Weekend Book Report

Reader’s note:  As an avid reader in retirement, I leave my impressions of various works here.  The review is entirely my own.  This site is not monetized and does not take donations; all images presented here are for identification purposes only and are copyrighted by the respective publishers. (A personal note; with the pandemic subsiding, or at least being safer to get out now, I haven’t read as much, but will make that commitment in 2023.)
Archived book reports can be found at the following links- For book reports in the second half of 2020, please click herefor the 1st half of 2020, click here.  For the second half of 2019, click here.  For earlier archives (Sept. 2017  to Aug. 2019), click here.


Weekend Book Report (12/21/2021): My reading has been picking up for the holidays, ironically, and finally (!) I ventured into my local public library to check a few books out. The selection is good since not many seem to visiting, exercising curbside service or checking out books online. I don’t normally pick up conservative writers, the likes of Levin, D’Souza, Kilmeade and O’Reilly are just regurgitated pap composed of lies, bullshit and brainwashed contemporary conservative thinking. But I’ll make an exception for George Will and checked out his “American Happiness and Discontents” (Hachette Books, 2021). Although I don’t agree with his politics, he does have a somewhat poetic narrative, even if it’s intellectually far above the average Trumper. This work is a series of essays he’s written over the twelve-year timeframe on the cover; he defends free markets, rights and responsibilities, critiques of academics (even though he is one), indictments of the foolishness of Donald Trump and categorizes them by subject – starting out with a historical perspective; calibrating our often-violent past with how we got to our often-violent present. The essays are short, so the book is an easy read-and-put-down-and pick up later; but some may find his writing a bit too intellectually tedious. But he’s always been a good debater and he’s one of the conservatives you can argue with because he never strays into insult, lies, or spectacle – and in so doing, makes better points than his brethren.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (12/5/2021): It’s nice to get away from politics and read about nature; I stumbled upon this book in the Visitor’s Center concession while hiking at Silver Falls State Park in Silverton, Oregon (put it on your bucket list – 10 waterfalls and beautiful surroundings). The authors love birds, especially corvids; John Marzluff is a Ph.D. and professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, Tony Angell is a noted illustrator and bird lover as well, and “Gifts of the Crow” (Atria/Simon and Shuster, 2012) is a fun read. The book has a long assortment of stories of crows, magpies, jays and ravens doing all sorts of things that represent intelligence and ingenuity – ringing doorbells for food, learning how to use tools, even becoming pets – but the book also dives into the neurological reasons behind their behavior, and intersperses the two thoughtfully. Some of the explanations of the bird’s brain get a little deep, but after the second or third chapter you’ll have a pretty good understanding of the world of corvids and be entertained was well.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store (or park concession!)

Weekend Book Report (10/21/2021): I’ve always admired George Lakoff’s work; the professor from the Department of Linguistics from UC-Berkeley manages to simply, but deftly explain in his various books how folks tick, and how it affects our political and social life. “Moral Politics – How Liberals and Conservatives Think” (University of Chicago Press, 1996, 2nd Ed. 2002) is a revisit, as I read it about fifteen years ago, so much was a review, but still heartily recommend it for anyone trying to make sense of things, especially of late. Lakoff stresses the use of language, and especially metaphor, that establishes the boundaries of moral foundations – without passing judgment on either. He speaks of the “Strict Father” and “Nurturant Parent” value systems that develop (and stressing there are variations in each person, depending on the issue) and how they form a worldview, and how that worldview can collide with others, and have contradictions even within itself. Although the book is a bit dated (he speaks of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton as examples), the book will enable the reader to assess which one they are, and almost immediately (but I recommend privately to themselves) where others are.

It’s available at your local public library or local, independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (4/18/2021): No, it hasn’t been a month since I completed reading a book, I’ve just been negligent in writing a report… 😀 At any rate, since I’m retired, reading about leadership and motivational styles in the workplace didn’t seem all the relevant for me, and I’m not sure why I bought “Dare To Lead” by renowned motivational speaker and researcher Brene’ Brown (Random House, 2018). Brown dives right in with some personal stories about making presentations and dealing with relationships, and lands on a concept she calls “rumbling with vulnerability”, which involves being honest, not knowing you have all the answers, practicing empathy, having courage in speaking your mind, but not falling into the blubbery spilling-of-your-guts revelations that slide off into the inappropriate. There are some exercises and practices that I glossed over (yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have) because, well, I don’t supervise or lead people anymore and memories of dreaded “assignments” made me avoid them. But if you’re a supervisor, leader, or just want to work on relationships, it’s worth the read and also quite possibly her other four works (Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness). Frankly, some those masquerading as leaders in the political arena should probably read it, too.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore (I got mine at Powell’s online) or local public library (curbside – although I hear they may be opening again, soon!)

