Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (Francis Fukuyama)

The current rise of nationalism and identity politics has driven a heated and contentious debate in both Europe and America over what it means to be a citizen of a country or a part of a larger community of nations (as is the case of individuals in Europe). Francis Fukuyama’s Identity attempts to parse through the rise of identity politics in democracies and discusses what the effects of this current realm of politics is having on the democracy and on self-value.

Fukuyama spends a fair bit of time tying in psychological and personal connections to the landscape by weaving politics with personal dignity and value, arguing that the current state of political affairs is driven by grievances that are herded in smaller and smaller tents than by greater socioeconomic issues. He ties into historical context by sharing the ebb and flow of nationalism through the centuries and how the definition of identity of one’s self has largely remained centered around language, culture, and shared values (and in history’s darker episodes, used for evil and not good). He props up the idea that increasing fragmentation, political polarization, and social media have driven a large chunk of today’s political landscape and that sensible reforms are needed from political leadership. More important, the courage to make those reforms is necessary given what the author argues that vetocracy (lobbyists and special interest groups) has prevented many needed reforms from taking place, specifically in America.

For 183 pages, Identity provides an effective short-form read into Fukuyama’s thoughts on nationalism and the political landscape in the West. It is a bit simplistic in some respects, such as painting this debate in a mostly left-right context when some of the issues about immigration and economics find similar strains in both left and right politics. But it is effective in shaping the argument that reforms and political courage are needed to address the problems facing the West before things get more heated and arguably worse.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Our House (Louise Candlish)

I was drawn immediately to the cover of Louise Candlish's fabulous Our House. The house itself is designed with a bright exterior and a beautiful tree outside, but wait...are those black clouds looming ominously above it? How can such an innocent-sounding title take you on such a thrilling roller coaster ride? The answer is in the little details that form such an extravagant, horrifying puzzle.

One of the most exciting events in anyone's life is the purchase of a house. But what if the person living there never sold it in the first place? Such is the beginning of Our House, when Fiona Lawson comes home one day to find strangers moving into her treasured home. How can this be? Where is her husband, Bram, in all this? Candlish takes her time with piecing the puzzle together, allowing the reader to get just a tantalizing piece or two as she deftly goes back and forth in time. The story is told both through Fiona's eyes and Bram's, and Candlish wisely makes each section just a few pages. I was addicted, as were many people judging from the reviews, and found myself reading way past my bedtime.

Some reviewers have said the middle bogged the story down, but I didn't feel that way at all. Candlish wrote every word for a reason, and by the time, you get to the heart-stopping conclusion, you understand exactly how the dominoes started to fall from the very first page.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees (Thor Hanson)

Thor Hanson’s Buzz is a fascinating read into the world of bees. The author discusses the essential role that the buzzing, stinging, and swarming insects have played over history, providing both a mechanism for plant reproduction through pollination but also food through honey.  There’s a great anecdote about the role bees play in our food chain using a Big Mac and how much of it is a byproduct of some level of pollination by a bee. We won’t spoil the outcome in this review.

Hanson describes the differences between bees and wasps, reminds us that not all varieties of bees sting, and shares the various habitats that each species of bee prefers. Hanson travels around parts of the Western United States, often with his young son, to share his love of bees and expertise in the field. The book also discusses the challenges that bees presently face - both from human-induced factors and other pests as well.

You can tell Hanson truly enjoys his work as his passion for bees lives through each page. While not a long read, Buzz is highly educational and enjoyable. You will learn a lot about how bees operate and gain a new appreciation for them. If you are allergic to bee stings, this may be your only way to enjoy bees up close and personal. I promise you won’t be stung by anything in the book, and I also promise that if you are curious to know more about how much bees do for you, Buzz is a definitive work that you will likely want to keep in your library for years to come.


Monday, October 1, 2018

The Lost for Words Bookshop (Stephanie Butland)

As a lifelong reader, a sporadic bookseller and the writer of this blog for almost ten years, I've clearly narrowed down the genres I like to read the most. And when I say narrowed down, I mean it -- I've found that I'm drawn to mysteries that take place in old Gothic mansions and novels about bookshops. I was excited to pick up Stephanie Butland's The Lost for Words Bookshop because I thought it was going to be a simple, cozy book about a bookshop. But it was my mistake -- it's about so much more than that.

