Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare

Love's Labour's LostLove's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This play has some of my new favorite quotes, including this scene:

BIRON: ... What is the end of study? let me know.
FERDINAND: Why, that to know, which else we should not know.
BIRON: Things hid and barr'd, you mean, from common sense?
FERDINAND: Ay, that is study's godlike recompense.

But it's mostly silliness. The King is courting a princess. His lords are courting her maids. There are some other characters that are even worse. There's some clever and funny stuff but overall, not one of my favorite plays. By the end, I felt just like Biron who says in the final scene, "That's too long for a play."

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Monday, November 28, 2016

The Discourses by Niccolò Machiavelli

The DiscoursesThe Discourses by Niccolò Machiavelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mostly discusses the benefits and management of a democratic state. A significantly more moral read than The Prince. Makes the argument that despite the sentiment popular in the 1500s, rule by the masses, while imperfect, is preferable to autocratic rule. It his belief that democracies that fail become anarchies, but current experience seems to point to oligarchy at best or tyrannies at worst.

Machiavelli spends a fair amount of time discussing how religion can help or hinder the democratic state. Interesting stuff worth considering.

His high-mindedness falls apart at the end though. He says it's acceptable to do anything to save the free state. So even a democratic Machiavelli remains Machiavellian.



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The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

The PrinceThe Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When people say blanket feel-good things (especially with regards to politics) like "people are fundamentally good" I think, have you lived in this world? Have you at least read some books?

This is a difficult book to rate because Machiavelli does a good job of explaining how autocratic power was attained and kept in the 1500s. 5 stars for that. I took 3 stars off for the immoral horror of the advice given. I didn't take all the stars as a nod to the fact that it is a valuable book to read in terms of understanding the historical context of political manipulation.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. At least it was really short. It would be a cute children's book. For adult readers it is not sufficiently sophisticated in either writing style or philosophy.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking

The Universe in a NutshellThe Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked this even better than A Brief History of Time even though it contained a lot of the same information because the organization was a lot better for getting to the most interesting and important information first. For this reason, it was a lot more engaging than A Brief History of Time. Another thing I really like about this book is that it's short. While I've read some more in-depth books about physics (mostly by Brian Greene but others as well) most people don't know the basics covered in this book and really should know it. This book would definitely be my recommendation for someone's first physics book .

I have the illustrated hardcover book, and it's really a pleasure to read through.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of VeronaThe Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very fun read except for the cheesy ending. It's the original love triangle with the two gentlemen, Proteus and Valentine. But I cannot forgive Proteus.

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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful memoir of how Didion experienced the death of her husband. I read Blue Nights first and now I wonder if I need to revisit Blue Nights, because apparently Quintana had not yet passed away when this book came out.

I looked up the timeline. In 1964 Joan and John got married, and in 1966 they adopted Quintana. Quintana got married in July 26, 2003. Shortly thereafter, Quintana fell into a coma from sepsis a virus or bacteria, and during that time, John Dunn, Joan's husband and Quintana's father passed away on December 30, 2003. Quintana recovered within 3 months. She had a hematoma while traveling shortly after that. She made a difficult recovery in 2004, but then passed away of pancreatitis on August 26, 2005. Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking about her husband's death was already coming out on September 1, 2005. Blue Nights about her daughter's death didn't come out until 2011. These books might be best read back to back, though The Year of Magical Thinking is the better book.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (Culture, #4)Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The order of the chapters is a total disaster especially if you're a little OCD. The idea is that there are two timelines. The future one is in order, and the past one is progressing backwards. I got so frustrated with the whole order that about halfway through, I decided to read it "chronologically" but it still wasn't really in order. And there were some parts that still didn't make a ton of sense. But I liked reading about the characters and there's an interesting (disturbing) ending.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

The Brief and Frightening Reign of PhilThe Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm shocked that Saunders wrote this in 2005, because it seems like a summary of 2016. Presumably, it's so accurate because it's based on history that we repeat over and over again with very little novelty. But it's still incredibly scarily accurate. This is a very short book; it is in between being a very long short story or a very short novella, so there's no reason not to take a few hours to read it. Read it!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, LoveEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I first read this book, I kind of hated it. (Not sure why I read it again, but...) My biggest issue was that she seemed to have left her husband for no reason, and didn't appear to try to work it out without him at all, and so it was really hard to relate to her. Back then, I also didn't have divorced friends. Now I understand the fact that she declined to trash her husband in the book doesn't mean she didn't have great reasons for leaving him.

Also, back when I read this book the first time, nothing very terrible had ever happened to me. After the death of my dad, I was depressed for a long time (maybe I still am?) so now I can relate to her sadness in the book. I've also tried meditation (it's very hard) and understand how much weirder it is than it seems. Gilbert got a lot flack for trying to "find herself" in India (but not for trying to "find herself" in Italy), but that's not really what it's about. She's trying to achieve a different state through meditation- which a lot of people have tried to do. It just so happens that she goes to India to study meditation full time.

I liked the book much better this time, but I do think it could have been tightened up with better editing. Less rambling would have made the book better.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

GratitudeGratitude by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Oliver Sack's goodbye essay and is extremely short - it was originally run in the New York Times, and can be read in under an hour.

The subject of the essay is accepting death, which I'm not sure Sacks actually did. He tries to determine what is essential in the end.

He also discusses the exciting upcoming breakthroughs in science which he is sad he will miss.

