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We have returned from our annual “gone reading” break. And boy, did we read.

We are excited to share our new favorites with you over the next few months, but to begin this autumnal season of blogging, we gave ourselves the task of picking ONE book each for this first post-“gone reading” post. Emerging from our discussions about this first post was a realization that we both read great books that address education. Hence, today’s selections include reviews of three books (Lisa Cadow could not narrow her selection to one) with education at their heart.

Don’t worry, we have plenty more recommendations to share before the holidays (e.g., the new Robert Galbraith thriller, a novel by a first time Colombian-American author, and an adoption memoir). We also have some exciting guest blogs lined up; and, we are thrilled Pages in the Pub and BOOK BUZZ both happen this autumn, providing additional opportunities to highlight great books reviewed by fun and interesting people.

However, to begin, today we offer three recommendations around the theme of education.Related image

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018) – During this back-to-school time of year, it only seems appropriate to focus our energies on books that have to do with themes of academia. Such is the case with Educated, one of the most affecting memoirs of 2018 (or, for that matter, of the past several years). In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”

Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Yet another book placed in the setting of academia and one of my very favorites of the year! Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America.

Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Also highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~Lisa Cadow

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an undocumented citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas (2018) — This book offers a poignant, plainly spoken, well-crafted, and intimate look at life as an undocumented worker in the USA. Mr. Vargas is possibly the most famous undocumented citizen in the USA and uses his Pulitzer Prize winning writing abilities to create an insightful and searing look at what being undocumented actually means.  What emerges is a portrait of many things I assumed would be part of an undocumented worker’s life – hard work, fear, contributing to one’s community, and hardships associated with maintaining basic dignity.  What I had not previously considered is how extraordinarily difficult it is to live a life with a lie at its core. What is the education connection? Well, despite Mr. Vargas’s contention this book is about homelessness, I would argue that the book repeatedly demonstrates the importance of great schools, amazing teachers, good books, and mentors. Basically, this book illustrates what education can open for so many. And, as with the other two picks in this post, this memoir is highly recommended (and timely based on recent news) for Book Clubs. ~ Lisa Christie

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