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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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan FromeEthan Frome by Edith Wharton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, it starts out simply- you think it's just a little country story- then there are some serious highs and lows. I'm impressed by Wharton's use of pace. Didn't put it down until I finished it.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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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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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Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Torah: The Five Books of Moses

The Torah: The Five Books of MosesThe Torah: The Five Books of Moses by Anonymous

The Torah is also the first five books of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the Pentateuch. From Wikipedia: Bereshit/Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally "In the beginning"); Shemot /Exodus (שִׁמוֹת, literally "Names"); Vayikra/Leviticus (ויקרא, literally "And He called"); Bəmidbar/Numbers (במדבר, literally "In the desert [of]"); Devarim/Deuteronomy (דברים, literally "Things" or "Words")."

I'm not going to rate or review holy books, but I will mention a few things mostly for my own reference in case I want to return to something specific later.

Genesis has the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and his two wives Leah and Rachel, and finally Joseph. Joseph becomes a big deal in Egypt because he is an effective food administrator.

After Genesis, the other four books are about Moses. Exodus is the most revolutionary. Leviticus has a lot of rules with harsh punishments. Numbers is largely a census that requires some skimming. Deuteronomy is very violent in the beginning, and then becomes a summary of the story of Moses and the rules of Leviticus. And then it becomes very violent again.

Some of the rules are fascinating. We hear about Biblical prohibitions of gay relationships all the time, but sleeping with a man's wife is also punishable by death (that would affect a lot of Congressmen which is perhaps why they are so silent on the matter). If a man rapes an unengaged virgin woman , the rapist must marry her. (But if she was engaged to a man, the rapist must be put to death.) Men may have multiple wives, but he can't disinherit his first born son even if the first born son comes from the wife he doesn't love as much. No wearing linen and wool together. A widow must marry her brother-in-law unless he totally refuses to marry her, which he shouldn't do. There is a harsh punishment for a step-brother and step-sister that marry too, and various other marriages that don't involve blood relations. There are so many more but these stood out in my memory for obvious reasons.

Also, I'm strangley curious about the "Nephilim":

"When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.' The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown." (Genesis 6:1-4, New Revised Standard Version)


"The Lord said to Moses, 'Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites' . . . So they went up and spied out the land . . . And they told him: '. . . Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.' . . . So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, 'The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. 33 There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.'" (Numbers 13:1-2; 21; 27-28; 32-33. New Revised Standard Version).

Numbers (and I think Deuteronomy?) also mention Anak, the Anakim, and the Rephaim.

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Threats by Amelia Gray

ThreatsThreats by Amelia Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well written, interesting, weird, and with a distinct mood through.

[Spoiler alert?] But it's also dark, sad, and a bit unresolved in the end. There are two distinct possibilities which I can support with the text. Maybe even three possibilities.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a short book about the basics of feminism, which the author explains with much humor and kindness.

I especially like when she discusses that oppression based on class does not negate oppression based on gender. To my eyes, though most do not agree with me, the most recent American election played class off gender to the ultimate detriment of the poor, the middle class, and women. It would be great to hear her talk more about how the oppression of one group contributes to the oppression of other groups.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the beginning. It was a 5-star beginning with great characters, and an old but beloved premise- doors to magical worlds! But as the mystery aspect of the book takes off it devolves into a 3-star ending. So I averaged the two ratings.

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