Friday, February 16, 2018

A Girl Named Zippy

A Girl Named ZippyA Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this on audiobook and I think it made the book more interesting because it was read by the author and her timing and character voices made it come alive. Otherwise it was a cute, funny memoir. Definitely made me realize that with a little embellishment any life story can be interesting.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a FistYour Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What I liked most about this book is its title. It is the perfect title to this book about conflict borne out of love. Conflict because of a desire for making things better. This book mostly deals with the non-violent protesters at the Seattle WTO meetings in 1999 and the police who dealt with them. It’s as lopsided a portrayal as the news coverage was of it back then, only skewed this time in favor of the protesters. The characters just didn’t seem to be believeable though and so despite the research and good intentions, I had a hard time buying the whole thing. Although Yapa includes some of her resources in the back, I wish she would have given a quick summary of her findings. My quick internet search did not reveal quite the same amount of brutality she documents. And I wanted to know what “facts” which true and which were imagined. Unfortunately, despite the feeling that this should be an Important book, I found it somewhat forgettable—which is why I am only just now blogging about it.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

An Unnecssary Woman

An Unnecessary WomanAn Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a hard book to review. I sort of hated it right up until the end. Until then the inner musings of a Beiruti woman, living alone and translating translations of books felt unnecessarily meandering and erudite. She quotes authors and philosophies that I don’t know and haven’t heard of and so had a hard time connecting to. There was just enough “memories” of Beirut and its wars and culture to keep me reading. Then, at the end, you realize how masterfully Alameddine is at his subtlety in his message: it dawns on the reader at the same time it dawns on the main character, Aaliya, that an elderly, divorced, childless woman whose friends have died and whose family is estranged and who translates books no one will read is still remarkably, profoundly necessary all along.

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The cure for loneliness is solitude. —Marianne Moore, from the essay “If I Were Sixteen Today”
Don Quixote’s misfortune is not his imagination, but Sancho Panza. —Franz Kafka, Dearest Father: Stories and Other Writings
if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass—an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Well, life kills everyone.
We rarely consider that we’re also formed by the decisions we didn’t make, by events that could have happened but didn’t, or by our lack of choices, for that matter.
Remembering is the malignancy that feasts on my now.
We needed an explanation because we couldn’t deal with the fact that it could have been any one of us. Assuming causation—she was killed because she couldn’t hear anything since the radio was too loud—lets us believe that it can’t happen to us because we wouldn’t do such a thing. We are different. They are the other.
As much as I loved it and felt at home within its cages, school is more Hades than Heaven—a ritual killing of childhood is performed in school, children are put to death. The guard was the ferryman.
Henri Matisse once said, “It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

Lab Girl

Lab GirlLab Girl by Hope Jahren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes your life story is defined as much by the paths you did not take as the ones you did. I felt a kinship with Jahren simply over her enthusiasm for plants. I was a Biology graduate and I loved my botany classes. Jahren understands my marvel over the miracle of a seed landing in the right soil, with the right sun and water balance to make it grow. A seed can be less than an inch away from a seedling, but lay dormant because the right microclimate doesn’t exist. Jahren writes about all of that and more that makes plants some of the most amazing and tantalizing organisms on earth. And she does it in an interesting and understandable way. Each chapter is alternated between an essay on plants—all gold—and memoirs of her life. Perhaps tellingly, either of me or of Jahren I don’t know, the essays on plants were much more intriguing to me. Still, I enjoyed much of her life as well if only because it made me recall fondly the time I spent out in the field. The relationships formed around the search for knowledge is unique, deep, and can be truly plutonic. There were definitely some tedious parts (how to keep a saline bag sterile); some annoying parts (we get it, scientists are poor); and some weird parts (hair in a tree?) but overall I enjoyed this virtual tour of a path I didn’t take.

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The embryo that became my tree sat on the ground for years, caught between the danger of waiting too long and the danger of leaving the seed too early. Any mistake would surely have led to death, and to being swallowed up by a seething, unforgiving world capable of rotting even the strongest leaf in a matter of days.

the grown-up trees presented a future that was as stultifying as it was interminable. Nothing but fifty, eighty, maybe a hundred years of just trying not to fall down,

The adults grew a bit thicker around the middle each year, with little else to show for the passing decades.

Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

Helpless and impotent against the awesome power of Death, we nonetheless bowed our heads in the pharmacy, injected twenty milliliters of salvation into a bag of tears, blessed it again and again, and then carried it like a baby to the hospice and offered it up.

Humans are actively creating a world where only weeds can live and then feigning shock and outrage upon finding so many.

A CACTUS DOESN’T LIVE in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.

They further hypothesized that the VOC must have traveled at least a mile and was sensed as a distress signal by the other trees, which then preemptively fortified their leaves with caterpillar poison. Through the 1980s, generation after generation of caterpillars died miserable, starving deaths due to these poisons. By playing this long game, the trees ultimately turned the tide of the war.

Plants do not travel through space as we do: as a rule they do not move from place to place. Instead they travel through time, enduring one event after the other, and in this sense, winter is a particularly long trip.

Multiple light experiments have shown that the changing “photoperiod” is what triggers the tree to harden; it can be triggered in July if we fool the tree using artificial light. Hardening has worked for eons because a tree can trust the sun to tell it when winter is coming, even during years when the weather is capricious. These plants know that when your world is changing rapidly, it is important to have identified the one thing that you can always count upon.
What if this moss had moved into an area, deemed it not wet enough, and proceeded to change this high ground into the soggy mess it preferred, causing what was previously heterogeneous to evolve into a uniformly green expanse?

Many of the same things that control our decisions regarding what we do with new resources, it turns out. Our genes limit our possibilities; our environment makes some courses of action wiser than others; some of us are inherently conservative with our earnings; some are prone to gambling; even our fertility status might be considered when evaluating a new plan for investing.

His clock and my own were forever out of sync, a simple fact that had placed an untraversable canyon between us. While it seemed that I experienced everything, he appeared to me to passively do nothing. Perhaps, however, to him I was just buzzing around as a blur and, like the electron within an atom, exhibited too much random motion to register as alive.

God Grew Tired of Us

God Grew Tired of Us: A MemoirGod Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An incredible, inspirational memoir. Dau’s life is incredible—that he survived at all, first of all. That he survived with as much grace, wisdom, and gratitude makes it inspirational.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read Coraline and The Graveyard Book and I admire the way Gaaiman doesn’t shy away from the horror and confusion that can come with childhood. Death, disappointment, and fear are even more horrifying for the young who don’t understand or have the perspective to cope with it all. Most terrifying of all in Gaiman’s world is the sudden changing of a parent, whose constancy used to be a source of safety. At the same time, Gaiman also doesn’t back down from the magic that hope and love have and that children are more open to. Once again, Gaiman captures childhood with all its horrors and all its hope.

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How to be Victorian

How to Be a VictorianHow to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was young, my idea of imaginary play was to pretend I was the characters in the books I was reading and extrapolate what my daily life would look like in their terms. I had no idea how off I was. This book covers a typical Victorian day for both sexes and in multiple financial classes. I found the whole book fascinating and even enjoyed the author’s personal anecdotes. I am now extremely grateful for hot water, modern medicine, and my washing machine!

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