Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Rooney Doland

Unclutter Your Life in One WeekUnclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Rooney Doland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this when I read it in 2010, but it didn't help me get more organized in any kind of major or long-term way. Since then I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and that made a huge change in my life.*So read that one instead.

*The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up didn't just change the way I organize my home, but it also changed the way I tackle problems generally. Als,o the section where I had to organize my books, increased my reading dramatically.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, #2)Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book I hadn't encountered all the many mentions of it in our culture yet. Or if I had, I hadn't noticed yet. I've encountered many uses of the quote of the Queen telling Alice that in the Mirror Land you must keep running just to stay in the same place. I think once I encountered it as a physics analogy, and another time as a more pedestrian analogy.

This is also the origin of the famous poem Jabberwocky. That's probably a good enough reason to read the book.

The first time I read this book, I read it like any other children's book. On a second reading, it appears to be one puzzle-analogy after another with minimal uniting plot, ie. Alice is a pawn in a real-life chess game trying to become a queen.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was okay. Mostly boring. Barely even an adventure story as one challenge was met, and not very surprising. I forced myself to finish it so I could say I did. But it was pretty clear it wasn't going to get any better pretty early on.

I never really got invested in any of the characters except maybe the grandfather, who had an interesting life story, and an interesting way of relating with his grandson.

[Small spoiler alert.] The only thing I liked about it was the concept of time loops but it wasn't used to any fun effect. In fact, at the end of the book, they just changed the rules of the time loops for no discernible reason.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw the movie many times before I read the book, and the movie is very similar. Reading the book was a bit more enjoyable though because you get more of Scrooge's internal world. It's such a feel-good treat.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle

A Swiftly Tilting Planet (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #3)A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I had written notes on what I thought of this book when I read it as a kid. I didn't so these are just my thoughts from my adult-rereading. It skips ahead about 10 years, and Charles Wallace is 15 now and Meg is married and pregnant. It seems a bit different than the others in that the challenge is overcome indirectly by altering the course of a family history in one place over time. This one has more legitimate time travel than the first two. However, the magical creature involved, a unicorn, is decidedly less cool than the multi-eyed dragon thing in A Wind in the Door (#2). The story is generally more adult and has a lot more structure. I recommend jotting down the family tree as you read though because the genealogy gets very confusing.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Candy Freak by Steve Almond

Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of AmericaCandy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn't exactly what I thought it would be about; it's not a typical nonfiction book with interesting information candy generally. It's more a book about candy in America 50- 100 years ago, when candy was produced by many different small business owners. Some small business owners are still barely hanging in, but competition against the big manufacturers is killing them. Almond (ridiculous that this is his name- sometimes you feel like a nut?) travels to many of these small candy operations and visits their often beautiful factories, or at least Almond sees and describes them as beautiful.

Also, there's a memoir aspect to the book, but it's not really a memoir either.

Overall, not a very exciting read, especially since I can't get any of the candy he describes.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of TimeA Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book many years ago. It was my first book about physics, and I'm so lucky that it was because it inspired an interest in other books about physics, not all of which have been as enjoyable as this one. At the time I read it I did not have any understanding of what Einstein's theories of Special and General relativity meant for humans' understanding of time and space. It was also my first introduction to quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle. That changed my understanding of reality (or lack thereof?)

Particularly because it was the first to introduce me to these ideas, this book was one of the most important books I've read. It changed the way I saw everything.

It's also a good history of physics. It's not completely clear on the current controversies of physics because Hawking favored his own views over the controversies generally.

Update: I lowered the number of stars from 5 to 4 only because Hawking's book The Universe in a Nutshell is *very similar but I think the organization is way better.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Odyssey by Homer

The OdysseyThe Odyssey by Homer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I've read this 2 or three times in high school and in college and I've always loved it. It's a great adventure, with wonderful language, and I've always thought that the real hero of the story is Penelope. She's more clever as her husband- able to keep her suitors at arms-length without starting a war, more loyal to Odysseus than he is to her, and not prone to violence as he is.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2)A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't care for the title of the book. It would be better named The Hole in the Sky, The Nothingness, The Wind in the Trees, or um, The Sick Mitochondria? Haha, okay the last one is bad, but at least then I could remember what the book is about when I see it on my shelf.

