Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Books

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My friend Kalyn bought this book for her brother, but he had already read it, so she gave it to me. Lucky me. :) The style of this book was interesting; it was almost like a short-story collection, rather than a continuous story. I just couldn't get into it, though, because the characters weren't very likable. The last few chapters got more interesting, as they revealed the author's perspective on what our world will look like in 20 years---quite incisive and ultimately a satisfying ending. This confirmed my suspicion that, overall, I'm just not literary enough to enjoy Pulitzer Prize-winning books. I want to like them, but they're never my favorites.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
I'm really into pop psychology books. This was a fascinating look into the large role that emotions play in our decision-making process. One of the main premises of the book is that people often overthink decisions, when their "gut feelings" are actually quite reliable. I'm definitely guilty of this. This book overlapped some with Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, which is also excellent. I recommend both of them.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister
This book is the compilation of the personal diaries of a woman who was a teenager in Russia at the time of the Holocaust. She kept a record of her experiences but didn't compile and translate it into English until she was an old woman, and didn't want it published until after her death. I don't think I've ever read about WWII from the perspective of a Russian, so that was interesting. It was, obviously, quite a sad book, but Nonna's faith and optimism were inspiring.

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
I gave this book to my mom for her birthday and then promptly borrowed it. :) Although it was a bit too long, I really enjoyed learning more about Laura Bush's life. It was also interesting to find out what really goes on in the White House. I had no idea just how insecure everyone in D.C. felt after 9/11. I remember reading a review of this book right after it came out. The reviewer basically said that she liked the book but she wished Laura hadn't used it to defend her husband's policies. My first thought was, "Of course, she's going to defend her husband." I don't blame her at all. This book was a great reminder that all of our presidents and first ladies are real people with real feelings, and we should be much slower to attack their character or personality based on what we hear or read.

Countdown: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad by Steve Olson
Darby had read this book a while ago and recommended it to me. On the surface, it's the story of the U.S. team's performance at the 2001 International Mathematical Olympiad, an extremely difficult math competition for high school students. The profiles of the students are interesting, and, even if you don't understand the problems discussed (like me), you still get the general concept. But, what was really fascinating to me was the discussion of the nature of "genius." The author, and other experts quoted in the book, lean heavily toward practice, not innate talent, as the determining factor for success in any field. A very interesting read, especially if you're a nerd like me who enjoys books and movies about academic competitions.

Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt
This was a free or cheap offering on the Kindle. It was a compelling story about a woman who accidentally kills a young mother in a car accident and then becomes entangled with the woman's widowed husband and son. But, at times the plot was a bit far-fetched. A decent beach read but not very substantial.

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
This has been on my "to read" list for years, but it wasn't until I borrowed it from my brother that I got around to it. In all honesty, I was a bit disappointed. I struggle a lot with theodicy, and I (admittedly naively) thought this book might be the answer to all those doubts. It was not. I thought some of his explanations were a bit of a stretch. But, it gave me a lot to think about, and I do like his perspective on Heaven and Hell.

1 comment:

Clint and Whitney said...

Just now getting around to reading this post. Have you read "Where is God When it Hurts" by Philip Yancey. I got a lot out of it and liked his belief in why there is pain in this world.