I’m trying really hard to get a full book each week this semester and so far, that’s been working out for me. That trend might be coming to an end soon, between my new Science subscription and the end of the snow dayz… we’ll see.
Regardless, this week’s book was an interesting application of psychology focused on medical professionals (doctors, nurses, surgeons, etc.) As someone who isn’t in the medical profession, I must admit I don’t typically think about the impacts of emotion and emotion regulation on my doctors. But Dr Ofri’s book deals directly with this issue, addressing questions such as: does the stress of the medical education process positively or negatively impact doctors’ abilities to connect to and treat patients? when a doctor makes an (inevitable) mistake, how does the process let them heal alongside the patient and/or the patient’s family?
I first bought this book on a whim of sorts over Thanksgiving, and Claire – who studies psychology – borrowed it over break. She loved it so much that it quickly rose to the top of my reading list. If I’m being honest, I think she liked it a lot more than I did, probably because of the psychology aspect. I didn’t dislike What Doctors Feel – it was well written, interesting, and certainly informative. But I also didn’t love it. I’d strongly recommend it as a book for people interested in psychology, or the medical profession. It definitely taught me many things, and gave me a new insight to the real world of doctors. It also explains why I don’t like my primary care physician very much… we operate on different wavelengths.
Anyway, this book gets a “meh.” I’ve got nothing against it, but nothing about it strikes me as phenomenal. Last week’s book, on the other hand, is still burning holes through my mind.
It’s been a while since I even thought about actually typing up a book review, mostly because I’ve been too busy reading. I just finished Winter Break, during which I read 3,300 pages (13 books) and I’ve already nearly finished another. Nonetheless, family asked over break why I’m not more consistent with my books (by family, I mean brother…) and so we’ll see what we can do.
I considered writing a bunch of reviews of books I’ve already finished, and then just publishing them one by one, but that feels like cheating to me. The whole idea of TBTW was to write about the books as I read them, and I’d like to stick to that. But I also respect the need for reviews, so here are some mini-reviews for the books I read over break. I’m officially accepting requests; I’ll write one or two TBTW’s by the end of January based on requests from you, fabulous readers, of which book(s) you’d like to know more about.
The Winter Break List:
The 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart: This was a book I finished over break and then promptly gave to my dad for Christmas. Interesting discussion that ranges from geometry to computer science and everywhere in between. Definitely recommend for anyone who likes math/science or who is vaguely interested in how it relates to our world. You don’t need a subject background, but it helps. (I liked the chem and physics chapters significantly more that the comp sci chapters, for example.)
The Martian, Andy Weir: Unless you’re an English teacher or less than 13 years old, yes! yes! yes! Accept the initial premise that there are humans on Mars, and this instantly becomes a wonderful book with incredibly accurate science about how he survives on the red planet. Not recommended for children because of intense language.
10:04, Ben Lerner: Meh. Interesting structure – the book starts in the middle of the protagonist’s life and ends in the middle of his life and nothing much of interest happens, much like my life, your life, and pretty much anyone’s life. Two stars.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas: Given to me by my neighbor, this is an old children’s story. It’s sweet, enjoyable, but already out of season until next December, I suppose.
The Madame Curie Complex, Julie des Jardins: I got this book when the author came to speak at Tufts; she has an incredible knowledge of the history of women in science, and that certainly shows in this book. A series of mini-biographies of women who have been essentially written out of history, it starts with an explanation of how history has blown Madame Curie into epic, and unobtainable proportions, before revealing the negative impacts of that female-scientist mythology on later scientists, including the Harvard Observatory women and Jane Goodall.
Maidenhair, Mikhail Shishkin: Hailed as the next Dostoevsky, Shishkin certainly has a tight writing style. This book, his debut, follows four unnamed characters through multiple time periods in modern European history. Throughout the last third of the novel, the beginning comes back, and it makes you want to immediately go back to page one and look for the connections. Definitely a book that requires serious analysis, but also a book that I’d probably enjoy seriously analyzing.
