Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Circle

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is equal parts genius and frustration.

Genius- the services described in here that seem like a good ideas, like health plotting, tiny cameras, but Eggers adds just enough extra to make it uncomfortable (being tricked into swallowing a tracker, putting cameras where no one would know, etc.)
— he captures the social pressures to be on social media (“it’s not mandatory, but why wouldn’t you want to share”.)
—helps us think about the fine line between transparency and no privacy...is full disclosure what
we want/ need?
—does a good job of how showing how addicting online affirmations (and how debilitating online jeers) can be

Frustration— Eggers is arguably a genius (staggeringly so), but his novel was all over the place.
Bits and pieces of Mae’s life are incorporated only to fall off. Like kayaking. Did she really never go kayaking again? Her family falls off the map when they turn off the cameras...did she really not try to find them?
Also Mae goes from being humiliated by having a potential boyfriend over-sharing and then becoming a walking camera with full transparency...that leap doesn’t feel authentic to the reader. Neither do several of her other choices once she goes transparent...(finding Mercer, going back to Francis, etc.). There just isn’t enough to help the reader understand how Mae goes from casual user to full circle groupie.
The love interests make no sense and detract from the plot. Even the reveal at the end falls flat. The fact that Mae is so giddy about them at first seems juvenile and doesn’t help us like her (if we’re supposed to.)

Bottom line: read this book if you want a heads up into how a company could potentially supplant government. But don’t expect a well-thought out plot or characters.

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Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Extraordinary Voyages, #6)Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jules Verne was a good storyteller. His characters are stock, and his scientific facts questionable and sometimes distracting but you can’t help but get swep up in the great wonders and experiences of the Nautalus. I wish Captain Nemo’s motivations were revealed, and the last adventure seemed like a disappointing cop out. But it still made me want to take a plunge into the ocean, or at least go visit the local aquarium.

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All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful book about a blind girl, an engineering prodigy, and an agoraphobic veteran. They are from different backgrounds, and even different sides of the war, but their lives intersect so that they all become saviors of each other, each gives hope to the other in impossible situations. It’s a WWII novel, so you can’t entirely escape the tropes that accompany such stories...needless killing and brutality, hardships and secret spy circles. But under Doerr’s artful pen, these incidents seems less cliche than they otherwise might have been and move the story forward. Overall, one of the best books I’ve read recently.

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The Light of the World

The Light of the WorldThe Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t as a rule like to critique memoirs, especially ones about people working out emotional pain, as Alexander does here. Her husband has suddenly died and this memoir is about the love they shared, and how she processes his death and moves on. It is beautifully written, and the chapters slide temporally around as she remembers their life and deals with her grief. There is deep admiration, clearly love, profound sadness, doubt, inertia, courage, and hope. It is very touching. But there is no anger, little regret, and absolutely nothing other than love and admiration for her husband. Maybe it would be tactless to talk ill of the dead. Or maybe in her grief all that irritated her once was washed away. But without his flaws, it was hard to see him as a real person. And did she never at one point get mad at him for running when he didn’t feel well? I know I would have. I would have said “why did you have to be so damn perfect and go running every day? Why couldn’t you have just given up and watched tv like a normal person if you didn’t feel well?” But maybe she is better than I. Anyway, it is a beautiful book about amazing people. But without any ugliness it felt less relateable.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Pax

PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s a quiet book about the love of a boy and his fox. It’s also a moral lesson on the horrors and selfishness of war. Pax translates into peace and Pennypacker ruminates about the different meanings of peace...an absconded of war, feeling at home by being at the right place at the right time for the right reasons, and not letting your emotions get the best of you. Chapters flip flop from the point of view of the fox, who has been abandoned in the wild, and the point of view of the boy who left him because he has to live with his grandfather while his dad fights in an unnamed war. The boy realizes his mistake and decides to reclaim him, though the trip doesn’t go as planned, and both he and the fox must learn important Life Lessons along the way. It has some good messages. Unfortunately I can’t think of a youth that would make it through the book. It is slow; there are too many unresolved questions; there are confusing sentences and allusions that only make sense a couple of chapters later; the adults in his life are more broken than he is. Good premise, poor execution.


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Standard Deviation

Standard DeviationStandard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a hilarious book and loved it because it never went crude or too eccentric. I felt like I had met all the people in here at some point, and so enjoyed it all the more. Graham is an introvert and his wife is super extroverted, to the point that she regularly is inviting almost-strangers to live with them. And although Graham is regularly annoyed and embarrassed by her, he is also smitten by her on a regular basis. Their son has Aspergers and their attempt to help facilitate his interests and nurture any and all friendships were familiar. The fact that their son has registered a standard deviation away from normal is the crux of the novel. What is normal? Who doesn’t have little quirks and habits that are both annoying and endearing? Those quirks help us connect with the world, Heiny seems to say. Enjoyable, breezy read.


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Monday, May 21, 2018

Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So now I go around asking everyone if they are an introvert or an extrovert. This was a compelling look into how and why introverts think the way they do and gives good arguments about how (forgotten) qualities of introverts are just as beneficial as those of extroverts. She gives good advice on how to get along with an introvert partner or parent an introverted child. (Weirdly, it did not cover introverts raising extroverts, which can still be a challenge). This book answered a lot of my questions and gave some credence to thoughts I’ve always theorized about. In the end, it’s a book about appreciating our differences and valuing each other.


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We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual— different kinds of introverts and extroverts. Introversion and extroversion interact with our other personality traits and personal histories, producing wildly different kinds of people.

The number of Americans who considered themselves shy increased from 40 percent in the 1970s to 50 percent in the 1990s, probably because we measured ourselves against ever higher standards of fearless self-presentation.

Extroverts tend to experience more pleasure and excitement than introverts do—

 Extroverts’ dopamine pathways appear to be more active than those of introverts Introverts, in contrast, are constitutionally programmed to downplay reward—to kill their buzz, you might say—and scan for problems. “As soon they get excited,” says Newman, “they’ll put the brakes on and think about peripheral issues that may be more important. Introverts seem to be specifically wired or trained so when they catch themselves getting excited and focused on a goal, their vigilance increases.”