Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Martian - Andy Weir -------------------------- 4 Stars

Well, I feel like I've been on a great streak lately with enjoyable and entertaining books. The last two I reviewed both earned 4.5 stars and now, The Martian, comes in with a solid 4 rating. Like many of you, I probably came to know of the movie first, but the book did not disappoint!

So, if you haven't seen it, the Martian is a great science-fictiony movie starring Matt Damon. Super quick premise - he gets stuck on Mars and has to use his creativity to get home (also, he's kind of funny). Well, the book is pretty much the exact same. Except, like most books vis a vis movies, it goes into a lot more depth, covers far more details, is a better total story, and has some different plot elements than the movie.

It's always an interesting experience to read a book after a movie (as opposed to the alternative). The biggest difference between reading one before or after is how you "see" it all. When reading the book first, you get to create your own of how people look/sound and make the setting up in your head. After seeing a move, it's very, very hard not to picture it the way it was on the screen. This can be both good and bad, In this case, it wasn't too bothersome as I enjoyed the movie and Damon in the main role but if I had my choice, I would have preferred reading it first.

One related and interesting challenge is to try to figure out if there are any movies better than the book. Almost always, the answer is "no" but I assume there are a few exceptions. One off the top of my head is Forrest Grump. GREAT movie but not sure the book had the same level of interest/quality. For the most part, the books are much better. One I kept thinking about was The Godfather. As you active followers know, it earned 5 stars on this blog - the highest possible score- and is a phenomenal book. But the movie? Also fantastic. I think that's where I might be coming down on The Martian. I found the movie to be about 4 out of 5 stars too; roughly equal. Though, I do wonder if I'd have a different take about the book being better had I read it first.

I recommend this book for all readers and especially those that have seen the movie and liked it. Again, it's very similar to the movie but improves upon it with the great detail and further plot elements that time did not allow the movie to follow. Perhaps, further, I suggest this book for anyone who has NOT seen the movie as you'd be able to decide if the book is truly better without being biased by the movie first.  Overall, really good and entertaining book!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Basketball (and Other Things) - Shea Serrano ------------------------------- 4.5 Stars

Who would have thought a basketball book with questions like, "Was Kobe Bryant a dork?" and "What attributes make for the best basketball villain?", would be so entertaining and enjoyable to read? I certainly wouldn't have thought so but I am sure happy I came across Shea Serrano's Basketball (and Other Things).

This book was the truly the perfect read for me. First, all about basketball (pro, college, high school, pick-up)!  Second, it wasn't just boring columns about this team winning against another team or about which player had the highest points per game. No, this book took a different tact at looking some of those questions but from more fun angles. Third, the book scoped the time period of late 80s through today. For me, this was perfect. Like many of us, I never saw Russell and Wilt play but I certainly saw Shaq, and MJ, Lebron and Curry - so this was much more in my wheelhouse. Finally, the book was written in such a fun way with such great illustrations. I'm not normally into "picture" books, but the art by Arturo Torres greatly complimented the words on the page and provided a fun pause in between chapters.

A few other things I loved: Serrano has an obsession with using incredibly funny and entertaining footnotes. I'm not exactly sure how many, but due to the small size but large numbers, I estimate they take up about a quarter of the book. To be clear, they are great. Some of the biggest laughs I had were reading those footnotes (if you think some of the chapters are bizarre/off-topic, wait till you see the footnotes).  Also, the book was very easy for me to relate to. Many of the questions and opinions he has about players I shared or often thought about. Serrano has clear favorites and not, and I often found myself nodding along to his conclusions. As a basketball player, he also has a great chapter about pick up basketball expectations that was my favorite.

