You’re Not You: A Book Review

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From: here

A few friends and I decided to read this book together after seeing the trailer for the movie. Even though there were a lot of elements I liked about this book, ultimately I traded it in at a used bookstore.

But let’s start with what I liked.

  • The author does a great job stylistically with how descriptive she is. She really focuses on the details so that you gain a level of realism that many other books lack.
  • She allows her characters to be deeply flawed. For instance, her protagonist is having an affair. I think she assumes that most of her readers won’t agree with the affair, and yet she handles it unapologetically, and even explores the “other woman’s” point of view.
  • She explores ideas of identity and fulfillment through the struggling people she portrays.
  • She spends a considerable amount of time humanizing Kate who has ALS.
  • It brings up a lot of interesting thoughts and discussion about care taking, and the right to decide how we die.

Although I appreciated all of these things, ultimately it was a very difficult book for me. I just didn’t relate to the main character. Her life was so out of control, and I didn’t feel like she did much of anything to pull it together. She was very reactionary, and I felt like it caused her a lot of pain.

I don’t really think that anyone in the book was emotionally healthy. And not everyone has to be, but it was difficult to see that they weren’t expected to make any steps towards a healthier self. Most of their decisions was motivated my selfishness and after a while, it became wearing.

Sex was, in many ways, it’s own character throughout the novel. From the protagonist’s affair, to Kate and her husbands relationship, it was a constant theme. Despite it’s prevalence in the novel, at many points it felt gratuitous, and at all points it didn’t feel like it was helping the characters grow. I often felt like it was a cheap substitute for genuine interactions and communication. (Not that sexual relations can’t be genuine and communicative. They can and should be, but these weren’t, and that was the point of my frustration.)

It’s not a book I would recommend, but if the above exploration sounds intriguing to you, be my guest.

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Two Old Women: A Book Review

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From: here

This book was a recommendation of one of my co-workers Marinda. It’s a YA level book. Easy to read in an afternoon. And yet, it has a striking amount of depth. It’s the story of two old women who are part of a nomadic tribe in Northern Canada/Alaska area. In the culture, when food is scarce, it is not uncommon to leave the old and sick behind to better use the resources of the tribe.

The story is about two old women who are left behind, and decide they don’t want to die. It’s a story about survival, forgiveness, and appreciating life. It reminded me that the best way to facilitate success is to allow every member of a group to contribute. Most people have way more to offer than they even know.

This book is simple, beautiful, and well worth the read.

2015 Booklist

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Meme credit: here

For my birthday last week I did something a little unorthodox by way of gifts. You see, most of my friends are either students or breaking into their careers right now, and don’t have a ton of money to spare. And so, instead of presents, I asked all of them to think about a book recommendation for me. I don’t think I could have anticipated what a rare treat reading all their recommendations and comments would be. Part of that expereince was how wonderfully representative their recommendations were of themselves. For instance, Katelyn is a second grade teacher and had some wonderful children’s books for me, Megan has lived in Southeast Asia and shared some powerful memoirs from that region of the world. Rachel majored in Russian and gave me four beefy Russian novels (I’ll be lucky to get through one). While Jaclyn, the most genuinely positive person I know, suggested The Power of Positive Thinking.

It just illustrated for me that we are what we read. Books shape the way we think, and are often representative of what we care about. They take more energy to consume than a television show or movie. You can’t be passive about it; you have to focus on the words to read them, and turn the pages to continue. You choose with every second to keep reading. I love it, as you can probably guess just from the title of this blog. And so I wanted to share the wonderfully diverse and interesting list with all of you.

(Title- recommender)

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain- Sarah
  • Unbroken-Sarah, Jake, and Alex
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns- Susan
  • Ella Minnow Pea- Marinda
  • The Hiding Place- Marinda
  • Maximum Ride- Kristen
  • Peace Like a River- Jessie
  • Going Postal – Jessie
  • The Giver Quartet- Quincey
  • The Journey- Katelyn
  • Boy (Rhode Dahl)- Kateyln
  • Lunar Chronicles- Maryssa
  • The Power of Positive Thinking- Jaclyn
  • The Tiger’s Curse- Bethany
  • Blackmoore- Bethany
  • Survival in the Killing Fields- Megan
  • In the Land of Green Ghosts- Megan
  • Team of Rivals- Keaton
  • A Circle of Quiet- Katie
  • Crime and Punishment- Rachel
  • Anna Karenina- Rachel
  • Fathers and Children- Rachel
  • Brothers Karamazv- Rachel
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Rachel

A few books that are on my immediate reading list:

  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • Two Old Women- Marinda
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog- Sarah and Rachel
  • The Enchanted April- Katie
  • The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood
  • You’re not you
  • The Book Thief
  • Influencer- Liz and Rosie
  • Daring Greatly- I just loved her TED talk
  • The Power of Vulnerability

I probably won’t get through all of these books in 2015 since I have a full time job and a ton of other responsibilities, but I’m hoping to make a significant dent. Feel free to take advantage of this list for your own booklist, and add to it in the comments section.

Made to Stick: A Book Review

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I told you I would give you a variety of book reviews. Made to Stick is about communicating in ways that stick in people’s minds. Obviously advertising is one of the main fields this applies to, but also management and education, among others.

Let me tell you how this book got inside my head… I made a new acquaintance while reading Made to Stick. He’s interesting and passionate, and a philosopher. I loved having deep, intellectual conversations with him, but often his references and ideas were so esoteric that I could hardly keep up, despite my critical humanities background. Without even consciously thinking about it, every time we had a conversation I would talk to him about this book and try to help him see the importance of not just having good, interesting ideas, but also being able to help people without degrees in philosophy understand them as well. Literally, I think he assumed I was obsessed with this book.

But what I love about it is that clear communication is pretty effectively boiled down to six principles of sticky ideas. Some of them seem fairly obvious, but then they show scenarios of how to apply the principles. These were most helpful for me. Sometimes we feel like we are successfully implementing something until we see it actually working, and then we realize how much farther we have to go. I actually finished this book a few months ago, but I find myself going back to the knowledge at work and in my personal interactions.

If your life includes trying to influence people (and whose doesn’t, to some extent?), then I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Happy reading!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Book Review

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So the title is a bit of a mouth full, but it’s a mouth full you’ll be willing to deal with once you read this book and start recommending it to all of your friends. It is possibly one of the most charming pieces I’ve ever read. Like Sound of Music, I want to sing through the streets of Salzburg charming. If you just want to feel happy about life, read this book.

So with a title like that, what exactly is the book about? Good question.

It’s a fictional compilation of letters involving a young writer named Juliet just after the close of WWII. During the war, she wrote a column about the war that somehow managed to be humorous and charming. This seems impossible to do until you read 30 pages of her correspondence and then you stop questioning.

She broke off an engagement during the war, lost her house along with all her books, and is now in the process of rebuilding her life, along with the rest of the country. It is at this juncture that she begins correspondence with a book club on Guernsey, an island off the coast of England. An island that was occupied by the Germans during the war. (I had no idea!!)

The book club is called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, hence the name of the book. (There is a reason you learn in the text for such a crazy book club name) Although Juliet is the protagonist of the book, this quirky book club is the driving force. You just fall in love with every single one of them and want to take them home with you. Or move in with them. That might be better. They live in England.

Anyway, I loved this book. It has it all: history, sorrow, love, sacrifice, humor, bravery… I could go on. But mostly I loved it because it made me feel warm and happy inside. If you are or have an Anglophile in your life, get this book now!

Life of Pi: A Book Reviewread

Life of Pi

From: here

I remember seeing the movie a few years ago. My mom had half watched a trailer while doing 10 other things and figured it was a fun movie about a circus or something because there was a tiger. She suggested that we take all of the young cousins to the movie and so we did. Life of Pi is not a kids movie about a circus.

It’s gritty and slow and sad and beautiful, and definitely not a kids movie.

Luckily I wasn’t a child at the time and really enjoyed the movie. The cinematography is stunning. I love that the ocean becomes it’s own character throughout the movie. A fickle friend to the protagonist, but also his lifeline. I could go on, but right now you’re wondering why I’m talking about the movie in a book review. Well, because my experience during the movie really shaped the experience I had reading the book.

You see, the conclusion of the movie makes you think that the whole movie, the entire story, was a metaphor for the delusions that religious people allow themselves to believe rather than accepting the cold, depressing facts of mortality. And so, even though I thought the movie was beautiful, I didn’t agree with the thesis, and didn’t feel like reading the book.

Until I found out that Life of Pi was the favorite book of one of my friends. A friend whose taste in books I really trust. So I decided to give it another try.

Just like the movie, the book is slow. But you are rewarded for your progress with gorgeous prose. The kind of prose that feels like poetry because it’s so rhythmic and full. So if you’re a writer, the book is well worth your time merely because Yann Martel is a brilliant writer and you will want to read what he can do with the English language.

The book feels otherworldly, and often is. Sometimes it’s the rich descriptions of India, sometimes it’s literally a magical island that eats people. Martel invites all of his readers to suspend disbelief for this story. And he does it with the guileless voice of Pi, his protagonist.

What you come to love about Pi, both the youth and the adult, is his appreciation for life and faith. As a child, he joins Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism at the same time. He loves and believes all of them, and doesn’t find them mutually exclusive. They all help him connect with a higher power in a different way.

But even for a religious person like me, Pi’s journey begs the question: How could someone so faithful be forced to experience such a trial? What is powerful about the story is that even though Pi does ask the question as well, he doesn’t dwell on it. He continually returns to his faith to endure the months he spends in solitude on the brink of death. His story should be simple. He should have died. He should have starved. He should have been eaten by any of the wild animals he was trapped with. He should have lost his sanity. He should have committed suicide. But his story isn’t simple, because he doesn’t do any of those things. (Sanity is up for debate, I suppose)

The book’s conclusion contrasts the movie because it is less prescriptive. While the atheistic interpretation of The Life of Pi is there, it also has another interpretation. That although faith seems as remarkable as a boy surviving on a lifeboat for over a year with a Bengal Tiger, that doesn’t mean that Pi didn’t have that experience. And as remarkable as conceptions of faith are, that doesn’t mean that those who have had spiritual experiences of all faiths didn’t actually have them. In so many ways, the book explains spirituality to a modern world better than almost anything else I’ve ever read. And it does it through a beautiful, poignant story of a young boy named Pi.

The Help: A Book Review

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I’ve had The Help sitting on my book shelf for years. I got it from one of my aunts one year for Christmas and unfortunately went right into school and never had a chance to read it. Well, on my way to New York City I realized that I was probably going to finish the book I had packed before my return flight, and would want a second book. I saw it, and threw it in my bag at the last moment. Lucky for me, because my flight ended up being cancelled and I was able to get over 100 pages in while waiting for the airport to figure things out.

What I enjoy about The Help is that it is written for the masses; it’s fun, dynamic, straightforward. But by the same token, it is masterfully woven together with interesting themes and experimentation of vocal register. In case you didn’t gather from that description, I love it.

Kathryn Stockett didn’t give anyone a free ride in this novel. Everyone in the book makes mistakes and makes poor decisions and is unfeeling at times (some, more times than others). However, she does a great job of showing why they choose to act that way. She validates their behavior, even if she doesn’t condone it. At moments it is tragic in its portrayal of race relations, but at others, it gives you a glimmer of hope that people can transcend what they’ve been taught. It doesn’t sugar coat the anger on the part of the oppressed, nor the closed-mindedness of the oppressors. But it does show them as flawed human beings trying to make things work within the context they were given.

The brilliance of Skeeter as the narrator continues to impress me, because she is what all white middle-class women hope we would be in that situation. Brave and compassionate and aware. And by allowing us into her head for a little while, we start to take on her persona. We want the stories. We want to understand, even if it’s painful. We need to recognize our white privilege, and sometimes the only people who can accurately tell us what we gain from the color of our skin, are those who don’t share it. We learn from Skeeter’s example, that we need to listen.

Stockett doesn’t come out with a treatise on how to improve race relations today. She makes us care. She models how we can be brave. And she teaches us to turn to the stories. Because stories are powerful ways to communicate experience and try to understand.