Thursday, September 29, 2016

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

AnathemAnathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It helps if you know about the current state of physics though. I'm not sure what reading this book would be like without any physics background at all. It would either be more or less fantastical but I'm not sure which.

In any case, I loved it. I loved the Consents, the Saunts, the little romances, adventure, but most of all the physics. Can't wait to read more Stephenson now.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rabid by Bill Wasik

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical VirusRabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, if any animal bites you, go directly to the doctor to get a rabies vaccine. Also, if you wake up in room with a bat, even if you have no evidence it bit you. Or die.

There appears to be a limited amount of things that you can learn about rabies such as how to prevent it, how to treat it in its earliest stages, what death from rabies looks like, and new research in how to potentially treat it in its later deadly stages. All that scientific information would fill one or two chapters. The other chapters are historical entertainment. The book covers the earliest mentions of rabies in Roman times up to current flair ups in places like Bali. The book also engages in numerous tangents about the animals that transmit rabies: dogs, wolves, bats, skunks, and raccoons. And even more tangents about literature and movies about rabies, vampires, werewolves, and zombies because the author must have been trying to reach a particular word count. It's interesting though and it's fun. It's not especially educational but not all nonfiction books are I guess.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Reason for God by Timothy J. Keller

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of SkepticismThe Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy J. Keller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think one of the stronger points about the book is that the author speaks with a lot of respect for people that aren't Christian, and asks Christians themselves to think deeply about questions, challenges, and objections to the faith. Another strong point is that the author seems to understand that science is a real thing and seems to indirectly acknowledge the study of geology, evolution, and physics. The author also acknowledges that some parts of the Bible are metaphorical, though he believes that other parts are the literal truth.

But there are some big logical gaps in his reasoning that I can't grasp. Here's the biggest one for me. Keller repeats the point made by C.S. Lewis (I also read Mere Christianity), that humans drive for justice must be animated by some supernatural and not natural spirit because nature is simply a free-for-all of survival of the fittest. While nature can be very gruesome, I think this fundamentally misunderstands both the natural world and natural selection. Animals and plants through series of mutations and protective diversity survive best in their own environments. As the environments change through time so do the animals and plants that survive best in those environments. It is not the "weakest" that struggle, but those that are least suited to the current environment at that time. (This is one of the reasons that sudden changes in the environment or invasive species can be catastrophic.) The advancement of such animals has often depended on cooperation in herds or groups. Bats feed other bats, rather than letting the least able simply starve. Those bats in turn, remember and help other bats next time they are able to obtain food. Even lowly ants cooperate in a way that could be perceived through the human lens of social justice. Mind you, I don't think the fact that animals engage in cooperation and even "justice" is a counter-argument to God, and actually, quite possibly the opposite. But that is one of the great failings of a lot of more-literalist Christians that speak about science is that they don't seek to actually understand the working of the natural world as it really is.

So on the one hand Keller says that we have this sense of goodness and God within us, which contrast to the world as it currently exists. On the other he claims that this particular sense of justice comes only from acceptance and faith in Christianity specifically, because other faiths don't have this sense inside them. We only feel right and wrong because we've heard of the tenants of Christianity. We need Christianity as a proof or backup for our conception of right and wrong. Otherwise we're just picking and choosing as we like. This is not rigorous logic.

Another point on which I don't think Keller succeeds is his explanation for the need for hell. He says that without forgiveness freeing ourselves of the need for retaliation in cases of great injustice we can't be free. He says that belief in a God of judgment allows us to leave accountability for the injustices to God. But this does not fit with his belief that people are sent to hell not for moral shortcomings or immoral acts, say of being murderers or rapists, but for not ultimately believing in this very specific set of tenants: the deity of Christ, the infallibility of the Bible, necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ's atoning death. I'm not sure why that would make me feel better if someone murdered one of my loved ones. On the contrary, I think it would make me feel quite a bit worse if my gentle murdered loved one was not a Christian, and the murderer later converted. Again, this doesn't disprove that hell is as he says it is, but his argument for the *why* of eternal hellfire falls very short of being persuasive.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 23, 2016

Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

Henry VI, Part OneHenry VI, Part One by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this historical play. I particularly enjoyed how bad ass Joan of Arc was, and the very moving scene between Talbot and his son urging each other to flee from certain death.

I don't usually do summaries of the books I review, but I'm going to do it for this play, mainly to get it straight in my head. It was pretty confusing to me since I didn't remember the chronology of events from studying European history.

England 1422
Henry V died in 1422. His brothers were the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester. His son and heir Henry VI was still a baby. Bedford went to France to command the army, while Gloucester stayed to rule England until Henry VI is crowned.

Meanwhile in France
At this time there were military setbacks in France, where Charles "the Dauphin" was leading a rebellion against the English. Lord Talbot was the Constable of France, and a heroic English fighter. He's taken captive by the French.

Joan la Pucelle, (Joan of Arc!) convinced Charles to put her in charge of the army because she claimed to have religious visions of how to win the war and because she "proved" this by beating Charles in a one-on-one sword fight with him.

Bedford negotiated the release of Talbot. Joan won the next attack. Talbot and Bedford won the next one.

Wars of the Roses
Richard Plantagenet and the Duke of Somerset had a symbolic fight over red or white roses that's really about two houses of the Plantagenet splitting. Somerset is the red rose (of Lancaster), and Richard is the white rose (of York). Richard lost and was super angry forever.

Edmund Mortimer was a great-great-grandson of King Edward III, and was heir to King Richard II, his first cousin twice removed, but Henry the Fourth seized power from Richard II. Mortimer was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and told Richard Plantagenet that King Henry V had Richard Plantagenet's father (Richard of Conisburgh, grandson of King Edward III) executed. Mortimer said that once he dies, Richard Plantagenet will be the rightful heir to the throne, not Henry VI. Richard was pretty angry about this.

Henry VI Crowned
After Mortimer died, Richard petitioned the recently crowned Henry, who reinstated Richard's title, making him Richard 3rd Duke of York.

Henry then leaves for France, with Gloucester, Exeter, Winchester, Richard and Somerset. The French retook and quickly relost cities. Bedford died, and Talbot took control of the army.

Charles was scared, so Joan persuaded the Duke of Burgundy to stop fighting for the English and switch sides to the French. Henry arrived in Paris, heard about Burgundy switching sides, and sent Talbot to speak to him.

Henry asked Richard and Somerset to stop fighting about red and white roses, and and then chooses a red rose, Somerset's side.

Talbot was caught by the French again. Richard and Somerset were too busy fighting about the roses to save him. The English army was destroyed, and Talbot and his bastard son were killed. This part is super sad.

England Wins Anyway?
Joan was captured by Richard, acted like an angry witch, and then was burned at the stake.

Henry sued for peace. The French pretended to agree to the English terms. Charles is to be a viceroy to Henry. They still wanted to expel the English from France.

Suffolk captured a young French princess, Margaret of Anjou. He was into her. He plotted to keep her as a mistress and marry her to Henry so he can control the king through her.

Entire play available here:

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women WorldwideHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book ties in really well Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee, Esther Duflo. I think having a familiarity with the case studies in developing countries is a really good background before reading this book. One of the points it tries to make is that the case studies clear up the difference between ideologically believing in something as a liberal or conservative or whatever, and actually TESTING the proposed solutions on the ground. That's one of the reasons this book emphasizes the success of local people or at least foreign people that are present locally in dealing with these issues as superior to just blinding sending money-- though money is also needed obviously.

There's a ton of research that the authors used on a wide range of issues to move their argument forward that change is achievable and necessary for both the volunteers and the victims. This is a carefully thought out book, and the authors do not limit themselves by what is typically considered "politically correct" or of a particular ideology, but rather limit themselves to what is backed by the research and studies.

I don't consider myself closed off to the general suffering in the world. I read the newspaper and pay attention to international news. While I was familiar with a lot of the issues covered in the book, I was surprised and horrified to see them linked so closely. I was especially saddened and horrified by the opening chapters on modern day sex slavery. I think the authors did their job really well which is that I feel motivated to make some positive change though I need to think about how to get more involved.

PS. I read a lot of the criticisms of this book before writing my review and I'm honestly puzzled. A lot of the criticisms appear to just be a mischaracterization of something that Kristoff and WuDunn said in the book. Some of the other criticisms boil down to a reader not agreeing with something or other the author stated, which is not typically a reason I would lower my rating of a book. I'm seeking to take in other perspectives when I read. I want to expand my own understanding of different views of problems and solutions. If I only wanted to know what I think about an issue I could talk to myself and my little group of like-minded friends, though the reality is that Kristoff and WuDunn and the many people they interviewed and the authors they read for this book have a lot more experience in the international development arena than negative commenters or me.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts out a little unfocused, possibly because the author himself was a little confused about what his future held at the beginning. But as it became more clear that he would soon die, he consolidated his thoughts.

Having lost my dad to cancer, I have the same complaints about cancer treatment that he had. Disjointed care at Valley Hospital- the urologists didn't talk to the oncologists and so on; his oncologist went on maternity leave and no one properly took her place so my dad would die while she was on maternity leave with no real oncologist to help with decisions; inadequate late-night staff; and the sudden cessations of treatment when it became unclear if the cancer or the treatment was doing more damage. These issues, best explained by someone who is himself a doctor, are issues that demand correction.

The second most important thing this book deals with is the issue of whether to live like you will never die or like you might die imminently. Despite the difficulty, I'm a firm believer in doing your best to live in the latter way. As horrific as cancer is, it does allow time to sort out final business and time to say goodbye. Many deaths are sudden- physically painless- but if your matters aren't settled because you've lived like this was always a possibility, then your matters will never be settled. Your life might be not have been lived to the best of your ability.

Finally, Kalanithi's wife has important things to say about mourning a loved one. She expresses surprise that the love remains. Death does not take the actual love with the loved one. Much as they might leave you a piano, the love remains with the living. This has been my experience as well.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Helen Macdonald writes beautifully. I am touched by the sorrow of her losing her father. I lost my father too and made me (more) crazy for years. I can relate.

BUT this book feels like a talented writer sat down to complete a book by adding things for word count related to: 1) the incredibly difficult task of training a a huge goshawk, 2) her father's death, 3) her father's photography (small amount), 4) T.H. White's book The Goshawk, 5) the diaries of T.H. White, 6) T.H. White's other writings, 7) T.H. White's homosexuality even though this is barely related to his goshawk training and in no way has anything to do with her sexuality or her father's.

Also, these topics appear to be in no chronological order or any other logical order. It's so random. It doesn't come together for me. And despite all this craziness, the book is exceptionally dull. So boring. I just forced myself through it out of sheer stubbornness.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 18, 2016

You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all, I've been dabbling in humor books lately, and even though they almost never make me laugh these days, this one made me laugh out loud. I'd read it for that reason alone.

The second reason I loved this book is because I've been reading some memoirs lately as well, and I thought her life was a little more interesting than the average memoir. Even if it stopped at her strange homeschooling and then college experience, this would be true. But then she goes on to develop a gaming addiction, create a television show and a company for it, and grow her acting career. This is a very different life.

But the book keeps getting better. It gets funnier and sadder at the same time. It deals with scary feminist issues. It's basically amazing.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 16, 2016

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like the world-building in this book. I like the conflict between the two alien groups, and I like that we're sort of supposed to root for the other team, not the hero of the story's side (I think, I did).

What I didn't love was that this is one of those adventure stories that just goes from one thing to the next without there really being great believable reasons for it. At a minimum there isn't a great reason for the author to spend so much time on the obstacles to the main challenge, in this case entering Schar's World and retrieving the Mind.

I really wanted to like this book because I inherited a whole bunch of Culture Wars books from my dad, and now I'm less excited to read through them, but I will give it at least one more try with book #2.

View all my reviews

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Taming of the ShrewThe Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a lot misogyny in this play, but it was written at the end of the 16th century so I can forgive it. Here's what I noticed though: the play never says Petruccio strikes Katherina. Katherina, on the other hand, strikes both her very gentle sister Bianca and Petruccio. He never verbally abuses her either, saying only highly positive and romantic things to her. Petruccio does abuse Katherina by not letting her eat or sleep, and I can't defend that manipulation though it might sound like I'm about to try.

Katherina isn't just a general representative "woman." She's especially contrary, belligerent, and violent. All of this being rich, spoiled, and having very kidn family members. Petruccio is mostly interested in her money, but he seems to suspect that if her sister Beatrice is a great beauty and a gentle lady that Katherina also has this in her power. When Petruccio meets her, it seems clear that he appreciates her wit and intelligence but that he means to outmatch her. And he does woo her with his craziness even if this is mostly after their wedding instead of before.

The worst part of the play is Katherina's final speech which is really a lot to stomach. It's difficult to tell if she's deeply in love with Petruccio or suffering from some kind of Stockholm's syndrome. I suspect it's just a happy ending for the men in the audience that want the story to play out like a male fantasy.

Despite the terrible ending, I did enjoy this comedy. I think it was funny and kind of romantic and sexy. I'd be lying if I pretended my feelings about art-- or even real life-- are primarily based on feminism.

