Tuesday, October 23, 2007

74. Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters

74. Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire, by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa

I had never really heard of evolutionary psychology before I picked up this book this weekend, but I think I will be reading more about this soon. This was really fascinating. They did a couple of things I really liked, one about how they treated the material, and one involving the end notes. First, they made a point of saying that just because something is shown scientifically to be the way things are, it doesn't mean they are good or that we shouldn't try to change things. But, if we want to change things, first we need to understand what is going on, even if we don't like it; we can only make effective changes if we are looking at reality rather than what we would like it to be.

Second, on the endnotes, they used a regular superscript for notes that were just citations of studies, and bracketted superscript for notes that contained additional information. I have never seen a book that did that, but it was wonderful. I hate paging back and forth just to read something like Miller, Brown and Doe, 1987. It was nice to know when it was really worth it to go to the back of the book.

More about the actual topic--fascinating. Not shockingly, it turns out that the motivation for almost everything we do is sex and reproduction. It is interesting to see how different behaviors make their way back to sex and reproduction, though. The sections on risk evaluation were interesting, too. I am very motivated to find more in depth books on this topic.

73. Count Zero by William Gibson

I started to read Spook Country, Gibson's latest, and about 60 pages in, I realized that I just didn't care about any of the characters. So, I wondered, am I just not in a Gibson mood, or do I really not like this book? I had Count Zero sitting on my shelf, so I decided to give it a try. 28 pages in, with only brief character sketches of at least 3 major characters under my belt, I did care about them, so I am thinking I wasted my money buying the hardcover Spook Country.

CZ was an interesting blend of the corporation-is-all, cyberspace technological society with religiosity, in the form of voodoo. It is frighteningly easy to imagine a world where corporations practically own the people who work for them, and governments can't do much about it. The huge class differences in this book, where the rich, talented company employees seem to live in an entirely different world than the poorer people also seems like not too much of a stretch. The characters in this book seem like real people, with interesting motivations, strengths and flaws. This was a very good book.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

62 - 72 and Vacation

62. The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James

I really like James' Cordelia Gray books. Gray is a private investigator, as opposed to James' other series protaganist, CID Commandar Adam Dagleish. It is nice to see a less black and white character (and it was only when typing this that I realized the significance of her name), and more nuance to the criminals as well. Not that the Dagleish books are lacking in nuance, this is just a different perspective, and a very interesting one.

63. Herland and Selected Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Herland was part of my effort to read more science fiction classics. Gilman has a rather bracing tone in her fiction, as a rule, and that was quite evident in the short novel. I have read other treatments of an all-female society, and I have to say that I thought this one was a bit too optimistic. I do think that overall, a society run by women would probably be more humane than one run by men, but I have a hard time believing it would be quite as smooth as Gilman postulates. Still, centuries of selective breeding, with an emphasis on social skills and getting along, might do the trick. The stories were interesting, and I can see why she was thought to be so ahead of her time. It was refreshing to read some feminist stories that were positive and turned out well, and nice to see that Gilman doesn't assume that all men are evil.

64. The Maquisarde by Louise Marley

I read this one based on a recommendation from Storeetllr, and it was well worth it. It was a story that lends itself to black and white, with an evil organization repressing people and an innocent victim, but the book was much more nuanced than that. I loved the strong female characters, but also that there were strong male characters, too. I will have to read more Marley.

65. Dune by Frank Herbert

Fantastic! I can't believe I haven't read this in about 20 years. I love this book.

66. The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

This was a really good book about how friendships shape our identity. Also about how you can be so close to someone and still separate. And how scary loving someone is. And so on. It was a quick read, but fairly deep. I definitely recommend this one.

67. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Disturbing. Sad. Thought-provoking. I need to think more about this one.

68. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I have been reading this out loud to my daughter for a while now. Last night when I read the last chapter, she kept wiping her eyes, saying that she was yawning (which was making her eyes water). I remembered that I had read this when I was young and liked it, but I didn't remember the book at all, so I really enjoyed this. I read about a chapter a night, and after I read the second to the last chapter to S, I read ahead and did the last chapter while she went off to bed.

69. The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois

Wonderful as usual. Dozois is a very good editor, and he puts together a consistently high quality collection every year.

70. To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman

Structurally, this was very similar to What the Dead Know. There was a traumatic event, a witness who was not telling all she knew (although she clearly would at some point) and a lot of flashbacks. But again, the payoff was satisfying, and I really enjoyed the book. If all of her books follow this formula, I am not sure I want to read them, even though they are well-told, but this one was definitely enjoyable.

71. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

This was an interesting book on the benefits of the vegan diet. On the one hand, I liked the way they tried to take some of the mainstream stigma away from a vegan diet with their tough-love tone and complete lack of "crunchiness." I don't have a problem with alternative lifestyle stuff, but it was nice to read a book with straightforward, practical reasons for veganism, not the kind of touchy-feely stuff that turns off a lot of people, or strident, disapproving activism. Not that they were shy about talking about the abuse of animals that occurs on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, but they did it in a more informational tone than a condemning one. On the other hand, their use of profanity was gratuitous and over the top. Overall, though, I enjoyed this short book, which had a nice balance of information on why people should change and practical tips to make the change.

72. The Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson

I didn't bring enough books on my long weekend camping trip, so I ended up borrowing this from my friend. It's the only reason I would read a James Patterson book. I can't stand the way he is so cutesy about everything. I hate the "sensitive man" character that he reveres and populates all of his novels with. I read one of his romances years ago (Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, I believe), and it was horrible. I can just barely stand his Alex Cross books because at least they have a gruesome crime to counteract the sickening sweetness. And, the crime puzzles are a bit intriguing. But still, the faults! Some that drive me particularly crazy:

The 2-3 page chapters. All of them are short. This could create drama, used sparingly. Used for every chapter, it just makes the book seem extremely disjointed.

The constant use of italics and exclamation points. Like the short chapters, these things lose their effect when every page makes use of them. They aren't really emphasizing anything if they are used constantly.


The endless "climaxes." Okay, we've solved the crime! No wait, it's not the right guy! But there he is! No, still the wrong guy! Hey, here's another really bad guy! Can you believe this guy that seemed like a good guy way back in Chapter 15 (approximately page 42), that we haven't heard from again, actually turns out to be a bad guy?!?!?! And, he's REALLY BAD! Oh, we think we found the bad guy over here! Nope, wrong again!

I could go on, but really, I have used enough energy on this guy. I really don't understand why he has such a successful career.


Can you believe that I didn’t bring enough books with me on a vacation? Last year I took six books with me on a weeklong camping trip, even though one of them was Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell, at 782 pages (and I read three of them). For this three-day trip, I only brought two books, and I found myself finished on Saturday afternoon. Next time I definitely need to bring more than I think I will be able to read, just to be safe.