Wednesday, October 4, 2023

First Lines: September 2023 edition


Art at our local library - 
a book tree!

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in September.  Includes one memoir, one Y.A. lit, one Bible book, two history books, one mystery, and one dystopian novel.


Book 1

“Work hard, kid, and you will be rewarded with a piece of the American Dream.” 

- Every suburban dad born between 1939 and 1963.

It came from a good place.  They wanted you to follow the path that had worked for them – the path that got them the home and the midsize sedan and the patch of lawn they’d constantly bitch about having to maintain. 


Book 2

Case 1: Till Death Us Do Part

Saturday, June 6, 1812

We were to meet him at midnight in the Dark Walk.  It was not an ideal arrangement: two unaccompanied women confronting a blackmailer in the most ill-lit, deserted part of Vauxhall Gardens.



Book 3

Grand Failure

Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade.



Book 4

The beginnings of this story lie far back in time, and its reverberations still sound today.


Book 5

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  ….



Book 6

One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.


Book 7

Chapter 1: The Gas Man

If you want to get to the beginning of the shale revolution, pick up Interstate 35E out of Dallas and head north forty miles and then take the turnoff for the tiny town of Ponder.  Pass the feed store, the white water tower, the sign for the Cowboy Church, and the donut store that’s closed down.


Did not finish 

Understanding the Contours of Africa’s Past

The stories of entire continents cannot adequately be told in single-volume histories.

Altered Book
by artist Chris Fondi, August 2019

The titles and authors revealed:


Book 1

American Grunt: Ridiculous Stories of a Life Lived at $8.00 an Hour, by Kevin Cramer.

Local author!  354 pages. Published 2023.  

This book is funny and poignant all at the same time.  This fascinating memoir gives us a first-person look at what it is like to work at certain jobs, and especially reminds us to be very kind to the person who cleans out our rental cars.  Or who clean out anything.  Plenty of cuss language but it is all warranted and effective.  I recommend this book, especially if you have lived in SWPA.



Book 2

The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies (The Ill-Mannered Ladies #1), by Alison Goodman.  464 pages. Published 2023.

This book is essentially Woke Jane Austen.  Interesting characters, clever and unlikely plot twists.  I enjoyed it.  I have yet to find the existence of Book #2 in the supposed series.


Book 3

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly with Isabel Roxas (Illustrator)  320 pages.  Published 2017.  Y.A. lit.  Winner of the Newbery Medal.

Quirky but lovable characters, except for the bully, who does not get his comeuppance, which makes the ending slightly unsatisfying, but more realistic.  Includes some scenes which were truly scary to me.


Book 4

King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild.  376 pages (text thru page 323; the rest is end notes). Published 1998.  With an intro by Barbara Kingsolver (which I did not read).

I feel that this is a book that a certain governor-running-for-president would not want people to read.  This book is not for the squeamish, but delves into an important part of history.  There is one part where the King of Belgium carries out exactly the same public relations move done by one Atty General William P. Barr, getting in front of a potentially damaging government report.  This is a well-written book on a disturbing topic.



Book 5

Letter to the Romans, by Paul.  Yes, that Paul.   20 pages.   First published about 58 CE.

I did a speed reading of this difficult biblical text.  There’s a fair amount of contradictory stuff in this letter.  You are saved by God’s grace, not by your acts, but also Do good acts so God doesn't punish you.  One very touching part is the mention of a whole bunch of women, presumably leaders in the early groups of Christians, at the end of the book.  What impressed me most was how little snippets of the book were extremely familiar, as this book is often quoted in short spurts, but most people, including me, have little understanding of the context for those snippets.


Book 6

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid.  180 pages.  Published 2022.

This short book presents an interesting dystopian scenario. The opening is reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.  The writing style, mostly lengthy sentences that wander all over the place, conveys uncertainty, which may have been the best for the subject matter (but I am not certain!).  I kept thinking that the scenario was meant to be a stand in for the pandemic, decided against it, only to revert to my original thought.  Its main concern is racism, but I feel it just stayed on the surface of that complicated societal ill.  In short, an unsettling book. 

RE the writing style:  The first sentence (above) is probably the shortest sentence in this book.  The second sentence is:

This dawned upon him gradually, and then suddenly, first as a sense as he reached for his phone that the early light was doing something strange to the color of his forearm, subsequently, and with a start, as a momentary conviction that there was somebody else in bed with him, male, darker, but this, terrifying though it was, was surely impossible, and he was reassured that the other moved as he moved, was in fact not a person, not a separate person, but was just him, Anders, causing a wave of relief, for if the idea that someone else was there was only imagined, then of course the notion that he had changed color was a trick too, an optical illusion, or a mental artifact, born in the slippery halfway place between dreams and wakefulness, except that by now he had his phone in his hands and he had reversed the camera, and he saw that the face looking back at him was not his at all.

Book 7

The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations by Daniel Yergin.  512 pages, but not all of that is text.  Published 2020.

I read this because I wanted an overview of the energy market, including the onset of fracking.  This is a good overview, although I found the author too dismissive of Native American needs and wants.  He gave a flippant treatment of the protest at Standing Rock against the oil pipeline.  The book did not include anything about renewable biodiesel, which I want to understand better.


Did not finish 

A History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the Present (Second Edition, published 2012) by Richard J. Reid.  448 pages.  The first edition was published in 2009.  

The first lines of this book counseled me not to read this very book!  So I didn’t.  I wanted to learn more about Africa.  This book probably would have partially met my need, but I chose to finish reading King Leopold’s Ghost instead, going for depth instead of breadth.  This book was not available for kindle, so I would have been required to read it on my tablet - another thing that helped me decide not to read it.  I might come back to this one.