In April, because of being in school and having to read chemistry, microbiology and anatomy, I spent my fun reading time mostly on fiction, which provided a much needed mental break. I don’t know what came over in me in May [maybe because of the semester ending and summer break ahead], but I read exclusively non-fiction. And then I started reading less in June in order to focus more on giving my attention to my kids. All that to say, hopefully this review post won’t be as long as they usually are.
Let’s get started…
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
Loved it. I haven’t seen the stage production or the movie [I intend to see both eventually] but for me the book was a good place to begin, even though it came after the Broadway hit. And, I’m happy to say, it did not disappoint. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by three people — Ben Levi Ross, Mike Faist, and Mallory Bechtel — and was really good.
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
After reading [or rather listening to] Ready Player One, I was very interested in this sequel, but I was a little doubtful that it would stand up against its predecessor. The first book was such a fun adventure and very unique [at least to me], that I didn’t know how he could do it again. In the first book, the contest had been won and the hero was enjoying the spoils…I mean, what could happen next?
Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Cline manages to come up with another great nail-biting story. Is it as good as the first? Nope. Pretty much impossible. But it is definitely really, really good.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I’m not sure I quite understood the point of this novel and I felt like I just kept waiting for something surprising, or some sort of resolution at the end — but it never came. Though it was an enjoyable read and I actually flew through it [I think because I kept anticipating something exciting happening], I don’t really recommend it because of the disappointing [or non-existent] ending.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a beautiful and powerful novel. I listened to the audiobook which was read by Zach Appelman and it was fantastic, but I do wish that I had read the physical book because I felt like some of the small details were lost on me. Maybe I was distracted at times, or perhaps all the back and forth in time with dates and such made it harder for me to keep track, but regardless, I recommend the physical book. But it obviously didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for no reason.
You Deserve Better by Tyler Cameron
Confession time: I watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and even Bachelor in Paradise. So, I know of Tyler Cameron from The Bachelorette and when I saw he had written a book, I thought it would be interesting.
It kind of felt like he got this book deal because during his season people were calling him some sort of “feminist icon.” Which is just ridiculous. He made one comment during the season about Hannah being allowed to sleep with whoever she wants to [or something like that] and all the women went gushing about this handsome hunk who understands women’s rights. He doesn’t ya’ll. He might be a nice guy [or nicer than most guys] but he’s no hero for women.
Besides that, when I looked through my list of books that I had read, I couldn’t even remember what this book was. So, I definitely don’t recommend it.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
I love Stephen King. This book was masterful. It’s just so…HUGE. I don’t know how he manages to write these really big novels. This one doesn’t span as much time as 11/22/63 and it’s not a horror like The Shining, but it does have some messed up stuff in it, so its not for the faint of heart. But I loved it. I would get up at 5am just so I could have an hour of uninterrupted time to read it. And I read the physical book which was a pleasure in and of itself.
I have two more Kings on my shelf to read and I can’t wait.
Run Like a Pro by Matt Fitzgerald and Ben Rosario
Oh man, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve read a book about running. In fact, it’s been a long time since I took my own running seriously. But this book did give me that itch…if you have ever run a race, you might know what I’m talking about — that itch to see how fast you can go, how far you can go, how much you can handle. I used to love that about running.
Anyway, this book was great. I’m trying to get Brett to read it. It breaks down training, recovery, nutrition, etc and explains how the pros do it. If you are a runner, this is really helpful, practical stuff. And there are drills and training plans included. I have actually added the physical book to my Amazon wishlist because I want to own a copy and re-read it occasionally.
No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
I read this book because I had enjoyed The Whole-Brain Child so much. Unfortunately, it repeated a lot of the same information and also overlapped with other parenting books I have read like Now Say This. And this one didn’t make it into my list of Top 5 Parenting books [which you can find here]. I still love Siegel’s scientific [neuroscientific, to be exact] approach to parenting and found a lot of the information in this book and The Whole-Brain Child to be fascinating, especially as I was studying anatomy and physiology and psychology at the time of reading.
