Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval (Caraval, #1)Caraval by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviewing this book is tricky because you will love it or hate it. It's a solidly YA fantasy book. If you like fun and can tolerate purple prose, then you might love this. If you require literary things in it like developed characters and well-written sentences this is probably not for you. For me, it was a fun quick read- and like a combo of The Night Circus and The Hunger Games. I mean that sounds good right? I might even reread it.

The ending felt like a bit of a letdown, and it also felt like kind of a messy wrap-up with some things I couldn't accept. Also, the mystery aspect is a bit of cheat because you can't actually solve the mystery though I understand this is true of most mystery books.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Breathe by Anne-Sophie Brasme

BreatheBreathe by Anne-Sophie Brasme
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting short French novel about Charlene's obsession with an American French girl that is awful to her. There's no surprise in the book, but only a meditation on the obsession. The writing is good and very interesting. It's true though that something is missing- after all Charlene appears to have a mental illness that pre-dates Sarah.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass: Time, Memory, MarriageHourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some good writing. Interesting. She does the Joan Didion repeat repeat repeat again later thing. Doesn't give me much insight into her marriage or marriage in general. Is an interesting meditation on time and memory. Does the repeat repeat repeat thing.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Nudge by Richard H. Thaler

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and HappinessNudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One basic premise, many thoroughly detailed examples. But the examples are super important life examples about investing, insurance, education and as such are pretty interesting. Be warned though, I don't think it really works as a self-help book. It's more about how governments, companies, or other large entities can point people in the right direction of their best decisions.

There's a political/economic bias in the book which the author admits up front, but is neither liberal nor conservative per se, but something Thaler calls "libertarian paternalism." The idea is that people should get a few choices (but not lots of choices that overwhelm them) keeping in mind that they rarely know what's best or act in their own best interest. Libertarian in practice but paternalistic in your mind? Sort of.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

It's Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)It's Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is wonderful. It's honest, raw, and hilarious. The next thing I'm going to say is going to sound like it's not that hilarious, but I swear it is. In rapid succession she had a miscarriage, her father died, and her husband died of cancer. Having been through something similar with both of my parents dying of cancer (they were in their early 60s, I was in my 30s), I could relate to a lot of her feelings and appreciate the sometimes dark humor. Obviously, that's still totally different than what she went through, but she has a whole section on how grief is lonely because it's so different for everyone, and yes, that part is also spot on. Reading the book is like having a friend that really gets it go through the bad stuff with you.

I might be a little OCD, but the chronology in the book was crazy and I couldn't get a handle on what happened when. I'm still not totally sure when the last part of the book took place chronologically, but for me, that was the only small flaw in this nearly perfect memoir.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune (Dune Chronicles #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nearly perfect fantasy-scifi book except for the kind of weird vaguely political ending. I especially enjoyed the numerous strong interesting female characters that play important roles in the action. This is one of those books that when I finally read I regret waiting so long to read.

Also, this is the 100th book I read from my dad's inherited collection.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual EnlightenmentThe Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good simplification and modernization of Buddhism to make it less religious-y for modern readers. (Ie., never mind about rebirth and hungry souls, and what not.) It's in a question-and-answer format which is more effective for this subject than it sounds like it would be.

That said, I think it's a stretch to say the Bible or Christianity is referencing these "enlightenment" frames of mind. Also, the small section on menstruation, not necessary, and hard to take from a man that really has no idea what he's talking about. Wouldn't have loved that part even if a woman wrote it though.

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very funny at times, interesting, and even a little inspiring. Probably more interesting if you've seen Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. I've only watched a season of Scandal, but maybe I'll go back and binge watch Grey's Anatomy. (I also never watched ER, House, Scrubs, or any of the doctor shows except Doogie Howser, and that was a really long time ago!)

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The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

The Genius of BirdsThe Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some reason, I couldn't get through this at all the first time I picked it up, but it was no trouble this time and I flew through it. There is some belaboring in the examples of bird intelligence but overall pretty interesting.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Confession by Leo Tolstoy

A ConfessionA Confession by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tolstoy trying to figure out the meaning of life. Remarkably similar to my own experiences except I never got to be a successful sinful writer. Haha. I don't feel terribly satisfied with the end of his essay or my (same) current status. Hopefully, there's some step after this.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding JoyOption B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is about going through and surviving grief, so in some ways, it came at the perfect time for me. I agree with so much she says about how grief feels and how friends and family should help.

I think part of the issue with this book might be that her view of grief is still pretty limited. She tries to include stories of the immense grief that other people suffer and especially those with less financial advantages than her, but it feels like she still doesn't totally get it in places. For example, while she acknowledges that not everyone can afford to keep their home, pay for childcare in the face of grief, etc. she doesn't meaningfully address these problems. And she appears oblivious to some things that are not in the mourner's control. For example, my friends can't afford to drop everything in their own lives to come help me. Nor do I have other family to step in. She's lucky in so many ways she doesn't even realize. She also only briefly touches on the effect of multiple tragedies on a person. She only briefly touches on the loss of meaning in life. (Maybe Tolstoy for that issue.) She doesn't even seem aware about the possibility of clinical depression hijacking grieving.

Finally, I get that she has to be positive to sell books and also so she doesn't drive people to despair. I get that if she wants to keep her job she has to still appear enthusiastic about her corporation's performance, but who actually cares? Why is this even in a book about grief? No really, who will care a 100 years from now that she worked really hard and made a lot of money? Someone might care that she wrote a wonderful book about grief that helped people, but the focus on the former makes the latter miss the mark a bit.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

What HappenedWhat Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bit of a hodgepodge. More revealing of her personality than her other memoirs, but still not that revealing. Things are a bit out of order sometimes. Mostly a defense. She's frustrated. Most of us are.

She gives a really good summary of what the intelligence agencies have confirmed about the Russian interference in the US 2016 election, along with incredibly suspicious things that she noted that Trump and others in the campaign stated publically.

She was not very gentle with Trump, Putin, Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate Jill Stein, FBI Director James Comey, or television personality Matt Lauer (I refuse to call Lauer a journalist).

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingBlink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is super interesting, but after reading it I am not any smarter than when I started.

"Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant - in the blink of an eye - that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work - in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?"

I don't know!

The psychologist predicts whether a marriage will last has been scientifically studying it for years. The tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault was an expert but just magically started seeing it without knowing why. The antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance had expertise but did so contrary to the science.

But even if you're an expert- don't trust your immediate reaction! All the politicians thought Warren Harding would be a great president and he was terrible. And there is the example of when police make huge instinct-based mistakes that result in them shooting unarmed, innocent civilians. We respond differently if we are subconsciously primed, a thing we fail to notice so we probably can't protect ourselves against.

The whole section on Coke and Pepsi seemed especially irrelevant and boring.

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hard ChoicesHard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a challenge to get through and should have been edited down significantly. Also, it is not really a personal memoir. No shocking revelations here or much personal material at all. It’s primarily a foreign policy book.

That said, it’s a great rundown of foreign policy events from 2008-2012 and sheds a lot of light on current events as well. Clinton gives specific examples around the world of different concerns that the players must weigh and that sometimes conflict: American values, promoting democracy around the world, promoting American economic interests, and promoting peace and security to name a few.

I marked all the countries she discusses at length in tags. But given the current climate, the Russian parts were of special interest to me. Seems like Putin and the Russians have a long list of reasons to dislike Clinton. Since this book was written well in advance of the election interference, the reasons are dispersed throughout the book.

Overall, I have to admire how knowledgeable she is about both foreign and domestic issues, how well she can communicate those issues, and how well she understands the importance of upholding our national values. It was also interesting to see how her disagreements with President Obama were presented in the book, with Obama being the more idealistic leader determined to adhere to these values even more than Clinton. She frequently defended less idealistic and more pragmatic options.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

South and West: From a NotebookSouth and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I get it. She writes beautifully. Her random jottings in a notebook are better than what most people will ever write in their lives even with edits. And I did enjoy meandering through the racist South of the 1970s. But seriously, what was that California/ Patty Hearst mess at the end?

