Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Bartleby the ScrivenerBartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This a wonderful story, beautifully written, but wow. Is it about mental illness in a time when all its permutations were unknown? Is it, as suggested by the sentence, "I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is best," a treatise on how a man may self-deceive himself about his own flaws by attributing them to his piety? Or is it a symbolic pitting of a Taoist against a Christian?

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Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon - April 2017

Wrap up time! I read 5 short books during the readathon in addition to spending time with my family at Miranda's soccer practice, James's t-ball game, and cooking out on our deck. A wonderful day! My favorite book of the readathon was definitely Coraline. I read a total of 687 pages! My reviews for all the books are below.

38 pp
184 pp
64 pp
239 pp
162 pp

Readathon April 2017

My original TBR pile was Moonraker (which I started pre-readathon), The Soft Machine, and TInkers. The only one of those I read was The Soft Machine, so I'm going to try to wrap up Moonraker today, and start Tinkers this week.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My last read for the spring Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon. A perfect children's book that's exciting and fun for adults too. It's about bravery, loyalty, family, and love. A classic! Can't wait until James (and then Miranda) is old enough to read it and appreciate it.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

King Henry VI, Part 3 by William Shakespeare

King Henry VI, Part 3King Henry VI, Part 3 by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Finally read part 3, although not as good as Part 1 and 2. It's a lot of war, politics, and intrigue without the delightful details that set apart Part 1 and Part 2. Probably enough war, politics, and intrigue these days in real life to suffice for all of us lately.

Love free classics on Kindle though! I know it's only hour 15 of the readathon, but it's bedtime. No promises I get up early enough to finish another one. #readathon

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The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The GrownupThe Grownup by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this because I'm doing a readathon today and it's really short. But it's hilarious, terrifying, and kind of awesome. Unfortunately it's not without a little bit of a plot hole, but it's forgivable. I can't say what it is without spoiling the story though but we can discuss if you read it.

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The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe

The Murders in the Rue MorgueThe Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Just... not good. It's Poe's version of Sherlock Holmes or something. Bad.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very quick enjoyable read. Even though I knew what would happen, it was beautifully written. A very modern and unique story.

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Walden by Henry David Thoreau

WaldenWalden by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this my sophomore year in high school, and then subsequently went on a field trip with my class to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. I'm not sure how much I appreciated it then, but I recently reread it and it's clear that I couldn't totally appreciate it as a child. I love it as an adult. Thoreau seeks and achieves real freedom. But, Thoreau is the original Konmari. He has no kids and lives alone... even in those circumstances it's pretty hard to live like this, but his points are still worth thinking about.

My friend and I in front of Walden Pond, May 1995

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beyond the overall messages, which are themselves very well communicated, there are so many brilliant gems in this short book. The letter at the beginning is wonderful, and a good introduction to the rest. Then there's a very autobiographical section which is interesting, but the second half of the book is my favorite portion. I didn't put it down until I was done and it was well worth rereading.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's CradleCat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I loved every minute of it. It's a masterpiece about science, religion, literature, war and human destruction.

    Tiger got to hunt,
    Bird got to fly;
    Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?"
    Tiger got to sleep,
    Bird got to land;
    Man got to tell himself he understand.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Worlds at War by Anthony Pagden

Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and WestWorlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West by Anthony Pagden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was interesting but crazy. Obviously, over 2000 years is a lot to cover in one book. I was oftentimes lost in the early history section because I didn't have a lot of background in the historical players, and sometimes I wasn't even sure which one Pagden was referencing when he said "he." Even though his thesis about the difficulty and incompatibility of Islam with modern secularism has to rely heavily on more modern times, the Epilogue begins in 1991. Of course, it makes sense he has to rush through history if he's going to cover all that time to make a bigger over-arching point, but why does he spend so much time talking about Napolean and Lawrence of Arabia?

He touches on the problem of fanatical religions generally, and there is no shortage of fanatics in Christianity- historically or today- but he offers no good explanation for why there's been a big difference in the development of secular societies. If President Bush wasn't slowed down by Jesus's statement to render onto Caesar what is his, then how big an impact did that one sentence really make?

I gave it 4 stars mainly because I liked reading about 2000 years in such a (relatively speaking) short book.

