Reading Lately

Is it truly the end of June already?!  2014 is flying by!  One of my goals this year is to read 52 books again (one book per week for a year) and I'm well on my way to achieving this goal.  I've already read some really great books this year, and a nice variety of novels, poetry, nonfiction, new releases, and a few classics.  Look to the right for a complete list.  Here are a few of my favorites so far for 2014

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time and I would give it 6 stars if I could.  It is an emotional and complex story about twin boys raised in an Ethiopian missionary hospital after their mother dies giving birth and their father abandons them.  In the beginning, the boys were inseparable, known simply as ShivaMarion, until complex family drama and life events tear the pair apart, only to later be reunited at a most pivotal time.  It's a story about humanity and relationships, a story about the parts of ourselves that we fear sharing with others, and a story about the meaning of home and family ("Wasn't that the definition of home?  Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?").  This is a beautifully written story, and of course I loved the medical aspect and seeing the transformation of medicine in third-world Africa as well as in the U.S. throughout the lives of these characters.  It's also a story about death, and I loved the concept about not operating on a patient on the day of their death.  This story is compelling and the characters are full of depth and tightly woven.  The title is also very clever, for Stone is not only the last name of the twin boys but also portrays important themes in the story.  "I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art."  Verghese is a very talented writer.

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

"It seems we humans never learn.  And so we relearn the lesson every generation and then want to write epistles.  We proselytize to our friends and shake them by the shoulders and tell them, 'Seize the day!  What matters most is this moment!'  Most of use can't go back and make restitution.  We can't do a thing about our should haves and our could haves."

"The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don't.  If you keep saying your slippers aren't yours, then you'll die searching, you'll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more.  Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny."

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This is a beautifully and skillfully written account of a preacher's family in their mission journey to the Congo in the 1960s, told from the perspectives of the preacher's wife and their five daughters, the women who comprise the multifaceted Price family. Their expedition is one that will change each character forever. This story is full of emotions as the characters evolve and get in touch with the meaning of their experiences. The five narrative voices are vastly different, yet through her creative and descriptive language, Kingsolver is able to paint a clear picture of each woman's personality, values, triumphs and inner struggles. This story offers meaningful perspectives on the ramifications of trying to change a culture (politically, religiously, or economically) that has succeeded in forming its own unique balances and traditions, and challenges us as white Americans to questions our definitions of "good" and "bad." I was so intrigued throughout the book and wanted to read it all over again as soon as I finished.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

This is the heart-wrenching story of a bright teenage girl struggling to find her place in the complex and stratified world of high school. It's a story about friendships, family dynamics, and secrets. Most importantly, it's about guilt and forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. I think this story offers a realistic picture of teenagers' inner struggles and the intensity of pressures placed upon them. It is creatively written and so relevant in depicting the communication (or lack thereof) of the today's teenage and young adult culture through Facebook and texting (whatever happened to good old fashioned note-passing?). I sympathized with Amelia and her hard-working mother, and the foreshadowing and mystery components kept me engaged up until the very last page.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I recently re-read this powerful and moving story after reading it for the first time almost 20 years ago. This book was my first exposure to the concept of utopian (or dystopian) societies and tells the story of a boy named Jonas who lives in a world void of pain, discomfort, or the responsibility of decision-making. Jonas is assigned the role of The Receiver of Memories in his 12-year-old ceremony, a position through which he discovers the memories of all the worlds past: from snow, colors, and warmth to warfare, death, and pain. Jonas begins to question the value of Sameness and safety in a world that lacks love and individuality, and takes steps to change his supposedly un-changeable state. Lowry calls us to examine our own values and recognize the sacrifices we make for freedom and responsibility. This is one of my favorite books of all time and is a must-read for everyone!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This book was delightful and full of surprises.  Will Traynor is a wealthy (and often arrogant) successful businessman in London who becomes a quadriplegic as a result of an accident, and Louisa Clark is an up-beat and artsy girl, lacking direction and motivation in life, who finds herself in a position to be Will's caregiver.  Her role changes her own concept of who she is: "The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life -- or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else's life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window -- is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are.  Or how you might seem to other people."  Will and Lou's relationship evolves over time as they learn to love and appreciate each other's quirks, and find that they understand each other better than anyone else possibly could.

Early on in the book I found the story pretty predictable, albeit sweet, but was pleasantly surprised by the depth and beauty as the story develops. I fell in love with Lou and Will's relationship, their sarcasm and humor that left me smiling as I read, and their genuine love for each other.  They inspire each other to live life fully and find happiness.  Louisa discovers her mission: "I would have to fill those little white rectangles with a lifetime of things that could generate happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or pleasure.  I would have to fill them with every good experience I could summon up for a man whose powerless arms and legs meant he could no longer make them happen by himself."

As I healthcare worker I really appreciated the various perspectives on disability and importance of focusing on the individual person and his or her goals.  This is a story about quality of life and one's own ambitions, about finding happiness in the most unexpected of places, and about what it means to be a supportive friend or family member.  I truly enjoyed this story!

"You only get one life.  It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible."


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