November 9, 2018

It would be hard to sit in a chair if your legs faced backwards

Believe it or not, this is my second time writing this particular post. The first one which was ready for publishing was accidentally deleted in its entirety by yours truly. Well, I guess after this many years I was due a massively huge screw up. IT WAS SUCH A LONG POST, GUYS. I'm afraid this is going to be missing some essential points as a consequence but I'll do my best to recreate what I hardly recall writing (even though it was earlier this week).

Today I'm going to be reviewing Only Human which is the third and final book in The Themis Files trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel. If you've forgotten (or never knew in the first place) this series began with Dr. Rose Franklin who found a giant robot hand when she was a little girl and from that moment a series of events led to a giant robot (definitely of alien origins) being pieced together. Things spiraled out of control pretty quickly after that especially once other governments outside of the U.S. discovered that this behemoth could be piloted and used as a weapon. Moreover, raising this robot from the depths of the earth alerted the alien race which left it here and prompted their return to reclaim their property with mass genocide being the result. Cut to Only Human which opens years after the conclusion of Waking Gods with 2 pilots inside huge robots killing civilians in a war being waged between the U.S. and Russia while thousands of others are being held in interment camps because of impure bloodlines (sound familiar?). (This is where the dystopian tag on this post comes in by the way.) Meanwhile on a distant planet called Ekt, Rose and her team (Vincent, Eva, & the General) are trying to acclimate/come up with an escape plan back to earth. They are essentially refugees on this world which is wildly different from anything they've ever known. The parts where Neuvel focused on describing the planet, its people, and their customs were by far my favorites of this book, ya'll. So original and engrossing. The most distinguishing factor of the Ekt (besides their backwards facing legs) is that they have a strict policy of governmental non-interference which forbids them from any further action against or for the people of planet earth (even though they were the cause of its current state of awful). This is sci-fi political angst at its finest.

If I had to rank the books in this series it would be 1, 3, and then 2. A lot of the magic from the first book came from the total originality of the plotline and Neuvel's descriptive capabilities. A lot of that was lost in the second book which in my opinion was super dry. He got a lot of that oomph back with this book though. Taken as a whole, it's an excellent series and I wouldn't say no to checking out more of his work in the future. 7/10 for Only Human.

[A/N: To catch up with the first two books check out my posts on Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods.]

I loved the way all of the covers looked especially when next to one another. [Source: Goodreads]

What's Up Next: Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

What I'm Currently Reading: Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 2, 2018

Batman is how old?!

What an absolutely FUN read The Science of Superheroes turned out to be! Lois H. Gresh & Robert E. Weinberg took several big name superheroes like Superman, Batman, The Flash, Ant Man, Aquaman, and the X-Men (just to name a few) and discussed in-depth their powers, origin stories, narrative continuity, and whether there was any basis in scientific fact for their superpowers. There were great recommendations both throughout the book and in the footnotes (ya'll know I love a book with excellent footnotes). They also went to great lengths to give a detailed, thorough history of comics in general which made this an altogether well-rounded and researched book. (I've read some so-called 'scientific' nonfiction that couldn't hold a candle to the amount of work that Gresh & Weinberg obviously put in for this book.) Another huge bonus was the extensive appendix which also included biographies and q&a responses with several popular 'current' writers of comics. (Am I gushing? I can't help it that I love a good set of biographical facts organized in an orderly fashion.) At any rate, whether you're a pop culture fan, comic aficionado, superhero movie nerd, or really into researched footnotes this is sure to fit the bill and be an excellent choice for a cozy autumn evening. 10/10

Source: Amazon.com

PS I had made a note after reading this that I hoped they made one for comic book villains...and they did! If you're interested the title is The Science of Supervillains. XD

What's Up Next: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

What I'm Currently Reading: Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans & Ronald Searle

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 26, 2018

The argument for palliative care

"...our decision making in medicine has failed so spectacularly that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality. ...you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer." - pg 178

