Quiet: The Power of Introverts in World the Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking is an interesting read. I initially picked it up because I confess, I am sometimes confused as to whether or not I am an introvert or extrovert. 

If you’re on the fence like myself, you may not find the answers in this book. Cain doesn’t provide any easy answers about what makes someone an introvert or extrovert. Part of her argument is centered around the idea that personality itself is fluid, and human beings are remarkably adaptable.

The Good:

  1. Some “scientific” reads are marketed for the average consumer are virtually unreadable. 
  2. It gives a good literary review of the theories that support her own thinking. 

The Bad:

  1. It’s not really a bad, but more a word of caution. Cain is not a psychologist or neurologist (which I think helps the readability of the book), however it did inspire a bit of skepticism on her recommendations for dealing with different personality types. She virtually has no qualifications for doing so, and while on the surface it sounds like good advice I think we should still approach with caution.
  2. The book focused a lot on “western” versus “eastern” cultures. I think a broader range of cultural differences between these traditional dichotomies would have been more interesting and insightful. The Asian (The Chinese ethnicity is her focus) versus the European (even though what she really means in the American) seems little basic. 

 Verdict: An interesting, if somewhat shallow look at personality types and western society. “Perfect intro to” type book. 

The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin was published in 2010, part of an anticipated trilogy. Post apocalyptic books are a favorite of mine, so I was intrigued by the build up to the event and then dealing with the aftermath.

The Good:

  1. The first section, or the pre-apocalyptic world is pretty exciting. It’s imaginative and engaging. More importantly, believable. 

The Meh:

  1. There are a lot of characters. I normally don’t shy away from books with a lot of characters. George RR Martin’s ASOFAI is an example. What’s different from ASOFAI’s abundance of characters is that GRRM doesn’t make us care about all of them. We’re not supposed too. It just felt too much pressure to believe that every character was very important. I honestly couldn’t get their names straight (perhaps because they all seemed to have similar “rebellious yet secretive personalities”). 

The Bad:

  1. The middle section of the book. In the post-apocalyptic portion we are introduced to a weird group of people in California (I think?). The point of this section is to highlight how people dealt with the threat of the vampire like beings. Instead we get a little society that isn’t working, and characters jumbled together. I like to think I am intelligent enough to remember who is who. We’re also given very little structural information about the society which adds to the confusion. 

Verdict: Promising beginning, by the end it was a chore. 

Memoirs of an Addicted Brain

Written by Marc Lewis, a developmental neuroscientist, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain is half science/half memoir. Breaking down his life-long struggle with addiction and drug use, Lewis uses his real life experiences with drugs to describe why they affect us the way that they do. 

I chose this book because I was interested in the science behind addictions (I am a big fan of shows like Intervention). I thought the memoir format would provide a nice lay-mans description of addiction and its effects on the brain.

The Memoir:

The memoir portion, as I said earlier was not my motivation for reading the book. I think because of this, I found it more distracting then anything. While Lewis’ tale is a harrowing account of addiction at a young age, I found it un-relatable (this is likely because I have no personal history with addiction or mental illness). Gaping holes are left in Lewis’ story, which he seemed to tailor to describe the many drugs and their effects on the brain.   My major issue was I did not find the writing style particularly engaging, and difficult to work through. 

The Science:

I was expecting a more lay-mans account of the science behind addiction and the brain. I was disappointed. The parts of the book I was most looking forward to reading were too technical for a person with a limited scientific background. The only exception to this was the last chapter in which Lewis describes why addicts have such a hard time saying no. They simply exercise their brains to much in saying no, that the brain like any muscle when faced with a repetitive task can only preform optimally for so long. I may have found this part easier to understand because it can apply to a lot of this (ie: we can only read for so long, write for so long). 

The End:

While it is a memoir, and Lewis’ story has a happy ending, I was not satisfied. While Lewis states he simply woke up one day without the desire to do drugs, this is not a typical reaction on the part of drug addicts. Had Lewis left some sort of disclaimer stating what regular drug addicts need to do in order to break the cycle of addiction.

The Verdict: If you are suffering or have suffered from a drug addiction, I feel this book would be more relevant to you, then me. Not a must read. As far as memoirs go, it was a little bland.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a thriller novel written by Gillian Flynn. Following the story of Amy Dunne’s disappearance on her 5th wedding anniversary, and the investigation of her husband Nick Dunne. Split into three parts, which each part getting shorter and shorter, the book is a page turning thriller that ends far from where it begins. I’m going to pretty graphic with spoilers here, so ye’be warned. 

The Good:

  1. I've never started a book so sure of one thing, and ended with another. Sweet innocent Amy has fooled everyone in her life into thinking she is an entirely different person. 
  2. The writing style is clever. Switching between present day and the diary gives us a skewed view of the characters. It made me question why I was so quick to side with Amy’s written journal as opposed to Nick’s flow of consciousness. 
  3. It will make a good film adaptation. Really though, why hasn’t there been a film like this made already?
  4. Some women are bad. It’s time we talked about that. We’re not all nice, and we’re not all non-violent. Amy isn’t. 
Meh:
  1. All the characters who aren’t Amy or Nick are shallow. They all fill the “archtypes” we would expect to find in an 20/20 or dateline murder special. Good cop, bad cop, parents (but only one set, we don’t want things to complicated), mistress, news people, crazy neighbors. It all felt cliche.
  2. The End, but I’ll get to that next. 
  3. If Amy’s hated her parents her whole life, why did she wait until now to punish them? She punished everyone else in a more immediate fashion. While Amy claims the set-up is to punish Nick and her parents, it’s really about Nick. 

The End:

I enjoyed the book up until the end. The end is not satisfying. I understand sometimes in life, people don’t change when they clearly should have. However, Nick to have been sadistically framed for murder, and then psychologically abused after his wife’s return it’s hard to feel sorry for a man who decides to stay. The only clever thing about the ending is you start the book thinking Nick is an asshole, and you end knowing he is an asshole. 

Verdict: I have been this involved with a crime thriller in a long time. Must read.

Frankenstein

Before today, I had not ever read Frankenstein. I’m not sure either, that I’ve ever really seen a full adaptation of it. Sure, I know how the adaptations usually go, Madman creates monster (who is really just misunderstood) villagers revolt blah blah blah.

So I went into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with a mostly clear head. I really didn’t have any preconceived notions, other than I had a rough idea what the kind of language would be used. Shelley’s novel is considered the start of the science fiction genre. I have to disagree with this. While science certainly helps Frankenstein create his monster, the science itself is minimal. Rather we see a sinister case study of stress on our main character. Frankenstein lives in constant fear of his monster, and puts himself through the moral ringer. When he finally does tell his tale there is little judgement. Frankenstein is also subjected to numerous fevers and illnesses, usually reserved for the women of a Jane Austen novel. I enjoyed that the stress Frankenstein feels takes such a toll on him physically.

After reading it. I have one major thought. Why have none of the film adaptations stayed true to Shelley’s version? The story is so good, and creepy in its own right. I think that the visuals Shelley creates is suited perfectly to the film genre. Misty glaciers, the ocean, a monster hidden in shadows. Certainly if it were me, I would make the create speak less to add an even stronger ominous factor. Get on it Hollywood, or I myself may adapt it. 

Verdict: Creepy in a way I didn’t except. Shelley certainly excels at describing the mental strain the title character feels after pursuing his scientific desires.  

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012.  It is an easy to read breathtaking story about a retiree who suddenly finds himself walking across Britain to say goodbye to a long lost friend.