While I gave this book 4.5 stars (I almost felt like it should be 5 by how quickly I read it and enjoyed), I am not sure how many others would enjoy at same level. As a basketball junkie that likes irreverent humor, this book was meant for me. Not sure everyone falls into that category. If you do like basketball, I do suggest taking the time. It's a very good read.*

* So I don't know how to make footnotes on this blog but felt obligated to do so. I did want to add - I highly recommend getting a hard copy of this book. Yes, it may be easier to handle and quicker to read on Kindle, BUT you will miss out on the great art and easy to access footnotes at the bottom of each page. Only downside, because of the design and color of the book, many of the chapters start on non-white color paper (blue, green, purple, etc.) which is a huge problem for the eyes (you quickly realize  why white paper is so wonderful). Other than that, the hard copy is way to go.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Aloha Rodeo - David Wolman and Julian Smith ----------------- 4.5 Stars

I can't really remember where I came across the recently released Aloha Rodeo, but I'm sure happy I did as it was one of my favorite books read in the past year.

Quick background - Aloha Rodeo is about "three Hawaiian cowboys, the world's greatest rodeo and a hidden history of the America West" (or at least that's what the cover tells me). Further, the book provides a superb retelling about the introduction of domesticated cattle to Hawaii (1700s), the importance and proliferation of cattle in Hawaii (1800s), and the impressive rise of cowboys in Hawaii (paniolos) (late 1800s).

For full disclosure, part of the reason for the very high rating is my background growin up on Maui and great nostalgia for all things Hawaiian. Some of my fondest memories of Makawao, were going to the annual 4th of July rodeo and watching such incredible events as bull riding, and the unique (I think to just Hawaii, or maybe Maui? or maybe Makawao?) double mugging. (Side note - double mugging is incredible. It's two cowboys, one on a horse and one on his two feet - first guy lassos the half-a-ton steer, then the guy on the ground has to go and wrestle the steer over and then tie three of it's feet. Way too much fun to watch these burly cowboys take on cows three times their size.)

So, I have great fondness for the history of this book and thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling. Moving from the history of cattle in Hawaii, to the rise of rodeos in the West, to the eventual explanation of the entertainment value of cowmen and rodeos, the authors did a a superb job keeping the book engaging, detailed, and full of colorful stories of people and events.

While I am not sure this book would appeal to everyone, even without a personal connection and affinity to Hawaii, I do believe one might enjoy. While I was particularly infatuated with the read (and finished in under week as I was obsessed!) I do think this smaller piece of American history is a worthy read for all. You can pass on a "Mahalo" to me after reading!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Be Frank with Me - Julia Claiborne Johnson -------------- 3 Stars

Be Frank with Me was not on my radar but it was passed on to me, and it was an interesting read about an incredibly ECCENTRIC young boy named Frank who was the star of this story.

Not having heard of this book, I was intrigued by it's general plot: young employee at a book publishing group is assigned to support one of it's strongest and reclusive authors who needs to finish her second book after she rose to stardom with her debut novel. As I mentioned above, what turned out to be the most pleasant of surprises was the character of Frank - the reclusive authors 8 year old son who, to say the least, is incredibly eccentric. The book goes on as the young employee shares her experiences living with this unique family and the trials and tribulations of the amazing charismatic, challenging, and bizarre - Frank.

The book read easily and there was a lot of interesting dialogue and great interactions between the key characters. The first half of the book was my favorite as it included wonderful vignettes from Frank's life that included all of his exuberance and oddities at it's best. He really was the best character in the story and most scenes without him were boring and kept me missing him.

I found the second half less exciting. Unlike the first half that just told short anecdotes, that really didn't move the plot forward. The last half of the book tried to tell the story of Frank's mother (a Harper Lee) type. I supposed this was necessary to assure the plot "moved" somewhere, but it just wasn't exciting or that interesting to hear about the narrator's quasi-love story, Frank's mom struggle to write, or the book publishing editor coming to rescue things.

If you want to read a humorous book about one of the most eccentric, funny and charming young kids you could imagine, this book is for you. It's hard not to love Frank (especially since he's fictional and does not live with you!).

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami ---------------------- 3 Stars

Well, this is my second run through with a Murakami book. A bit over two years ago, I read and reviewed Murakami's Norwegian Wood. A shorter, bit more straightforward book than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So, what did I think of him the second time through?

