What I’m Reading, February 2017

Hello March! February was a good month for reading, with 19 books read this month and 35 total books read this year. Although I encountered a string of disappointments at the beginning and end of the month, I did enjoy most of February’s books. Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: Several of my friends have raved about this book, including one who specializes in children’s literature, so I went in with high expectations. It’s a cute mystery that takes place around Christmastime; twelve-year-old Milo just wants to have a peaceful winter break, but then all kinds of guests appear in the inn his parents run. Milo then finds himself solving a mystery about missing items and hte house itself with the help of the cook’s daughter Meddy. I enjoyed the beginning and end (including the twist at the end), as well as Milo, Meddy, and his parents, but the side characters mostly fell flat to me. (3 out of 5 stained glass windows)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley: I listened to this book. It would have resonated more in 2010 when it was released as opposed to now when everything seems like gloom and doom. Author Matt Ridley tries to argue that the world is getting better and will continue to get better. He does this well in the first few chapters, but then his arrogance starts to show. His argument also doesn’t take into account world governments and corruption that frequently block innovation and world progress, something that has been rearing its ugly head more frequently over the past few years. Mostly I just found myself bored while listening to this book. (2 out of 5 global changes)

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande: I listened to this book. I wanted to like this book since I enjoyed Being Mortal, but it turned out to be more about the stories of checklists’ impact as opposed to the history of the checklist and its research. I would love to read a book about how checklists can, say, improve medical procedures, which some of the book does touch on. Hint hint. (3 out of 5 checklists)

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: This is an origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. In this novel, Lady Catherine wants to open a bakery with her friend/servant Mary Ann, but her parents want her to marry the king and become the Queen of Hearts. Then the Joker comes in, and the two of them enter a secret courtship while the King is attempting to court Catherine. This is a well-written tale that maintains all the whimsy of the original Wonderland while adding Meyer’s own style. Also, I want a Jest of my own now. (4 out of 5 white roses)

Lemons by Melissa Savage: This book doesn’t come out until May, but I obtained an ARC through my book club. It’s 1975. Ten (and three-quarters)-year-old Lemonade Liberty Witt has just lost her mother and is sent to live with her grandfather (who she has never met) in the woods of California. She befriends fellow kid Tobin and they start investigating Bigfoot sightings together. This is a really sweet story set toward the end of the Vietnam War, even if I did predict the ending pretty early on. (4 out of 5 Bigfoot sightings)

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes: I did not like this book. The characters are shallow, embracing just about every stereotype about popular kids out there. The story seems to float from event to event instead of containing a cohesive storyline. Also, I kept reading the main character’s last name as Dragonair, which amused me more than the actual story did. At least the blessedly short story kept me intrigued enough to read to the end. (2 out of 5 Bunza Buns)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: I listened to this book, which was read by the author. This memoir about her life in the lab is beautifully written, and it deals with other topics like mental illness and childbirth. Some of her stories about trees and soil make me realize what I love so much about math: that moment when it all comes together after agonizing over a single problem for weeks. Other sections are raw and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and you can hear her emotion as she reads some of her own words. If you like reading about science and scientists, or even if you just like touching stories, pick up this book. (5 out of 5 experiments)

Homeland by Cory Doctorow: This book is the sequel to Little Brother, which I read and enjoyed in 2014. This book, however, is not as good as its predecessor. That said, it’s still a decent read, with a story set against the broken economy and the Occupy movement as well as more up-to-date tech references. While the beginning felt slow and implausible in parts, the ending was abrupt and left a lot of loose ends untied. Did Joe Noss win the election? What does Marcus do after the events of the story? What happened in all the time in between the events of the story and the epilogue? I did enjoy the essay by Aaron Swartz (RIP) at the end, as well as the cameos by the EFF team and Wil Wheaton, though. Of course Wil is DMing a campaign. (3 out of 5 rooted machines)

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes: I listened to this book, which discusses the growing unequal distribution of wealth and how we got here in the first place. Even though this book was published in 2012, the content is still timely; in fact, its message is more applicable now than in 2012. This book provides a history of meritocracy and details how it has broken down over the years, with the elites losing touch with middle America and failing at, well, everything except getting even richer. Examples in this book range from steroids in baseball to admissions tests for elite schools. Everyone needs to read this book, especially those high up on the socioeconomic ladder, for the only way to fix this and bring about more equality is for the masses to work together in a democratic fashion. (4 out of 5 billionaires)

The Crashers by Magen Cubed: I’ve seen the author around Twitter, and a friend recommended this book to me. This book tells the story of five people who come together after surviving a crash and discovering they have superpowers. From seeing the future to strength to speed, these five people deal with their superpowers while juggling their own falling-apart lives. While I enjoyed the book, I wish there were more of an explanation of how exactly the characters got their powers, not to mention what happens after they beat the bad guy. (4 out of 5 superpowers)

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis: I listened to this book, which tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their decade of researching decision making together. While I was familiar with many of their research topics from previous reading, hearing the story behind their discoveries made this book a narrative and not just a textbook, which in turn made the book even more enjoyable. (4 out of 5 heuristics)

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion: Don and Rosie are married and living in New York City when Rosie becomes pregnant. This prompts Don to research everything he needs to know in order to become a father, but in the process he finds himself losing Rosie as well. While I didn’t like this book as much as I did The Rosie Project, the sequel is still enjoyable. It could have used one more round of editing and rewriting, but besides that, the book makes me love Don and want to shake some sense into him at the same time. (4 out of 5 buds)

Buck by MK Asante: I read this book for my library’s book club. I hadn’t heard of MK Asante before reading this book, which tells the story of growing up in inner city Philadelphia. MK also has to deal with his father leaving, his brother going to jail, and much more that I won’t get into here because spoilers. Asante’s writing is interspersed with rap and hip-hop lyrics throughout the book, sometimes even in the middle of a scene, and toward the end his own lines start playing this role. Asante’s tale is raw and full of emotion while showing his own maturity and perseverance. (4 out of 5 bucks)

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond: I listened to this book, which tells the story of evictions in Milwaukee while showing what the tenants and the landlords alike have to go through, all to shed light on how and why evictions are becoming more and more common. Desmond does this by following eight families and two landlords (spoiler: he lived among them while doing some of the research), noting just how easy it is to evict a tenant, how many very poor families spend closer to 100% of their income on rent compared to the recommended 30%, and how easily unpaid rent can accumulate. Heartbreaking and too real. (4 out of 5 evictions)

Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottlieb: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author. Even though I had never heard of the author (who has worked at Simon & Schuster, Albert A. Knopf, the New Yorker, and other places I’m not thinking of), this book sounded interesting at first because of the title. How could I resist a book like this? Pretty easily, it turned out. The author admits he’s much more of an editor than a writer, and it shows. While hearing about some of the celebrities he had worked with was interesting, this book was definitely written for his family and friends, as there wasn’t much general interest in some (okay, a lot) of these stories. Listening to this book feels like listening to your family patriarch telling you stories about their entire life, except you sometimes care about those. (3 out of 5 long stories)

Human, Beware! by Thorarinn Gunnarsson: Yes, this is the sequel to Make Way for Dragons. While I was pleasantly surprised by that book, this one was a huge disappointment. I’m not sure where to start with this, except there wasn’t much I liked about this book at all. Mostly I was left confused, trying to figure out what on earth was going on and why it was happening because what did happen made little sense. The author has a really weird thing about getting the main character naked; she was ten in the first book but an adult now. (2 out of 5 dragons)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author, and as expected, it is hilarious. The author tells his stories of growing up mixed-race toward the end of South Africa’s apartheid. Even though the stories are consistently funny (like his stories comparing white church, mixed church, and black church), the insights and depth are also there, something that doesn’t always happen with humor or memoir. I learned a lot while listening, not just about apartheid but about life in general as well. Go read it. Note: there are a few scenes involving partner violence and child abuse. (5 out of 5 pirated CDs)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Despite loving Lois Lowry, I never read this book as a kid. How I managed this, I still don’t know, but I fixed this on Sunday afternoon. What was I waiting for? I would have loved this book as a kid, and I still love it as an adult. Not much else to say here. Go read it if you haven’t already. It won’t take long. (5 out of 5 handkerchiefs)

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths: I listened to this book, first while hiking on Friday, then while riding back home from Asheville last weekend, then finishing it while walking around this week. This book has a lot of computer science in it, but everything is explained well, even for people with no computer experience. And don’t let the computer science part scare you–most of the book applies those principles to decision making and psychology. If you’re interested in a multidisciplinary approach to your learning, read this book. (4 out of 5 big decisions)

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