The Good:

  1. Joyce successfully captures the pain and anguish of being human. The old have pain, the young have pain. We’re all in pain and doing our best to get by.
  2. The randomness of it all. It’s what happens in real life isn’t it? We do our best to be planned to do our best.
  3. The subtle hints of the character flaws Harold doesn’t want us, or himself to know about. We are so good at burying things aren’t be. So good and not seeing, and Joyce reminds us of this.
The Meh:
  1. The twist in the ending with the son. I feel like I should have seen it coming, but it’s still bit obvious. I’m not sure what it says about me that I keep wanting authors to not do the obvious and surprise me. I thought maybe this would be one that does it. It doesn’t. 

The final message: Be kind to everyone you meet, we all have hard stories and pain that we don’t know how to share. 

Verdict:  Well written and thought provoking while still being light hearted. It was exactly what I needed after the emotional mess Casual Vacancy made me. 

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy is, as I am sure many of you know, JK Rowling’s foray into fiction in a post Harry Potter world.

I am not quite sure if I agree with her marketing strategy. If it were me, coming off of one of the most popular selling series of all times, something many people myself included, grew up with, I would have chosen a different route. First, publish under pseudonym. After say a few months, or perhaps a year, reveal who in fact wrote the book. Then, you can get some honest feedback without many Harry Potter fans who are now adults ripping it to shreds because it isn’t Harry Potter.

Anyways, about the book. I liked it. I think. Will I re-read it? Maybe, but not for a few years at least. Generally my reaction to book when I say “I liked it. I think” means that it made me uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable in the sense that the book is fairly graphic. 

The Good:

  1. Rowling can still write. While the setting isn’t anywhere near as magical as Harry Potter, her prose is still solid. It flows.
  2. The characters have real emotions. Too many writers have characters and emotions that are irrational. This all makes sense. It may not make you feel good, but at least it makes sense. 
  3. It is an opportunity for self reflection. The issues that are mentioned in the book, bullying, racism, relationships between parents and teenagers, death, family, love. It’s all real. It all hurts. We can learn from it all. 
The Bad:
  1. It is slow. There isn’t the same fast-paced urgency that I have had with other books. It takes a while to get going. But when it does, it hurts in a good way.
  2. The ending. It all falls apart. And then, somehow seems okay. While many of the characters dealt with some pretty heavy emotional stuff throughout the whole thing, in the end it is somehow supposed to be okay. It isn’t. The patchwork falling apart and sewing back together of marriages and lives and a town doesn’t some how seem genuine. 
The Ugly:
  1. The first part of the book is as I said, slow. It’s also unbearable. I almost gave up, particularly because I was going through an emotional period myself, and reading about the aftermath of the death of an important person. 
  2. I really felt for this little fictional town. I hope there are some mentally stable self aware people living there that we just didn’t hear about. 

Verdict: Read it. It’s not Harry Potter. It’s not uplifting, but it points to problems that we could all self reflect on. No vacancy is ever casual. There are always things lurking under the surface.

State of Wonder

My first experience reading an Ann Patchett novel was in 2006, when I took my first and only English class during my first semester of University. We were assigned Bel Canto and were examining it for it’s use of music within a novel. It is still one of my favorite books, and frequently on my re-read list. I had seen State of Wonder several times in a book store before and during a vacation, but never purchased it. Eventually, after the death of an ereader while on said vacation, I gave in and bought a paper back copy of State of Wonder in Israel. As an aside, it is a beautifully compact book, more so then the paperbacks available in North America. 

I devoured this book. In fact, I read it in one sitting on a 12 hour flight. It tells the story of about a mixed race Doctor who works for a Drug company as she descends into the Amazon in search of a dead colleague. She does so in order to find out what happened to him so she can bring peace to his wife, children and herself. In doing so she is forced to confront her own demons, from her medical school days as well as her mentor. 

Patchet’s novels are award winning because she is able to clearly communicate the who, what, when, where, why’s of a novel. Her settings are always beautifully described, her characters flawed enough to be real, her plots just outlandish enough that we can imagine them actually happening. 