I gave this 3 stars as an adult, but to be fair I gave it 4 stars in my reading journal when I was a kid.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was a kid - probably when I was 12. I made my way through the other books in the series as well, so I know I loved it. As an adult, I saw the movie and it ruined the story for me. But having sufficiently forgotten the movie now, I read the book again and I found that it mostly stands up.

Also, I googled the word "tesseract" and I enjoy the crazy internet rabbit hole it takes you down: geometry, architecture, religion, science.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Return of Tarzan (Tarzan, #2)The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Very strange, very racist conclusion to part 1 of Tarzan. If you were unsatisfied with the ending of the first one, this will conclude the story more completely, so there's that. I know it sounds like I shouldn't be excited to read the third one, but the third one is called Beasts of Tarzan so I'm actually really excited to read it.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life InsuranceSuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate this book a little (like the previous one) because it's making me challenge some of my strongly held liberal beliefs. But I'm going to breathe through it and educate myself more on the topics that concern me.

I will say, that again, the writers seem to have left out a lot of things in service to their particular points. For example there was no discussion in all of their positive talk about global climate change that while we wait for solutions certain species are disappearing from the planet while other invasive species are doing a lot of damage in the wrong- suddenly warmer climates. The latter is fixable but the former is possibly permanent, especially for species that have not been genetically mapped.

Also, wash your hands, people!

I know I've been reading especially quickly lately, but I have insomnia and what else am I going to do?

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Freakonomics, #1)Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I read this book years ago, but (re?)reading it today, I'm not sure I actually did read it before. It deals a lot with the causes of crime (with regards to abortion, bagels, crack dealing, and guns) cheating (in education, real estate, and um, sumo wrestling), and the prevalence of racism.

The thing that I like about this book is that it relies on data for it arguments on cause and effect in public policy with little to no regard for whether the results happen to align with liberal or conservative ideologies. For years I've argued that our political parties are a mish-mosh of beliefs that don't necessarily fit together in any logical way.

There are a number of things I don't like about this book:

1) It explains some general statistics and regression analysis only towards the end of the book, even though a lot of the data referenced in the book depends on an understanding of this. When they finally explain correlation, even where their isn't a relationship of causation, the authors offer a number of guesses about why the two factors are correlated. Can we do better than guesses? Also these correlation guesses also seem to bias the reader.

2) For those of us who do have some understanding of statistics and studies, the authors don't provide enough information about the studies and data to let us decide for ourselves how accurate the data, or how rigorous the studies are. This despite the fact that the authors talk at length about inaccurate causes from other sources.

3) Because the book jumps around between topics with "no unifying theme" as the authors claim, there is no real deep examination of any issue that allows the reader to form a fully informed thought on an issue. Certainly I'm more interested in the causes of crime now, but I don't particularly have a handle on all the available information or applications of the information. For example, on the issue of guns, the writers present a number of interesting points. Gun ownership in Switzerland is high and they don't have as high a crime rate so "guns don't cause crime." Okay, but do guns cause more death? Why isn't there a comparison with Japan which has no guns, but still has crime- and compare how many crimes result in death? Data divorced of real context is pretty useless. Unfortunately the book jumps around too much to provide adequate context and data for any of the issues it discusses.

4) I understand that morality is not the job of economists but at the same time some application of some moral system is necessary when examining these issues. A number of time the writers joke that a sufficiently high disincentive would cure the problem. For example, if you want to cure bagel theft, you could consistently apply the death penalty. (I'm not sure if this was an actual example in the book but it's close.) Of course the writers are joking! Sort of. They're not joking that would work but they concede that it's out of bounds for most politicians. This leaves the reader unmoored in the very real world of their statistics of cause and effect. It's not enough to say that "some Americans are uncomfortable with number of citizens" in jail, but to apply a real analysis to applying the solutions of imprisonment instead of increasing education, opportunity, and quality of life. Instead the writers seem to dash those off by negating the effects of an improved economy. Is it possible that the gains of a good economy are not affecting all equally for example? Likewise, the emphasis the writers place on abortion is not in any way balanced by the same exploration of increased opportunities, contraception, education, or even incentives to put babies up for adoption for disadvantaged populations.

