What I read: July 2013

Despite my high hopes for lots of travel reading (confession: I watched three hours of Call the Midwife on one of my flights when I should have been reading), I had but modest achievements this month. Here’s what I read.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

It stinks to be poor. But you already knew that.

I was really irritated while I read this book, and it took me almost the entire month to figure out why. It’s not that the author is playacting at being a minimum-wage worker, essentially on “poor-person-safari”. She makes ample apologies for that throughout the book. It’s not that the people she encounters aren’t rendered with respect. It’s not even that it tells me something I already knew: that it stinks to be poor.

Only in the last day or so did I realize what aggravated me about this book: That it needed to be written at all. As I read, I imagined each argument that the book was rebutting – that if the poor would just work harder, or not have babies, or not drive cars, or not be so trashy and uneducated and lazy and, well, poor, that things would be easier for them.

Even though this book came out years ago, its still relevant, perhaps even more so now that the economy has caused many more people financial hardship. I was glad to hear that a family friend was reading this as part of his summer reading, because there are likely many of his classmates who could stand to have their myths about wage-earners busted up.

Rick Steves’ Rome 2013

I never thought I would say that I read a travel guide – I usually find myself treating them as references rather than literature – but during our preparations and travels to Rome I went through this cover to cover.

We only spent a few days in Rome, but I still pored over Steves’ easy, conversational descriptions of the best parts of the city and the best way to enjoy them. I only wish they’d had his guide for all of Italy at the library (which is where I acquired all of this month’s books), because I would have put that to good use as well.

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” This seems to have been the guiding principal for those who recount the life and times of Galileo Galilei.

I once previewed a video to use in class that showed an ancient, decrepit, sweaty Galileo being threatened by a growling, crazy-eyed Cardinal Bellarmine in a dark and solitary interrogation room. That Bellarmine discussed heliocentrism with Galileo over a decade before the scientist’s late-in-life trial before the Inquisition, and that he was dead when Galileo’s book was put on the Index, did not seem to bother the filmmakers.

Not only does Galileo’s Daughter present a more nuanced and accurate description of Galileo’s relationship with the institutional Church (of which he always considered himself a faithful and obedient member), it also captures Florentine life in the 1600s. What I was struck by most was the way that people relied on each other. Community was paramount, hospitality was lifesaving, and letter-writing (the cornerstone of this well-researched book) was necessary and, in the hands of these protagonists, elegant.

I’m still working on Anna Karenina, which I read about half of before switching to Galileo’s Daughter. I’m learning that I don’t enjoy reading on my iPad, which is a disappointment. There is a strong likelihood that I will get the Tolstoy from the library and finish it the old fashioned way.

What are you reading?

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Purchases made through these links send some change back into my piggy bank.

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7 Responses to What I read: July 2013

  1. Kevin Nolan says:

    So what do you think of the fact that it apparently took the Church 300 years to admit Galileo was right about his conclusions about heliocentrism. Better late than never, I suppose. I suspect Galileo will never be the patron saint of astronomy. When I raise this whole issue with other Catholics they said it was actually some other issues that the Inquisition lawyers were concerned about. That is not very satisfying to me.

    • felicemifa says:

      If it’s something that really interests you, I suggest reading the book. There was definitely more to the Inquisition hearing than just science – like everything in history, context is key – but of course it was a big part of it.

  2. Val says:

    I’ve not read Nickel and Dimed; I live in that demographic, and have my entire adult life. It’s scary. I agree with you that the worst thing is that it needed to be written.

    Rick Steves is great, I love his radio show, it’s very interactive.

    I just finished the McGrath biography on C.S. Lewis, a very worthy read (though I did it on unabridged audiobook).

    Dipped my toenails into Man’s Search for Meaning concurrent with the sudden death of a very close long-time friend last Friday, so haven’t gotten into it much.

    Dip in and out of Hiking Through: One man’s journey to peace and freedom on the Appalachian Trail by Paul Stutzman, which I am enjoying greatly.

    I’ve been re-reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames on unabridged audiobook read by author David Sedaris.

    I have What Good is God: In Search of a Faith That Matters by Phillip Yancy waiting on audiobook that I downloaded on Overdrive yesterday.

    • felicemifa says:

      You’ve been busy! I’m intrigued by the Lewis biography. It’s going on my list.

      • Val says:

        Do you know Alistair McGrath? He’s very good, I’ve worked with some of his other books in various Adult Ed.classes at church. He’s a historical theologian. His is the first major bio not written by someone who actually knew Lewis, but in some ways it feels richer not only because it is more objective but because it is the first bio with access to all of Lewis’s letters. It is a worthy read, but long. I “read” it on unabridged e-audiobook downloaded from the library on Overdrive. Though it is long, it is a worthy read. Even better though, if you’ve not yet read it, is Eric Metaxas’ bio on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book itself is a doorstop, I would definitely recommend it highly, but also recommend it on audiobook.

  3. Mark Allman says:

    I loved Sobel’s book titled Longitude. She did a great job with that. Read it in two days!

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