I wanted to start with that quote from today's book because it struck me as being so shocking in its simplicity and yet it completely blindsided me with its poignancy. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande is at heart a discussion of the ups and downs of treating the elderly through a variety of means whether that means aggressive medicine, nursing homes, assisted living, or hospice. It's obvious that the author has a great admiration for palliative care and a belief that all doctors/clinicians should be trained and proactive to deliver the best care for their patients. In essence, asking practical questions about what trade-offs patients are willing to make for ensuring good days ahead are key to excellent palliative care (for any age). He stresses that instead of simply giving all the options for care at the outset of a diagnosis doctors should instead ask a set of pertinent questions to get at what their patient really wants to have a good quality of life. This is relevant (and necessary) for patients whether they be elderly, terminally ill, or disabled. Gawande clearly knows his stuff (he is a doctor after all) and he was thorough in his research for this book as he interviewed across many disciplines to see what is being done by various agencies in the care of the elderly and dying. Apparently there is no one accepted method of care except to ask, listen, and respect the wishes of patients. According to Gawande, there is "...a still unresolved argument about what the function of medicine really is - what, in other words, we should and should not be paying for doctors to do." (pg 187) Hospice is not just an option for those who are looking for end of life help or to speed up death but is an excellent choice to make good days out of one's remaining life. My verdict: Very informative book that I kept picking up with great alacrity and I will definitely read more of his writing. 10/10

I'll leave you with this final quote to chew over:
"At root, the debate is about what we fear most - the mistake of prolonging suffering or the mistake of shortening valued life. All the same, I fear what happens when we expand the terrain of medical practice to include actively assisting people with speeding their death." - pg 244  

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: The Science of Superheroes by Lois H. Gresh & Robert E. Weinberg

What I'm Currently Reading: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 20, 2018

Raw, unfiltered, and achingly honest

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a posthumous memoir/biography from a man who was both in the prime of his life and the beginning of what promised to be an illustrious career as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. The terminal lung cancer which was already making its way through his spinal column wasn't part of the plan...and yet Paul chose to meet this challenge head-on as a way to understand and learn how the inevitability of death can be explored by those shepherding the way. How does the mind and brain (seen as two separate entities here) play a role in this? He first approached this topic through the lens of literature which he had always been interested in (hence the beginning of the book which would eventually be published after his death) but he then moved on to his direct experience as a doctor and then as a patient. Paul was interested in the bigger picture of what exactly death means and he kept trying to parse it out by asking, "Where did biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect?" (pg 41). He didn't shy away from the ugly underbelly of cancer treatment and how it's seen from both a medical professional's standpoint (best practices, proven remedies, etc) and the one receiving the care (uncertainty, despair, anger, and frustration to name a few). Facing mortality and asking the tough questions are the overarching themes of When Breath Becomes Air but this is also a quiet story about a man coming to terms with the fact his life was about to end. I don't want to give away all of the details because I really think you should read this one if you never read another book about death (although why stop here?). I didn't know if I'd be able to continue it at several points (there were tears) because it mirrors so much of what my dear friend, Jessica, went through during her battle with cancer. But I am happy that I persevered. 10/10

This quote blew my mind because I feel I'm constantly justifying to people why I do the work that I do even though some of it doesn't compensate me at all (the blog) and the one that does is probably never going to make me financially solvent (children's librarian). Looking at the bigger picture is hard if you are cutting out the crucial bits like death which comes for us all.
Indeed, this is how 99 percent of people select their jobs: pay, work, environment, house. But that's the point. Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job - not a calling. - pg 68-69
If I remember correctly this was a quote from Paul's wife and I think it perfectly encapsulates why this is such an important book. It's why I've read and reviewed so many books around this topic over the past year.
Paul confronted death - examined it, wrestled with it, accepted it - as a physician and a patient. He wanted to help people understand death and face their mortality. Paul's decision not to avert his eyes from death epitomizes a fortitude we don't celebrate enough in our death-avoidant culture. - pg 215
Source: Amazon

Side note of interest (at least to me): Lucy, Paul's widow, found love again with a recently widowed father of two...who's spouse also wrote a book about her journey of dying. That book is The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs and yes it's totally going on my TRL.

