Some of my best moments while building a career in how satellites can monitor rivers, lakes, bays, and water pollution.
Grand prize winner of American Geological Union/NASA Data Visualization and Storytelling competition, 2016
I got to present my research about the Tigris and Euphrates at the NASA “Hyperwall”, both for a conference in San Francisco and in Vienna, after winning this data storytelling award. I had a packed audience and met so many nice people!
University Delegate to UN Climate Change Talks
I was one of four UNC students sent as an observer to the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017. It was wonderful! I blogged about it for the local newspaper, and made videos. Check out my articles here and here, and my videos here and here.
AGU Centennial Grant, 2019
I was awarded a very nice grant from the American Geophysical Union in honor of their 100th anniversary. It allowed me to run my “Science Animations with Kids” program in my hometown in rural North Carolina, which was something of a dream of mine. I can’t believe I got to do this. I worked with 170 kids at 3 schools plus a summer camp. I’m really happy and really proud, especially because this program is my own invention and it pulls skills that I’ve acquired from about 5 different disciplines all at once. Read all about it here. In December 2019, I gave three talks, two invited, about this project at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco. It was so nice!!
Selected to attend ComSciCon, 2017
This is a very nice workshop – hosted by graduate students, for graduate students – and it’s all about science communication. It was really fun, and they fed us so much great food! I was one of 50 participants selected, out of 1050 applicants. The conference takes place at Harvard.
Opinion columnist, Daily Tar Heel
The Daily Tar Heel is one of the best college newspapers in the country, and also serves as the default newspaper for all of Chapel Hill/Orange County. It’s that good. I got to be an opinion columnist for it for 1.5 years. You can check out my favorite articles, plus the rest of my writings, here.
I love libraries, especially when they are crammed with old books, rare books, little known books. I’ll be keeping a list here of ones I’ve read, and maybe you can check them out.
Asghar and Zahra, Sameer Rahim – I really liked this. The internal thoughts of the characters were so familiar to me. I loved it for that. Also, there were parts where I was amazed at how well a Muslim male writer was writing about a female Muslim character. I would have assumed such a thing impossible. Although in general, the character of Zahra (female) is maybe a little not so well developed. She starts of the book being really cocky and sure of herself. But she wasn’t really like that at any other time. In the last pages of the book, she all of a sudden gets all this backstory that hadn’t been mentioned before, and it was a little too generic.
I know why the caged bird sings, Maya Angelou – this was good, and interesting, but from the way everyone talks about it and hypes it, I thought it would be a lot better.
The wild one, Nick Petrie – I chose this book for one reason. It’s like a thriller murder mystery. It’s not that good. It was not so very thrilling or suspenseful. And at least the middle of the book was badly written. Like there’s a section where it goes into great detail about a fishing boat, and the shack on land next to the boat. The description of the places goes on and on … and yet, I couldn’t see them in my eye, because the description was so bland. All I remember is he would keep saying, the gunwale was over there, and some other fancy technical term was placed opposite, and such and such was in the other corner. Well, I don’t know what any of those things are, or what they look like, or what they’re used for. I wasn’t told colors, or textures … were things sharp, metallic, wooden, or what? As for the main character, he’s not that interesting because the way he “wins” and “escapes” is just by sheer superior physical strength. He just knows how to beat every one up, or even beat them to death. Okay. So he always wins regardless.
Me, Brenda Ueland – I happened upon this book in the library … and I checked it out based on one reason. I was just going to skim the book to get to the bottom of what had interested me. But as I was doing that, I kept coming across sections that interested me further, and I’d read more and more. So eventually, I just went to the beginning and read the whole thing. Now, it does drag in some places … what book doesn’t? And sometimes she gets a bit too profound. She’s describes her whole life. She was a young woman in the 1910s and 1920s. She left her home in Minnesota to go to college first in rural New York, and then in New York City. She did the whole “live off campus with your room-mate and giggle all the time and always be on the verge of bankruptcy and not eat enough” thing that we do today. And then she stayed on in New York and earned her own living, and her daughter’s, by writing for magazines. Well, her whole attitude and how she lived her life just doesn’t square with the notion that women back then had no opportunities, and “we’ve made so much progress since then.” It was like I was reading about the sort of modern, no-holds-barred woman that we all try to pride ourselves on being today. There were some notions the author had that seem outdated. For example, she kept referring to women as nurturing and loving, and men as stiff and virile. But I think we accept now that that is too generalized a way of looking at it. And in one section she describes how she didn’t care that she was being paid 1/3 the money of the male writers on her same magazine — because she wasn’t doing it for the money! She was just pleased to be paid at all! And she couldn’t possibly ask for a higher salary, because that would be implying that her talents were worth it, and she couldn’t possibly be so self-assured! When I read that, I thought: yes, that’s outdated philosophy these days; but I also realized, I used to think that way!! There were many other parts in the book where she shares all these very high-minded, soaring thoughts, and it was all very idealistic — it was things that I maybe took as truth many years ago, but have since forgotten. So it was nice to see them in print and remember. I liked the book for that. And this lady belonged to a very accomplished family. She had about 8 brothers and sisters, and I found old black-and-white pictures of them online. Just look at Dorothy, who was Brenda’s older sister and died when she was a baby, and their parents never mentioned her name except with great pain; and now even all the people who grieved for Dorothy are also dead. And here’s her oldest sister Anne, and her other older sister Elsa; both of whom went off and wrote stories for famous magazines, or ran schools, or were in Europe during World War 1. And then check out Jean: Jean was one of the twins who were Brenda’s nieces. Their mom died when they were 10. I went from reading about the loss of their mom back in the 1930s in the book, to finding Jean’s obituary online — just from 2016 — and seeing the photo of her happy, excited face and reading about her long and interesting life.