As the book begins, we are introduced to Loveday Cardew. She loves working in Archie's secondhand bookshop, but she also loves nothing more than to be alone with her books. In fact, she adores books so much that she has the first line of many of them tattooed on her body. However, as the pages progress and we go back and forth through time periods, the reader comes to realize that Loveday has a past that is seriously affecting how she handles herself and her relationships. It is at this point that The Lost for Words Bookshop becomes so much more than a book about a bookshop. And all of Loveday's tattoos get a deeper meaning to them.

In Loveday, Butland has developed a character that is easy to root for. As readers, we ache for her and understand why she acts the way she does, but want to shake her when she pushes away the people who love her and want to help her. Warmth, coziness, tragedy, and humor -- The Lost for Words Bookshop has it all.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

An Anonymous Girl (Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen)

Authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekannen already had a blockbuster to their names with the bestselling The Wife Between Us. They're sure to have another one with the upcoming An Anonymous Girl.

Let's face it -- psychological thrillers (especially those that build on lies) are a dime a dozen nowadays, and you can pretty much be guaranteed a hit by just putting the words "girl" or "woman" in the title. But Hendricks and Pekannen manage to create a world that's entirely different in An Anonymous Girl, and the results are deeply unsettling (in a good way).

Jessica Farris signs up for a psychological study with the mysterious Dr. Shields. The questions start off innocently enough, and Jessica can't believe she's being paid so much just for her answers. But when the questions become more intrusive and she is asked to do things she is uncomfortable with, Jessica wants out. But will Dr. Shields let her go?

I have to be honest -- as I was writing that last paragraph, An Anonymous Girl didn't sound all that scary. But it is. I think what's most effective is that Jessica and Dr. Shields alternate narration. Dr. Shields narrates in second person and passive voice, which creates a sense of even more invasion into Jessica's life. Hendricks and Pekannen have finally created something different in the psychological suspense category; I highly recommend it!


Monday, September 24, 2018

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Jaron Lanier)

Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is fitting in the era of headlines being made by and on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media companies. Lanier is a Silicon Valley pro who has spent a long time working with technology and data; and yet, he does not use social media himself. In his declaration of grievances with Twitter, Facebook and the like, he offers ten reasons why we should cut the social media tethers immediately.

Lanier compares one crux of our relationship with social media to that of an addiction -- the need to be liked, amplified, and followed by others. For some, that relationship has a reasonable balance, but for many others, it reaches an unhealthy level of dependence.  Lanier’s arguments range all over the map and dive into things that are common complaints about social media (politics, internet mobs) to the more psychological (personality based) and even philosophical (free will) tenets.

Each headline provides a legitimate source of ammo to uninstall those social media apps, but the supporting reasons are, at times, woven with political themes and biases. A few other points dive far into the technological and Silicon Valley weeds; this makes the book difficult to comprehend unless you have a pretty solid background in technology. The book is strong when Lanier lays out a six-point methodology on how social media companies can influence our behavior, often not for the better. 

This author is not the only individual to argue against social media in our current times and is not the first with a technological background to do so. While his ten arguments are strong, the supporting evidence sometimes gets a bit too deep and unwieldy to provide a definitive case that could be amplified to the masses.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Her One Mistake (Heidi Perks)

Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks takes the reader on a thrilling ride and has a killer twist I didn't see coming. As books often do, it fizzles out in the last few pages with an unsatisfying ending, but I did quite enjoy getting to that point.

Harriet is an overprotective parent who would never dream of leaving her little girl, Alice, with any babysitter. Her best friend, Charlotte, persuades Harriet to let her take care of her for a few hours so Harriet can take a bookkeeping class. In Charlotte's care, Alice disappears into thin air. While Harriet, her husband, and the police desperately search for the four-year-old, Charlotte cannot let her guilt be eased, wracking her brain for where she went so terribly wrong.

The reader will never see coming what really happened to Alice; the remainder of the book follows the repercussions of the reveal. The ending of Her One Mistake did not provide the closure I was hoping for and felt rushed, but with Perks's exciting writing, you can almost forgive her for it.