Thursday, July 20, 2017

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

Rabbit CakeRabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quirky fun book about death and grief. As crazy and wacky as the family in the story is, the grief reads true and real.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really entertaining, but left me kind of cold. The voice really sounds like that of a woman, and the time, place, and circumstances of the main character's life are really interesting. But there's a lack of depth to the story generally and also in the characters.

(Little bit of a spoiler ahead:) I thought it would at least head in a Pride and Prejudice direction which I can enjoy even if it's repeated, but it didn't work out that well.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Dance Dance Dance (The Rat, #4)Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the 4th book in Murakami's Rat series and I read them all in order: Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, A Wild Sheep Chase, and this one Dance Dance Dance. This is the best one of the series in terms of the plot making some sense, but Wind/Pinball is the best in terms of deep thoughts in the book. A Wild Sheep Chase was especially clumsy with the magical realism and Dance, Dance, Dance improves on this aspect, but it doesn't feel like it's enough to rescue the series. Overall, I wouldn't say it's a great series.

Didn't buy the whole Yumioshi "love" story in this either. (Not related to my review but the title has almost nothing to do with the book either which is a disappointment.)

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The Lonely American by Jacqueline Olds, Richard S. Schwartz

The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first CenturyThe Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century by Jacqueline Olds, Richard S. Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being too busy is bad, but even worse is checking out of social life. When this happens people get depressed, then use alcohol, drugs, or pharmaceuticals to deal with their depression. Therapy is better but still unideal. The authors admit this is a societal problem - both being too busy and being isolated- but then sort of vaguely suggest we just force ourselves to socialize.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Starts out a little slowly with some personal essays about Gay's work life and personal life. However, her later essays on privacy, autonomy, sexism, and racism are powerful. I particularly noticed when I didn't necessarily agree with her that her arguments were sufficiently persuasive that they made me reconsider. This is one of the top things I look for in nonfiction and essays in particular. I'm not looking for information that merely champions what I already believe but writing that challenges the way I think and see the world and changes or broadens my perspective.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Marlena by Julie Buntin

MarlenaMarlena by Julie Buntin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful exploration of young friendship, its betrayals, and its lasting love and effects.

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All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren, Amelia Warren Tyagi

All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money PlanAll Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is basically Dave Ramsey's plan which I think already existed when this book was written. (Dave published Financial Peace in the 1990s.)

Similarities to Dave: This book is mostly about the evils of credit cards and debt in general. While they don't recommend paying the smallest debt first (classic Dave Ramsey) but neither do they insist you pay the highest interest rate debt first.

Bad differences from Dave: The authors suggest doing a bunch of worksheets that I have no interest in whatsoever.

Good differences from or additions to Dave: One new idea is dividing your needs (50% of income), savings (20%), and fun (30%). The authors discuss how to make sure your fun spending is actually fun and not guilt or emotional-hole spending. Asking for medical discounts and free samples of drugs. Getting drugs from Canada. Good marriage advice. Good warnings about how everyone in the system is trying to rip you off. Warnings about owning a home may or may not be a good deal (including a discussion of closing costs, fees, shady mortgage practices).

One particularly interesting thing is that the authors' concerns about job loss, shady mortgages, and foreclosure seem prescient given that this book predates the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Love Your Life, Not Theirs by Rachel Cruze

Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You WantLove Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want by Rachel Cruze
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Similar to, but better written than Dave Ramsey's books. Most likely to interest you if you're already interested in Dave Ramsey. A little bit of new information, and directed more to younger people, but mostly similar to Dave. Nonetheless, I own this one in lieu of owning a Dave book.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Blasphemy by Douglas Preston

Blasphemy (Wyman Ford #2)Blasphemy by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably 3.5 stars. Started out really well but eventually I got bored of the obvious "surprise" coming and the religious war really dragged too.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Labor DayLabor Day by Joyce Maynard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a super weird coming of age story. Or is it a romance? A story about the crippling effects of personal trauma and mental illness? A story about the injustice of the criminal system? Yes, all that stuff.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So fun! This is as good as Ender's Game and Ready Player One. I love this world, the magic rules, and the main characters. Okay, maybe Rojer is a little unnecessary but we'll see if he does better stuff in later books.

