Monday, September 15, 2014

Apparently, that book you gave him aren't exactly the stories in the most traditional sense.

I've had "write a book review post" on my to-do list for quite a while. But then I was busy moving across the country, and then I was getting moved in, and then I was starting a new job, and then I read more and more books and it just seemed too overwhelming to even start. But you know what they say, you eat an elephant one bite at a time... so here goes.


One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Story:
A sweeping multi-generational story of the Buendia family and the town of Macondo that they founded.

The Review:
People love this book. Love love. And yes, a lot of those people are my English people. But other people seem to love it too. And I see the good things about it. It is beautifully written, and by that I mean the language is gorgeous. It's beautiful to the point of wanting to reread a sentence two or three times just to savor it. The city of Macondo becomes a character in the story that is beautiful and spiteful and fascinating. And the language is so lovely that you feel you are there while it rains unendingly there while the banana trees grow.

But good grief, could the characters have their own names?! All the men are Jose Arcadio or Aureliano. I couldn't keep anyone separate or distinct. And maybe that's the point, but it's annoying. It became very difficult to keep the story straight because I didn't know who it was talking about.

And then, the book is 450 pages. It just goes on and on and on.

What I really like about Garcia Marquez, what actually keeps me interested in the magical realism doesn't show up until the last page. And that wasn't enough to redeem the book for me.

There were interesting things, but I don't really recommend it.


What Is Tao? by Alan Watts

The Story:
An 80 page explanation of the basic tenets and principles of the philosophy of Tao. 

The Review:
This is a great short introduction to the philosophy. Of course, what makes reading philosophy difficult is that it comes with this idea that Tao is unknowable. So... there's that. But I like the basic principles and those are fairly easily explained in this book. 

I recommend it. It only took an hour or two to read. 


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

The Story:
This is Dave Egger's memoir of his early 20s. His parents died of cancer very close to each other and he became the legal guardian for his seven-year-old brother. He recounts his life in an extremely postmodern style -- no linear timeline, no plot, very self-aware, angsty, and self-involved. 

The Review:
Let's start with the positive. I really like Egger's style. I find postmodern writing enjoyable and am always interested because it calls attention to itself as writing and is always surprising. One thing Eggers does here that I particularly enjoyed was the dialogue between him and his brother Toph when Toph suddenly steps out of character and starts calling Eggers on his motivation for what he's doing. It's clever. 

On the bad side, I got frustrated with this memoir for a few reasons. 
1. I really had a hard time reading about Eggers as a parent. He's the quintessential twentysomething searching for himself who doesn't want an actual job and just wants to change the world and be famous. And I found myself yelling at him "Suck it up! You have to take care of this kid so get over yourself. 

2. Eggers is extremely narcissistic and self-involved. All his writing is an attempt to demonstrate how smart he is. It's grating. 

3. It was 437 pages long. That's at least 200 pages too long. There's a reason The Things They Carried is only 200 pages. That's about as long as a postmodern novel can be sustained. 

I don't recommend it. 


The Story of the Human Body by Daniel E. Lieberman

The Format:

The Story:
Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University and he sets up this book to look at why humans are so sick and diseased, particularly with chronic diseases, right now. He looks at human evolution and history to examine what we were designed to do and how can the way we were designed and the way we evolved help us to cure these diseases. 

The Review:
This book was so fascinating!

There are three parts. Part one is about evolution. Lieberman goes back to the last common ancestor with the apes and moves forward with what we know from fossil records and looks at the adaptations. The once homo sapiens arrive on the scene, he looks at changes from the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution. 

Part two is about the development of disease. Lieberman's theory is that the agricultural and industrial revolutions caused "mismatch diseases." For example, the agricultural revolution changed how humans ate, and that lead to disease because evolution doesn't change that fast. 

Part three is about specifics of disease and what we can do to correct or ameliorate the mismatch diseases. 

I found this fascinating because he moves through everything so clearly and explains so simply as he points out all the connections that I didn't know. Honestly, his view jived really well with my hippie-granola perspective, and he talks about addressing the problem rather than just the symptoms. Lieberman's main idea is that we have to know where we are coming from to shape where we are going. 

As a random aside, he quotes the Bible a lot, which I thought was interesting for an evolutionary biologist. 

I definitely recommend this. 

There are many more books to review, but that was a decent start. 

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