Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review: The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance by William McDonough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

McDonough and Braungart's follow up to their previous book, Cradle to Cradle, is a solid book to help think more critically and creatively about developing a more sustainable world through human efforts. They highlight a variety of work that is already being done with regards to upcycling and where more work can be done. At its core is the argument is that there isn't a "waste" problem insomuch as there is a design problem that we must think more proactively about design with the full cycle of the products resources and their long-lasting implications. From furniture to clothing to waste management (or more appropriately renamed, nutrient management), they show pathways to making human practices more sustainable.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead...

The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead... The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead... by Adam Rockoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tend to be a fan of film critic memoirs mostly because they provide me with insight into the mind of the critic about key moments in their cinematic-taste development. I always appreciate when a film critic can crystallize their viewing experience and that's what Rockoff does a lot of in this book, mixing his life with a great deal of horror films--some good, some bad, and some we should probably not talk about. Sprinkled among his films and reflections are sometimes political or theoretical views that I personally disagree with but can see how and why he has inserted them. But the main reason I enjoyed this book is to see the great many horror films that I may know nothing about and wish to learn. Indeed, a book like this makes me go and add a bajillion (yes, that's an accurate count) new titles to my Netflix que. Horror fans may not agree with every choice or film that Rockoff brings up, but there is plenty of great content to sift through here.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: Complete without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance

Complete without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance Complete without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance by Ellen L. Walker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Walker approaches the subject first by re-framing it as "childfree" instead of "childless". Linguistically, this intrigued me from the start because it speaks of how we tend to frame adults. They are lacking--"childless". In a culture that orgiastically worships children and youth, to be "childless" means you lack any connection to what's important. Curiously, the word has overlap with the word "chilly"--clearly not a conspiracy of any sort, but interestingly nonetheless as that is somehow childfree adults are described as the author points out.

The book operates as a guide for things to consider if a person is on the fence or a reinforcement of the decision for those that have decided. In fact, in many ways the author tries to play to several different audiences ("Childfree living by choice or by chance" as the subtitles reads) and I don't know that it works out as successfully if she had just charged in deep to one specific audience. She does provide a panorama view of the things to consider from coming to the decision, to engaging the world from this vantage point, to the new choices opened up to you by moving in this direction. She also emphasizes differences in relationship, wealth, and opportunities for those finding themselves along this path.

My major critique of the book is that it doesn't really have a substantial strong male presence or approach about what it means to be a male without children. I don't think she fully considered that there are different experiences for men who don't have children than women. I would argue that there is. This is not a case of one has it worse than another, but how that decision is challenged or questioned often plays out differently. For women, not having children can often mean they are looked at as less, devalued, or not seen as a complete woman. For men, the judgment comes in other forms such as challenges about our masculinity and even implications or raise eyebrows as somehow being more predatory than men who do have children. So I think she misses the boat on that one (mayhaps the book I need to write?).

All in all, she provides some good food for thought even for people who believe they are going to have children but want to think more critically about it before moving forward with the decision. I have to wonder if people had the opportunity to have a genuine conversation on the topic of whether to procreate or not, how many of them actually would--especially when we consider that about half of children born were unplanned.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Review: No Exit

No Exit No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession time--I haven't read much of Satre's philosophical work; though I would guess that's many people. However, after reading No Exit, I am much more intrigued. No Exit is a one-act play in which three people find themselves in a room without (wait for it...) an exit. They have been placed in here as their essential version of hell to wait out eternity. The surprise is the method in which hell is enacted. It's not filled with traditional sadists who want to throw these characters on the rack and watch them writhe in pain, but rather a balance of or rather an imbalance of the three characters is what makes it the quintessential hell. Each character seeds the anger and frustration as they each reveal their secrets and then their true selves, illustrating why they make the perfect threesome for eternal damnation. I found Satre dialogue engaging and that the characters were easy to formulate through their lines. It's a quick but fascinating read.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: The Jungle

The Jungle The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was the next book I picked up and it hit me hard. I understood the influence of this book, but I never realized it would hit me emotionally. Now, those who have read it may not agree and some have seen the story as more of a propaganda piece against the more problematic issues of unfettered capitalism (that is, a pro-socialism diatribe) than an actual novel, but I think that does a disservice to what makes the book as impactful as it has been. The story begins with the marriage of Jurgis and Ona and traces their experience immigrating to the United States. They eventually end up in the meat-slaughtering district of Chicago where the entire family seeks survival in a brutal world of employment in unsafe working conditions, surplus population, and ruthless employers. Jurgis’s descent from poor but seemingly livable rural life in Lithuania to wanton criminal is heartbreaking at times. The once proud and powerful Jurgis represents the great American ideal (he continually invokes the idea of working harder to attain his financial “freedom”) clashing with the stark reality of life in the late 19th and early 20th century for millions of Americans.