I get it, data is king. I'm a believer. But failing to paint a complete portrait of the issues results in the partial data. This partial data can be just as misleading as the absence of data. By focusing on one problem at a time and considering all the related issues and data for thinking about the problem holistically the writers might help clarify thought rather than just further confusing it.

Still 4 stars.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov

Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire, #3)Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my favorite one in the Galactic Empire series, and you don't need to read the other two to understand this one. It's basically unrelated except that it exists in the same universe.

This story is about the intersection of racism, science, religion, intergalactic colonialism, and biological warfare. So it's a pretty advanced little novel.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

SiddharthaSiddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Buddha's name was Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha. In this novel, the Buddha is referred to as Gotama. The main character, "Siddhartha" is not the Buddha, but an Indian man seeking enlightenment who eventually meets Gotama. It's kind of a buddy book because his best friend Govinda joins him on this quest. It's also sort of the story of the Buddha because a lot of the story is loosely based on what is said of the Buddha's life and teachings.

I've read a bit about Buddhism, and this one just doesn't do it for me. Possibly this is in part because of the strange device of creating a parallel Buddha life.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan of the Apes (Tarzan, #1)Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fun pulp read. It's a perfect beach read with adventure, strange characters, and almost-but-not-quite Jane Austin-style romance.

A lot of reviewers are annoyed because, being a product of its time, the story was sexist and racist, which is true. Really though, it was also really just misanthropic. If you examine it carefully, the most moral, kind-hearted, and brave character is Kala, the great ape female that adopted Tarzan. The other animals are the most moral because they kill to eat or for dominance, but never for torture or pleasure as the humans do.

I'm trying to decide whether to read the second one in the series because there is a bit of a question at the end of the first.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1)Killing Floor by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't usually read action-adventure books, but this was a fun read. The main character, Jack Reacher, is a tough, ex-military, take-no-prisoners kind of guy. He's an enjoyable action hero. The story picks up pace and characters as it goes along, and the overall effect of the good guys winning the day is tough to beat.

On the minus side, it could have used some more cutting down by the editor, especially at the beginning. I hated the "coincidence" (it's always tough to get a coincidence past me in a novel). I enjoyed the ending though so it wasn't a fatal sin.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my heart, this will always be the best one. Everyone was already talking about this series when I first read the first book in 2001. I was 22, and I was really dubious about reading a children's book at first, but a few pages in, I was cheering for the boy under the stairs. The whole book was so aggressively charming and magical. I wish I'd had the pleasure of reading it as a kid when the wall between pretend and reality isn't so clear.

This is the book where we meet: Harry Potter- the loyal outsider!, Ron Weasley- the courageous poor kid!, Hermione Granger- the smartest in the class! We also meet Albus Dumbledore!, half-giant Rubeus Hagrid, Professor Severus Snape!, Professor Minerva McGonagall, Neville Longbottom!, and Ron's siblings: Ginny, Fred, George, and Percy. In other words, we meet all our best friends at Hogwarts.

We also meet the less inspiring: Petunia Dursley, Vernon Dursley, Dudley Dursley, groundskeeper Filius Flitwick, Draco Malfoy, Professor Quirinus Quirrell, Professor Pomona Sprout.

And of course, we hear about Lord Voldemort, Lily Potter, and James Potter.

Don't forget to get your wand from Ollivander's! The invisibility cloak is the best ever!

Some potential spoilers up next. (Is there anyone who hasn't read this yet?) I don't know who won at Quidditch. Gryffindor wins 2 of its 3 matches, and we never hear who wins Slytherin-Hufflepuff, Slytherin-Ravenclaw, or Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff. What's to stop these games from being 3-way ties with 3 the teams winning 2 of their 3 games? Or even two-way ties with 2 teams winning 2 games, with no championship game?

The Sorcerer's Stone (or the Philosopher's Stone in the British version I own) lets you live forever. Now that I'm an old-hearted adult, that sounds like a terrible curse to me. Also, in my opinion, the mirror in the story is way more memorable than the stone. The mirror lets you see your heart's desire!

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Monday, July 4, 2011

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia, #7)The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't like this one, though having read the reviews, I seem to have a unique reason for not having liked it.

First, let me briefly address the other concerns people mentioned. Yes, there's some distaste for other religions, but the treatment of the honest prince of another religion clarifies that it's the good values not the right God that's the issue for Lewis. This is generous of Lewis, but it's not Christianity, which does indeed require belief in precisely the right God.

Second, I don't think it's so horrible that the "happy ending" is that everyone is dead in heaven, nor do I think in such a situation Susan's "punishment" is very terrible as it's only of a temporary nature. It's going to be a rough life for Susan, but it will be a longer one with it's own rewards, and eventually she'll probably also get to Narnia-Heaven. It's going to be a rough sad life, yeah, but possibly also good with a husband, kids, and maybe she'll become a train-safety reformer or something.

The main reason I don't like this book is how totally off-base and contradictory it is. Tirian says that it would have been better to die than to live and learn that Aslan was so different than he thought he'd be. In other words, he didn't want to learn that Aslan was evil on earth... though it turns out he's not! This concept is repeated over and over again in the book so I'm really not nitpicking here. Did Lewis live a charmed life? Do children not starve on earth? Do people not die of horrible diseases and train accidents? If Aslan didn't order people to be sold into slavery didn't he allow it? We can barely tell if allowed a train accident to happen at the end of he actually caused it mostly because it doesn't make a difference. We're supposed to believe either that "God works in mysterious ways" or that the afterlife is the life that matters so our own suffering on earth doesn't make a difference. Tirian would make a very poor Christian, and is not even a very good Aslan-follower.

Also, the entire first half the book was depressing and boring. It would have been one star but I do enjoy their run through heaven. It's a lovely wish.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Magician's Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia, #6)The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember this being my favorite one when I was young and it was still very strong. Except for the discussion of healing the sick which seems pretty offensive now. (If you're a fan of Lev Grossman's Magicians which bases Fillory on Narnia, this might be the most fun book to read or reread.)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted something cheerful to read during my honeymoon. This is my husband's idea of "cheerful." Some of it takes place in Greece, which is where we were honeymooning. Loved the beginning, but loved the end less. Maybe because I was less interested in the "male" Cal.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy (The Chronicles of Narnia, #5)The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new favorite Narnia book! I don't think I ever read this one as a child actually. I might have skipped it? Or maybe I had just completely forgotten it because I know I read the next one in the series. I tried to read this one with James but I think it was a little above his head. Might keep trying, but I was sufficiently into it that I wanted to finish it myself.

This one isn't a bunch of random adventures, but one straightforward story with developed characters and explorations of bravery, social class, and politics. The religious aspect of the book is not cumbersome in this one either and actually help to unite the story. Lewis has created a world with no coincidences, but coincidences in novels often seem contrived and lazy anyway so I can't fault this aspect of the religious storyline.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia, #4)The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit heavy-handed in the analogies again. More fun than Prince Caspian but maybe less fun than Dawn Treader. Kind of the same, random adventures capped with extremely obvious Christian analogy. Specifically: life after death.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human SocietiesGuns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Diamond starts with an introduction that sets out the thesis that technological and historical success over other populations was not caused by racial biology. He then reminds us- not so subtly- that many of those victors achieved their success at least in part by being the bigger assholes in history.

(1) Despite the title, the first factors were what plants were available for domestication (ie. high protein wheats are better than corn) and what large mammals were available in the area for domestication (ie. horses were effective but zebras ineffective). The domesticated animals also helped with the plowing farmland. The migration of these plants and animals depended on the adaptability of those domestic plants and animals to the new area (horizontal or vertical migration). That's about the first 40% of the book.