Entire play available here:

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is excellent. It's not just another eat-real-food book to make us feel bad about the horror of the food industry in our country. This book is inspirational, scientifically accurate, apolitical, and beautifully written. She practices what she preaches too (though she's not very preachy), so the book is full of her own challenges and reflections on eating locally. Her daughters have clearly gained a lot from this way of life as well. This is a new nonfiction favorite for me.

It remains to be seen if I can implement some of the changes she's inspired, but I'm very optimistic I'll at least make some small but meaningful changes thanks to the book.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness. So freaky! First there's a George-Constanza-like pain at witnessing the protagonist muck up her life. She's like a very dark Bridget Jones. Then when things start to happen there's the suspense and the suspicion against every character. About mid-way I was so scared reading this book that it became a little bit of a challenge to keep going. Pretty fun in the end though.

Four stars because even though it's a fine example of its genre (if it has one, it might have created its own) there are some little plot holes that bother me now.

View all my reviews

The Watsons by Jane Austen

The Watsons (Dodo Press)The Watsons by Jane Austen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's unfinished! I didn't realize that before I started reading it and it's really good, but then just stops in a super random early place in the story. I'd love to see this an an indie art project. Starts out like a normal awesome Jane Austen novel and then, apropos of nothing, all the characters just jump off a cliff.

Don't torture yourself by reading this.

View all my reviews

100 Things Virginia Fans Should Know by Brian J. Leung

100 Things Virginia Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die100 Things Virginia Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Brian J. Leung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not always the biggest sports fan but I did enjoy going to football and basketball games at UVA. I didn't know most of the information in the book. I especially enjoyed the chapters on players and coaches. Now I'm craving a Whitespot burger though.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 9, 2016

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady SusanLady Susan by Jane Austen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel is a very different style than the other Jane Austen novels. It's a set of letters between various people in the novel. It's also just a light comedy. I didn't love it because it's difficult to develop the characters when the perspective is so limited even if the letters reveal the duplicity of Lady Susan. There's no depth to the characters because the letter writers wouldn't account for subtle actions or conversation. I saw the movie with Sarah T. and I think the movie was a little better.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reread this novel for maybe the 4th or 5th time because many people I respect in these matters love this book. Maybe because I read Kevin's copy that is both underlined and highlighted- not sure what the code there was- but I finally appreciate this book a lot more.

Appreciating how well-written the novel is, and liking it, are not exactly the same thing. In fact, now that I appreciate the deeper thoughts behind the action of the story, I find this novel deeply depressing. In this worldview, even if people were better behaved, I suspect they'd still be terribly unhappy. Well, maybe that's right.

View all my reviews

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like action adventure and/or mystery novels, this is a really well-written one. I enjoyed it though it dragged on a while. After solving the initial mystery, the book goes on for four more chapters resolving three other plot points. Though it does belabor the denouement, it leaves nothing unresolved.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of RealityThe Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new favorite physics book. It's hard gaging these books because I always bring what I read in a previous physics-for-the-common-man tome to the next, but this one reviewed some concepts I already had some familiarity with in a clear comprehensible way and also introduced me to new concepts. It was also fun. Yes, really. The craziness of time-space being a location or the specifics of how time travel might be possible are a lot of fun.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium (Delirium #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another one that makes me think of a modern Anthem. The message is less political than some of these dystopian tomes. It's basic message is pro-love. Religion plays a strange role in the novel though. It's both used to oppress the population, and explored by the narrator, Lena, as intimately tied to love. Lena connects romantic love, platonic love, familial love to religious love. She connects the crucification of Jesus directly to the general importance love.

But it's pretty sad. This isn't exactly a feel-good/beach-read young adult book.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Marvelous Land of Oz (Oz, #2)The Marvelous Land of Oz in (Journeys Thorough Oz) by L. Frank Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz is much stranger than the first. It definitely endeavors to grapple with some feminist (and possibly gay or trans?) issues but I have no idea what the underlying message, if any, was supposed to be. Very surprising in any case.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Journeys Through Oz: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz / The Marvelous Land of Oz (2 Books in 1)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (in Journeys Through Oz) by L. Frank Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is well known to everyone since the movie is so famous that even if you haven't seen the movie, you know almost exactly what happens. There's not much more to be said about the first book except that it's a story about confidence in your abilities and proceeds the way many kids books do: first this happened, then this, then this.

View all my reviews
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...