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

Orphans of the SkyOrphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fun idea for science fiction and interesting religious metaphor. People aboard a generational ship forget everything about Earth, science, and technology, and as the areas with windows to the outside are shut off, they forget even that they are on a ship, but begin to think the ship is all of existence. It's a brilliant concept and I would have loved to see how StarTrek (STNG) would have handled it. Unfortunately, Heinlein's version is not very deeply thoughtful. The characters are not developed very deeply, the society is very primitive and extremely stubborn, and most disappointingly, the women never get revenge for all the sexism inflicted on them. The mutated humans are a fun twist, especially since Siamese twins Joe and Jim. While Joe-Jim is not treated with a lot of dignity by other members of the crew, they are accorded a fair amount of respect by Heinlein, at least relative to the other characters.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though this is totally out of date with Facebook, it was still really interesting. It makes you wonder if Gladwell's theory fits with how the Russian ads for Trump were implemented. They were mostly used in the relevant electoral vote swing areas, so they were tailored in a way not described in the book. The "connector" was not a person but the Facebook and Twitter ad technology itself, which according to the book is not supposed to work especially well- especially considering that we are overwhelmed by Facebook and Twitter information. They were definitely "sticky"- racism often is.

Anyway, the book could definitely use an update in the post-social media world. Is everything different now? Or is social media really just like email? I'm thinking everything is different now.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

The Denial of DeathThe Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not a psychology student so perhaps some portion of this is correct? Seems like a lot of it is wrong though. And it definitely doesn't help me with anything.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lot of interesting things to consider, but I can’t swallow the reduction and even near-banishment of suffering as synonymous with slavery. The first clue is when you consider pure slavery is synonymous with suffering. The second clue is that Huxley’s world isn’t a real improvement in suffering, as for example, when we cured polio. No one would legitimately claim we were in any way better off with polio. Instead, Huxley’s world is devoid of true joys like parenting and full of things that bring momentary pleasure like sexual encounters devoid of intimacy and drugs. So in that regard, he fails to sell me.

On the other hand, the Brave New World is more similar to the current world in 2017 than it was in the 1930s when it was written. The dogma of capitalism and positivity as religions does appear to rule our society for the worse. So as pure prediction Brave New World succeeds.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Chemistry by Weike Wang

ChemistryChemistry by Weike Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have an insane crush on this book. I flew through it while stopping only to text people to go read this book now. The science is beautiful. The relationships are real, and touching, and so sad. It's also hilarious. Also, clearly the author is brilliant. I am seriously considering just reading this book again immediately.

Note: I know this sounds like one of those crazy reviews that a friend of an author writes but I never even heard of Weike Wang before I picked up the book and read it.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's LoverLady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, I loved this book, and it felt very modern, but as it continued it was just too much sex and conversations about sex. The first few conversations about sex were interesting in that the woman seemed so real and I was impressed with Lawrence's grasp of a modern woman. But later conversations about sex left me feeling like maybe Lawrence was actually missing the boat entirely. Also, it just became overplayed. The over-emphasis on sex made it feel decidedly not modern.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Totally adequate children's story. Kind of boring, kind of violent. My kids are not especially sensitive when it comes to fiction so I'd let them read it as soon as they were up to the reading level. The ending is good but a bit unsatisfying because "the war" is just beginning so there will be an end after the end of the book, and it probably won't be good.

No idea where this book takes place in space or in time which kind of bugs me. I kept imagining Mason-Dixon area pre-civil war but there's a tractor and a number of other things that make it certain that it's after the civil war. Red foxes are native to North America so I assume Europe is off the list for a possible setting.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the PresentFrom Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I did not especially enjoy reading this which is why I initially gave up after 200 pages. But I hate quitting things, and this is one of my dad's books, so I persisted. It's definitely interesting the way he handles European culture of 500 years, which is too long a time period even for a book this long, but it was a good try.

I initially was thinking 3 stars, but I bumped up my stars when I got to the end and read his summation of more modern history. I wonder how I would have viewed the previous 400-year summaries if I'd read the end first. It's a pretty good summary of life as we know it though it's pretty damning as well.

Finally, another reason for bumping to 4 stars is that I intend to keep the book as a list of "people and things to read about next."

Big demerit for spoiling the plots of many classical books on my to-read shelf! Almost enough to keep me to 3 stars, but I was feeling generous because I was so happy to be finished with this tome.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

All My Sons by Arthur Miller

All My SonsAll My Sons by Arthur Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Woah, super intense and very powerful denunciation of greed. Basically an essay on our responsibility for each other in this world. It was extremely dramatic, as in, very sensational.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Love WarriorLove Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My review isn't entirely about just this book. I read her first book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed first. That one shows her sense of humor more than this one, and based on that one I know I like her and appreciate her take on things. This second book is a better memoir, with a better chronology, story, and better writing. However, if you haven't read the first one like I did, you might think she takes herself a bit too seriously. Having read both, I think the tone of this one is more serious both because she's facing a significant crisis but also because she's revealing a lot more intimate detail about both her and her husband. I think this one is a better memoir, but the other one shows more of the real her, or at least in combination with this one shows more of the real her.

One strange thing is that because of her public nature, everyone knows more about the status of her relationship than this book actually reveals by the end.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My Man Jeeves (Jeeves, #1)My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute and funny. Really a love letter to Jeeves. This is like a melon ball shot on top of my reading binge.

Most of it takes place in New York City, but it has this fun mocking quote about Long Island which is still mostly true 100 years later: "The days down on Long Island have forty-eight hours in them; you can't get to sleep at night because of the bellowing of the crickets; and you have to walk two miles for a drink and six for an evening paper. I thanked Rocky for his kind hospitality, and caught the only train they have down in those parts. It landed me in New York about dinner-time."

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Friday, October 20, 2017

The I Ching or Book of Changes by Anonymous

The I Ching or Book of ChangesThe I Ching or Book of Changes by Anonymous

This is the strangest book yet. It’s an ancient choose your own adventure prophesy book. The prophesy are written in the form of indecipherable aphorisms. Perhaps a lot is lost in translation.

“If you abandon jaws of it all and good fortune will prevail...”

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lots of great points, but I don’t think it makes a well-unified thesis. Care only about the important things, and not about the things that aren’t important.

Okay, I’m with you so far. But how do we determine what’s important?

Well, we’re going to die and only the conceptual self will survive.

Okay, great, so focus on that?

No, give up your conceptual self and just accept the annihilation of the self, but still do good for others.

Unfortunately, I think this kind of unclear thesis often happens when the self-help writer isn’t an expert in anything in particular. His philosophy touches on Buddhism but I suspect Marc Manson is not an expert in that either. Nonetheless, a few powerful thoughts can definitely alter some people’s lives for the better or at least put them on a better path.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life UnarmedCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a collection of essays on accepting yourself and others rather than an actual memoir, though we do learn a lot about the author in her essays. The essays are inspiring and she has some very good points about parenting and religion.

From a memoir aspect, we get an incomplete view of who the people in her life story are. To some extent, we learn about the author herself, but most of the other people are presented as somewhat flat. How am I to resolve who her husband is for example? He models and cheats on Glennon for years without confessing but also agrees to give all their money away to charities twice in their marriage. I just have no sense of who this person is or why he does the things he does. Same for "Sister" and her parents. She wrote a sequel and I think I heard it fills in these blanks more, so I look forward to reading that.

Overall, I agree that her bravery in honesty is probably helping a lot of people.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

1984 by George Orwell

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For whatever reasons, I was assigned this book 3 times in high school and have read it at least 2 times since then, making this the book that I've read the most times in my life. I don't enjoy the novel enough for it to be my most read book- it's just a bad accident. Alternatively, maybe I read it for the same reasons that terrifying local news gets such high ratings.

Here's one thing Orwell didn't anticipate, in the modern world everyone wants to be constantly surveilled on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Goodreads, and YouTube. (Me too.) In the modern world, The Ministry of Truth still resides in Russia but pumps in their "truths" via these same social media channels. (Are they on Goodreads? Are they giving 1984 bad reviews on account of poor characterization?) There's no time to read anyway because everyone is watching reality television. The Real Housewives of Doublethink. In the modern world, the government doesn't care if everyone hates the government because they don't need your vote just your money. In the modern world, we hardly have time for thought crimes because we're constantly fighting incorrect bills and insurance companies.

