Sunday, October 6, 2019

Fifty Books in Five Years (or Less)

Reading fifty new books in the next five years is a goal I've set during this period of my life in which I keenly feel my brain shrinking. I'm shooting for roughly 60% nonfiction, and plan to briefly review them here. I began this goal in October 2019.

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
4/5 - Finished 10/8/19
Very well written characters, compelling story. I pictured Owen Meany as a kid I once knew well; it made the story feel more personal. I enjoyed reading a story set in the Vietnam War and (alternately) Reagan administration. Drawbacks- The narrator conveys a sort of apathy about his own existence (compared to his passion for Owen Meany) that kind of impacted my interest in his outcome; also, it’s divulged early on that the ending will be grim, and I think that (maybe intentionally?) distorts the lighter, amusing parts of the story. 

Favorite quotes:
1. “Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”

2. “‘I want to go on being a student,’ I told him. ‘I want to be a teacher. I'm just a reader,’ I said.


‘I learned it from you,’ I told him.


2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
4/5 - Finished listening 10/17/19
Beautifully descriptive. Just really lovely prose- the author is a poet. I really enjoyed this; I love historical fiction, and this book provided a unique perspective of World War II. What would it be like to be a blind girl in France? To be a protector of a priceless national treasure? To be a brilliant orphan boy with a conscience, growing up in the Reich? While exquisitely written, this book was downgraded from “LOVED It” to “Really Liked It” because the plot, though interesting, was kind of slow. I suppose that’s what happens when you write about a blind girl and a young teenage boy during World War II; they‘re not going to be involved in a lot of exciting action. So I admit that there were days that I felt less than compelled to keep listening. (Zach Appelman does an excellent job narrating.)

Standout quotes:
1. “Werner wonders in the dead of night, isn’t life a kind of corruption? A child is born, and life sets in upon it. Taking things from it, stuffing things into it.”

2. “It is the obliviousness of our children that saves us.” (True; and ruins us, too, no doubt.)

3. “The sky seems high and far away. Somewhere, someone is figuring out how to push back the hood of grief, but Marie-Laure cannot. Not yet.”

4. “The others who wait at the gare d'austerlitz whisper that one out of every hundred will come back, that you can loop your thumb and forefinger around their necks, that when they take off their shirts, you can see their lungs moving inside their chests. Every bite of food she takes is a betrayal.  Even those who have returned, she can tell, have returned different, older than they should be, as though they have been on another planet, where years pass more quickly.”

3. After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
3/5 - Finished 10/20/19

This is an incredibly imaginative approach to the post-apocalyptic novel, but I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not. The beginning, like an undercurrent, sucked me right in. (Sorry- groan- I know.) The premise, one hundred years in the future, is a world completely flooded, the tops of our mountain ranges now the only land upon which to settle. The human race is attempting to rebuild itself, its existence having been reduced to basic impulse and need. The main character is a mother of two- one child with her, the other having been kidnapped from her by her husband years before. Her quest is to find her lost daughter (and to take revenge upon her husband). The book contains vivid descriptions of a life lived largely on the water, and includes some powerful thoughts about the nature of loss and parenting in an uncertain world. I found myself copying several passages that struck a chord. What I did not like about this book were the characters. None of them, from the little girl to the rugged, mysterious navigator/love interest, were particularly likable or even multi-dimensional. The action scenes were often over-the-top unrealistic, and the main character was so intensely hypocritical that I didn’t find myself really caring what happened to her (so much as wanting to know what would happen at the end). I usually choose my books based on what's available in the library database, and I've often been rewarded with some incredible reads. All I can say of this one, however, is that I don't regret reading it- though my time could’ve been spent on something I liked better. 

Memorable passages:
1. "Sometimes you could see shadows darkening the water where the mountains rose up to meet the sky, and when you sailed over them, you could look down and see the rocky peaks like ancient faces floating in the deep, looking back up at you. The ocean churned above them, its currents eddying among the rocks, coral springing up anew, new sea creatures adapting and forming in the dark. I wouldn’t be here for whatever new things would grow out of this new world; I’d be ash before they sprouted fully formed. But I wondered about them, wondering what Pearl would live to see and hoping they’d be good things."

