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[personal profile] arisha
So now that we're almost a month into 2015, how about I post the rest of the books I read in 2014?

Books in English

Sorry, these first three are not exactly happy ...

· Stories from Jonestown (Leigh Fondakowski)
So one day I decided to look up the origin of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" and then spent the next two weeks reading about Jonestown. This seems to be one of those events where if you were alive when it happened you definitely know about it, but I had never really heard about it before. It feels callous to call a tragedy fascinating, but this is one of those events that's hard to believe it actually happened and that aspect of it really pulled me in. Unfortunately, the first book I read about it isn't the best. Stories from Jonestown follows the author as she interviews survivors and attempts to create a stage play out of their stories. The survivors had some really interesting things to say and this book does a good job of showing how the events in Jonestown are still relevant, but there were a lot of parts where I wanted Fondakowski to step aside and just let the interviewees speak instead of telling us about the drink she had on the airplane.

· Seductive Poison (Deborah Layton)
This is the autobiography of a woman who escaped from Jonestown. She does a really good job of showing why she joined Peoples Temple and why she stayed even after it was clear that bad things were happening in it. Her writing style isn't the strongest (and it was really clear when she wasn't telling us everything - not sure if that was deliberate or not) but this was definitely a worthwhile read.

· A Thousand Lives (Julia Scheeres)
This book, the third book I read about Jonestown, does a really good job of tracing Jim Jones' terrible intentions almost right back to the beginning of Peoples Temple. I don't have much else to say about this book, but it was very readable and gives a really solid overview of the events in Jonestown, although there were a couple parts where I could've done with a little less speculation.

And then I had to force myself to stop reading about Jonestown for a while.

Aaand if you're wondering, I'm no longer a fan of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid," which seems to be a common comment from people who have just learned about Jonestown! The existence of the phrase kind of makes me laugh though, because here's this huge tragedy that raises a ton of important questions and pushes at the very definition of the words "suicide" and "murder" ... it seems very typical human behaviour to ignore all of that and reduce it to a phrase that can be used without thinking very much about it.

· Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee)
I've been reading about hoarding for long enough that none of the information about it presented here was super new to me, but it was interesting to read about the different situations of Frost's patients. One in particular really reminded me of the way I used to think about my belongings, which was simultaneously terrifying ("a couple different decisions and that could have been me") and a relief ("thank goodness I don't think that way anymore"). I can definitely see why Frost is not always beloved by children of hoarders, though - he writes about them (us??) just enough that the average reader might think "oh, it sounds like it would be slightly annoying to be the child of a hoarder" when in fact "slightly annoying" is a ginormous understatement. I kind of wish he'd either dedicated more space to that topic or just not touched on it at all.

An honourary mention goes to Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank. I read the first half, which is about how science and medicine see virginity, with great interest. The second half, about how cultural ideas of virginity have changed throughout history, overwhelmed me in the same way that a lot of historical overviews do, so I just skipped through it and only read the parts that stood out to me. Even though I didn't read it 100%, I really enjoyed this book. It was especially interesting to learn how the concept of virginity is viewed in other cultures today. The basic message of this book seems to be "we kind of made up virginity but it's important because we treat it like it is" which is an interesting counterpart to what I remember of Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth ("we kind of made up virginity so let's stop obsessing about it already!").

Books in English about the Trojan War (and also Greek Tragedies)

· How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today (Simon Goldhill)
· Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit (David A. Traill)

These two got mini-reviewed on my blog. I really enjoyed both of them!!

· Persians, Seven Against Thebes, and Suppliants (Aeschylus, translated by Aaron Poochigian)
At the end of November I decided I wanted to read all of the extant Greek tragedies and would do so by reading one or two every day in December. (We have fewer Greek tragedies than we have Shakespeare plays, which is a completely meaningless fact that fascinates me anyway.) Well my Greek Tragedecember didn't happen, but I did read seven of them! I imagine I will eventually read and/or watch all of the plays, just not at quite that quick a pace.

Anyway, the first plays I read were these three by Aeschylus. I was mainly surprised by how little plot they had, even compared to the Greek tragedies I was already familiar with. Also, if there isn't a rock band somewhere out there called Seven Against Thebes, then what a missed opportunity that is.

· Ajax (Sophocles, translated by John Tipton)
I chose this translation based entirely on the cover, which features bloody sheep heads and is thus perfectly relevant and also really hardcore! Had I actually taken a look at the translation, I don't think I would have picked it; the dialogue between characters was fine, but instead of translating the chorus, Tipton wrote them some new lines that included modern references. I think I would be okay watching this translation be performed, but for reading the play I would have liked a translation that was more faithful to the original.