Ayesha at last, Uzma Jalauddin – I liked this, most especially, the “Muslim water bottles” and other jokes like that were such a fantastic touch. I liked most of the book, but sometimes the two main characters started fighting and misunderstanding each other without reason. It wasn’t really adding up. Sometimes the main characters also said things out-loud to her “suitor” that seemed a little odd for her to be saying. She would be a bit too honest and revealing her whole soul, and I didn’t really get the sense that that’s the kind of person she was.
Troubling a star, Madeleine L’engle – the nice parts of this book are the descriptions of the scenery and wildlife in the Falkland Islands and in Antartica, and just getting to sail along with a research ship there, and learning what boat life would be like and what research stations look like. But the rest of the story — like the actual plot and most of the characters — are lame.
Zanoni, Edward Bulwer-Lytton – I was in love with this book. This book was a favorite of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s when she was a child, and I could see why. It was beautiful, mysterious, idealistic, romantic. It took me to all these places, and all these scenes, I’ve never gone before. I was all ready to tell everyone to drop everything and read Zanoni. But three-fourths of the way into the book, one of the characters does something very stupid and honestly, something very out-of-character for that character. The action made no sense. But I was going to forgive that, because the last fourth was exciting and swept me and my doubts away again — until the the last 3 paragraphs. They were just very stupid. But you should still probably read this book.
Tish: the chronicle of her escapades and excursions, Mary Roberts Rinehart – I read this because Lucy Maud Montgomery mentioned reading it and liking it. From how Lucy Maud Montgomery described it in her journal, I was all ready for a book about a saucy and spunky 20-year-old back in the early 1900s. Well, it turned out that ‘Tish’, the main character, is 50. Yet in books today, rarely will you see a spunky and saucy 50-year-old that can match Tish. Tish knows how to change a tire on a car, and lots of other things, that I don’t know how to do. The words ‘feminism’ or ‘girl power’ are never mentioned in the book, but they don’t need to be mentioned. As I read Tish, I started realizing how many books I have read whose authors lived in the 1800s and early 1900s, and how independent and capable the female characters they created were — even though we’re kind of conditioned to think of women back then as submissive and docile. The only problem with this book was 1) some of the chapters were a little boring and repetitive, and sometimes the writing wasn’t clear enough to figure out what was going on and 2) the use of racial slurs and nasty comments towards immigrants. There’s a whole chapter about a young man who’s immigrated from Syria. The author tries to make him seem foolish and worthy of contempt; but it was a poor attempt, because the contempt in the author’s words were actually unable to disguise that this young immigrant was simply a person trying very hard to make a new life for himself.
The proposal, Jasmine Guillory – the first few chapters were annoying, because the characters kept repeating themselves. But after that, I thought it was fun and cute.
Innocents abroad, Mark Twain – uh, I don’t know what to think about this book. This book played a pivotal role in my life way before I ever read it. When I was in college, my Arabic professor told us in class that, didn’t we know that Mark Twain was horribly racist towards Arabs? And I was someone whose favorite book at the time was “Tom Sawyer.” But I actually deliberately avoided Mark Twain after that and never read him again, until over 10 years later, by when chance I picked up “A tramp abroad”, his travel book through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. I loved it. And I wondered, how have I been missing out on Mark Twain all those years? So I’ve done a lot of re-reading of his books recently, and I decided I would read “Innocents Abroad” for the first time, since all the critics seemed agreed that it was even better than “A tramp abroad.” Well, it was not. It was not as funny. Actually, I liked the first half pretty well, even though it was still not as funny as “Tramp.” As I read it, that old, buried memory of what my Arabic professor had said returned to me. I thought, Twain’s not being racist! He’s poking some fun, but it’s all in good spirits. Why did my Arabic professor mislead me like that? Well, my conclusions were a little hasty, because as I got further into the second half of the book (by which point they’re getting ready to leave the whiteness of Europe behind for Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East), I came to see what she had meant. He wasn’t poking good-spirited fun anymore. He was downright vicious in some places, and inexcusable. Plus, the second half is just sort of boring because they are taking a donkey trip through the desert from Lebanon to Palestine, and they have to stop at every holy site and find out about it. I learned a lot of Biblical history! I never knew there were so many Davids and Sauls and Marys and Marthas. They went on and on in a never-ending procession. Finally, they arrived at Jerusalem, and that was pretty cool, because all the elements of the current conflict are described — the Wailing Wall, the old Temple of Solomon, the Mosque at the Dome of the Rock (which he seems to mis-identify with another name) … but while all those elements were there, there was no conflict. Instead, it is described how there’s about 50 ethnicities living peacefully together in the small city — Muslims (Moslems), Jews, Greeks, Latins, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Abyssinians, Greek Catholics. I mean, how cool! But Mark Twain doesn’t think that’s all that nice. He goes straight to just talking about the “rags, wretchedness, poverty, dirt” of the people. And the weirdest thing of all? He ends the book with this famous quote! Eh, you did all you could to increase prejudice and bigotry in this book, so why … ?
