Friday, July 30, 2021

January '21 Reading (Mackesy, Rothfuss, Towles, Becker, Coursey, Fleming)

Starting to write in July and reviewing well over 52 books read for the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge which started in January seems like a hopeless situation. Nonetheless, let's see if I can do it. 

The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy --Perfect gift book for the right person, and I was the right person for the person who gave it to me. I get that some reviewers think it's a bit cutesy or filled with feel good platitudes, but sometimes it's nice to read something lovely even while knowing in reality fox would probably eat mole. I read it through several nights in a row. I gave it 4 stars. 

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss -- This is a discussion worthy book. The writing is beautiful, and it definitely is like Tolkien and Homer, or maybe those two meet up with Rowling. Yes, I wrote that, and I know I could not write a story like Rothfuss. The other shoe is going to drop with some critique, isn't it? 

I couldn't put the book down to do any of my work until I got to the Felurian section. I'm not saying it shouldn't be in the book. I think there is discussion worthy aspects of this section...until it just becomes over-indulgent. It's no longer about a deeper topic, and reviewers who point out Rothfuss's attitude toward female characters have a point. 

A more troublesome problem for me was the author's use of "black hands" as an expletive. I get that cuss words are intended to shock and be offensive; still, there are expletives that work with anger and there are expletives that reflect back badly on the person who swears them. The ones Rothfuss uses would not have worked for me thirty years ago, let alone in today's world. 

I'm just as eager to read the third in the series as others who give this book 4 and 5 stars. It would be lovely if Rothfuss would use his incredible abilities with language to craft a different expletive, give us women of depth, and move past the Circe and siren type of adventures. I think he has left us with enough loose ends to do so. I gave it 4 stars. 

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles -- I confess to being disappointed with this book. I read Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow (and also bought it), and I wasn't in love with his characters in his first novel as I was in his second novel. I suppose one could say that the story line and characters fit the time period Towles was going for. If you like Fitzgerald type of characters, this could be the book for you. 

These two books of Towles are also quite different from one another which is a good in that Towles doesn't write the same story over and over (as far as we know with just two books). I did not give this novel two stars which would have meant I didn't like the book at all. I liked it; I didn't love it, and I don't want to buy it. Towles's skillful writing comes through, and it would be a good book for a discussion group. Final conclusion: borrow it until you decide if this is a book you want to own. I gave it 3 stars. 

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker -- The first two chapters in I was going to give this book 3 stars -- lots of excitement but not practical. I liked it okay enough to read but not buy. Then, I kept reading and I found what I was looking for -- lots of answers to the "yes, but how". Also Becker strikes a balance, and by that I mean he doesn't write that I have to give up all but 30 of my books. Hah! In the end, I had decided to buy the book for myself and buy it for others so that means a five star book. Get past the rah-rah part at the beginning, and if you don't like books with stories from the New Testament Bible, there really are only 3 in the entire book and Becker explains why he chooses those particular stories. His references to other minimalists and their ideas are diverse and lead to other sources. Short book -- read it here at the beginning of the year to start de-accumulating or read it at the end of the year when you are just short of your GR reading goal and need to read something quickly! I gave it 4 stars. 

The Joy Switch: How Your Brain's Secret Circuit Affects You're Relationships - And How You Can Activate It by Chris M. Coursey -- I bought this book after attending a free Thrive webinar. What Coursey brings to the table is an easy to read explanation of how to keep all parts of our brain open when all it wants to do is to shut down in the midst of unhappiness, sadness, fear, anger, etc. Keeping that same metaphor or analogy, I was hoping the table was going to include the 19 relational skills (it does not; the reader will be pointed back to the Thrive website). The book does include practices (so some good healthy food at the table) of which I was hoping for a bit more. On this same table I wish I had Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry along to say that there were a lot of repeated elements in Coursey's showstopper. In other words, I felt an editor with a bit stronger editing pen could have deleted some of the repeated sentences. 

The book feels rushed (dare I say that Coursey doesn't seem to have been given enough time to accomplish this showstopper), and, yet, I'm glad a friend passed along to me the link to the webinar, and I'm glad I bought the book. I plan on looking other researchers Coursey includes in the notes. Coursey keeps the specific scientific brain details to two pages which my family members like. I, on the other hand, like to read about brain research. 

I would like to see in future editions the following: sentences not repeated, less exclamation marks (or sentences that feel like Coursey really wanted to have included an exclamation mark -- and this is coming from someone who does like to use exclamation marks so I understand the desire), more practices, and the inclusion of material which is mentioned (like the 19 relational skills). To mention something but then expect the reader to go to the website makes the reader feel like the book was written for commercial purposes. To keep my analogy: it feels as if the host says a really great Pavlova would be excellent with this meal. Go to such and such a bakery and buy it. 

Eek. Please have your joy switch on, Chris Coursey, if you are reading this. I truly believe this is great material. I gave it 4 stars. 

How to Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal Marie Fleming -- Apparently I bought this book and put it on my "currently reading" shelf on July 1, 2019...and then life happened in the form of a lot of health stuff and sad stuff, and I knew I wanted to take my time with this book. I either heard Fleming speak on a podcast or I read about her book on an Instagram account. Whichever it was, it was her discussion of the fallacies surrounding racism that drew me in. Once I had the book in hand, I started reading about these fallacies in the opening chapter (I so appreciate when a book actually includes what an author has discussed elsewhere), and I knew I wanted to take notes, highlight, etc., something I did not have time or energy to do in 2020. So there the book sat on my shelf until January 1 of this year. I did indeed take notes, highlight, and follow up closely on Fleming's endnotes. 

Two comments about the endnotes -- sadly, my book came with the final pages missing so my book only has 226 pages, something I did not realize until I was checking out notes for the last two chapters. My book stops after the 7th note on chapter 6, and is totally missing the notes on chapter 7. 

These words on endnotes rightly lead a reader to know that this is an academic book, not academic as in boring, but academic in that Fleming uses endnotes and college/university level vocabulary. I write this so one can understand why I bought the book (automatic 4 stars if I buy a book and I'm keeping it), and why I would gift the book (5 stars) but only to people who would actually read the book. 

I found the book clear, thoughtful as well as thought provoking, easy to read, needful to read, and at the same time, I have given away books that have nothing to do with racism and learned the experiential way that what I consider easy to read, others consider academic or "too intellectual". 

I do think this book needs to be in multiple college and university classrooms. What is not to like about an author who takes on everybody, and I do mean everybody: Dems, Repubs, Trump AND Obama, you, me, herself, the rest of the world. I might have lead with this since it was one of my favorite parts of Fleming's book that she doesn't excuse anyone, and she doesn't come across as I "used" to be this way and now I'm coming down from my state of perfection to tell you all that you are evil. 

Final comments: she warns everyone up front that she will use swear words, and then she rarely uses them, but they are there. Her lifestyle as she puts it (and I'll have to paraphrase and summarize since I don't know where the exact sentence is) is one that her church members struggled with. 

All I can say is if you read books with endnotes and you truly want to practice anti-racism, then read this book. I gave this book 5 stars.