As this play takes place during the Trojan War, I was more into it than I was the previous three. I especially liked the dialogue at the beginning between Odysseus and Athena. I've never seen this one staged but would be very interested to.

· Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, The Bacchae (Euripides, translated by Paul Roche)
This translator took it upon himself to provide copious stage directions, and I'm not sure if he got them from somewhere or if he just made them up, but definitely my favourite part of Alcestis was how Hercules' stage directions were always things like "Hercules comes onstage, suuuuper drunk." The rest of the play was pretty glum so I was glad to have something entertaining to picture, haha. My second favourite part of Alcestis was seeing the bits in it that surely formed part of the inspiration for Disney's Hercules.

Re: Medea, I ... kind of love it? For probably all the wrong reasons? I just really really love how when Jason leaves Medea to marry someone else, she never for one second wonders if she did something to make him leave. Through this whole play her attitude towards her situation is "Jason wronged me, and I am going to make him pay." Man you guys, I know Medea murders everyone she comes into contact with, but I really love her anyway. And the description of the way she kills the princess!! That was one of the most creative and most disgusting things I read all year. Congratulations, play that is some three thousand years old; you really shocked me.

Re: The Bacchae ... I dunno, I don't get why everyone loves this one. (Search Tumblr for posts about Greek tragedy and you'll see that it's surprisingly popular with the classics majors!) This was my second time reading it but I still feel like I'm missing something. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Books in Spanish

· El camión de papel (Roberto Aliaga)
· Diario de Greg 2: La ley de Rodrick (Jeff Kinney)
· Diario de Greg 3: ¡Esto es el colmo! (Jeff Kinney)

Three kids' books that I don't have much to say about. The Diario de Greg books are translations of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I really enjoyed these two but I tried to read the fourth and wasn't feeling it. I probably mentioned this before, but I think I'm kind of getting tired of reading kids' books. Time to push myself and start attempting some YA!

· La Emperatriz de los Etéreos (Laura Gallego García)
This book is almost four hundred pages and doesn't have any pictures so I was extremely pleased when I made it to the end. The story is part of a genre I don't love - the characters travels from magical land to magical land and never has anything deeper to say about them than "My, what strange people!" - but in this case it was interesting enough to keep me reading, and I loved how the main character was so different from the usual young female protagonists. I actually think this would make a really great kids' movie, although the setting might be too similar to Frozen's for such a movie to be made any time soon. This book is easily the crowning achievement of my 2014 Spanish reading, haha!

Books in Japanese

· Sindbad no Bouken (Yoshimoto Naoshirou)
I bought this book in a used bookstore not too long after I started JET. It's a young children's book with huge text and many pictures but for whatever reason it took me a while to get to it. I didn't love it, it was really repetitive. I wonder if the Sindbad stories are actually like that or if the author made changes? I will have to look into this.

· Sanshimai Tanteidan (Akagawa Jirou)
My second book by Akagawa Jirou. After Shisha no Gakuensai I didn't intend to read any more of his work, but I got this book for free so I read it. I'm very happy to report that, although this book had a healthy amount of kanji and almost no furigana, I was able to read it at a good speed and mostly without a dictionary. A huge accomplishment! I am less happy to report that the story bothered me even more than the first book of his I read. Like, at the end, the police for some mysterious reason can't arrest the criminal based on the large amounts of evidence they've gathered - they have to set up this overcomplicated trap in which a high schooler has to get in bed naked with her teacher. And this is treated like a fine and normal thing?! And then one of the cops is all "Heeheehee I saw you naked" and it's supposed to be cute?!?! NOPE NOPE NOPE. Akagawa, this is really frustrating because your writing is at the perfect reading level for me right now, but ... we're done here.

Books in French

· La maison de Bernard est hantée (Maureen Bayless)
A short kids' novel in which a boy thinks his house is haunted, but don't worry, there's no ghost! Just a man living in the attic! And the boy's parents are happy to let the man continue to live there, no questions asked! This is definitely the kind of story that would only happen in a kids' book.

Total books read in 2014: 72
31 books in English
25 books in Spanish
15 books in Japanese
1 book in French

I am happy to have met and surpassed my goal of 50 books, and I'm happy to have started (even just a little bit) reading more difficult books in Japanese and Spanish. I'm not really planning to read as many books in 2015, but we'll see what happens!


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July 2015

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