This spreadsheet isn’t pretty, but it’s the most up-to-date record of what I read.
Books I’ve been thinking about lately:
A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren — I knew very little about Warren’s background before reading this, and I came away from it feeling impressed and inspired. I appreciate her self-awareness (“I’m not funny”) and her clear commitment to the middle class. Personally I think she could/should put more emphasis on people living in or close to poverty, and she indicates a shift in that direction toward the end of her book. She also manages to make a 300-page memoir focused on financial law INTERESTING. She comes through as authentic, dedicated, smart, and passionate—and her track record of success shows that she’s capable of inspiring large groups of other people to join her in challenging the status quo. I *might* have found my 2020 favorite. (Review written Aug. 1, 2019)
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think — My partner loaned me this book after he read it, and he read it in part because Bill Gates had bought a copy for any graduating high school senior in America who wanted one. I was skeptical of this book at first, because to “hook” you from the get-go, the author (the late researcher Hans Rosling) crows about the “shocking” results of a multiple-choice quiz he’d given to a wide range of well-educated audiences. The questions are all about the state of the world today, focusing on stats around education, health, wealth/poverty, and other measures of wellbeing. Most people get most questions wrong, indicating that most people are too pessimistic about the world today. I was annoyed about the way the author portrayed these results, because a multiple-choice quiz is so easily manipulated to guide the test-taker towards certain answers. However, I think the bottom line conclusion is overall valid, and was happily convinced later in the book that the culturally entrenched binary of “developed” vs. “developing” nations is unhelpful and misleading. In reality, the world’s nations could be grouped into four categories that better demonstrate the spectrum of global wellbeing that exists today. And overall, things (like education rates, health outcomes, standards of living) are getting better on a global scale!
The Rosie Project — I wasn’t particularly impressed by Simsion’s writing itself, but the main character was compelling enough to keep me thinking about him. Socially awkward, possibly on the spectrum, extremely analytical—even formulaic—in how he makes daily decisions, including how he handles himself in any conversation, no matter how informal. How exhausting it must be to hyper-analyze one’s own social signals so constantly and anxiously!
Simsion also manages to pull off some pretty clever dialogue and vividly entertaining scenes that I enjoyed.
Wilderness Tips (Stories) — I flew through this collection, entranced by the theme of time passing. The strange characters all felt uncomfortably believable; surely people like this must exist throughout the world. Surely I cross paths with stories like these all the time, never knowing the complexity behind the snippet of conversation I might witness in passing on the street or at a cafe. Atwood lets me hear those stories I wonder about when I people-watch, and she lets me know how they end.
A Visit from the Goon Squad — Time is a goon, insists one of Egan’s characters. Maybe I just love books with the theme of time. I love learning the backstory of a character who’d otherwise be considered minor or secondary. I love how brilliantly Egan intertwines her characters’ meandering lives—and how brilliantly she unfolds the overlapping storylines as the reader progresses through the book.
Career of Evil — I read Cuckoo’s Calling back in the summer of 2014, but for whatever reason it didn’t inspire me to immediately pursue the rest of the series. I rediscovered Cormoran Strike while browsing UNC’s Undergraduate Library “popular books” section, and proceeded to race through The Silkworm, Career of Evil, and Lethal White. I love Rowling’s writing style, and I love how she’s been able to produce sophisticated adult novels that are totally different from Harry Potter. No characters remind me of Harry Potter characters, and the only motif that one might claim is similar is that of good vs. evil.
The only time I felt reminded of Harry Potter was the scene at the end of Career of Evil where Strike blows up at Robin for deliberately acting against his directives, thereby jeopardizing their case and their relationship with the Met. That scene of angry, shouted dialogue reminded me exactly of the scene in Order of the Phoenix when Harry blows up at Ron and Hermione for keeping him in the dark all summer while he languished at the Dursleys’. Maybe the only real similarity is that Rowling is really good at capturing anger in her writing, but it did make me a little bit happy to feel that connection. (Though I’m sure she wishes people would not compare the Harry Potter series to the Cormoran Strike series—see pen name for evidence.)
Anyway, one of the things that was most striking to me about Career of Evil was how dark and gruesome it was. What was her process for writing a book like this? Was it all in her head, or did she have to research the psychology of violent criminals? Was it hard to write so many murder scenes, so many chapters from the twisted perspective of a mass murderer? Was she disturbed at all by what she was writing, or was she able to separate the scenes and characters from her own identity? More than any other novel she’s written (including HP!!), this book made me wish I could have lunch with Rowling to ask her about her writing process.