Book Reviews

Personal challenge for 2019? Review every book I read! (All reviews available on Cannonball Read, benefiting the American Cancer Society.)

BOOK REVIEW: Let Your Life Be a Counter Friction to Stop the Machine

Welcome to the Anthropocene era, the fossil fuel-powered nightmare of our own making. Our hot and crowded planet has hit Defcon 3. Right now, a record number of fires is burning down the Brazilian rainforest, threatening three million endemic plant and animal species. Mass bleaching in the heat-stressed Great Barrier Reef has reduced baby coral by 89% since 2016. Okjökull is the first (but not the last) glacier to disappear from Iceland. Last month Paris hit 109º, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city, which is at the same latitude as Seattle.

BOOK REVIEW: I Have Always Imagined that Paradise Will Be a Kind of Library

Have you ever felt that a book was written just for you? Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is my Platonic ideal: a novel by an Elder Millennial, set in an alternate San Francisco Bay Area populated by talented, curious people, weird-but-plausible technologies, and endless shelves of books. By the time I discovered the in-story trilogy of fantasy novels and the credible centuries-old secret society, I committed to becoming a Sloan completist.

BOOK REVIEW: 10 Reasons to Get Out of Bed in the Morning

Within two minutes of waking up, I remember things I’d rather not: raging wildfires, hurricanes, desperate refugees, white nationalists, dead gray whales washing up onshore. Keep Going is a gift, an emotional stain remover, the pep talk I didn’t know I needed in order to tamp down my despair and resume making art. Kleon knows the struggle is real. (Good luck staying loose and open when the outside world is invading every level of your consciousness!)

BOOK REVIEW; Like a Sports Movie, In Reverse

Football is the quintessential American sport. Two disciplined armies meet out on an open field. Highly trained men in uniform wallop the enemy, denying them ground. Our super soldiers bash their brains in—and sometimes break their necks—for our entertainment. And we cheer. Because who doesn’t love a proxy war? It’s tribal. Downright primal. Are you entertained?! *checks notes* Pardon. Apparently, baseball is America’s game.

BOOK REVIEW: A Child's Introduction to Pure Evil

I live two blocks away from a stellar children’s book store. It’s a habit of mine to visit several times a month. I enjoy keeping tabs on what the kids are reading these days (graphic novels) and which titles have staying power. The pale blue cover of Number the Stars is always on display in the middle reader section. The fact that Lois Lowry, an author born in 1937, still has books occupying prime shelf space is an amazing feat—but not surprising to me, given I think about The Giver on a monthly basis.

BOOK REVIEW: The Elements of Style: The Sequel

A professor once threatened to boot me from his course for my crimes against the English language. My breezy essays were careless, inexact, perhaps even terrible. In his mercy Dr. Wright —a white-haired taskmaster in tweed jackets who frequently referenced “the war” (World War II)—gave me some advice: “Read Strunk and White every morning while eating your Wheaties.” If William Strunk and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style is the life vest keeping your head above water, William Zissner’s On Writing Well is the Coast Guard.

BOOK REVIEW: Life is Hard: A Sermon (with a soupçon of Fix-My-Husband)

Despite its serviceable plot and prose, I’m Fine and Neither Are You is one big object lesson, a 266-page straight-from-seminary homily that I found predictable, implausible, and insulting in its oversimplification. To say more is spoilers but suffice it to say: someone else’s personal tragedy becomes the single best thing to ever happen to Penny. Like, rainbows and unicorns, all thanks to the catalyst of being in proximity to the Worst Thing That Will Ever Happen (to someone else). God forbid a person grow through quiet contemplation and old-fashioned discipline!

BOOK REVIEW: What's Not to Love?

My romantic expectations hover somewhere between The English Patient and Lust, Caution. (Love is brief and destroys lives. THE END.) Reading The Rosie Project, I found myself loving the dispassionate narrator in spite of myself. Don is bright, witty, and somewhere on the spectrum. Though he has no use for love—he’s busy with his successful career and finds satisfaction in his careful routine—he decides a wife could be a helpful addition to his overall situation. Imagine Mr. Spock going on OKCupid.

BOOK REVIEW: The Original YA Novel: Classic for a Reason

Strong and sensitive Jane Eyre is the progenitoress of Anne of Green Gables, Meg Murray, Lyra Belacqua, and Katniss Everdeen. Unlike any English novel prior to 1847, the story happens *inside* a young woman’s mind, giving the reader direct access to her thoughts, emotions, and observations. (The book couldn’t exist otherwise: her actions are usually unremarkable and the world finds her inscrutable.) Brontë alchemizes her life experiences into semi-autobiographical prose and clearly relishes playing with her young doppelgänger.

BOOK REVIEW: Murder Mysteries: Hercule Poirot > Miss Marple

If I had to pick my poison, I would go with Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, he of glorious mustache and elegant mind. His interview skills and nose for detail are bar none. Like Holmes he has a bit of a reputation and takes joy in the specificity of his job. His considers psychological profiles and creates timelines. Eliminate the impossible and what’s left must be the truth. Not that Miss Marple is some slouch. Though she’s scatterbrained in her dotage she retains a flair for investigation and a refined sense of evil. She’ll mistrust a person on sight and then discreetly sniff around to determine why. Mysteries have a way of finding Miss Marple, in the same way dead bodies found Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote.

BOOK REVIEW: These Virtues are Formed in Man by His Doing the Actions

Narrator Candace, a second generation Chinese immigrant, is outwardly calm and efficient as she goes about her unflashy life in New York City. She works a decent publishing job that she knows to be meaningless and mediocre. She lazily falls into a romantic relationship with a nice-enough neighbor. She ruminates at length about her parents and whether she has earned their sacrifices. Her one tepid passion is for photography, which she pursues whole-heartedly only once the city is empty and desolate.

BOOK REVIEW: Undiagnosed Mental Illness Will Wreck Your Life

Our man Greyson, a successful Hollywood executive with a wife and an eight-year-old daughter, has an undiagnosed mental illness. It’s an unescapable, nameless issue that dictates more and more of his life. Sometimes it’s a boon to his career, boosting his confidence and energy. Other times, he retreats from the world and self-medicates while his spouse covers for him. At the top of his game, Grey knows the only way left for him is down. His bitter memories of his mercurial and pathetic father drive him to abandon his family before he destroys it. He will become a nomad with no ties, someone incapable of hurting anybody but himself.
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