2019 Reading–February

My year in books continues.

The Virginia Festival of the Book is in March, and I agreed to moderate two panels again this year. That means I have lots of reading to do, but I managed to get a good chunk of it done in February.

The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler

The first panel I’m moderating is called Embracing Power: Women and the Supernatural. The two books we’ll be discussing are quite different—one historical and one contemporary—but both center on women who may have extraordinary powers. The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler is based on a real 19th Century figure who appeared at venues throughout the South and East. In the book, she is trained by her father to perform apparently miraculous feats—witnesses believe they have been lifted by her “electrical charge”—and she herself believes she is practicing mesmerism to control her “marks.” It’s an engaging novel and I enjoyed reading it in part because the author is a friend of mine from graduate school.

Weather Woman by Cai Emmons

In Weather Woman by Cai Emmons, a young woman discovers she has the power to control the weather. She has dropped out of graduate school at MIT, against her mentor’s advice, and taken a job as the “weather woman” at a small TV station in New Hampshire. Feeling extraordinary stress in her personal life, one day she experiences a disorienting phenomenon and comes to suspect that she has the power to affect the weather. Whether she does or not and whether anyone else believes her creates some of the suspense of the novel.

The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise

The second panel I’m moderating is Seeking New Lives, Elsewhere. Of the three books considered on this panel, I’ve only read one so far: The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise. The novel is set in southern China in 2015 and focuses on Alex Cohen, heir to a shoe manufacturing company with a factory in Foshan, the city right next to Guangzhou (Canton). As he becomes more familiar with the business, he discovers both the corruption and exploitation that keeps the Chinese economy humming.

The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty is the non-fiction book my book club selected to read for this month. Twitty is an interesting character who has made a career of being a historical interpreter of African American cuisine, and this book traces southern cooking—especially that favored by African Americans—back to its roots in slavery and before that to Africa. At the same time, he’s also exploring his own roots and family tree.

Where Am I Giving? by Kelsey Timmerman

Where am I Giving by Kelsey Timmerman is the third book in Timmerman’s “Where am I” series (the first two being Where am I Wearing and Where am I Eating). In a conversational tone, the author looks at ways in which we give to charitable causes and attempts to develop some guidelines for the most effective way to channel our generosity. It’s an effective narrative because he uses examples from his own travels to poor countries, including Myanmar, Kenya, Cambodia, and elsewhere.

American Nations by Colin Woodard

It took me awhile to get through, but I finally finished American Nations by Colin Woodard. This one was illuminating because it looks at the distinct cultures, or nations, that were formed by the colonization of different parts of North America, and argues that these distinctions have continued to this day and in part explain the political divide we’re experiencing.

The Shaman of Turtle Valley by Clifford Garstang

Lastly, I’m going to take credit for having read The Shaman of Turtle Valley by Clifford Garstang this month, because in fact I read it more closely than I’ve ever read anything before. The galley proofs arrived in late January and I carefully read the proofs line by line to look one more time for any errors in the text. (I didn’t find many; I hope I got them all.) The book, which will officially be published in May, is about Aiken Alexander, an Army veteran from Virginia who brings home from a deployment to Seoul a young Korean bride. Culture clashes and misunderstanding ensue.

That’s it. A big reading month.

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