What I’ve Been Reading

I have really been enjoying having free time to read lately. Here is some of what I’ve been reading and what I thought about it. I linked each to the book’s page on Goodreads, which is a website I really like for keeping my books organized.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this for many years and while I enjoyed how witty it was throughout I felt a bit let down by the latter quarter of the book or so. I relished all of the snark and sarcasm referencing the religious rules and symbols surrounding the impending apocalypse and appreciated the complexity of the characters, but the ending just didn’t come together in a satisfying way for me. I’d recommend it for anyone who would enjoy seeing religion poked fun at, or a comedic circus of characters getting in the way of big events.

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

I enjoyed reading this a lot- it was targeted at women but I think that anyone could get something valuable out it. The authors are journalists and do a good job of both storytelling and examining evidence for all angles of possibilities. I liked how they weighed the research and considered the implications on confidence stemming from a genetic or environmental foundation. I also liked the general amount of science referenced in the book. At points I think they overstepped a bit and gave recommendations on how to change behavior and I wish they had just let the evidence speak for itself because that felt a little preachy. Either way, it was an enjoyable and informative read and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially someone interested in pop-sci or reading a very long and very well-researched “article” about confidence.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I was ready for this to be awesome- a retelling of The Odyssey from a female perspective by the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, which I enjoyed specifically for its female perspective during hardship. But I was pretty underwhelmed. I felt like she had a good idea but didn’t really translate it from an idea to a compelling story. The plot could barely keep my interest on its own, and felt even more distracting and disjointed with the Greek chorus of wronged women interjecting obscure ideas in between nearly every chapter. I like the idea of the chorus but I think in order to pull it off there has to first be a compelling story that the audience can take a step back from to engage with on a more meta level. It reminded me of an exploratory assignment in a classics course in college, which isn’t really something I’d like to read. I’d recommend to someone very new to this topic, or ready for more of a thesis than a story. Does anyone have recommendations for books where this is executed better? I’d be interested to explore further.

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

A short story collection that I approached cautiously. I keep coming back to Margaret Atwood because a couple of her books have really hit home for me in a powerful way, but I’ve also encountered quite a few “misses” from her work as well. I think this is somewhere in the middle. The stories themselves were compelling and great at presenting a bleak, dismal take on everyday boredom with some sort of sick, clever twist that reminded me of the horror movie where you suddenly notice that even though everything seems normal, the music has stopped and you know something is off even if you can’t quite put your finger on it. That being said, the characters are all pretty horrible people and the plots in each story are fairly depressing. Toward the end I stopped thinking that engaging with these well-done stories was worth walking around with the creeping sense that everyone and everything is terrible deep down inside.

War! What is it Good For? by Ian Morris

I enjoyed reading his previous Why the West Rules For Now, and enjoyed this one too. He was one of my favorite professors and I continue to read his works because I am constantly impressed at his ability to sum up sweeping social trends in a way that makes sense and keeps you interested. He is a true storyteller and in both of his books he has all of human history to spin into a 350 page yarn of a tale. I enjoyed the first five chapters as he wove together different threads of the world and particularly enjoyed his attention to civilizations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, as I think those are generally underrepresented in overview literature. Then I enjoyed watching his foray into human evolution, chimpanzees and the future of the human race (hint: the singularity), ridiculous as it was. I’d recommend this book to anyone. Read the first four or five chapters as gospel from a brilliant scholar who understands the way things worked, and the last couple cautiously and maybe with some suspended disbelief.