If Our Bodies Could Talk by James Hamblin
2016 Book Challenge- A Book You Should Have Read in School
I’m a little behind on my 2016 Book Challenge write ups, but not behind on the reading itself. The reading has definitely been happening, but the around-the-world-move has put a damper on the time I should be spending getting these posts ready to go. (Kuala Lumpur to Boise to Washington DC- bonus room living and then a hotel room with *terrible* internet. None of these are good posting conditions! We officially move into our Chinatown place this Saturday, so here’s hoping life falls back into some semblance of order.)
My July Book Challenge topic was “a book you should have read in school.” I’m going with The Hounds of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I mainly went with this pick because my niece *was* reading it for school and I was helping her with a paper she had to write before the new year started and it has been decades since my last reading, which was probably in college. I definitely did not read this one in high school.
First of all, I have to question why I didn’t read this in high school. I’m really not sure. I took a lot of English classes at that time, but wasn’t as intrigued by the literary world as I am today. If memory serves, I did the reading required of me, but am not sure I did much beyond that. Thinking back to those three years at Caldwell High (at that time, freshman were still in the junior high), I can’t remember ever checking out a book from the school library. I remember going in to do a bit of research (mostly encyclopedia, as this was before the days of the wonderful Worldwide Web) or going for a class activity, but it is not somewhere I spent much time. (Highly strange, I know! When I was teaching, we were in the school library at least every week and we walked to the local public library a minimum of one time each quarter. Libraries are where it is at!) This lack of my own reading in high school makes me thrilled when I see my niece’s reading lists. While I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more diversity and modern additions to them, at least they exist. Looking back, I’m not sure what I had going on in this area during high school. I really don’t.
Other than being excited that it was on a reading list, I’ve been in a bit of a Sherlock-phase lately, as the genre (it is nearly is its own designation at this point!) has become popular with the TV producers of the world. I started with the BBC one last winter and ran through all the episodes available (so few per season, why BBC??) and then went to Elementary, which must have been on cable TV, but popped upon Malaysian Netflix. Sadly, I only made it through a couple of seasons before moving back and it isn’t on US Netflix. (Can I use my VPN to go the opposite direction?)
I loved jumping into the original Doyle book after my recent modern-day binge. Not only did it give me a renewed love of the literature itself, but I also found myself impressed by the ways Sherlock’s character has been brought to life in a contemporary setting. Fessing up to sheer nerdiness, I must admit to having loved getting to sit down over empanadas and coffee (two different meetings, those things do not go together well!) to talk about books with my niece as she prepared for her paper. From our discussions, one thing that stood out to me in relation to the difference between the literature and the shows is what it takes to draw in an audience. When Doyle was writing, a huge dog covered in glowing powder was enough to set readers on edge. Imagining being alone on the moors at night, the howling of mysterious canines and the possibility of a horrible, yet unexplained death was just the stuff to keep a reader turning pages. The literary imagery was enough. With today’s amazing technology and production abilities, it seems that the level of detail and perfection needed to induce that same anxiety exists at a much higher bar. I’m not sure today’s reader has the same petrified reaction to The Hounds of Baskervilles as they did a hundred years ago, and yet, the writing itself holds up. The characters still ring true. This is why certain books are classics. And The Hounds of Baskervilles has earned its place on that roster.
Getting the chance to reread The Hounds of Baskervilles alongside my niece was a treat! While it may not seem like a typical summer “beach read,” it was the prefect July pick.
In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge
– A book published this year (A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin) A book you can finish in a day (When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)
_____A book you’ve been meaning to read
_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian
A book you should have read in school (The Hounds of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle)
A book recommended for you by your spouse/partner, friend, child, or sibling (Jasper Fforde books) A book published before you were born (And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie) A book that was banned at some point (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess)
_____ A book you abandoned previously
_____ A book you own but have never read
_____ A book that intimidates you
A book you’ve read at least once (I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali)
Fun! Fascinating! Captivating! Charming!
I thought about going with fourteen adjectives to describe Jennifer L. Holm’s recent release, The Fourteenth Goldfish, but then decided it is doesn’t need a gimmicky introduction; it stands strongly on its own as a great work of young adult fiction that pushes readers to think more about science, consider the possibilities of reverse aging and wonder just how much age plays into a person’s role within their family. While this book definitely skews to the younger side of young adult fiction, aimed primarily at the sixth/seventh grade levels, it is a fantastic find for science teachers since it introduces some great characters from the history of science and questions the role of scientists in all of our lives.
It was a bit shocking that Ellie’s kindergarten teacher thought it was a good idea to teach young kids about the circle of life by giving them a pet store goldfish with a lifespan of a week so they could learn about death. That seems like a bit of a harsh way to crush the innocence of a child, but Ellie’s miracle fish lives for years, outlasting all of the other kids’ aquatic pets. I giggled when Ellie’s mom fesses up to having used replacement fish for year, sneaking the dead one out of the bowl and plopping a new on in its place before Ellie can discover that her initial goldfish wasn’t special and didn’t outlive those of her classmates.
Soon though, the goldfish-incident is forgotten, when Ellie’s mother brings someone new home to stay. Dressed in a sweater vest, perfectly ironed khakis and black dress socks, Melvin just doesn’t blend in with other kids his age, but Ellie has a strange sense of knowing this odd new addition to her home. But why wouldn’t she? Instead of being another sixth grader debating between the corndog or the pizza for lunch, it turns out Melvin is actually Ellie’s grandfather!
Melvin, a scientist, through the help of some fisherman friends in Australia, has discovered how to reverse the aging process, using himself as the guinea pig in his first human experiment with what can only be described as science-fiction come to life. Since no one knew what he was working on and he now looks like any other pimply kid on the brink of being a teenager, access to his lab is denied, and he can’t drive a car or live on his own without raising suspicions. His daughter (Ellie’s mom) takes him in, but makes him attend middle school as part of his cover, where his multiple graduate degrees make sixth grade science something he could do during a nap and fitting in nearly impossible.
