In the beginning of November, I was so excited for the holidays. I was a living Pinterest board. I had my plaid scarf and my new winter jacket with the fur and a pumpkin spice latte in my hand and and was eyeing wreaths at the grocery store.
A Merry Christmas and Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott – Thus my first book of the month was all about the holiday spirit. I’ve always had a thing for Victorian stories about orphans sharing a measly biscuit by the fire (if you haven’t read enough Victorian literature, I can assure you this is a sub-genre on it’s own). While all of the stories are heavy handed and didactic in nature, they aren’t religious. Basically that’s what I want in a Christmas short story (i.e. sad orphans who give up their meager positions to help an even more down-on-their-luck character, and are rewarded by a kind stranger later). If I was a parent, I would force my children to sit in the living room every night by the fire and read one of the stories aloud and give super heavy-handed lectures at the end, like, “And what did we all learn from this story? Hrrrmmmm???”
And then the election happened, wherein I lost my Christmas spirit. I played video games for a week and then immersed myself in tragedy.
The Scent of Rumduol by Andy J. Hill – Out of all the books I’ve read this year, this one will stick with me the most. The story centers on several real-life characters, mostly children, and their daily lives in Cambodia. The chapters bounce around in time, which is a bit confusing at first, but it’s not hard to see trends in the stories – namely that children are regarded as either disposable or an item of exploitation. Interspersed is also the experience of a monk traveling for seven years, ending with his take-away that Cambodia must value and invest in it’s children for the country to survive. I won’t lie – some of the stories are horrific, if not just super depressing. Parents sell their children to work in factories to settle outrageous debts, and orphans (of which there are many) are forced into sex trafficking or collecting toxic garbage. It also highlights how short sighted Westerners are to the reality of “helping” Cambodians, and are in fact causing more of a problem. You can’t send privileged white college students to “teach” native Cambodian children in English. At one point, a child asks why westerners pay so much to come to Cambodia to help, when they could have just sent the money or hired a local teacher – coming to decide that it’s clearly more about the Americans getting an “experience” that it is about educating children.
The stories were well-written and gripping, and educational at the same time. And not every part of the overall story is depressing. There are flashes of resiliency, kindness and hope. I would totally recommend it…although maybe not read aloud with your children by the hearth.
Inquisition by John Edwards – Ugh this book was the WORST! If anyone can geek out over the historical minutiae of medieval torture, it’s me! This book is beyond technical in it’s writing, worse than any textbook I ever had in college. It also assumes that the reader already knows the name and purposes of specific torture devices which would be incredibly confusing for someone who isn’t me. I suffered through this book, which is a shame since it’s such a fascinating (albeit horrific) time in history.
But regardless, LET’S ALL REMEMBER HOW TERRIBLE CHRISTIANS WERE TO JEWS AND MUSLIMS FOR SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS.
I promise to be less angry at the end of December. In fact, I’m in the middle of a “comedy” book right now. But until then…
(Claim to fame: I saw this one in person in Amsterdam).