Monthly Archives: September 2013

*** Scarcity by by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

In Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, the authors highlight how human beings, when they feel something is scarce, adopt a  special mindset that both boosts their productivity for the issue at hand while limiting their thinking outside of it. For instance, if someone is short on time, productivity soars: no more dawdling or checking email or Facebook:  it’s pedal to the metal. But at the same time long-term concerns evaporate (the authors call it “tunneling”), so we may forget that important deadlines are coming up — and in an effort to be more efficient we multitask too much, leading to errors (“juggling”). The scarcity mindset applies to time but also to money , loneliness, or any other concerns that we may have, and the authors give many practical applications, the most interesting of which, for me, was the simple idea of building some slack into our lives (times, budget, etc.)  Well worth reading, and applying to our most frazzled moments.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under New fiction

** And the Mountain Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed opens with a breathtaking bedtime story that introduces the brother and sister whose families’ sagas constitute the rest of the book, starting with an artfully twisted separation in Kabul. Many years later, they will reunite, in California. The first third of the book, which takes place in Afghanistan, I found enchanting, capturing sibling rivalry, brotherly love, and the awfulness of a bad marriage.

I had trouble with the middle of the book, which takes place in Paris and contained just enough inaccurate details to break the spell of the story: 8th graders would not attend a lycée in the 1980s; the Sorbonne is not the only university in Paris. The scenes in Northern California read as much more authentic down to the layout of houses (but the 101? I think not! We do not use articles with the freeways here.) So with that I heartily recommend relishing that perfect beginning!

Leave a comment

Filed under New fiction

* Grace by Grace Coddington

Fashion lovers should love Grace: A Memoir, which chronicles the life of the author, from model to fashion director. I am not a fashion lover, and I was rather amazed by how the author seems to remember (and care) more about the specific clothes she wore at one of her several weddings than she does about the grooms. There is much tattletaling about the rich and famous,  a stupendous amount of self-adoration in the form of the magazine features she put together, and a truly bizarre chapter all about her cats — all unfortunately overshadowing the personal narrative that is, to me. much more interesting: her move from a tiny town to London, the tremendous amount of effort she put into her work, and her difficult relationship with her sister.

Leave a comment

Filed under True story

*** Claire of the Sea Light by Edwige Danticat

Claire of the Sea Light starts on the seventh birthday of a motherless girl living with her fisherman father in a small town in Haiti, and steps through her life backwards from there. That first part, played in reverse, is stunning. And then the story grows to include the woman her father is thinking of giving her to, since he is very poor and perhaps wants to escape the setting of his wife’s death, along with other denizens of the town, from  the very rich to the very poor — and it seems that there is no one in between.  This is not a happy story: there are many deaths, along with the girl’s mother, and several violent deaths at that, along with the many cruelties and indignities that go with the pervasive corruption that seems to be woven forever in the fabric of the town.

O, that first chapter…

1 Comment

Filed under New fiction

** Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

Surprise! A novel by Alexander McCall Smith that is not part of an existing series, whether the legendary No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,  Isabel Dalhousie, or 44 Scotland Street series. Trains and Lovers takes place on a train, between Scotland and London, and brings together four people’s stories of love that went mostly wrong.  I doubt that any train companions would talk so long and deep about their lives but novels are all about suspending disbelief, right, and the stories are engaging and tender, coming  together in a pleasing whole rather than simply being four juxtaposed short stories. Another bonus is the story from Australia (Perth), a location that has figured in other Mc Call Smith’s books and is nicely highlighted here. Nicely done and charming, although no more than that.

Leave a comment

Filed under New fiction

* Education Nation by Milton Chen

Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools present often exciting and inspiring ideas for education, whether in the classroom or outside. Alas, the examples seem to exist mostly as disconnected islands, with little in the way of recognized best practices, or even practical guidelines for implementation by individuals and institutions other than the original experimenters. So the book read, to me, as mostly discouraging, lacking as it was in ways to apply all those interesting experiments.

1 Comment

Filed under New fiction, Non fiction

*** W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

W is for Wasted is the latest installment in the Kinsey Millhone series (only 3 more to go!) and is also the one to delve most deeply into the detective heroine’s personal history. We knew about her failed relationships but she always presented herself as an orphan with no one left in her family of origin. In this book the death of a homeless man introduces her to a family she thought was lost — not always with friendly results, but it is family. The murder of another man is eventually connected, in a lengthy but I thought satisfying way, to the other death for a medical mystery on top of the family connection. I enjoyed the story both for the personal aspects and the lack of hard-to-believe twists that seem to clutter the last few books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mystery