Saturday, December 17, 2011

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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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

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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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, 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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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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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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