Weekend Book Report (3/20/2021): I’m going to say right at the outset that I enjoy this author’s work; “Whose Story Is This? – Old Conflicts, New Chapters” (Haymarket Books, 2019) is historian and activist Rebecca Solnit’s one of many works. In a series of essays, the Solnit touches upon a broad assortment of contemporary issues, and in a way of stimulating “a-ha” though processes for some and alienating others, with the the common determinant being how open your mind may be. Critiques of capitalism, white nationalism, misogyny, voter suppression and the importance of remembering the past in as true of a manner as possible being important in dealing with the present are all key components of the work, with many quote-worthy axioms and statements. (I may have to use the yellow highlighter on this one). Although she is occasionally tagged as a “feminist” author, it’s important for men to read this book -for the very reason I stated at the outset.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore (Powell’s in Portland, Kings in Tacoma) online or for curbside pickup at your local public library.

Weekend Book Report (3/7/2021): Yes, I’m still reading, but as I mentioned last month, not quite as prolifically. However, my wife and I have got into the habit of reading to each other, for fifteen minutes apiece, of our selected books. It’s a great after-dinner exercise and was a great pandemic-winter activity.

This latest book read is another (for a total of three so far) work on the dangers of social media. (The irony of posting a book report on social media isn’t lost on me either.) Katherine Ormerod is a young journalist based in the UK that has been noted for her work on battling perfectionism, especially in younger women; and this book “Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life” (Cassell Books, 2018). She breaks down the hazards of social media addiction and it’s mental health and consequences to well-being; again, she writes addressing a younger female audience, but there are many instances and chapters that help one that is lost in FOMO and Instagram jealousy. For an older white male like me, though, I found “Digital Minimalism” more helpful. However, if you know of that young female that hangs on every text and social media post for validation, this may be a good suggestion as a read.

You can get it from Powell’s in Portland or King’s in Tacoma (online) or at your local public library (curbside!) Please support your local library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (2/20/2021): It’s been a while since I wrapped up a book; with the dank and gray February here, I got into the habit of listening to music on my earbuds for an hour before bedtime instead of reading. I’ve found some balance again and finished this interesting and refreshing book, “The Rabbit Effect” (Atria Books / Simon & Schuster, 2019) by Dr. Kelli Harding. Harding was an emergency room physician at New York City’s Presbyterian Hospital, and is now a assistant clinical professor at Columbia University; the premise of her book was from her observations of the curious disconnect between those who suffered from clinical disease (symptoms and diagnosis) and thrived, versus otherwise healthy people who looked awful and were miserable, even though no test or diagnosis would prove anything wrong. She weaves together stories of individuals, science, and some self-help advice as to the causes and offers remedies to deal and resolve the issue. The title of the book is based on a New Zealand study of rabbits that thrived (and some that didn’t) depending on their social and environmental relationships. It’s probably not a surprise to some that although we live in an era of modern convenience, instant communication and a wealth of entertainment, we find ourselves disconnected and often lonely, which is part of the problem. Harding also speaks to relationships with work, family, community, hobbies and attitudes – and the operative word, kindness – that help with happiness and longevity – all with the science of DNA telomeres, diet and diagnosis proving the relationship. This is a good read to reinforce how we should look at our healthy communities, relationships, our own attitudes and self-care, and the author also provides good counsel on how to seek it, with the reader reaping the benefit.

It’s available online (Powell’s in Portland, King’s in Tacoma) or from your public library (curbside!)

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Weekend Book Report (2/3/2021): There’s a wealth of books out there that speak to the politics of legislating, leadership and presidential behavior, this week’s read was an interesting work on the third branch of government. “Supreme Inequality – The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle For A More Unjust America” by Adam Cohen (Penguin, 2020) is a historical as well as editorial work on the slant the supposedly-objective body has adopted since the Nixon administration. Cohen, a writer for Time Magazine and the New York Times, starts with a history of the court – which at one time was quite progressive under Earl Warren. For a few more than a dozen years, the court ruled on favorable rulings on civil and worker rights and environmental issues. All that changed with Nixon, whose “dirty tricks” group framed and harassed justice Abe Fortas into resigning, and Lyndon Johnson’s own fumble with failing to fill Warren’s seat before he left office flipped the court over to some sharp-fanged conservatives, Add in the purposeful timing of the court turnover (planned retirements like Anthony Kennedy) and the conservative court has dominated on ideological grounds (and, to Cohen’s point, not necessarily judicial ones). Cohen, through the remaining chapters, cites cases on how the court has favored corporations, corporate campaign financing and turned against workers, the poor, public education and the dispensation of criminal justice – many with dubious legal arguments and rationale. His work is thorough and well-researched, and the bias that the “independent judiciary” expresses becomes quite clear; it makes one look at the body as an political rather than a judicial extension of government in overwhelming terms, despite the pleas to the contrary by members of the court itself.

