Sunday, October 30, 2016

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Modern RomanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is pretty different than the other humor books I've read recently. It's not a humor memoir. Ansari discusses aspects of modern dating compared to dating a generation ago, and he did a lot of research and employed researchers to assist him. It's interesting on its own with discussions of psychology and economics, but it's also very funny.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the WorldThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In order to illustrate the very close relationship between certain plants and humans, Pollan uses the examples of apples (I will be drinking more hard cider), tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. It's a bit slow in places, especially the tulip chapter. The marijuana chapter is very entertaining and informative, and the potato chapter is the most terrifying.

I might reread Omnivore now as it's been a decade since I read it, and I didn't then have the same background info I have now. Also, this book encourages a lot of Pinker and Dawkins reading, so I might do that as well.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Bossypants by Tina Fey

BossypantsBossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gave this book 5 stars for two reasons: It made me laugh the most of any humor book I've read (3 times- I'm tough). Also, I really relate to her despite that I'm not an amazing career woman who is comedy royalty-- so obviously she's really good at relating to people. Haha.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human AnimalThe Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was both very interesting and entertaining. It precedes Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel. It ties in pretty well with some other books I've recently read including The Sixth Extinction and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and even Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History.

It's a little out-of-date. For example, our ancestor Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals co-existed approximately 100,000 years ago. New research shows that many modern humans contain a little Neanderthal DNA showing that there was interbreeding, whereas Diamond was pretty sure that there was basically no interbreeding.

The title of this book comes from the fact that chimpanzees and pygmy chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to gorillas. Thus, especially from the perspective of chimps, humans are a third chimp.

Fun topics include the emergence of language in humans, male penis and testes size, sexual selection, adultery, racial variation due to sexual selection not natural selection, aging, menopause as an adaptive solution to childbirth, the arts, agriculture and animal domestication, drug use, the question of intelligent alien life, genocide, and extinction. Whoo. It didn't always feel like it was well-organized or related but it was all very interesting.

Personally, I don't think the menopause explanation makes a lot of sense. It seems like if you weren't well-suited to give birth to your partner's baby, a first or second birth would kill you. At the rate of a baby every 4 years from ages 16-40, you'd be up to 6 births before menopause. Instead, menopause seems to make grandmothers more available to tend to their grandchildren instead of having more babies of their own (think prehistoric Michelle Duggars).

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange LandStranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently reread this and still really enjoyed it. The plot is well-worn but the details of the story are fun. Though many of the characters are somewhat flat I really enjoyed the father-figure character, Jubal Harshaw.

Also, here's a link on the flags of Mars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Mars.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American WestBury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an important book that emphasizes that not only did Americans kill numerous Native Americans in war (which we all knew), but they also committed a number of horrible atrocities, cheated, stole, and lied even in official treaties, and pushed Native Americans onto small pieces of desolate lands ruining their way of life forever. Americans did this over the course of 200 years, basically pursuing a national policy of genocide. So obviously it was excruciating to read.

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The Dead Lecturer by Amiri Baraka

The Dead LecturerThe Dead Lecturer by Amiri Baraka
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When I don't like something that's well-respected, I suspect the problem is me. That's fine. I'll take the blame here. It's not for me.

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Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Titus AndronicusTitus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This play is extremely violent and as a result, it's very difficult to push through. The characters are one-dimensional in a way that is unusual for Shakespeare. However, if you're a lover of Quentin Tarantino's movies you might love this play.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

The Doors of PerceptionThe Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very interesting book about how peyote/mescaline affect perception and consciousness. Mescaline is the active property occurring naturally in peyote and some other breeds of cactus. It was particularly interesting to me in light of the meditation and mindfulness books I've read this year. Huxley takes mescaline, records it, and have friends observe him and ask him questions while he's on it. It's a very interesting format.

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Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon - October 2016

On Saturday, I participated in Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon where you read as much as you can for 24 hours. In my time zone I was supposed to start around 8 a.m. and finish Sunday at 8 a.m. Sleeping is optional. My friend Michele came to town though, so I tried to read as much as I could before seeing her, and a little bit the next morning while she was sleeping, but I definitely did not spend 24 hours reading this time. I'm excited to try again in April!

In preparation for the readathon, I pulled the smallest books I could find from my dad's books, and a few other books that I had already started working on. I knew my pile was way too ambitious, but everyone else had big exciting piles so I wanted one too.

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon 2016
Too ambitious for one day.

I ended up reading three small books, mostly while riding on the LIRR to get to and from New York. The Doors of Perception and The Dead Lecturer are my dad's old books, so I made a little dent in my project to read all his books. I also read little bit of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Stranger in Strange Land (which is a re-read for me).

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon 2016
My three readathon books.

Friday, October 21, 2016

41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush

41: A Portrait of My Father41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Former President George W. Bush writes a biography of his father former President George H. W. Bush. I'm a liberal and so I don't think all the interpretations of events are precisely accurate, but I moved by the way George H. W. Bush lived his life in public and in private. I am also impressed by his accomplishments. This is both a celebration of George H. W. Bush specifically and American values and democracy generally. Over and over again, W talks about H.W.'s efforts to reach out to political opponents at home and abroad. As a result, he developed some of the surprising friendships, including with the Clintons and Obamas.

This is also an amazing palate cleanser for everyone suffering through the current election.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and InheritanceDreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this memoir. The title is a bit of a misnomer. It should be something like "Dreams of My Family." So interesting to hear about the President's extremely diverse family and how they all interacted. I didn't know that much about his family before. I feel like I got a better sense of who Barack Obama is, in his own words, but since it was written before he ran for Senate there's something very open, revealing, and non-political about how he talks about his experiences and family.

My only criticism is that this book does not contain nearly enough Michelle.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

Henry VI Part IIHenry VI Part II by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! So much action and intrigue! We finally get to meet Henry the Sixth. He was just a baby in Part 1, and he's still fairly innocent in Part 2. There's a tension between the fact that he's not the rightful ruler according to the laws of inheritance, and that he's the wisest, gentlest, most just of all the people in the play (well in addition to Gloucester). Also I love the (albeit late) introduction of Cade! He's a cross between comic relief and a scary reminder of what's gong on in our current election.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Shakespeare Project 2016

I am trying to read many (maybe not all) of these.

Play- First Performed

  1. Henry VI, Part II- 1590-91
  2. Henry VI, Part III- 1590-91 
  3. Henry VI, Part I- 1591-92 
  4. Richard III- 1592-93 
  5. Comedy of Errors- 1592-93 
  6. Titus Andronicus-1593-94 
  7. Taming of the Shrew- 1593-94 
  8. Two Gentlemen of Verona- 1594-95 
  9. Love's Labour's Lost- 1594-95 
  10. Romeo and Juliet- 1594-95 
  11. Richard II- 1595-96 
  12. A Midsummer Night's Dream- 1595-96 (saw play)
  13. King John- 1596-97 
  14. The Merchant of Venice- 1596-97 
  15. Henry IV, Part I- 1597-98 
  16. Henry IV, Part II- 1597-98 
  17. Much Ado About Nothing- 1598-99 
  18. Henry V- 1598-99 
  19. Julius Caesar- 1599-1600 
  20. As You Like It- 1599-1600 
  21. Twelfth Night- 1599-1600 
  22. Hamlet- 1600-01 
  23. The Merry Wives of Windsor- 1600-01 
  24. Troilus and Cressida- 1601-02 
  25. All's Well That Ends Well- 1602-03 
  26. Measure for Measure- 1604-05  (saw play)
  27. Othello- 1604-05 
  28. King Lear- 1605-06 
  29. Macbeth- 1605-06 
  30. Antony and Cleopatra- 1606-07 
  31. Coriolanus- 1607-08 
  32. Timon of Athens- 1607-08 
  33. Pericles- 1608-09 
  34. Cymbeline- 1609-10 
  35. The Winter's Tale- 1610-11 
  36. The Tempest- 1611-12 
  37. Henry VIII- 1612-13 
  38. The Two Noble Kinsmen- 1612-13 (maybe not written by Shakespeare) 

Steve Jobs by Karen Blumenthal

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought DifferentSteve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An unauthorized biography. A quick fun read. Blumenthal reveals Jobs's faults but tries to be balanced and kind. I don't think there's much of a template for success unless being obsessive and nearly maniacal in one's pursuits is a template.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Genius Factory by David Plotz

The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm BankThe Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David Plotz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun read, but it's more history and entertainment, with many personal stories about sperm bank donors, recipients, and resulting children. It's not a science book, and as such discusses genetics very little and in very vague terms. Read if you're curious about the "Nobel Prize Sperm Bank," skip if you're not.

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The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

The Comedy of ErrorsThe Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't particularly like it. It didn't seem clever or funny or otherwise interesting with the exception of the wife. Also thought it was interesting that it was set in an ancient Greek city that's in modern day Turkey (Ephesus).

Do we have Shakespeare to thank for all those Twin movies of the 1980's?

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Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's RainbowGravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why did I force myself to read this book when I hated nearly every minute of it? It was my dad's favorite book. Quitting just wasn't an option. This does however raise a number of questions about my dad's psyche.

Reading this book is like being inside the brain of a sadistic genius who has completely lost his sanity. Also it takes place during the bombings of World War II so there's good cause to lose one's sanity.

I liked the way the end of the book came back to many of the things at the beginning, especially the dodos, haha. I appreciated Pynchon's contemplation of death. Still, I wish the entire "Part 3: In the Zone" section of the book were just cut. Reading the book was painful enough with the unnecessary meanderings of Part 3.

I am giving three stars, but in this one case it does not mean that I liked the book. If I were adhering to the star system suggested by Goodreads I would give it 1 star. I can't give it one star because obviously Pynchon is a genius. He might be an evil genius though. Would that I could un-read certain sections of the book, I think I would.


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Friday, October 14, 2016

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe more like 3.5 stars. I couldn't remember the ending from when I read it as a child though I did remember the beginning pretty well. Maybe I only read half it when I was little? The beginning is fun in a dark way but then it sort of just meanders. The poems/ songs aren't really a strong point for Dahl either. But James says he likes it- though I'm shocked because he'd only let me read a few pages at a time. Maybe he just enjoyed having a long-term reading project with me.

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I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I, Robot (Robot, #0.1)I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked this novel. It's totally different from the movie- so much so that's it's really unexpected. The only thing in common with the movie is the three laws of robotics.

First of all, the main character is a robotics psychologist, Susan Calvin! That's awesome. She solves a number of problems with various different models of robots by trying to use logic traps. There are some definite feminist elements in the book, as the men don't take her concerns seriously, and she has to deal with that on top of solving the problem at hand.

Also, there are more disturbing issues of racism and subjugation present in the book as well. It seems fairly intentional. The engineers regularly call the robots "boy" and do other things that call up an ugly human history. Asimov even takes a swipe at the death penalty.

The book was written in 1950, so the Calvin is born in 1982, and she's robot problem-solving from when by the time she's 38, 2020. Get ready robot psychologists! Of course in reality, we don't follow the laws of robotics at all. Drones are used mostly for the purpose of harming humans. And Asimov didn't anticipate the internet or network connections so reality is much more frightening than science fiction.

I, Robot is very interesting and worth considering, but it was also a fun read. So either way, I recommend reading it.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent memoir (in the form of a letter to the author's son). Strongly recommend every American read this as soon as possible. Coates writes prose as if it is poetry. He clearly and simply traces the relationship between American economics, slavery, the Civil War, the modern South, police brutality, city projects, and the uphill battle of those trying to move away from the history. He manages to pack a lot into a very short book. Between his beautiful writing and his economy of words, I wasn't able to put the book down until I was finished.