Winston's job is especially quaint. In the modern world, there's no need to falsify history or the news. Not enough people care about the ample evidence of the actual truth. Anyone can just wave away the truth, claim any unsubstantiated nonsense, and enough Congressmen and civilians will follow in step. The rest of us can just scream into our social media. It's so much simpler really.

Yes, I know I'm being dramatic.

On the other hand: “She did not feel the abyss opening beneath her feet at the thought of lies becoming truths.” - Orwell

I do, Orwell! I feel the abyss. This abyss needs to be updated though because it’s gotten much bigger: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2...

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Way of the Bodhisattva by Śāntideva

The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the BodhicharyavataraThe Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the Bodhicharyavatara by Śāntideva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some interesting things to think about. Some weird stuff. Short but dense. Read it because Dan Harris said Dalai Lama recommended it. Hm.

I was particularly interested in some (accidental?) overlap with Christianity (love thy enemy) and modern particle physics.

As one reviewer mentioned, this is definitely not an introductory text for Buddhism but a more advanced book, and despite the previous Buddhism books I've read, a substantial amount was probably just above my head.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some spoilers ahead.

First, my current mental state. I lost my father 7 years ago. He was 61, and I was 31 at the time. Last week- but it feels like a million terrible years - I lost my mother. She was 60, and I am now an old-feeling 38. My parents didn't have any other children, and I have virtually no family left from my childhood. I say this in part because it feels weird that I haven't told my "Goodreads friends" but also because it strongly affected how I responded to this book.

I picked this book up knowing it had a romantic component and hoping to take my mind off things with a Jane Austen-like repressed love. Nope. Steven's father dies. Kenton's maternal-figure aunt dies leaving her with no family. Rip. My. Heart. Out.

Then it just gets worse. Just like real life! Very sad, very moving, and real.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

3:16 by Max Lucado

3:16: The Numbers of Hope3:16: The Numbers of Hope by Max Lucado
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is helpful if you don't know the basic premise of Evangelical Christianity. If you're already an Evangelical, you will probably enjoy this book like a warm hug or comfort food. If you don't fit either of those categories this book probably won't enlighten or persuade you (even if you're looking to be persuaded) as there isn't much substance to it.

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10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a surprisingly wonderful book! I picked this up by accident because I thought it was a popular science book about the phenomenon of our happiness set point and the small change we're able to make to those set points. A few pages in, I realized I was reading a memoir about a news anchor who was not the kind of person I find it easy to relate to usually. I checked on Goodreads and saw some not-so-positive reviews, and I almost gave up reading the book. I'm so glad I didn't.

The author first takes us on his journalistic investigation of religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, which then leads to his own spiritual quest. He skeptically interviewed some self-help gurus. He then went off in a different direction by examining Buddhism. This leads to a significant portion of the book examining the practice, purpose, and pitfalls of mindfulness and meditation. All the while, the author is describing how his quest helped him grow as a person, and I realized how much I can and do connect with the author.

I'm not sure if I could have totally understood the value of this book two years ago, but since then I've also regularly practiced (with some inconsistency) and read widely about meditation. This is one of my new favorite books about meditation. Harris has a very non-guru approach which was very refreshing to me because I am also not a meditation guru. He had every skeptical thought I had in my early learning process, but more importantly, he addressed problems that I had not yet resolved in my own practice. He provided information that was new to me despite the books I've read about meditation and mindfulness, and this has encouraged me to go back to practicing more regularly and possibly for longer sessions. I think I also want to go to one of those multi-day meditation retreats now.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Capitalism by Ayn Rand

Capitalism: The Unknown IdealCapitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I did not give this 4 stars because I agree with most of it or even half of it. I gave it 4 stars because I do think she did a good job of conveying her ideas, and the essays made me think about my views and examine whether they were based on faulty assumptions. Also, I found this book much easier and more entertaining than other Rand books I've read.

Here are just a few issues I had with Rand's ideas. She seems to willfully ignore basic economic concepts such as the tragedy of the commons. ToC is basically the worst world-wide threat right now. Global climate change invalidates so many of her arguments right off the bat. She ignores how money can generate more money without any innovation or hard work. Modern research in the irrationality of man also disproves many of her arguments. Her arguments against anti-trust laws can be effortlessly dismissed by anyone who has previously paid for cable or an internet connection. I think she terribly discounts the good that labor unions have done for working people. Now that labor unions have lost power in many industries I think we've all felt some of the negative effects both in the economy, politics and in loss of our leisure time, though we may not all associate it with that cause. And OMG did she honestly try to make an argument in favor of child labor? That's when you know that unfettered capitalism has really jumped the shark. As an aside, her attack on altruism is diametrically opposed to both Christianity and the current science of happiness.

There were also interesting parts that challenged me to think - and occasionally I even agree with some things. For example, I agree that many government subsidies are a horror. I have long had an intense dislike of the corn subsidy and its terrible results for both our economy and health. Nor am I a fan of train subsidies. Clearly, the price point for trains should be in between buses and airplanes? Yet trains often cost the same or more as a flight. I am also interested in Rand's argument about unemployment being related to government interference in the market. That seems plausible when government interference in immigration is considered, but I don't know enough about the research and numbers - and a fully mobile world labor market doesn't seem likely anytime soon. She appears to be mostly right about the hypocrisy of both political parties with regards to religion and reason.

Rand makes the argument that it's not true that too much of a good thing is always bad, and that's correct that it's not ALWAYS true. But it is sometimes true. (Even excessive water consumption can kill you.) I don't think she succeeded in proving that unfettered capitalism is better than capitalism with regulation.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at HomeThe Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave it only 4 stars because there is a lot of overlap with Arely's other book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. In particular, I think Predictably Irrational also addressed how high wages or bonuses are demotivating, how the "Sisyphean condition" at work is demotivating, and how we overvalue our own work.

I really enjoyed the new sections on adaption, "assortative mating" which is economist talk for hot people pairing up together, dating inefficiencies and how to potentially make them more efficient, and the joys of consumer revenge (though I'm certain that's not how Ariely would describe that section). There was also an interesting section on how we tend to follow our own example. Once we have behaved a particular way, we view our choices so positively that we continue to behave in that way. Mind-bending.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

This Boy's LifeThis Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent memoir but had to withhold a star for the pitiless discussion of 15-year-old Miss Flood. What a horror.

Favorite quote:
"When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we alone, of all the people ever born, have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever."
- Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for GodotWaiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even if this is deep, and I'm not actually totally sure that it is, it wasn't particularly enjoyable to me. I know this sounds like "I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can't dance to it." - Dead Poets Society. Nonetheless, I'll stick with my view for now.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

Al Franken, Giant of the SenateAl Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't read this for the sake of humor. This book isn't as funny as Lies & the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair & Balanced Look at the Right. Instead, you should read this book if you're interested in a somewhat candid look at the work of a U.S. Senator. While Franken admits he is not fully candid, I think this is as close as you'll get from a politician because Franken has a very non-politician bent in his governing style. When he ran for office he was an outsider and so he's able to see the process with outsider's eyes as an ordinary American might.

Also gives a nice in-depth and humorous look at some of the things that make Ted Cruz so awful he's even disliked by his own party.

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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) BodyHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This memoir is both very interesting and very moving. I could relate to a lot of what she wrote about since nearly every woman in America struggles with weight loss (even the thin ones seem to stress about it). There were also many things about life in the BMI numbers above overweight and obese that I was unaware of and therefore perhaps not sensitive to - for example, some of the accommodations that are necessary. I like Gay's collection Bad Feminist, but I think this memoir is even stronger.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I avoided this book for a while despite numerous recommendations because I have friends and I wasn't particularly interested in manipulating people. However, I read a particularly good recommendation recently (possibly in the Bill Bryson book Home?) and I decided to bite the bullet and read it.

