This Week, I Read… (#28)

64 - A Million Nightingales

#64 – A Million Nightingales, by Susan Straight

  • Read: 6/27/16 – 7/2/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: A book of historical fiction set before 1900
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 33%. I picked this up last year at a library sale because the blurb sounded interesting–the tale of a young slave woman, separated from her mother too young, and her journey to freedom.

I even liked it, at the beginning–the sense of place was excellent, conveyed through skillful, exacting use of key details. I had to stop to look up words often, especially when I recognized a French word but didn’t understand what it meant in context: for example, bouton means “button,” generally, but it’s also “pimple”–I was confused when the owner’s daughter supposedly had buttons around her lips, because I read it literally at first. (There is a glossary of terms in the back, but I didn’t know that until after I’d run to the Internet for that one.)

Ultimately, though, the writing style exhausted me. The main character’s fascination/obsession with her knowledge (or lack thereof) of the workings of the human body started out as an interesting character facet, but ended up dominating the narrative. (How many times do you really need to use the words skull and bone and blood on a single page? How many different things can you really substitute the word water for before the reader gets tired?) It also created a level of detachment from Moinette as a character, which may have even been intentional–I can certainly understand why, going through what she did, Moinette might dissociate from her body as herself, regarding it as a thing instead.

But that didn’t make it engaging to read. It took me five days to get through just over a hundred pages, because I’d find myself with time to read, and not want to pick this book up. I only stuck with it so long because it seemed to have so much potential in the beginning.

65 - The Hidden Face of God

#65 – The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth, by Gerard L. Schroeder

  • Read: 7/2/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: A book about religion (fiction or non-fiction)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

My feelings about this book were complicated before I even opened it. This is the oldest unread book in my personal collection, because my grandmother sent it to me many years ago. When I was still living at home with my parents, she’d call every Sunday to talk to my mother, and whenever I was home, I’d talk to her a while, too. And it was almost invariably about books–I’ve mentioned often how voracious a reader my mother is, and my grandmother was no different. Even when her eyesight began to fail, she was getting large-print books from the library, then books on tape.

I kept meaning to read this, because she wanted me to, because she was a good Lutheran woman and worried some about my drifting away from religion in my younger years.

I don’t want to dive deeply into that, because it’s complicated, and because I don’t want to offend anyone, but boiled down, my stance on religion is this:

  1. I believe that, on an individual level, religion can provide guidance and help a person to better themselves. I would not deny anyone the right to follow and express their religion, up until the point where that expression infringes on the rights of another person.
  2. I believe that, on a societal level, organized religion does more harm than good, both historically, and currently–basically because organized religions need to perpetuate themselves via their members infringing on the rights of other people. (Yes, religion is an information meme; like most geeks of my generation, I’ve read Snow Crash.)

Personally, I was taught to believe in the existence of God as a child, and the underlying principle will probably never leave me completely, but as an adult, I doubt the existence of God.

Because science. I can’t find the exact Neil deGrasse Tyson quote (there are so many!), but in an interview I saw, he said (I’m paraphrasing) that if humanity started over with no knowledge of the current state of of science and religion, the new religions would all be different from what we have now, but science would come out the same.

Because “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

So I didn’t even want to read this book, because it’s specifically designed to convince me of something I already know I won’t believe.

But Grandma wanted me to read it, and I didn’t get to it before she passed away.

Here goes.

DNF @ 10%, though I wanted to pitch the book across the room much earlier than that. I have never felt so talked-down-to.

The prologue and first two chapters are so filled with flawed logic, false dichotomies, and false equivalencies, I wanted to scream in frustration.

If I substitute the word information for wisdom, theology begins to sound like quantum physics.

Yeah, and if I substitute the word logic for foolishness, your book might present a cogent argument.

Granted, I only read the beginning, but near as I can tell, God must exist because there are things science hasn’t explained yet. Not that science can’t explain–that was never stated outright. But numerous examples of currently-unknown phenomena were given, where science is solid to a point, but no farther. Everything past the bounds of known science, therefore, equals God.

I just can’t buy into the premise that not-science = God, because that means there are things that science can’t explain and will never be able to, or there would be no possibility space for God.

The old chestnut It’s impossible to prove a negative is usually trotted out as an argument for God, because science can’t prove God doesn’t exist. Which is true.

But applied conversely, it’s impossible to prove that there will ever be something science can’t explain. We might not understand it yet, but that doesn’t mean, given enough time and research and brain power, we never will.

66 - Mine Til Midnight

#66 – Mine Till Midnight, by Lisa Kleypas

  • Read: 7/2/16 – 7/3/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: The first book you see in a bookstore
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Okay, it’s the first book I saw at the library book sale. I dreaded going to B&N and getting stuck with whatever $20 hardcover new release was on the table just inside the door. But it’s in the spirit of the task, even if it was cheap! One of the sale volunteers had this in her hand, trying to find a spot for it in one of the boxes, when I walked in. I’d been meaning to read this author, after hearing good things about her, so as soon as she set it down, I snatched it up.

I’m glad I did. I don’t read much period romance, but I enjoyed this. Amelia, our industrious heroine, isn’t looking to escape the bonds of her family like so many romance protagonists–rather, she’s desperately trying to hold her family together through their trials and tribulations, which to me was a novel approach.

As for our hero, I mostly liked Cam, though I wasn’t swooning for him–his physical charms line up with my tastes pretty well, though I got tired of his impulsive decision-making.

Part of what kept this from being a five-star read, for me, was the way Cam was repeatedly described as exotic. Okay, I get it, he’s half Roma, I can hardly forget when every third character is taking a dig at his Gypsy heritage. And for a historical tale, I can accept the casual racism of some of the characters towards him, if it’s accurate to the time (it is) and if it’s balanced by other characters not being racist (it is) and if his character isn’t solely attractive to the reader because of his lineage (he’s not.)

But one of the most frequent complaints I see by people of color is the use of exotic as an othering word by white authors. I’ve taken it to heart myself and never plan to use exotic for anything that’s not a plant, animal, or inanimate object; even then, I’ll probably try to find a better word. So the repeated use in this book irked me, not enough to put it down, but enough to pull me out of the story whenever Amelia started swooning over Cam’s exotic looks.

Still, I’d be happy to keep reading the series, or other works by Kleypas, so I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled when my book ban’s through.

Anything you read this week you want to tell me about? I love getting recommendations!


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