Delightful Reads, 2nd Quarter 2013

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church – Lauren Drain

If you’ve read any of my other book reviews, you know that I’m obsessed with learning about different religions. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church, they are those complete psychos that picket military funerals and a variety of other, seemingly more random events (my college graduation, for instance) with their insane agenda about God hating America and everyone is going to die and burn in hell because people are gay, etc. etc. etc. Basically they are insane (I watched a documentary about them not too long ago). Lauren Drain’s family joined the church when she was a young girl, and she spent some of her formative groups being brainwashed by these sorts of radical beliefs. I actually had to struggle to finish this book; while the topic was interesting, the book was poorly written, and I was continually confused by flash backs and fragmented stories. I didn’t come away knowing much more about Westboro than I did when I set out. It was still somewhat interesting, since (to my knowledge anyways) this is the first book that a former member has written. But I don’t feel like it gave enough insight into how the church continues to function in the 21st century.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch

How can I NOT love a book about a little independent bookstore trying to make its way in a rural community? Two things you should know about me – I love bookstores (I was raised on Powell’s), and I have a weird fascination with Appalachia. This memoir is about a bookstore in Appalachia. An “outsider” couple moves to Big Stone Gap and creates a used bookstore in the first floor of their home, which grows and develops into something of a community center. Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and it’s owners, Jack and Wendy, brings something fresh to Big Stone Gap: an outside perspective and a place to commune with people of varying beliefs over the mutual love of stories. I hope I can visit this treasure someday!

People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman – Richard Lloyd Parry

I’m currently on a bit of a true crime writing phase, after randomly picking this up at the library one day. People who Eat Darkness goes inside the shady world of the Japanese club scene. Lucie, a British girl looking for adventure with a friend, moves to Japan to work with a friend as a club hostess, getting paid to talk to lonely men. It’s one of these lonely men who ends up kidnapping, raping, and murdering Lucie. Parry, a British journalist working out of Japan at the time that this occurred, can’t shake this case from his mind. He methodically pours over the evidence, while delving into Lucie’s background and the organization of the Japanese police system. This is a sad story, but for some reason, it really sucked me in.

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain – Portia de Rossi

I never expect celebrity auto-biographies to be particularly good. Perhaps this is unfortunately judgmental of me, but I just don’t set my expectations very high. I was very surprised by how natural Portia’s storytelling abilities were. She’s a beautiful person with a beautiful story to tell. Unbearable Lightness covers basically her entire life, from a young girl in Australia who begged her mother to let her become a model, to meeting her now wife, Ellen de Generes (who encouraged her to write her story). Portia struggled for years with body image and disordered eating, and she really is able to convey the thoughts of someone who truly struggles with confidence. It’s painful to read, but beautiful to finally see her experience a personal epiphany that ends up changing her life for the better. I definitely recommend this as a quick and powerful read.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape – Jenna Miscavige Hill

This was a MUCH better religion read than Banished (see above). Scientology has always fascinated me. Once I learned some of the foundational beliefs of the faith, I’ve wondered how people continue to believe in the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. Jenna was a member of a very prominent Scientologist family (her uncle was Tom Cruise’s best man at his wedding to Katie Holmes, just saying), and she was raised by parents who were members of the strict Sea Org, whose members sign a “billion year contract,” committing their lives to the Scientology cause. She spent a lot of her childhood basically parentless, raised by neighbors or other, slightly older kids. She attended a Scientology boarding school, which was more labor camp than educational environment. As Jenna comes of age, she begins to question what she’s been taught. This memoir contains LOTS of information about just how far Scientology will go to get and retain members, and the psychological hold they manage to have on them.

The Dog Stars – Peter Heller

This book was described somewhere as a “more-lighthearted version of The Road.” I LOVED The Road, but it gave me nightmares (thus I have refused to see the movie, despite my love of Viggo Mortenson). I don’t know that I would call The Dog Stars “lighthearted,” per se, but it WAS a really beautiful and thoughtful read.  Post-apocalyptic world. Two men and a dog living alone at an abandoned airport, surviving roaming hoards of bandits, not knowing what the future holds. Hig hears other human voices on his airplane radio as he flies recon missions around their base camp. He sets out to see if life is going on outside their little conclave. He finds a father and daughter (cue romantic music) living at an idyllic little farm. What does the future hold for them now? I laughed. I cried. I reflected. This book was 100% worth my time.

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

So I cheated a bit – I read this book in July. But I’m reviewing it now because you shouldn’t wait until Q3 to read it. I have never come across a book that so thoroughly tackles a variety of big (and I mean BIG) issues. The book starts at a summer arts camp in the 1970s. Jules is in attendance thanks to a scholarship, and meets an eclectic group of richer, more “glamorous” friends (for lack of a better word). Everything seems exotic to her, a somewhat ordinary girl from a somewhat ordinary suburb. The Interestings follows the coming of age of Jules and her friends from Spirit-in-the-Woods summer camp, as they deal with drugs, rape, death, cancer, marriage, parenthood, economic disparity, sexual identity crises, AIDS, infidelity, and a handful of other stressful issues. The Interestings was beautifully written, and once I got into it, I couldn’t pull myself away. There were twists. There were turns. Frequently I wanted to slap Jules in the face. But she finally manages to come into her own. Read. This. Now.

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