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Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman

seven-types-of-ambiguity

I read a lot of books. I am also a fairly timid book reviewer. It is rare for me to give a book a resounding 5/5 because I save that honor for the precious few that I love. On the other end of the spectrum there is rarely a book that I flat out dislike. Every book that I’ve come across has some redeeming feature, otherwise I just don’t finish it (I’m looking at you Rum Diaries). But for the first time on this blog, and for the first time in a long while, I’m going to openly come out and say that I did not enjoy a book. Ready? I did not at all enjoy Seven Types of Ambiguity. At all. Maybe if you really liked books like Foucault’s Pendulum or The Discovery of Heaven where the author creates characters who talk about philosophy as an excuse to show off how much they know, you’d like this book. But it was not for me.

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A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton

A History of the World in Twelve Maps

This book is exactly what it sounds like. So to begin with, I love the title. I saw this book in a bookshop in Melbourne about a year ago and I immediately recognized it as a book I thought I would enjoy. Having read it now, it turns out I  was not wrong. A History of the World in Twelve Maps is a fantastic book! That being said, I don’t think I would recommend it to everyone. This book activated pretty much all of my nerd senses – the history nerd, the cartography nerd, the geography nerd, the science nerd, and the intellectual argument nerd (who doesn’t like hilarious scientific rivalries?). But the book was long and dense. I learned something new on every page, but it was a very long read. If you’re interested in all those things I just mentioned, absolutely read this book, you will love it as much as I did.

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2013 in books

Happy (almost) New Year everybody! Since this is a blog about books I figured I would share the books that I read this year and give some recommendations. I set out to read 50 books this year and I have done just that! Below is the list of books I read in 2013 with a ranking system I am borrowing from my lovely friend Amanda’s blog post about the 52 (!!!) books that she read this year. You can find her original post, and the books she’s been reading and loving here.

An asterisk for books I recommend, and a double asterisk for books that you should probably just pick up and start reading now. Italics are for books I read in the original French, so my recommendation may be skewed. Here we go.

1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
2. The Dog Stars*
3. The Swerve**
4. The Wind-up Bird Chronicles
5. Bossypants
6. Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?
7. The Da Vinci Code (don’t judge me)
8. Les Miserables
9. The Better Angels of Our Nature*
10. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
11. The Yellow Birds*
12. The Sisters Brothers
13. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking*
14. A Visit From The Goon Squad
15. Germinal 
16. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer*
17. Behind The Beautiful Forevers*
18. The Orphan Master’s Son**
19. Postwar**
20. The Age of Miracles
21. The Black Count
22. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
23. Thinking Fast and Slow
24. The Song of Achilles
25. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean
26. Blundering To Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns (I would recommend this, but you have to love Napoleon)
27. And the Mountains Echoed*
28. Sister Mother Husband Dog
29. Le Morte D’Arthur Vol. I
30. Shogun*
31. Catch Me If You Can*
32. Lean In
33. The Garlic Ballads
34. Everything Beautiful Began After
35. Night
36. The Bell Jar
37. The Optimism Bias
38. The Fellowship of the Ring
39. The Two Towers
40. The Return of the King
41. Monuments Men**
42. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat*
43. Room
44. Swamplandia!
45. All Quiet on the Western Front
46. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
47. L’Étranger (The Stranger)*
48. The War of Art
49. Siddartha
50. The Prince*

I also re-read all the Harry Potter books this year but they don’t count since I’d read them before. I recommend them nonetheless.
There are quite a few books from my list from this year that I would recommend. I was lucky to be almost constantly entertained by my reading material over the past 12 months, and most any book from this list is worth a read.

The year isn’t over and I’m still working my way through another book (The Paradox of Choice), but chances are I will not finish it in the 4 days left to me this year and it will kick off next year’s list. Hopefully I’ll make it to 50 again! If you’ve got recommendations for me, let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Hopefully I’ll get around to writing about many more of these books in the coming months. Check back here for more later!

Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

Monuments Men

 

As someone who loves art, and Europe, and World War II history, it is going to be impossible for me to write about Monuments Men without saying I loved it about a thousand times. I absolutely loved it! I would rate it as one of my favorite books of the year and I think everyone should give it a read. I’ll tell you why.