This reminds me a little of Game of Thrones in that it takes place in a less civilized time with different villages, cities, and kingdoms, but I find The Warded Man is less grossly violent and more feminist.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid SunsA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful and sad without being devastating. This is a feminist novel about religious and political fanaticism. It's a novel about how Afghanistan's people were devastated by the Cold War tug-of-war between America, Russia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. It's about the disappointments of family, and the depths of friendship. Even though I gave them the same rating, I liked this one better than Kite Runner.

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston

Tyrannosaur Canyon (Wyman Ford #1)Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe 3.5? I did like it. It was almost a relaxing read for an action/ adventure story. I loved the parts about dinosaurs. The government's reaction to what was happening seemed a bit of a stretch though.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, Vol. 2 (Saga, #2)Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this a little better than the first one, and I'm starting to get invested in some of the characters. A minor thing that has nothing to do with my rating: I don't really understand the animal-people? Is that just evolutionary coincidence?

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in BetweenTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved the beginning about her early life and trying to act in her twenties. I laughed out loud a few times. But then it turned into a for Gilmore Girl Fans-only book. I love Gilmore Girls but if you don't this might not be that interesting?

Also, it's a very short book so it left me feeling like it didn't provide enough personal information nor enough Gilmore Girl information from the 90s (because she didn't remember a lot from those days). Forget about any Parenting info, she barely touches on that show. Really it was a 3.5 but I love her so I rounded up.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber

One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the DifferenceOne Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is very religious, and clearly a lot of people find it inspirational. It's a pretty easy short read and I don't regret reading it.

However, I just read Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America and this is the exact kind of "magical thinking" she argues against.

I have a big problem with the line of thinking that goes, "pray and your prayer will be answered, unless it's not and then either 1) you didn't pray hard enough, or 2) God has a different plan we can't understand." But did you know that people have studied whether or not prayer works in medical situations?:

Analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not.

In another of the study's findings, a significantly higher number of the patients who knew that they were being prayed for — 59 percent — suffered complications, compared with 51 percent of those who were uncertain. The authors left open the possibility that this was a chance finding. But they said that being aware of the strangers' prayers also may have caused some of the patients a kind of performance anxiety.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/hea...

So yeah, I can't get terribly excited about Macomber's message, though I don't reject it completely either. I think that focus, meditation, and determination can have big effects on a person's life, as can luck.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

The Girl Who Fell from the SkyThe Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a little confusing in the beginning, but it ended up being good. I think my favorite things were the diverse and realistic characters and the way the writer made sorrow seem beautiful. That's a hard thing to pull off.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined AmericaBright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I appreciated her critique of the positive-thinking culture in culture and business. I find the former irritating and the latter oppressive. The research shows that pessimists make the best attorneys. I've always suspected that would be true in a number of other fields where anticipating and averting disaster would be beneficial to a cheery facade. But the demands on sick people to be positive and even to pray are exhausting. What are we to make of how we've treated both the most positive and religious people who die from cancer- not to mention the grumps and atheists we tortured with this advice right to the grave? I agree with the premise that there is a sinister intersect of religion, magic and the corporate world in all this victim-blaming.

That said, I think Ehrenreich wasn't very fair to the scientific study of happiness and positive psychology. (Says the person who is obsessed with Jonathan Haidt and his books.)

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this novel. Hosseini did a good job of writing about some of the complications of friendship and family. I could relate to the experience of immigrants and refugees trying to adjust to a new country, culture, and language.

The setting of Afghanistan in two different times was also really interesting. I've read some of the history of the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan but I still think this book could have benefitted from explaining a bit more clearly what was going politically to understand the relationship to what was happening in the plot of the story.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Own WordsMy Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love The Honourable Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think she's one of the most brilliant Americans alive today. This collection of speeches is a mess though. For example, one of them is a brief introduction for Gloria Steinem at an event for her, but we learn nothing about either Ginsburg or Steinem for the inclusion of the introduction. There are two speeches that are actually her husband's, and he has the same opening joke in them. There is an entire cut-and-paste of the opera, Scalia/Ginsburg, which was just the worst. This book could have been really great, and it does have some great feminist writing in it, but you'll have to wade through a lot of poorly edited content to get to it.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pound Foolish by Helaine Olen

Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance IndustryPound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry by Helaine Olen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was well-conceived and extremely well-executed. It's organized, researched, and holistic. I wish all the non-fiction books I read were this well-done. I devoured it. I really want everyone to read it and love it.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the CosmosThe Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a great follow-up to The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. It didn't repeat a lot of material from the first one, it explained the progression in physics since then. It was pretty mind-blowing. I did get a little stuck in some sections, but I decided that a perfect understanding of the topic wasn't strictly necessary for my purposes.

I do think Greene protests too much that every aspect of physics isn't a *miracle.* I've never heard of so many miracles I believe in, even if, as Greene claims it's statistically expected when dealing with such large numbers. "Shoes in my size" indeed!

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Thinking About My Dad on Father's Day 2017

It's been seven Father's Days without you, Dad. The last few years, I've been reading your books which means that in a way you are with me quite often and you are still teaching me things (economics, foreign policy, anthropology, philosophy, and physics) and even having fun with me (Cat's Cradle, The Lathe of Heaven, Anathem!). I've branched out a bit too and bought books published by some of your favorite authors after you died.

It's hard that you don't know my children- you would have loved them so much. Your namesake James even plays chess and he's not all that interested in sports. Miranda is just like all your favorite girls were, loud-mouthed and bossy. I'll do my best to try to get them to know you by following your example as a parent: playing with them, answering their questions thoughtfully, and eventually, maybe they'll read your books too. I love you as much as ever and I miss you.