Well, as you can see based on my review, pretty much the same way I felt after the first time through. Certainly not bad, but I was expecting a bit more from one of the most highly regarded authors of the past quarter century. The one was about a man who has a wife, and loses a cat, and then crazy weird stuff happens to him involving military veterans, prognosticators (one of whom is a prostitute), and a young teenage girl next door. Also, it's really hard to tell what is a dream and what is reality.

Sooo, it's an incredibly thought provoking book. Not told in a fast way. In fact, at over 600 pages, it was clear the author was in no hurry to get to things (especially as not that much happened). But, I did find myself really yearning to understand more about the story - so, of course, the internet was of great help. Well, I certainly missed a few things. Not plot elements per se, but more about deep themes enveloped in the prose. Things that were hard to tease out while reading but pretty fascinating to step back and think about while over. Themes of masculinity, guilt, happiness, etc.

As I was going through what to write for this review, I did spend a few minutes reading my review of Norwegian Wood from a few years ago. Not surprisingly, I had a very similar experience to that book. So much so, I though I'd just quote that review

"On a positive, this book actually made me think far more about it after I finished it then during. The book is a bit of a slog to read, with nothing extremely exciting for long periods. However, the book is beautifully written and has a great deal of nuance and subtlety. Unfortunately, sometimes the book was so subtle and points made so hard to decipher, that it simply felt boring. Nonetheless, upon concluding and thinking/looking back at what transpired. I was more intrigued than when I was reading. What to make of that? Certainly, it's a good sign the novel was so thought provoking and ending open to interpretation that I continued to mull over various parts but what does it say about the entertainment value of reading it that I continually felt it wasn't moving anywhere?

Well, I'm not sure what to think about Murakami at this point. This book made him a star in Japan and at least three of his books are incredibly well acclaimed, but I really didn't love this one.. However, I definitely want to take one of his more traditional science fiction novels to try to get the full Murakami experience. In the meanwhile, do feel free to check this one but be forewarned about some of the concerns noted above."

Yeah, couldn't have said it better myself!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Range - David Epstein ------------------- 2.5 Stars

About a month ago, I read David Epstein's last book, The Sports Gene, and reviewed it here. As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed his detailed look at why great athletes are world class at sports. In perhaps a more important book, Range studies why certain people become the best in their field and/or who might change the world. However, unlike the last book, it was not nearly as an enjoyable read.

To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed his premise and appreciated the argument he makes - generalists triumph in a specialized world (yes, I copied that from the cover). His point, is that far too often in our education focused world, we take some of our smartest and most creative and breed that out of them while they specialize deeper and deeper in a singular subject. He continues that the greatest inventions, positive changes in our world, strongest athletes, best musicians, etc. had broader backgrounds, were later starters, etc.

So, he makes a strong case. However, I strongly feel this book could have either been a long article or about 150 pages shorter. Again, he makes a strong case early in the book to support his argument. And while I appreciate the varying stories he tells (nearly all of which I had not heard before) to strengthen his argument, he goes on far too long, either in the telling of the story or adding more stories. Really, it's a fairly narrow argument, so after you understand his viewpoint with a few examples, it makes sense. I didn't feel the numerous subsequent chapters relaying the same message were necessary.

Like the previous book, Epstein had some fascinating examples to support his premise. Perhaps the most interesting in this book is the story of orphaned musicians of the Venetian sex industry who become world class musicians on multiple instruments centuries ago. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, too often these examples aren't nearly as interesting and exciting as one would hope.

Overall, the premise of the book is fantastic. I think he's questioning about the limitations of specialization and the importance of people being able to think in a more broad way is incredibly important. I just don't think you need such a long book to make the point. If only there was a condensed article to save the time; alas, here is a perfect one from the Atlantic written earlier this summer. Enjoy!

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Monuments Men - Robert Edsel -------------------- 4 Stars

Perhaps, you were like me and saw The Monuments Man movie, or even the PBS special (The Rape of Europa), about a decade ago. But, were you also like me and read and enjoyed the splendid book that both were based on? If not, read ahead (actually, just read ahead regardless).

If not familiar, the book/movies are about a great story regarding a group of men who served in the armed services during World War II. Their expressed objective was to keep the Nazis from destroying the greatest art/cultural pieces in Western Europe. The book follows the story of about a half a dozen of the most important characters that worked as Monuments Men from 1940 to 1945.

When I started, I wasn't sure I'd be as engaged in the story as the movie. Like often, the movie was (obviously) much shorter and pulled the most important aspects of the book. However, I was so pleased to enjoy the book as fully as I did. As happens often when comparing book vs. movie; the level of depth the author was able to spend with back stories, small details, and rounding of characters, made the book a fascinating read. Surprisingly, I struggled to put the book down, as the author did a masterful job of jumping from character to character; and, as soon as one start began to ran dull, it jumped back to another character's big discovery or closeness to death (that happens in war).

The book also had some existential themes run throughout. Perhaps, what made me most pensive, was the idea of a person's life/worth vs. a classic piece of art or historical document. Can you compare one to the other? Does any life trump non-life? Alternatively, is there any life as "valuable" as, say the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's David? While the author never posed these questions in the book, I found myself often thinking about these incredibly famous historical works that were truly saved or rescued while the many losses of life necessary to do so.

I found few drawbacks of the book. Like any non-fiction story, there were times when the paced slowed too dramatically. In addition, some of the characters are a bit more interesting than others. So, there are parts where I was hoping that the author might jump to a more interesting character; but that feeling really did not last long (as the book did usually jump!)

I'd recommend this book to nearly all readers. It's a great unknown piece of history, especially during one of the most important periods of all time. The stories of these heroes that truly saved some of the world's great masterpieces is not to be missed or underappreciated.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Sports Gene - David Epstein ---------------- 4 Stars

While David Epstein's new book, Range, is getting some positive reviews, his earlier book, The Sports Gene, included many of the viewpoints espoused in his most recent book. While I look forward to reading, Range, I really enjoyed The Sports Gene.

The premise of the book is pretty interesting - basically, based on recent scientific discoveries, there are some underlying genes that make people better/worst at certain sports. What's also interesting is that he also party discredits some of the more common views that "you can grow up to do anything" or the now normed, 10,000 hours idea (which is that you need 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell)). The book goes on to talk about all the different findings regarding the discoveries about the human body and that affect on athletes from around the world.

Overall, the book is really quite fascinating. For me, it was an interesting read as the majority of the book was talking about why athletes are great and experts at what they do. Unlike, many of the past book recently about this topic, including the reviewed Talent is Overrated, it was interesting to hear more about the other side of the nature/nurture coin. As you can imagine, some the author's premises are difficult for others to hear/want to discuss. First, he basically puts out that your genetic make-up has a lot more to do with success than hard work; not a great narrative for many coaches/parents/teachers to hear. Second, there is a lot about race that goes into this book which also can be hard for others to digest. For example, science has shown (and reality) that runners from the eastern part of Africa tend to be much stronger at shorter distances, while those on the western part (see: Keyna marathoners) tend to be much better at long distances. Science has shown different genetic make up (that they believe were based on revolutions over time based on their social needs) between the two sets of people. Similarly, if you ever notice that many of those winning 100 meter dashes in the Olympics come from Jamaica (again, a similar gene arrangement).

The only downside of the book is that, on too many occasions, it goes a bit deeper into the science than necessary. While I do feel the author did a good job breaking very complicated science down to easily digestible pieces for laymen readers, there are sometimes long passages or almost page(s) dedicated to the specific scientific underpinnings that make his point. While not a huge negative, it did take away from the reader on some occassions.