Knowing the larger truth of working conditions to which Sinclair spoke, made Jurgis’s plight more powerful. Jurgis may never existed but inevitably many have walked similar paths and still do. Inevitably, there were parts of this book that I had trouble digesting (pun, intended).

Peter Kuper does a good and stark comic version of it, that if read deliberately can evoke many of the emotions found in the book; though I don’t think it does the book full justice since so much of Jurgis’s plight is vested in a combination of Sinclair’s vivid descriptions of the squalid living conditions, brutal work environments, and emotional desperation of his characters.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a nice coffee-table book or just something to revisit. Though I also feel like this could easily be a "word a day" calendar or a "word a day/week" app. The illustrations were often cool and fun and the range of words offered were fascinating. I had some issue sometimes with the font and script they used for definitions, but I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you are fascinated by language or art.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many people recognize the name Jonathan Swift and some of us probably suffered through his “A Modest Proposal” at one point in our education. I say “suffer” mostly in jest because I know that’s what I did when I first came across him; mostly because he was mandatory reading and my engagement with reading was quite different then. I go back now and can certainly appreciate “A Modest Proposal” (and one can even find an a free reading at Librivox). So when Gulliver’s Travels came into my hands, I decided I should read it and found it rewarding. Here’s a book written just under 300 years ago and I was impressed how accessible it truly is. It’s not a fantastic story by any means; after all, there’s very little dialogue and some chapters can be rather drab, but on the whole, I could appreciate Swift’s criticism of humanity and society.

Gulliver’s Travel is the account of a ship doctor and his four escapades into uncharted lands, each with their own unique attributes that Gulliver records. In the land of Lilliput, Gulliver is a giant among small 6-inch humans while in the land of Brobdingnag, he is as small to the natives as the Lilliputians were to him. He visits the floating island of Laputa and finishes his travels in the land of Houyhnhnms, an intelligent and utopian race of horses who eventually banish him from their society. On its face value, it’s an enjoyable story as readers learn about the different societies and how they exist, their customs, government, rituals, and beliefs. Of course, Swift wrote this as a political satire of the modern world of the early 1700s and the different European states. And a good version of this book will inform of you things that today’s common reader might not intuitively know as Swift’s contemporaries might. Still, it’s an enjoyable read because his discussions of ethnocentrism and cultural elitism still permeate in our world today. Every society fosters some belief that theirs is the superior way of life.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature

Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature by Michael D.C. Drout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of Drout's work. This is his 8th or so Modern Scholar production and he's just a joy to listen to. He's always excited and engaged with the course he is presenting and he has many different asides that make it feel like each lecture is a conversation. This lecture series brings a lot of insight into oral tradition, what we assume about it, what it really is, and how it is different from and informs the written tradition. What's great about Drout is that he covers a good range of literature and does his best to go beyond his own comfort zone of training to explore non-Western traditions of oral tradition.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story focuses on a boy named Gus who has lived in a forest with his parents for his entire life, believing that to go out of the woods would be dangerous (and I did enjoy this irony that the woods is the place of safety and to leave is to invoke horrible events). Gus is one of the few children who have been born since some apocalyptic event and has been imbued with antlers and other animal hybrid features. After his father’s death, he finds himself being hunted but quickly rescued by an old gruff man who promises to take him to a place of protection for children like himself. Scared and uncertain, Gus follows and steps into the rest of the world.