What's Up Next: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

What I'm Currently Reading: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 6, 2018

To stoke your wanderlust

Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett is essentially a sociological and philosophical study of what 'place' really means to each of us. The author explores 47 different locales around the globe (usually with GPS coordinates included) and divides them by type (floating cities, underground bunkers, and places without borders to name a few). He examines the dichotomy in wanting a place which is set in stone and also desiring to be itinerant travelers like our ancestors. Until I read this I had never really thought about the significance that we as humans associate with place. The historical and geographical facts Bonnett detailed were especially fascinating (examples include: pumice rafts, Sealand (they have their own passports!), and the enclaves of Belgium). The pacing was just right and the material kept me engaged throughout (which by this point in the year is a challenge).  I really like to learn about places that are far removed from the everyday and Bonnett delivered on that in spades. For those with wanderlust in their heart or a desire to learn about phenomenally odd and/or out of the way locales then this is a great little book. I bet it would make an excellent travel companion on any vacation! 10/10

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

What I'm Currently Reading: Star Trek: Destiny #3: Lost Souls by David Mack (yes, I'm still reading this)

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

September 28, 2018

Not the same, I promise

The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison at first glance is remarkably similar to my last post and in retrospect I probably shouldn't have read them back-to-back. (If for no other reason, than my own mental health.) In my defense, my library holds always seem to come all at once so this was just coincidental. This book. however, is more memoir than anything else…although I'd also lump it into the literary commentary category. The author takes an almost journalistic look at addiction and recovery. While Jamison does discuss the 12 Steps, she emphasizes that most need more than the 12 Steps which promotes complete abstinence in order to recover. Medication and counseling in combination with a recovery program that advises group meetings is essential to long-term sobriety. She talks in-depth about her own recovery journey and how it doesn't always end neatly with full sobriety or even one linear line to sobriety as relapses will and do occur. The first part, in truth, focuses quite heavily on "drunk writers" using alcohol as a creative crutch and how Jamison herself felt that without booze she would not be interesting enough or creative enough to write. Along with that was her preoccupation with love helped along by an addict's natural self-centeredness. It is this inflated self-centered attitude which Jamison believes is the fuel for an addict. The addiction narrative is unchanging and that's the point. It doesn't need to be new and interesting (not necessary or even possible really) because it's the sharing with others that makes all the difference when all anyone wants is to not feel alone. Maybe because I read this on the heels of Russell's book or maybe because it didn't necessarily reveal anything new to me but this was only an okay book in my opinion. If this was the very first book someone had read on this subject then I believe it would be deemed excellent but for anyone who has read extensively in this vein it didn't really cover any new ground. 5/10

That isn't to say there weren't some interesting quotes. Here are two that jumped out at me:

Most addicts don't live in barren white cages - though some do once they've been incarcerated - but many live in worlds defined by stress of all kinds, financial and social and structural: the burdens of institutional racism and economic inequality, the absence of a living wage. - pg 154

Most addicts describe drinking or using as filling a lack…you drunk to fill the lack, but the drinking only deepens it. - pg 155
Source: USA Today book review

What's Up Next: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett

What I'm Currently Reading: Star Trek: Destiny #3: Lost Souls by David Mack


**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

September 22, 2018

Essential Reading

Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand is the 4th book of his that I've read and possibly the one that's hit the closest to home. This book outlines the 12 Step Program from Russell's perspective with personal accounts from each step of his journey towards recovery. It is an excellent book for those struggling with addiction (of any kind) or those who have witnessed that struggle in others.

The emphasis made throughout the book is that you must
  • seek a Higher Power
  • attend meetings to have a community of help
  • work the program every single day
  • seek help at times when stressed or apt to relapse from a mentor who has worked the program
These excellent quotes from the book do a far better job of recommending it than anything I could say:
But in your life you've faced obstacles, inner and outer, that have prevented you from becoming the person you were 'meant to be' or 'are capable of being' and that is what we are going to recover. That's why we call this process Recovery, we recover the 'you' that you were meant to be. - pg 42
This program helps me to change my perspective when what I would do unabated is justify my perspective staying the same - 'if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got', if you want change, you have to change. You have to make amends. - pg 133
...'you can't think your way into acting better but you can act your way into thinking better.' - pg 160
The literature upon which these movements are founded describe it not as a 'cure' but as a 'daily reprieve'; the disease, the condition, is still there, you will feel it move through you, in fear and rage and irritation, beckoning you back into previous behavior - pg 212 
I cannot say enough wonderful things about Recovery. If you or anyone you love has ever struggled through addiction and the subsequent difficulties on the long road towards recovery then this is essential reading. 10/10 highly recommend

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

What I'm Currently Reading: The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **