Sunday, August 28, 2016

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of MaladiesInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know this is a the Pulitzer Prize fiction winner for 2000, but let's pretend for a moment that I don't know that. I think this was a solid collection, but not quite up to 5 stars.

I think the short stories "A Temporary Matter" and "This Blessed House," which were both short stories about married couples were my favorite. I would have enjoyed reading more about either couple in a full-length novel, which is maybe more of a complaint than praise when it comes to short stories.

I also really liked "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar," which was a little messed up if you take a feminist reading of it, but real life isn't always very feminist either.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

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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The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I picked this up I couldn't put it down until I finished it. It's very similar to Anthem but with a lot more character development, it lets you feel the horror of the situation more. It's a dystopian, young adult, science fiction, political allegory and I do feel like all my emotions were manipulated for some purpose that's less clear to me than Anthem was. Possibly it has some anti-Anthem points in it? (Being too unique and independent from your family is a danger?) But still, I liked it.

On a separate note, it's horrifying. I can't believe they make kids read this in school or what sense they might make of it without any relevant history to compare to the allegory.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Maus II : And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman

Maus II : And Here My Troubles Began (Maus, #2)Maus II : And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one was better than the first. It was an interesting combination of an exploration of the relationship between the father and son (the author) and the father's memories in the concentration camps and after. It made me feel: angry, sad, interested, and inspired.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

I am a Pole by Stephen Colbert

I am a Pole (And So Can You!)I am a Pole (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think Janice bought this for James when he was a baby as it's written in the style of a children's book. It even has a review from Maurice Sendak (acquired during an interview on Colbert's show with Sendak). I have been reading it to James for the last 5 years or so. On the plus side, it's patriotic, inspiring, and taught my son who President Obama is. On the downside, now that James is 5, the stripper in the book has become awkward to explain. I guess I have to move the book to Miranda's room now.

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I Am America by Stephen Colbert

I Am America (And So Can You!)I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Colbert and his satire. I only laughed out loud during the Chapter on sex. However, I really admire how brave and scary his White House Correspondent Dinner Speech about President Bush. Of course, living in the Trump era, I've been feeling sympathetic to the sweet old religious-fanatic President. But the speech reminds me of a lot of the real harm perpetuated under that administration. I especially enjoy the section on not letting Generals retire so that they can't speak out against the administration.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I'm pretty clear on the ongoing sixth extinction and am totally horrified by it, one thing that irked me the whole time was wondering what the other five extinctions were. Though she covered some of the others in the book as well, since nothing was in chronological order, I felt a little confused at the end. So here they are:

1. Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. About 75% of all species became extinct. In the seas all the ammonites, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs disappeared. Kolbert talks at length about the ammonites. All non-avian dinosaurs became extinct during that time. This is the one that was probably caused by a huge asteroid hitting the earth. Kolbert talks about the asteroid idea in an earlier chapter than the ammonite chapter which is confusing.

2. Triassic–Jurassic extinction event (End Triassic): About 70% to 75% of all species became extinct.
It was between the Triassic and Jurassic, but I don't really understand this one, and scientists don't really know what caused it.

3. Permian–Triassic extinction event (End Permian): Earth's largest extinction killed about 96% of all marine species and an estimated 70% of land species, including insects. It's called the "Great Dying" and apparently it ended the primacy of mammal-like reptiles? Not sure what those were? Furry reptiles that took care of their young? Scientists also don't know what caused it, but possibly a climate change event.

4. Late Devonian extinction: A prolonged series of extinctions eliminated about 70% of all species. This extinction event lasted maybe 20 million years, with a series of "extinction pulses." Maybe because of more climate change?

5. Ordovician–Silurian extinction events which occurred 443.8 million years ago. Two events occurred that killed off 60% to 70% of all species. Together they are ranked by many scientists as the second largest of the five major extinctions in Earth's history in terms of percentage of genera that became extinct. Not sure what caused this one either. Possibly a combination of climate changes including some freezing.

