Author: Dan Ariely
Title: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty
Narrator: Simon Jones
Publication Info: Harper Collins, 2012
This book is a psychological and sociological investigation into lying, with the emphasis on the ways in which all humans more or less lie and cheat throughout their whole lives. Ariely notes that while big scandals like say Enron get headlines for their irrational amount of dishonesty, that these types of problems grow from the small actions of many people making cost-benefit analysis rather than high-level conspiracy. Interesting anecdotes about lying are backed-up by tests and studies. To be honest, I’ve allowed too much time from listening to this audiobook to writing about, so I’m now fuzzy on the details. But I do recall it is a fascinating book entertainingly performed by Simon Jones.
Author: John Green
Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Publication Info: Dutton Children’s; 1st edition (January 10, 2012)
“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.” This quote from The Fault in Our Stars pretty much sums up the book itself. The story tells of Hazel, isolated from normal teen activity due to the debilitating effects of cancer on her lungs, she meets the handsome and charming fellow cancer survivor Augustus at a support group. Their ensuing short friendship and romance is sweet, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once. A central part of the plot is Hazel’s favorite novel that ends abruptly and Augustus’ plot to use his “Wish” to take her to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and find out what happens next to the characters in the book. This is a bit of a Macguffin though as the true story is what we read on the page in this truly remarkable work of fiction. This is another example of how some of the best fiction out there today is in the Young Adult section.
“And yet still I worried. I liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it. Worry is yet another side effect of dying.”
“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture.”
“If you don’t live a life in service of a greater good, you’ve gotta at least die a death in service of a greater good, you know? And I fear that I won’t get either a life or a death that means anything.”
“But to be perfectly frank, this childish idea that the author of a novel has some special insight into the characters in the novel…it’s ridiculous. That novel was composed of scratches on a page, dear. The characters inhabiting it have no life outside of those scratches. What happened to them? They all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended.”
“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again. That is probably true even if you live to be ninety—although I’m jealous of the people who get to find out for sure.”
Author: S. Alexander Reed and Phillip Sandifer
Title: They Might Be Giants’ Flood
Part of the Bloomsbury Academics 33 1/3 series of books about famous musical recordings, this book analyses my 6th favorite album of all time, They Might Be Giants’ Flood. Pop scholarship at it’s best, the book explores the 20-song album and the themes that carry through them such as childhood, technology, and geek culture. The latter is interesting in that John Flansbergh and John Linnell themselves do not identify as geeks, as a short biographical interlude makes clear, yet their paths lead them to the perfect point in 1990 when their creative output would resonate with geek culture (and with wider audiences as well). The authors also develop a theory of “flooding” as a form of “creative excess” manifest in TMBG’s work. It’s a remarkable little book and makes my want to look into more works in the 33 1/3 series.
“What’s going on here is playfulness. Flood embodies the idea that creativity is an open-ended result of asking “what if,” and not the single-minded pursuit of a pre-imagined ideal. The band’s music rejoices in a continual sense of play, altering and subverting the expected order of things, …. Because They Might Be Giants’ music is (almost) never in service of a joke, the silliness of song like “Particle Man” is exploratory, not goal-driven. Musical, lyrical, and visual ideas then exist for their own sake.” – p. xiii
“Central to understanding the appeal of the album is the aesthetic of flooding. We’re coining this term to mean, on its most reductive level, an aesthetic of creative excess. Flooding isn’t merely a case of a lot, but of too much. It hyperstimulation is exuberant, but in a way that goes both beyond delight and overripeness.” – p. 40
Related Post: Concert Review: They Might Be Giants
Title: The Technologists
Set in Boston in 1868, The Technologists follows the same historical mystery formula as previous works like The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. This novel centers around the students of the first class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the fictional protagonists intermingling with historical figures like William Barton Rogers, Ellen Swallow Richards, and Louis Aggasiz (the latter is characterized as a cartoonish villain in the Harvard-MIT rivalry). Boston is threatened by mysterious technological attacks and the populace – already suspicious of the institute – threaten to close it down. It’s up to the young students to use their scientific skills to stop the madman and to save the reputation of their school. The historical details are nice, and the mystery is good enough. I didn’t see some of the twists in the plot coming, at least. The growing technological menace get ludicrous though and the characterization is weak. All in all, an entertaining page-turner of a historical mystery, but no great work of literature.
Title: Give the Devil His Due
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
The third installment of The Sanheim Chronicles completes the story begun in A Soul To Steal and Band of Demons. As noted, the author is a friend of mine, so I may not be impartial, but on the other hand I was reading this while waiting for a bus and was so engrossed that I didn’t notice a bus had stopped right in front of me. The series continues to improve and it continues to change. These three books could be three different genres, and there’s a lot going on in just this one volume from Celtic mythology to the American Civil War. There’s imaginative world-building too as the characters proceed on an epic journey across the Land of the Dead. Blackwell also brings back a lot of good characters from earlier novels in unexpected ways, but I shan’t into detail lest it get too spoilery.
“It matters because words have power, and names have more than most,” Kieran replied. “It influences what we believe and that definitely matters. If we say the Land of the Dead is hell, and Sanheim is the devil, then we’ve already lost. How can we free a soul from a land where only the most evil and corrupted go in the first place? How can we defeat a monster that is evil incarnate? This is why Sanheim acts the way he does, why he no doubt tries to make the Land of the Dead seem like our conception of hell. Because it teaches people to accept their fate. They believe they are there because they deserve to be, and the creature that rules them is nothing less than an evil god.”
Author: Susan Cain
Publication Info: New York : Random House, Inc. : Books on Tape, p2012.
Summary/Review: This is a book for introverts, the people like myself who often feel to be an overlooked minority in a world geared to schmoozers, go-getters, and talk, talk, talk. Cain dispels some myths about introverts and demonstrates how introverts can thrive when not forced to follow the model of their extroverted brethren. Better still, Cain explains how the things that come naturally to introverts can be advantages in life, business, and relationships. Part of the book gives tips on how the introvert can achieve goals that require some extroversion, but also has tips for extroverts who may need to be more introverted at times. It’s an interesting and empowering book, and one worth looking into to understand the different ways people function.
Recommended books: Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
Author: Lawrence Osbourne
Title: The Wet and the Dry
Publication Info: New York : Crown, c2013.
I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
I selected this book expecting whimsical travel adventures seen through a drinking glass. I forgot that alcohol is a depressant. The author Lawrence Osbourne comes from a family of alcoholics and has recently lost his mother. He spends a lot of time in various parts of the world isolated in bars merely drinking. A particular challenge for him his to find places to drink in the Islamic world, which seems to be as tedious for him to pursue as it for the reader to see described. While he has some interesting observations on the drinking culture (or lack thereof) in the places he visits, much of this work is inward facing. And to be frank, Osbourne seems like an unpleasant person so it is a difficult read.
Recommended Books: A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage and Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz