2017 Reading Roundup #21-25

The Man Who Wasn’t There | Anil Ananthaswamy

man who wasn't there I love reading about the brain, especially case studies that can teach us about human nature. And though I’ve been spoiled by Oliver Sacks, Ananthaswamy acquits himself fairly well. I found the author’s insights about each of the specific cases more compelling than his philosophical conclusions about the self. The section on schizophrenia and how it might be a result of the brain not recognizing thoughts as its own, for example, reminded me of the theory that it could also be the result of the brain processing certain thoughts out of sync with when they occur, causing them to feel like they are coming from outside the self as orders. As someone who has had more than my share of discussion of eastern philosophical ideas about the self and perception, I didn’t find what he had to relate on that subject as compared to what various disorders indicate especially insightful. B+

Born A Crime | Trevor Noah

born-a-crime

I have such mad respect for Trevor Noah after reading this. Learning where he came from, made me see his entire comedic point of view and persona in a new light. From the story referenced in the title, about how being the product of a black mother and white father was illegal, to the struggle of watching his mother struggle with an abusive and violent partner, Noah has been through some rough shit. But the fact that his attitude is still playfully inquisitive is a huge testament to the power of not letting life turn you into an angry, resentful person. I can see why Jon Stewart chose him to lead the Daily Show. Over the coming decades, we’ll need someone capable of thinking globally: speaking about racial issues here and abroad, and someone who won’t be ground down by even the most devastating political and social news. Above all, though, it’s a very funny read and shrewdly structured.  A+

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone | Stefan Kiesbye

your house is on fireThis book is like reading a coherent nightmare in the best way. It’s about five children growing up in a quaint German village, full of intrigue, horror, superstition, and betrayal. The interwoven anecdotes from their childhood are framed as reminiscences from the future, where they return to their town for a funeral. I always appreciate an author who isn’t afraid to delve into the amorality of childhood psychology, and this collection of stories fully sinks its teeth into that while maintaining a deliciously detached narrative voice. There were a few moments that dragged, for me, but only because it was so hypnotic I didn’t take enough brakes while reading. I could have done with a bit more of the supernatural element as well, but enjoyed how it was subtly laced in without much mythological explanation. A

Think of a Number | John Verdon

thinkofanumberThis book showed up on a list of exciting mysteries, and I was looking to read something tightly plotted and surprising. So when I read the premise, people getting letters that say “Think of a number” from an unknown person, only to find the letter-writer guesses their random choice, I felt like it was very Holmesian, and I was sold. The reveal just didn’t quite deliver. I didn’t care about the characters; the lead is a typical combo of “I’m retired and too old for this shit” and “I’m too cool/smart/competent to cooperate with the rules”. Some of the plot was genuinely clever, but it fell apart by the end with a lame resolution that was easy to see coming, but was dragged out for a cringey long bit. C

We Have Always Lived in the Castle | Shirley Jackson

We-Have-Always-Lived-in-the-Castle I just love it when I find a classic story that I can enjoy! The story is a very specific, and not for everyone, like Stoker or Crimson Peak. The narrator, despite being eighteen, is very childlike, and the main characters are literally the spooky shut-ins who live in the big house on the hill about whom the villagers gossip. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the unreliable narration and inevitable plot twist, which alone makes the story worth reading. Jackson’s writing is perfect for when you’re in the mood for something atmospheric and moody, rather than a typical scary story. A-

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