2. "knew it was sometimes easier to love ghosts than the people who were around you. Ghosts could be perfect, frozen beyond time, beyond reality, the crystal form they’d never been before, the person you needed them to be. Sometimes I wanted only the good moments to surface in my memory."

4. You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
5/5 - Finished listening 10/23/19

I stumbled upon this book in Libby; something about its description snagged my attention and I put it on hold. It was my first (unintentional) foray into modern technological philosophy, and I LOVED it. As soon as it ended, I began listening to it a second time. Rob Shapiro does an excellent job narrating the author's meandering, astute observations of the myriad ways the internet has influenced modern culture in ways both positive and negative. My only drawback is that it's been ten years since it was written; I'd love to know what Lanier would think about internet culture a decade later (though I believe his predictions have been largely verified). While I didn't agree with everything he postulated, I found myself nodding along to several opinions I had always instinctively held but lacked the knowledge to articulate. I've always considered myself a bit of a resistant Luddite - a dinosaur, I guess - less interested in interacting with social media than culture suggests is necessary, and intimidated by the threat to human interaction that I've believed technology poses. Not only was it extremely gratifying to hear my opinions verbalized and verified by someone who has been immersed in computer science and instrumental in developing web technology/virtual reality, I also felt refreshingly hopeful about the potential for these technologies. I plan to read Lanier's other works - as soon as I'm done with this one (which might not be anytime soon).

Notable quotes:
(One problem with audiobooks is that I find it difficult to take down ear-catching quotes. It's time-consuming to transcribe a passage. I captured a few, but if I had the book in hand, I'd likely take up an inordinate amount of space on this page for quotes from You Are Not a Gadget.)

(Discussing how Facebook is like "No Child Left Behind"): "What computerized analysis of all the country's school tests has done to education is exactly what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can presently represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do. (Whether one expects computers to improve in the future is a different issue.)"

"If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than with truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and content-less. The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract. The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments, to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”

"It’s easy to break into physical cars and houses, for instance, and yet few people do so. Locks are only amulets of inconvenience that remind us of a social contract we ultimately benefit from. It is only human choice that makes the human world function. Technology can motivate human choice, but not replace it. I had an epiphany once that I wish I could stimulate in everyone else. The plausibility of our human world - the fact that the buildings don’t all fall down, and you can eat unpoisoned food that someone grew - is immediate palpable evidence of an ocean of goodwill and good behavior from almost everyone, living or dead. We are bathed in what can be called love. And yet that love shows itself best through the constraints of civilization, because those constraints compensate for the flaws of human nature. We must see ourselves honestly, and engage ourselves realistically, in order to become better.”

5. Daemon by Daniel Suarez
4/5 - Finished 10/24/19
This book demonstrates why I really can't be reading fiction these days. Daemon was so engrossing that my productivity in the real world undoubtedly suffered. Unfortunately (meant tongue-in-cheek, of course) there's a sequel, so I'll be thoroughly distracted for another week while I read that. Afterward, however, I must promise to be very good, and swear off exciting fiction - at least until Christmas break. The plot of Daemon reminded me of what Jaron Lanier (in the book mentioned above) termed an "Ideology of Violation" - the idea that people who are ignorant of the power of technology to harm or destroy in some way deserve to reap the consequences of their obliviousness. But while Lanier demonstrates this ideology with several sobering and disturbing real-life examples, Suarez sets his events so firmly in fiction (and delivers these consequences to corrupt, deserving entities) that it's easy to suspend concern and enjoy the story - knowing, however, in the background of your consciousness, that the potentialities of Daemon aren't all that inconceivable! The writing is snappy, the plot well-paced, and the imagery is wonderfully evocative - I really felt like I'd been watching a film. Even those "plot twists" I saw coming felt satisfying, when they unfolded, rather than disappointing.

Funny quotes:
"Her new boss was an undead automaton from hell, true. But, no job is perfect."

"In all, his outfit required nearly two thousand man-years of research and development, eight barrels of oil, and sixteen patent and trademark infringement lawsuits. All so he could possess casual style. A style that, in logistical requirements, was comparable to fielding a nineteenth-century military brigade.
But he looked good. Casual."

