For Love of Books and Story

The week of the novella, poetry, and learning how frighteningly human doctors are.

The week of the novella, poetry, and learning how frighteningly human doctors are.

This past week I’ve read quite a few little bite-sized books that pack a big punch, and also dabbled in more poetry than I usually do. Actually, let me stop right here and recommend the practice of reading a bunch of little books! There’s nothing better for getting yourself out of a reading slump. I wouldn’t say I was in a reading slump, but I was in a pretty much constant state of distraction for a couple weeks for various reasons. I do want to dive into some bigger books this year and be more focused on quality over quantity in my reading, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit down and get a book READ in one sitting. The sense of accomplishment might be just the thing to recalibrate your brain and gently coax your attention span back from pit of social media or wherever it went off to (I’m being dramatic, I know).

I have officially added a “novella” shelf to my Goodreads. Why don’t I read more novellas? Mostly I think it’s because I don’t commonly come across this form of writing. Maybe there’s more out there than I realize? It seems to me like everything is either normal book-length (at least around 300 pages) or put in a collection of short stories.

I am a HUGE fan of Nnedi Okorafor. I have progressively become more a fan of sci-fi and fantasy as I get older (I joke that this is because my kids have shattered my attention span and I need more exciting stories to hook me now, there may be some truth to this), and I have never read any other sci-fi that is culturally African. I have read and loved some of Okorafor’s other stuff (Who Fears Death, The Book of Phoenix), and so I finally decided to start her novella trilogy and Read Binti.

What I Read

Synopsis from Goodreads

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive

I liked it but it felt a little YA. It’s not classified as such, but some things seemed a bit oversimplified. Maybe most novellas are more sparse like this?

Rating: 4/5 stars


On to the poetry! I love poetry but I will readily admit that I’m not super sophisticated about it and I don’t know who all the cool poets are. My favorite is Mary Oliver, but she’s everybody’s favorite. So I guess that means I’m just your average poetry consumer? But somehow, even though I’m just your average unsophisticated poetry reader, milk and honey came on my radar.

Synopsis from Goodreads 

milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

Thoughts and Feelings

I heard on one of my bookish podcasts that this little book had people actually buying poetry. That’s how much hype there is around it! I just think it’s okay. Some lines really pop out at me and I think they’re brilliant, but others are just kind of meh. The good ones still make it worth reading, I think, but I don’t think I’ll read her new book that just came out.

Rating: 3/5 stars


I liked this next poetry book, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, much better.

Synopsis from Goodreads

What elevates ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. As Rumi said, “Love will find its way through all languages on its own”. 

In ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, Warsan’s debut pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly. Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. Born in 1988, she is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma. Warsan has read her work internationally, including recent readings in South Africa, Italy and Germany, and her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

Thoughts and Feelings

I listened to this as an audiobook (only 30 minutes!), and the narrator, who I think was the author, had a beautiful lyrical quality to her voice. I have never heard poetry with Islamic themes in it, which means I need to be more diverse in my poetry reading.

Rating: 4/5 stars


My last book for the week was an audiobook. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery was fascinating!

Synopsis from Goodreads

What is it like to be a brain surgeon?

How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?

How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially life-saving operation when it all goes wrong?

In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor’s oath to ‘do no harm’ holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, Henry Marsh must make agonising decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.

If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practised by calm and detached surgeons, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candour, one of the country’s leading neurosurgeons reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets and the moments of black humour that characterise a brain surgeon’s life.

Do No Harm is an unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital. Above all, it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life’s most difficult decisions.

Thoughts and Feelings

The main thought that I kept having as I read this book was, “Wow, I knew doctors were human but this really brings that concept home.” This book was fascinating in the same way that All Creatures Great and Small was fascinating. You see a man who is really good at his job and is also able to write about it well. The patients become characters that we love and we’re invested in their outcome, but alas, some die. Sometimes their death cannot be prevented, and sometimes a mistake is made. What can you do? No one, even brain surgeons, can be perfect 100% of the time. Dr. Marsh writes honestly about it all.

Rating: 4/5 stars

What I’m Reading Now

Now that I’ve finished blasting through all those little shorties, I’m enjoying listening to Confessions of a Funeral Director on audio, and I’m just about to start the new memoir, Educated (my first ever ARC, yay!) More on those next week.

I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned! Also, what are you reading now? Please share!

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American expat in Taiwan, book lover, wannabe writer and Mandarin language learner, homeschooling mom to two boys.

4 thoughts on “The week of the novella, poetry, and learning how frighteningly human doctors are.”

  • Ah yes! I am actually a huge novella fan. I have always found they help me curb slumps and well, are refreshing. I love a little instant gratification now and then! I am actually reading Binti tonight and enjoying it. Milk and Honey is on my radar. I just began exploring poetry this last last more.

    Off topic, do you still have a twitter account? I could not locate you.

    • Oooh, I’d love to know what you think of Binti! I don’t like YA, so the fact that it felt YA to me made me not enjoy it as much, but I guess I’m just picky. Have you read any other Okorafor books?

      Ahhhh, Twitter. Okay, you might get a long-winded answer here that you were not looking for, but so far you’re the only person besides my mom that has read any part of my blog and I need to vent to someone! So I have a tendency to be sort of all or nothing. When I decided to try book blogging (without having any clue that there is a giant book bogging community in existence because up until that point I had only known about Modern Mrs. Darcy), I kind of went crazy with research and decided to do ALL THE THINGS! I started Twitterin’ and blog customizin’ and before I knew it, I was spending several hours a day on this stuff instead of reading, which is why I wanted to start the blog in the first place. Then I went through a little blog identity crisis, which mostly existed in my own head because I only have like 5 posts and no followers. I started asking myself questions like, “If a post is written but no one knows about it or reads it, does it really exist?” And because I’m so all or nothing, I made a grand gesture out of deactivating my Twitter account (although I think I could technically change my mind within 30 days). I can’t seem to be able to do twitter just a little. I want to maximize everything and then I get addicted. I think I’m ok if I don’t get very many readers because of it because I see now how much work it is to have a real, professional book blog, and I don’t think I can do it. I do want to talk about books, though, so I’m glad you’re here!

      I hope you’re getting some rest! Take care. =)

  • I’ve just replied to your comment on my commenting post (huuuuuge reply… :D) and I’m running back to return the comment, because you said not a lot of people visit back! Let me not be one of them 😉

    I also don’t read a lot of novellas… Guess they’re not as popular? But they can be both rewarding (yay, short read!) and disappointing (oh no, it’s aleady over!) I have read a few great ones though, I can recommend Brother’s Ruin for sure 🙂 forgot the author’s name xD

    But nope, I haven’t read any of these 🙂

    • Ha ha ha, oh my gosh I hope I didn’t sound like I was being really whiney about not getting many comments! I know it takes awhile, and in a way it’s kind of good thing that not that many people are reading my posts yet because I still don’t really know what I’m doing. If I mess up or say something really weird I have plenty of time to fix it before someone actually sees it!

      Thanks for the rec for Brother’s Ruin. I’ll check it out on Goodreads! By the way, I couldn’t figure out where to join that international bloggers chat on your blog.

      Thanks for taking the time to reply to my other comment and for stopping by here!

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