It’s available at your local independent book store (Powell’s in Portland, King’s in Tacoma) or your local public library (curbside!)

Weekend Book Report (1/22/21): In a break from politics, this week’s read was a harrowing tale of disease and survival (and it’s not about Covid). Susannah Cahalan, a reporter for the New York Post, penned this hair-raising tale about her development of a rare, disabling disease and the bizarre behaviors it brought on in “Brain On Fire” (Simon and Schuster, 2012). Cahalan began to develop symptoms in her mid-20s, and began to experience paranoia, mood-swings and other acting out, and a wide variety of tests – imaging, bloodwork and psychological assessments revealed nothing. After being hospitalized for a month, a doctor that was a Syrian immigrant had an “a-ha” moment and was a key player in the diagnosis (I won’t spoil it here, as the author doesn’t until near the end of the book as well). She has since recovered, back to work at The Post, and now this rare ailment has become part of routine screenings and effective treatments when discovered. Much of the narrative was written based on observations of others, since Cahalan was so disabled she couldn’t remember much; and the story seems to get into a lot of minutiae about seemingly unrelated and mundane events, but the author does speak to the medical and biological processes she learned as well as her experience with the medical system. The book was made into a movie in 2016.

It’s available at Powell’s (Portland) or King’s (Tacoma) online or from your local public library for curbside pickup.

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Weekend Book Report (1/13/2021): With the craziness of an insurrection incited by the President, I have to pinch myself as to how our country got here. A couple months ago I ordered “Surviving Autocracy” by Masha Gessen (Riverhead Books, 2020) and finally had a chance to read it. As a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, Gessen has written several books on autocrats and authoritarians, most notably Vladimir Putin. This book was released in summer, so the election, and even the candidacy of Joe Biden had not been determined, but the book is a good look in the rear-view mirror on not only how Donald Trump, but also Putin and Hungary’s autocrat Viktor Orban, used the contamination of language, destruction of institutions, intimidation of the press and brainwashing of the citizenry in paths to consolidate their power. Often called the “mafia state”, she fits the Trump / Bannon / Stephen Miller / Kellyanne Conway (you can name the others) m.o. to a tee; and sadly, much of it has worked (e.g., the insurrection), and much repair will be needed to restore faith in democracy and in each other. It’s not pretty, and although she doesn’t offer really concrete ways to overturn autocracy (hint; since it’s so pervasive people have a hard time realizing it’s happening), but if you read her chapters carefully you’ll see how the tactics and strategy of autocrats (and in some cases, just plain vandals) work.

It’s available online (Powell’s in Portland or King’s in Tacoma) or reserve it at your public library for curbside pickup.

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Weekend Book Report (1/7/2021):  A new year and soon to be a new set of books to read, but wow, this year has been scary, wacky and disturbing.  So it took me a while to get through “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing, 2011) by renowned Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman.  The book is long (500 pages) and, unless you’re a super-fast reader, may take a while (three weeks for me, but with the caveat of watching our country be attacked from within there were distractions), but Kahneman basically deconstructs human thinking, reasoning and behavior in two ways:  System 1, which is intuitive, instant and uses initial impressions (WYSIWTI – what you see is what their is); and is usually wrong.  This may conflict with Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Think”, which I read this year, which extols the virtue and accurateness in instant intuitive impressions.  System 2, which requires more brain power and resources, is the part of the mind that slows things down and analyzes and tries to reconcile System 1’s inputs.  Example:  I see a car, it’s red and I know it’s a 2002 Chevrolet.  System 1 makes a lot of judgements and conclusions, System 2 then assesses it’s speed, tire tread depth, what the cylinder displacement of the motor and how to calculate it’s horsepower.  The latter requires more sugar to the brain, your heart quickens and eyes dilated due to the work – which is exactly why so many of us rely on System 1 – and are wrong.  Kahneman goes on to a wealth of other mechanics of thinking, and you may be overwhelmed by the time you’re half way through, but the critics and other reviewers are right – this is a fascinating and very deep way into how the human mind processes it’s thinking, and how to observe it in others.  It’s a lot of work (System 2 stuff), but worth the effort to get through.

It’s available at your local public library (curbside) or online from your favorite local independent bookstore (Powell’s in Portland, or King’s in Tacoma, for this guy.)