Library Book Sale!


Last weekend was the fall Library Book Sale.  It’s tied with the Spring Library Book Sale and Christmas as the best event of the year.  Below is my haul.  I bought all of these for $20.50, and I can’t wait to dig in.  If I ever get my to-be-read book list down to less than three shelves again I can justify going to the book sale on half price day for twice the books.  This is my reading goal before the Spring sale.  🙂
The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olson.  I hadn’t heard of this book before, but from a brief perusal it seems it right up my alley.  Absurdist, humorous crime drama?  Yes, please.

Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver.  Let’s be honest, with a few rare exceptions, Kingsolver writes a variation on the same book over and over.  Smart woman feels like an outsider, is doubted by others, eventually finds belonging in a rural area where she least expected it.  I don’t care, I love her writing and will read that book over and over.  This is a sequel to her novel The Bean Trees, which was beautiful, so I look forward to continuing it.  And it was $.50, so it’s not like I had a choice.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre.  I’ve read other Le Carre books, but never this classic.  I feel like I’ve come across it when reading about tons of other books and in other reviews, though, where books are often compared to The Spy Who Came In… as a classic.  So it’s probably about time I read it, and as I’m generally a fan I think it was a good choice.

This Is a Book, Demetri Martin.  I expect this was a fun choice, and it’s probably good for me to pick up something light hearted every now and again.  Martin is one of my favorite comics (comics named Martin seem to be very talented) and not least because all of his comedy is just a bit unusual.  I am not expecting to be surprised by this book, but I think it’ll generally be a fun read for someone who likes Martin anyway.

Guadalajara, Quim Monzo.  Most of this year’s book purchases were books that I’ve heard of or by authors I’m familiar with.  There weren’t nearly as many leap-of-faith purchases as I sometimes have.  This was one of the few.  It’s a short story collection by a Catalan author, Quim Monzo, who I hadn’t heard of before.  The short stories are reimaginings of other classics, such as The Iliad and Metamorphosis, and I was intrigued.  Plus, I just read two other excellent short story collections, so I suppose I’m hoping this is as good as those.

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon.  One description I read of this book called it “exciting and accessible”, the latter not usually the word I land on when describing Pynchon.  But why not?  After all, Crying of Lot 49 is fun if you don’t always demand your books make sense.

My Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs.  I was actually in the religion section looking for Year of Biblical Womanhood, which I’ve been wanting to read forever.  But I remembered that this was a book that had struck my fancy years ago as well.  As a regular church goer, and also fascinated by religion in general, I had wanted to check this book out.  I’m a little nervous it’s going to be too superficial for my tastes, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

Genome, Matt Ridley.  My budget for the book sale is a fairly strick $20 (except for that the Kingsolver book was $.50 so I grabbed it) and so I put back a Mary Roach book to grab this one.  I hope I made the right choice.  But, genomics is incredibly interesting, and I feel like I need a better base of knowledge to figure out what’s real and what isn’t when I read the latest breaking news about CRISPR or other genetic breakthroughs.  Here’s hoping this book was what I’m looking for.

Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks.  What is there to say?  This is an Oliver Sacks book, and I haven’t read it yet.  What choice did I have?  I love Oliver Sacks–and if you haven’t read him yet, you absolutely should.  Even if the book doesn’t initially look like it’s up your alley, I guarantee you’ll love it.  He’s an amazing writer, and all of his stories are fascinating.  I feel pretty good about this one.

Planets, Dava Sobel.  Sobel is another really wonderful science writer.  I’ve read Galileo’s Daughter, which was a very insightful and informative background into the truth of Galileo’s dispute with the Church, and Longitude, which was a fantastic book about the search for a way to measure longitude and how it ties into understandings of time.  I hadn’t heard of this one, but when I saw her name on the shelf I snatched it up.

The Creation, E.O. Wilson.  One of my favorite environmental books is The Future of Life on Earth by Wilson, a truly gifted writer and brilliant biologist.  The Creation, addressed to Christians and other people of faith, as an appeal to religion to save creation, is a book I’d heard of but had forgotten about it.  It’s a slim volume, but I look forward to beautiful language and hopefully some new insights.

And that’s it for this haul.  Now I need to dig in to these books.  Happy Reading!

9 Times the Republican Platform Forgot Donald Trump Is Their Nominee

  1. This platform is optimistic because the American people are optimistic.” (Preamble)
  2. People living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing and suffering.” (Preamble)
  3. “Our most urgent task as a Party is to restore the American people’s faith in their government by electing a president who will enforce duly enacted laws, honor constitutional limits on executive authority, and return credibility to the Oval Office.” (Pg. 10)
  4. We pledge to protect the voting rights of every citizen.” (Pg. 16)
  5. [T]he next president must not sow the seeds of division and distrust…” (Pg. 39)
  6. The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet.” (Pg. 41)
  7. As a nation, we honor the sacrifice of our fallen service members….As a party, we seek to honor their sacrifice and comfort their families.” (Pg. 45)
  8. We affirm our party’s tradition of world leadership established by President Eisenhower….It embraces American exceptionalism and rejects the false prophets of decline and diminution.” (Pg. 46)
  9. A Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility.” (Pg. 46)


AmericanahAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This critically acclaimed novel, the third by Nigerian born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, covers the life of two Nigerians and their very different immigration stories.  The main protagonist, Ifemelu, is accepted to an American university and after school stays in the country for work.  Her boyfriend from secondary school, Obinze, who had also wanted to seek a new life outside of Nigeria, is denied a visa and illegally enters the United Kingdom.  He is eventually deported and becomes a successful and wealthy real estate developer in Nigeria, while Ifemelu finds success as a writer and speaker on racial issues before returning to Nigeria as well.  Throughout this story the book examines what black even means, what it means for a person to be black, the differences between being an African American and an African in America, and the story of immigrants seeking more choices and a chance for more out of life.

Despite this book’s amazing reception and numerous awards, I was underwhelmed.  I didn’t love this novel as a novel.  That’s not to say it’s all bad.  First, let me say what does work.  Adachie is a trenchant observer of cultures, and in my opinion the best parts of the book were the excerpts from the fictional blog, “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.”  The blog points out the strangeness of coming from a culture where everyone is different shades of black, and therefore “blackness” doesn’t exist, to the United States.  It talks about the politics of hair.  It examines the way African cultures look at immigrants to the United States.  I could have happily read just that part of the book.

I also found the book interesting in the way I always find it interesting to read about different cultures and prose from different perspectives.  Fiction can highlight lived experiences in a culture in a way that a thousand news reports and scholarly papers never can.  At the time I read this book I was part of a campaign working on expanding electricity access in African nations. I’d read so very, very many reports on energy access.  But it’s importance was brought home to me when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and one of the measures of someone’s success and wealth is the size of their generator.  The early part of the novel also takes part during the tail end of Nigeria’s time as a dictatorship.  I’ve previously mentioned my interest in reading about how normal life goes on under extreme and adverse circumstances, so this part of the book was right up my alley.

Now for what didn’t work.  The story was fine, but I never quite connected with any of the characters, and many of the side characters felt flat.  In particular Ifemelu’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book, Blaine, seemed two dimensional.  There was never anything in the book to show why the two of them were together, or to even make it seem that Ifemelu liked him at all.  Even Obinze, the main love interest in the book, didn’t seem to have any real reason to be a love interest.  It’s odd to say that characters in a book lacked chemistry, but they lacked chemistry.  I believed that they were together, but there was nothing in the story to demonstrate that they really loved each other or why.  We’re also told that Blaine’s sister is an imposing figure who is hostile to Ifemelu and vice versa, but again, if we weren’t told this was the case I don’t think I would surmise it from the text.

All in all, there’s a lot to this book, and a lot I should have loved.  But instead it started to be a drag to read towards the end since no one had pulled me in.  I’d be interested in reading a short story by Adachie, since those often don’t depend as much on characters, or nonfiction, but I was underwhelmed by the novel parts of this novel.

What If

what ifWhat If?, Randall Munroe

If you’re on the internet at all, I assume you’re familiar with national treasure Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd.  It is one of the most consistently excellent sites on all of the global internets.  Before creating a job for himself being professionally funny online, Munroe worked as a robotocist for NASA, so he’s also pretty smart and seems to know some things about science and math.  That’s where this book comes in.

This is one of the most useful reference books a person can own.  There are numerous books, encyclopedias, websites and people that can give you the facts you might need about the Revolutionary War, conversion from ounces to litres, information about Newton’s Laws, or any other number of things.  But I’m fairly certain this is the only book that will tell you how quickly you could drain all of the earth’s oceans if there was a drain placed at the deepest spot, and also what Mars would look like if the glass_peopledrain was a portal that placed all of the water over the Curiosity rover.  Or what would happen if a glass of water became literally half empty.  Or, my favorite, what would happen if you built a wall out of the periodic table of the elements.

(Short answer:

  • You could stack the first two rows without much trouble.
  • The third row would burn you with fire.
  • The fourth row would kill you with toxic smoke.
  • The fifth row would do all that stuff PLUS give you a mild dose of radiation.
  • The sixth row would explode violently, destroying the building in a cloud of radioactive, poisonous fire and dust.
  • Do not build the seventh row.)

This book is also probably the best argument for why it is important to learn advanced math.  No one believes their teachers when they say they’ll use this in the future, but calculus, trigonometry, and differential equations do have real world applications.  And if you don’t learn them you have to write in to an internet cartoonist to find out if it’s possible to build a jetpack using machine guns, instead of being able to run the numbers yourself.

So, if you don’t have the knowledge yourself to find out whether you could drop a steak from high enough that would be cooked enough from heat during re-entry to eat, or the time to figure it out, I suggest you get this book.  I don’t know where else you can find that absolutely necessary information.




Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One, Ernest Cline

This book is a love letter to all the nerdiest parts of the 80s, and I loved it so much.  It’s set in 2044, a time when inequality has exploded, corporations control the country, resources have been severely depleted, and “real life” for most people has become a hellacious drudgery.  For our hero, a teenager named Wade Watts, the only real escape from this is the virtual reality world the Oasis which has grown to basically be the entire internet and has been kept free to access.

One of the co-founders of the Oasis, James Halliday, has left behind a quest: whoever can solve his challenges in the world of Oasis will inherit his fortune and controlling stake in the virtual universe.  The challenge requires an in depth knowledge of Halliday’s childhood in the 80s, including knowing all of movies like War Games and being able to beat all the old Atari video games.  Watts is one of many trying to solve this challenge, up against other individuals and Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the largest corporation-who wants to end free access to Oasis.  Apparently, the fight over net neutrality is still going on.

Okay, so you all know what’s going to happen just from that description.  It’s a bit of an 80s plot, too.  Not too much that’s unexpected.  But you know what?  I don’t care.  The book is a ton of fun.  Especially if you’re nerdy.  It’s well crafted, and the story hooks you in and moves quickly.  There weren’t any twists or turns that seemed majorly out of place, whereas a lot of books or movies like this have a few moments where they sacrifice plot or character or making sense for the sake of the story.  There was one point that seemed a bit silly and unnecessary to me, but it didn’t have much of a bearing on the plot and was really very minor.

This is the perfect fun book to read.  The only issue is that it’s hard to put down so pick it up when you’ve got a few hours free.  It pulls you in quickly and you’ll want to race to the end.  And while I’m usually fairly obnoxious about movies never being as good as books, I’m excited that this one will be a movie in a few years.  Steven Spielberg will be heading it up.  Who better to film a love letter to 80s pop culture?

Mysteries of Pittsburgh

the-mysteries-of-pittsburgh-michael-chabon-amazoncom-books-1419884591kn48gMysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon

The description of Mysteries of Pittsburgh at Barnes and Noble, and on the back of my book, calls it an “unforgettable story of coming of age in America” and says it “echo[es] the tones of literary forebears like The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield and The Great Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway.”  My problem with the book is that it read like a book that was trying to be a coming of age story that echoes the tones of The Cather in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.

Like so many others, I know and love Michael Chabon from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, two books which I absolutely adore.  So when I came across Mysteries, Chabon’s first book, at (naturally) a used book sale,  I had to pick it up.

Mysteries follows a young man, Art Bechstein, the summer after his graduation.  Art, the son of a mobster who yearns for his family to go legitimate, meets a young man Arthur Lecompte, at the beginning of the summer and Arthur’s best friend, Cleveland, who has gotten pulled into the mob world and wants to play on Art’s connections.  More relevant to the plot than any of the mob-stuff, though, is Art’s relationship with a girl he meets at the same time, Phlox, and his budding relationship with Arthur while he’s trying to discover who he really is and break free from his father’s control in every way.

The novel isn’t bad, and in some ways it, like Tractors in Ukranian, suffered from my high expectations.  One thing the novel did well in particular was emphasize how when you’re at that point in life, one summer can somehow take an entire lifetime and everything can change.  And the descriptive writing is great, with Pittsburgh being its own character in the book.  Beyond that, though, I never really got pulled in.  The characters didn’t feel entirely fleshed out and came off as a bit flat, and the novel felt like it was trying too hard to be a coming of age story, trying to hard to evoke all the other coming of age stories.  It never felt real to me, or that the story was wholly its own and wholly comfortable in its own skin.  The book has received numerous accolades, but I think Chabon took a little more time to really find his voice.  But once he did he can’t be beat.


The New York Times Book of Mathematics: More Than 100 Years of Writing by the Numbers

nyts_bookmath(3)The New York Times Book of Mathematics: More Than 100 Years of Writing by the Numbers, by Gina Kolata, ed.

My Dad got me this as a Christmas present since I’ve always been interested in math.  I was even on the Math Team in high school-Mu Alpha Theta for life!  I’m a big fan of science, math and nature writing so this was a good choice for me.

The Book of Mathematics is a fairly comprehensive book of most of the developments in math over the last several decades, as well as intriguing articles about game theory and statistics, computer programming, robots, etc.  In particular, there’s a very long article about the way some people are using game theory and complex computer programs to make it seem like the world of The Foundation is write around the corner.  It’s a really great book for an amateur mathematician, or just someone who’s a bit interested in the subject, since all of the articles are written for a popular audience.

My one complaint about the book is that since each article has to stand on its own, the book eventually gets a bit repetitive.  Every article on Fermat’s last theorem or on Andrew Wiles has to explain the theorem all over again and the history of failed attempts.  Same for the Riemannn Hypothesis, and even more basic concepts such as game theory are explained in every article that discusses game theory.  I could probably have used about half as many articles.  In particular, the shorter (less than one page) articles only had information that was already included in the longer articles.

I like to read things straight through, so the repetitiveness got to me.  This would probably be a good book for someone interested in math who wants to pick it up occasionally and flip through, reading a bit at a time and then putting it down for later.  And considering it’s size-500 pages, only in hardcover, and 6.4″x9″-it’s probably intended to stay at home for reading in spurts, not to be carted around with you.  And if used as intended, it’s a good read.