Recent Reads

Here are some descriptions and books I’ve read recently.  Do you like to read?  I love reading, especially out in the sunshine or in bed on a rainy night.  I’m fairly picky, and as hard as I try to enjoy non-fiction, I definitely prefer fiction.  What are you reading these days?  Any good recommends?

The Light Between Oceans:

This is about a veteran who comes back to Australia from World War I, gets married, and becomes a lighthouse keeper.  His wife, Isabel, has many miscarriages before a boat mysteriously washes ashore with a dead man and a crying baby inside.  Isabel convinces her husband to take the baby in, and after many years of peacefully raising her, they run into the baby’s biological mother; things get very ugly and complicated. The writing in this book is beautiful; M.L Stedman has a knack for showing small-town gossip and the loyalty of children.  I remember waiting for a connection while reading this book, with a lot of tears flowing.  This book made me appreciate the work that goes into making a family. It’s a great read.

The Smartest Kids in the World:

If you have ever had a conversation with me, I’ve already told you that you *must* read this book.  I’ve also blogged about it, a lot.  Amanda Ripley follows three student exchanges in Poland, Finland, Korea, and America and learns about how different cultures address learning, and what makes their education systems tick.  She distills the problems we’re facing and articulates the best ideas for solutions,  all in an entertaining way.  If you care at all about education, this is a great read.

 The Girl on the Train:

This book is creepy!  It’s told from many different perspectives, but none of them are particularly trustworthy.  Rachel, the main storyteller, imagines the life of a couple whose house she sees while passing on the train each day, until one day, when the female goes missing, and Rachel gets tangled up in trying to find her. Coincidentally, Rachel’s addicted to the bottle, and passes out at *just* the right moments, so that you miss the critical details pointing  to the murderer.  Lots of affairs and jealousy (and f-bombs if I remember correctly). I especially loved piecing everything together at the end. This is hard to put down if you like a dirty mystery.

The Enchanted:

I found this book at Powell’s books in Portland, on a shelf of books that had won little-known awards.  It’s about a prison full of inmates waiting to die on death row and it follows the woman who is trying to find information that could save the inmates from execution. It is horrifying, violent, and full of many sad stories.  It’s not explicit, but there is a lot of rape and corruption.  Not surprisingly, the stories of the criminals are heart-wrenching, unfair, and disturbing, but the author ties magical elements and words throughout the storyline, making it compelling and even inspiring.  I don’t know how to explain it, but this book is absolutely wondrous. The author shows love, sadness, and human needs so deeply and intensely.  If you like a profound read about humanity, read this.

Where’d You Go Bernadette?

This book is funny, but it’s awkward humor.  It made a lot more sense to me once I realized that the author wrote for Arrested Development.   Bee is a 15 year old girl living in Seattle and her mother, Bernadette is on the verge of a mental breakdown, when she (the mother) disappears.  There are many highlights, but my favorite part is when Bee’s super awkward, fanny-pack-wearing, atheist dad tries to make  dorky,  encouraging conversation with Bee about the church group she’s recently started going to with a friend.  It is so painfully awkward, forced, disingenuously enthusiastic, familiar to me (not with my family, but practically every date I’ve been on), and hilarious.  Did your parents go through that phase in your teenage years?  Where they try so hard to understand you, and they say ridiculous things to try to win you over?  Anyway, this is funny.

The Kite Runner

This was popular a long time ago;  another heartbreaker and with shocking plot twists.  I just just finished it.  It’s about two boys growing up in Afghanistan and one of them is sweet and selfless and the other, Amir, is the exact opposite.  The writing is stellar; the plot twists are riveting.  It’s a story of redemption and it makes me want to hug and rescue every orphan and child born into poverty.   I recommend it if you like something meaningful and well-written.

100 More Things Designers Need to Know about People

This is a book of cool psychology hacks. And it comes in nice bite-sized packages so you can put it down and pick it  up and not keep track of any plot.  My favorite sections are the ones explaining the three parts of your brain that induce those blessed aha moments you live for: the executive action brain, the default brain, and the  salience network brain.  The salient network constantly monitors and stores everything that comes into your brain: information, sensory input, your executive action brain (problems you’re trying to solve) and the default network brain (doing whatever, without much focus).  Your salient brain is what thinks of ideas from years past and what integrates lots of ideas together to help come up with a solution, that aha moment. Cool, right? This book is chock full of fascinating things about people as well human technology interaction.

The Will Power Instinct

I started reading this book because I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly McGonigals’ TED talk about stress, and I secretly really want to sneak into her classes at Stanford, because she’s such a great speaker! My confession is that I haven’t finished this book, which perhaps says something about my own lack of will power. 🙂  It’s full of fun psychology tidbits and studies, and the author is super entertaining, but I am sometimes skeptical of the psychology studies in general. They just don’t always seem accurate.  Still, there are some good hacks in here, about practicing and building will power; harnessing shame and pride to make better choices and how powerful dopamine triggers are.  Read this if you’re looking for some self-improvement hacks (or if you have more self-discipline than I do, evidently  ;D ).

Happy reading and happy hump day!

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