Did you know that most of the famous pieces of art in Europe – paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows, ancient manuscripts, and tapestries – that we admire today are only here today because of intense preservation efforts made during the second World War? When it was clear that the Third Reich would invade France, the Louvre and other iconic French museums were evacuated not just of their staff, but of their valuables. In England, France, Holland, and Germany, safe store houses fitted specifically for art were created to protect pieces of cultural heritage that mattered most. All the while, Germany was looting their conquered territories for valuable art works from public and private collections.

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Lean In: Women Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In

I guess this post should start with a small disclaimer. This was not the last book that I read, nor was it the book that I read immediately after the book I wrote about in my last post (Shogun, which you should also read). But I wanted to write about this book first as I come out of my writing break because it’s the one that sticks out really clearly in my mind, and it’s one that should be talked about. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg has been getting lots of attention in the media and on the internet, and many people now considering the dynamics in the workplace are giving it a lot of lip service. The praise this book has been given isn’t undeserved, but it can be a little bit over the top.

If you’re not familiar with this book already, I’ll just describe it briefly. Sandberg writes about the particular challenges women face as they climb the corporate ladder and the types of obstacles they must overcome. She backs up most of the statements she makes with facts, scientific studies, and often amusing personal anecdotes. Because of all these aspects I found it to be a fun and interesting read. But it didn’t change my world or make me jump up in disbelief or rage. These more powerful reactions seem to be seizing some percent of readers, and this book is getting an interesting, albeit unwarranted, reputation. Let me explain.

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A quick note and reviews to come!

Well, after about a month and a half hiatus I am back! For reasons involving doing a PhD and also traveling and getting lots of telescope time, I have been away from this blog, but not away from books. I have quite a backlog to get around to writing up, so I hope to get most of these posts written within the next few weeks and be updating again more regularly. Apologies for the delay!

Some books to look forward to that I’ve read in the past month and a half:

  • Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale
  • Lean In: Women Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
  • The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan
  • Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon van Booy
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot

They were all really great and I’m looking forward to writing about them. Check back for more updates soon!

Shogun by James Clavell

SHOGUN

I’m going to start this post by apologizing for the lapse in time between my last review and this one. Life got in the way, as it sometimes does, and I also spent a good deal of time reading a fantastic book called Le Morte d’Arthur Vol. 1 but as the name would suggest, it was only the first volume. It doesn’t feel right to write any sort of review until I’ve finished Volume 2, so look for more on that in the coming months. With that out of the way I want to tell everyone about my latest read, and definitely one of the most wonderful books I’ve ever read – Shogun by James Clavell.

This particular choice came as a recommendation from a friend and the praise was so high I felt I had to pick it up immediately (that’s why I only got through Volume 1 of the Arthurian lore). It did not disappoint. Everything about this book was spectacular and breathtaking. It’s going to be hard to put it all into words, since the book itself is 1152 pages, paperback, but I will try. The best thing you can do is pick up this book and read it for yourself. I hope to have fully convinced you of this by the end of my post.

One of the best things about this book for me was the time period in which it was set. The novel begins with the crash landing of a Dutch ship on the Japanese coast around the year 1600. This was an extremely interesting time in terms of European colonization in the New World (meaning North and South America), and the political scene in Europe itself. Countries, kings, and religions were all at war on the continent, which translated to open hostility and violence anywhere Protestants and Catholics found themselves together, like the colonies, at sea, or even Japan.

Initially, the narrative focuses on the Dutch ship’s pilot, an Englishman named John Blackthorne. As a pilot he is trained to be a shrewd observer and maintain an expansive memory of details. This makes him the perfect character through which to tell the story. The language barriers between Westerners and Japanese permeate the story and the subtle differences in meaning and understanding in even ordinary interactions are described in  fantastic detail. Added to the already difficult cultural clashes are the presence of the Portuguese Jesuit clergy in the country attempting to convert an unwilling populace, and a brewing war in the complex folds of Japanese politics. All of these elements interact, disagree, scheme, and collude, both with and against each other. The plot is rich and complicated. It’s really no mystery how this story takes up over 1100 pages!

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