The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro
Honestly, I’m still in shock that I read a whole book about foie gras [not to mention my surprise that such a book even exists]. Despite living in the Chicago suburbs for 14 years, I was totally unaware of the “war” surrounding this French delicacy. In truth, I didn’t even know a thing about foie gras — other than that it is some kind of fancy food I can’t afford to eat — and I had to look up the pronunciation [“fwah grah” you’re welcome].
The book turned out to be very entertaining and surprisingly complex, as Caro weighed in on the fight between animal rights activists and celebrity chefs. And, even more surprising, it rather becomes a discourse on reclaiming responsibility as a society for the foods that we produce, sell and consume. Of course, Caro, ever the journalist, doesn’t exactly take a side on the debate [and if he leans one way, it is definitely towards the consumption of foie gras], but I appreciate hearing the truth from someone who is not on the bankroll of either side. I’m sure it will surprise no one that I won’t be eating foie gras [besides the fact that I have never been, nor will likely ever go, to the kinds of establishments that serve foie gras] since I’m not a big fan of eating any animals, even those who have not been force-fed. But, it doesn’t hurt to read a book like this to be reminded that, in the very least, we have a responsibility to know what we put in our mouths.
My other favorite quote that I can’t help but include:
“…The popular image of animal-rights activists is radicals who splash red paint on fur-clad women and otherwise would rather provoke than persuade. In some cases the shoe fits, but other times that association becomes a convenient crutch for the unconverted. We want animal-rights activists to be crazy because we don’t want them to be right.”Mark Caro, The Foie Gras Wars
I don’t consider myself an activists…more like a subtle dissenter. If you come to have dinner at my home, I won’t serve you meat [though possibly some cheese, if I happen to have any], but we won’t make a big show of it. You may not even notice the omission.
This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
I, once again, have to take beef with Pollan’s title here. I find it misleading. The book isn’t really a scientific discourse on how certain plants affect the mind, but is rather a recounting of Pollan’s personal experience trying three different drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Maybe it should be titled, This is My Mind on Three Plants, which would be more accurate and actually more clever since it’s mostly his personal opinions and experiences.
But don’t get me wrong. I love Pollan. Always have. I’ve read nearly every book he’s written. And this is really interesting information about these three drugs. However, I disagree with his anecdote of the one drug on the list that I have extensive personal experience: caffeine. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. His experience is his experience. But I think it is safe to say that his experience does not account for the full range of human experience possible on these drugs. Maybe he didn’t mean that…except that he literally titled the book, This is YOUR Mind on Plants.
Anyway, I found the book entertaining–especially about his attempt at growing illegal poppy plants in his backyard.
Give and Take by Adam Grant
In Give and Take, Adam Grant basically takes the old adage “’tis better to give than to receive” and applies it to business, arguing that “givers” actually get ahead in an area where most people believe “takers” will be more successful.
“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”Adam Grant, Give and Take
This book provides plenty of evidence that giving is the fastest path to happiness, success and personal well-being. I especially loved the overlap with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Angela Duckworth’s Grit and how all of these ideas tie together to provide a cohesive picture of what is ideal in so many [if not all] aspects of life.
In my own life, I have found that giving [particularly financially] is a tremendous source of happiness–much greater than spending money on myself. Grant agrees and provides evidence that this is true.
“Most people think they’d be happier spending the money on themselves, but the opposite is true. If you spend the money on yourself, your happiness doesn’t change. But if you spend the money on others, you actually report become significantly happier…Economists call it the warm glow of giving, and psychologists call it the helper’s high.”Adam Grant, Give and Take
I highly recommend this book, particularly for business people, but really for anyone who wants to know the how and why of giving more than receiving. This book is a balm to our selfish souls.
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
This parenting book repeated a lot of the typical advice…however with a side of sexism that, quite frankly, pissed me off. I thought there were some good things in here, however they can all be found in other books that don’t encourage stereotypical gender roles, or explain them as “nature.”
On the whole, I didn’t hate the book, but I don’t recommend it either.
Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee
I loved this book about doing nothing. Of course, I’m about to enter the busiest season of my life as I return to school full-time + clinical rotations in the fall, but as I wrote about in a previous post, this book helped me to scale back some areas of my life that were running me ragged. And it taught me the importance of play and leisure time. As a result, I’ve enjoyed taking time this summer to relax with my family, and I’m not going to punish myself for it.
“In many ways I think we’ve lost the sight of the purpose of free time. We seem to immediately equate idleness with laziness but those two things are very different. ‘Leisure’ is not a synonym for ‘inactive’ – idleness offers an opportunity for Play, something people rarely indulge in these days.”Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing
Brett actually took a lateral position instead of a vertical one recently because he doesn’t want to work more hours and miss out on any more living. This is a choice that I think way too few people make. Just because upward seems to be the best way to go, doesn’t mean it is, if it is costing you hours with your family, sleep, hobbies, simple pleasures, vacation time or anything else that brings you joy. Of course, some people love their jobs or consider their careers a “calling” and so get a lot of joy out of the rat race. But, for most of us rats, we should work a little less, and play a little more.
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
This audiobook was recommended by People Magazine, because part of it is read by Cate Blanchett, and I must say, she does a great American accent and is an excellent reader [of course, that surprises absolutely no one].
Besides the reading, I appreciated the book for the unique perspective Hough provides as a lesbian, ex-military, cult survivor. It’s entertaining, but in a kind of sad way. And strangely, her upbringing in the Family cult is not all that different from my own upbringing in Protestant Christianity–minus all the sex stuff, of course.
There are a lot of great quotes in this book, but here are two of my faves:
“If there’s a useful side effect of homophobia, it’s that most people who find gays abhorrent find it rude to assume someone’s gay, despite all obvious signs… It’s not gaydar. It’s the ability to see reality without the constraints of judgment.”Lauren Hough, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
“I didn’t accept abuse. I expected it, welcomed it. It’s the lesson not only of asshole step-dads or cults, but also evangelical Christianity. You’re nothing without a relationship with Jesus. You’ll take anything; form a healed flu virus to a pretty flower as evidence your love is reciprocated. Shit luck is the devil testing you, or punishment for sin because a loving god hits you sometimes. He hurts you because he loves you, to teach you, to make you better. Or he had a bet with the devil (see the entire book of Job).”Lauren Hough, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
Grit by Angela Duckworth
This is a great book about developing passion and perseverance, the recipe to create “grit” according to Angela Duckworth. We need both to find and pursue our life’s purpose.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.”Angela Duckworth, Grit
I really appreciated that she also addresses how to develop grit in our children, which is something really important to me and, I assume, all parents who want to see our children succeed in the things that matter most to them.
Arms Wide Open by Patricia Harman
I was drawn to this book because it is the memoir of a midwife [which is my ultimate career goal] so I thought it would be interesting. It definitely was interesting, but was a lot less about midwifery and a lot more about hippies and communes in the 60s and 70s. I was quite surprised to learn about hippie life from an actual hippie. It didn’t sound appealing to me. Everyone running around naked, sharing partners, no running water, watching each others’ kids [ok, that part sounds pretty nice]. Brett often teases me saying that I want to live on a commune, which did sound idyllic to me at one time–before I read this book. But it was a different time back then and I like how honest Harman is about it.
“TV and movies portray hippies and protestors as kids going crazy with love and drugs, but in reality there was pain everywhere. Pain, on our families’ parts, when they lost their children to a world they didn’t understand. And pain, on our part, when our parents rejected us for not believing what they believed and not wanting to live as they lived.”Patricia Harman, Arms Wide Open
Well, I can definitely relate to that.
Entitled by Kate Manne
In the beginning, I was a little put off by Manne’s formal tone. It came across overly harsh for some reason. After all, I have a feminist husband and Brett is exceptional at balancing the sexist scales for me. But, by the end, I was used to the almost academic writing style and agree with the majority of her assessment of sexism’s affect on women.
“Entitled tackles a wide range of ways in which misogyny, “himpathy,” and male entitlement work in tandem with other oppressive systems to produce unjust, perverse, and sometimes bizarre outcomes. Many of these stem from the fact that women are expected to give traditionally feminine goods, such as sex, care, nurturing and reproductive labor to designated, often more privileged men, and to refrain from taking traditionally masculine goods such as power, authority and claims to knowledge away from them.”Kate Manne, Entitled
The book breaks down the things that men feel entitled to receive from women: love, sex, nurturing, childcare, motherhood, free labor, etc. Even I wanted to come to the defense of men at several points, thinking to myself, surely not all men. But I had to recognize that this was my own case of “himpathy” – a term I had never heard used before but which I now LOVE and recognize EVERYWHERE.
“Recall that ‘himpathy,’ as I construe it, is the disproportionate or inappropriate sympathy extended to a male perpetrator over his similarly or less privileged female targets or victims in cases of sexual assault, harassment and other misogynistic behavior.”Kate Manne, Entitled
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone defend a man in the case of sexual misconduct, so help me I’d be so frickin rich right now.
And it turns out that I had my own [incorrect] ideas about what I owe to Brett. Even the very common belief that you better give your husband sex or he will cheat on you is so ludicrous. Let the asshole cheat on you, ladies. He ain’t worth it.
I wish more people would read this book…but they would have to have an open mind, because sexism runs deep in all of us, even women.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I loved this book. Such a great story told in such a fascinating way…or rather a fascinating story, told in a completely standard sequential way…either way, a wonderful book. The characters are developed so well. I’ve even taken away a common catch-phrase of the protagonist’s mother. “Needs must.”
I highly recommend it.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This is the most complex story of race and class I’ve ever read. This one story contains so much discourse on American life right now that…quite frankly, it’s hard to describe it. It breaks down so many stereotypes, which is what I think I like the most about it. The characters don’t fit into the typical type-casted roles that you would expect.
We need more books like this one.
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
Love, love, love this book because it is the first parenting book that actually provides a legit recipe for keeping your cool so you can use all the excellent parenting tools you know you should be using. This is similar to How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg, but goes a step further and provides specific mindfulness meditation exercises. Maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have been receptive to the idea of meditation, but in the past few years I’ve read several excellent books on the topic and even wrote a research paper on the health benefits of meditation for my psychology course, and I have been totally convinced of it’s effectiveness, even importance, for everyone, but especially parents.
“So mindfulness meditation is intentionally training our attention to be in the present moment, nonreactive, and nonjudgmentally curious. Mindfulness is a quality we are aiming for; mindfulness meditation is the tool for building that quality in ourselves.”Hunter Clarke-Fields, Raising Good Humans
Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
This was another recommendation by People Magazine [I don’t actually read the magazine, but my MIL has a subscription and I rip out the book recommendation from each issue], and I liked it….but there were some things I didn’t like. Overall, it was a good book.
There are some plot surprises, but also some plot holes. I was surprised at the end, but that’s only because there was absolutely no indication throughout the book and, to me, that felt a bit like cheating. I don’t like when it’s so obvious that I can figure out the “whodunnit,” but I also don’t like it when the answer is so hidden that it doesn’t even come across as plausible. What can I say? I’m picky about my mysteries…
In the end, I still think it was a good book.
I think this may be my last book review for a while. I hope to still do some fun reading, but I can’t really tell how busy I will be when school starts in the fall and I doubt I’ll have time to post much at all. I graduate [IF I graduate] in May 2024…so, see ya then!
You can still drop book recommendations below!
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