Little Katy and Jolly Jim, Julia Mathews – This book was published in 1865. I read it because Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions it a lot in her journals as a favorite childhood book, and I thought from the title that it must be a very jolly, fun read. Well, it was not. In fact, it was 1/3 very sweet, and 2/3 ridiculous. Like super ridiculous. This is a book that just doles out fanciful, evangelical prescriptions to poverty. It’s in fact really annoying.
The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain – I read this book many times when I was little, but I was worried the whole time about if Huck and Jim would ever make it. I saw all the situations they got into as hindrances, and I don’t think I understood Tom’s romantic plans to “set Jim free” at all. This time when I read it, I understood that all the “hindrances” are actually supposed to be funny, and you don’t have to stress because they’re going to make it for sure. I liked it more than I ever remembered liking it before. However, do people really read this book and conclude that Mark Twain was anti-slavery and not a racist? I don’t think you can really make that argument.
Ronja Rövardotter, Astrid Lindgren – in English, this is called Ronja, the Robber’s daughter. It was pretty nice. Some parts of it reminded me of how we got Trump.
Malin på en öde ö, Hans Peterson – this was pretty cute. The title means, ‘Malin on a deserted island’.
The mystery girl – from the “Boxcar Children” series. It was okay. I hadn’t read it in a while. I realize now how improbable this particular plot-line was. Except I can’t elaborate further, because I’ve already forgotten.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain – wow, this book was terrible. I read it in the seventh grade. I have no idea how I could have gotten through it. The language is so thick and convoluted. And the heroisms of the main character are so paraded about and so applauded, it makes you roll your eyes. And wait, this book is supposed to be a satire? Something about, making fun of kings and knights. I mean, were there really so many knights in the 1800s that Twain thought he needed to take them down or something? I have now read 8 of Mark Twain’s book so I know he is a superb writer; why didn’t he trash this before publishing it? Also, if you want to write a book in support of equality and freedom, then maybe don’t be such a nasty person when it comes to American Indians.
The adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain – I’ve read this book about 10 times; but I hadn’t read it in over 10 years. It’s nice. When I read it and I was little, I thought it was fun and brave and cool. I think when I read it this time around, I got the impression instead that the book was written actually for adults, not for kids; and as a kid I took everything literally, but now it seems as though you’re not supposed to really think of any of the book as ‘real’; rather, it’s just some dream of boyhood that maybe Twain wished he had lived. Oh, also, he is so racist towards American Indians, it’s really sick and disgusting.
The kiss quotient, Helen Hoang – well, I read this book for one reason only, and that was due to a certain background of one of the characters. That was played up in all the articles about the book, but it hardly figured in the actual book at all. Also, the book is bad. Everyone is praising it, I don’t know why. They say it’s a different story, a different angle, oh, it’s got Asians in it and autism. Well, really, though, the book is just the same old story: awkward, weird girl manages to have an insanely wonderful guy fall in love with her. Yeah, this book has been written a million times before, this was just yet another iteration, and it’s pretty boring, not very inventive, and the characters do, say, and think things that make no sense. They keep coming to really dumb conclusions that a person in real life would never have come to.
The Boxcar Children, book #1, Gertrude Chandler Warner – I hadn’t read this in about over 10 years. It’s still pretty nice.
Anne’s house of dreams, Lucy Maud Montgomery – This was one of my favorite “Anne” books growing up. I loved the story of Anne’s early wedded life, her giving birth, the lonely, wild coast where they lived, Anne’s “rambles” along the rocky shoreline, oh, and the story of Leslie Moore, of course! Well, now I’ve read it yet again, after a gap of many years. While I was reading it, I was a little bored. But now when I think back to it, I still get that same feeling of a very lovely book wrapped in dreamy, amethyst glow, the way I always thought of it. Two things though: I think when I read it before, I thought all her descriptions of the sea and the sky were very fine. But this time, I thought they were repetitive, and lost some of their beauty, because it was just dredging up the same words to describe the same things time and time again. That gave all the paragraphs and chapters this sort of sentimental, oh-just-take-refuge-in-nature-rather-than-reality feel. And in fact, that was reflected in all the action, because a lot of the action is told through conversations — things Miss Cornelia tells Anne, or things Leslie tells Anne. I wished instead that we could have seen more of the romance of Owen Ford and Leslie Moore in real-time — and all the awkwardness and humor in it would have been delightful. Instead, we mostly got Anne or Miss Cornelia’s un-detailed reports about it. As far as Miss Cornelia goes: When I read this when I was younger, I thought L.M. Montgomery was just having some sport with Miss Cornelia. Miss Cornelia says deliciously wicked, truly feminist things “putting the men in their place” all the time. I thought she was just supposed to be a joke — that of course L.M. Montgomery meant her readers to laugh gently when Miss Cornelia says “drat the men!” But now upon re-reading, having read L.M. Montgomery’s journals, I think she was actually in earnest! I think L.M. Montgomery wanted to “drat the men” herself, but she couldn’t do it straight-out, given the times, so she had to dress it up a little in the form of Miss Cornelia, and hope the message would come out subtly nevertheless. Well, maybe I am slow on the uptake, because it took me about 15 years.
Anne of Ingleside, Lucy Maud Montgomery – I actually really liked this book! And having read her journals, I know she was under tremendous mental stress as she wrote it. It was also practically the last book she wrote, unless you count ‘The Blythes are quoted’. It’s amazing it turned out so funny and fresh and hopeful.
