Rapture Practice: A True Story about Growing Up Gay in an Evangelical Family by Aaron Hartzler

raptureI admit that I began reading this with undisguised fascination for the inner rules and workings of an evangelical Christian family. But it really ended up being more than that. Hartzler is a good writer and manages to convey his genuine love and affection for his family, all while beginning to question the very tenets of his faith. He is also gay, something he is slowly realizing (though never comes out and acknowledges during the book.) I did find myself fascinated and horrified by his parents’ strict rules and thought it was pretty amazing that raised as he was he was able to question the logic of the actions of God (for example, if everything is preordained, why would God bother to create a world that would require the bloody sacrifice of his son? and, best of all, if his parents felt he was damaging his soul by listening to an Amy Grant cd, how could it be that serial killer Ted Bundy could accept Jesus before being put to death and get into the same heaven?)
Well written, but it definitely left me wanting more (something he acknowledges in the afterword. Though I will add a different question I want answered-did he remain friends with Bradley?)

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

[Reading challenge, Alex award)

relishThis has been on my radar to read for quite a long time, and I’m glad that it took me this long to get it because now I got to read it and have it be part of this year’s reading challenge. Interestingly, for last year’s challenge I read her other book, French Milk, and was very disappointed. Relish, on the other hand, did not disappoint. I loved it! I’ve kept it in mind all day, in fact, because so much of the book is about cooking for people you love, and expressing caring and stories through food, and I happen to be in the midst of preparing a wonderful birthday dinner for my mom. This is on the Alex awards list and it is a graphic novel.

Lucy tells all about how she grew up surrounded by food, and how food has formed her memories and the story of her childhood and young adult years (she’s still a young woman-certainly younger than me.) She grew up part of a serious food scene-her mom is a chef, moved to the country in New York, and was a part of developing the local food scene, well connected to other foodies.  In one section Lucy talks about catering a photo shoot of Kate Hudson.

I liked how this was in different chapters-a European adventure, adjusting to country life, visiting Mexico on the brink of adolescence, attending art school, etc. and how each of those told a full story of the foods and what was going on, and concluded with a recipe. And I loved how the recipes are illustrated! I want to make the chocolate chip cookies (with coconut!), sushi rolls, and shephard’s pie. And even though McDonald’s is not my indulgent fast food of choice (though I do love their fries and have a fondness for the burger), I really appreciated her ode to fast food and unapologetic statements that there’s a reason people like to eat it-it’s delicious!

I think that whether or not you are a serious gourmand, a beginner cook, or somewhere in between, you’ll enjoy this.  Possibly people who don’t like food that much wouldn’t get this book. But I don’t get people who don’t enjoy food and so I’ll just say they’re weird!

Breakfast on Mars and 37 other Delectable Essays

marsPaul brought this home and I was attracted by the cover, plus he told me some authors I like were in it.  The premise of this collection is that some excellent authors are going to tackle traditional school essay topics and show you how great they can be.  I thought that the angle might be to satirize the essay a bit, but that was not the case at all.  Each essay genuinely is whatever type of essay it is supposed to be and they are, for the most part, great.  My favorite was the very first one I read, which I read first because I like the author-Scott Westerfeld.  His topic was to debunk a popular idea.  And the idea was the adult books don’t have pictures because adults should use their imaginations and only little kids need pictures.  Well.  I think I would like to make every adult who has that notion or pooh-poohs graphic novels, read this essay.  He explains that once all those classics like Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities, etc.-books for adults-were illustrated and that the change in publishing was more a matter of the introduction of photography and the decline of the profession of illustrator. It was fascinating and well told.  I also liked “pick a myth or urban legend and argue why it must be true.” Kirsten Miller had me practically believing that Sasquatch might truly exist!

Other popular topics were things like “describe an experience that a profound impact on you”, “describe your unique family”,  a persuasive essay, debating both sides of a topic, and if you could pick a trait from an animal to have what would it be? (Tails!)

This was a surprisingly enjoyable book and I hope that high school English teachers might keep a copy in their rooms for students to read and get inspiration from.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

ulpMy mom gave this to Paul for his birthday and as soon as he was done with it I had to read it, too.  If you’re not familiar with Roach she is a very popular non-fiction author who has written about sex and death previously and is know for being a fun science writer.  I thought I had read her books, but it turns out I’ve just seen her on tv a lot and possibly read excerpts before. Thus, it was an especially fun read for me as I loved discovering her chatty style and her hilarious footnotes. If you are looking for readable non-fiction, Roach is for you. If you love interesting and strange factoids, or maybe are a fellow reader of Mental Floss, then Roach is for you. For this topic Roach starts at the top and works her way down. Thus, we begin with taste and smell and chewing and work our way down the digestive track to flatus (my new favorite word) and poop.  I did cringe at some of the poop stuff, and can’t stop referring to my family’s flatus now. But how interesting to find out that Elvis Presley had a mega colon and that’s what probably killed him! Or that our jaws are fabulous designed to exert just the right amount of pressure for chewing and pull back in a fraction of a second so that we don’t smash our teeth.   I wish this had more illustrative photos (after hearing the megacolon described, I want to see it.) I also really enjoyed reading about her research into pet foods. Competitive eating disgusts me, so I found that chapter especially icky.  Roach really does shed a light on how fascinating the body is and perfectly it works in terms of getting nutrition and getting rid of waste.  She also sheds a light on how many fascinating and varied jobs there are out there.  Also that people volunteer for experiments involving flatus, smelling dog’s flatus, etc.

