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21. Inferno
Last year I was a bit obsessed Dante’s Inferno. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure what that was all about.  The obsession carried over a little into 2016, which is why I read Dan Brown’s Inferno. Here’s the plot in a nutshell (and this sums up the plot of all three Dan Brown books I’ve read): a handsome, brilliant professor gets called in by some organization to save the world from utter doom by using his knack for solving puzzles and his esoteric knowledge of symbology. After reading this novel I felt like I had just completed a course on art history. I found myself nerdishly looking up all the images of all the art that was referenced. It also felt like I’d just read a travel guide to Florence, Italy.  Embedded in between the art history course and the travel guide, there is a relatively good story, but the characters lack dimension.

22. The Brain: The Story of You

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist with a fancy academic pedigree – he was mentored by Francis Crick. Does the word “pedigree” make anyone else think about dog shows? Non sequitur. Anyway, I just discovered that The Brain: The Story of You was written as a companion book for his PBS documentary, which I haven’t seen yet. It works fine as a stand-alone book.  It touches on big picture topics like how the brain constructs reality, how it makes decisions, how it constructs a sense of self, how it does empathy, etc.  It is very well written and a good choice for the layperson interested in catching up on the latest trends in brain research.

23. Brain on Fire

This is the memoir of a reporter who was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis following a psychotic episode that left her strapped to a hospital bed. The condition was treated, she recovered, and wrote the book. I appreciate that it gets the word out about a rare condition.  The expository aspect of the book was fairly well written, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the autobiographical bits where the writing had a fledgling, gratuitous quality. I think it would have worked better as a magazine article.
24. The Belly Dance Handbook

I bought the book following a workshop I took from Princess Farhana, who is a knowledgeable, generous, and just plain fun teacher.  The handbook is all about the business of being a professional belly dancer. She covers a wide-range of topics:  classes, contracts, costuming, makeup, music, stage lighting, swords, veils, zaghareets, and zills. It’s loaded with tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid.

25. A Dirty Job

Hapless agents of Death abound in San Francisco’s used bookstores and  thrift shops, where objects and the souls they contain are peddled to the soulless in the natural order of things until one mysterious buyer with dubious intentions arrives on the scene. We come to know and understand this strange world through the eyes of Charlie Asher, a beta-male, recent-widower,  new father, and newly-minted death merchant in a tale that is equal parts fabulous and ridiculous.

I almost never re-read books, but this one was my suggestion for the book club.  It’s been almost a decade since I read it for the first time – it was just as good the second time.

26. Second Hand Souls

This is the sequel to Dirty Jobs.  Asher’s little girl is growing up and causing a ruckus.  Goth girls, vampires, the homeless “mayor” of San Francisco, hell hounds, Buddhist monks, the squirrel people, Minty Fresh — you’ll find all the same strange characters from the first book, plus a few ghosts and new weirdos.  It’s as funny as the first one.

27. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High

Just adding more tools to the box with this one. I read it and then re-read it. Again, something I rarely do. It was a book referenced in Thanks for the Feedback (see below).

28. Thanks for the Feedback

I originally read Thanks for the Feedback in an effort to sharpen clinical and communication skills. However, the information seems widely applicable and much needed for everyone given the current political climate. Employing the techniques might help us all  find our way back to civil discourse. Stone and Heen discuss the art and science of giving and receiving feedback. They emphasize the receiving end of the interaction (i.e., listening), particularly when you would rather not listen to what’s being said (e.g., in a tough feedback conversation).  The deep listening techniques the authors describe are intended to enable you to respond productively rather than to simply react in ways that may be counterproductive. Their explanation of why it’s so hard to listen to dissenting opinions is grounded in research on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy. It’s a smart, well-written book.

29. Take the Stairs

Take the Stairs is our book club pick for the new year. It’s packed with motivational ideas like “visioneering,” which is  creating a vivid mental image of your ideal life that will inspire you to take action on a daily basis. Vaden recommends scheduling virtually every moment of day. Beyond the formal work day schedule, he suggests scheduling (in writing) additional time weekly for five basic areas of life: Faith, family, faculty (i.e., work), fitness, and finances.  His suggestion reminded me of a visit to the Clinton Museum and Presidential Library, where they have an exhibit displaying the daily schedules for Bill Clinton while he was in office. His schedules were packed with  back-to-back activities from early morning to late night.  I was exhausted just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good schedule. Mine is hand-written, color-coded and cross-referenced with a spreadsheet of goals/resolutions and to-do lists. But that’s my work life. I don’t want to schedule my “off” time to this extent.  Back to the book. Much of it I had read elsewhere, but one unique suggestion was to not attempt to achieve balance in the five areas of life.  Instead, Vaden, recommends using “harvest time” to get the most out of the seasonal shifts of life.

30.Top Secret Twenty-One

My sister and I joined a mystery reader’s book club in the 90s and that is where we first read Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Maybe that’s why I experience a bit of nostalgia every time I step into a Stephanie Plum mystery. It’s like returning home to catch up with family and old friends (minus the dead bodies and exploding cars, of course).  The series is formulaic, thus predictable, and it still makes me laugh.

11. Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones marks the 24th book I’ve read by Stephen King.  Hey, stop judging me. I went through a dark binge-reading period in my teens when I consumed books by the author en masse.  I eventually grew out of it and moved on to brighter things. A fellow book clubster picked this one, so I felt obliged to read it.

Here’s the gist of the plot in one sentence: Unable to write following his wife’s death, a best-selling author returns to their lake house where he is haunted by ghosts and harassed by an old, evil millionaire.

The book features everything you’d expect from Stephen King: sentimental reflections on marriage, gruesome and gratuitous violence (in the form of a gang rape scene), and pages upon pages of confused and unnecessary sex dreams.  So, yeah, 24 is way more than enough Stephen King to last a lifetime.

12. The Invention of Wings

“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”

–Sarah Grimke, The Invention of Wings; Sue Monk Kidd

Monk Kidd’s historical fiction, The Invention of Wings follows the lives of two women in their search for freedom:  abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimké  and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, her personal slave. Kidd’s portrayal of Sarah is based of newspaper articles, and her letters and diaries, while Handful is largely imagined — she died early in life. It’s beautifully written and richly imagined with vivid characters and pitch-perfect dialogue.

 There are a couple editions out – the original and the Oprah edition. Just letting you know so if you decide to read you can make an informed decision about whether you need the version with Oprah’s commentary or not.

13. Traveling with Pomegranates

This travel log/memoir by Sue Monk Kidd was co-written with her daughter as they traveled through Greece and Turkey.  It explores mother-daughter relationships, different phases of womanhood, and feminine mythology. It sounded like something I would like, and I really wanted to like it, but the switch back and forth between authors was clunky  and as a whole it had a gimmicky vibe.  Not my favorite.

14. The Association of Small Bombs

This is what it felt like to be a bomb.  You were coiled up, majestic with blackness, unaware that the universe outside you existed, and then a wire snapped and ripped open your eyelids all the way around and you had a vision of the world that was 360 degrees, and everything in your purview was doomed by seeing.

–Karan Mahajan

A bomb explodes in a bustling Delhi marketplace. Among the dead are two young brothers on their way to pick up their father’s TV from the repairman.  Karan Mahajan puts the reader in the mind of various people affected by the blast, each trying to piece back together the fragments that remain of their lives in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.  We glimpse into the lives of the father and mother of the dead children, the store owner, the terrorist, his girlfriend, his unsuspecting friend, and the bomb itself personified. What emerges is a horrific kaleidoscope (or perhaps more accurately collide-oscope) of  perspectives.  It is a fascinating read.

15. The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from It’s Violent History

BeauJeau picked this one out for me because he knows how much I love all things tea. He even calls me T (or is it tea? I don’t know.). Anyway, I learned all sorts of interesting things about tea from Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens in this inspirational and meditational book.  It’s packed with all sorts facts, history, and recipes. The Way of Tea and Justice also describes the origins of the Thistle Stop Café in Nashville, and their mission to honor the stories of the women who have “survived lives of trafficking, addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets” in order to “illustrate the simple truth that love heals.”

16. Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living

This is a manly man book. I bought it because I was at the bookstore reading the back cover when a random guy walked by and said he’d read it and that it was hilarious.  Having binge-watched Parks and Recreations and having been thoroughly entertained by Ron Swanson, I figured I’d see what the man behind the character had to say about himself. It seems he’s a big, lovable, hard-working, goofus, with a vocabulary that can switch from crass and vulgar to highbrow and pretentious in an instant. It contains illustrations (literally drawings) of things like breakdancing moves and acceptable vs. nonacceptable facial hair styles. It’s kinda funny, but I wouldn’t say it’s “hilarious.”

17. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

A smart, funny, and heart-touching book for high schoolers, young adults and beyond. The book was awesome and so was the movie.  For  more extensive review,  click here: The Problem with (and Beauty of) Book Clubs

18. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

This is another awesome book for the young adult crowd.  But be forewarned, it was scary enough to give me nightmares!  The movie was less scary, but not nearly as good as the book. For the more detailed post, click here: Peculiar Children.

19. Hollow City

The sequel I literally ran out of the house to buy upon reading the last page of Peculiar Children. With its crazy animals, dizzying time loops, WWII bombing scenes, and eerie vintage photograph, it was a great follow-up to the first book.

20. The Courage of Sarah Noble

Since we’re on a roll with the kidlit, here’s another. A little friend was reading this one at her teacher’s recommendation and wanted us to read it together, so we did.  It’s based on the real-life of 8 year old Sarah Noble, who in 1707, traveled with her father to build their home in Connecticut.  When the project was complete, he left Sarah in the care of a Native American family they had befriended and returned to help the rest of his family make the journey. The sweet story offers a very different perspective from the “savage natives” themes so commonly propagated in past generations.

This book was not my idea.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was one member’s choice for next month’s discussion in a book club I was recently asked to join.  This is exactly the sort of reason I generally avoid clubs: people inevitably want you to spend a whole bunch of your time doing stuff you don’t want to do…like reading about a high school girl dying of cancer. But I begrudgingly decided to just do it because I like these book club people and because I am working to expand my repertoire of kidlit.

The story revolves around Greg (the “Me” in the title). During his senior year of high school he is guilt-tripped into hanging out with Rachel, the dying girl, by his mother who is friends with Rachel’s mom. Then Greg’s best friend and “co-worker” in film-making, Earl, starts hanging out with them too. Hilarity ensues. They begin working on a new film, but after several false starts, one involving sock monkeys, they decide to take a different approach:

“We were inspired by You Tube. God help us. Like whiny boring people all over the world, we decided that the best way of expressing ourselves was just to stare into the camera and talk.”

The whole book was delightfully funny.  On purpose, even. It had this whole meta-analysis narrative embedded in the story that fixed a lot of the problems that a book about a dying girl is bound to have for the reader.

The author, Jesse Andrews, nailed the description of the social atmosphere of high school. There was a fight scene — well if you could call it that; it was more of a get-beat-up scene — that summoned images of Lord of the Flies in my mind. It managed to be both oddly disturbing and amusing. The characters, even the minor characters, were quirky, multidimensional and layered. The view of other characters from Greg’s eyes were along these lines:

“Mr. McCarthy had a look on his face of deep concern. It was definitely out of character for him and it was sort of distracting me. It was like when a dog makes a human-style face at you and you’re temporarily thrown off guard by it. You’re like, “Whoa, this dog is feeling a mixture of nostalgic melancholy and proprietary warmth. I was not aware that a  dog was capable of an emotion of that complexity.”

And speaking of emotions of complexity, last night as I finished the book, I sat in bed a confused mess – literally crying and laughing at the same time over the ending while marveling over life and death in general.

And this is exactly the sort of reason I join book clubs.

1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret

A young friend read the story of Hugo Cabret to me over the course of several months this year. It’s a work of art, both the stories and illustrations. As we giggled together over the sassy antics of Isabelle, my friend exclaimed, “This is fun!”- something I never imagined I’d hear him say about reading anything, much less a book over 500 pages. For that reason alone it’s one of my favorites of the year.

 

2. The Writing on my Forehead

A friend passed this book on to me, knowing I’d love it. The story centers on a daughter in a Muslim-American family and explores the notions of tradition, culture, the cyclical nature of mother and daughter relationships, and the push and pull of individual will bound by family ties.

 

3.  Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking


Read my quickie review here.

 

4. Outliers: The Story of Success


After reading my first Gladwell book I went on a Gladwell binge, watching his Ted Talks, recommending him to everyone, and rushing out to buy his other books. He’s such a rockstar genius.  I love his hair. I wanted to hang posters of him up in my bedroom, but that’s where El-D drew the line.

5. The Myth of You and Me

This story left me devastated and crying like a lunatic in my bathtub. It’s about a beautiful friendship that goes horribly awry.

6. Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything


After taking two economics courses in college, I was convinced the topic could never be made interesting even with buzz words like “freak” and “rogue” attached to it.  I was wrong. This was fascinating.

 

7. Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses


Read my quickie review here.

 

8. The Retreat: A Novel

I met the author of this novel, Carol Kortsch, on a retreat during fall break. Reading the book helped keep me in a retreat frame of mind after I returned back to my semester.

 

9. Fowl Weather


Read my quickie review here.

 

10. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Parker Palmer always takes me on a deep dive into Self. He makes me want to be a better person with all his Quakerness. Here’s a flavor of what this book offers:

 …the word vocation…is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear.  Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by whch I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life (p. 4).

Let your life speak…Let the highest truths and values guide you. Live up to those demanding standards in everything you do (p.2).

11-13. Fifty Shades Trilogy


Oh yes I did – because sometimes I need to balance out my psyche with some lowbrow smut. It’s called equilibrium people!  And I can’t wait for the movie.  Read my quickie review here.

 

14. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

It seemed like something I should read to follow up Tolle’s The Power of NowIt read more like an extension of the earlier work than a stand alone whole.

15. The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense


Read my quickie review here.

16. The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture

When I finished reading this book I felt like my small brain grew three sizes. This is a masterpiece work by the brilliant neurologist, Frank Wilson. It took me quite awhile to read it – two years –  because it’s packed with so much fascinating information, including references and footnotes, which sent me reeling down unexpected paths. And then sometimes I just had to stop reading and stare at my hands like “Whoa, these are my hands…” in a trippy sort of way because this book took me down the rabbit hole to the jungles of Hadar to meet australopithecines and there were all these bones to look at there, but we couldn’t stay long because there were chimpanzees, musicians, jugglers, rockclimbers, and puppeteers to meet.  Wilson’s writing style reminds me a bit of Oliver Sacks. It was a really good book, I tell you.

17. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats


Read my review here.

18. When You are Engulfed in Flames

I don’t know how El-D discovered David Sedaris.  I’m almost certain he hasn’t read any of his work. But several years ago he gave me Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day , an audiobook he found at the Goodwill.  Last year it was his idea for us to sit in the glow of the Christmas tree and  listen to SantalandThis year he gave me When you are Engulfed in Flames, another Goodwill find.  I loved it. This one also left me a lunatic in the bathtub, this time cackling.

19. Full Dark, No Stars


Read my quickie review here.

 

20. Island Beneath the Sea: A Novel (P.S.)

Read my quickie review here.

21.  One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd


This one was a fun adventure – vivid characters, almost cariactures, but in a good way.

22. An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life


El-D found this one for at the Goodwill and brought it home as an early Christmas present. Everything about all of that made me happy. It’s a good book.

23. Trapping the Butterfly

This romance novel is set in the 1920s in one of my favorite cities, Hot Springs.   It was a super quick read and I didn’t want the sweet love story to end.

24. Burn: An Anna Pigeon Novel

Read my quickie book review here.

25. Talk Like Ted: The 9-Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

Loved this book and all the new talks it introduced me to.  It really warrants its own post, which I may write later this week.

 


Disclaimer:  I am an Amazon Affiliate, which means 1.) I can use their book cover images in my posts without having to worry about them suing me, and 2.) if you use one of the links I provide in the blog to purchase the book on amazon.com I’ll get like a nickel or something.

