Friday, December 30, 2016

End of the Road: Ambrea's 2016 Read Harder Challenge

 Reported by Ambrea

This week, I’m just barely eking by with my Read Harder Challenge.  After reading these last three books, I have officially finished my list:
  1. Read a book that is set in the Middle East
  2. Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
  3. Read a food memoir

To start off, I finally finished reading I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.  It only took me 6 months, but I finished it and, honestly, I’m glad I did.  It’s a fascinating story that’s both heartbreaking and incredibly informative, offering insight into the various cultures and relations of Afghanistan.  Although her story is grim, it’s simultaneously uplifting.  Personally, I enjoyed reading about her and her father’s endeavors to bring education to local children—and particularly to the young women of the community.

Malala is a skilled narrator.  She’s bright, she’s hopeful, she’s very detailed and she’s very intelligent.  Although her book is a translation, which is sometimes apparent, I felt like I could read and relate to her feelings.  She does a fine job of connecting to her readers, detailing her thoughts and feelings—and, more importantly, making her voice heard.  She makes a compelling argument for education, for giving women equal education opportunities.  Truthfully, I can see why Malala Yousafzai is a Nobel Prize Laureate.

I also had the opportunity to read a short (and rather famous) essay by Virginia Woolf:  A Room of One’s Own.  As an avid reader and, ahem, English major in college, one would think I’d have taken the opportunity to read A Room of One’s Own, but, until this year, I had yet to make more than a cursory acquaintance with Woolf’s work.  Fortunately, I had the chance to remedy that; unfortunately, I wasn’t enamored by her essay.

A Room of One’s Own makes some very valid points.  It’s important to read and, after reading it, it’s something that I think all young women should have a chance to read at least once in their life.  However, I had a hard time reading Woolf’s essay, because I just couldn’t seem to focus on one thing before it jumped to another.  For instance, in the first few pages when Woolf described Oxbridge and her experiences at the esteemed university, I thought it took quite a long time to get to the point—and, confidentially, I found myself growing a little bored as I waited for her to come to a conclusion.  Not that her writing is bad, mind you; I just struggled to stay committed given her style of writing, so I’m not sure if that’s so much her failing as my own.

The point is, I finished reading A Room of One’s Own and I have a new appreciation for Woolf.  She’s a talented writer, but, personally, I’m not so sure she’s the writer for me.  I appreciate her work and I appreciate the significance of her essay, but I don’t think she’s the one and only feminist writer for me.

Last but not least, I read Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.  It’s riotously funny, yet strangely poignant.  Oddly enough, it reminds me of Jenny Lawson and her memoir, Furiously Happy—yet just a tiny bit less chaotic.  Not by much, considering Julie Powell undertakes to make 524 different recipes, many of which take hours to prepare, in just one year in a crappy little apartment in Queens.  It’s astonishing all the things she (and her marriage) manages to survive, including:  biological clocks, frozen pipes, disastrous dinner parties, inane dead end secretarial jobs, break downs, Blanche days, and celebrity crushes.

It’s really a pretty amusing book, especially if you decide to listen to it as read by the author (which I did); however, it’s not quite the food memoir I expected.  In fact, Julie and Julia is more memoir than food.  Julie is hell bent on recreating all of Julia Child’s recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 and, in her journey, she learns how to make a variety of dishes and confronts some of the most trying times of her life.  While it features a lot of cooking, Julie and Julia feels like it’s more about the experiences of cooking and the results, specifically what happens to the author as she slogs through more than 500 French recipes, than the actual cooking, but I can’t say I minded.

Julie and Julia is strangely heartwarming and incredibly amusing.  To me, it strikes just the right balance that makes it a memoir worth reading, especially if you have the chance to listen to the author tell her own story.  It makes it memorable.  However, I will note that while I was listening to the audiobook I discovered I borrowed the abridged version.  I don’t know if the audiobook had the full text, but I do know I missed a few things that might otherwise have filled in details or fleshed out the characters involved.  It was my only disappointment in an otherwise wonderful book.

Ambrea finished just in time to start the 2017 Read Harder Challenge!  If you're interested, the list of challenges are here.

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