I read 9 books in October – 8 non-fiction and 1 fiction.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This was the October book for my books club (chosen by me), and I found it fascinating. The book has had a lot of buzz and I was interested to see what it was all about. Knowing the basic story (cells are taking from a poor, African-American woman without her knowledge while she is in treatment at Johns Hopkins and form the basis for much medical research), I thought the author did a great job of painting a very nuanced portrait of the consequences of that action. It really made me think about medical ethics and medical research in general.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskins. I loved this book and definitely recommend it for any pregnant ladies. The first half is birth stories, which I thought I would find cheesy, but I actually found really empowering. I think if I had read them prior to being pregnant, I might have found them to be off-putting, but staring the process of labor and delivery in the face, it was actually really helpful to read all these stories and realize that ALL of these women had done it, even in occasionally less than ideal circumstances – and I could too. The second half of the book is more practical information about what Gaskins has learned in her decades as a midwife and is super helpful too.
Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey by Patricia Harman. This memoir is loosely wrapped around the author’s journey to become a midwife. The first 2/3 of the book is focused on Harman’s hippie days, early years of motherhood, and the process of becoming a midwife. The last 1/3 focuses on the present day, with Harman’s children grown and her not longer delivering babies. I found it a good, quick read – and an interesting, personal counterpoint to Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear. Book 4 in the Maisie Dobbs series – which is a smart series set in London between the two world wars, but which I sometimes find to be slow going.
Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom by Yangzom Brauen. I enjoyed this book – a family memoir that traces three generations of women from their home in Tibet, escape to India, and eventual settlement in Switzerland. It was a little more political and less contemplative than other family memoirs that I have read, but it was still an interesting story.
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. Greene is the matriarch of a large family – 4 biological children and 5 adopted kids. The book is both an interesting, touching and often quite funny tale of international adoption and look at life is a very large family (which is increasingly less and less common).
Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach. I have to say in some ways Steinbach is my hero – the premise of this book is that she travels from place to place around the world taking lessons in things that interest her (cooking at the Ritz, sheepdog training in Scotland, etc). I would love to do this when I am older – although of course not having a book deal to support the travels will make it a little harder!
This is US: The New All-American Family by David Marin. This was a very quick and engaging memoir about the author’s adoption of 3 siblings from foster care. I finished the book in two days. Marin has a good sense of humor and parts of the book are quite funny, especially when describing his learning curve becoming the father of 3 small children. The story is also in part heartbreaking, when Marin describes what his children went through with their birth mother, “bad foster”, and with social services. My sister was also adopted out of foster care and I can say that while it is ridiculous that it took him 2 years for him to be able to adopt his children (and that this is a big barrier to folks adopting out of foster care that should be fixed), it is certainly typical (and perhaps even on the quicker side of average).
Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim Severson. This is a really good memoir about Severson’s recovery as an alcoholic and growth as a food writer (for the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times). If you like food writing and/or memoirs, I would recommend it.