Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins ------------------------ 4 Stars

So, unless you've been under a rock, you've probably heard of Paula Hawkins exhilarating The Girl on the Train.  But, is it as good as so many have said?  Short answer: yeah, pretty much.

This is one of those books that my former High School English teachers would have referred to as "airport trash."  Don't despair, they were snobs with literature.  Yes, the book has few redeeming qualities.  Yes, you won't read it and think to yourself about the beauty of the prose.  Sure, the characters are fairly unrealistic and little time is spent rounding them out.  But, boy oh boy, this is one fun book to read.  It's truly a page turner; nearly impossible to put down.  My wife read in 3 days, while I took 4.  Sure, it might be "airport trash" but this book blog always basis the rating on one main criteria: is it entertaining?   The Girl on the Train certainly is.

Basic premise: there's the girl... on a train.  Oh, you want more?  Well, she's kind of nutsy and she starts seeing some things while on the train and starts getting involved with some people, and she likes to drink and not remember much.  That's about all you need to get going, really. 

The book  is quite a fun read.  Hawkins does a great job of getting you into it early and it's pretty easy to see why it's been so enjoyed by many people.  It's a simple and fast read.  The plot is easy to follow.  It's chock full  of exciting and juicy dialogue.  Of course, it has some drawbacks.  As mentioned earlier, this book pulls no punches about what it's going for.  It's not going to be anything more than a quick and easy read that keeps you entertained and constantly guessing.  There is no existential question or any real deep thought in it at all.  But, again, as long as you know what you are signing up for, it's a good ride.

The comparison between it and Gone Girl (my review of it here) are obvious and apt.  Both books follow similar arcs and have similar female protagonists.  Both books keep making you think something else might be happening and you're never quite sure what's going to transpire next.  Both books are wildly entertaining.  For my money, Gone Girl is better.  It's a smarter novel and there's more depth to the story and characters.  The Girl on the Train is a really good knock off but not quite the real McCoy.

Not sure if you are looking for much more but, at this point, go pick it up if you have not read yet.  Again, it's quick, fun, and you won't regret the time not spent on something that would really be more illuminating; you'll be enjoying this one too much to think about that :)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do -- Claude Steele ---------------- 3.5 Stars

Although this book came out a few years ago, I just heard about it recently from a teacher at my school.  I really feel like I've missed some good info. the past few years having just gotten to it now.

Basic premise: there are TONS of stereotypes that go on each and every day throughout our lives and they have major repercussions and effects.  In addition, what our own identity is and how we perceive others identifies has significant affects on us as well.  Specifically, we often have to deal with something the authors deem stereotype threat and it happens all the time, everywhere. 

I'll leave the rest of the book to you to check out and read.  The positives: very important book that really makes one consider and reflect about a lot of things in our lives and society.  Having not all that often focused on various stereotypes of stereotype threat as a white man, this book made me really consider and think about things in a very different way.  Also, the book does a really nice job walking the reader through the author's objectives and breaking them down so they are clear and easy to understand.  I also liked the variety and breadth of experiments mentioned that help to explain many of the findings.  Also, on a positive, it's a pretty short book, and it's easy to skip through the specificity of the experiments if just looking to pull out the salient points being made. 

A few reasons that only kept it at 3.5: while a pretty important concept, it's kind of a downer (sorry, but my blog is based on how entertaining and things like embedded stereotypes that are subconscious and nearly impossible to change is not so uplifting).  The book also is kind of a boring read. While the author does a good job of writing in a less formal, non-academic tone, he is no Gladwell in the sense that it often lacks the flair of a more easily accessible book of its type.  I also found that many of the points he was trying to make ran together, without real significant differences between them.  Finally, the second part of the title ("and what we can do"), was less than desired.  The problem that they describe is certainly well founded and makes good sense to me but I did not find that that options of what to do was as clear or easy to understand (hence my attitude of it being a bit of a downer). 

To my last point, I think the absolute best way to solve the problem and know "what to do" is to have people read this book.  While not the most entertaining book written or that I've reviewed, one could make the case that it's the most important book to read of the books I've reviewed. So, again, do check it out!