What I'm Reading: December 12-27, 2021

Well, it's certainly been a year. I'd hoped to finish Villette before the end of the year so that I could include it in this post, but no such luck. At some point I decided that it was more important for my mental health to get my house tidied up before heading back to work.

I'll make more comments on this when I post about the full year of reading, but there are relatively few standouts this year, and that's disappointing.

Here are the last four books I read in 2021, between December 12 and 27, in the order that I completed them:

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

175 pages

My return to the Chronicles of Prydain, which I started last Decemberish. This is the third entry in the series, and we get some more insight into Eilonwy, where she comes from, and what her destiny might be. Our hero, still assistant pig keeper Taran, is still a dumb hothead, but he's learning, and he's also still brave and ready for adventure. I wish I'd encountered these books as a kid.

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

120 pages

Mid-month, I found myself waiting to pick up a library book that I knew I'd have to return without any renewals, so I wanted to be able to start it right away after picking it up. However, between library visits, I finished whatever else I was reading, so I needed something short. Enter Ten Days in a Mad-House, which I've had on my radar for a long time for some reason. I read Project Gutenberg's free ebook version on my phone (reading on phone: not ideal but will do in a pinch).

So, in 1887, Nellie Bly, girl reporter for the New York World pretended to be crazy in order to gain admittance into the public insane asylum for women. Her expose wasn't quite as shocking as I'd been led to believe, but she does describe pretty miserable conditions for the inmates. Her language is far from what would be considered politically correct when she's referring to the patients she shares the space with, but this is one of those cases where beggars can't be choosers: her writing did result in actual reforms at the institution in question.

Not essential reading but an interesting peek into a different time.

You Bet Your Life by Paul A. Offit

221 pages

The book I mentioned needing to return to the library without renewing. This book just came out this year, and it's about medical innovation, the costs, the missteps, the rewards (it's subtitled "From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovations"). Offit doesn't really explore coronavirus specifically all that much in this book. He's concentrating on actual medical risks that have been and gone. The points he's making are that in order to make progress, risks are taken and that these risks are usually calculated ones.

The book is interesting on its own for sure, and I'll be reading more of Offit's work. But I'd hoped that this book would provide more insight into exactly how doctors, medical researchers, etc. do the risk calculation.

Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath

224 pages

Not exactly ending the year on a happy note, I realize! Due to some developments in my family and personal life this year, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have children (to keep things sufficiently vague). There is a huge social resistance to the concept that a mother could possibly regret being a mother, and I wanted to find some books exploring that. Donath did a study involving interviews with a couple of dozen Israeli women (the author herself is also Israeli) who regret becoming mothers. The women range from young to old, including a few who are grandmothers, and fall on various parts of the social, economic, etc. spectrum. In this book, Donath summarizes and comments on the phenomenon of regret and motherhood. It's a bit academic but really interesting. The interview excerpts included are really touching and occasionally harrowing. Recommended for non-parents, fencesitters, and regretful parents, but probably not anyone who is about to become a parent for the first time.

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