Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ethics in the Real World (Peter Singer)

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter is a collection of opinion columns and short essays written by Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University.  The book bridges a wide array of topics, fusing the classical realm of philosophy and logic with the modern perspective, where philosophy acts to advocate for values and takes positions on social, political, and economic issues.

Singer brings wide-ranging and not always politically mainstream thoughts to issues that range from romance to sport, money to animal rights.  His thoughts can be challenging to more conservative points of view, and they are expressed in more of a structured opinion-editorial way as opposed to a research-intensive method.  Some footnotes and reference bullets are incorporated at points when the author cites another writer's work.

Ethics in the Real World is a relatively quick read given the wide range of topics that are covered; every essay is less than six pages in length.  You may not agree with what is articulated and you may find offense at some of Singer's points, but credit should certainly be given at the wide scope of topics and depth of thought that he has taken.  


Friday, October 7, 2016

Passwords to Paradise (Nicholas Ostler)

Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-Invented World Religions by Nicholas Ostler provides a thorough review of the relationship between languages and religions throughout the centuries.  Focusing on the world's major religions, Ostler offers a detailed look at the evolution of major faiths and the role that language played in each.

Ostler provides a chronological perspective to his work, starting with Buddhism and its spread from India to China.  Then he covers the development, spread, and subsequent denominational splits within Christianity before closing out with a look at Islam and its spread during the Middle Ages.  Within each, the author discusses the various adaptations of politics, religion, economics, and more in showing how these major faiths were shaped.  Substantial focus is given to Christianity, its origins in four languages, and how it adapted from its early beginnings to become the dominant force in European religion and political life for centuries.  Use of various languages and their English translations of numerous holy and scholarly works are provided to add additional context and value in showing the evolution of language in most of the primary world faiths.

Passwords to Paradise is very scholarly and was not a book one could breeze through -- such an approach did not appear to be the intent of Ostler, who is well-versed in over two dozen languages according to his bio.  It is a book that will make you think and will take some time to work through.  For those who are interested in learning the symbiotic relationship that religion and language have had over the centuries, this book is a great introductory tool.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Wonder (Emma Donoghue)

If you’re author Emma Donoghue, it’s probably next to impossible to top your masterpiece Room.  Not only is it well written and unbelievably popular (it was even made into an award-winning movie), but once it was published, the reader really hadn’t seen anything like it before.  However, The Wonder, her latest, comes very close to Room in its uniqueness and psychological suspense.

Lib Wright, an English nurse, is brought to an Irish village to observe a little girl named Anna. It is said that Anna hadn’t taken any food since her Confirmation, living instead from “manna from heaven.”  Both the local priest and Anna’s doctor want her watched 24/7 to make sure that this is in fact a miracle and that she isn't getting food slipped to her in any way.  Lib starts off firm and no nonsense with Anna, determined to find out what is really going on.  But when it becomes a matter of life and death, Lib fights with all her might for the little girl she comes to love.

Donoghue’s gift is that she can take an extremely tense situation and infuse it with love and warmth.  That’s what she did in Room and what she eventually does in The Wonder.  You’ll wait with bated breath to see if Lib can save young Anna.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive (Jessica Knoll)

When we first meet Ani, the main character in Jessica Knoll's Luckiest Girl Alive, we think she's going to be another wacky Amy from Gone Girl.  Knoll throws in sentences that make us gasp, probably to make us think that Ani is a nutjob.

We know that she has a big secret, but it's only until later in the novel that we learn what it is by her own recount.  Until then, all we really know about Ani is what's in front of us, namely that she has a high-powered job at a national women's magazine and that she's engaged to a seemingly nice guy from a wealthy family.  I couldn't turn the pages fast enough from the beginning straight through Ani's secret telling, but then the story takes a quick downturn.  None of the characters are particularly likable, and the reason for the end result (even though you knew it was the inevitable end result) seemed ridiculous to me.

All in all though, Luckiest Girl Alive is an entertaining read, but I don't agree at all with blurbs/reviews that say if you liked Gone Girl, you'd definitely love this one.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity was published in 2012, but it was only recently that I had even heard of it.  Apparently, I must have been living under a rock: once I read about the book and perused the reviews that made it out to be the best thing since sliced bread, I thought I better get going on it.  But while it was definitely well-written and creative, this was one of those novels that I just couldn't give a better than average rating.

Many reviews say that they can't write much about this World War II novel since it would be giving too much away, so I'll go along with that.  However, except for one twist (and even that isn't very surprising), the plot events are not that difficult to guess.  Many lines give clues to the eagle-eyed reader about what they can expect later on in the story.  Readers should also anticipate a lot of flight terminology that can be confusing after awhile.

I think this is one of those books that I'll say "It's not you, it's me."  I am definitely in the minority on Goodreads to give it an average rating, but I've read much better World War II books (Sarah's Key especially).


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Quiet (Susan Cain)

It’s not too often that a self-help book makes it onto the bestseller list, let alone one about the “meek” introvert.  But that’s exactly what happened with Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  This proves a few things: one, there are a lot of us out there; two, we’re sick and tired of being misunderstood by extroverts; and three, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I’ve read many books about this subject, but none come close to being as well-researched and well-written as this one.  I found myself nodding my head all the time in agreement, thinking “Wow, someone finally gets me!”  Cain delves into a multitude of topics, from making the case that quiet people are often the ones who have the best ideas to how to deal with introverted children.  When I taught school, I tended to “fake” being an extrovert a lot, and only wish that I had read this book then so I wouldn’t have forced introverted children into so much group work.  My school was big on group work, but this book says that it’s imperative that the groups be structured enough that those children are comfortable.

As my office is getting ready to move from the dreaded open floor plan to an even BIGGER open floor plan, so much of this book can refute why that shouldn’t happen.  I loved Quiet and plan on recommending it to all my introverted friends and family -- we’re not alone!


Monday, August 29, 2016

The Gratitude Diaries (Janice Kaplan)

A few years ago, I watched a really inspirational TED talk delivered by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast.  In this talk, Steindl-Rast says that we have it all wrong in our constant desire to obtain happiness.  If we want to be happy (and who doesn’t?), we need to be grateful -- it’s as simple as that.

In Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, the author sets out on a quest to not only research gratefulness but to also actually “be” grateful.  Instead of focusing on negativity throughout the day, she would turn all her attention to being grateful for the people in her life and the things she had.  This book is so relatable to a large percentage of the population; I found myself nodding my head in agreement and understanding quite a few times.  I also liked how the author interviewed a wide range of people, including those who stayed grateful in the face of tragedy and hardship.

I would put The Gratitude Diaries right up there with Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to lift your spirits when you’re down.  It’s well researched and inspirational, and for many, will be life-changing.