What I Read in June

Jul 2, 2018

It kind of felt like all of my reading was dictated to me for the month of June. Three of the books were for book clubs (not kidding), and the fourth was our readaloud, which, even though I chose it, began to feel like more and more of an obligation as it dragged on for the entire month. Here are a few of my thoughts on each book:

1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I was in the mood for a sweet, lighthearted read for summer, and this definitely fit the bill.

It's about Don Tillman, a middle-aged genetics professor who decides it's time for him to get married. But he's tired of going on the usual dates and making the usual small talk. It's so inefficient. So he comes up with a comprehensive questionnaire to screen potential candidates, asking everything from what flavor of ice cream she likes to what she does in her free time. He calls this, "The Wife Project." With the questionnaire, he can immediately see if they'd be a compatible match or not.

But then, he meets Rosie, and she basically fails the entire questionnaire, and yet, upon reflection, he realizes that he would place his time with her among his happiest moments (right after his three visits to the Natural History Museum). Luckily, Rosie is searching for her biological father and so Don agrees to help her with "The Father Project" and doesn't have to worry about their incompatible interests.

The thing that is never explicitly mentioned but is obvious from the beginning is that Don has Asperger's Syndrome, and this makes this search for the perfect wife even more hilarious and endearing because Don tries to go about it all in just the right way, but everything is just a little more awkward than it needs to be.

I honestly could have loved this book if not for two things: the excessive swearing (including the f-word) and the behavior of Don's best friend, Gene, who is married but sleeps around in the name of research and science. I almost put down the book several times because of this content, and, in spite of how much I loved Don, I wouldn't be able to recommend it.

2. The Wolves at the Door: the True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy by Judith L. Pearson
This story could have been so good, so good, in the hands of another author. It is the true story of Virginia Hall who worked as a spy for the SOE and OSS during World War II. Right from the beginning, when she accidentally shoots herself in the leg during a hunting expedition and has to have it amputated, you know that she is an extraordinary lady. But the writing was so dull and dry that it was a struggle for that spunk and fearlessness to come through.

For example, at one point Virginia has to escape from France by way of the Pyrenees into Spain. This would have been an arduous journey under any circumstances, but with an artificial leg to contend with, it was absolutely torturous. And yet, I felt virtually no emotion when I was reading it because the writing was so bland.

This was my book club book for June, and our discussion was as much about how bad the writing was and lamenting about what the story could have been as it was about Virginia and her noble heroics.

Look her up on Wikipedia, but skip this book.

3. Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
A few weeks ago, I was flipping through Honey for a Child's Heart, looking for something that sounded interesting for our next readaloud. I wasn't looking because I didn't have any ideas (I always have ideas) but because one of the goals I made at the beginning of the year was to read three books recommended in that resource. The problem was that many of the books that caught my attention did so because I'd already heard of them, and the point of the goal was to discover new-to-me books.

So when I happened upon Tom's Midnight Garden, I jumped on it because it was a completely never-before-heard-of title and it was described as "timeless" and the type of story that "will probably be reaching out to children in 2102 on both sides of the Atlantic." Perfect. I put it on hold that very moment.

Tom has the whole summer to look forward to when his younger brother, Peter, unfortunately contracts a bad case of the measles. Tom is immediately whisked off to his aunt and uncle's flat to avoid any exposure to the disease, and he can't think of any place that would be more boring. But then, on one of his first nights there, the clock wakes him up, and he opens the back door and steps into a beautiful garden that was nothing more than a few trash bins and an old car in the daylight. Night after night, Tom returns to this garden, and slowly he realizes that he isn't just stepping into another place, but another time entirely.

When we were two or three chapters into the story, I enthusiastically posted about it on Instagram. We loved it! It was so fun to discover an old classic. Etc., etc. But with each chapter, my enthusiasm seemed to wane just a bit more. The story unfolded slowly, so slooooowly, and some nights I couldn't even muster up the interest to read a chapter. Consequently, it took us more than a month to read, and maybe we should have abandoned it.

The problem was, it did have its enjoyable moments and we all had a bunch of unanswered questions. So we plowed on. And by the last five chapters or so, it had picked back up again, and we didn't have any trouble finishing. So, was it worth it to keep reading for ten good chapters out of twenty-seven? In this particular case, I'm going to say yes. (But I'm really glad we get to read something else now.)

4. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
My whole family read this book for our family reunion book club (which was this past weekend). Even though the official discussion took place during the family reunion, we've been informally talking about it for weeks. We couldn't help ourselves.

Gretchen Rubin first introduced the Four Tendencies in her book, Better than Before. She came up with the framework to better understand why some people are able to form good habits so easily and others really struggle. This book honed in on the four tendencies specifically (Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, Rebel), exploring each one thoroughly (strengths and weaknesses, how it interacts with the other tendencies, what it looks like in different situations, different leanings, etc.).

You can imagine what happens when a family reads this book. Everyone starts identifying everyone else, and no one can say anything without everyone else jumping in and saying, "Questioner, right there!" or "Definitely an Obliger." For example, at the reunion, all the girls went out for pedicures on the last morning. We had an appointment scheduled for 9:30, so we said we would leave at 9:00. But then, as the time approached, we thought if people were ready earlier, we could leave earlier, and then maybe the salon could get us in sooner (we were a little worried about checking out of our VRBO on time). Anyway, we failed to tell my sister the new plan, and at 8:50, we were all in the car waiting for Anna. She finally came and was quite put out because we had said 9:00, and it was not 9:00 yet, and if we were going to change the plans, then she needed to be informed. We all laughed and said, "Typical Upholder" (and I felt some empathy because I'm also an Upholder, so if the situation had been reversed, I would have reacted the same way).

My brother took it a little too far and would label any activity with a tendency: "She's eating peanut M&M's. Isn't that just like an Upholder?" Or, "He fell asleep on the couch. What a Rebel." Or, "She's reading a book. Typical Obliger behavior." He was just saying it to be funny, but Gretchen Rubin was quick to point out that "the Tendency describes only how a person responds to an expectation, not what the person's talents, personality, intelligence, or interests are." I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind. This framework analyzes just one small part of a person's personality, and it's up to you to figure out how it fits with everything as a whole.

I will say that just as a general reading experience, I enjoyed Better Than Before quite a bit more. The Four Tendencies is fairly repetitive, and, while it's interesting and I liked all of the examples, I feel like you could get the gist of the system by reading just the first chapter or listening to Gretchen Rubin's podcast episodes on each Tendency.

In fact, one family member didn't read the entire book but stopped after he thought he had it figured out. Questioner, no doubt.

What did you read last month? Anything I should put on my TBR?

1 comment:

  1. How fun that your family does a family reunion book club! I LOVE that! (And how amazing that you have enough adult readers in the family who would actually be willing to do that! It likely wouldn't fly too well in my family, at least not with half of them!)


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