Friday, May 8, 2015

An Unsettling Book List

I read awful things.

When I say "awful," I'm not actually talking about the news (even though that might qualify). And I'll also say I don't make it far into awful books. In this case, I generally mean "about topics that are considered awful." I read a lot of books about cults and diseases and murders and wars because these are things that interest me and that I want to attempt to understand, to a degree. Which means a lot of my reading time is spent on topics that are ... less than cheerful.

What really gets me in trouble, though, is the fact that I insist on reading these books in public places where people will ask about them.

Oh well.

That being said, here are a few of the awful things I've been reading this year. And one wonderful thing.

This book is all about cancer.
Okay, okay. This book is described as a "biography of cancer." It goes into the known history, the development of diagnosis, how treatment has evolved, and into the research now being done.
It is fascinating. It is also not light reading. I've gotten some serious razzing for pulling this "textbook" out while at my local brewery (on my Kindle, so at least it travels well that way). And I'm nowhere near done with it and won't be for some time.
If you're interested in the topic and ready to dive into some heavy reading, give it a shot. As it happens, it's also been turned into a six-hour miniseries on PBS, so you may be able to find it on your local channel in that form.

I genuinely don't remember how I stumbled across this one. It'd been sitting in my Kindle for some time before I read it -- and then I couldn't put it down.

This book is all about the H-bomb tests performed in the Pacific in the 1950s, written from the perspective of a soldier that "got" to spend a year right at ground zero. If you have any interest in learning more about our history with nuclear power, this gives you a layman's viewpoint on the early days. It's not overly technical -- mostly, you get to see what all we didn't yet know. In action. It's jarring and painful, particularly when read from a post-Cold-War, post-OSHA perspective. And moreover, it's alarming to realize just how far we had to go in realizing the powers we were playing with back then.
Just do yourself a favor and read it in places where you won't be embarrassed if you have a visible reaction. This is a book about a military base filled with men. Some of the stories are downright gross or scary. You've been warned.
I first heard about this from a movie preview.
Persepolis is actually a graphic novel about revolution in Iran from the perspective of one who was there, starting when she was quite young. You go with her through her expat years in France, through teenagerhood, and onward, always with an undercurrent of the danger and politics in Iran.
It reads fairly quickly (remember: graphic novel) and as it is a topic not well known by many Americans, I absolutely have to recommend it.
[Side note: This was a recommendation given to me by an acquaintance at a brewery. As it happens, that was also how I first read Hunger Games and several other books. Amazingly, I have yet to be steered wrong in that particular setting.]

At the risk of ending up on a list somewhere, I have to include this.
This is the book that became the 2-hour HBO special that was all the rage last month. While the TV special is quite good (I won't admit how many times I've let it run in the background while doing other things), the book has the details the show lacks. And it is fascinating.
I decided to give this one a go after my somewhat spontaneous trip to LA, where Scientology is a much more obvious presence than in my quiet home state. And while I've read about them from time to time in other places, this book gave me history and background that I haven't found elsewhere, especially where the founder himself is concerned. If you have any interest in trying to understand this particular crowd, or if you're curious about what the appeal of such an organization might be, give it a shot. You never know what you might learn.
And for my one wonderful thing ...
Mia Sorella told me I needed to read this, and she was absolutely right. If you love the movie, you need to read it, too.
Now, it's time for some less awful things. I do believe I might be getting the new Elon Musk biography soon ... That should be fun!

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