6. Freedom by Daniel Suarez (Daemon series)
Spoiler alert!
3/5 - Finished 11/5/19
This sequel to Daemon makes an about-face, assuming the reader will accept that the Daemon, so convincingly established as a villain in Daemon, was actually all along intended to be a force for good. That required (what I felt was) a gracious concession on my part- yes, most revolutions involve a violent beginning, but we're not discussing centuries of history here - I just read Daemon two weeks ago! Freedom posits that the same network of hacktivists that used the darknet to brutally execute all spammers, for example, is within a year forming a utopian augmented-reality democracy flourishing with human goodwill. The book itself was as equally engaging as its frontrunner - the plot well-paced, the socio-economic commentary insightful, the characters witty and memorable (or, at least the handful that Suarez bothered to stick with for any length of time - I especially loved Laney Price). There were a few loose ends that felt like a result of Suarez cutting the story short too quickly- for example, Sebeck's quest should have gotten more page-time, and who was the Major? (I thought he might turn out to be Fossen's son, honestly - but the question was never answered.) Are we supposed to accept that Boerner is now eternally roving D-space as a symbol of persistent evil - the anti-Merritt? There was a LOT crammed into this sequel; I think the Daemon series would have been better developed as a trilogy. I know I would have read book three.

7. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
5/5 - Finished 11/21/19
Life is struggle; death is inevitable- yet we all must find meaning in the face of this. That contrast is made especially vivid in this memoir by neurosurgeon/neurologist Paul Kalanithi, diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer on the cusp of completing his residency. His tone humble, the reader can nevertheless discern that Kalanithi was a brilliant, compassionate mind who would have undoubtedly made enormous contributions to his field, and would have been an empathetic, talented surgeon for countless patients experiencing the terror of brain cancer. The natural question to ask is, Why him? But he does not live there. Instead, he wades through his diagnosis with purpose, seeking meaning, concluding that “Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving.” When he is ultimately unable to continue performing neurosurgery, he directs his final efforts to writing this book. I would recommend it to anyone who has pondered how to live and die well, or how to find meaning in the face of abject, arbitrary suffering - which is probably everyone. Secondarily, I found his firsthand account of practicing medicine extremely fascinating. This book is short and very well-written- just read it. 

A quote from his wife’s epilogue: 
“Paul’s decision not to avert his eyes from death epitomizes a fortitude we don’t celebrate enough in our death-avoidant culture. His strength was defined by ambition and effort, but also by softness, the opposite of bitterness. He spent much of his life wrestling with the question of how to live a meaningful life, and his book explores that essential territory. ‘Always the seer is a sayer,’ Emerson wrote. ‘Somehow his dream is told; somehow he publishes it with solemn joy.’ Writing this book was a chance for this courageous seer to be a sayer, to teach us to face death with integrity.”

8. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson 
5/5 - Finished listening 11/21/19

This book is a scalpel! It slices deep into the psyche and, like a talented surgeon, removes the infection of excuses and delivers the antibiotic of conviction with keen philosophical and psychological insight. Where in your life - in my life - have we allowed chaos to breed, allowed unarticulated fear to thrive? We lack the courage to face the monster under the bed, and it grows- and that is no one’s fault but our own. Speak precisely- confront chaos- seek to be better- do not make excuses. Live honestly and intentionally with integrity, or you will undoubtedly find yourself living in a hell of chaos of your own making. The author claims no religious affiliation and instead employs mythology, philosophy, ancient and modern history, and biblical symbolism to convincingly establish his twelve rules. I’ve made this book sound heavy-handed, I know, but Peterson’s continual acknowledgment of struggle and suffering as an unavoidable part of the human life is oddly inspiring and reassuring. Peterson narrates his own work for the audiobook, and though I typically always prefer reading a book myself, I suspect in this case I actually would prefer listening to the audiobook. Hearing his emphasis and emotion feels essential to absorbing the material.

[I noted certain points in the recording that were particularly memorable. At this point, I haven't yet had time to transcribe them.]

9. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
3/5 - Finished 11/23/19

After a couple of weightier books, I felt like some light chick-lit while I recuperated from my laparotomy. This was a quick read. I had very high expectations for it; it came very highly recommended by everyone in Brian's family. Sitting here at my keyboard, trying to formulate an opinion about this book, my fingers are just... hovering. What I did like: it was definitely a page-turner; it contained beautiful descriptions of the marsh; its characters were vivid and multi-dimensional. What it lacked was believability. It demanded too many concessions on my part; too many details required my suspension of disbelief. A six-year-old girl is abandoned by her entire family in the backwoods, shunned collectively by an entire community, yet manages to grow into a healthy, attractive, brilliant young woman who becomes a.) involved in a love triangle with the town's two finest young men, b.) a nationally renowned biologist, and c.) enmeshed in a pretty farcical legal tangle. This would be a book, had I a copy in hand, that I'd hand to my friend and say, "Read this; let me know what you think. Am I silly for not loving this?" Even a fairytale needs to carry its own weight.

10. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
4/5 - Finished listening 12/13/19

I really enjoyed listening to this. The author heavily employed the use of anecdotes to illustrate his analysis, and I find that made the material more memorable and relatable. Besides being entertaining, however, Duhigg's book was also instructive and illuminating. It helped me understand how irritating habits of mine have hung on, despite repeated attempts to curb them. I also became aware of how simple (not easy) it can be to instill a new habit. Though this is a secular book, I appreciated how the author explained the role of faith in helping new habits stick. When he focused on habits in business culture, I found myself thinking about how these patterns relate to my family and marriage. It's so very important, I've learned, to recognize the routines you've settled into out of habit, and to proactively change them if they are not working. I realized this earlier this year, and have to some degree been in this headspace for a while, and to that end, The Power of Habit was a pleasantly clarifying and very encouraging read. 

11. Educated by Tara Westover
5/5 - Finished listening 12/17/19

I absolutely loved this book. It was positively riveting. I didn't know much about it when I put it on hold. (Sometimes I go on wild, unrestrained borrowing sprees from the library database. Click, click, click.) All I knew of Educated was that it was the memoir of a woman who grew up as the youngest of seven children in a rural, religiously extremist family and, denied any formal education, still went on to enroll in college and eventually earn her Ph.D. I didn't realize that it was as much a book about domestic abuse and the highly complex family dynamics that contribute so greatly to who we all become. Typically it takes me a couple weeks to finish an audiobook that's ten hours long, but I was glued to this one. Westover relates her vivid childhood recollections with exceptional storytelling talent, unfolding the eventual abuse with insight and compassion - for herself and for her abusers. I hoped for a satisfying resolution until I realized that this woman is my age, and her family is still very much alive and embedded in violence and manipulation. Nevertheless, the conclusion felt as resounding as possible under such circumstances. (The topics of herbalism, homebirthing, natural healing, essential oils, homeopathy, and energy healing were also of particular interest to me, as many in my circle are proponents of these approaches, and the author's family lived exclusively by these methods.) Westover’s conservative religious upbringing was also very slightly similar to mine, which added interest. 

Memorable quotes:
"Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me."

"The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones [the author's former self] would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
I call it an education."

"To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s."

12. Armada by Ernest Cline
2/5 - Finished 12/20/19

I read Ready Player One some time ago and really liked it, so when I saw that Armada was available on Libby, I was excited. And I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, it's not Ready Player One, and I spent half the time wishing I were reading that instead. This book had elements I really enjoyed - a fun premise, themes of reunification and longing, and... an ending, which I was happy to see after putting this down too many times. The story of gamers being the salvation of humanity is not particularly original, but it was interesting to think about how humanity would experience an alien invasion having seen them happen hundreds of times in pop culture. Still... there was too much pop culture in Armada. I appreciate when a story high-fives the reader every now and then with a reference, but there were several on every page. It got old. And overall, this story just did not flow well for me. Granted, I chose to pick it up during a very busy time of year, but I thought a quick, fun read would be perfect for those few minutes here and there (those five-minute breaks that get sucked up by Instagram). But guess how often I felt like opening Kindle up to read Armada? I did truly want to know what was going to happen in this end-of-the-world invasion scenario, but it was so broken up by long descriptions of locations and devices, characters performing highly complex yet uninteresting programming hacks during crucial moments, and nods to stockpiled snacks, weed, and detailed playlists compiled by the government (what?) in what I assume (as a complete non-gamer) would be a gamer's dream come true. I hope Cline keeps writing, but I hope he leaves behind the sci-fi + 80s-pop-culture formula for his next book.