The thesis of Guns, Germs and Steel is about the next 30% of the book but should be called Germs, Writing, Diffusion of Technology, and Huge Complex Warring Governments (haha, not as catchy):

(2) As for "germs," the people with domesticated animals caught infectious diseases from those domesticated animals and developed immunities. When they met people without these immunities they wiped them out with diseases both by accident and on purpose (again- the bigger assholes).

(3) Then Diamond talks about the development of written language, that also migrated along the domestic plant and animal routes- from groups that invented simple writing. Bureaucrats that were fed by food surpluses had time to adapt writing systems to their phonetic language. These bureaucrats also had a use for writing to manage large societies that grew from these food surpluses. While written language gave these people an advantage, Diamond reminds us that these "civilized people" didn't always defeat barbarians (example: the Hun).

(4) As for technology, it was developed on all continents and in all different types of societies. However, the diffusion of this technology (along these same trade routes of the domesticated plants and animals) helped maintain and grow technology. Isolated populations had less access to technology they could improve or have their technologies improved by others, and occasionally they lost this technology. Additionally, for the technology to get advanced quickly, a population had to be sedentary and be able to accumulate goods.

(5) Increased food production leads to increased populations which lead to large complex societies that in turn allow for job specializations, war and patriotic (read suicidal) military forces. Complex societies also develop lots of other things. There's a lot of belaboring the point in this section.

That's about it for the thesis, and though the title is a bit misleading, the thesis itself is solid.

The end of the book is a look at different regions of the world to show how these factors played out. This part feels like a rehashing and it covers too much area and history to be very helpful or memorable. I read this book twice and I didn't remember this part of it from my first reading. The areas covered are: Australia, New Guinea, China, other East Asian regions nearby, Indonesian islands, Polynesian islands, the continents of North and South America, and the entire continent of Africa. Each of these areas is compared to Europe (sometimes to the larger Eurasia area).

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C.S. Lewis

The Voyage of the The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

C.S. Lewis's Christian version of The Odyssey. The crew sails to islands at the end of the world and faces a number of adventures and challenges.

Eustace is probably the best part of the book because he's funny-nasty in that he has no idea that he's in a magical world so he thinks the other characters are acting like madmen and he's also hilariously selfish. I would have preferred that his conversion be less complete for the sake of staying interesting. Reepicheep the warrior mouse is pretty great too.

Why can't Lucy make herself more beautiful? It's not the use of magic- after all she uses magic for the visibility spell. Oh well.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, #2)Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book I was a little kid and found it terribly depressing and boring that Narnia had lost all its magic. I must have been older than when I read the first book, TLTW&TW because I did understand the religious allegory, I just found it unpersuasive. On an adult reread, I don't find it depressing at all, though it's still a bit boring, and definitely not convincing. Also, someone explain to me why Aslan is hanging out with Bacchus and his orgy maidens?

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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, #1)The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first time I read this I was a little kid and I don't think I picked up on all the Christian allegory stuff. The second time I was a little older and did but I did my best to ignore it. This time, I've read some of C.S. Lewis nonfiction about Christianity so I kept an eye for how some of his philosophy was written right into the story. Beyond the more obvious story of Aslan, the professor's thoughts on whether or not Lucy is telling the truth is the thesis of Mere Christianity. I mostly remember reading this but I wanted to reread it before rereading the others.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The Witches of Eastwick (Eastwick, #1)The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the movie and I watched it several times, but I didn't realize it was based on a novel by John Updike for many years. And then it took me a few more years to think that it was probably different than the movie. It is remarkably similar in some places in the beginning- and Jack Nickelson did an amazing job capturing Daryl VanHorn. Susan Sarandon also did an amazing job being Jane, but the Alexandra (Cher) and Suki (Michelle Pfiffer) character are fairly different.

