2015 in Books, September

  • The Art of Museum Exhibitions: How Story and Imagination Create Aesthetic Experiences by Leslie Bedford
    • We somewhat jokingly have “Theory Thursday” in my department when my boss and I have our philosophical discussions about museum theory. I also try to read a couple of museum books a year both to stay current in my field and also to pull new ideas into my Introduction to Museum Studies class. I had a hard time getting interested in Bedford’s book, but the last chapter made the philosophical underpinnings of the other chapters worthwhile. Basically she suggests that exhibitions are both education and art, and visitors will re-imagine the story line in a way that resonates with them. Therefore, using exhibitions as aesthetic experiences is not about being didactic, it is about facilitating.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
    • This behemoth of a novel is about the long tradition of English magic, the Napoleonic Wars, personality clashes and a really misguided and vindictive fairy. It took me about a hundred pages to get into the story because Clarke had to lay a lot of groundwork for her alternative history/fantasy to work. Once I made it that far in, though, I was thoroughly hooked. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of thoughtful fantasy.
  • Walking on Air: The Aerial Adventures of Phoebe Omlie by Janann Sherman
    • Dr. Sherman’s work on Phoebe Omlie, an aviation pioneer and adoptive Memphian, is astounding. In her afterword, Dr. Sherman lays out just how much investigative research went into piecing together Phoebe’s remarkable life. I would guess that almost everyone knows about Amelia Earhart while very few remember her contemporary female fliers. I happened upon a newspaper article from 1936 that said Phoebe helped organize an exhibit at the Pink Palace about herself and her late husband Vernon, which is what got me down the path of learning more about her and figuring out how we can include part of her story in our new exhibits. This book is a well-researched biography that places Phoebe Omlie and the history of female aviators in a national context.
  • Pretties by Scott Westerfield
    • Pretties is the sequel to Uglies, the YA dystopian novel I read last month. It was an equally entertaining and fast read.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
    • Rainbow Rowell has the wonderful ability to capture what a period of growing up feels like in a way that makes me remember being there myself. I am a giant nerd who found my people, and I know the relief that comes from knowing that you can be exactly who you are and be loved for that. This novel is a quick read that made me momentarily nostalgic for Harry Potter book release parties.
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2015 in Books, August

  • A God in the Ruins by Kate Atkinson
    • Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite contemporary authors. This book is a companion novel to Life After Life, a work I keep mentally revisiting because of the way Atkinson treats time. A God in the Ruins follows Teddy, the brother of the main character in Life After Life. This novel also plays with time, treating it as a fluid that can flow in more than one direction. So while it is not completely accurate to say that it is set during World War II, a lot of the defining moments are. I cried at the end, and not just because I’m pregnant. If you like well-written books that play with literary conventions, read Atkinson. You won’t be disappointed.
  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
    • I had never read Judy Blume before this book, which just seems wrong. I wanted to read some good fiction as a break from some dense non-fiction, and I figured it was as good a time as any to see what all the fuss is about. Summer Sisters was the only one of her books that was available on the library’s e-book lending site. It was fun and fast. I’m looking forward to reading more of her oeuvre.
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
    • A couple of bloggers whom I follow talked glowingly about Kondo’s book. I’ve tried for a few years now to live a consciously well-edited life. My basic philosophy is to get rid of things that I don’t need and think hard about what I buy. Kondo reinforced some of my habits and provided some good tools for organizing what I chose to keep. I like her idea of deciding to keep things that spark joy and let the rest go. However, I don’t share her Shinto beliefs so the parts about animism didn’t resonate.
  • The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
    • Some good historical fiction about the backstabbing, self-serving Plantagenets and the War of the Roses.
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
    • It was nice to read a dystopian young adult novel that isn’t cut from the same cloth as Hunger Games (because it was written earlier). In this version of the future everybody is made “pretty” when they turn 16, which comes with consequences that they don’t realize. It had everything I like in my young adult fantasy novels–likable characters, a strong female lead, logical consequences and a premise that I am willing to suspend my disbelief for. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series when it’s my turn at the library.