13. Deep Work by Cal Newport
4.5/5 - Finished listening 1/18/2020

This book has been pivotal for me. The only reason it lacked a bit in my rating was that it was just not a riveting read. It took me a long time and a couple renewals to finish listening. Perhaps that's not quite fair; I'm actually listening again, because Newport packed a lot of content into a fairly short book that's obviously not marketed as a page-turner. The timing of this read couldn't have been better for me. I have spent much of the last couple of years in a bit of a frantic mental headspace, constantly distracted by various pursuits, discouraged, and certain I was consistently falling short and ill-suited for my role as a wife, homeschooling mother, and a Christian. When I began listening to Deep Work, it was quickly apparent that I was not the author's target audience, which is what he calls "knowledge workers" - professors, journalists, programmers - people whose roles are not easily automated and whose jobs rely on a consistent output of quality contributions their fields. I continued listening, however, because I was drawn to the author's assertion that we as a culture have collectively become "addicted to distraction" and this is me, especially since becoming a mom of many small children. I also realized that even though I am not what Newport would consider a knowledge worker, my role is not easily automated. Deep Work was a powerful reminder to simplify, focus, and excel. It encouraged me to view staying focused on a difficult task as a necessary mental workout and to eschew the ever-present distractions of social media and internet lures, as well as to determine which schedule obligations simply don't suit your goals and to minimize them as much as possible. 

This particular quote really struck a chord:
"Knowledge workers, I am arguing, are tending toward increasingly visible busyness, because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value. Let's give this tendency a name: "busyness as proxy for productivity." In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner." This has been me. I have accepted that my role will not generate very many clear indicators of productivity and value. A lot of the work I do feels unseen. And yet that is not an argument in favor of adopting "busyness as proxy for productivity," which I have most certainly done. Rejecting this approach means coming to an internal acceptance of my choices, my role, my value, and my efforts, and identifying how I can be the best wife, mom, and homeschooler I can be.

Another hard-hitting concept:
"To summarize, the motivation for this strategy is the recognition that a "deep work" habit requires you to treat your time with respect. A good first step toward this respectful handling is the advice outlined here: 1. Decide in advance what you're going to do with every minute of your workday. It's natural at first to resist this idea, as it's undoubtedly easier to continue to allow the twin forces of internal whim and external request to drive your schedule. But you must overcome this distrust of structure if you want to approach your true potential as someone who creates things that matter. 2. Quantify the depth of every activity. An advantage of scheduling your day is that you can determine how much time you're actually spending in shallow activities. Extracting this insight from your schedules, however, can become tricky in practice, as it's not always clear exactly how shallow you should consider a given task. To expand on this challenge, let's start by reminding ourselves of the formal definition of "shallow work" that I introduced in the introduction: shallow work: non-cognitively-demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate."

I recognize that most of my day's work involves this type of work. I have to be okay with that! "We cannot all do great things," said Mother Teresa. "But we can do small things with great love." And Christ, of course, said in Matthew, "Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant." I don't want to "become great," but I want to leave a wonderful legacy. So I interpret the above for myself as such: the efforts that create new value in the world (eg: four (eventual) adults who will contribute great value to the world) are the parenting, character-building, and educating efforts that are absolutely invisible to everyone but me and God. And I am rededicated to focusing on those efforts.

14. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
4/5 - Finished listening 2/3/2020

I love a good psychological thriller! Some of the highly-rated ones I've picked up haven't done it for me (Sharp Objects and Girl on the Train, for example), but this one did. Not that anyone is reading this speck of cyberspace, but I don't want to spoil the book in case you've stumbled upon this review. In summary, Alicia Berenson is a kind, successful artist who inexplicably, unpredictably, and brutally murders her husband, then never utters a word henceforth. She is found not guilty by reason of insanity and is committed, still silent, to The Grove, a psychiatric hospital where she is eventually treated by Dr. Theo Faber. I would recommend picking it up at the library (because why read the same thriller twice?) and giving it a quick read. (I took off a star because some parts dragged slowly; a five-star book needs to keep me glued to it entirely.) Jack Hawkins and Louise Brealey do a great job narrating.