Countdown to Zero Day, Kim Zetter: This is the non-fictional, and yet incredibly suspenseful, account of the US government’s Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Tracking both the history and the aftereffects, Zetter effectively weaves explanation, intrigue, a bit of fear, and some discovery into a well-written jaunt through the first cyber-attack (that we know of).
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson: Not a new book, but new to me, this may have been my favorite of all the books I read over break. It is set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and tracks both the head architect and a serial killer living next door to the fair itself. I learned all sorts of new facts. (Did you know this was where the first ever Ferris wheel was built, which was designed by Mr. Ferris, and widely considered impossibly dangerous until nobody died?) It was also suspenseful, interesting, and accurate. Definitely a book to recommend.
The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami: This book confuses me. First, it was published in Japanese something like a decade ago, and then the translation was hailed as an “explanation” of Murakami’s interwoven worlds. This is patently false, although it probably sold a lot of books. This one is short (approx. 60 pages) and filled with illustrations, which makes it feel like a children’s book. The simplicity of plot and lack of many of Murakami’s common features (including a distinct lack of sex) also supports that assertion. It was good, though.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami: This is the most recent of Murakami’s works, and you can tell – his language remains mature and in line with his other later works. Nonetheless, the plot seems simple and the language loose, as if a publisher was forcing the author himself or perhaps the translator to bring the book to market quickly, probably in time for the holiday season. A good book, but not his best.
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion: One of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, and a great way to start off my 2015, but also surprisingly potent, a bit emotional, and probably a good book for anyone to read. A professor with Asperger’s sets out to find a wife, and discovers Rosie. This novel chronicles his ups and downs, his challenges, and his ability to conform to society. I’d definitely recommend this one.
The Power of Noticing, Max Bazerman: Boring! Unless you enjoy reading pretentious Harvard professors telling you the same thing over and over again for a couple hundred pages, this is probably not the book for you. Here, I’ll give you the gist: Question everything, especially your own assumptions, and always assume you don’t have all the information you need. Then question that. There, have a good day!
Fever, Mary Beth Keane: For anyone who read and liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is a good book. The story of Typhoid Mary, it is historical fiction (not journalistic history) told very well. Perhaps, between this book and Devil in the White City, I’m starting to fall for the historical fiction genre. Once again, I learned a lot about Mary that I didn’t know before, and I have a slightly different view not of her, but of the NYC police that failed to deal with her amicably. Recommend.
I’ve now had two days of classes, and I’ve had at least one class meeting of every class but one. (That one is just on Mondays…) I couldn’t be more excited about them; I’m pretty happy with that fact, since I can’t really drop any of them or anything like that. I’m already learning oh so much, but I can’t help but sharing the few things that I’ve learned and really enjoyed.
First of all, I’ve installed a dictionary app on my phone, which means when I’m reading or my friends are reading, I look up the new words. Not only new words, but also words I know in context but have never actually looked up to get a sense of the nuances. Just today, I’ve looked up five words. Think of it as GRE studying (even though I’m not taking the GRE). Or just living life.
- Ineffable – too great, powerful, beautiful, etc. to be described
- Heady – causing feelings of excitement or dizziness
- Lumpen – of or relating to dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified
- Trenchant – very strong, clear, and effective
- Chicanery – actions or statements that trick people into believing something that is not true, deception or trickery
In addition to the words, and the Chinese and Japanese history, (interestingly, I am currently studying Japanese history in my Political Science class, where we are looking at the beginnings of Japanese-American interactions, but I am also studying general Japanese history in my Japanese class in Japanese, of course) I am also learning little pieces of African wisdom in my Dance class. Like these:
Energy is like wisdom – the more you use, the more you get.
Listen now, hear me later.
