition to statehood and they could not be more different from each other. This tale of the forcible removal of the native Hawaiian monarchy by a bevy of white business owners and politicians was certainly more believable than the whitewashed, weaselly portrayal of the islands’ “liberation” depicted in Hawaii: A History.
Why I read it: The Princess has languished in a box of music books for as long as I can remember, but during a recent reorganization, I decided it was about time she was read and put on the shelf with the others.
Expectant Motherhood by Nicholson J. Eastman, M.D., 3/5
In the last eight months, since I first found out that I was expecting a baby of my own, I have learned a lot about pregnancy and childbirth from a variety of sources. This vintage book from 1957 is the oldest of all, but I was delighted to discover that a surprisingly large amount of the information and advice it gives still survives, little changed, in our modern age. To me, this is encouraging proof that the process of growing and delivering a baby to the world is natural and something most women are innately empowered to accomplish.
Of course, much has changed in the field of medicine in the 60-plus years since the third edition of this book was published, leading to some fascinating insights into the past. For example, I had never thought to wonder how pregnancy tests worked before the modern “pee stick” was invented in the 1970s. I learned that the easiest and cheapest method was simply to wait until an expected menstrual cycle was at least ten days late, at which point chances were good that you were pregnant. The downside of this approach is obviously that you do not receive positive proof of pregnancy, just an ever-increasing likelihood of it. For those requiring more certainty, a much more expensive option was to wait two weeks past the missed menstrual cycle, inject a mouse or rabbit with the woman’s urine and, forty-eight to seventy-two hours later, dissect the unfortunate creature to check its ovaries for changes! The “frog test” also involved the injection of urine, but pregnancy was confirmed by the development of frog eggs in only eight to eighteen hours and the frog would happily survive. Needless to say, peeing on a stick seems much less gross and inconvenient after learning about these alternate methods of the past!
Why I read it: a gift from my sister.
Great American Folklore: Legends, Tales, Ballads, and Superstitions from All Across America, compiled by Kemp P. Battle, 3/5
I understand the need to document and collect traditional stories to preserve them for posterity, but if there is a way to do so while also creating a good reading experience, the editor of this volume has not discovered it. Most of these tales clearly belong to an oral tradition, so it feels strange to encounter them stripped of their correct community context, not to mention the awkward (potentially racist) attempts to convey vernacular in prose.
Why I read it: Somehow it ended up in my to-read pile, though I can’t remember where or when I acquired it.
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok, 3/5
There are three books preceding this one in the Witcher Saga, chronologically, but Blood of Elves really does feel like the first to make a coherent contribution to an overarching story line. I feel that its literary quality isn’t quite up to par with The Last Wish, but it is definitely an enjoyable entry in an over-saturated genre.
Why I read it: gradually working my way through the series after enjoying the first season on Netflix.
Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey, 3/5
Reading this collection of short essays, mostly on such prosaic topics as “apples” and “plastic bags,” is a calming and grounding experience. Knausgaard combines the sensibilities of a sophisticated writer with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, rendering even the most commonplace subject somehow remarkable. The simple and honest manner in which the author’s thoughts and everyday life experiences permeate the text give one a sense of voyeurism without its intrinsic guilt; as if someone has left their curtains open solely to warm the hearts of passersby in the dark.
Why I read it: a recommendation by my sister, Anna.
Season of Storms: A Legend is Born by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5
On a scale of literary quality, this is much closer to Jim Butcher than J.R.R. Tolkien, but it is still good fun. In my opinion, the author writes violence much better than romance, so this book was an improvement on the previous one in the series and leaves me looking forward to the next one.
Why I read it: Working my way through the Witcher series after enjoying the Netflix TV adaptation.
The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde, 3/5
It quickly became obvious to me that this book’s bizarre premise–the struggle for coexistence between humanity and anthropomorphic rabbits–was mostly just a vehicle for the author’s commentary on UK politics (particularly his hatred of the UK Independence Party). “Satire,” with its implications of humor, irony and sarcasm, seems too nuanced a word to describe the tone of this book and brief glimpses of Fforde’s literary creativity and skill just made the incessant political preaching all the more disappointing.
Why I read it: I love many of Fforde’s earlier works and when I heard that he was publishing again, I was very excited to catch up on his latest two books. My enthusiasm has cooled somewhat, since, sadly.
Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5
In contrast to The Last Wish, this second book in the Witcher Saga felt more like an average, run-of-the-mill adult fantasy than an inspired re-interpretation of classic fairytales and mythical archetypes. The “adult” passages were numerous and, frankly, cringe-worthy. If not for the first book’s merit, I would probably avoid reading more in the series.
Early Riser: A Novel by Jasper Fforde, 3/5
This dystopian novel explores the logistical, social, and political implications of living in a world so close to another ice age that humans must hibernate through the winter months. Fforde’s inimitable style does shine through in a couple places, but overall I found the story to be a bit on the pedestrian side. Not exactly predictable, but familiar, like it was based on a Netflix series I’d already seen or something. Of course, Netflix was still a mail-order DVD service the last time I read anything by Jasper Fforde, so hopefully the perceived lack of depth and magic is not simply a result of brain rot from indulging in more mindless TV than good books in the last few years.
Why I read it: the author came up in conversation with my sister.
Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D., 3/5
Clearly, the target audience for this book is aging guys who will appreciate the old-fashioned generalizations and cringey humor that make Younger Next Year pretty unrelatable to anyone else. Fortunately though, you don’t have to be an old man to be encouraged by the premise that consistent exercise, smart eating (but not “dieting”), and healthy relationships can make old age a less terrifying prospect. This book also confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time–that we often associate increasing age with loneliness, misery and a sedentary lifestyle because those are the most available and memorable role models (thanks, negativity bias). All the healthy, adventurous, active, passionate old people are too busy out doing things to stop and convince us that a post-prime life can be amazing.
On a sad side note, I learned that the younger co-author, Dr. Lodge, died at the age of only 58 from prostate cancer. I’m tempted to conclude that one shouldn’t sacrifice happiness for health, since the latter is never guaranteed.
Why I read it: my dad gave me a copy because he enjoyed it.