Rather than being morally dubious as I suspected, I think the book gave a lot of good advice on how best to be a kind, considerate, thoughtful human being. Yes, it also gave advice on how to convince other people of your point, but I think mostly by following some of the same advice regarding showing other people respect.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

All the President's MenAll the President's Men by Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having not lived through Watergate it's really interesting to read the book and see how revelations came out little by little, and how ugly the coverup became eventually.

On the other hand, the focus of the book is on the drama and proper practice of journalism though, and if you're not familiar with all the people in the Nixon administration this book can get a little dull in places. Nixon figures very little in the book.

Obviously, I picked this book because I expected to find parallels to the current political climate under Trump. There were many differences- especially that Nixon was very popular at the time of this scandal- but there were also some similarities I didn't know about. The attacks on journalism and journalists, in particular, were strikingly similar. However, to my knowledge, Trump has not yet threatened the lives of any journalists, just his opposition candidate.

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The Upanishads by Anonymous

The Upanishads: Translations from the SanskritThe Upanishads: Translations from the Sanskrit by Anonymous

As a rule, I don't rate Holy Books. I will say this is more the sort of thing one would expect from a holy book if you were imagining the concept from scratch. The philosophy here overlaps a bit with Buddhism. It also does not depend purely on reasoning, as the philosophy can be better understood through the practical application of meditation. Not all of it makes great sense to me, but I'm not a great Yogi, so I wouldn't expect it to anyway.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 (Catch-22, #1)Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really torn about this one. There are many great sentences that highlight the absurdities of life. But I just didn't care about any of the characters or anything they cared about. The story itself fell flat for me too. And the very anti-war theme was a bit unsettling in a World War II setting.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw

Major BarbaraMajor Barbara by George Bernard Shaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Talk about unreliable narrators! The characters' intentions are a muddle, and this is surely done intentionally. The debate about good versus evil and Christianity versus capitalism is crystal clear and deeply depressing. Nothing changes in history.

Andrew Undershaft is pretty explicitly an antichrist figure. The Jesus of the Bible is clear about morality vis-à-vis poverty and wealth. I think Barbara represents most people- knowing it's all wrong but drawn to the allure of it nonetheless. Not to mention that while Undershaft could make his arguments with wealth from any industry and be more convincing, Shaw makes his industry the weapons industry, the business of which is literally to kill as many humans as possible. This makes Undershaft's arguments almost impossible to accept. I think Shaw made that choice on purpose.

I don't really see the play as anti-Christian just because Andrew Undershaft appears to prevail. I thought of it as having characters presenting two views. The expression for presenting an argument you don't necessarily agree with is "Devil's Advocate" for a reason... there are always great arguments against goodness or God, not that those are always the same thing in a debate.

I guess between Andrew's argument, and Shaw's little sticky points- I'm not persuaded by Andrew. The little sticky points being: Andrew makes the tools of war, Andrew doesn't pretend to care about charity at the beginning but then later uses it to win Barbara to his side, Barbara seems moved to Andrew's side more by greed than a continued desire to do good (though I'm not completely certain here), and Cusin's general spinelessness. And at the end, we're uncertain if Barbara has lost her soul or not.

It might just be a spoof on both sides and on society in general. Perhaps Shaw's view is: You can live in wretched poverty or destroy everything with civilization. Pick your poison.

Definitely the kind of play that's worth rereading for me. Lots to think about.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3)The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is my favorite of the trilogy so far. So many of these epic fantasy books focus on an adventure story about the struggle between good and evil, but this one also focuses heavily on the struggle of life, the fear of death, and how death plays a role in "the balance." It is a unique perspective and maybe a commentary on religion? In Earthsea, there is no magic without death and the afterlife has a noticeable Buddhist influence.

Of course, Earthsea might not have anything to do with Earth, but it's clear that either way, Le Guin makes an argument for the necessity of death. This argument isn't totally developed in the book which is disappointing because modern science is really seeking life-extension technologies and even cures for death (see studies on telomeres, attempts to record human consciousness in computers, along with all of Google's anti-death projects).

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

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