Category: Reviews

Autumn

Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey, 3/5

Reading this collection of short essays, mostly on such prosaic topics as “apples” and “plastic bags,” is a calming and grounding experience. Knausgaard combines the sensibilities of a sophisticated writer with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, rendering even the most commonplace subject somehow remarkable. The simple and honest manner in which the author’s thoughts and everyday life experiences permeate the text give one a sense of voyeurism without its intrinsic guilt; as if someone has left their curtains open solely to warm the hearts of passersby in the dark.

Why I read it: a recommendation by my sister, Anna.

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg, with Peter Rosegg, 4/5

I read this book for a laugh, expecting that almost 40 years of advancements in the field of medicine would have rendered it largely useless by now. To my surprise, I found myself being won over by the commonsense advice it presents, emphasizing mindful relaxation, supportive coaching, patience and faith in the natural process. After all, the act of childbirth is as old as time and if, as so many experts assert, we still experience primitive influences on a biological level, why should we rush to intervene with little excuse?

Season of Storms

Season of Storms: A Legend is Born by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5

On a scale of literary quality, this is much closer to Jim Butcher than J.R.R. Tolkien, but it is still good fun. In my opinion, the author writes violence much better than romance, so this book was an improvement on the previous one in the series and leaves me looking forward to the next one.

Why I read it: Working my way through the Witcher series after enjoying the Netflix TV adaptation.

The Constant Rabbit

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde, 3/5

It quickly became obvious to me that this book’s bizarre premise–the struggle for coexistence between humanity and anthropomorphic rabbits–was mostly just a vehicle for the author’s commentary on UK politics (particularly his hatred of the UK Independence Party). “Satire,” with its implications of humor, irony and sarcasm, seems too nuanced a word to describe the tone of this book and brief glimpses of Fforde’s literary creativity and skill just made the incessant political preaching all the more disappointing.

Why I read it: I love many of Fforde’s earlier works and when I heard that he was publishing again, I was very excited to catch up on his latest two books. My enthusiasm has cooled somewhat, since, sadly.

Sword of Destiny

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5

In contrast to The Last Wish, this second book in the Witcher Saga felt more like an average, run-of-the-mill adult fantasy than an inspired re-interpretation of classic fairytales and mythical archetypes. The “adult” passages were numerous and, frankly, cringe-worthy. If not for the first book’s merit, I would probably avoid reading more in the series.

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo, 4/5

This charming story begs to be read aloud near a cozy fireplace and I think even children too young to read would love hearing it. I appreciate that, in the style of all classic fairy tales, it does not shy away from portraying darkness to balance out the light. By acknowledging the violence and tragedy of existence in a matter-of-fact and age-appropriate way, the author puts a backbone in what might otherwise have been a silly, sappy, story for kids.

Why I read it: a student’s mom, Paige, recommended it in conversation.

Early Riser

Early Riser: A Novel by Jasper Fforde, 3/5

This dystopian novel explores the logistical, social, and political implications of living in a world so close to another ice age that humans must hibernate through the winter months. Fforde’s inimitable style does shine through in a couple places, but overall I found the story to be a bit on the pedestrian side. Not exactly predictable, but familiar, like it was based on a Netflix series I’d already seen or something. Of course, Netflix was still a mail-order DVD service the last time I read anything by Jasper Fforde, so hopefully the perceived lack of depth and magic is not simply a result of brain rot from indulging in more mindless TV than good books in the last few years.

Why I read it: the author came up in conversation with my sister.

Younger Next Year

Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D., 3/5

Clearly, the target audience for this book is aging guys who will appreciate the old-fashioned generalizations and cringey humor that makeĀ Younger Next Year pretty unrelatable to anyone else. Fortunately though, you don’t have to be an old man to be encouraged by the premise that consistent exercise, smart eating (but not “dieting”), and healthy relationships can make old age a less terrifying prospect. This book also confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time–that we often associate increasing age with loneliness, misery and a sedentary lifestyle because those are the most available and memorable role models (thanks, negativity bias). All the healthy, adventurous, active, passionate old people are too busy out doing things to stop and convince us that a post-prime life can be amazing.

On a sad side note, I learned that the younger co-author, Dr. Lodge, died at the age of only 58 from prostate cancer. I’m tempted to conclude that one shouldn’t sacrifice happiness for health, since the latter is never guaranteed.

Why I read it: my dad gave me a copy because he enjoyed it.

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love, Ed.D., and Steven Stosny, Ph.D., 2/5

Perhaps I’m just cynical, but I feel this book’s title may as well be How to Improve Your Marriage by Reading About It. Yes, the book presents some interesting psychological concepts, focusing mainly on how men’s vulnerability to feelings of shame and women’s vulnerability to fear can result in a sense of disconnection not reparable by verbal communication. Unfortunately, you have to take the authors’ word for even the most outlandish-sounding statements, since they provide no footnotes or references. This lack of academic documentation seriously undermines the book’s credibility, in my opinion, and gives a strangely pop-psych flavor to an unpopular message of resolute self-improvement and one-sided commitment to acts of connection. While I respect and agree with the authors’ encouragement to generally be an emotionally intelligent human being and not a shitty, selfish one, their “practical” advice seems laughably out of touch with reality. I honestly can’t see the “Power Love Formula” saving any relationships, but I guess what do I know since I’m lucky enough to be almost four years into a relationship with an amazing, sensitive man who is secure and loving enough to demand we talk things out even when I’d rather sulk in silence. In terms of practical relationship advice that resonates with what I’ve observed and experienced, I find The Five Love Languages to be much more relevant and helpful.

Why I read it: it resonated with my dad but not my mom, so I was curious.

Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic

Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 4/5

Written by a bona fide Arctic explorer, this book reflects a bygone era of exploration, when sane men packed up and left on insane adventures into unexplored territory from which they well knew they might never return. Indeed, every one of the five stories in this book involves death or disappearance, often punctuated by the horrors of starvation, betrayal, cannibalism and pure ineptitude. The author is not shy in drawing his own conclusions for each scenario and though his writing style is not the most entertaining, his first-hand experience and rational approach to the information available at the time make for a fascinating read.

I learned a lot from this book, such as that the Arctic, which I once imagined to be an abandoned ice desert, is (or at least, was) actually livable land, teeming with life. Unintuitively, the Inuit would move north during winter due to the abundance of game in the frozen landscape, killing everything from seals to polar bears without the aid of guns (often in territory in which well-armed Europeans managed to starve to death). I also learned a lot about scurvy, its causes and surprising psychological effects. According to Stefansson, scurvy plagued those explorers who tried to maintain a European diet, even when supplemented by fruits and vegetables. It was the author’s strong opinion that a diet consisting solely of native, fatty meat was the best way to stay healthy in the Arctic. It’s strange to think that the ketogenic diet is still controversial after over 80 years of arguments and studies.

Why I read it: an impulse buy in a used book store; for $3, who could resist?