Anne of the Island, Lucy Maud Montgomery – I kind of wasn’t super into this book. Just like with “Anne of Avonlea”, there wasn’t a big focus on her actual college courses and college struggles. In fact, there is less of Anne’s school-life in this book than there was of her teaching life in the last book. So it mostly made it sound like college was one big journey of serene parties and dignified chats, and of course, Anne comes out head of the class or something, with no self-doubt, hardly any stress, no break-downs, not much dreariness. And what the book did focus on was all disjointed. A new character here, a new interest there. I was re-reading “Anne of Ingleside” at the same time I was re-reading “Of the Island”, and “Ingleside” is similar in terms of its episodic chapters that don’t always have a lot to do with each other. But that book still felt a lot more whole and connected. “Anne of the Island” just sort of seemed to skip around. I don’t know. Maybe if I re-read it again, after a few years, I decide I really like it.
Schoolhouse mystery, Gertrude Chandler Warner – the same level of fun as the book below. It was pretty nice. If you want to hear a funny and somewhat mean/cynical review on it, I found this YouTube video.
Mike’s mystery, Gertrude Chandler Warner – This is the fifth of the Boxcar Children books. It was pretty good, I think. I read it two months ago, and I’ve already forgotten what happens.
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot – I read this because Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading it in her journals multiple times. It was my second George Eliot book – I first read Adam Bede, also on the promptings of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The first 300 pages and change are good – just a little bit plodding. You keep saying, okay, okay, and now … ? The next 200 pages and change are riveting, and will make you sit up and pay attention with a vengeance! I was very engrossed. Then there were about 50 pages left, and I was very interested to see how all the confusion was going to be wrapped up. Well! It was awful!!! Just awful. That was the worst ending to any book – it pretty much seemed like she’d gotten tired of writing (wouldn’t you?) and she just polished it off in the quickest way possible. And it’s not just me that thinks that, because I then read the introductory notes and other people have felt the same, and George Eliot in fact agreed!
The mystery in the sand, Gertrude Chandler Warner – did you know that elementary school libraries, who don’t have money to buy new books, are great places to find old books that have disappeared from all other libraries? For example, you can’t find a lot of Boxcar Children books anymore in city libraries, especially not the earliest Boxcar titles. At least it’s so at the Concord Library. Any case, I think I last read the Mystery in the sand when I was 10 or something. It was like reading it for the first time again. It’s not much of a mystery, to be honest. Not much of anything happens. Violet gets a kitten called Sugar Cookie at the end. But why don’t I remember any such kitten from the next three books, each of which I’ve read multiple times?
Anne of Avonlea, Lucy Maud Montgomery – I always loved this book so much. I loved reading about Anne as a young teenager, still, so full of promise, and doing so much good work as a teacher. When I read it this time, it did strike me that actually, there’s not an overwhelming focus on her teaching. I maybe used to think that because those were my favorite chapters, and I used to read and re-read the chapter where Anthony Pye gets his comeuppance. I also remember that I used to skip the whole Echo Lodge/Miss Lavender storyline completely; it bored me stiff! So when I read it all through this time, it was very new. It was like I was reading it for the first time. I wrote a reflection of Anne’s teaching style, and what I could learn from it, here.
How the Garcia Girls lost their accents, Julia Alvarez – I read “In the time of the butterflies” by this same author, and it became one of my favorite books! Then, I met this author when she visited UNC in 2018 🙂 But I didn’t actually like “How the …” very much. First, it seemed like being an immigrant to the US pre-disposes you to winding up in a mental asylum, is that actually the case? Maybe I just didn’t like the topics of each chapter very much. But you should still read it.
The vanishing passenger – This is a book from the “Boxcar Children” series – it’s number 200 or something. I don’t keep up with them; and this one was pretty far-fetched. Like a housekeeper lets four strange and random kids traipse all over the house she takes care of; and apparently the local library runs entirely off the volunteer efforts of these same four kids; and then Mrs. MacGregor, who is the housekeeper for the Aldens, all of a sudden loses her touch and lets the groceries dwindle to the point that there’s not even enough cereal for breakfast! And a lady at a coffeeshop gives four random kids a ride in her car during her lunch-break. But any case – it was a pretty cute book!
Anne of Windy Poplars, Lucy Maud Montgomery – this is the only ‘Anne’ book I’ve only read once — now twice. Most of the others I’ve read about seven times or more. This one dragged a little, mostly just towards the end, because I was reading on a slow-poke train and angry at the time, and also because it’s not a very holistic story – each set of chapters is centered by a spurt of conflict from some new character whom you don’t really see again. But it was still very charming and lovely. You still know you’re reading an L.M. Montgomery book. And because I’d just read ‘The house of seven gables’, I noticed an allusion to that book in this one. And because I’ve also read her journals, I also know that L. M. Montgomery had for sure read ‘The house of seven gables’, so it was a real allusion, not just coincidence. And I know from her journals that while she wrote this book she was very stressed out and nearing the end of her life, so it’s sad in that way. And you have to admire all the beauty she was still able to pour forth in her writing.
The house of seven gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne – I read this because Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading it in her journals. But it was kind of bad. When Charlotte Bronte goes on and on and on, I don’t mind because it is all beautifully written. This book was not. It could have been summed up in 20 pages. Wow, the dragging out of details was just painful. And the 15 pages devoted to unveiling that a man was dead, who we already knew was dead – well, it was a bit too much.