The prose is very embellished, wordy, and poetic. The story itself has a totally different point and thrust. The novel is amoral in a way the movie is not, and it's far more gruesome. In the novel, the wrong-doing of the witches, or people in general, is equated to acts of nature. It's different- but also it's not different. Aren't we over the conversation about whether people are just amoral animals? There's even research that some animals such as primates have some moral understanding of their own. We're not going to shrug off our responsibilities so easily.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid adventure story about a small frightened person using his strength of character to save the world as he knows it. I only took off the one star because when I read it as a kid I got very bored and stuck about midway through. I appreciate it a lot more as an adult.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Origins by Annie Murphy Paul

Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our LivesOrigins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting, well-researched book on how the influences on the fetus during pregnancy affect the child throughout its life. The book has a good organization and numerous scientific studies to back up the claims. Unfortunately, it's also gimmicky and tries to provide pregnant mothers with empty assurances that ring hollow relative to the actual studies.

One thing I intensely disliked about this book was the chapter titles: "One Month- Nine Months" actually provides no information about what the chapters are about but is just a cutesy way of imitating basic pregnancy books, and also a shoutout to the fact that the author is herself pregnant as she writes this book. (Though I hope this is indeed a gimmick and she didn't rush through this book in 9 months.)

So here is the breakdown:
One Month- A basic introduction to the book

Two Months- How the food the mother eats affects the offspring throughout his or her life

Three Months- How traumatic stress for the mom during pregnancy affects the offspring for life

Four Months- The dangers of alcohol, cigarette smoking, prescription drugs, pollution, plastics, and other chemicals in everyday products (total horror here) that can cause either immediate birth defects or later-in-life cancers in the offspring.

Five Months- Some rambling about the history of gender predictions (and some subsequent scientific studies confirming some old wives tales), quickening, and sonograms. Finally: only 20 to 40 percent of fertilized eggs result in live birth, the rest are lost to miscarriage often before a woman knows she's pregnant. Numerous factors can prevent male embryos from succeeding relative to the number of female embryos that succeed: pollution, economic depressions, natural disasters, etc... or skipping breakfast. (Skip breakfast to have a girl, eat a lot of cereal for breakfast to have a boy. Or maybe this study is totally wrong- and it's just chance.)

Six Months- The effects of partum and post-partum depression

Seven Months- A more broad exploration of studies in progress concerning the prenatal origins of numerous adult diseases, abilities, or personality traits.

Eight Months- Again as in Chapter 7, specifically looking at the effect of large-scale traumatic events, (as in Chapter 3).

Nine Months- The effects of the process of birth itself: whether natural, assisted birth, or Cesearean, and other birth factors such as time of year the baby is born.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The writing is so beautiful. I love magical realism done well, and I think this is the best version of magical realism I've read. I also love sweeping fictional family histories.

My biggest complaint is the characters. The matriarch Ursula is a fully formed character and really the heroine of the book. Her daughter Amaranta is a spectacularly strange villain, and her son Colonel Aureliano is at least multi-faceted. Most of the other characters fall flat for me and not just because of the repeat names. I went through quite a bit of trouble to keep them straight in my mind but most of them just had shadows of personalities. For example, who is Santa Sofia, really? She barely gets involved with her bizarre daughter Remedios the beauty and doesn't react when her daughter ascends into heaven? Who is Jose Arcadio Segundo besides someone who resembles Aureliano Segundo?

But I do also object to the repeat names. It is a common Hispanic naming convention to name a son for his father and even a daughter for her mother, but this often remedied by an aggressive use of middle names and nicknames, such as when Renata Remedios (who actually does have a unique name) goes by Meme instead.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with MorrieTuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some people are really tough on this book because it's "cheesy," but that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong. It asks an important question and tries to answer it. If the answers are in reality somewhat cheesy, that's not Morrie or Mitch Albom's fault. Also, it's so sad. If you read it without crying you should investigate if you're actually a cyborg.

Morrie is an exceptional former professor dying of ALS and Albom is having a weekly conversation with him about the meaning of life.

