Selected Book Reviews

 I read...a lot.  And I review lots of what I read on Goodreads.  I would like to get back in the habit of reviewing every book I read, and in the interest of building more fluency in that direction, I thought I'd post reviews of some of my more memorable reads here.  It will run the gamut from books I loved or loathed to books that, while perhaps only mediocre in their entirely, left a lasting impact in some way.  Please feel free to comment, criticize, disagree.  I want to become better, so your input is invaluable to me!  If you're interested, you can follow my entire reading journey on my Goodreads page (which will require a free membership to view).

For those who are continuing readers, my new blog, Bookish Nerd, is dedicated to all of my bookish pursuits.  Please follow the link and check out my 2011 reading challenges, book reviews, a running log of 2011 reads, and other related stuff.


My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas
Audio CD (unabridged)
Narrated by Clarence Thomas

Loved, loved, loved this book. It is the American dream at its essence, as well as a great study in perseverance and courage. I appreciated Thomas' approach to telling his story, making no excuses for missteps and bad decisions, disclosing the good and the bad, and ultimately learning lessons from his life experiences. It was gratifying to understand where he came from & how his character & beliefs were shaped by that. It was equally gratifying that he did not blame his family for the problems he faced, and that he did not allow bad situations to sway him from his convictions.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this book for me was listening to the audio version, which Thomas himself narrated. What was already a well-written & provocative story became a more powerful & moving story with an authentic quality that would not have been achieved by any other reader. I have long admired him & thought him a man of great strength and ability, and having now experienced his personal odyssey, my admiration has increased exponentially. This is as fine a memoir as I have ever read about a very, very fine man.

Grace [Eventually]:  Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Audio CD (unabridged)

Thank you, Lord, I am finally finished with this piece of drivel.

This book should have been named Ann Lamott (Continuously): Thoughts on Myself, as that is ALL she talks about. If she wanted to write yet another memoir (of sorts), then entitle it & market it as such. To suggest that this book is about grace (as in the grace of God) is erroneous in the extreme. Lamott simply DOES NOT GET the concept of all. I actually expected this to be a book of at least a modicum of substance, so I was thoroughly disappointed at the end. It was shallow, doctrinally flawed, morally relative, and all in all, a very laissez faire approach to Christianity.

If Lamott was looking to burn off readers - specifically readers whose points of view differ from hers - she has successful written a book that will accomplish that. This is truly a shame, because she has a talent for writing and spins an interesting tale. Unfortunately she seems unable to discuss issues that are dear to her heart without presenting them in a way that will appeal only to like-minded readers. The rest of us will want to (and may indeed) hurl the book against the wall.

The most glaring problem with this book is her irrational anger toward and hatred for George W. Bush. Certainly she disagrees with him politically, but she expresses such such extreme reactions to him & his policies (depression, for instance) that she comes across as unstable. I mean seriously, I get being opposed to a politician's ideology, but to become so hate-filled and morose is disturbing to me, as it seems to suggest that Lamott's life is not altogether balanced.

Regarding her Christianity, she claims to be a devout Christian and to have a complete, encompassing love for Jesus. I won't dispute her love for Jesus, but to claim that she is devout is committing a huge disservice to Christians who actually ARE devout. What she subscribes to is "Christianity Lite." She picks and chooses what biblical truths she believes in & adheres to, which makes me question her commitment to God. What I don't question is her almost rabid ommitment to abortion, even seeming somewhat proud that she herself had "a couple" in her younger years, and she declares it a moral imperative that children not be brought in the world who will be resented. What astonishes me about this is how completely counter it runs to biblical teaching, which not only requires us not to kill, but commands us to care for widows and children. There is simply no way to biblically justify her stance on abortion.

She also assisted in a suicide, and was admittedly proud to be a part of this man's death plan. Here again she believes & espouses something that is absolutely not supported by scripture, and yet she is attaching moral superiority to the choice. This is problematic for me, because we as humans are incapable of seeing all that God sees, or knowing all that God knows, yet she is willing to take on a God-like role with the limitations of our humanity. That's just scary...and stupid...and arrogant in the extreme.

Finally, she made a conscious to have a child out of wedlock. For a devout, committed Christian, this is anathema, and yet she describes it as a decision she came to because she was ready to be a mother and there was no suitable spouse with whom to create a stable home. Furthermore, this in & of itself verifies that she has engaged in premarital sex, not to mention that she has already admitted to having "a couple" abortions. Granted, she may not have been a professing Christian at the time of those abortions - and she was a practicing alcoholic & drug user - but to become a Christian and not loathe what are rightly labeled the sins of one's past, nor to express remorse for having done those things, is to completely miss the point of GRACE. We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, freely given to us, and when we truly accept that gift, we are reborn & renewed in our hearts, with a desire to follow hard after Christ. Of course we fail, but if our hearts are truly changed, then we continue striving to put Christ at the center or our lives. No where in her book does Lamott describe a relationship with God that puts him at the center of her life. How can she, when so many other things take precedence to God? She swerves into grace occasionally, and even then, she describes it as more of her own doing than God's.

This was the most disappointing, frustrating and infuriating book I have read this year. Unless you are a reader of like mind and heart, I would recommend avoiding this one. It will save you a lot of irritation.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Audio CD (unabridged)

This was an interesting & well written story, but it left me feeling quite conflicted. There were some significant things that disturbed me, starting with the protagonist's tendency to blame everything bad that happened to his home country (Pakistan) on the United States. This is such an overreaching attitude, particular considering that conflict in the Middle East has existed as long as the Middle East itself, and blaming the US for the aggressions shown by various ME countries toward others is a convenient and currently popular sentiment, but not grounded in the realities of the relationships between the ME countries themselves.

What was perhaps the most disturbing issue for me was Changez's reaction of pleasure at the attacks against the US on September 11. This troubled me throughout the rest of the book, especially as the antagonistic feelings he had toward the US intensified, even as he was taking advantage of the opportunities the US had (has) to offer that were not available to him in his own country. I simply do not understand hating a country & what it stands for, but at the same time coveting the opportunities there, and thus doing whatever was necessary to pursue a US education & employment.

Tied into the above is the absence of ethical responsibility Changez ultimately showed toward his employer, an employer who went out on a limb for him on more than one occasion. His "guilt" seemed only to involve letting Jim down (his hiring manager), but not about derailing the project he was working on or leaving the company in a bad position. His attitude had become so negative toward the US that he could not even bring himself to fulfill his employment obligations in a professional & ethical way, even though the US was the country that had afforded him the opportunities.

Finally, the whole premise of the book (a conversation between Changez and an unidentified American) left me with a feeling of being set up. The ending is ambiguous enough - both in content of Changez's monologue and as to what actually did/did not happen with the American - that it left me as the reader feeling as though the author wanted me to assume what happened next, and based on the story & the trajectory of Changez's life, one ending seems much more plausible than another.

So at the end of the reading I am conflicted, because it could have actually been a much better story, even with the anti-US sentiment, if the protagonist had actually had some personal ethics rather than allowing his politics to inform & dictate his actions. I hated that about him, and while the writing was good, my inability to connect on even the smallest level with Changez impacted my overall assessment of the book.

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