Jacob have I loved, Katherine Paterson – Read this book! I read it about 5 times between middle school and my first year of college. I picked it up again, and I had forgotten everything, except the part about the twins and their rivalry and it being set during World War 2. I had most stunningly forgotten that it took place in the Chesapeake Bay. I lived over 3 years in the Bay, and I never once realized that places like Smith Island, Salisbury, Crisfield, and the whole blue crab/oyster/watermen scene was depicted so strongly in one of my favorite girlhood books. In fact, I took the GRE’s in Salisbury! I have been to Tangier Island, which I think is the place called “Rass” in the book, and I have read “Beautiful Swimmers” (about blue crabs), which inspired Katherine Paterson to write this. And the book is really, really good. And upon re-reading it, there came to me a hazy memory that maybe through middle and high school I had thought it was immoral to hug people. There’s a scene in this book that potentially explains why.
A murder is announced, Agatha Christie – I liked it!
The midwife’s apprentice, Karen Cushman – I read this once, maybe in 7th grade. I didn’t really like it back then. I think I was super confused: why is the girl abandoned? What are all these scenes of childbirth? This time around I followed things, but I still don’t buy that Alyce learned to read while she was sweeping next to the Medieval scholar. It was a nice story but you could safely skip it.
The castle in the attic, Elizabeth Winthrop – I read this many times as a child. Now I just re-read it for the first time in 8-10 years. It’s still pretty good, but the description of the dictator Alastor as just one bad person amidst guards and a population who all disagreed with him and wanted to thwart him is false advertising. I think it’s much more honest to depict bad rulers as actually have lots of lay support.
Josephina books #1-4 – these are American Girl books set in 1824 in New Mexico – except this was before we stole it 😉 I loved Josphina when I first read these books. Upon reading them now, I thought they were a little too sickly-sweet and a little annoying.
A tramp abroad, Mark Twain – This was so good! It’s a travel book from 1878 through Germany and Switzerland. Mark Twain walked all over the mountains of Switzerland. And he embedded himself with villages and universities in Germany, and I swear — the violent tendencies that manifested themselves just a few decades later were obvious, though Twain described them all as a joke. Googling the out-of-the-way places to see what they’re like today and following the routes on a map was very fun. This book has beautiful writing. It is a monster-sized book, though, the last 1/3 when it told about all the failed Swiss mountaineering expeditions started to drag just a little bit. Or maybe I was just impatient.
Hickory Dickory Dock, Agatha Christie – good, and the descriptions of all the international students in 1950s Britain was very interesting.
A Caribbean mystery, Agatha Christie – a fun read.
The book thief, Markus Zusak – this was really good. Although I thought it was too sympathetic towards German civilians who were Nazi sympathizers/supporters. Because I can now see right in front of my face how Americans behave, I no longer believe the malarkey they try to feed us about how “most Germans were good people” and “they didn’t know what was going on.” People do know, and people are hateful, and that’s how those things happen.
The years before “Anne”, Francis Bolger – this book contains short stories and letters that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote up until when “Anne of Green Gables” was published. Without a doubt, you should read it!
Rebecca books #4-6, Jacqueline Greene – this is one of the American Girls Series, “Rebecca”. I read the first 3 books a few years ago, and I just remember that Rebecca was very annoying. But I decided to finish them out. They were pretty good. And the setting of workers’ rights protests was very interesting, especially learning about all the paid agitators sent in to break up the protests and give everyone a bad name. Really reminded me of the present day. But the way everything got tied up neatly with a perfect happy ending in the last book was overdone.
Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain – This one is really good, clever, and funny. But underneath it all, it’s dealing with slavery, so not very funny after all. It’s almost like Twain makes a joke out of slavery.
Adam Bede, George Elliot – my first George Eliot book (this is the woman who wrote under a man’s name.) It was also the first book she wrote. I didn’t like it as much as Charlotte Bronte’s Villete and Jane Eyre. It kind of dragged in some places. And the insights are not as insightful as with Charlotte. But, I’m going to read the other George Eliot books that Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading, and see what I think of those.
The serious game, Hjalmer Söderberg – the back cover of this calls it “Sweden’s most enduring love story.” I really hope not, because it is not enduring, neither the book nor the story in it. At first, it was interesting. But by the middle, you realize the whole book is a slog through people who have married too quickly and carelessly, and now are going to spend their lives having affairs with whom they wished they’d married. I mean, it gets old after a while.
Elizabeth in her German garden, Elizabeth von Arnim – At first, I liked it: it was kind of amazing how you could write a whole book with pretty much no action, and just talking about this lady’s garden. This was a best-seller (100 years ago). But then, towards the end of the book, the husband says the stupidest things about women, and the two women present, Elizabeth and her feisty friend whose name I can’t remember, don’t make him shut up. So it’s like the husband won. These were super offensive comments about the intelligence and capabilities of women. So I started thinking that the author must have been very stupid, but then I read about her on Wikipedia. She didn’t sound like someone who believed women are silly and nothing else. Did she make the husband say outrageous things, with no surefire pummeling in return, because the comments were outrageous enough that even 100 years ago people would have been angry, without the author needing to point it out? I don’t know. And she also made a whole awful lot of mean, unjust implications and comments about people not as rich as her.
Becoming Naomi León, Pam Muñoz Ryan – I’d started reading this book maybe twice before, in stolen moments in bookstores. I finally read it all. I really liked the first half, because it was both touching and funny. The second half it becomes very wishy-washy and dreamy and profound, but without really doing a good job. But it’s a nice story overall. I’ve been wanting to read Esperanza Rising by the same author, too.
Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren – it’s good to re-read once every many years
The Willoughbys, Lois Lowry – this book was weird. I got the sense it was supposed to be odd. But it just didn’t work out very well.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame – I started reading this; it was very slow and boring. Mostly I got impatient with the slow descriptions of nature. But then I remembered: when I was little, I would have pitied someone who got impatient with descriptions of nature as slightly indecent. So I kept reading and it was after all a very lovely story.
Caleb’s Story, Patricia McLachlan – It’s a sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall. It’s okay.
Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patrica McLachlan – we read this book in fifth grade. But I moved in a few weeks after school had started, so my memory of having read the book myself might be off. Maybe I was just there for the last few class discussions. I didn’t remember anything at all. It’s an okay book, but I don’t know how accurate it is. In the book, it’s the 1800s or early 1900s, and out on the prairie, the adults are sliding down hay bales and doing lots of other things that adults in Laura Ingalls Wilder books or Anne of Green Gables books never did.
Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volume 5 – the last volume. So I really did fulfill my goal of reading all her journals. When the journals end (except for a few extra brief notes at odd intervals), it is still about 2-3 years from her death. The last year of entries is more or less cheerful. But it’s sad because if you read the biography, you find out things got a lot worse when the entries end.
Sorrows of Satan, Marie Corelli – A best-seller from 1896. It was really, really good at the beginning. But later it bogged down. In part because the character Mavis Clare is so ridiculous – she’s very perfect, and the fact that she spends all her time telling people how perfect she is, apparently doesn’t take away from her perfection. I liked Sybil a lot more. I don’t think she deserved the end she got.
Tommy and Grizel, J.M. Barrie – This is by the man who wrote Peter Pan. It had some of the funniest passages I’ve ever read: Tommy and his “broken” leg, Grizel’s handkerchief, Tommy’s conversations with the rich, stuck-up lady. But in other places, the book kind of dragged. And I don’t know what the point was in it ending the way it did.
Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volumes 3-4 – I like the parts of the journals where she is happy, but often in these she is depressed and troubled. Some of it very serious and humiliating troubles. But me having the distance of time, and reading entry after entry upset about the same thing, it made me start to think: how really serious are my own troubles that sometimes darken my days? If someone reads about them 100 years from now, they will no doubt think: did she really waste her “golden days” upset about that?
Trilby, George du Maurier – this was a best-seller from 1895. This book made me realize why though a book may be popular at its time, 100 years later no one has heard of it. It has some good points and some good passages. Otherwise, the very over-blown section describing Trilby’s angelic singing was not inspiring, but annoying. Trilby is depicted as a perfect saint and a perfect beauty, and as such, the ideal woman. It was all very ridiculous. Plus, the book says very nasty things about Jews. They don’t tell you in school that books like this were published in the decades preceding the Holocaust, became best-sellers, and showered anti-Semitism over everyone. Explains a lot.
The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County and other sketches, Mark Twain – this was really fun and good to read.
Selected Letters of Emily Dickinson – Of course I recommend reading it, but I don’t think this editor did a good job arranging the letters, or taking the relevant clips out. Emily Dickinson writes so that you can’t understand her, anyways, but I think the editor made it all worse.
Auschwitz and the Allies – this was really sad to read. Most especially because along with all the other material, it would say: and on May 6, 1942, 1056 Jews arrived from Paris to Auschwitz. And then on the next day, a train arrived from Holland. And so on and so on, throughout the whole book. It was the first time I could begin to imagine not just a big mass of millions, but individuals – a thousand here, a thousand there. Also, you kind of lose your faith in humanity. The American military generals had many chances to at the very least stop the daily trainloads of 12,000 Hungarian Jews being sent to Auschwitz. But they just came up with excuses. So I could see how 12,000 lives dragged from their homes and stuffed into a train, headed for suffocation in a death chamber, really just meant nothing at all to those with the power to save them. The writer hated Arabs, that also came through; way more than the Nazis, it appeared.
The Alhambra, Washington Irving – The story of when the author took a trip to Spain, and swung by the city of Granada, and spent several weeks hanging out at the old Moorish Castle, the Alhambra. It was nice to get to walk in his shoes, see the sights with him, and read the magical and somewhat wild legends of long ago.
The Land, Mildred D. Taylor – This book was published in 2001. By then, I’d kind of grown out of this series (the Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry family) – or maybe this book just wasn’t published as widely as the other books, because this was the first time I came across it. This is one of the very rare books out there that tells the story of Black people in the south right after the Civil War ended. The only other such book I can think of is the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. So it was very interesting from that perspective. Also, seeing who Cassie’s great-grandfather was was mind-blowing. And when I looked at the family tree at the beginning and discovered that Stacy’s real first name is Robert, and Uncle Hammer’s name is really Hammond, well, my jaw dropped. So it was very interesting; I will just say, though, that the second half of the book reads more like a historical document listing a series of events, rather than a story.
Road to Memphis, Mildred D. Taylor – This was book amazing! Again, I’ve read it many times before, but maybe not for ten years. It was thrilling, suspenseful, made me think, made me put myself in the parts of the characters and wonder how I would react. It had twists and turns, and there was a pretty great romance, too. They honestly should make this book into a movie, it would be really good.
Let the Circle be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor – I read this a couple times, but all over 10 years ago. This book is full of voting rights, law studies, interracial marriage. Honestly, when I read it now, I felt surprised that I’d been able to read it when little, because it was quite technical in many places. As for the interracial couple, when I was little, I’d had a hard time seeing why they’d be having marriage issues. “If they love each other, how could anything get in the way of that!?” my teenaged self must have wondered. But I can see it now.
