Sunday, August 13, 2017

Books of 2016

Consider the Lobster - David Foster Wallace
I think everything I've read so far by DFW has been essays, or short stories, so I'm interested to read something longer and see if I still like it as much. The essay here that made me read the entire book was "Up, Simba", a piece he wrote for Rolling Stone about John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. It's something like 60 pages, much of which I'm sure didn't make it into the magazine, and smart, hysterical, observant and mildly biting. If the writing makes you enjoy a topic you thought you'd otherwise not enjoy, it's done its job in my mind, and that's just what DFW does here.

The Thing Around Your Neck - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Also a series of essays. I didn't realize it was essays until about the third chapter, and I was wondering at what point the characters would start to tie together, and then I realized. Adichie was recommended to me by a friend, a smart friend who knows more about the world than I even know is possible to know, and then lent me three of her books to read. Makes me want to find out what people's favorite books are and then read them, solely based on who liked and recommended them. So far it's working out well, especially with this one. 

Smile While You're Lying - Chuck Thompson
This was a birthday present, and one of the more perfect ones I got this year. This book is a collection of all the travel stories the author couldn't sell to travel magazines. None of them have the typical "I learned something because I was out of my comfort zone" moral to them, and many of them are so unbelievable that you know they have to be true, because no one would come up with such anecdotes and crazy turns. I spent a good deal of this book laughing out loud, and fittingly, read most of it on a plane. My seatmates were obviously thrilled with the combination.

The Garden of Eden - Ernest Hemingway
I picked this up on accident at the library, but read the back of the book and was interested. The only other Hemingway book I'd read was The Old Man and the Sea, and I don't know whether it was because I was too young to understand it or just because I didn't like it, but I didn't like it, mostly because I found the writing boring, but I'm sure subject matter had something to do with it too. This book, however, wasn't like that at all and kept my attention and I laughed and was interesting and you'd never know it was written 50 years ago, it could have been written/taken place today. I guess that helps my list of classics (any book by Ernest counts as a classic, right?). 

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
I wrote down more lines from this book than I have in a long time. It's introspective and I learned some Italian, and the writing was incredible. It made me think (hence the multiple quotes I wrote down from it) and probably a good book to go back and revisit in a while to see what else I can get from it. 

AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This was the first of three books I read by Adichie and by far the best. I learned a lot about Nigeria (Lagos particularly) and got a new perspective on how immigrants view America and experience life here. It's fiction you can learn something from because Adichie's speaking from her own experiences, ones that likely very few people have. I don't know that I ever learned any African history in school, so it was a tiny peek into what we all missed.

Where Good Ideas Come From - Steven Johnson
I read excerpts that were good enough to convince me to read the rest of the book, and it was one of those books that you read and only after you've read everything does it seem obvious. His main argument is that things don't just come to people, but instead, it's only after try after try after try and organic collaboration that the really great ideas of history have come about. Spoiler: there aren't really random "Eureka!" moments, but instead moments that are the culmination of collaboration, teamwork and thinking about the same issue, even if its unconsciously. Made me not want to worry about my problems that much, knowing that eventually I'll figure out a good idea.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
I read this in order to see the movie, but failed to have that happen. It's an interesting concept, I think, to tell a story that so many people lived through from a perspective which they didn't have. The main character, Oskar, spends a lot of time acting older than he is, and not just because of the situation in which he's found himself. Once I see the movie, I'll report back with a comparison.

Prophet's Prey - Sam Brower
I'd heard about this book for a long time and had been meaning to read it, and glad I did. While some parts were tough to get through, it was also interesting to read a couple of years removed from the actual events. It gave an interesting window to the FLDS, if anything, through the ways they treated the author, an outsider. At the same time, it gives an interesting perspective on the mainstream Mormons, both because of the history that's necessary to get through the book and the thoughts the FLDS have on the LDS. 

Leaving the Saints - Martha Beck
It'd been sitting on my list of books to read for a while and after reading Prophet's Prey, I figured it was time. Yes, despite the fact that Prophet's Prey is about the Fundamentalists and this book is about mainstream Mormons. It was an interesting story about a woman who leaves the Mormon Church, despite having a father who's pretty high up in the church's rankings. (Seems as if that's the way it often goes.) She chronicles her struggle with her family and with herself as she starts to reject almost everything she's ever known or believed, all the while the reader gets an inside glimpse at the Mormon Church.

Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
A book that'd been sitting on my bookshelf for years, a small tattered copy of the classic. The most confusing part of this book, I'm not going to lie, was to distinguish between Hindley and Heathcliff, two of the main male characters - and that's not even to mention Hareton. Generally, what happens when I set out to read these classics is that I think I have an idea of what they're about, but turns out I was completely wrong and had no idea at all. At least now I might be more prepared for my next trivia night now. 

Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg
In case you haven't heard, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and one of the highest women in tech right now. She was poached from Google when Mark Zuckerberg wanted to hire her, and she's worth tons. Her book sets out to show how she did it - how she got where she is without sacrificing herself or completely giving up her life. If anything, she writes about a lot of pushback in the industry, she has to push for what she wants and most of the time, it's accepted (probably because Mark seems like a chill guy and Facebook is quite the place to work, it seems). For me, just starting out, it was nothing but inspiration.

Permission Marketing - Seth Godin
I was reading this book as I was trying to buy a car and couldn't believe how much I agreed with it and how much they were failing at permission marketing to me. Essentially, get permission to market to people before you just shove things in their face. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time takes some reading of the other party, which is apparently something car salesmen have the stigma that they do. I had some bad experiences at two dealerships and one really good one and all I could do was compare them and restrain myself from calling back to tell them all to read this book and realize what they're doing wrong. Needless to say, they didn't get my permission, but tried to market to me anyhow.

Room - Emma Donoghue
I had picked this book up a couple of years ago from the "New" shelf at the library and remember reading the first couple of pages, but I didn't really get what was happening. Having more context about the book and knowing that it was written in the voice of a 5-year-old boy made a lot more sense when I read it this summer. It's a horrifying story but it has a lot of heartfelt themes and reminders about the innocence of life. It also made me ask a lot of questions about what we take for granted, what we don't question and how life works.

The Running Dream - Wendelin Van Draanen
I read this in two sittings - it was recommended to me by a preteen, and what a recommendation it was. A young girl who likes to run is in an accident - in which she loses her leg, and therefore, the ability to run as she knew it. While it's told from her young perspective, it was interesting to be able to ponder those questions for yourself - especially for me, as a runner. 
Grace: A Memoir - Grace Coddington
Everything I read and hear about Grace Coddington really does make me believe in being in the right place at the right time. I also think it was the golden age for fashion magazines (particularly Vogue) so it worked out even more in her favor. She's a very interesting person if nothing else, and an inspiration for working hard and working your way up. 

The Girl On The Train - Paula Hawkins
I typically like to avoid things that are the hippest things - assuming I guess that despite their hipness, they've only been made hip because of the bad taste of the masses. I'm finding that not to be true. I decided to read this after hearing a few people talking about it and knowing that the movie was going to come out soon. It's been compared to Gone Girl, and my experience from that told me that the book was going to be much better than the movie. Right now all I've seen is the trailer, but so far the book is blowing that out of the water. Excited to see the movie and what they do with it. I finally got my hands on the book on a Sunday afternoon, and finished it Tuesday night. Not only is it an easy, fast read, but it's compelling and interesting and you'll finish it even faster than you'll want to.
At Home - Bill Bryson
I'm working my way through all of Bill Bryson's books, and this one was not a disappointment. As is typical for Bryson, he goes into amazing detail on so many topics, from food storage to hallways, to Central Park's planning and the rate of stairway injuries. It really was more than just a book on the house, it was a book about facts, that he chose the house to center them around. If I were a note-taker, this book could take forever to read because of the overwhelming amount of facts within. This definitely will call for another read sometime soon. 

All Marketers Are Liars - Seth Godin
The irony of reading this during the car-buying process not only made me realize how poorly most lay-people do their marketing, but how much better it could be. It couldn't have been better timed, as I ended up disregarding certain dealerships because of their salespeople who seemed to know nothing about the way to market themselves, their cars, and their businesses. I realize that there are stereotypes about car salesmen for a reason, but there has to be a way to be a decent, not horrible, one. If only they'd read this book. 

#GIRLBOSS - Sophia Amoruso
I'd heard a lot about the book and Sophia and there's no time like the present to read about women who made things happen themselves. I really know nothing about fashion and wasn't that interested in the actual fashion portion, it was interesting to read how much of it she made happen and how much of it was situational and generally just happenstance and good timing. Her message was basically that it's not going to be easy, you gotta work for things and most importantly, know what you're good at and what you need help with in order to succeed.

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I saved this Adichie book for last because I thought I would like it the least (solid tactic, I thought) but it turned out that this was basically tied for my favorite with Americanah. It's a shame how much isn't taught about other countries' and continents' wars within the American school system. I don't know that I could have even told you what Biafra was before I read any of Adichie's work, a sad state of affairs indeed. Just means I need to read it again and recommend it to anyone who wouldn't otherwise be paying attention to things that aren't thrown in our faces. 
The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson - Jeffrey Toobin
My interest in this book came after watching ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary on the whole OJ debacle: O.J.: Made in America. Then I watched The People v. O.J. Simpson on FX, which is based on this book, so figured I'd need to get all the fact somewhere. Jeffrey Toobin clearly did his homework when this trial was going on and he's an excellent writer too. It's somewhat frustrating reading a book you'll already know the outcome of, but learning all the evidence that wasn't shown in the shows or is widely known in public was very interesting. He also did a fantastic job during the entire book remaining neutral, showing both sides of the case and the trial, despite ultimately sharing his opinion at the
(very) end of the book.

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