Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Reviews

I thought it would be fun to review a few of the books I've read lately.

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly. I just finished this one today. It was a quick read (I bought it Saturday, and it kept me busy for one train ride and part of one flight, plus some in-between time). It's a fictional, coming-of-age story with a tragic, historical event woven in. Mattie, the heroine, is ambitious and smart but confined by a promise she made her dying mother to help raise her sisters and take care of the farm.

Before I read the book, I read the following from a review by The Christian Science Monitor: "...Honest and unflinching in its portrayal of loss, poverty, racism, and pregnancy..." The book has won several awards as "young adult literature," so I cringed a little when I read that review, imagining that the book would feel pedagogical or jerky in its attempt to cover so many buzz-word topics. I mean, loss, poverty, racism, and pregnancy? I almost laughed when I read that, and then I wondered if I'd feel like a teenager sitting through health class as I read the book. And I can honestly say it didn't come across that way. Some of the efforts to be educational are pretty transparent--Mattie chooses a word-of-the-day and often defines it in the context of what is happening in the story, for example--but I was able to embrace that aspect of the book (yay for learning new words!).

The storyline is pretty good, with several interesting tangents to the murder mystery (which isn't much of a mystery, by the way). Mattie is faced with plenty of tough choices that require her to choose whether she will be true to herself. It sounds like a pretty predictable premise, but I really wasn't sure what she'd choose until the end.

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Okay, if you haven't read Outliers, just go read it already. I've been hearing about this book for awhile now, and it's no wonder--this book is great. I have been filled forever with anecdotes and statistics. Ones I actually care about because they're fascinating. Did you know that way more professional hockey players in Canada are born in January than in any other month? Did you know that on average, it takes seven consecutive mistakes for a plane to crash--and the mistakes are usually communication errors, not the highly technical kind. Have you ever wondered why Asians seem to be smarter and better at school than Americans? Or why Southerners tend to be more territorial? You can find the answers to all this and more...

I loved this book. Okay, next.

Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, by Lori Gottlieb. The title gets people riled up, I have found. The word "settle" is pretty controversial, turns out. No one likes it. It's unromantic. It doesn't jive with all the get-your-man, happy-ending movies and books and music we've pumped into our systems. But as one of my guy friends pointed out, "Isn't settling what we all do when we get married?" He's right.

I heard Lori Gottlieb interviewed on the radio show This American Life, and she told a funny story about desperately wanting to meet a particular columnist because she was sure he was "the One." She actually lied to him--sent him a note asking if he remembered meeting her in the airport several years earlier--and he lied, or reconstructed a false memory, or something, and said he did remember and would like to meet up. Anyway, she ends up meeting him and is ultimately unimpressed. I liked listening to her and figured if reading her book was like listening to her talk, it would be entertaining.

Mostly the book was a collection of informal interviews she conducted with therapists, social scientists, writers, match-makers, single and married friends about current trends in dating and marriage, as well as her own stories and insights regarding the search for love and matrimony. Despite the hated term "to settle," I think she makes her point well--women, in particular, are becoming increasingly picky and often delay marriage in favor of holding out for Mr. Perfect. She poignantly but humorously tells her own story of passed-up opportunities and regret, and her shifting mindset as the years pass and she longs for the stability of marriage (she's like 41, I think, in the book).

It was a good read. Although, if you're interested, you could also just read the article she published in the Atlantic. It's everything she said in the book, only without repeating herself 10 million times. Sometimes feeling like the book was too repetitive was my only gripe. An interesting theme, though.

Next up on my to-read list: Freakonomics; Stick Figure: A diary of my former self (by Lori Gottlieb again); Brown Face, Big Master; the other Malcolm Gladwell books (Tipping Point and Blink), and I think I want to re-check out These is My Words from the library so I can finish it. Any other suggestions? Tell me what to read!


  1. Cammie you are amazing and we wish you could come visit us. Kyle

  2. Me too! Dang it. If I were a rich man...


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