15. A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
5/5 Finished 2/27/20

Powerful. Absolutely riveting. I read this book entirely on our flight to Las Vegas. I suspect anyone who has ever felt compelled into a life-role of any kind would identify with parts of this novel, although I must not minimize the utter despair undoubtedly experienced by women born into a culture of such oppression. Etaf Rum is a very gifted writer, leaping from storyline to storyline deftly, weaving narratives of three generations of women into a story of tragedy, mystery, motherhood, and hope. I heard an interview with Rum on a podcast some time ago, and waited for a long time for the book to become available from the library. It then sat on my shelf for six weeks while life whirled around me. I am so glad to have stashed it in my bag; I guess I only needed a few hours to devour it. I WANTED to savor this story; I couldn’t put it down. I loved Rum’s descriptions of Middle Eastern dishes, her complex characters connecting over the rituals of meal preparation. I loved her way of invoking the longing a parent has to be better, to provide a better future for her children. I loved her sympathetic approach to those who perpetuate the oppression. I loved having a window into a culture as far from my own experience as if it were in Palestine and not in my own backyard. As a mother, as a woman, as a human - I absolutely loved this book. Highly, highly recommend. 

"'Tell me,' Sarah said, sitting up in her chair. 'Why can't you stand up to my parents?'
Deya fixed her eyes on the window.
'You can tell me,' Sarah said. 'Be honest with me, with yourself. What are you so afraid of?'
'Everything!' Deya heard the sound of her voice before she knew she was speaking. 'I'm afraid of everything! I'm afraid of letting down my family and culture, only to find out that they were right in the end. I'm afraid of what people will think of me if I don't do what I'm supposed to do. But I'm also afraid of listening to them and coming to regret it. I'm afraid of getting married, but I'm even more afraid of being alone. There's a thousand voices in my head, and I don't know which one to listen to! The rest of my life is staring me in the face, and I don't know what to do!'"

16. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 
4.5/5 Finished listening 3/4/20

It took me a very long time to listen to this book. I started listening around July 2019 and only wrapped it up this March... eight months later. I'm not sure how many times I renewed the loan. I give the material five stars, but the book itself, the story - it dragged a bit. I was never excited to get to my chores and listen to Hidden Figures. That said, I wanted to know the information - I really did - and I did enjoy the stories of the many women Shetterly highlighted. Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Christene Darden, and Katherine Coleman are at least four names that are wedged firmly in my recollection, and the details of the lives and families of these brilliant, patient women were portrayed memorably. As I read, I was inspired by their drive and talent and maddened by the obstacles they faced. I will forever be awed by and grateful to anyone who willingly sacrifices so much to be a rung on a ladder that others will someday climb to greater opportunity and equality. I also really enjoyed reading about the space race itself, which Shetterly describes in detail. I learned not only about black female mathematicians but also more about NACA/NASA than I'd ever known before. Hidden Figures has done me and the world a great favor in shedding light on these important American heroes.

"What I wanted was for them to have a grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic."

17. Becoming by Michelle Obama
5/5 - Finished 3/5/20

I read this in a couple of days. (I think there's nothing better than a well-written memoir. One of my foundational beliefs is that if we all took the time to listen to and truly understand each other's stories, we would be able to easily identify our common humanity and the longings that we all share. The movie The Joker made people uncomfortable because it humanized a character we'd rather comfortably villainize. And while I don't believe that human nature is basically good, I do believe that we should let compassion and empathy be our default view when meeting someone who is different than we are. There but for the grace of God, and all that.) Anyway, after that digression - Michelle Obama has always been the person I've picked when faced with the hypothetical fantasy question: Which person presently living would you choose, if you could sit down and have dinner with anyone in the world? Reading her memoir was the second-best thing.

18. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
5/5 - Finished listening 3/7/20

19. The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J Guglielmo Jr.
4.5/5 - Finished 3/6/20

19.5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
4/5 - Finished 3/8/20

20. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
4/5 - Finished listening 3/12/20

21. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
4.5/5 - Finished 3/14/20

22. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
3.5/5 - Finished listening 3/16/20

23. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo 
5/5 - Finished 3/18/20

24. Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris
4/5 - Finished listening 3/20/20

25. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides 

26. Omnitopia Dawn 

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