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Book Reviews of 2022

Favorite books

  1. The Ingenious Hidalgo, Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes
  2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt
  3. Face It: A Memoir, Debby Harry
  4. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Stephen Brusatte
  5. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Ok books

  1. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
  2. The Mind of South Africa, by Allistar Sparks
  3. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  4. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin
  5. Where the Crawdad Sings, by Delia Owens

    Least favorite books

  1. Matrix, by Lauren Groff
  2. Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates
  3. This Ends with Us, Colleen Hoover
  4. The Paper Palace, Miranda Cowley Heller
  5. India, a History, John Keay

Reviews of my Top 5 Favorite Books

The Ingenious Hidalgo, Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes

There`s so much to marvel at here, in 16th century Spain, chivalry is waning against the rise of guns, and Don Quixote, in search of a deeper meaning to life, attempts to revive the chivalric code (in his own mind, at least) and uphold all its principles. Doing so requires a squire- hence we meet Sancho Panza- and they set off on their adventure, which involves a few rambling days of walking to an Inn, where Don Quixote attempts to brute force his invented narrative on all he encounters, with hilarious outcomes. Truly, a man bending the universe to his own will. Beyond this fascinating idea, there are high jinx and adventure, and tons of comedic banter between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza that is genuinely funny, plus, Sancho Panza being tossed in a blanket. About ⅓ of the way in, Don Quijote himself fades from view, as the many characters he meets along the way spin their own stories of lost love, war and misunderstanding. This is never a boring book, but it is dense, and translated, and each sentence should be read closely- and often marveled at- and as the book progresses, there are many many characters, and they begin intersecting. As a writer, you have to pause and marvel that Don Quixote is a first draft, too, written once in quill. For that reason, it’s a good idea to dedicate yourself to this book- not imagine you’ll flip through it on the beach. But a thoughtful read means time to capture and reflect on all the details that reveal 16th century life in Spain; and I’ve been pondering how ideals embodied in the chivalric code dominated notions of masculinity; and how -when technology took that away- men struggled to find meaning and began inventing their own hero narrative- to the point they road donkeys into windmills. TBH, it reminded me of today’s “social justice warriors' '. The desire to ride in on a white horse, vanquish injustice, and win the respect of men and a hot girl- whether on the spanish hills or on Twitter- certainly lives on.

Face It: A Memoir

This memoir is as punk, messy and cool as she was. Who cares what “critics'' thought of Face It.

Either you get it or you don`t- and I bet many women who partied in the 70s and 80s got it: Freedom, grafitti, drugs, rape, mysogyny, AIDS and late, late nights on the Lower East Side. Face It is like a disorderly photo album and there are no take-aways, no proselytizing about what women went through, no attempt to package it all into something that now makes sense. It`s how it was- and there`s no take away to it.

This book starts in the 1960s suburbs with her repressed childhood, her bumpy ascent to fame, her friendship and love of her bandmate, and memorable descriptions of the space and thinking that drove her most iconic album covers- like that of her crawling out from under a wrecked car. Blondie goes from being famous and beautiful to being broke, raped by a masked intruder, and then a drug addict– and then everlastingly famous again.

Someone else can reflect on the time period, and point fingers. To Blondie, this stuff just happened- and her standoffish dismissing of such heartbreak, sexism and injustice captured - for me- women’s attitudes of the 1970s. Back in 1983, Blondie symbolized a path forward for this independent 10 year old girl singing along to all her records, and I still think she’s as cool as hell.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Reading this book from a Florence rooftop in August, overlooking the Uffezi, may or may not have influenced my total love of every page of this incredible story… it`s a book about the philosophy that inspired the renaissance, and the monk who uncovered the long-lost writings of a Greek philosopher Epicurious AND the plot to subsequently dismiss and bury his writings as heretical by the wicked and endlessly defensive Catholic church- which just taught us all to FEAR GOD.

The historical reporting captivated me. I love attempts to pinpoint “beginnings' ' of movements, whether its feminism, socialism or the renaissance– and told through the eyes of a specific character, overlooked by history. Given how much damage the wicked Catholic church has done to women, I also appreciated this exposure of their attempts to stop science, condemn free-thought, and squash curiosity. There was so much history in this book, too. Terrific read.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

The story of planet earth, and the life that`s existed on it since bacteria morphed into jellyfish, and then sprouted vertebrate…fingers…..toes…. and walked across land is one largely lost to history for a simply reason: lack of track prints.

The earliest record we have of life on the planet are the fossilized toes of a “fishy creature” that emerged from water and crossed mud flats in Central Poland early 400 million years ago. Starting there, this incredible book chronicles life on earth since that earliest fossil through to the extinction of the dinosaurs, 60 million years ago.

The entire story is astonishing, and includes heart-beating descriptions of mass extinctions, starting with the Permian extinction about 360 million years ago, when possibly 75% of all life on earth was extinguished by volcanic spewing dust and gases and acidic rain, the lava from these volcanic eruptions hardened into black basalt which still makes up the majority of Siberia underfoot. From there, the author- a very friendly paleontologist Steve Brusate- (who also wants you to know he`s cool and worked alongside other cool paleontologists lol)- explains not only what happened but how we know what happened- and what we don`t know, still.

Even before he starts to describe the impact of a 15km-wide asteroid smashing into Mexico and the ensuing hailstorm of fiery glass rocks and tsunamis that wiped out nearly all life on earth.. I was looking differently at the ground under my feet. I wish a book like this could be written about dozens of topics- not just the how -but also the how we know. I loved that. And I wished Brusate would write a sequel (60m to today) AND a prequel.

Reading Swerve was a cherished experience for me, but Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs you can`t die without reading, and for that reason I`m giving it my absolute favorite book of the year award!

The Adventures of Pinocchio

The original is a poetic, mischevious, witty, warm-hearted portrait of a child`s failure (again and again) to be good, and the abundance of love that drives his maker/dad to forgive him.

If you have children, you may realize as I did that being bad is hard to resist. There`s just something inside of all of us that falls to tempation, whether it be skipping school for a day at the circus or a gold coin.

This lovely story deepened my empathy for kids, and I had fun reading it to my 11 year old.

END. What should i read this year? @christinaasquit on Twitter.