Now more than ever I feel a desire to go visit the Mütter Museum.

*It’s been a week since I read this book and I keep thinking about different parts of it. Let me share with you a part I keep recalling because I think it sums up both Roach’s funny writing style, as well as the fascinating facts that most of us have never bothered to think of before. She says to think of and wonder at the anus, for it must know who is knocking at the door-liquid, solid, or gas-and then open accordingly.  Now that’s some phrasing that sticks with you!

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

(Reading Challenge:  Great Graphic Novels)

trinityThis was a fascinating book. And, since there is another big winner about the atomic bomb this year it looks like I’ll be learning a lot about this important event.

It covers the development of the bomb from the start, identifying the key scientific thinkers across the world who were figuring out atoms and fission. Then it comes to Robert Oppenheimer and the U.S.’s quest to built the first bomb.  This part was really interesting to me (the part explaining actual fission, not so much, despite the author and illustrator’s best attempts to simplify and explain clearly-I simply don’t get it!). Did you know that thousands of people in the U.S. were employed in this project-yet they didn’t know what they were working on? That it was so compartmentalized that no one could put the pieces together to figure out that’s what the project was? And this top secret method was so successful the CIA emulated in the future? That whole towns and factories were built just to produce parts that would be used in making the bomb? I didn’t know any of that and it was fascinating. Some other fascinating and horrible things I learned? That so much nuclear testing has gone on around the world that we all have a little radioactivity inside us. Can’t escape it. Also? That although we think of the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the most terrible things to happen in terms of warfare and death tolls, the firebombing campaign of Japan actually had a higher loss of life. It was a more drawn out attack, but worse.

I thought of the book as having two parts-the creation of the bomb and then the use of it. The latter section shows Truman considering the decision to use the weapon, the horror of the bomb, and Oppenheimer and the world’s realization that nothing would ever be the same politically because of this dreadful threat of nuclear war.

In clear words and pictures this very complicated and big event and subsequent topic is brought to life to the reader.  I really liked this and wish it had been around when I was in high school because I think it would have been very useful to read in history class!

The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long

(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

silenceAs seems to be the case with graphic novels, I never would have picked this up on my own, but because it was on the list I did and I’m glad. Also, this is published by First Second and I pretty much love everything they put out. They just publish consistently high quality engaging interesting graphic novels.

So this is a story about civil right in the late 1960s in Texas.  It is based on Mark Long’s memories of his life and incidents. I suppose it is somewhat fictionalized (and his note at the end goes into that), but basic facts are accurate. Mark is white and his dad is a reporter. They live in a very segregated part of Texas and while his family is teaching their children to respect all people and not use the N word, they are oddities in their neighborhood for it. The casual racism is really upsetting to read about. Upsetting because I doubt it was exaggerated and it’s astonishing and horrible to think that people thought it was ok to behave that way. And Texas, this look back is not improving your image to me. Police officers wildly and randomly shooting into a dormitory? Believing that black people are out to get you and who cares if they die?

What I liked about this book, and what was so moving, was the real struggle you see in Mark’s dad and his black friend Larry.  They are uneasy friends, both wanting to be “men of conscience”, but struggling against bosses, the media, friends, family, and ingrained racism.  This was a wonderful look at both the big picture of civil rights in the U.S. and a closer look at how that played out in two families.  I really liked the use of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in the text as they were illustrated by the actions of Larry and Jack.

Definitely recommended. I think it would be great if this were used in history classes.

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

helen(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

Although I know the basic facts about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, this book taught me a whole lot that I didn’t know.  It begins when Annie Sullivan arrives at the Keller house to begin teacher Helen and continues in a chronological fashion that is interrupted by flashbacks to Annie’s childhood. Turns out that Annie had a lousy early life-orphaned, kept in a home for the poor that was later the target of investigations for the horrible treatment people in it received, her only sibling dying from TB, and then finally getting sent to the Perkins School for the Blind.  She was smart and capable, but you get the impression that she was a difficult person to get along with.  Which may have made her just the right teacher for Helen, who was a wild thing when they first meet.

I liked how when Helen and Annie talked to each other their hands are shown signing into each other and then the words were above. Not speech bubbles unless someone was actually speaking aloud.  Much of the story is also told by Annie’s letters to her mentor, who is at the school for the blind.  The process of teaching Helen was fascinating.  I find it really hard to get my head around imagining being blind and deaf. In fact, it’s so distressing for me that when I do imagine it I have to quickly make myself stop.

There is more to the story, though, then just the whole “miracle worker” part.  Quite a bit of drama comes when Helen is older and she and Annie return to Perkins.  Although not students there, her old mentor wants to use their fame and publicity for the school and that makes Annie resentful and drives a wedge between them.  Then there is a fascinating plagiarism story that was apparently quite the scandal.

I liked this quite a bit, especially because I learned so much more to the Helen Keller story than I already knew.  There is a helpful afterward that gives even more information about different elements of the story.