Category Archives: Books

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

I rated this one 5 stars so you will probably see it pop up again in my end-of-the-year 5 star reviews. 

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In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt draws on his understanding of philosophy and psychology to define happiness and how to achieve it. He quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, and the Bible. He mentions Maslow, Adler, Kant, and Socrates. The book covers a wide range of philosophies, religions, and worldviews. It is no lighthearted self-help book designed to help you achieve maximization in five easy steps. And for that I truly liked it. 

Mr. Haidt and I approach the world from two very distinctive worldviews but I think that only added to my enjoyment of the book. It made me think more deeply. I am familiar with all the studies and philosophers quoted – as I think anyone with a recent liberal arts degree should be – but I’d never thought to combine them the way he does. It was quite interesting. There is a lot of intellectual thought here made understandable but not overly simplified. 

Mr. Haidt is an atheist but he does his best to fairly present religion and spiritual experiences and their importance for happiness. (Of course, he considers it mostly biology and sensory experiences but he is up front with his biases.) He also holds an appreciation for wonder and awe that I appreciated. I’d love to see how he squares his atheism with the writings of C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton…

Overall, quite an enjoyable and worthy read. While it didn’t “teach” me anything new, it had me thinking about old things in new ways. In that sense, the subtitle “Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” is pretty spot on. 

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Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

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4 words: Jane Eyre in space.

Does that sound awesome to you? Then you’ll probably like this book. 

Does that sound horrid? You’ll probably hate it. 

On the fence? Well, do you like YA? If yes, read this book. If no, avoid. 

 

I found it pleasant and pretty clever but nothing above 3 stars. 


Pride by Ibi Zoboi

I’m a sucker for all things Pride and Prejudice and thankfully have good friends who know this and lend me their copies of the latest P&P retellings before they’ve even read it…

And you know, this was a pretty excellent retelling. But not my new favorite.  

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Pride by Ibi Zoboi takes Pride and Prejudice, modernizes it, and re-imagines it in a hood in Brooklyn. 17-year-old Zuri Benitez is proud of her Afro-Latino heritage, her large family, and her corner of the world. But the world around her is changing. When the house across the street gets bulldozed and rebuilt into a McMansion by the wealthy Darcy family, Zuri views the snobbish Darius Darcy as everything wrong with the change. But as she begins applying for college and experiencing the world outside of her hood, Zuri’s opinions shift as she grapples with what really makes a place home.

The author does a good job translating the socioeconomic realities of Pride and Prejudice into a modern setting with Pride. The 5 Benitez sisters, the landlady’s nephew Colin who will inherit the place, the street savvy Warren with his smooth talking ways, all convert easily to this new world. 

Pride also holds its own with interspersed spoken word poetry and a deeply poetic (okay, often over-the-top) writing style. 

However…Zuri Benitez is a really annoying character. She has a chip on her shoulder and it is firmly embedded in her personality. While the plot uses her naive confidence to create some depth and character change, it prevented me from liking her as a character. And 300 pages adds up when you cannot stand the main character. Zuri’s world may expand throughout the story but she never loses her pride, and unfortunately pride is a stand-in here for judgmentalism and general rudeness. 

But as much as Zuri doesn’t change, we get even less form the purported Mr. Darcy of the piece, Darius Darcy. In fact, the reader gets basically nothing from Darius. I guess that is the reason the author drops “Prejudice” from the title. He is a part – but only one part – of Zuri’s discovery of the world outside her hood. But he doesn’t change. We get glimpses of deeper personality, like the reason his family moved in the first place, but then Zuri intrudes again. This is her story and her life. Which in some regard, I applaud. But this is also a Pride and Prejudice retelling, excuse me, “remix.” You don’t just drop the character who arguably goes through the most change. 

This book reaches for something great and brushes it. I really liked where the author was going. Unfortunately, I don’t think she makes it. The characters need to finish their character change. Otherwise, you’re leaving the reader with a character only slightly less judgmental and unlikable than when we met her. Which, of course, might be all part of some greater, meta-theme I’m totally missing. I’ll keep an open mind. I just feel like this could have been the next Pride and Prejudice and because it dared so greatly, it also feels extra painful that it misses so greatly. 


Bookworm Problems 2.0

Yesterday, I got lunch with some students from Thailand to talk about studying abroad.

“Some of the buses only have wooden floors,” they warned me. 

“Not a problem,” I assured them airily. After all, I’ve traveled by stagecoach, hovercraft, and dragon. What is a bus with a wooden floor? 

Except, no, obviously, I haven’t traveled any of those ways. I’ve just read about them. And now that I think about it, I’ve never gotten on anything as adventurous as a wooden-floored bus. But I sure feel like I have. And because I feel like I have, I either possess foolish courage or remarkable equanimity. 

Because really, what is a bus with a wooden floor when compared to riding a dragon? Or crash and burning your spaceship on a foreign planet? Or walking across a continent? 

Being a bookworm sure messes with your sense of reality. 


Addicting Books

“Review up! I finished a book…finally!” I tell my friend.

“She’s back!” says my friend enthusiastically. 

“No,” I say. “I don’t have time for reading. Just the one book.” 

But – as usual – my friend was right. I ended up reading 3 books total within 24 hours. 

Books are just so addicting, you know? Read one, you need another! 


Buy ALL THE BOOKS (just kidding, Mom. I didn’t buy any books. Today.)

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Bookworm Problems

Last night I resisted the voice in my head that said I should do homework and curled up with a book instead. Unfortunately, it was very lousy read. I felt super cranky that my evening off was devoted to something so unworthy. A 1 star read. So, I finished another book. A better book. A 5 star book. And I couldn’t sleep. 

I tried for a little bit before restlessly picking up a third book. An average book. I haven’t finished, but I suspect a 2 star read. 

All of this meant that when I finally did fall asleep, it was much later than I planned. And when I woke up, it was much later than I expected. So much for early to bed and early to rise. It all would have worked out so well if that first book hadn’t been so bad!