It’s pretty standard post-apocalyptic fair thus far with at least one good (albeit somewhat predictable twist), but as I’ve said before, Lemire still has the power to tell a good comic story through drawing. He does extremely well with subtle panels that often need re-viewing and facial experiences that convey a surprising range of emotion despite often being fully detailed. In large part because of these tools, it makes reading his piece rather delightful because it draws out the story in ways that many artists/authors can’t always do. The facial expressions are ones you can set your eyes to and slowly study for meaning.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Benforado explores the criminal justice system from the vantage point of what modern science has shown us about the human nature and contrasts that sharply with a criminal justice system that was formed out at a time when there was very little scientific evidence for its assumptions (the 18th and 19th century). His ongoing commentary is that 1000 years from now, people will our sense of justice as archaic as we now judge how justice was dealt with 1000 years ago. Though we have our beliefs that are grounded in "common sense", they are rarely grounded in what scientific evidence has showed us. Therefore, Benforado moves through each aspect of the criminal justice system from identifying (or mis-identifying) perpetrators to arrest investigations to the courtroom and to the prison system, showing the systematic failures of the who process. It's an essential reading for anyone looking to learn more about the criminal justice system in the modern United States.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: I Thought You Were Dead

I Thought You Were Dead I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Pete Nelson’s I Thought You Were Dead feels a bit flat. It mixes a bit of Seinfeld with a bit of self-help and a dash of every none-alpha male sweet-loving, smart, insecure guy cliché. Paul is wishy-washy, whiny, and rather drab all around. He’s divorced; he engages in deep philosophical debates with his dog; and he enjoys drinking with his friends. Of course, his life becomes troubling when his father suffers a debilitating stroke and an onslaught of family stresses begin to fracture; including his relationship with his most recent girlfriend. The issues feel genuine enough, but the final “breakthrough” events just feel flat.

And yet, there were things I dug about Paul and kept me reading. I understood (and related) to many of his concerns about his life and the doubt, double-questioning, and resistance he met with certain personal obstacles whether it be family, love relations, or self-image. Nelson did well with teasing out the issues that many men don’t often sufficiently address or feel inadequate about who use poor coping skills with until some day, they breakdown; either in a mid-life crisis or something more troubling.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review: Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude M. Steele
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you want to understand the profound effects of stereotype threat, then Steele's book is a great resource. If you want to understand how pernicious stereotypes are and remain to be, then this would be the book to read. Steele shows through a variety of work that he and others have down, how when stereotypes are evoked in a person, it can threaten his or her ability to succeed. That is, it's not just about how others perceive someone, but it is how that someone thinks of himself/herself in relation to a group identity that has a negative stereotype. A person is likely to perform worse when he/she belongs to a group identity that is stigmatized when that person's group identity have been emphasized. This has stark implications for education, work, and the culture at large. Steele provides a variety of different examples of how this happens but also shines a light on ways to circumvent stereotype threat.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: Lockdown

Lockdown Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers had its merits for depicting the real-world liminality and faulty-logical approaches to the criminal justice system; particularly as it is applied to minors. It also balanced simplicity with complexity well. The story’s shell embodied a simple short course of events that the main character, Reese experiences. He’s given an option to become part of a work-release program. He meets a disgruntled and bigoted man, the develop a sincere and deep relationship, and Reese learns about himself and his life by listening to this older man. Meanwhile, his situation in the detention center (named “Progress” of course) is deteriorating especially after two cops show up to bully him into taking a plea for crimes he had no responsibility for. Reese’s story in the larger picture is not an intense life or death situations nor the stuff of mainstream drama; after all, by our cultural standards, young black male in cuffs seems standard fair, (Note: that’s our cultural perception/projection, not my actual view).

Yet, that’s where Myers slides in some rather interesting complexity. Through Reese’s eyes we get to glimpse that there are many roads that are closed off to a young man of fourteen. His most important goal by the story’s end is to work hard so that he can help pay for his young and bright nine-year old sister when she gets to college; believing that his chance is gone. There are many moments when Reese has to come to terms with his options or lack thereof and while Myers is at times a little to heavy handed with these decrees and condemnations of modern society, they are nonetheless poignant.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Review: Rising Strong

Rising Strong Rising Strong by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Brown's work. She captures so much of our internal lives and helps us learn the language to speak about it. Rising Strong follows along these lines in helping us thinking about our inner lives and feelings and finding powerful ways to externalize them, talk about them, and move through them in the moment and throughout our lives. She does this both through research and through storytelling--explaining how the work she is doing plays out in her daily life and others. There are some powerful moments throughout this book, but for me was her exploration of the thought: "What if everyone is really doing their best?" This question and where it leads her (as well as myself) is something that we should always be asking.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: I'm Not Scared

