9. Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
This review is only based on about 3/4 of this book, which is the point where I finally admitted to myself that I hated this book and quit it. It’s a book of essays and have enjoyed this author’s writing elsewhere and his podcast appearances on podcasts I listen to, so I kept hoping that the essays would get better and I would find something to enjoy. I never did. Many of the essays focus on the author’s decision to transition from female to male. A lot of them seem to be somewhat stream of consciousness and they became very repetitive. I get that this was a long process for the author and I don’t mean to diminish it, but I also didn’t need to relive every moment of it along with the author. The essays were also rather esoteric and I found very little to latch onto. I imagine that this book could be a great read for other trans people who are wrestling with their identity, but as this is not my experience I grew bored with the repetitiveness of these essays, and don’t find the Goodreads description of this book to match what I read at all. I give it a 1 out of 10.
8. Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
Kristof and WuDunn use Kristof’s rural hometown of Yamhill, Oregon where 1/4 of the kids who rode his school bus have died of drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents as a springboard to talk about the issues plaguing working class Americans and government policies that have failed them. They also look at other places around the country to examine the issues as well as look at some efforts that seem to be working in combatting some of the things plaguing working class Americans. They talk about failings in the ways that both the left and right address the issues and offer some small recommendations for moving the country forward in solving these problems. It’s a lot less formal than social science research books tend to be particularly because one of the researchers has such a close relationship to the people they’re interviewing. I think it still has lots of good food for thought though. I give it a 7 out of 10.
7. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
The only other book I’ve read by Emily St. John Mandel is Station Eleven, which is post-apocalyptic so without having looked into what this book was about before I started reading it I was expecting it to be somewhat sci fi. It in fact is not at all. I’m not really sure how to describe what the book is about because it both does and does not have a straightforward plot. At its basest level it’s the interconnecting story of various characters who are all connected in some way to a man running a Ponzi scheme, but it’s also really so much more than that. For the first several chapters you would have no expectation that the book would be about that at all. I really liked the book a lot and the way it meandered along with characters weaving you in and out of the story in different ways and in ways you wouldn’t always expect. I give it a 9 out of 10.
6. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
In Talking to Strangers Gladwell does what Gladwell does. He takes psychological studies, history, anthropology, and current events and stirs them up to create an overall thesis on a topic. In this case he looks at the issues we have in interpreting the actions and emotions of others especially when they are strangers ultimately because we have a hard time telling if they are being truthful. The book is certainly an engaging read with enough logic behind it that if you’re not really thinking about it you can easily buy what he’s selling. As with most of his writings if you think about it too hard it doesn’t quite hang together as much as he tries to make you believe. I still did enjoy reading it and it gave me some food for thought even if I think he makes a lot of inferences he can’t fully support. If you enjoy Gladwell’s other books you’re sure to enjoy this one too. If you don’t care for Gladwell in general this book isn’t going to change your mind. I give it a 7 out of 10.
5. Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Diaz
Ordinary Girls is Jaquira Diaz’s memoir about growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach to a mother battling schizophrenia. She experiences a lot of trauma during her childhood including multiple sexual assaults leaving her with her own battles with mental illness and propensity for violence that lands her jail more than once. I don’t feel like I personally gained much from reading this memoir. I didn’t feel like it offered me anything new that I hadn’t already read or seen before, but I can see it being a good read for people who have experienced similar circumstances. I give it a 5 out of 10.
4. Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
This is a cute little rom-com about Evie who is an assistant at a screenwriting agency with screenwriting ambitions of her own. In order to get their biggest client to complete the rom-com script he owes a studio she bets him that she can get someone to fall in love with her through one of the meet cute tropes that show up in rom-coms. The book definitely follows the conventions of movie rom-coms. I found it a very enjoyable little read. I give it a 7 out of 10.
3. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
This novel is based on the real life diving women from the island of Jeju in Korea who collectively free dive into the ocean collecting fish and seaweed to eat and sell. The story focuses on two friends from their teenage years in the 1930s when they carry on their family tradition to become divers through the present day. The story moves back and forth in time eventually revealing what happened to rupture their friendship.
I learned a lot of things about Korean history that I had no idea about partly because one of the major events of the book in which tens of thousands of Koreans were killed was covered up by the government for decades. I wasn’t as into the actual characters of the book and their stories though. I don’t know why I never really connected with the characters. I have liked other of Lisa See’s books much more than I liked this one. I give it a 6 out of 10.
Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban
Eban conducted years of investigative journalism work to write this story about the problems with the generic drug industry. She focuses specifically on the Indian company Ranbaxy and the whistleblower who risked his life to expose the rampant fraud, falsified or non-existent data and criminal behavior conducted by the company in the manufacture of their drugs. However, she makes clear that this is not an issue with this single company, but a wholesale issue with the generic drug industry especially in India and China. She exposes how the FDA who is responsible for regulating the drugs coming into the US is in some ways impotent and in others complicit in allowing these fraudulent practices to continue allowing millions of adulterated and/or ineffective drugs to flood markets around the world every day.
This book was eye-opening and maddening. I don’t know why I allow myself to continue to be surprised at the depths of horribleness of people who are only interested in profit, power, and protecting themselves even when it means putting the lives of millions of people at risk every day. The fact that even with the knowledge that we have that these companies are allowed to continue to operate and there has been little to force them to change. You have no idea what is in your medicine cabinet. Reading this book has definitely made me worry about the generic drugs I take every month. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s important information to know, but also a really engaging book. I finished the 400 page book in two days because I could not put it down. I give it a 10 out of 10.
- Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
This is the second book in the Simon Snow series. I really like Rowell’s other books, but the Simon Snow series isn’t doing a whole lot for me. The first book felt like a Harry Potter rip-off. This book at least feels like something completely new with the characters on a road trip across America and developing a bunch of whole new set of magical rules based on what the characters learn during their travels. I just wasn’t that interested in what was happening though and all the relationship drama was annoying in that if the characters ever just had a conversation everything would be fine. The book also ends on a cliffhanger setting it up for the next book so it didn’t even have a satisfying ending. I don’t think I’ll bother with the next book in the series and will stick to Rowell’s other books. I give it a 5 out of 10.