Parents Visit Brooklyn 2010
Dad reading in my apartment in Brooklyn in 2010

Dad's Books:
Title- Author- Date Published- Date read
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed- Diamond, Jared - 2004 - Jun 17, 2017 
  • The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics - Susskind, Leonard - 2008 - May 29, 2017
  • Being Peace (Being Peace, #1) - Nhất Hạnh, Thích - 1987 - May 23, 2017
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation - Nhất Hạnh, Thích - 1975 - May 16, 2017
  • Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy - Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2010 - May 15, 2017 
  • Moonraker (James Bond, #3) Fleming, Ian Jan 01, 1955 May 02, 2017 
  • The Soft Machine (The Nova Trilogy #1) Burroughs, William S. 1961 Apr 29, 2017 
  • Cat's Cradle Vonnegut Jr., Kurt 1963 Apr 24, 2017 
  • The Celestine Prophecy (Celestine Prophecy, #1) Redfield, James 1993 Apr 22, 2017 
  • Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West Pagden, Anthony - 2008 Apr 21, 2017
  • Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy - Chomsky, Noam - Feb 10, 2007 - Apr 12, 2017 
  • The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism - Rand, Ayn 1961 - Apr 04, 2017
  • The Beasts of Tarzan (Tarzan, #3) - Burroughs, Edgar Rice 1914 - Mar 21, 2017 
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values - Pirsig, Robert M. 1974 - Mar 20, 2017 
  • Salome - Wilde, Oscar 1891 - Mar 19, 2017 
  • Lady Windmere's Fan - Wilde, Oscar 1893 Mar 18, 2017 
  • An Ideal Husband Wilde, Oscar Apr 01, 1893 Mar 16, 2017
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 Coll, Steve 2004 Mar 15, 2017 
  • The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Taleb, Nassim Nicholas * 2007 Mar 05, 2017
  • The Big U Stephenson, Neal * 1984 Mar 02, 2017 
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray Wilde, Oscar 1891 Feb 27, 2017 
  • The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Watts, Alan W. 1966 Feb 26, 2017 
  • The Lathe of Heaven Le Guin, Ursula K. 1971 Feb 24, 2017 
  • Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA Weiner, Tim * Jan 01, 2007 Feb 20, 2017
  • The Voyage Out Woolf, Virginia 1915 Feb 13, 2017
  • Heart of a Dog Bulgakov, Mikhail 1925 Feb 11, 2017
  • Angels and Insects Byatt, A.S. 1992 Feb 07, 2017 
  • The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism Capra, Fritjof Jan 01, 1975 Feb 05, 2017 
  • Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2) Fleming, Ian Apr 05, 1954 Feb 04, 2017 
  • The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash Morris, Charles R. - 2008 - Feb 02, 2017 
  • I and Thou Buber, Martin 1923 Feb 2017 
  • Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1) Morgan, Richard K. Feb 28, 2002 Jan 31, 2017 [
  • The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Ferguson, Niall Nov 2007 Jan 29, 2017 
  • Casino Royale (James Bond, #1) Fleming, Ian 1953 Jan 25, 2017 
  • The God Delusion Dawkins, Richard * 2006 Jan 23, 2017 
  • Anansi Boys Gaiman, Neil * 2005 Jan 22, 2017 
  • De Profundis Wilde, Oscar 1905 Jan 20, 2017 
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management Lowenstein, Roger Jan 01, 2000 Jan 15, 2017 
  • The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism Bacevich, Andrew J. Aug 05, 2008 Jan 09, 2017 
  • The Post-American World Zakaria, Fareed Jan 01, 2008 Dec 30, 2016
  • Cryptonomicon Stephenson, Neal * May 1999 Dec 20, 2016 
  • The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad Zakaria, Fareed Apr 2003 Dec 20, 2016  
  • The Broom of the System Wallace, David Foster 1987 Dec 04, 2016 
  • Use of Weapons (Culture, #3) Banks, Iain M. 1990 Nov 23, 2016 
  • Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance Chomsky, Noam 2003 Nov 11, 2016 
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2) Banks, Iain M. Aug 1988 Nov 10, 2016 
  • Stranger in a Strange Land Heinlein, Robert A. Jul 01, 1961 Oct 25, 2016 
  • The Dead Lecturer Baraka, Amiri Oct 1964 Oct 24, 2016
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West Brown, Dee 1970 Oct 24, 2016
  • Gravity's Rainbow Pynchon, Thomas Feb 28, 1973 Oct 17, 2016 
  • I, Robot (Robot #0.1) Asimov, Isaac Dec 02, 1950 Oct 14, 2016 
  • The Return of Tarzan (Tarzan, #2) Burroughs, Edgar Rice 1913 Oct 11, 2016 
  • Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) Asimov, Isaac Jan 01, 1950 Oct 02, 2016 
  • Anathem Stephenson, Neal * Sep 09, 2008 Sep 26, 2016 
  • Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) Banks, Iain M. Apr 23, 1987 - Sep 16, 2016
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) Larsson, Stieg Aug 2005 Sep 08, 2016
  • The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality Greene, Brian 2003 Sep 06, 2016
  • Tarzan of the Apes (Tarzan, #1) Burroughs, Edgar Rice Oct 1912 Aug 29, 2016 
  • The Currents of Space (Galactic Empire, #2) Asimov, Isaac 1952 Aug 26, 2016 
  • The Stars, Like Dust (Galactic Empire, #1) Asimov, Isaac Jan 01, 1951 Aug 22, 2016 
  • I Am America Colbert, Stephen Oct 09, 2007 Aug 21, 2016
  • The World Without Us Weisman, Alan Jul 10, 2007 - Aug 17, 2016 
  • The Widows of Eastwick (Eastwick #2) Updike, John 2008 Aug 13, 2016 
  • Anthem Rand, Ayn May 1938 Aug 11, 2016
  • Man's Search for Meaning Frankl, Viktor E. 1946 Jul 11, 2016
  • American Gods (American Gods, #1) Gaiman, Neil * Jul 2001 Jun 02, 2016
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide, #1) Adams, Douglas 1979 Apr 27, 2016 
  • The Witches of Eastwick (Eastwick #1) Updike, John 1984 Apr 14, 2016 
  • Codex Grossman, Lev * Jan 01, 2004 Mar 24, 2016 
  • Galaxies Like Grains of Sand Aldiss, Brian W. 1959 Oct 03, 2013 
  • Water for Elephants Gruen, Sara * - 2006 - Jun 06, 2010
  • Schrödinger's Cat 1: The Universe Next Door Wilson, Robert Anton Nov 01, 1979 Jun 27, 2007
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Diamond, Jared 1997 Jan 2005 
  • Civil Disobedience Thoreau, Henry David 1849 Apr 15, 1996 
  • Walden Thoreau, Henry David Aug 09, 1854 Apr 26, 1995 
  • Have Space Suit—Will Travel Heinlein, Robert A. Sep 01, 1958 Jan 1993

Collapse by Jared Diamond

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or SucceedCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five stars for the importance of the topic, three stars because it's so repetitive. I get it! We're all going to cannibalize each other. Well, maybe not us, personally, but likely our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Sigh.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ulysses by James Joyce

UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm finished!!!! Oh, happy day!!! Done! Done!

Can't say I enjoyed this work of genius, though the ending was lovely, exhilarating, and terribly sad all at the same time.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The BFG by Roald Dahl

The BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read with my kids over a series of days. Kind of slow, with little action. That would be okay except the extended discussion with the giant were also mostly racist. I know it was silly stuff mostly, what different nationalities taste like and whatnot, but not great and can be confusing to kids.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Girling Up by Mayim Bialik

Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and SpectacularGirling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular by Mayim Bialik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good book for young girls, probably around the time they go through early puberty. Most of it is also applicable to boys and I'm not sure why she only focused on girls. I have a son and a daughter and this would be a handy little guide for discussion but the bent of the book would make it a little strange for my son.

One nice thing is that it briefly touches on transgender issues though strangely I don't think there was any mention of homosexuality. She also discusses being a late bloomer a lot which kept making me think of asexual people who won't develop sexual feelings later on despite whatever other "blooming" they might do (and ironically probably what the Sheldon character really is on the Big Bang Theory). I know it's a short book and she can't cover everything but these seemed like notable oversights given the topics she did cover.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and StoriesThe Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection is unusual in that it's a mix of nonfiction essays and fiction short stories. The author died as a passenger in a car accident just days after she graduated from college, and her parents and teachers picked which of her writings to include in this collection. It's a decent collection for a 22-year-old. What's remarkable though is how almost all of the pieces deal with death. The collection could as well be called The Opposite of Death. I think and read about death a fair bit, but she still gave me some new things to think about.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3)The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty fun one. Not sure how to say anything that isn't a spoiler but this one develops The plot a bit further. Everyone is in a major role now, more or less.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

The Case for ChristThe Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It would have been 3 stars but it's super-condescending. It claims to offer a fair investigation, but it's a one-sided affair. Which would have been fine, if that had been addressed honestly. I think that if you pick up and read a book with a title like The Case for Christ, you probably have an open mind to Christianity, so it was all the more disappointing that this wasn't well-done. I wish a super-intelligent and fair-minded Christian such as Marylynne Robinson would write a nonfiction book about Christianity. (She hasn't has she?) Does anyone know of a book like that to recommend?

The reason I did like it is because it presents an attempt at proving the events of the New Testament. Strobel at least makes a good argument that it's not insane to believe in this happened. But despite his constant self-congratulating in the book, he doesn't make a good argument that it's highly logical based on the evidence. The reasoning is very unclear in a number of places. He doesn't acknowledge that weakness in some of the more important topics particularly weakens the entire structure of his argument. His house has an excellent roof on a very poor foundation.

If anything, this book made me aware of some cogent-sounding counterarguments to Christianity of which I was not previously aware. However, the more logical the counter-argument, the less time Strobel spends addressing it with any seriousness.

For me, reading about physics has taken me further in believing in difficult-to-believe phenomena than this book has.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Tinkers by Paul Harding

TinkersTinkers by Paul Harding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a sad, beautiful, weird little book this is.

"... and the only thing common to all of this is that I feel sorrow so deep, it must be love...."

