Unbook Club & Book Reviews

There’s this local book club I found recently that’s kinda cool. It’s predicated on a neat little idea: Instead of assigning a monthly book that everyone has to read like boring ‘ole homework, everyone who attends just talks really quickly about an interesting book they’ve read that month.

For the most part, it’s cool. There is one attendee who reels off a dizzying list of titles without actually pausing to recommend or review any of them, so it sounds rather more like a checking off an impressive bucket list than talking about an interesting book that caught the eye, but the rest of the attendees confine themselves to one title and a brief overview of the plot in order to entice the rest of us into maybe possibly reading?

In two months time, I’ve already learned about a few new intriguing books and put them on my list:

Other books reviewed by readers have been bumped up on my list, like Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates — it’s been on my to-read list, but knowing what a heavy read it will be, I’ve been putting it off. Now I feel the pressure a little more intensely.

Another book recently reviewed was Inside the Kingdom, by Robert Lacey, a book that apparently covers (in depth) the political intricacies of the Saudi royal family and how they influence international politics. The overall conversation/ review concerning that book got a little ethnocentric/ disturbing to me, especially considering that the reviewer said it only covered the last 30 years or so. It inspired me to look up some longer-term history, as I firmly believe you cannot tell the content of a nations’ character from the last 30 years.

I’m not too familiar with the history of the region, other than knowing that Western governments have felt it their right and duty to meddle in the region since the days of the Crusades, and that we have continued to insert ourselves officiously into their politics throughout the centuries, even when advised against doing so by those who are actuallyon the ground working in the region.

I sometimes wonder if our governments continued interference with politics of the area are now a sort of … guilty conscious, a desire to fix what has been damaged, and a fear of the repercussions if we can’t point to some sort of positive results for all our meddling.

In any case, I found two books I think might be more useful to me than the short-term perspective of Lacey’s work: A History of Saudi Arabiaby Madawi al-Rasheed, and A History of the Middle Eastby Peter Mansfield and Nicolas Pelham. Apparently these two books cover a much broader historical perspective, ranging back almost two centuries between them before coming up to the present-day perspective. So that’s good. It’s important to have a broader historical perspective with these types of things instead of knee-jerk decamping into the hissing hatred of, “Those people are nothing like us; it’s a completely different world!”

Poverty and hunger and religious oppression makes humans do strange things, I think. I think that the type of people who hiss hatred from the comfort of their homes with running water and electricity and plumbed toilets, that poverty stricken illiterate starving families in a war torn region who are swayed by the words of dynamic leaders who promise to stabilize the region and feed their families are nothing like us have, perhaps, forgotten (or never known) the true deprivations of the human spirit. There are some things that are universal … like believing anything, if it will put food in your child’s belly. Like being angry, or too tired to think, if you can’t sleep for your town being bombed and your country’s food supply destabilized.

They’re just like us, deep down. They’re like what we would be if all our comforts and the stability of our society was stripped away, and a foreign government and army came in and started “helping” to stabilize but just made it worse, and our leaders were despotic and took everything away.

Anyway, I digress. Obviously, that kind of upset me, haha. This month, in the Unbook Club e-mail, the organizer mentioned that she personally is trying to do this fun little reading challenge this year, and she included this list. Basically boils down to 12 books for 12 months (which is SO MUCH of an improvement over my massive fail of a reading challenge last year — reading 50 books by authors of color. I think I got to 10. Maybe 15. Holy crap. My problem is that I get stuck on an author and want to read all their books, so I read a whole ton by Octavia Butler, but she did not write 50 books, and then I was in a total sci-fi mood, so I was like, oh, a little Atwood wouldn’t hurt … next thing you know, I’m nose-deep in Atwood and mainlining Max Brooks like he’s cocaine. It’s insane.)

Anywho, this is the challenge:

  1. A book published this year
  2. A book you can finish in a day (done — Married with Zombies)
  3. A book you’ve been meaning to read (done — Outlander)
  4. A book recommended by your local librarian/ book seller
  5. A book you should have read in school (thinking Illegal People for this one)
  6. A book chosen for you by a spouse/ sibling/ child/ parent. (better let John or my sil choose — if I let one of my family of origin choose I’ll end up reading the BoM again, lol)
  7. A book published before you were born.
  8. A book that was banned at some point. (I’m thinking The Satanic Versesby Salman Rushdie
  9. A book you previously abandoned. (Working on it — Same Sex Marriages in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell. Its a slog because of those damned footnotes.)
  10. A book you own but have never read. 
  11. A book that intimidates you.
  12. A book you’ve already read at least once.

Obviously, I have some ideas for a few of the books, and I’ll figure out others as I go. I’m excited, I think this could be fun.



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