Monthly Archives: May 2019

** Careless Love by Peter Robinson

Careless Love starts with two somewhat suspicious deaths, that will eventually be tied together and with more in a terrifying conspiracy. It felt like the story was a kind of warmup to another, darker, more international story. We shall see. And the personal details sprinkled throughout felt a little forced. Yes, we get it, the detective likes music of a particular era.

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Filed under New fiction

** Beeline by Shalini Shankar

Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success attempts to use spelling bees as a mode of inquiry into Generation Z kids, and it does not go well. The description of the bees and participants are told lovingly and were, to me, the most accomplished part of the book.

The rest seemed both repetitive and shallow, somehow. Why is it important to justify spelling bees as a “sport”? It’s not a sport, anymore than chess is a sport, but why should all children participate in sports? And yes, the winners are good at self-direction, and self-promotion, skills that will be useful to them later on. The winners of competitive endeavors are self-motivated. And the author tries so hard to portray the parents as not pushy that it’s a little suspicious. Surely, like in any other field, there are parents who step above the line, right? But I think you will enjoy the descriptions of the bees and the training methods used by the contestants. They certainly know a lot about how the English language came together.

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Filed under New fiction

* The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

The author of The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life is considerably more practical than our friend Sasaki, and the result is a perfectly reasonable, if blindingly obvious set of checklists, interspersed with fawning, mind boggling  testimonials (as in “we cleaned our home and that allowed us to adopt a child with special needs”).

Mari Kondo is still the queen.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Girl in Black and White by Jessie Morgan-Owens

Mary Mildred Williams, whose photo graces the cover Girl in Black and White: The Story of Mary Mildred Williams and the Abolition Movement was a slave because her mother was a slave, but she looked so white that she was used by Senator Sumner in abolitionist lectures, with the very uncomfortable argument that a system that enslaves white people must be wrong. O, Senator Sumner! The book traces the history of Mary’s family, starting with her grandmother and the complicated family of her master, and the various legal judgments that accompanied Mary’s move to Boston.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup tells the story of Theranos, the biotech startup headed by a very young woman that raised $900 million before being exposed as a fraud, as its blood testing devices simply did not draw enough blood to accurately perform any of the tests it was touted to do.

The subtitle is very accurate in that many of the stories, although extreme, could take place in any other startup: the paranoia about trade secrets, the over-the-top parties with inflated claims of taking over the world, the competing engineering teams, not to mention the crazy work hours. What’s amazing in this story, and is only hinted at by the author (a journalist who sticks to facts), is how a college dropout was able to bamboozle a series of venture capitalists into raising a fortune. It’s so interesting to see that all the VCs are older men and the CEO is a young woman, and that they are all technology VCs trying hard to succeed in the biotech field. Since a very basic knowledge of chemistry suggests that the blood tests could not be accurate, how come they never inquired (and none of the biotech VCs was interested)? It’s an amazing story, not because of the internal shenanigans, but because of who was fooled.

 

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Filed under Non fiction

** Fat Nation by Jonathan Engel

Fat Nation: A History of Obesity in America recounts the rise of obesity since after WWII, relating it to city planning, the availability of fast food and processed food, and the disappearance of family meals. The author is a professor of health policy so is able to speak calmly about the topic, and he tries, bravely, to suggest some solutions. Will we all start eating spinach and walk everywhere?

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Filed under Non fiction

*** Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor

Written by an Episcopal priest and former professor of religion, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others describes her experiences as a professor along with her own private musings about discovering other religions. You won’t be surprised to hear that my favorite parts of the books are the stories about the students, some worried about losing their own faith by learning about others, and the many field trips she undertakes to all kind of religious gatherings, with the students, where she manages to meet people who welcome them in the warmest ways, including when they visit a mosque just days after 9/11.

Perhaps a religion course should be a prerequisite for all college grads? The ignorance not only of other traditions, but even the students’ own, is staggering and must get in the way of understanding others, let alone accepting them.

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Filed under Non fiction