As a whole, I really enjoyed the read. Mixing peak athletic performance, with a philosophical mix of nature/nurture, this book was right in my sweet spot of interest. I also enjoyed hearing a more slanted nature viewpoint to help balance most of what I have read/heard more about lately. While I do believe (as does the author) that it is a large mix of both to be an expert at anything, this book does jive with my own "eye test" about observing athletes becoming great (just take a look at how many NBA players have only started playing in their past few years of life). Do check this book out if you have any interest in what makes superb athletes or the science behind the "nature" trumps nurture idea.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

This is I Believe - Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman ------------- 3 Stars

This is I Believe is/was a radio program/book that has been around for over fifty years. Surprisingly, until someone passed on this book,  I had never heard of it but am happy that I am now aware of this cool concept.

So, this book is based on the NPR radio series of the same name. Similar to the book, people write/record about their own personal vies and philosophies about life. There are a couple of cool parts to the concept. First, the responses have to be fairly short; I think no longer than 500 words. Second, it's an eclectic mix of people responding.  Some are famous individuals and others are quite "common" individuals from across the United States. Third, the variety and diversity of responses is fascinating. Some are incredibly thoughtful and deep and some are just humorous (and still deep) - like be cool to the pizza guy!  Finally, it's cool that while Edward Murrow began this program over 50 years ago, NPR reintroduced it years ago.

Overall, it's a fairly entertaining and enjoyable read. I liked the wide variety of authors, writing styles, and different thoughts that guide people's views on living their lives. Out of the probably 40 essays, about a dozen really resonated with me and were dogeared for a future read.

The downsides of the book are minimal. Again, the essays are easy reads and fun to get a glimpse into different people's outlook on the world. My small nits include that while the essays are thoughtful and well written, many are not super engaging or don't resonate with my own views on living...which led to my other challenge, trying to think about what my 500 word "this I believe" would be. What philosophy do I live by? What are the guiding tenets that I follow as I enter the second half of my life? Well, those are tough questions that I wasn't planning on wrestling with while trying to sit down to enjoy a book!

With all joking aside, this really is a neat book and concept. I'll certainly check out the NPR program as I could imagine that the versions spoken over the radio seem even more impressive than their written duplicates. Overall, I do recommend the book, just know that you may end up pausing to think about what exactly you believe.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Only Killers and Thieves - Paul Howarth ------------------- 4 Stars

It's always nice when a book comes by that you had no idea of or intention of reading and it amazes. Well, that is certainly what happened as I just enjoyed Paul Howarth's Only Killers and Thieves.

Set in late 19th Century Australian outback, this book is a tough read. Not tough like, "hmmm, I don't know that word" or "what exactly is going on right now." No, it's a tough read because life in the outback during this time period is hard. What makes it even more tough is that the author writes about some of the most gruesome and violent elements of people's bad personalities. It reminds me a lot of the most famous Thomas Hobbes quote that life is "nasty, brutish, and short."

While the story starts out slow, perhaps to mimic the slow tick of time when there is not much to do during this period and location of vast expanse, it picks up very quickly about a quarter of the way in. After a life changing event, the two teenage boys who are the main characters of the book, have to grow up incredibly quickly without much adult support. As the novel rolls on, and they are faced with the brutish nature of unkind and self-interested adults, they struggle with determining how they want to live their own lives, and really, what kind of man they want to be.

The story is quite fascinating and the action scenes, along with a few major and diverse story-lines, makes this a very entertaining read. Be warned, the detail and violence with which the author describes some scenes is jarring. Murder, rape, racism and other difficult acts are on full display, with all details included. For many, I would assume it will be difficult to read these words and picture these scenes. Though, I figure that's the point; you can't help but care for these two young brothers and as you realize the depth of fear, anger, and sadness they face, you sympathize even further with their plight.

Overall, this a highly charged and engaging story that keeps the reader connected until the end. In fact, I was impressed with the ending as the author did enough to assure that there was closure while allowing your imagination to run a bit about what may have happened with things not spelled out fully. If you can get past the difficult language and violent nature of many parts of the book, you'll most likely enjoy this well told tale.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Person YOU Mean to Be - Dolly Chugh ----------------------- 2.5 Stars

Ah, yes, summer time. Which means I actually have time to start running through some books. I was excited to start with The Person You Mean to Be which was a recently released book about bias, diversity, and inclusion. While I was so excited to read, it did not live up to the expectations.