The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White – when I read this in maybe seventh grade, I thought it was it was one of the most beautiful books ever. So I decided to read it again. It is very nice.
Stuart Little, E.B. White – I think I read this is third grade. I think I remember being intrigued, but a little lost. On re-reading it, I can’t blame myself. It’s a cute book. But why does Stuart leave his family at the end?
Ghetto Diary, Janusz Korczak – A Jewish man stayed with his orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, doing his best to get food and medicine for all his small charges amidst starvation rations; then he, his staff, and all 200 children were deported straight to gas chambers in 1942. This is the diary he kept of the last months in the ghetto as they maybe start to realize they’re all going to die.
Daisy Miller, James Henry – I’d never even heard of James Henry; but Davis Library has about 1000 books by him! So I guess he’s a big deal? However, I didn’t like this book that much. I didn’t get it. What was the point? If I have to read one more book by an old man who can’t keep from fawning over the perfect beauty of some teenaged girl, I am going to throw it at the wall – and I am morally opposed to throwing or harming books.
Memories of an Old Time Tar Heel, Kemp Plummer Battle – This is an important person in the history of my university – he was the president in the late 1800s. He’s also the namesake of a forest that I love to walk through. So I wanted to read the book. It’s full of amusing anecdotes about 1800s North Carolina. But he’s also a big racist, pretty much, and even though he wrote the book in the early 1900s, he still seemed to wish for the days of slavery. How can a person who claims to be a critical thinker, and who led a university founded on “light and liberty”, believe it’s okay to deny a whole group of people the right to develop themselves and feel out all their abilities? He thought it was terrible that all Black men (only men at the time) would have the right to vote! The people who still believe that today will like this book!
The Moon By Night, Madeleine L’Engle – this is about a roadtrip a family takes around the USA during the 1950s. It was fun to tag along through the book and visit tons of national parks in my imagination!
Meet the Austins, Madeleine L’Engle – When I first started reading this book, I was annoyed, because half of her sentences go like this: “We went to the beach, AND it was windy, AND the dogs were barking, AND I wanted to be alone, AND we had lunch under the eaves”. AND AND AND I thought it was really affected. About 70 pages in, either I stopped noticing, or Ms. Madeleine was just doing it less, probably because she got sick of it, too. Also, it’s set in the 1950s and the gender roles are quite jarring. The older brother especially is super stupid. All he does is yell at his little sister with manly authority, and all she does is crumple up and say: “oh, John!” This book made me really happy, though, by the time I finished reading it. It describes how a loving family deals with each other. There are moments of peace and happiness in it that are lovely to cuddle up into.
Farthest North, Fridtjof Nansen – This book was a bestseller way back in 1897! It’s about a polar expedition that made it “farthest north” to the North Pole than anyone had ever been before. Nansen was the head of the expedition, and when they got back, he wrote this book. He’s Norwegian, therefore I am obligated to dislike the book. However, you could read it for sure. It takes you along through the moonlit Polar night!
Lighter than my shadow, Katie Greene – This is a “graphic book” – not graphic in the sense of being crass, but in the sense of being driven by pictures. I’d never checked books like this out, because I figured a book full of pictures would just not be my style. However, I found this at a friend’s house, and read the whole thing right away. It’s really wonderful – it’s about a girl with an eating disorder.
One crazy summer, Rita Williams-Garcia – this is a kids’ chapter book. It’s about three sisters in the 1960s, sent to Oakland for a summer. I learned so much about the Black Panthers and about the protests from that time.
The Truth-Teller’s Tale, Sharon Shinn – I needed something light and sweet to read. This one is a chapter book for young teens, and full of princes, magic, twin girls – you get it. It was actually a really cute book, I loved it!
Vanity Fair, William Thackeray – I know this is a classic, but it is an awful book. The only thing clear from the book is the great opinion Thackeray had of himself – he apparently thought he was the only moral person on the planet, the only one who really knew how to live an upright life. Meanwhile, he wrote before the Civil War and he thought slavery was the best thing ever. When I finally finished and picked up “Farthest North”, I felt like my soul was being washed from all the pollution and grime of Thackeray.
The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell – this was a beautiful book. It’s a biography of my favorite author, and it’s full of her letters, which are just as beautifully written as all her books. Plus, I learned all about the old English moors from back in the day. I was just in despair because right afterwards, I found like 10 huge books with the originals of all of Charlotte Bronte’s letters, and I just won’t ever have time to read them all.
Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it changed America, John Barry – besides being wonderfully written, I learned so much about corruption and arrogance among key American historical figures. I was disgusted by the old bankers in New Orleans, all of whom were big liars; the poet with the chip on his shoulder who treated Black refugees from the Mississippi River flood like dirt; by the people who forced Black men, at gunpoint, to throw sandbags on the river banks, while the collapse of the land into the river was imminent (they all drowned when the land finally gave way). But we should definitely read this to know what went on, and probably still goes on.
Run-away Ralph, Beverly Cleary – I read this book in 4th grade, and I remember I didn’t understand a thing. I think I was confused the whole time: why is there a talking mouse, why does he have a motorcycle, how is this possible? And when I re-read it now, I could see how some of the vocabulary would have tripped me up back then. This wouldn’t be my favorite Beverly Cleary book.