I’m disclosing this so you will be aware that if you click on a book link, our electronic “footprints” will be walking together toward amazon.

Disclaimer 1: I didn’t  set out to do a study of bondage, but the theme emerged in every book of my most recent reading spree.

 

Title: Fifty Shades Trilogy Bundle: Fifty Shades of Grey; Fifty Shades Darker; Fifty Shades Freed (Vintage)

Author: E. L. James

Synopsis: A rich control-freak falls for an innocent college graduate who looks like his delinquent mother; glitz and glamor, high-speed chases, and deviant copulation ensues.

Why Did I Read This?  Everybody else was doing it?  I wasn’t planning to succumb to peer-pressure, but when I found the first book in the series at the Goodwill I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  As for why I read the second and third books, well there’s no good excuse.  I guess once you jump off the bridge with your friends  you can’t just stop falling.

Was it Worth It? The series may be best enjoyed if you check your intellect at the cover. On a positive note, the improbable scenarios are a diversion from mundane life. The shallow characters and redundant inner and outer dialogue made it a super quick read. The element  of “how much weirder can this possibly get?” and “how will this ever be justified?” may keep you reading.

You May Like This If You Liked:  The Twilight Saga Complete Collection

Title: Island Beneath the Sea: A Novel (P.S.)

Author: Isabel Allende

Synopsis: The life of a slave, Zarite, is portrayed from her girlhood on the island of Saint-Dominque to the “freedom” she finds in New Orleans.

Why Did I Read This? Isabel Allende is a master storyteller who never fails to bring history to life in her brilliant, complex tales. My worldview widens every time I read her work.

What I Loved About This Book:   The characters were layered and multidimensional. I admired Zarite’s quiet, persistent dignity and the rich duplicity in her relationship with her Master and their children.  The history of Haiti was fascinating, as was the view of New Orleans in the early 1800s.

What I Didn’t Love: The brutal bits were hard to stomach.

You May Like This If You Liked: Daughter of Fortune

Title: Burn: An Anna Pigeon Novel

Author: Nevada Barr

Why Did I Read This? Many years ago I joined a mystery readers’ book club at Bartlett Books.  I wasn’t particularly fond of mysteries, but I was fond of cake and I was always looking for an excuse to eat it regularly.  Bartlett Books had the BEST Italian cream cake in all the realm and all their books smelled of coffee.  I convinced my sister to join the club too. She provided my ride to the cake place and served as a social buffer.  I was the youngest member of this book club by at least a decade or three, and her presence allowed me to eat my cake in relative peace. While I always read the book selections, I rarely enjoyed them and I never actually spoke to anyone in the club about them, except my sis. I dismissed most of the books we read as “Scooby-Doo mysteries.”  There were a few notable exceptions, particularly Nevada Barr’s  Track of the Cat (Anna Pigeon Mysteries Book 1), which I loved. I identified with Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, who preferred the company of animals to people.  Anna was gritty and tough and she had a deep reverence for nature.  The other clubers thought Anna too “dark” and “serious,”  which is exactly why I liked her. Over the years I’ve followed the series, but I got behind at some point. Burn has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for about 4 years, so I finally decided to read it.

Just Let Me Say:  Barr went over the deep end of darkness here.  The content was extremely disturbing.  The plot revolves around a child sex-slave and skin-trade industry in New Orleans. Barr zooms in for a horrifying close-up view of a problem that many would prefer to ignore. The details were as repulsive as one might expect from the topic.  In the midst of all that, with smoke, mirrors, and voodoo, she created a huge brilliant plot twist that I never saw coming.   And to confuse matters even more she peppers in a liberal dose of strange  humor  in the most violent scenes. There were several times I had to put the book down and wonder:  what the hell?  

Who Would I NOT Recommend This To? This is definitely not a mystery for the faint of heart or the lovers of Scooby-Doo mysteries or “cozies”.  Based on the reviews of her regular readers on amazon.com, it appears that this is not a mystery for most of Barr’s regular readers either.  All that said, I went out and bought two more books in the series after I finished it.

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Disclaimer 2: I’m an Amazon Affiliate, which means 1.) I can use their book cover images in my posts without having to worry about them suing me, and 2.) if you use one of the links I provide in the blog to purchase the book on amazon.com I’ll get like a nickel or something.  I’m disclosing this so you will be aware that if you click on a book link, our electronic “footprints” will be walking together toward amazon.

 

While I certainly enjoyed my share of audiobooks during the Hell on Wheels phase of my life, I am mostly a paperback book kind of girl.  The gravity of hardback books is way more than I care to commit to with all the keep-me-pristine-and-put-me-on-a-bookshelf vibes they emit and I have yet to read a complete e-book, though I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried! But I’m a reckless reader with a need to tear through books like the Tasmanian Devil (of the Looney Tunes variety).  There must be spines to break, covers to crinkle, and pages to stain with drops of steaming tea. Yes, I need pages and pages, in between which cookie crumbs are buried.  There must be pages to write on, to highlight, to underline, and to fold….pages to get waterlogged during boat rides and baths. And then when I’m done, the book (well, what’s left of it) can be passed off on a friend or abandoned in a public place, where the story can find its way to another home.

Here are a few more of the books I devoured this winter…

Title: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker

Synopsis:  A daughter travels to Burma to find the father who abandoned her. What she finds is the beautiful love story of Tin Win and Mi Mi.

Why Did I Read This?  The title captivated me.

Was it Worth It? Yes.

Title: Full Dark, No Stars

Author: Stephen King

Synopsis: Here we have four short stories with mean people doing nasty things.

Why I Read It:  Stephen King’s Different Seasons was one of the first “grown up” books I’d ever read that I wasn’t assigned in school.  I was 11.  This was probably not something 11-year-olds should be reading, but whatever. I went on a Stephen King reading spree at that point and blazed through a buncha his books. Then I got tired of his cheap thrills and didn’t read him for like a few decades.  Then I saw this at the library and it was like seeing an old boyfriend.  I wanted to see what he was up to these days and how he might have evolved as a writer.

How Did the Affair Go?  It was a one-night stand.  We won’t be seeing each other anymore. He’s still into cheap thrills and I’ve moved on.

Title: The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense

Author:  Joyce Carol Oates

Synopsis: Here we have four short stories with mean people doing nasty things — nope, that’s not a typo.

Why I Read It: I have this problem.  I really WANT to like Joyce Carol Oates because I feel like I’m supposed to.  She’s supposed to be all literary and stuff, so I keep reading her disturbing stuff and I keep not liking it.  Oddly, I checked this one out from the library the same day I got King’s Full Dark, No Stars.  After reading them back to back I realized that Joyce Carol Oates is the female version of Stephen King.

 

 

 

I think I do more reading in the colder months than the warmer ones, how about you?

My leisure time in the summer seems consumed by flowers, bull frogs, and butterflies. In the dark of winter I will spend hours reading in the bathtub or bed, but in the summer I’m usually too exhausted by daytime existence and heat to read in my usual haunts. Reading for fun happens mostly in little snippets of time, mostly while I’m in transit –  like in the car being shuttled to a family function, or while waiting for someone’s luggage at an airport, or in a too-long line at the bank.

 

If you’re looking for something to read this summer, here are a few Book Quickie Reviews of the stuff that occupied my winter nights:

Title:  Fowl Weather 

Author: Bob Tarte

Why I Read It: It has a duck on the cover! (I’m a bit bird-brained in case you haven’t noticed).  I spotted it on the shelf at the Goodwill.

Synopsis: It’s the memoir of a kindred spirit who chronicals life with his menagerie. In his own words, it’s the story of, “how thirty-nine animals and one sock monkey took over my life.”

Highlights: Bob Tarte makes me seem normal by comparison. He’s funny and taught me a lot about my ducks.

Most Relate-to-able Quotes:  What can you ever say to a dead duck?  

It bothered me that I’d exhibited more patience with a duck than I seemed capable of extending to my mother…

 

Title: Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Why I Read It: It was a good book day at the Goodwill.  I hadn’t read anything by Gladwell, but I’d heard good reviews about his work. The idea of thinking without thinking was compelling.

Synopsis:  Through a wide range of case studies and behavioral research Malcolm explores the cognition behind “gut feelings.”

Highlights:  I am in awe of Gladwell’s ability to synthesize information from many different lenses into such a coherent picture of unconscious cognition.  He weaves together research and examples from such far flung fields as marital communication to military strategy (actually those two domains may not be as disparate as they seem on the surface) to museum curation.  It was as fascinating as it was well-written.

Recommended to: Folks interested in psychology will love this book. Also, firefighters and police officers, and others who must make quick, high-stakes decisions would benefit from this information as well as educators and policy makers.

Best Quote:

We live in a world saturated with information. We have vitually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips at all times, and we’re well versed in the arguments about the dangers of not knowing enough and not doing our homework. But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration wtih the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding….we are desperately lacking in the latter (Gladwell, 2005, p. 264-265).

Title: Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses

Author: Claire Dederer

Why I Read It: Yoga and Memoir – these are a few of my favorite things!

Synopsis: Dederer shares her experience of coming to terms with motherhood and balancing a career with family life through a (sometimes reluctant) yoga practice.

Highlights: I love stories about the transformative power of a yoga practice.  Dederer tells her story with a wickedly funny kick.

What surprised me: I wasn’t expecting from such a funny flippant lady the depth of knowledge and insight with which she wrote about the women’s movement of her mother’s generation and the cultural trends in our own generation.  She challenged me to think more deeply about my own relationship with my mom and the social and political factors that defined mom’s generation and how that might have led to some of her baffling behaviors.

Best quote:

Without our mothers and their mass 1970s exodus to who knows where, we might not have gotten those crucial years of learning who we were.  I am not sure any of the mothers meant to give us this gift, this terrible gift of freedom…they bought our freedom with their courage (Dederer, 2011, p. 297).

——-

Disclosure: I signed up to be an Amazon Affiliate, which means 1.) I can use their book cover images in my posts without having to worry about them suing me, and 2.) if you use one of the links I provide in the blog to purchase the book on amazon.com I’ll get like a nickel or something.  I’m disclosing this so you will be aware that if you click on a book link, our electronic “footprints” will be walking together toward amazon.

 

 

In case you don’t know yet, that’s my doggy, Moon Pie.

Let’s geek out for a bit, shall we? I filmed the above video today. Moo Moo is three months into her training. She is doing better with action words than nominals. Her repertoire of action words includes: Sit, Down, Off, Come here, Get, Outside, Touch, Drop it, No, and Listen.  She’s currently working on Stay. Her nominals include: Ball, Panda, Yip, Nickel, Kitty, and Squirrel.

Due of my own training, my approach with Moo Moo relies heavily on behaviorial theory with a linguistic spin.  Recently though, I’ve been learning about “dog psychology” from Cesar Millan.  Skattur has been telling me to check out this guy for awhile. She watched his show religiously, despite the fact she doesn’t have a dog. I finally broke down and got his book, Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems. It was fabulously undogtrainingguidebookish.

I abandoned most of the dog training books in my gianormous stack within a few chapters (and sometimes within a few pages) because they were horribly boring or just too campy.  But Cesar Millan’s book was different.  First off, he does not consider himself a dog trainer.  He describes himself as a “dog psychologist,” which for me instantly brought up a mental image of a dog reposed on Freud’s couch. Based on that image alone I was prepared to not like this book. Then there’s the fact that he works with all these celebrity people and he frequently uses the word “energy.”  Psychology, celebrity, and energy — the combination of the three made me roll my eyes in self-righteous derision. So, I surprised myself when I stayed with this book until the end. I was even more surprised when I realized I like him and his book. Millan is a ballsy guy who bootstrapped his way to success. His insights on dogs are based on sound experience.



The only other book I’ve found about dogs recently that I liked was a work of fiction — Nora Robert’s The Search.  The blogger behind roughwighting.net recommended it. I haven’t read Nora Roberts in years, so I was due for one.  The woman has written about a bajillion books and her writing style has definitely evolved since the last one I read. Romance isn’t my usual reading fare, nor is it my go-to genre for dog information, but I felt strangely compelled.  This was no ordinary romance novel.  There were serial killers, murders, a bit of mystery, and lots of dog training tid-bits. The romance seemed ancillary, though there were steamy parts.  Table sex was involved.  It was a good read on all counts.