A couple reasons I was so looking forward to this book - 1. It came highly recommended by Rosetta Lee, an incredibly funny and smart person who does work with many independent schools about diversity work (and I've enjoyed hearing speak 3 times). 2. It had a great combo focusing on growth mindset and fighting unconscious bias (cool combination). 3. I'm really engaged in learning more about ways I can improve my own understanding of how to help others.

So, why the low rating? Well, it didn't actually have much to do with the book. Chugh wrote a wonderful introductory book for people to better understand how present bias is in people's lives, a cursory review of privilege, and actionable ways to be more aware and able to make good decisions. Also, the title is simply fantastic and one of the better concepts in the book. She returns to it often and it's a great way to not feel overly guilty about not always making the best choices.

Why not a higher rating? Well, the blog is based on entertainment value, which wasn't a huge part of this book. Also, I didn't actually find the book that interesting. She tried to do what many non-fictions books with specific concepts try to do - they suggest an idea and then provide fascinating stories/anecdotes that make it more obvious. She tried to do this, but unlike Malcolm Gladwell (who I find the best at) or others, the stories often went on way too long and/or were not interesting. Additionally, based on other readings I've done, much of the book was a type of introduction to ideas I've seen before.

Overall, I actually strongly recommend this book to people; especially those that have not read anything about bias or growth mindset before. Please don't read into my rating and do read this book! If each person could learn more about individual ways they could make better decisions that were less bias, the world would be a better place!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Soul of Basketball -- Ian Thomsen ------------------------- 3 Stars

If there was ever a perfectly rated 3 star book, it is this - The Soul of Basketball. There were fascinating and engaging parts, that made me so pleased to be reading this group; while there are also large parts that were difficult to get through. Half the time I couldn't put it down, and half the time I couldn't get through parts. A perfect 3 star book.

The title was one of the most alluring aspects of why I picked it up. Unlike most books I read, it was not recommended or reviewed highly. Rather, I LOVE basketball and had not read a good book about in years.  This title made me think this book might really get into why basketball is in its current state. What it is exactly that motivates the greats to play. Well, it did that on some rare occasions; which was great. Most of the book, however, was just trudging through 10 year old game highlights told via words.

I did appreciate some of the in-depth interviews with Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, Dirk, etc. There were some fascinating insights and great stories told about LeBron, Kobe, Paul Pierce, etc. Unfortunately, some went on way too long with large parts of the dialogue included neither interesting nor super relevant material. My biggest complaint of the book was the odd organization of the chapters. It seemed there was no real structure to why things were included. This was a bit hard too figure; really, for the first half, it just seemed like different vignettes about each player.

It's hard to recommend this book to anyone but a basketball junkie (like myself). There were aspects were I thought the author really did posit thoughts about what the soul of basketball really means. What the motivations, backgrounds, ideals, etc. that pushed some of the great players to be great. However, those parts were far and few between and what was left was average prose about 10-15 year old basketball games.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Road to Character - David Brooks ------------------- 1.5 Stars

I'm not sure I have been as disappointed by a book as David Brooks' The Road to Character.  It was on my list to read for a long time, and I really enjoy Brooks' NYT articles and other writings. I was so excited to read a book focused on the topic of character; unfortunately, it wasn't close to meeting any of my expectations.

So, why so bad? Well, I judge based on entertainment value of books and how much I look forward to reading the book. In this case, I couldn't stand reading this book. In fact, and I never do this, I actually skipped pages or large parts of full chapters. Really, it was the only way I felt I could get through it.

This book should have been really good. Great author, who is one of my absolute favorite columnists to read. Great subject, trying to understand character, especially in today's modern world, is a great goal. Even the set up of the book should have worked - Brooks shared a bit about the understanding of what character has meant/does mean. Then, he told about a dozen stories about famous individuals in history that showed character. And this is where the book fell apart to me. These biographical chapters were rough! While some of the people studied were both new and old to me (Dorothy Day, Eisenhower, George Eliot) the detail and lack of connection to the theme of the book really made engagement difficult. His chapters were overly specific about each individual and really didn't keep the reader interested in each person's story.

As much as the book annoyed me, it did have some redeeming qualities. I found the start and ending interesting. Here he took a more nuanced view about character, what it means, how you can develop in modern world, etc. However, the middle 90% of the book had a lot to be desired. Slow, tedious, uneventful biographies about people who lived decades or centuries ago  fill most of the pages. I am sure, for many readers, these were exciting pieces and great stories about those with tremendous character. For me, they were just filler that were painful to get to and skipped on occasion. Read with caution!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Why Gender Matters - Leonard Sax -------------- 4 Stars

I've had Why Gender Matters on my "to read" list for at least 10 years, and I was quite pleased to finally get to recently read. It certainly did not disappoint, as Dr. Sax's research findings were of great interest to me as both a parent and educator.

As you could probably guess from the title and cover, this book is about the biological and innate differences that are present between males and females. Going through subjects like, drugs, sex, discipline, school, motivation, etc., the author does a superb job of taking the most recent research and providing applicable suggestions to best support the children in our lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While there are parts that are a bit "academic" the vast majority of the book is told in a straightforward and clear style that it's easy to follow. As a practicing psychologist, Dr. Sax provides many stories about children/families that he has known over the years to make many of his points more clear. As he is located in Montgomery County, Maryland, it was also cool to have more awareness of some of his references to local schools and other items.

The findings are most fascinating. Like, when he shares that typical "drug education" programs for boys in schools actually increase drug use among boys after taking part in those classes. Or, when he talks about how the "aggressiveness" that so many boys displays is quite appropriate developmentally and should not be dismissed but, rather, embraced. He also shares how we need to do much more to help provide confidence and praise to young girls. Boys already have a great confidence in school (even when undeserved); while hard-working and accomplished girls still often think themselves as "less than."

The book goes on and on with fascinating findings and suggestions. The book is also interesting and potentially controversial. He offers strong viewpoints to counter the use of ADHD medication, the idea that "sex" and "gender" are different, and slightly promotes the version of "boys will be boys." Regardless, and perhaps because of these views, this books was highly interesting and easily readable. I certainly recommend this book to all readers!

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles ----------------------- 4 Stars

A Gentleman in Moscow has been floating around for a year or more with continued strong buzz. I kept trying to pick up from the library or download online, but nearly always was it checked out. Finally, I got my hands on a copy and was not at all disappointed by the read.

As the title would make you think, this book is about a very impressive guy (see: gentleman) living in Moscow; specifically, living inside a hotel for 30+ years. He was "imprisoned" there at the start of the Russian Revolution and this books tells his story through the next few decades.

As I think back upon the read, I actually can't remember that many noteworthy scenes or actions. It's not actually a book with a lot happening (not quite Seinfeld.. it is a book about something), but Towels does an incredible job of keeping your attention. How? Well, captivating prose about the simplicity of life; or often, the beauty of the simple things in life. This is really my favorite part of the book. No matter how slow or inconsequential the story might be (and often, it really quite was!), the author's wonderful ability to use words and always use the most fascinating vocabulary kept me picking up the book day after day.

As you may be able to gather, my biggest frustration of the book was a lack of plot. Sure, things happened, time moved, and characters changed; however, until the final couple of chapters, it really did not have any noteworthy action. Still, I felt myself enamored with his storytelling and playfulness presented throughout the novel. Whether it was the creativeness he used to bring a simple dinner to life or the details provided in describing a hotel room, Towles has an expertise in painting a beautiful picture of daily life.

I do recommend this book highly. While the lack of a fast moving plot and occasional vocabulary word that needed to be looked up did damper the overall experience, I can't get over how much I enjoyed his writing style. It was like listening to a great song in which every note had a purpose and made you feel better by just listening. Do enjoy!