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.
Monthly Archives: May 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The author of Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism is convinced that his extreme approach to minimalism has made him happier–and I’m sure it has! What’s less clear is that we would all benefit from living in a small room with a thin futon and a low table as our only possessions (he does allow himself a Mac and iPhone, but not a proper bath towel!). I would not like to live the “before” picture of his apartment, overflowing with books and tchotchkes (I imagine there is a Japanese equivalent for this term, but I do not know it), but the “after” picture is not inviting, and is lacking a family, to boot. That said, the author makes some excellent points. My favorite is that we can use the entire city as our personal floor plan, in particular to meet friends.
How I wish I could love a story that includes the Great Molasses Flood as an uncontrived plot device! But Bowlaway a family saga centered on an unconventional woman who opens a bowling alley, and her family, had too many unbelievable twists to keep my interest. Yes, I wanted to know what came next, but I could never lose myself in the story, despite the vast cast of unusual characters. Maybe you will be able to?
The Lost Man is a family saga located in the middle of Australia, on cattle ranches where temperatures soar above 110 degrees and each drive requires lugging water and other survival gear, just in case. The death of one of three brothers eventually resolves into a tale of family violence, with the landscape a haunting character. (Jane Harper also wrote The Dry, a mystery located in a small town and with many more actors, and just as remarkable.)