I’ve also been reading a lot (60+ pages so far today) and setting up my house. I’ve discovered that the necessary steps to living an independent life, like making and cleaning up after meals, keeping the house clean, etc. take more time when you don’t have parents and siblings to fall back on. Life is a lot easier when one person cooks and someone else cleans…
Life is busier than I expected, but I’ll continue posting as much as I can!
I’ve been working on this book for almost a month now (three weeks, actually), and I’ve finally given up. Thrown in the towel. Bid it adieu. I hate giving up on a book, because I feel like I’m letting someone down – myself? the author? the characters? my middle school lit teacher? Who knows. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t stopped reading a book partway through for months, years, maybe even forever. But this book is 437 pages long, and I am officially done at page 215. Page 215. I didn’t even make it halfway.
But the half I did read, I didn’t enjoy. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge a book by its title either. The reality is that this adage goes both ways. Sometimes boring titles and boring covers hide fascinating books within, and sometimes intriguing titles with interesting covers are actually incredibly boring.
That isn’t exactly what happens in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. The book isn’t boring. In fact, it is actually quite interesting. But the main character, Eggers himself (this is a memoir), is an angry young adult, filled with frustration and desires and confusion about the future. In many ways, it should be relatable to any young adult, anyone who had their parents stolen from them at a young age, anyone who dealt with not knowing what their future holds, anyone with a sibling, especially a younger brother. So pretty much anyone, including myself. After all, I am a young adult – almost exactly the age of the narrator. I have a younger brother, I have no idea what my future holds.
It started out with such promise. The introduction advises you to not read the preface, for there is “no overwhelming need,” as “it exists mostly for the author.” The preface itself is full of sarcasm, but in a manageable amount. It was written as a preface to this addition, written years after Eggers wrote the memoir itself, and written as the sassy Dave Eggers of today, not as the sassy 20-something year-old Dave Eggers. Perhaps, if the entire book was written this way, I would have loved it, and read it within a few days. Because the preface, about 20 pages long, kept me sitting at the breakfast counter with a half eaten piece of toast in front of me.
I enjoyed the first 100 pages or so, when there was a plot of sorts and our narrator’s frustrations with his father, his mother, their deaths, and his siblings were understandable. When it made sense, when he was taking the time he needed to figure stuff out. And yet, in much the same way I absolutely hated Holden Caulfield’s angst, I cannot stand Eggers’ continuous hatred of the world, his shallowness, or even his inability to clean up the dinner plates. He wants to set a better example for his younger brother Toph than his alcoholic father did, and that shouldn’t be hard. But I can’t help but feeling he is failing in that; instead he is a stereotypical immature 20-something year old man.
Even so, I can’t help but be impressed by the writing in this novel. I can see why it became a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Eggers, who wrote so incredibly in Zeitoun and What is the What? does it again. He embodies the voice of his narrator so well that it is easy to forget that he is capable of writing in other styles. I can’t fault him for that. In fact, the fact that I am so incredibly turned off to the book by the style of prose, and its incredible accuracy, is the only thing that kept me going through the book for 215 pages. I was impressed, and continually hoping that perhaps the logic would return, and he’d man up – so to speak – and move on. Find a job, finish his education, get his little brother to school on time for once. And maybe that happens in the second half of the book, but I’m not sticking around to find out.
If you liked Catcher in the Rye, you’re already one step closer to enjoying Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. But to me, it was nothing special, and super frustrating.
In other news, I hit the library yesterday, and am already 110 pages into the next book, so keep an eye out for more book-related posts coming soon to a blog near you.
If you enjoy science fiction because it makes you think in a new way about everything that is happening in the world around you, then this is the next book you need to put on your reading list.
The book Nexus is about a technology – Nexus 5 – that allows software to be installed onto the nodes in your brain. All of a sudden, people standing side by side can be talking to each other, but also communicating through their thoughts. With a little practice, one can move the other’s body, with or without their consent. They can show each other history (instead of tell), create false memories, and communicate directly with one, two, or hundreds at a time.