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nonfiction, 2000-09, author-male, dads-books, history, politics, greece, iran, iraq, afghanistan, law, slavery, war, islam, christianity, religion, syria, turkey, serbia, sexism, president-wilson, israel, palestine, france, england

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just reread this, and I'm impressed by how nearly perfect it is. It's amazing that I read this for the first time as a teen and that it's also perfect to read as an adult.

It's upsetting that we haven't come further than we have in 50 years. Progress is too slow.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Wheat Belly by William Davis

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to HealthWheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts out simply but becomes more medically complex as you read on. I almost gave up after the first few chapters because I felt that I got it, don't eat wheat. Later chapters filled in the numerous diseases and conditions that Davis believes are related to wheat consumption and discusses his evidence for that relationship. It's persuasive even if I'm not convinced by the science aspect of it- probably because there are still insufficient studies on many of the connections he cites.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, Vol. 1Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe 3.5 but I like to round up. Interesting world and entertaining story, but some of it was weird in a bad way (head and legs only prostitutes). Also, very violent.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live WellThe Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is itself hygge. It was fun and relaxing to read, with cute little illustrations throughout, and I finished it in about the time I would spend with friends in an evening. I also wore comfy pants while reading it.

The author is a happiness researcher so everything he writes accords with things I've read about the happiness studies, but there's a different angle he explores here, and lots of things very particular to the Danish people. Worth the short read for sure.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Without Conscience by Robert D. Hare

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among UsWithout Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was written in the 1990s, so there's a lot of new science on the topic. I recommend reading this along with The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon- but possibly start with that one. That one will give you the basic science known today, and the author is a functioning psychopath himself who gives a lot of insight into his personality.

This one focuses more on criminal psychopaths because those are the people that more often come to the attention of specialized experts though there are some mentions of more functional psychopaths. It's very heavy on personal accounts of psychopaths and their crimes which certainly keeps the book entertaining but is a little low on the actual science for my taste, perhaps because as previously mentioned there was just less known on the topic in the 1990s.

I think it's important to understand that there's this group of individuals at large in society (and likely heavily rewarded in business and politics) that just aren't subject to the same rules of empathy as the rest of us. Certainly, a lot of non-psychopath people can be emotionally damaged or even assholes for no reason at all, but this complete lack of empathy or authentic feeling is unique and especially dangerous in both criminal and successful noncriminal psychopaths.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Failed States by Noam Chomsky

Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on DemocracyFailed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy by Noam Chomsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise of this book is that America is no great hero of democracy at home or abroad. While Chomsky makes his case, the book is so heavy-handed and doesn't examine counterarguments or nuances. We are to believe all our leaders are evil or sold out completely? While I agree with his ideas and policy aims, I think the reality of being a political leader is a lot more complicated.

The best chapter was Chapter 6 about all the ways that we're undermining democracy at home. Of course, some intellectuals argue that increased democracy is not what we need, but leaders that are independent of special interests. Special interests might always have an edge in a democracy with free speech, even if the influence of direct money on politics were limited. Chomsky doesn't examine any of these differing views.

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Other tags: Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Venezuela, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sudan

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

March: Book Three by John Lewis

March: Book Three (March, #3)March: Book Three by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a phenomenal book and a phenomenal series. This should definitely be required reading in high school. Understanding civil rights history is critical to understanding so many problems with current day American democracy, and for those that don't already understand it couldn't be clearer than this.

But even for people who do understand it, this is a really moving and powerful account.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About ItWhy We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The substance of what this says is not surprising; it largely agrees with the Atkins or Paleo diet. However, the argument and scientific citations are highly persuasive, and the book is very readable.

I'd recommend reading this book along with The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off by Krista Varady and The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly EverythingA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It's a very entertaining history of scientific discoveries in physics, chemistry, geology, meteorology, biology, oceanography, anthropology, and evolution. Bryson attempts to familiarize the reader with the actual science as well, and not just the history. Most of the new things I learned were in the weather section- or if I'd learned them before I'd long ago forgotten them. I borrowed this from the library but I enjoyed it enough that I just bought my own copy.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

DodgersDodgers by Bill Beverly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was well-written and solid. It dragged a little in places and at times it felt like too much of a guy's book (if that even makes sense?). The character of Ty did not make a lot of sense to me. There were also some plot points that didn't make sense to me. But overall, I was satisfied with it when I finished reading it.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of EgoismThe Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism by Ayn Rand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Note: Objectivism is deeply anti-Christianity, and anti-religion in general. You should not trust a politician that claims that he is both a Christian and a believer in the philosophies of Ayn Rand. He does not understand either Christianity or Objectivism, or possibly both, or he's a huge liar.