There are 14 Tuesdays:
(1) Experiencing and caring about the world and the world's sadness;
(2) Self-pity- limit it to a few minutes a day;
(3) Regrets? This chapter and the ones after it just cover Morrie's sad childhood, ending in the idea that he would never do any work that exploited other;
(4) The main premise of this book: that if you "learn how to die" then you can learn how to live. To Morrie this means being less ambitious and being more "spiritual," something he doesn't fully define but seems to involve appreciating nature and gratitude in general;
(5) Family, particularly immediate family, and especially having children, is more important than money, fame, ambition;
(6) Experiencing then detaching from particular emotions. the description is similar to descriptions of experiencing consciousness in meditation;
(7) Fear of aging- Morrie discusses the joy of being taken care of, and the joy of having already lived through the previous ages and having love and affection;
(8) Money- Wanting excessive amounts of money or material things is an expression of loneliness and lack of love. What's valuable is volunteering to help to help to people;
(9) Be fully present with the person that you're with, pay attention;
(10) A good marriage is extremely valuable;
(11) People are more alike than they realize, and we all need each other. Morrie recommends creating your own culture around you with people focused on the things that matter;
(12) Forgive yourself before you die, then forgive others;
(13) Acceptance of death, appreciating your body, focusing on love, responsibility, spirituality, and awareness;
(14) Saying goodbye. This one is treated lightly, but in reality, if you've experienced the death of a loved one, this one is actually very difficult. You can be a caretaker and be present and still fail to really say goodbye because it's so difficult.

When Albom asks Morrie what he would do with one more healthy day he describes a day of family and friends, delicious food, and walking in nature. Food made the top three!

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Problems and Confessions

Dad had A LOT of books. A total of 26 book boxes to be exact, and I only finished packing them today.  Half of them have already been transported home, and the other half are going home this weekend.  I didn't have the time or energy to go through each book individually to see if I should keep each one, so much to my husband's chagrin I erred on the side of packing them. 

But even I had to admit that a few of them would just never find a reader.  Some were outdated factual tomes, for example, on buying houses or building environmentally conscious buildings. There were also ones that were so above my head that I had to be honest about and throw out. These included all of the computer engineering books (most likely outdated as well) and books on topics such mathematics for physics or advanced chemistry.  All of these books were recycled.

I still feel really overwhelmed by how many I kept and the impossibility of reading some of them and sorting all of them in a sensible amount of time-- say before our next move.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The School by Donald Barthelme

Since I likely won't be reading a book a day or even a week, I thought I would fill in with the instant gratification of short stories. I don't know why short stories aren't more popular. They're quick and potent like poetry.  Kevin is teaching The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Stories Since 1970 (Touchstone Books) in class, so I'm picking out some stories from that one first. "The School" by Donald Barthelme is popular enough that I have come across it before. The first time I read it years ago, I thought it was charming and funny. But I'm older now, and my father recently passed away, and I have a baby on the way, and I often wonder, what have I done? What have I done bringing a child into this?

In fact, ironically, the first thing I noticed was not something about the story at all, but the author's birth and death dates. That's what I do now, I measure other people's tragedy against my own to determine how indignant I should be with the universe. Barthelme lived from 1931-1989, just 58 years. I looked it up; he died of cancer.  He was able to say something about life and death before he experienced the latter. That seems important.

Reading it now, it doesn't make me laugh. It makes me cry. Like the children, I want to know where, where, where. Like the children, I would like an assertion of value.

Books My Father Read

I have recently become addicted to book again the way I was when I was a small kid. I read anything I have reason to believe might be awesome.

I read the books I inherited from my dad after he passed away in 2010. This blog started as a project of mourning to read the books I kept, but has now become a personal passion. I also take recommendations from my husband who's a writing instructor, my friends who prefer different types of books, and Goodreads and Youtube reviewers who catch my attention.

This is my rating system for clarification:

4 Stars = This book was really good! Read it!
3 Stars = I enjoyed this book. I'm glad I read it.
2 Stars = This book a little bad. I wouldn't recommend it.
1 Stars = This book is kind of evil and takes a little joy and goodness out of the world.
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