I'm Not Scared I'm Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was interesting to note how accurate the film worked with regards to the book. Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared follows a young boy, Michele Amitrano and his life in a small rural Italian home. Told through Michele’s eyes, the story creates a credible experience of dealing with a limiting childhood in terms of material goods and actual friends. He has little choice but to play with his younger sister and the few children in the village and though he never says it, he’s clearly frustrated by it. When Michele discovers a young boy of equal size and age locked in a underground room connected to an abandoned house, the story takes a dark turn that brims with suspense coupled with curiosity. Both reader and Michele wonder who this boy is and while some of Michele’s conclusions are obviously wrong, we as the reader can understand why or how a 9-year-old’s imagination can make such connections. And that’s what drives the story; Ammaniti’s skill comes from recreating the world through Michele’s eyes; a pair of eyes that doesn’t believe in monsters…except when he does. He’s been hardened by both life and the older children of the village but that no less makes him susceptible to his vivid imagination. In many ways, this book reminds me of Stephen King’s novella, The Body (also fairly well adapted into the movie, Stand By Me) in that there’s an earnestness with which the author reminds the reader of life in before adulthood, but unlike The Body, it’s not a “coming of age story.”

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not a fan of Turkle. I've read her previous book and seen her TED Talks. I find she comes to egregious conclusions about how people interact with scant evidence. In this book, she argues that people are growing incapable of talking or having sophisticated conversations and that it's largely our digital technology that is creating this rift. There are several issues that I have with this book. The first is that it is clearly focused on upper-middle and upper-class people--the schools and colleges she focuses on are largely elite schools. I find this problematic because it doesn't actually reflect society as a whole and how different groups are engaging in meaning-making through their digital devices. I also dislike how she draws conclusions about how and what interactions mean from people, rather than allowing them to decide what it means. She often seems to be the sole authority of experience rather than allowing others to define their experience. Finally, to accept her book blindly, you would believe that youth and adults are incapable of having deep and complex conversations and that this is a wide-sweeping epidemic. Yet, anyone who sits in a coffee shop or restaurant and listens to the conversations going on around them, they are likely to find this to be entirely false. I spent most of the book frustrated with long meanderings with little substance.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: The Boys, Volume 12: The Bloody Doors Off

The Boys, Volume 12: The Bloody Doors Off The Boys, Volume 12: The Bloody Doors Off by Garth Ennis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The end of a series that I've been following for years. Violent and raunchy to no end, it went out like it came in--as bloody and offensive as possible. I look forward to what new series Garth Ennis will be working on. It always seems like he and Warren Ellis are in a race to the bottom in terms of how low their standards are and yet, in the end, their storytelling is still highly enjoyable.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs

Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs by Lauren A. Rivera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you work in higher education and believe in any kind of social justice mission that higher education is to fulfill, then this book is worth picking up. Furthermore, if you plan any role in hiring employees, it would be equally important for you to check out this book. Rivera explores and deconstructs the "magic" of job hiring to illustrate how social and cultural capital often allows for more privileged people to acquire prestigious jobs, regardless of their actual skill and ability. She shows how low and working class students who do attend prestigious and ivy league institutes are still significantly disadvantaged when going into the job market. The implications of her book are something we all need to consider when we consider how education and employment relate to achievement in our culture.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: How to Thrive in the Digital Age

How to Thrive in the Digital Age How to Thrive in the Digital Age by Tom Chatfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book that provides a range of perspectives on living in the digital age without losing it in the digital age. He performs a good balance of viewpoints about the benefits and the perils along with great additional resources to follow up with (my nerd moment of the book was listening to the different recommended reading and realizing that I read at least half of the books).

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness

The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness by Anthony A. Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This lecture series from the Great Courses series is a great primer for understanding nutrition and fitness. Goodman provides good clear explanations about why it's benefitial to pursue certain types of exercise, habits, and dietary preferences. He's clear about what is validated through research and what is merely myth. Anyone looking to just get clear and simple advice and understanding about their own nutritional and fitness choices would do well with this short (about 3 hours) worth of listening.

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