The book is set in the year 2040. Not even thirty years in the future. At first, such a timeline seemed impossible. No way, 30 years from now, am I talking to my best friends and random strangers via thought. But then I thought about 30 years ago. I thought about the year 1985. The internet didn’t exist. Cell phones didn’t exist. If we consider the incredible technological advances we’ve made in the last 30 years, it doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched. If we think about the medical advances made in the last 30 years in neurology, it seems almost plausible. And that is scary. Is this is the real world that we’ll be living in when we get to 2040? If I become a lawyer, am I going to be defending or prosecuting people with superhuman strength? As it is, anyone with a blackbelt is considered a deadly weapon – what happens if the physical enhancements in Nexus become real, and anyone with enough money can literally be transformed into a deadly weapon? If I become a doctor, will I be re-installing minds after the body has moved on? If I am a politician, if I go to work, say, for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, will I be trying to regulate drugs that allow you to literally read other people’s mind?
In a note from the author at the end of the book, I found this sentence: “While the idea of a technology like Nexus that allows people to communicate mind-to-mind may seem far-fetched, precursors of that technology are here today.”
Are there already politicians dealing with this stuff? Are there doctors working in semi-secret labs run by the CIA inserting drugs like this to create connections between spies and their handlers without any trace? Are there lawyers figuring out how to argue it is all legal? (Or that it is all illegal?)
Does it matter?
Nexus brings up not only the scientific considerations, but also the moral ones. As the main character, Kade, fights against the US government, the Chinese scientists, the Buddhist monks, and the clone armies, he is constantly facing moral questions at every turn. The scientific questions are mostly answered, although he and Samantha are always discovering new uses for the Nexus in their brains. But they must each face their desires, their intentions, their expectations for the innate morality of humanity. Is one negative enough to justify denying the world of dozens of positives? Who gets to decide?
Nexus is Ramez Naam’s first novel (though not his first book), and in some places it shows. Sometimes the dialogue seems forced, sometimes the action seems strained. Nonetheless, his style is easy, and every so often the details unfold in beautiful ways. He flows effortlessly from one character’s story to another, often starting with the same words he left off with, making the transitions effortless for the reader as well. The story is well designed, with enough reality to make it hit home. Published in 2013, there is a realistic tilt in the political conflicts and the characters have opinions that are in line with their respective governments. It is clearly well-researched, and, unlike other science fiction books I’ve read recently, never made me feel like it was straying into the implausible. (Except maybe the moving, color-shifting tattoos. That seems a bit farfetched.)
Another thing that made me love Nexus? It starts in San Francisco. It makes references to the Bay Area, to cities you pass as you head down 101. An early party in the book is located in Hangar 3 at the former NASA Ames Research Center. Like so many books before it, Nexus is grounded in reality – and openly accepts Silicon Valley as the center of whatever is to come. Well, Silicon Valley and China. As a Bay Area girl myself, I can’t help but love a book that makes a nod to my hometown. (And if you also love books in San Francisco, just because they’re in San Francisco, check out the fantastic novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, or Little Brother, which is also science fiction.)
I read a lot of books. I may have mentioned that once or twice. But I don’t write about many of the books I read, and I want to work on that. I think that part of reading is sharing the books you read with others – I love sharing my favorite books, and I am always looking for new book suggestions (even as my list of books to read stretches over a half dozen pages…)
So I’m starting a new series of posts here on this blog. I’m not going to be as strict about timing as I am with my Czech posts – notice there is no day of the week in this series’ title. But the goal is to write one post every week about something I’m reading or something I’ve read. And not just about an article or an online debate, but about a real book.[*]
With the new job starting in less than a month, I have a suspicion I’ll be reading more than a book a week. Therefore, I call dibs on the comfy chair in the big room! And maybe this summer I’ll convince my dad to let me buy a hammock for the backyard… or I could just sit in a tree. I’ve been known to do that.
