Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home (Gilead, #2)Home by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marilynne Robinson is a genius, and I love her fiction. Unfortunately, this one is my least favorite. Gilead is the best book ever, and Lila is a close second. Home is another perspective on the same characters and the story is concurrent with Gilead. (Lila takes place before Gilead.) The problems are that I don't like anything I learn about the characters in this novel. The spiritual material- which Robinson excels at- is much less clear and less moving. And the relationship that develop between the brother and sister isn't as interesting and moving as the relationships that animate Housekeeping, Gilead, and Lila. Maybe I'm being unfair to the book because I'm comparing it to some of the best novels I've ever read, Robinson's other books.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Man Who Wasn't There by Anil Ananthaswamy

The Man Who Wasn't There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the SelfThe Man Who Wasn't There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love articles about neuroscience so I'm trying to read more books about it. There is nothing more central to who we are as humans. Ananthaswamy discusses a number of disorders that cause disassociation to the self or a small part of the self. There were some new concepts and big surprises here for me: There are people who have the opposite of a ghost limb-- where they possess a limb they believe is not theirs: "alien limb." People with Cotard’s syndrome think they are dead.

The thing that's interesting about these disorders is that they teach us about the underlying mechanisms of the brain. There are so many components in the brain that function to differentiate the self from the outside world that it seems like it is the harder position to maintain.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, but this is not nearly as enjoyable. All the discussion about the value of novels as a new art form is not that interesting to me as a modern reader and takes me outside the story too much. The story itself wasn't as romantic or thrilling as the other two.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Stiff by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book made me feel all the feelings. That would be a great review for a fiction book. This is of course, nonfiction. I'm not sure I wanted to feel some of these things as they pertain to the extreme realness of death. Even though it was really interesting, I couldn't in good conscience recommend the book to others.

Also, now I really want to be classroom skeleton after death though that seems to be nearly impossible these days.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels by Haruki Murakami

Wind/Pinball: Two Early NovelsWind/Pinball: Two Early Novels by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wind's first few chapters seem like a very unsophisticated attempt at a first novel. The rest of it is somewhat interesting. His friend Rat isn't very smart but he's at least an interesting and developed character. It's hard to even keep the story in your mind after reading it though. Let's say three stars?

Pinball, while more memorable, is terrible. Rat is again the best character. The main character isn't someone I can imagine or relate to in any way. Two stars?

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Friday, May 6, 2016

The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon

The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the BrainThe Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! This book is so interesting. I looked it up and about 1% of the population has this mental disorder. It seems to be related mostly to genetics but can also interact with related mood disorders (it's pretty complicated). But at 1%, you regularly run into and interact with psychopaths, you probably even have some "friends" with this condition. I think it's imperative that the rest of us understand what we're up against.

What makes this book really amazing is that the author is both a neurobiologist and a psychopath himself (and bipolar). He hides very little about his own personality in order to illustrate the issue. This is very off-putting, yes. I had to get to Chapter 4 before it got interesting enough that it compensated for how awful the author is. But that's part of the point. The author is awful because he's a psychopath. It's a great service to those of us trying to understand what's going on inside these people that he reveals himself so much even at the risk of being despised. Even though I previously knew a little bit about psychopaths I'm still shocked by the psychopath mentality that other people just serve a purpose - and that they are nearly devoid of personal emotion for them. Please read this book! Think of it as a self-defense course.

5 stars for importance not for enjoyability or accuracy.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all, the language, emotions, and moods in this book are beautiful. In particular, I liked how the book approached and tried to explain the feelings of grief, otherness, and loneliness. How otherness can make you lonely and how loneliness can make you other. How family and family history affect both. How losing family makes you both. The feelings involved in trying to carry family even when they refuse to be helped.

There are a lot of things going on in this book. The book alternates the perspective of Simon in the first person present with the story of a carnival family in third person past tense. The two parts inform the story and move it along. In the present, Simon's problems layered on top of each other in a way which made me understand the character and his motivations without stressing me out. Simon's problems and challenges kept me interested and involved. The book is also filled with magical realism in the past story, carried into the present by the mysterious book seller.

Finally, the characters, especially the modern-day characters are very real to me. I feel Simon's restless laziness and quiet desperation. I love love love the character Doyle. I love to hate Frank. Even the mother, a ghost at the beginning, is filled in through the other character's longings for her.

P.S. I also like this cover that tells you a bit more about the book:

The Book of Speculation
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