It's particularly interesting reading this book right now, when the current presidential election is mired in these very issues. The thing that's different now, is that the racist-sexist forces in our country have failed to hide their intentions this time. With their true intentions on display a majority of the "other" seem to have banded together: Women, black people, Hispanic people, GLBT, and others voting together en masse against the typical oppressors. As Gloria Steinem says racism and sexism are closely related and intertwined. It keeps the maximum number oppressed and also helps keep everyone divided. It's not a conspiracy, it's simply that authoritarians want to keep as much power for themselves and away from as many others as possible, so everyone is "lesser." One thing that Coates stresses though is that even if a majority are moving away from racist-sexist attitudes, it takes only one act of state-sanctioned terrorism by the police to take away all security. And sadly there have been many more than one.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Breasts by Florence Williams

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural HistoryBreasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book that I recommend to all woman and to all parents. Discusses the purpose and evolution of breasts. She discusses issues important to feminism, breast health, and wider environmental issues. It's heaviest on the latter, but overall a very interesting, educational, and alarming book.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

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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The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is hodgepodge of how to change personal bad habits, ways to use habits against consumers in marketing, how to organize social groups by utilizing psychology, and random thoughts on habits versus free will. This isn't one of my favorite nonfiction books.

If you're trying to change a personal habit you can just read the appendix. Basically: find the cue, and then find a new reward. Groups can help you accomplish change.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Xenocide (Ender's Saga, #3)Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The last one-third of this book is better than the first two-thirds which should have been way more heavily edited. One major problem was that the book was trying to bring readers who skipped the first two books up to speed. I can't imagine what the point of that is. It would be impossible to like this book if you didn't read the other two.

Another problem is Ender's family. Even though it's been 30 years for them since the last book they act like they never healed or matured despite Ender's presence. They're super annoying, mean, and there's too many of them to care.

Finally, why is the author of The Hive Queen just getting to know the Hive Queen in this book?

But if you make it to the last one-third, it's interesting and fun. I'm considering reading the fourth in the series but I need a break right now.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

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, 2016

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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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a lot of value in a woman with a top position in business pointing out the many barriers women face; and calling for changes in the work place, society, and in how both women and men approach business and feminism. For a lot of people these are already known facts, but the nature of this as a "business book" means a lot of people are exposed to these statistics and personal stories who might not otherwise be exposed.

That said, I was familiar with these problems already, and there are only a few suggestions that I thought I could use in the book. For example, she talks about quality time at work instead of quantity of time at work but this doesn't apply at all in the world of the hourly billable. She cites that men are more likely to bill any time spent thinking about work... but as far as I'm concerned that's called "overbilling the client." Also, I think there's a lack of long-term perspective in the book because Sandburg was relatively young in both age and spirit when she wrote the book. I think that if/when she writes a sequel there will be some change in her perspective.


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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. It's very unexpected. I actually listened to the audiobook which I strongly recommend because you can hear not just Poehler but also her amazing audiobook guests. Poehler is brilliant and empathetic and has a lot of interesting things to say and good advice. My favorite is, "Your career is a bad boyfriend." Ugh, yeah, mine was an abusive boyfriend for a while. I cried no fewer than three times. Maybe not exactly what she was going for with a humor book, but it's really touching. I also laughed aloud while walking around my neighborhood so now my neighbors might think I'm crazy. It's all good.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

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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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was interesting. I've read books before from the perspective of people effected by ailments but this was a little different because the way in which her personality was changed was such a big part of the story.

Additionally, the author is a reporter. I've read this type of memoir by doctors/scientists before (My Stroke of Insight, Psychopath Inside, When Breath Becomes Air) but it was distinctly different because the author didn't fully understand the medicine behind her diagnosis at the time. However, she throughly researched both the ailment and whether her memories, perceptions, and even the memories of her "witnesses" were accurate. This is sadly remarkable in this day and age. She proves to be a real journalist with integrity in the process.

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