I am rubidium-- 37.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book just won the National Book Award this week, so I was expecting good things. It was well-written, and beautiful in some parts, but I didn't enjoy it though for the conjunction of these reasons:

1) As you might expect of a fairly realistic account of slavery, it was very painful to read.
2) It was boring. At no point did the story become more interesting to me.
3) For me, inserting an actual train into the story didn't work. The novel is historical fiction and was mostly realistic throughout, so what why a real train? It didn't appear to save any narrative room, nor was the train itself in any way fantastical, magical, or otherwise interesting to me. The current day importance of a book like this seems somewhat harmed by the addition of this train. It makes an otherwise realistic account of slavery seem false rather than fiction, especially to people who might not have read widely on the topic. I find that worrisome.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Personal History by Katharine Graham

Personal HistoryPersonal History by Katharine Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked the feminist story here. It's rare that you hear about all the self-doubt and hardship that afflicts even the most successful women. Particularly surprising because she started out wealthy. She comes off as a very thoughtful person that considers each person and decision very carefully, and I think that's very admirable.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

On the Move: A LifeOn the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I especially enjoyed the parts where he focused on his scientific life, but it was interesting to see how his personal and professional life intermingled. He faced a lot of difficulties both personally and professionally and it seems like he didn't overcome these difficulties so much as he was just able to keep going which is inspirational to those of us who aren't skilled at "overcoming."

At times though the narrative dissolved into a list of interesting people he met or things that happened to him one afternoon, and I found that both boring and disappointing for the overall structure of the book. It's worth reading, particularly if you're a fan of neuroscience or Sacks personally (both of which I am).

PS. Sacks can easily convince a reader to never ever try PCP. Holy cow!

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsPredictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ariely explains how all humans are irrational in certain circumstances. He discusses how we attribute value to something, and how marketing exploits us to attribute more value to something. How we regularly make choices that reduce our ability to be content with our choices.

He explains how money itself - or it's absence- causes us to view decisions in an entirely irrational light.

Other things influence our decisions in a way we would ourselves not predict: social norms, arousal, placebos, and even the cost of placebos.

I think this is an extremely important book in helping people to understand how very difficult it is for all of us to be objective, though we all believe ourselves to be.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue NightsBlue Nights by Joan Didion
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven't read The Year of Magical Thinking yet, so maybe my view of this book is a bit incomplete. There are beautiful, sad, and disturbing parts but overall the disjointed nature of the book ruined my enjoyment of it. She also repeated certain phrases over and over again. I appreciate the poetic value of that. However, she overused the method so much that, particularly in it such a short book, it felt like a word count stretch, rather than something that added value to the narrative.

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky

Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global DominanceHegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a long refutation of the concept that it is helpful to security or morally right to maintain American hegemony. It is also, to a lesser extent, a refutation of that democratic peace theory (the theory that democratic countries go to war with each other less) somehow contributes to increased world peace.

The book is a scathing indictment of American foreign policy which is equal parts nightmarishly frightening (talks about American "terrorist actions") and somehow also totally boring. I think it's important to read, but good luck with that.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games (Culture, #2)The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one better than Consider Phlebas, and I'm going to read the third Culture book, but oh boy the evening stroll through Azad Empire contains a lot of descriptions I'd like to unread! And the plot shares a lot with another science fiction book I read but if I told you which one it would be a spoiler. My favorite parts were parts describing aspects of the Culture.

Also, this quote particularly resonated after the election, "He woke the next morning, and it was still the same universe; it had not been a nightmare and time had not gone backward. It had all still happened."

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked it a lot when I read it in 2009. Then in 2010, my husband and I decided to have a baby, and while I was pregnant my father died, I lost my job, and then my grandmother that partially raised me also died. I became very depressed for a long time. I know Rubin explicitly says that this book doesn't deal with "depression" and "depression" is a loaded word in the modern era, but the reality is that most people go through terrible things all the time.

While I'm sure Rubin has faced many challenges just like everyone else, she describes a happy marriage, a very good financial situation, professional freedom, healthy children, personal good health, and living parents. She could have written a book about happiness without personal information, I've read a number with very limited personal information, but that's not what she did. She also relies on a lot of scientific, historical, and philosophical information. But her particular angle on the book of trying the tips out herself left me a little cold on a reread. What happens when in your year of chasing happiness you're completely railroaded by life? Suddenly the question she skipped in the beginning, "What is happiness" (she says you know when you see it/feel it) takes on the central role. In a way, she's the opposite of Victor Frankl who having survived some of the worst things a human could survive, has full authority to lecture on the meaning of life from a personal perspective. It's not Rubin's fault of course, and she's brilliant and hardworking, but the book does suffer from some lack of spiritual depth.

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (The Austen Project, #4)Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's mostly Pride and Prejudice all over again. But the ending was so awesome and hilarious. And the "modern" aspect of the book was great in terms of being non-judgmental and kind in modern liberal society. I can't wait for the movie, which I'm assuming will come to pass.

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Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

Mom & Me & MomMom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have not read a biography or autobiography of Maya Angelou and so I was very interested this memoir. It focuses mostly but not exclusively on her mother and other close family relationships: her brother, father, grandmother, and son. It's interesting and a bit wild, as her mother sounds like a threatening character, and unrelatedly, some dangerous things happened to Angelou herself.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new favorite! Harari covers the history and potential future of the human species, including the research of many other prominent authors. He organizes everything very well. The entire book is interesting, and none of it drags. I particularly appreciated his unique analysis. If an alien species wanted to read one book to understand the human species this would be it, although that might be unfortunate for us if they did.

Everyone should read this!

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy BartonMy Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very short, beautiful, and somewhat sad book. It's about a protagonist Lucy, her family, and a few people that make an impression on her. It's about love-and-hurt. It's about poverty. War. Psychological trauma in the lower case.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was very well-written, and I'm just amazed there wasn't some huge obvious plot hole considering how complicated the story was. Also, the ending is super weird. Points for a super weird ending! But I just can't enjoy these stressful suspenseful books. I like literature or fun reading like fantasy, science fiction, or a good chick flick. I have enough stress without freaking out over these fictional characters.

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