75 Books in 2015: January, Part I

It is book week! Here is what I read (or listened to) in January. I’ll go ahead and point out that I read a lot last month (as you’ll see in the coming days). I kind of had a reading perfect-storm of free holiday time, a self-imposed non-project work break, and time-consuming digital projects at work ideal for audiobooks. January will probably be my most-read month this year. I already reviewed 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (2011) for you, so I’m skipping that one.

2D274905957270-YesPlease.blocks_desktop_mediumYes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)

As expected, I enjoyed this book. Amy Poehler’s humor + memoir = win.

This book is a throw-it-all-in-the-pot type of memoir that may not be appealing to everyone. What do I mean by that? Poehler wrote chapters one different times in her life, but they don’t necessarily fit together in a timeline. A couple of the chapters are more like bulleted paragraphs without the bullets. Not for everyone, probably.

I’ll share my favorite excerpt: “I know how good I am at bemoaning my process and pretending I don’t care so that my final product will seem totally natural and part of my essence and not something I sweated for months and years.” Oh Amy Poehler, how you get me. It is good to point our your own nonsense sometimes.

41i4w1vTVhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom (2013)

This has been on my TBR list for a while, but I never quite got around to it. Instead, I decided to listen to the audiobook while working. When it is slow and quiet, I’m happy to have a job where I can listen while I work. Like whistling, but better. (Snow White, get it?)

I zoned out a bit during this book, but the subject member was still quite interesting. Bloom discusses our morality and argues that we are actually born with limited morality. I found his discussion of specific behavioral tests with babies and toddler to be especially compelling.

I’ll share this one quote from Amazon’s conservation with Bloom. He is responding to the questions of whether babies are good or evil. “Both! We are born with empathy and compassion, the capacity to judge the actions of others, and a rudimentary understanding of justice and fairness. Morality is bred in the bone. But there is a nastier side to our natures as well. There’s a lot of evidence that even the youngest babies carve the world into Us versus Them—and they are strongly biased to favor the Us. We are very tribal beings. Our natures are not just kind; they are also cruel and selfish. We favor those who look like us and are naturally cold-blooded towards strangers.”

The audiobook itself was a bit unnerving though – the narrator sounded a lot of Patton Oswalt and I kept waiting for the evil baby punchlines.

Overall? Recommended.

5178-V9ohbL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (2008)

This is the first book in a trilogy. It wasn’t on my TBR list, but it caught my attention on a list of “books to read before the movie comes out.” Needing a book to read on my Kindle when I’d be waiting in the dark outside of my daughter’s dance lesson, I checked this one out from the library. I’m going to congratulate myself on two fiction books read this year already.

From Amazon.com: In a country ruled by fear, no one is innocent. Stalin’s Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law. But when a murderer starts to kill at will and Leo dares to investigate, the State’s obedient servant finds himself demoted and exiled. Now, with only his wife at his side, Leo must fight to uncover shocking truths about a killer-and a country where “crime” doesn’t exist.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a well-written read with a good balance between action and explanation to keep the story moving. I don’t know if I’ll continue with the trilogy – mystery/thrillers aren’t usually my cup of tea and I’m likely to lose interest – but it will be on my “maybe TBR” list for later in the year.

51zS9xHmECL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)

From Amazon.com: “Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. . . . Kolbert introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.”

This book was pretty dense and I found myself fighting the urge to skim several times, but the subject matter was fascinating. Kolbert did a good job of making science accessible and avoided the tendency of similar books to become too repetitive or dry.

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