I actually received this book as a gift over a year ago. At the time, the subject appeared interesting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it – there was always something else in my book queue that distracted me, or kept me from picking it up.
A few weeks ago, however, I was talking with a couple librarians (who are, by the way, always some of my favorite people to talk with) and they mentioned that I would be a good resource for recommending books, except for my lack of knowledge about nonfiction. I read widely on every other genre, but when it comes to nonfiction my experience is almost non-existent. With this motivation, coupled with actually owning this book already, I decided to finally give it a read. And am I glad that I did.
The River of Doubt tells the story of Theodore’s Roosevelt journey down an, up to this point, unexplored river in the Amazon shortly after losing his bid for a third term as president. The journey itself is fascinating, and exciting to read about, but what makes this book great is Candice Millard’s ability to bring each of the major players to life. It was enthralling to see how they struggled both against the wild and each others motivations.
For someone who has little experience in reading nonfiction, this was an excellent place to start. And if you are in the same boat, I would encourage you to do the same. Below, I’ve included the link to the database entry, with more detailed observations and spoilers. I’ve also included my favorite quote from the book.
"They were stealthy hunters, crack shots, and experienced survivalists, and, given the right tools, they believed that they would never find themselves in a situation in the wild that they could not control. But as they struggled to make their way along the shores of the River of Doubt, any basis for such confidence was quickly slipping away. Compared with the creatures of the Amazon, including the Indians whose territory they were invading, they were all – from the lowliest camarada to the former president of the United States – clumsy, conspicuous prey" (185).
Before I started reading I Am a Cat, I was afraid that I would not be able to relate to it. After all, commentary and parody of the social upheaval in Meiji era Japan is not something that strikes me as approachable. It was immediately clear, though, that I had nothing to worry about. The cat himself was endearing and believable. Furthermore, the observations he made and the comments in general about humanity were not limited to Meiji era Japan, but rather things we could all relate to.
In terms of structure, I Am a Cat is actually a collection of 11 short stories, all told from the perspective of a nameless cat. His observations cover a wide variety of subjects, from the residents of his household, to local cat politics. Ultimately, I’m not going to do this book justice summarizing it here, so I’ll let the cat do it himself:
"At ordinary times, most human beings are wearisomely ordinary; depressingly banal in appearance and deadly boring in their conversation. However, at certain moments, by some peculiar, almost supernatural, process their normal triviality can be transformed into something so weird and wonderful that no feline scholar of their ...
I borrowed this copy of East of Eden from my grandfather about ten years ago. I had just finished reading, and enjoying, Grapes of Wrath and so I figured this was an obvious next choice. Ten years later it turns out I was absolutely correct.
East of Eden tells the story of two families, Hamilton and Trask, as they live in Salinas Valley, California. It is both epic, and intimate. It does so many thing right, that it’s hard to speak generically about it without giving away parts of the book that are better experienced first hand.
So, if you are a fan of Steinbeck’s other works, don’t hesitate to give this a read. It is fantastic. Even though it is the not the most recent book I have read, I’m leaving up here in the Featured Books section for now because it is just that good. And now, a quote from Samuel Hamilton:
"And I made a promise to myself that I would not consider enjoyment a sin. I take a pleasure in inquiring into things. I’ve never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment ...