July reads

This month it is all about quality over quantity. Ok, ok, I have gotten through minimal books. This is partly due to the fact that for the first 20 days of the month I was still finishing Nothing to Envy which I cheekily reviewed in my June post just so it looked like I had read at least three books.

This month started with high hopes of reading Pachinko (hence last month’s Korea obsession) but I decided in order to overcome my current piss poor attention span I was going to stick with books under the 250 page limit.

I go on holiday tomorrow and I am taking small books. Books, that if they don’t work, I won’t have to trudge through for the next 5 weeks. Books that once I have read the first 60 pages it usually takes me to get absorbed, I have pretty much finished.

  • Heartburn by Nora Ephron. 4*

Description: marriage, humour, Jewish.

Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that this woman has a ‘neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb’ is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. Heartburn is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and – most satisfyingly – revenge.

This book ticked a lot of my boxes.

1. It’s short.

2. It involves food. Namely Jewish Food which I know nothing about.

3. I feel I can relate. Rachel is 7 months pregnant. I am 4. This is sorta where the relatability stops. Hopefully my husband isn’t having an affair with a long nosed woman called Teresa but I do find it comforting to read that marriage is hard. Is that weird???? I like a look at a marriage that isn’t rose tinted because my god since we have had our kids and my job which involves me never being around in the evening our relationship we really have had to work at our marriage.

This book is like sitting with a friend and listening to her marital woes. It made me laugh and often made me nod my head in agreement. It was comforting like watching When Harry Met Sally.

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. 4*

Description: memoir, neuroscience, cancer.

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

In the last couple of months I have read two very different books about the medical profession. This is going to Hurt by Adam Kay and When Breath Becomes Air. I have always been awed by those who work in medicine but since reading these books my respect has tripled. Working in such an industry is most definitely a calling and not just a job and dealing with life and death on a day to day basis takes a very special human being.

When reading a novel like this, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I have a healthy husband and two healthy children. My husband and I are both lucky enough to have both sets of parents alive and well. We have never had to deal with our own mortality or that of our loved ones. It is something I fear and I hope I deal with it when it comes with as much grace and dignity as Paul and his wife.

Would it be harder to deal with death as a doctor? To receive your own prognosis in the same room you have delivered countless test results to your patients? To know exactly how your body was going to deteriorate and to know exactly what drugs were going to be used??? I think in many ways the answer is yes and even in a job where you are faced with having to deliver bad news to your patients, coming face to face and dealing with your own mortality is an entirely different thing.

I think I was most moved by Lucy’s beautiful words at the end. I guess you don’t realise your strength until it is tested but Lucy’s eloquent words really resonated with me. To lose your husband is tragic. To lose him when you have such a young child is just devastating.

  • Lady Killers. Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer. 4*.

Description: witty, My Favourite Murder, poison.

When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are ones like Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, Kate Bender? The narrative we’re comfortable with is the one where women are the victims of violent crime, not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally, overwhelmingly male that in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared in a homicide conference, ‘There are no female serial killers’.

Lady Killers, based on the popular online series that appeared on Jezebel and The Hairpin, disputes that claim and offers fourteen gruesome examples as evidence. Though largely forgotten by history, female serial killers such as Erzsebet Bathory, Nannie Doss, Mary Ann Cotton, and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova rival their male counterparts in cunning, cruelty, and appetite for destruction.

Each chapter explores the crimes and history of a different subject, and then proceeds to unpack her legacy and her portrayal in the media, as well as the stereotypes and sexist cliches that inevitably surround her. The first book to examine female serial killers through a feminist lens with a witty and dryly humorous tone, Lady Killers dismisses easy explanations (she was hormonal, she did it for love, a man made her do it) and tired tropes (she was a femme fatale, a black widow, a witch), delving into the complex reality of female aggression and predation. Featuring 14 illustrations from Dame Darcy, Lady Killers is a bloodcurdling, insightful, and irresistible journey into the heart of darkness.

Another successful read for me!!! Yay! This was a holiday read and utterly perfect for my current situation-constantly being interrupted by a 2 and a 5 year old. If I could give one top tip for a holiday with kids it would be this……pick something simple with shortish chapters that you can get into easily without having to trudge through 100 or so complicated pages. I picked this book and a book of Roald Dahl short stories. In six days of holiday I have finished this book and am half way through the Dahl so reading-wise I feel successful.

Telfer’s book is brill. It reminded me a lot of one of my top podcasts ‘My Favourite Murder.’ The tone was witty and informal with just enough information in each chapter to stop you feeling bogged down with fact. Indeed, after each chapter, I thought how much I would love to read a whole book based on each woman. Alternating this book with another was a definite plus as a lot of these women’s stories were slightly similar….woman murders husbands 1, 2, 3 and 4 with delicious meals laced with arsenic, but equally there are enough contrasting stories (Kate Bender, Erzsebet Bathory, Raya and Sakina) to keep it interesting.

My one and only criticism is that I would have loved some more pictures, photos, documents etc.

Anyway, really enjoyable read and I look forward to reading more by Telfer.

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