6. Holocene- 10,000 BCE — now, not even sure yet how many species have been killed off. Caused by humans. Kolbert discusses the American mastodon, Auk, rainforest frogs, coral, bats worldwide, and some other species.

These extinctions are especially terrifying because we're destroying entire areas, changing the climate, destroying food chains, spreading weird diseases. Attempts to stop the damage have largely failed so far. Even if we manage to survive what we're doing the earth might be a really bad place to live for a long time. So... not exactly beac reading.

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Maus I: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A father and son (the author, Art Spiegelman) discuss the father's experience as a Jewish Polish citizen during the Holocaust. The first book deals with the father and mother successfully avoiding the concentration camps until 1944. This part is really stressful and upsetting, and we haven't even gotten to the concentration camp yet (Part II).

It also deals with the father and son's current day relationship as the Spiegelman interviews his father for the book. It's meta.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

When I Was a Child I Read Books Marilynne Robinson

When I Was a Child I Read Books: EssaysWhen I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection of essays by Robinson on religion, politics, patriotism, and science is extremely moving. I think every American should read it. The collection is front-loaded and the best essays are at the beginning, but those are so remarkable. Robinson has read and studied widely, and the depth of her understanding is inspiring. Her genius with expressing her thoughts in writing is even more awe-inspiring, and almost every paragraph in the early essays made my heart leap.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

The World Without UsThe World Without Us by Alan Weisman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm of a very mixed mind about this book. I'll break it down by what I liked and what I didn't like.

What I liked:

Weisman covers the past, present and future of the planet- if in the future humans are extinct.

He gives a lot of background about how humans have damaged the planet and caused the extinction of species from our very earliest history.

Weisman does a pretty good job of highlighting how complicated and awful the things that we're doing to the planet are. These things are harming animals (and presumably us) and might ultimately lead to the extinction or aggressive evolution of many species.

In the future, our extinction, whether or not caused by this damage (probably not- our extinction is unlikely because we're basically cockroaches of survival) will not fully heal the planet. In fact, some of what we do is monitor our own damage by fighting invasive species or keeping the nuclear facilities/gas refineries/other scary factories from melting down.

He also discusses the benefits of population control.

Terrifying.

What I didn't like:

This book is super disorganized and boring. The three parts and chapter headings claim a certain organization that doesn't hold up as you read. The effect is that you feel like you're just reading a bunch of examples of awful things we've done, and how this might play out in a humanless future. I think this is because the idea for the book/title was a gimmick for sales.

His discussion of population control is very irreverent and doesn't seem very professional.

Here's an important thing he didn't discuss. What if we don't all disappear (unlikely) and in a more plausible situation a huge number of us die of a modern epidemic. How do the survivors take care of and protect all the nuclear facilities/gas refineries/other scary factories from melting down? How do we avoid some terrifying doomsday political takeover? How do we simply deal with all the bodies and trash that's left behind?

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike

The Widows of Eastwick (Eastwick #2)The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the writing in this one better than the first one- less flowery. I also thought that this one by showing the ways in which the women did and didn't change over the years, solidified that Updike really knew who they were. Regarding this, I think reviewers are unfair to Updike in his character not being feminist creations. I don't think reviewers would be so aghast if the author were a woman (but possibly a little). Yes, these aren't morally inspirational women, but neither are they the same evil cartoon of a person. They are three very unique and developed characters. Everybody has at least a bit of a dark side, these women are witches, so obviously they going to be darker, but they are unique and dark in different ways. And without Daryl in this one, there is no element of being manipulated by outside forces in this one. Which is, at a minimum, empowering.

The aging perspective of the characters is interesting and realistic. They seem very much of their time. (Though this point gets boring sometimes- I didn't really need to read about Sukie complaining about computers like every grandma on the planet.) I can definitely relate to Suzanne's daughter and her relationship with her mom Suzanne.

That said, the story was less interesting or maybe just less fun than the first. I know that's not a fair reason to give it less stars, but there it is.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Anthem by Ayn Rand

AnthemAnthem by Ayn Rand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not a fan of Ayn Rand's philosophy, but as the child of Cuban immigrants, I can't discount the horrors of "socialism" turned repressive regime. I know European countries have until recently prospered under systems that are more socialist than in the United States, and I'm generally in support of the progressive reforms of the left. However, I have a great distaste for the hero worship of leaders such as Che Guevara that helped bring about the oppressive regime of Castro in Cuba. So I do think Ayn Rand's work in Anthem, though a very heavy-handed allegory, has some value. Especially since Anthem is mercifully short and has a romantic subplot. Extra star for the love interest actually.

What I think is really too far is the idea that God is the ego, when it seems quite the opposite. In my opinion, God is closer to what happens when you voluntarily abandon the ego. A philosophy of the ego as God seems childish and as dangerous as the totalitarian socialism Rand opposes.

Also: Ayn Rand - How Is This Still A Thing?: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think maybe I had already lost interest in the series before I even started this book. But sometimes the third book in a series makes you fall in love all over again by tying things up in a fun and interesting way. Not so with this one. It was pretty boring. To the extent that I even became interested in some of the characters earlier in the series, this offered us little insight into them. Even the new setting in the third book didn't breathe any life into the story. I gave it an extra star because it gave a final resolution to the whole story, which I appreciate.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read my first graphic novel just a few weeks ago, I can't stop now. Alison Bechdel is really smart. Her subject matter is interesting, but what's more interesting is how she thinks about and writes about the subject matter. It's one of those books that mention a million other books. She makes me want to read even more.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Third Man by Graham Greene

The Third ManThe Third Man by Graham Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The End of the Affair is one of my favorite books, but this doesn't move me as that did. As a mystery or moral tale, it's a good read.

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Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Cutting Teeth: A NovelCutting Teeth: A Novel by Julia Fierro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Brooklyn playgroup plus their spouses and one nanny goes to Long Island for a short vacation together and drama ensues. Together the playgroup characters capture what it feels like to be a modern day parent in the urban United States: there is baby lust, difficult pregnancies, so much anxiety, a renegotiation in marriage, financial stresses, mom wars and jealousies, gender issues- both among parents and children- the whole deal. I don't think the author left anything out. I think that it very accurately captures the state of parenthood right now. This is not what it was like for previous generations, and (let's hope) not what it will be like for future generations.

My favorite part of the novel is the Tibetan nanny that grounds the whole story by being a reminder of the difference between things that matter and things that ultimately don't matter. Of course, in real life as in the novel, this reminder often doesn't stop us from experiencing the pain of our personal dramas.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Gene: An Intimate HistoryThe Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is part history of the development of genetics, part explanation of the working of genes, and part explanation of how genetics influences or causes certain diseases or traits. There is also a discussion of current capabilities in gene-editing and its ethical implications, though this feels too brief especially as it leans on a familiarity with the movie Gattica, which I have not seen. I regularly read science news and listen to science podcasts so I didn't feel like I learned much from this book, though I think it's a good general overview for someone who doesn't follow science in the news. I found the sections on individual diseases and traits to be the most interesting and would like to read more about that. Overall, not as in-depth or engaging as Emperor of All Maladies, Mukherjee's tome on cancer.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book has everything. It's a literary beach read? The first half of the book is in the husband's (3rd person) perspective, and the story there is weird and really good. Then the second half is the wife's (3rd person) perspective and the story becomes more intense, detailed, and darker. The perspective is nearly omniscient by the end. It's mostly a story about loneliness, and being abandoned by family in all the different ways in which one can be. But it's also about staying faithful to family and friends and learning to help each other or ask for help when no one is deserving. (Or they are.) I think the thing I love the most is the story is made up of almost all anti-heroes that are made good, or partly good, only by their love of one another.

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Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (Persepolis, #2)Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This two part story is amazing. I preferred the first part, but both parts are great. It's a great opportunity to learn about Iran, fanatical religions and political parties both in general and specifically. But some of what I love the most is how Satrapi looks at both Iran and Austria's culture (or a more general Western one) through the eyes of a feminist.

It's sad that Iran remains an Islamic theocracy, under the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, since 1989 until now.

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