Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: When Everything Changed by Gail Collins

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the PresentWhen Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author has done a tremendous amount of research in this non-fiction account of the history of American women from 1960 to the present. I really enjoyed reading in detail about events in the 60s and 70s that I only knew vaguely. Collins definitely filled in the gaps for me and really illustrated how different life is now for me as an American housewife and was as a teenager growing up in high school and college. So different in fact that I realize how much I have taken for granted. Not being able to apply for a credit card as a woman? Not being able to purchase a house as a single woman? Wearing pants is outrageous? These things are crazy, unthinkable to me in how I look at and live in the world today. I also liked reading about the 80s and 90s especially where I could relate a bit more and remember some of the things that happened.

Now on to my not so favorite things about the book. I felt a little bit like I was on a merry go round that never stopped during many parts in the book. Such a great amount of research I liked, but sometimes felt she was beating a dead horse. Also, most of the accounts of the women were about the negative experiences they had, but there had to be some ladies that were thrilled to be cloistered at home with children and chores and some whose ambition was to be a wife and mother and had no desire to work or be looked at as anything more. So at times, the book became a bit tedious for me.

That said, I did still enjoy this read and would recommend it to anyone interested in the revolution of women since the 60s.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingMoonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moonwalking With Einstein chronicles the journey of Joshua Foer as he goes from observer on assignment to participant in the U.S. Memory Championships. It takes him one year to prepare for the big event and he has much help along the way from memory experts who claim that anyone can master these feats (memorizing several decks of cards, strings of numbers, names and faces, etc) using ancient memory techniques.

I have to admit I was drawn to this book because I feel like I often forget EVERYTHING! I didn't feel like such a dunce after I discovered a chart in the beginning of the book that says the average person forgets information quite quickly, about 50% after an hour and so on until a month later only a fraction of the information seems to be easily accessible. Our current reliance on a multitude of "external memory" devices, i.e. books, pencils and paper, and phones that remember telephone numbers, is the main problem. We just don't have to remember much in our heads anymore.

Foer has done a tremendous amount of research in this book covering some very eccentric characters including Kim Peek, the original Rainman, Daniel Temmet, a probable savant who can do some crazy memory stuff and Ben Pridmore who can memorize 1,528 in order in an hour and the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards in 33 seconds. During his year of training, Foer utilizes such techniques as the "memory palace" - basically a place you can walk through in your mind, placing the things you want to remember in different areas. The key is to imagineitems that you want to remember in unforgettable detail using all the senses you can. I did this on a very simple level and it works!

However, even after rigorously training for the memory championships, Foer says he still has trouble remembering everyday things and questions the usefulness of knowing how to memorize strings of numbers. But I do like the way he describes what he DID learn from this experiment,

How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember . . . no lasting joke, invention, insight or work of art was ever produced by an external memory . . . as the role of memory in our culture erodes faster than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories are the seat of our values and the source of our character.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where She Went (If I Stay, #2)Where She Went by Gayle Forman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to If I stay, this time told from Adam's point of view. Three years ago, Mia came out of her coma, chose to stay and then went to Juilliard and out of Adam's life. Adam is now a bona-fide rock star with the life that goes with it but is still torn apart and confused at Mia's abrupt exit from his life. Mia is poised to become a classical cellist super star and they chance to run into each other in New York City for one night.

Where She Went is so gut-wrenching, I think I felt more emotion in this book than in the first one. Adam has what to some seem the perfect celebrity life, but inside he is still reeling. The author does an amazing job at describing this pain and anger and creating empathy for Adam. I could also see Mia's point of view and enjoyed finding out how the story unraveled.

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Review: Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer

Friday's ChildFriday's Child by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Naive Hero has worshipped Lord Sheringham her whole life and in a bizarre twist of fate, she gets the opportunity to marry him. Though amiable, theirs is a marriage of financial convenience only, both vowing to stay out of each other's way. Sherry is quite surprised at the "scrapes" Hero gets herself into and finds himself playing rescuer more than he expected. What follows is a delightful story of misunderstanding, folly and love.

Another favorite Georgette Heyer for me. I liked the characters in this book quite a bit. Hero is innocent and gullible to a fault and the situations she gets herself into are really funny. She is also sweet and kind to everyone she meets and has a fierce loyalty to Sherry. Sherry has been given things easily his whole life but it hasn't made him unkind. I love the dialogue between the two of them. I also enjoy the friendships that Hero forms with Sherry's best friends and their protection of her.

One more to chalk up to my Georgette Heyer list!

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping PointThe Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Malcolm Gladwell has a unique way of talking about subjects I have never in my life thought about. Gladwell defines The Tipping Point as, "a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action." He goes on to say that the world seems static and immoveable but with some penetrating observation, and "with the slightest push - in just the right place - it can be tipped." The Tipping Point is the "biography of an idea . . . the simplest way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves . . . Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do."

Gladwell takes a provacative subject, supports it with vast research and palpable examples and gives this big idea the delight of a storybook. Gladwell takes us from the subways of New York to Sesame Street to Baltimore's drug and STD problem to Micronesia's suicide epidemic and back again to Airwalk and the groundbreaking campaign of Lambesis. And this doesn't even cover it all!

I most enjoyed the discussion of the filthy graffiti covered subway cars in New York in the 1980s and the associated high crime rate. A new subway director took seemingly simple ideas like cleaning up the graffiti and arresting fare-beaters and turned them into the start of a lower crime rate.

I loved this book. Gladwell's very readable non-fiction is fun to read and helps me feel that I am still an intelligent college grad who can understand concepts that stretch beyond motherhood and laundry

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