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the DomesticMating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was fine (more of a 3.5). The author is a psychotherapist and she bases her examples and very generalized advice on her counseling of married couples. She also claims her European culture gives her a different perspective on sexuality and sexuality in marriage. It's not a waste of time to read this whether you're married or not. That said, this book is deeply unscientific. There are no studies or statistics on any element of sexuality or marriage. Probably best not to gamble on any advice you read here - unless you're already in a very desperate situation.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga, #4)Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone loves Ender's Game. After that, opinions are all over the place. It seems most people like the second book, Speaker for the Dead a bit better than I liked it- though I did give it 4 stars for reasons I can't recall. But the third book, Xenocide was just bad. A little research revealed that originally Xenocide and Children of the Mind were one huge book. That would explain it. If you spend time reading Xenocide, you have to read this one. This one will make the time you expended on Xenocide worth it.

Only Ender's Game works as a stand alone book. This one would make absolutely no sense if you didn't read the three that proceed it.

I liked almost all of this book, especially everything related to Jane, the Hive Queen, and Rooter. The romantic relationship that Wang-Mu develops doesn't make a lot of sense to me, especially since it's fast and not based on much. But the thing that bothered me the most is that Quara's character makes no sense to me. She spent earlier books defending and protecting the Descolada virus and in a fit of argumentativeness, she turns on all her most deeply held values? Not great character development.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a purely superficial level, this book (and the current Netflix series) is highly entertaining. No one disputes that the topic of the book, suicide, is an important one that should be discussed. The disputes around this book center on how suicide is addressed, and I get that. Parents should take an active role if their children are reading this book or watching the series.

That said, one of the big criticisms is that the book doesn't address depression. I had some post-partum depression after my first child, and though I never wanted to hurt myself or others, one of the central feelings was that of being inept. After a lifetime of feeling confident based on specific achievements, I suddenly felt unworthy of so many things. One interesting thing about my depression though was that it coincided with concrete outside events: my father had passed away at the same time and I'd left work. So the story I told myself was that I wasn't depressed, because actual bad things had happened to me, and any bad feelings I felt about myself- I should feel based on the reality of the situation. I guess my point is that depression is not always so easy to separate from outside forces or intrinsic self-worth, and this is especially true for the person who is depressed. So the fact that Hannah doesn't understand or communicate her own depression isn't strange or wrong to me.

Additionally, years before in high school-- high school was the worst-- I was so upset by things that were occurring in my social life in school, that for about a week, I visibly cried everywhere I went. My parents saw me. Numerous teachers saw me. No one did anything to get me any kind of help. Even though I had my mind focused on leaving for college and not on ending my life, I was a walking red flag. Adults are often not equipped for the maelstrom of teen emotions and their ramifications.

So while it would have been good to understand the main character's depression a little better, I think the portrayal was still fairly realistic. The suicide of a young person doesn't actually make sense so it's a lot to expect the author to give sense to something that has none in real life. To the extent that Asher gave it some sense, I think it's his plea to be gentle with each other, protect each other, and reach out to each other. It's also a call for the adults who supervise teens and their shitty high school environments to step up and make those places livable and institute safety nets for teens that are flailing for help.

P.S. The biggest difference for me between the book and the Netflix series is that the Netflix series went into the lives of Hannah's antagonists as well. Those characters are mostly flat "bad guys" in the book, but the series humanizes those characters while still insisting that they bear responsibility for their actions.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind

The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum MechanicsThe Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not my favorite physics book. The order of topics is a bit confusing, and a lot of the explanations leave a lot to be desired. Interesting if you're interested in the personalities in the physics world, or interested in trying to understand black holes... which you probably still won't after you've read this book, but maybe you'll have a better general idea.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that we have the characters back story, the characters go on a second hero's quest, while dealing with the bigger underlying problem. Cute, fun, and more about family and religion.

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Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

Being Peace (Being Peace, #1)Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Talks a lot about the interconnectedness of humans? For this reason, we should prevent suffering in the world...

I guess this is an alternate argument to the Christians' fundamental sanctity of human life as a reason for human rights.



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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Swing TimeSwing Time by Zadie Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is very layered. I feel like I could read it again and still get so much out of it. It's very political but it's also open-ended. The characters all have different perspectives and are constantly calling each other out for what they perceive are the wrong views or actions. So, a lot like real life. Wonderful writing.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Call to Action by Jimmy Carter

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and PowerA Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power by Jimmy Carter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How wonderful is it that former President Jimmy Carter wrote a book about feminism? He's the best, and I love him.

The book is sometimes difficult to read because terrible things are happening to women on a daily basis in both in the US and abroad, and Carter isn't shy about going into great detail in his anecdotes (with statistics to back up the larger points he is making).

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't say I enjoyed this book because it's like getting stabbed in the chest repeatedly, but it's also so good. The love in it is so tangible. And there's so much love. But life, for most people, is one huge tragedy after another, and this book is very realistic. It's a difficult read in that regard.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante

The Beach at NightThe Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark in a weird way. Very short.

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The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of MeditationThe Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even though this covers basic mindfulness and meditation really well, it's not a good starting place for the average American. It is a great book to revisit if you're already acquainted with the scientific evidence that mindfulness and meditation work, and can even be used in your meditations by following along the text.

As a starting point, I recommend The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt and Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzburg. If you're not religious or spiritual Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris would be good too (though maybe skip it if you are religious).

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A Guide to Wine by Julian Curry

A Guide to WineA Guide to Wine by Julian Curry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 40% or so was interesting, but the last 60% did a very summary of some of the most popular wine regions, and this part, in particular, was less valuable in audiobook form. (It doesn't appear to come in ebook or paperback.)

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Freefall by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World EconomyFreefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy by Joseph E. Stiglitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Please, if you live in the United States, I beg you to read this book. The author is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and he makes the information he's conveying very clear to the non-economist. I realize it's a little old now and would benefit from a little updating, but it's still so valuable to understanding modern economic theory and how political decisions are affecting the economy. New favorite!

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem

Outrageous Acts and Everyday RebellionsOutrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2016 was a rough year for the equality of women, and 2017 isn't off to a great start either. Lots of people are rereading relevant fiction such as Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, or the more generally dystopian (as opposed to feminist) 1984 by Orwell. But we need to revisit nonfiction works as well. This book is educational about the history and current reality of sexism in America, but it's also a bit of a how-to manual on achieving more progress.

I strongly recommend this book. Even if you flip through to only read the essays you're most interested in, you will find something valuable.

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After the Fall by Arthur Miller

After the FallAfter the Fall by Arthur Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the strangest things I've read. Parts of it are amazing. Other parts are confounding or infuriating. It's impossible to describe beyond that the main character examines his three marriages- one of which appears to be based on Miler's real-life marriage to Marilyn Monroe. It's also about McCarthyism and the Holocaust. Um, yeah, that's a lot. It's messed up.


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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Zone OneZone One by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fabulous scathing critique of all the preoccupations of society. Very nihilistic. I loved the main character and the way his challenges before and after the last day were presented. I felt like I could relate to him and his problems even though he's a very emotionally reserved character. I also loved Gary and Kaitlyn, and how they were awful and wonderful in their own ways. Some of the last 1/5th of the book was a little convoluted with the present day conversations of numerous characters that didn't play a central role.


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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Life by Bill Clinton

My LifeMy Life by Bill Clinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel like I should throw myself a party for finally reading this book- in its entirety- after owning it since July of 2004. Over 12 years!

This is a very in-depth autobiography/ memoir of Bill Clinton's life from birth to 2001. At first, I was frustrated that it appeared to mention everyone he ever met and every policy he ever implemented. As I gave in to the detailed nature of the book though I began to appreciate the opportunity of seeing a president's entire story. It was also a good opportunity to relive the important events of 1992-2000 when I was mostly too young to fully appreciate them.

I went to the book signing on July 7, 2004:

Bill Clinton Book-Signing

You had to go twice, the first time for a bracelet and the second time for the signing. This is me and my friend Julie in 2004 with our copy and our bracelets for the signing.

Bill Clinton Book-Signing

My copy :

Bill Clinton Book-Signing

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