Monday, July 31, 2017

Theft By Finding

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
by David Sedaris
Published: May 2017

Nothing like 25 years worth of journal entries to capture the quirks of day-to-day life. Sedaris' wry observations are casual, comfortable and consistent, peppered with hilarious gems and stranger-than-fiction encounters.

4 out of 5 stars: The audiobook is read by David, which makes the journal entries especially intimate and real. And sidenote, how did I not know that David and Amy Sedaris were siblings??

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Moving collection of essays passed from father to son on community, culture, and growing up black in America. Coates takes us through his formative years, navigating the unspoken language of the streets, and how to abide and thrive in a violent world. He describes experiences at his historically black alma mater, his "Mecca", grateful for the safe haven to cultivate curiosity and investigate the rich heritage of African Americans. Perhaps most importantly, he refuses to shy away from the more weighty discussions of police brutality and the history of slavery and oppression of the West.

4.5 out of 5 stars: Some passages are borderline esoteric, but on the whole, this is a beautiful, lyrical, accessible read. The audiobook read by the author, which I really enjoyed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Homesick for Another World

Homesick for Another World
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published: January 2017

Collection of short stories that I can only describe as grimy mumblecore. Some characters are tragic and relatable but most are just creepy and desperate and downright repulsive. I'm all about skeevy unlikable narrators so nothing wrong with that outright. There were a few stories in the bunch I really liked, gross protag or not. But all of them heaped together was a bit much, especially with the overlapping obsessive stalkers, disenchanted alcoholics, aggressively naive teens, etc.

3 out of 5 stars: Some of these stuck their landing brilliantly, but others I felt wanting. I'm currently on my library's hold list for  Eileen, so I can't wait to get a better feel for Moshfegh's voice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Reason You're Alive

The Reason You're Alive 
by Matthew Quick
Published: July 2017

 First off, the narrator is essentially Cotton from King of the Hill: a crotchety, politically incorrect Vietnam vet who will be played by Robert de Niro when this inevitably becomes a motion picture. The story itself reads like a memoir as he chronicles his recovery from brain surgery, trying to understand his bleeding heart art collector son, and making peace with his tumultuous past.

4 out of 5 stars: It was very eye-opening to read a book written from the perspective of an ultra-patriotic conservative- there is no shying away from issues such as racism, homophobia, mental health, nationalism and gender roles. Whether or not I agreed, I feel like I now better appreciate how people reach those conclusions.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky 
by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is a collection of stories set in Nigeria that explore the bleakness of existence, the infusion of ancient fables in a cultural narrative, and a disquietingly dystopian brand of magical-realism. The stories themselves could stand alone*, but as a well-crafted collection their emotional weight is magnified. Though each of the stories individually grapples with grief, self-preservation, and mending the fabric of torn families, each reaches a gnawing depth somehow more heartbreaking than the last.

* One of the stories was independently published in the New Yorker (Oct 2015), "Who Will Greet You At Home" and gives a taste of the collection's more fantastical side.

5 out of 5 stars: I love me some morbid reality, toss in some ancient parables and post-apocalyptic futures and I am beyond sold.

Friday, July 21, 2017

I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Kong
Published: Aug 2016

The title is a clever reference to Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself' but literally refers to the massive communities of microbes that inhabit our bodies. According to the NIH, some estimates show microorganisms outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1 (though they only make up 1-3% of our mass because they're so teensy!). Depending on where you look - skin, mouth, genitals - there are different types of bacteria performing various roles, contributing to our natural biochemical processes. While this book describes the relationships humans have with bacteria, we really have nothing on some plants and animals studied, where the symbiosis has reached a level of critical co-dependence. So we get a good review of the history of microbiology as well as more current research in the field as it explodes in popularity. I for one, welcome our bacterial overlords.

5 out of 5 stars: Kong deftly captures the pendulum of scientific attitudes towards bacteria - swinging between the extremes of "germophobia, where all microbes must be vanquished, towards microbomania, where microbes are heralded as the explanation for - and the solution to - all our ills." In the end, they are all necessarily out to harm or support us, we're all just part of the same complicated machinations of life struggling to continue existing.

Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, Vitamin
by Rachel Khong
Published: July 2017

Simply put, the journal entries of a young woman maneuvering a failing relationship, complicated family dynamics and father diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Poignant moments nestle within lighthearted journal blurbs keep it short, sweet, but incredibly moving (the dad's notes on his daughter's childhood had me welling up something fierce).

4.5 out of 5 stars. Anyone else who has witnessed the slow fading of a loved one's dignity and sense of self as their family helplessly stands by in support will find bits and pieces of their own story in these pages.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Industries of the Future

Industries of the Future 
by Alec J. Ross
Published: Feb 2016

 Senior Innovation Adviser to the Obama administration and tech policy guru Alec Ross deconstructs recent trends in tech around the world in an effort to project some semblance of where we're headed in this increasingly digitized, analyzed global market. He explores the frontiers of robotics, genomics, Big Data, cryptocurrencies and cyberattacks-- but not without setting the historical stage for each industry's inception and meteoric growth. I think what I appreciated most was learning how different nations are setting the stage for advances in these fields: either by trying to recreate Silicon Valley, by opening up the workforce (to young adults and women), or by leap-frogging past generations of innovations (ie: African countries getting cell phones before landlines)

4.5 out of 5 stars: Informative and educational, but somehow in the span of a year, some parts of the book have already become outdated (UBER's outta control like whoa).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Published: Sept 2014

A post-apocalyptic tapestry of narratives that seamlessly weave various points of view across a fragmented timeline. The story itself is surprisingly believable and very well executed, grounded and incredibly moving. Honestly this seems like the sort of novel that'll be assigned to future classes of reluctant high school English students. Learn about raw human nature, existentialism and social dramaturgy, all while quoting Shakespeare!

5 out of 5 stars: This was a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
by Carlo Rovelli, (translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre)
Published: March 2016

Tiny, poetic morsels of physics exposition originally written as columns for an Italian newspaper. With passion and precision, Rovelli plunges into the past, present and future of physics: the nature of spacetime, the architecture of the cosmos and theories that attempt to characterize how we perceive and interact with reality.

5 out of 5 stars: A clear successor to Sagan and Hawking and likely a bestseller for years to come (which I am happy to ensure single-handedly as everyone I know is getting a copy this Christmas sorry not sorry).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Your Brain is a Time Machine

Your Brain is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time
by Dean Buonomano
Published: May 2017

Great overview of how the fields of physics and neuroscience approach the study of time: how they overlap and where they butt heads. Historical context, thought experiments, and countless research studies form the framework for how our concept of time has evolved across fields of study. Circadian and biological rhythms inform our mental alarm clocks, but we also employ various levels of more precise neuro-timers to properly parse speech, music and memories. Sundials, crystal quartz watches and atomic clocks capture the external, more objective passage of time, though Einstein's theories of relativity counter any hope of leaning on time as an unqualified absolute.
One dichotomy I found super interesting is the battle of presentism vs eternalism. The former holds that the present, the NOW, is the only moment grounded in reality, while the past and future are inaccessible and only exist in our memories or mental projections, respectively. This is the theory supported by our conscious experience - we feel that each passing moment, each NOW, is somehow qualitatively different than any moment in time not currently being experienced. Eternalism on the other hand, posits that time is the fourth dimension and reality can be presented as a 4D variation of a cube --like a block of cheese where the present moment is merely a slice. This is the view supported by modern physics, because time is relative to the observer and there is no evidence to suggest (beyond our intuition) that the present moment is any more real than any other moment in time. The world of scifi rejoices.

4 out of 5 stars: Expansive and well-researched, I appreciated the author bringing us into the proverbial trenches of each explicitly detailed experiment. That said, though the chapters themselves had a purpose and flow, there were times that felt a bit meandering and unnecessary for the Bigger Picture being painted.


Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)
by Jeff VanderMeer
Published: Feb 2014

 An unnamed biologist takes notes in her journal as she and four other scientists are sent on a data-gathering expedition into a mysterious territory known only as Area X. Though it starts out with measurements and observations, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern hallucination from reality the deeper they explore. VanderMeer's fanstastical descriptions push the boundaries of our perception, and the narrative reads like the heady haze of someone lightly dosed.

4 out of 5: Here come the acid flashbacks! Short, sweet and I can't wait to pick up the next in the trilogy.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ready Player One

Ready Player One 
by Ernest Cline
Pusblished: Aug 2011

Reads like YA fic but clearly written with adults nostalgic for the 80's in mind. Set in a bleak and crisis-riddled future where most people spend their time plugged into a virtual-reality MMO/Second Life type of game searching for an easter egg quest hidden by the late creator. Surprisingly packed with references and trivia, would recommend for anyone who digs precocious kid adventures and mental chess a la Ender's Game. Get ready to dive way too deep into 80's pop culture, scifi/fantasy lore with a crash course in old school arcade and console videogames.

Bonus: They've just released a trailer for the upcoming 2018 film! I wonder if Spielberg will be able to resist referencing his own work - like how Will Wheaton both makes a cameo in the story and reads the audiobook.

4.5 out of 5 stars: A fun, all-consuming read for anyone ready to fetishize the 80's and secretly wish we'd just barrel into Energy Crisis post-apocalyptic VR world already.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pandora's Lab

Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong 
by Paul A. Offit
Published: April 2017

Scientific progress is a double-edged sword; behind the advancement of knowledge is shadow of unforeseen consequence. This book aims to break down seven of the worst, most destructive fallouts of the 20th century. Extremely well-researched, each chapter presents the technical and historical contexts of the 'discoveries' as well as their repercussions to modern day. That said, this is far from anti-science, rather, an honest look at what happens when healthcare, nationalism, activism and even environmentalism go unchecked by data.

5 out of 5 stars: Listened to this in the car on a drive up and down from Dallas, A++ roadtrip material -- it sparks some really fun, albeit heated, discussions.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body 
by Roxane Gay
Published: June 2017

Roxane Gay didn't write this heartbreaking memoir as a cry for help, to seek attention or pity. She writes because breaking down experiences, bottled emotions, and sharp pop culture criticisms into essays is what she does best. This is an exposition of her traumas and observations as much as it is a platform to discuss the experiences that bind anyone struggling with an unruly body, a history of regrettable decisions, or a complicated relationship with self-esteem. This collection of essays is raw, defiant and uncomfortable to read. This must have been monumentally hard for Gay to share with the world, but her strength and grace is a beacon for all those struggling in silence.

4 out of 5 stars: Much like Bad Feminist, there were times I found myself disagreeing with her interpretations-- but sometimes recognizing the baggage, biases and stubbornness that each individual brings to the discussion is as important as the discussion itself.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers 
by Mary Roach

Death is as much a part of being human as life, but what happens to our bodies after we die is an oft avoided subject. So in case you ever wanted to know the various stages of body decomposition, the history of rogue anatomists turned gravediggers, the many avenues of research that require human limbs and tissues, as well as the future of body disposal (we're way past embalming and cremation guys, it's time for liquid dissolution and ecological dispersal!), this is the book for you.

4 out of 5 stars: Some tangents went on a bit too long, and some bits left me wanting to know more - but all in all, solid patchwork of topics that don't get a lot of airtime.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1)
by Stieg Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)
Published: Jan 2008

Really fun whodunit thriller, can definitely see how it got to be an international sensation. But beyond the fast-paced action and mystery, I appreciated the emphasis placed on discussing domestic violence issues and statistics. Delving into the corruption of financial institutions and gray areas of journalistic integrity were also nice cherries on top.

4.5 out of 5 stars: Really everything you'd want out of a thriller - interesting, multi-dimensional characters, intrigue and suspense, little dash of sociopolitical commentary. Guess I should watch the movie(s)!