That said, this book isn't really what it sounds like. It's a collection of essays by Ayn Rand and Nathanial Branden that are not pro-heathenism per se. Rand and Branden try to explain how the philosophy of objectivism is that individuals need to think through their own rational system of morals and ethics. That's a good start. The problem is that a lot of the points in Rand's essays are either not logically sound or based on incorrect premises. (And I was pretty bored by Branden's sycophantic essays.) It's like swimming through mud.

For one thing, Rand refers a great deal to biological examples, and she repeatedly gets biology wrong. Obviously, she's not a biological scientist, and we know more today about biology than in the 1960s, but she premises her ethics arguments on the natural world- and her basis is incorrect. She believes that living creatures are driven primarily by continuing to live- that life (and the avoidance of pain) is the fundamental value of the natural world. That's only sort of true. The natural world is more driven by reproduction which means that animals regularly act on behalf of other related animals. Even on a cellular level there's the theory now that mitochondria used to be a separate free-living organism that combined with other organisms (endosymbiosis theory). Her idea that humans are emotionally and ethically tabula rasa when they are born isn't scientifically supported either. These are just a few examples, she gets a number of her points about science and animals either factually wrong or logically wrong. It reminds me of the absurd co-opting of evolutionary principals for political "Social Darwinism" nonsense.

As for her logical failures, (though I'm sure that some American Republicans agree with her) she makes no rational distinction between armed robbery, confiscation of all your property in a communist system, and taxation. She makes no distinction between altruism generally and complete self-sacrifice. Her views on love collapse into such total nonsense that arguing against them would require an entire treatise. She also incorrectly predicted many of the results of capitalism so this makes her arguments for unhindered capitalism look obviously foolish.

I do appreciate her condemnation of people's failure to engage in the pursuit of knowledge and reason. I also enjoyed her condemnation of communism.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin

Rocannon's WorldRocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent little sci-fi space opera/fantasy book. Ursula Le Guin invented the word ansible!

Starts with Semley who travels space to get back her family's necklace in a foreign museum. She doesn't realize that her short trip means missing many years on her technologically backward home planet. On her home planet, there are three races: elvish Fiia, the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar, and warrior clan, Liuar. Underground, the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar are technologically advanced -- though the spaceship Semley borrows from them was an alien gift. The rest of the story is pretty much the adventure of Gaverel Rocannon, an ethnologist who previously met Semley at the museum.

I think I might reread this one after I've read other ones in the series because I kept getting distracted while reading the end. The flying cats alone should make it worth another go, right?

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High Price by Carl Hart

High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and SocietyHigh Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society by Carl Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About 60% memoir (very good interesting memoir) and 40% the science of drug effects that the author researches professionally. Super interesting and thoughtful book that will probably change the way you think about drug abuse, though I think it's a better memoir than it is a science book.

As a science book, there is a little more to be desired. I've read previous accounts of Rat Park and other such studies, but the author only mentions them in passing without fully explaining the study and the implications for humans and drug laws and policy. I followed what he was getting at because I've read other related books, but I'm not sure if he provides enough information if someone is coming to this without previous reading on the topic. Also, I would have appreciated more information about Adderall in general since it is often used to treat children. With regards to the actual science, the personal account is a little irrelevant, especially since the author is stressing how useless anecdotes of "monstrous" drug users are when assessing the real effects of drugs. Well, that works both ways, his personal accounts how he managed to create a life for himself isn't specifically relevant to the examination of drugs, except that he became a drug researcher and his viewpoint with regards to the racism behind the drug policies. But that doesn't require a full memoir to convey.

As for the memoir, kind of sexist. I could have lived with fewer references to "chasing pussy." I understand he's trying to explain the perspective of his friends and family in the memoir, but he didn't exactly disown or condone this perspective in any way. I don't think it's so blatant that it will destroy interest in the memoir, but it might be a lot for some readers.

Overall, a good book worth reading: interesting from start to finish, a good memoir, and decent science book.

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