A Life in War and Peace, Brian Urquhart – This is by a British man who dropped out of Oxford University to fight in World War II, then he was one of the first people working in the United Nations when it formed right after the war. He devoted the rest of his life to it. The book tells about trying to get ridiculous world leaders together to stop fighting and act sensibly. The book is written with a great sense of humor.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath – I read this book in eleventh grade, and I loved it passionately! I was sure I’d feel the same way this go around. Imagine my disappointment when I got through the first chapter or two and thought: this girl isn’t deep and complex, she’s just annoying and likes complaining. BUT! I kept reading and the old camaraderie with the book came back. I loved it.
Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh – I first read this book in the fifth grade. It suddenly occurred to me I should read it again. I’d forgotten pretty much everything; but then it would talk about Harriet’s tomato sandwiches, and it would ding some hidden, mysterious echoes in the chambers of my memory. It was like that with pieces of the whole book. I didn’t remember Ole Golly at all – and then I did. There’s a lot in the book that I wouldn’t have understood at age 10.
Work, Louisa May Alcott – I read this because I read anything by her. It’s kind of a plodding book, but it’s pretty nice, overall. The ending was very predictable. So much moralizing in the book.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling – I liked it, but the plot isn’t as super-tight, with a hundred pieces coming together in the most intricate way, as the first seven Harry Potter books. But obviously, I could never forego reading a Harry Potter book.
Hospital Sketches, Louisa May Alcott – I loved this book. It’s about when Louisa May Alcott (“Little Women”) left home to treat injured Union soldiers at a hospital in Washington DC during the Civil War. It is very funny, and also of course sad.
The Blythes Are Quoted, Lucy Maud Montgomery – This is a book of short stories and poetry from one of my favorite authors, and parts of it were published for the first time just a few years ago … long after she died in 1942. So this is very special. You think there won’t be new books, but then there are. Anne and Gilbert, at least in bits and pieces, make appearances; and so do their kids, and their grandkids, which is so nice. Some of the poetry was also beautiful. I copied some of it down so I can read it whenever I want!
Ragged Dick, Horatio Algiers – I remembered learning about these books in US history. They’re from the turn of the (19th) century, and it’s just a rags-to-riches story; just a be-honorable-and-you’ll-make-it book. This book and others by the same author were very popular back in the day.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling – I actually didn’t like this so much! This book was okay, but then I skimmed the second in the series, and just read the summary of the third on Wikipedia. But you should definitely try them out, since it is JK Rowling.
Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery: The P.E.I Years, 1900-1911 – This is the only volume of ‘complete’ journals that Davis Library has for this author. Couldn’t pass it up. But I wish I could have also read the Complete Journals from 1889-1900.
Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volumes 1-2 – Lucy Maud Montgomery is one my favorite author (Emily of New Moon, Anne of Green Gables fame), and her whole journals (ten volumes) are stashed in a blessed shelf on the tenth floor of Davis Library. Bliss!! Although, they are also very sad. But very interesting, and if you like her books, surely you’ll like her journals. There was one point when I got to her World War I entries, and her stress over the Battle of Verdun; at the very moment the news was commemorating the 100-year anniversary of that battle. It was weird!
A Room with a View, E.M. Forster – this was a pretty good book, I think from the late 1800s. I kind of didn’t get it, but it had a nice way of writing, and raised some interesting thoughts.
A Tangled Web, Lucy Maud Montgomery – A bit of a syrupy novel, where everything works its way out in the end, but obviously, I would never pass up the chance to read an novel by her.
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen – sort of a boring Jane Austen novel, in my opinion. My favorite Jane Austen book is Mansfield Park. I nearly jumped out of my skin over impatience at who the main character would finally pick to get married to.
Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte – not really that good. Not as good as her sisters’ novels. But might as well read it anyways.
The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing – I didn’t get this book, and I didn’t like it much either. The main character is ridiculous and not very good.
Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld – this is a book of poems by the Swedish Secretary-General of the United Nations. It’s a small, sad book.
Dag Hammarskjöld: A Spiritual Portrait, by Sven Stolpe – a short, sad, wistful book.
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevesky – I’d wanted to read this ever since they gave it a very convincing shout-out in my 10th grade literature book. The low point is a 70-page speech given by the priest on his deathbed that you have to slog through; but this is a very profound book, with many amazing and clever bits of writing, and ways of turning a situation around to see it from an entirely new point of view. It will definitely stretch your mind. I copied down several parts of it – lessons that I don’t want to forget, and can go back and learn from whenever.
The Railroad Children, E.B. Nesbit – this is a beautiful book about four brothers and sisters back in the day traipsing around the English countryside, waiting for their father to come home from jail. I loved it! And this author is highly recommended by JK Rowling!
Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, by Mary Rubio – this is an amazing biography full of details and all the information you want about one of my favorite authors. The next step after this is to read the journals!!
The blue castle, Lucy Maud Montgomery – I loved this. Such a feminist firecracker from the 1920s!! And it’s funny, and sassy.
Eulalia’s island, Carolyn Meyer – this was a very jarring book.
Where a broken heart still beats, Carolyn Meyer – a really sad, hopeless book
You shouldn’t have to say good-bye, Patricia Hermes – this book broke my heart. A girl’s mom is dying of cancer.
Along for the Ride, Sarah Dessen – this was fun and happy to read.
Twilight, Stephanie Meyer – boring and predictable, and not full of pretty words and turns of phrase.
Shake Hands with the devil, Romeo Dallaire – one of the first books I ever checked out of Davis Library, back when I was an undergrad. It’s about the Rwandan genocide from the point of view of the commander of the UN troops there at the time. It’s really good.