I’m happy to report that I have officially completed my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge an entire month early! The Museum of Extraordinary Things was the 60th book I read this year, but I think I can squeeze in a few more before the year ends. Every time I post about finishing yet another book, I feel kind of strange for “bragging” but I really just love talking about, looking at, shopping for and reading books (I work at Penguin Random House and I’m still not sick of books).
I frequently get asked how I find the time to read so much, but here’s the thing: I just love reading, so I make time for it. Things I don’t make time for: real exercise, clothes shopping, working overtime or cooking. In fact, the night that I finished my 60th book, I had a bowl of cereal and a bowl of chips for dinner. We’re all doing the best we can with the time we’re given, and I personally feel bad when I see people running marathons, so whether you’ve read one book or 100 this year, you do you (but really, reading is awesome I promise).
The Mummy Case: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense, by Elizabeth Peters
I saw this book at a gift shop on our last night in Cairo and I put it on my library hold list as soon as we returned. Amelia Peabody is a thinly veiled parody of famous Egyptologist (and author of the excellent travelogue A Thousand Miles Up the Nile) Amelia B. Edwards, so The Mummy Case was an especially fun read because I had just finished A Thousand Miles. This is the third in the series of Peters’s Peabody novels, but I didn’t feel at a disadvantage having not read the others.
The Mummy Case follows Peabody and her husband, a fellow archeologist, as they travel back to Egypt with their young son, Ramses, in tow. When they’re denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshur, they think their excavations in the middle of nowhere will yield nothing. But when an antiques dealer is murdered, Peabody and her (reluctant) husband begin to investigate. Mystery books are like brain candy to me—a palette cleanser in between all of the medical, poison and death industry books that I usually gravitate towards—and this one was even more fun now that I’ve actually been to some of the places Peters writes about.
I had loved Blum’s previous book in the “poison” genre, The Poisoner’s Handbook, so I was excited about her new book about food safety. Half of the book I loved—her descriptions of unsanitary factory conditions and suspicious food ingredients are not for the squeamish—and half of the book was a bit of a slog through the government bureaucracy of legislation and the battle with food industry lobbyists. I don’t read food labels as much as I should, but I was shocked at how dangerous and unregulated foods used to be—and at how far we still are from winning the battle for transparency and consumer safety in the food industry.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," by Zora Neale Hurston
Barracoon was published this year, 87 years after Hurston conducted her interviews with then 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis, who at the time was the last surviving African to come to America on a slave ship. Lewis was captured and brought to America when he was 19, just before the Civil War. He relays the story of his journey, from carefree boy to his capture, from his time as a slave to his life as a free man in the post-Civil War South. His story is told simply and in his own words, but it’s a heartbreakingly complex commentary on the African (and African-American) experience in America and it’s just a relevant today as it was then.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön
The universe has a way of giving you what you need sometimes, and this book became available at the library exactly when I needed it most. I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, but the more I read about Buddhist philosophies, the more I feel that they align with how I’m already trying to see the world. This book is at times a bit cultish for my tastes—and heavily pushes meditation, which I don’t do but could probably benefit from—but there is a lot of valuable wisdom packed in between. Chödrön emphasizes the benefits of embracing change, not running from groundlessness and advises that instead of avoiding pain, we should “lean into the sharp points.”
The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman
I bought this book at a thrift store and then actually read it not too shortly afterwards, which is surely some sort of record for me. I usually buy used books only to get distracted by my library list, but I’m so glad I didn’t let this one languish on my shelf. I picked up The Museum of Extraordinary Things because it hit on so many of my interests: turn of the century New York, Coney Island, curiosity museums, photography, etc.—in fact, this book seemed tailor made for my interests. It also turned out to be a beautifully written story about love, obligation and finding your place in the world. I loved every second of Hoffman’s gorgeous prose—even unspeakable tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Dreamland fire and sexual abuse are described vividly but respectfully.