Stuck with Melvin, her grandfather, Ellie begins to realize that she isn’t cut out for the life of an actor like her parents, but rather that she has a keen interest in the experiments her grandfather has worked on and maybe her place in this world is wearing a white coat in a lab rather than an ornate costume on a stage.
I love that this book introduces a variety of historical figures in science, everyone from Galileo and Newton to Salk and Oppenheimer, but in a way that leaves a lot of room for the reader to follow up and discover more about them. There is enough detail to intrigue, but enough left unsaid to encourage a bit of post-reading browsing. But, the scientist themselves aren’t the only draw of the book, as it touches upon bigger questions, like what exactly is the role of a scientist and how far is too far. Jennifer L. Holm’s recent publication, The Fourteenth Goldfish, is lighthearted and a quick read (I downloaded it before bed and didn’t turn off the light until I had turned the last page!) and one that will draw in a variety of middle level readers, earning it:
Over the last six months, I’ve seen TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos pop up on various book lists and recommendation websites, but I was not overly drawn to it. Initially, I thought it was non-fiction, which intrigued me a bit, but after realizing it was fictional, it just never made my ever-expanding reading list. And then, the worst happened. It was midnight; I was wide awake and bookless. The horror! After checking my library holds and realizing I was quite a ways down on all of my wait lists, I started perusing the “now available” books and this one popped up. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I downloaded it and then stayed up way to late immersed in the lives of the women who populated the newly created town of Los Alamos.
As their scientist husbands were called upon by the US government to work on a special project in the desert of the southwest, these women and their families were uprooted and packed along for the ride. It was a ride that would take them to a make-shift city where their families could not visit, their letters were read and censored and where a husband’s status determined the housing provisions. Removed from the world they knew, these wives who used to serve tea in academic circles and having nightly dinners with their husbands suddenly find themselves donning jeans, shopping in a commissary and when their husbands actually made it home for dinner, finding them mute when it came to anything work related.
While some may have had inklings of what was going on behind the closed and guarded doors where their husbands went to work each day, none expected to go down in history as a part of the town where nuclear bombs were first brought into existence.
Some people may be turned off by the first-person plural point of view that carries throughout the entire novel, thinking it feels a bit removed and “royal,” but I thought it did just the opposite, making the reader a part of the ups and downs of the unique living situation into which these women were forced. By telling the tales of various women through a “we” narration, the reader feels what it is like to be frustrated with the situation, mentally placing themselves among these women, rather than glancing in from the outside. (I do wonder though, how a male reader would feel about the very female-oriented telling of the story. It might be a much harder literary choice for men to get on board with, since it permeates the entire novel, making it quite exclusionary when it comes to audience.)
Surprisingly, I found a lot of parallels between the lives of these women who moved to Los Alamos and my own. The US Foreign Service is also an organization that uproots families (although by choice), removing them from loved ones at home, making them miss births and birthdays, holidays and homecomings. It is a world where housing is assigned and problems with housing are funneled through the employee’s workplace. Spouses are thrown into a new living situation, some prospering, some merely surviving and others throwing in the towel when the whole thing becomes too much. While it seems like odd to draw a comparison between the US’s nuclear weapons creation program and that of their Foreign Service, I did feel a certain attachment and understanding for what these women were facing.
It didn’t take more than a handful of pages for this book to catch my full attention, drawing me into the lives of a group of women who followed their husbands, for better or worse. TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos easily earned a solid:
Dream Girl is the first in what will be a series of books by S.J. Lomas. As is the case with many inaugural books, much like TV show pilots, this narrative is very character focused, building the back stories of the characters who will reoccur in the following books, creating a strong foundation for future narratives.
While character-focused books often go a bit slower than action-oriented ones, Dream Girl doesn’t get bogged down by the scaffolding needed to create a series. Right away, readers connect with Christine, our good-girl protagonist who is drawn to Gabriel, the darker, mysterious boy who is worth a bit of extra time. Not long after Christine meets Gabriel, through their part-time jobs at the local library, she experiences a terrifying incident where she is drawn into a dream world that she doesn’t understand and can’t break free of on her own. These jumps to another realm continue the more she gets involved with Gabriel, and it doesn’t take long for her to see that there is more to him than just a troubled young man.
Written with teenage girls in mind, the love story plot of the book is immediately obvious and soon twisted into a bit of a triangle, as the young man meant to help Gabriel and Christine break free from the danger of the dream world becomes an additional possible love interest for Christine. Up until this point, I was pretty onboard with the narrative, but the turn towards a Twilight-esque love triangle left me a bit disappointed. I’d like to give teenage girls a bit more credit- having a strong female protagonist doesn’t require her to be attached at all times. Even though Gabriel is a major player in the book, I’m not sure many teenage boys would stick with this book to the end; the romance plays a little too heavily.
Love narrative aside, the book does a good job of creating a world in which the reader wants to continue. Sometimes at the end of a book that I know will be a series, I am happy to put it back on the shelf with no intention of ever picking up its counterparts. That can’t be said for this one. I’m hoping that the sequel to Dream Girl will see Christine move away from the need for a boyfriend and into a solid character on her own, but I’m also curious to see what happens to Gabriel, as the decision about what to do with his life was taken away from him and he is now forced into something that he can’t avoid. I’m hoping the characters continue to grow in their own rights and that the storyline is shored up in the next book, now that a strong foundation is in place. S.J. Lomas’ Dream Girl isn’t totally engrossing, but it is interesting enough to have kept my attention and make me curious about what happens next, earning it: