Monthly Archives: February 2020

*** Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

I long resisted reading Nothing to See Here because I had serious doubts about a story that featured self-igniting children. How contrived! How silly! Well, I was wrong. Kevin Wilson has the magic touch when it comes to writing about children (see here and here) and the self-igniting children become completely normal, in a way, as well as symptomatic of the crazy family in which they leave. Also normal is the devotion of their unlikely nanny, strangely loyal to someone who betrayed her in the past. Let’s just say that you will never look at politicians the same way after you read the story.

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Filed under New fiction

** Killing Orders by Sara Paretsky

Killing Orders untangles a complicated story where the Catholic Church and the mob unite to circulate counterfeit stock certificates (I did not know such paper records still existed!). The detective’s aunt is involved and won’t help. It’s fast-paced and violent and enjoyable.

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Filed under Mystery

*** Kindness and Wonder by Gavin Edwards

Is it possible to find a heart-warming book that also has some substance? Try Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, which tells the story of a very unlikely TV host who started his show with no budget but quickly attracted a loyal and ever-growing audience. The author carefully details how Fred Rogers avoided fortune and political entanglement, even as he met great fame. It’s a loverly rememebrance.

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Filed under True story

* All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

Family patriarch is dying, and dies. He was a cheater, professionally and personally, and a violent man, and in a few days his wife, his daughter, his son, and his daughter-in-law will uncover many of his secrets and the family will implode as each flashback adds to the mayhem.

It is well observed but I found it all pretty tedious.

 

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Filed under New fiction

*** Kill Reply All by Victoria Turk

 

If  you are tempted to leave an anonymous copy of Kill Reply All: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette, from Social Media to Work to Love o a colleague’s desk, think twice: after the wonderful, corporate-oriented chapter on using email in the workplace, the author switches  immediately to writing a good Tinder profile. Your intentions may be misread!

I particularly loved the humorous flowcharts included in the book. The one about mansplaining is perfect!

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Filed under Non fiction

*** The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

In The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, the author argues that the rich are now less likely to buy fancy cars or watches and more to worry about organic blueberries, hand-knit, logo-less sweaters, costly educational activities for their children, and, before then, how to demonstrate that their babies are breast-fed. She calls the new patterns of consumption “inconspicuous”, which is the only quibble I have about the book. Sure, we are no longer talking about Cadillacs or Rolexes, but the omnipresent yoga mats and chatter about remote vacations seem pretty conspicuous to me. The entire analysis is based on spending patterns and meticulously scaffolded around those patterns. Fascinating.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss interleaves short essays about growing up in Alabama and taking care of her aging parents with observations of the plants and animals in her Tennessee backyard. There are poignant memories of her being afraid that her (still very young!) brother would be drafted for the Vietnam War,  loving but frank comments about how hard it is to take care of her mother, who has moved next door, and wonder at the intelligence of the squirrel that raids her squirrel-proof bird feeder. It’s quiet, and slow, and quite beautiful.

As a bonus, each mini-chapter is illustrated by the author’s brother with gorgeous illustrations of wildlife.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Me by Elton John

Me: Elton John Official Autobiography can, especially in the beginning, read like a name-dropping travelogue, but it does get better as the author delves into his struggles and embrace of a different, kinder way of life. I also found it to be a fascinating description of what it’s like to be suddenly ultra-famous and fawned on, to the point where no one will dare challenge you to change behaviors that could be unhealthy or cruel.

 

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Filed under True story

** The Rabbit Effect by Kelli Harding

 

The title of The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness comes from a study that serendipitously found that lovingly-cared for (lab) rabbits escaped heart attacks. From that, the author tries to spin an entire book showing that happy people with good friends and a supportive community have better health outcomes. It’s often a bit shaky, however much we’d like to believe that love and kindness are wonderful –and sometimes it feels like, perhaps, sick people have it coming to them before they were not kind enough, lovable enough, or connected enough (the author never says so, to be sure!) The most convincing part of the book is when it discusses how we could (and should!) organize society to minimize stressors to promote good health. Seems like a rather cheap way to go, actually.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** User Friendly by Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant

User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play is a masterful history of user-focused design. Peppered with examples from domains as varied as the design of nuclear power plants, autonomous cars, assistive devices for the elderly, jet fighters, hybrid car energy usage displays, icons, or the bracelets used in Disney amusement parks, it tells the story of how designers embraced the need to design for the user, rather than trying to get the user to learn how to use whatever tools they were designing. Along the way, we see how familiar concepts such as navigability, consistency, shape coding, and personas came into being. It’s a great read, and not only for designers, but for us laypeople as well.

 

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Filed under Non fiction