Now that that is out of the way, here is my first post in the series, on Susanna Clarke’s 2004 book, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
All through February and March, I was reading about a book a day. Okay, maybe a book every two days. Regardless, I was reading tens, sometimes hundreds of pages every day, and it didn’t seem strange at all. And then I moved from Tess Gerritsen (when I finished all of her books) to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It is a book about 600 pages long, and so I figured it would take me about a month. I finished it yesterday.
Often, books take me a while if they are particularly dense, or if they are particularly boring. Clarke’s book is neither dense nor boring, but there is something about it that made me slow down. I noticed I was reading more slowly than normal; perhaps the structure of the prose or the details in the description is responsible.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell are the two preeminent magicians of England in the 1800’s. In fact, for most of the book, they are the only magicians in England. The book follows the transition or Mr Norrell from secretive recluse to teacher, and the transition of Jonathan Strange from student to magician. The book is full of footnotes that, though not necessary, add depth and realism to the story (perhaps it is these footnotes that slow me down?).
I honestly can’t say what it is about the book that pulled me in. Similarly, I don’t really know what kept me interested in it. And yet, I find myself wanting to recommend it. If I were to tell someone about the plot, I would say merely that it follows the rises and falls of the two aforementioned magicians, and it documents their difficulties in bringing magic back to England. It sounds so simple, and yet the prose, the details, and the world the book represents is incredibly complex.
As we head into the summer season, when people are looking for a book to read that is easy to pick up and put down, good to read on the beach, on a plane, and everywhere else, I can’t help but think that this is a go-to for the season. Especially for people like my mom, who love a good book but don’t have time to just sit down and read one cover to cover (even in the summer), this is my recommendation.
It is also worth noting that the illustrations by Portia Rosenberg distributed throughout are particularly beautiful. The sketches look a bit like etchings and somehow fit the book perfectly.
*When I say real, I don’t necessarily mean physical. I could limit myself to things that require actually turning a page, thus restricting myself to bound books, not e-books, but also opening up the opportunity to writing about newspaper and magazine articles. Instead, I will limit myself to things at least 50 pages long. I don’t run across many articles that long except in The Atlantic, but maybe I’ll talk about an academic article someday… Go Back
Today, April 23rd, 2014, marks William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. If he had lived that long, of course.
For a lot of people, this day will come and go much like any other. But for me, Shakespeare means something. Shakespeare’s plays are timeless; some are funny, others are tragic, most are a bit of both, and all are widely respected. I first studied Shakespearean literature as a 6th grader, when I read The Comedy of Errors. I thought it was funny to read and then I thought it was funny to watch. I’ve seen probably a half dozen incarnations of the show, and loved each and every one for a variety of reasons.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve read almost half of the Shakespearean canon, and seen more plays than that. At some point in high school, watching all of his 36 plays made its way onto my bucket list. A few years later, reading them all showed up on my bucket list too. If I had money to burn, I would see every Shakespeare show put on at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival every summer, because those are often amazing. My favorite Shakespeare show ever was Julius Caesar there, in a black box theater and a stripped down stage and an atmosphere that made you question every ruler in every nation and every time period. Some of my favorite memories are at Shakespeare plays, like when Erin and I went to see Shakespeare in the Park 45 minutes away, and had wonderful conversations in the car there and back. Or that every single time I read in bed (aka, often!) I think about the weekend trip I took with Shalini and Emma and Vicky to Ashland.
One of my favorite shows under the sun is The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, in which all of Shakespeare’s plays are presented in two hours and one intermission.
I love that you run across Shakespeare references everywhere – in movies, in literature, in music, in life – and it is always fun to recognize them. I love that I can look at posters here in Prague and learn new words (like Midsummer) because I know the plays’ titles well enough to figure them out.
So anyway, Happy Birthday, Shakespeare. See you around.