The Bad: 

  1. Occasionally, I find Patchett’s novels have a groan moment, you know the one where  you cry out “Really? We’re doing this?”. This novel was no exception. However Patchett is so good at making you feel things, to feel the environments the characters experience that I often just cry out, and then accept it. Her writing decisions, however corny they may seem to be at the moment, can’t be faulted (at least in my opinion). I say this because I often step back and realize that if it was my story I would make similar choices.

The Good:

Where Patchett shines (just as she does in Bel Canto and in Run) is that she allows her readers to think about the implications in the real world. Just when we think we know how we’d deal with interracial families, hostage situations, unrequited love, Patchett gives us a senario that reminds us not everything is black and white. Grey areas are where she shines because she implores the readers to think for themselves about political and cultural issues. In this case she tackles the role of private funding towards scientific research. How much control should our companies have over the betterment of man kind?

Verdit: There is no grey area to this verdict. Read it. 

When God Was a Rabbit

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman has an interesting title. In fact, it was the title that grabbed me. Winman’s novel tells the story of a girl named Elly, first as a young child, and then as an adult. Every part of the story flows as a snapshot in time, picking and choosing a variety of episodes from our narrator’s life. If a hipster could be a book, it would be this.

That is the beauty of the story. We all have internal stories that we’ve decided define us, Elly is telling us hers. Honestly, if I were to write a memoir of all the important things I learned, and from who, I imagine it would sound something like this. 

What makes it good:

The writing is beautiful, with Winman shining particularly during Elly’s early years. She manages to capture the way children think, and communicates it to us effectively and sympathetically. 

The sibling relationship. Anyone who has sibling(s) you love, can love the story. There are so many shared memories and things about you that only a sibling can understand.

Meh:

I actually found the desire of Elly to be “different” and define herself as this irritating. Once the character grows up, she becomes just another lost, drifter. Her brother’s lost memory is little cliche, and makes her idea of sibling love a bit too obvious. 

What makes it bad:

The whole second half. Why go to the trouble of perfectly capturing childhood innocence, and ruin it by telling us what happens when she grows up. And when she grows up, we don’t actually learn how she is different from when she is a child, other than her age. The adult part two reads as a cliched attempt at creating literature. 

Verdit: Read now, or read it later. Hipster read. I don’t think this one can easily be made into a movie, it would loose quite a bit of charm, so there isn’t a ticking cinema clock on it. And frankly, if it were made into a movie, you won’t catch me suffering through it.


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)

I am a sucker for a good/funny/insightful memoirs. In fact, it may be one of my favourite types on non-fiction books to read. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  is written by the Office writer (and also a headliner for her own new show, debuting on Fox in the Fall) Mindy Kaling.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I may like this book more than I enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It may be, because I am closer in age to Kaling, but I think it has more to do with audience. Kaling’s writing to her peers. I don’t feel like a giddy fan reading her book, wanting to know the secrets to her rise to fame (there isn’t, it is a mix of talent, optimism, and luck). Instead, I feel like a friend listening to a new friend’s hilarious story of how a play about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck moved her from a crappy New York apartment to a crappy Los Angeles one. 

The Best Parts: 

  1. I like lists. Kaling does too!
  2. Insecurity, and her acknowledgment that she recognizes it, knows it’s dumb, but carries on anyways. That is real life.
  3. That she openly admits she calls her mom all the time, and her mom still yells at her. It’s okay to like your parents kids. 

Where it drags: 

  1. Childhood retellings. Essential, maybe. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all been friends with people who we didn’t actually like, or need. We’ve all looked back and thought “Hey, my parents were right about that kid.” (This thought is the bane of my 20-something existence, that my parents were actually right.) We’ve all felt rejected and ugly and fat.
Kaling is funny, relatable and endearing. Her writing voice, is how a lot of us confused yet determined people sound in our heads.

Verdit: Kaling says if it takes you longer then two days to read this book, something is wrong with you. She’s right. Easy fun read, that is well worth the two days.