Back to Moo Moo.  More videos of Moo-Moo’s genius may be found in the following posts.  I highly recommend viewing them at work due to their Power of Kawaii (Nittono, Fukushima, Yano, & Moriya, 2012), which improves your productivity. More information on that following the reference. 🙂

This Week on the Farm:Dreams, Rescues, Attacks

This Week on the Farm: Project Moon Pie

Just Another Day at the Office

Reference

Nittono H., Fukushima M., Yano A., Moriya, H. (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46362.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362

butterfly

butterfly

How was that even normal, to cry over insects?

–Delarobia, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

There are very a few authors whose collections I feel compelled to devour in their entirety. Barbara Kingsolver is in that select few. She’s brilliant. Her mastery of the English language inspires me. Her intellect humbles me. Her reverence for nature motivates me to observe, conserve, and appreciate the natural world.

Her latest book,  Flight Behavior  is set in the Appalachian Mountains. The story centers on Delarobia Turnbow, a young wife and mother, literally running away from her life in someone else’s cast off boots. Delarobia chances upon a discovery that changes her life: millions of monarch butterflies unexpectedly alight in the forest.  Miracle or sign of impending environmental doom? You decide. Kingsolver, a trained biologist, throws in enough science to make you feel like an armchair lepidopterist.  Staying true to the region, she also smacks down some religion. Any time you pass by the Bible Belt you can expect a good spank.  It’s a good mix that creates a nice tension.

I relished most of this book, but there were parts that made me really tired.  I understand the story is set in Tennessee, but I could have done without the Honey Boo Boo vibes. I like my fiction to take me away from my real life, not put me right back at the heart of it.  I live in Tennessee.  I have relatives that wear shirts that say things like, “You mess with me, you mess with the whole trailer park.”  If I wanted to experience a marital dispute in Wal-Mart I could just load up the family in the pickup truck, drive a couple miles down the road, and go at it.  I’m already familiar with this routine. I don’t need to read about it. And if I wanted to experience Wal-Mart scenery, but felt too lazy to drive down the street, I could surf the People of Wal-mart website from bed without having to read pages and pages of dialogue devoted to this sort of thing.   Wal-mart drama does not make good literature. In Kingsolver’s own words, “It could not be more tedious or familiar, any of it.”

Also, I wish academia was half as fabulous as described in this story.   Kingsolver paints an idealized version of this endeavor featuring researchers with the purest intentions who are blessed with outlandish funding, and the most understanding of spouses.   It’s a really lovely picture, even true to a degree, but still incomplete.  (Where are the turf wars, conspiracies, and petty squabbles over the minutia?)

Despite my minor gripes, it was an awesome story.  I was smitten with the real main character of the story: the butterflies.  In the end I cried for what was revealed about the interconnectedness of individuals to each other and to the environment.

~~@~~

And only because I brought it up, I have to include this video of the People of Wal-mart.

Look into your own heart and discover what gives you pain and then refuse under any circumstances whatsoever to inflict that pain onto anybody else.

–Karen Armstrong

Title: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Author: Karen Armstrong

Synopsis: Karen Armstrong, a religious historian and former nun, explores the notion of empathy and compassion that underlies and unifies the Abrahamic faiths as well as most other religious traditions.

Why I read this: A certain yogini inspired me to deepen my understanding of compassion.

What I loved about it: Armstrong’s conviction and intellect shine through every page. The depth and breadth of her scholarship was a nice change from my recent lighter reading.  The language was scholarly, yet accessible, intelligible and beautiful.

What was unexpected: I was surprised by the depth beneath the self-help title and macrostructure. There really are twelve steps, but the history, spirit, and detail Armstrong provides were far more intriguing.


You might like this if you liked: The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

Fun coincidence:  As I was reading this book, El Diablo was reading God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
by Christopher Hitchens. The themes and events covered often coincided. It was fun to compare notes and the authors’ vastly different perspectives: enduring optimism vs. chronically quarrelsome.

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