Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If you like...

You've read everything Jodi Picoult has written. Now what?

Welcome to the world of "If you like" lists. I first discovered such lists on the Seattle Public Library website. Now, sadly, most of their resources are reserved for card holders. But a multitude of libraries have jumped on the book wagon and have lists accessible to anyone who can google.

Here are a few I found:

Clifton Park Library
Multnomah County Library
Oxford County Library
Wake County Public Libraries

By the way, if you do like Jodi Picoult, then you'll probably like Michelle Richmond's The Year of Fog and No One You Know.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Skimming the Stacks

So it seems I’ve fallen out of favor with the librarians. Somebody shelved the books I had on reserve leaving me no recourse but to quickly browse the shelves for something (anything) to read.

That’s how I found these three. As usual I have a knack for picking out the funny, the lyrical, and the heartbreaking.

We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson

Julia & Ray & Jim & Patricia. Julia is married to Jim, sleeps with Ray, and is jealous of Jim’s infatuation with Patricia. One pregnancy at 39 later, Julia‘s frank, funny observations of her mid-life predicament make you wish you said it first.

The Sky Below by Stacey D'Erasmo

A portrait of an artist as a young man pining for the time when his mother read him Ovid morphs into a day job at 39 writing obituaries of former Rockettes. At night, he spies on the owners of his dream house, ghost-writes a best selling pulp series, and creates assemblage boxes of found objects. After being diagnosed with cancer, he travels to Mexico and falls into a camp of misfits led by an indigo child. Winged but somewhat unhinged, he begins another transformation. More Marquez than New Agez, D’Erasmo’s prose pulls it off.

The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

Zephyr marries Zipper. Zephyr greets the neighbors on Sundays. Zipper writes for a fashion magazine. Zephyr finds out he has 30 days to live. Zipper accompanies him on an alphabetical last-days tour…Amsterdam, Berlin, Chartres. Poignant characters carry this slim novella though the conceit loses steam around LMNOP.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"No Deal?"

If I ever get Parkinson’s, don’t take me anywhere near this place. The dopamine stimulants used to treat the disease have been linked to an increased risk of gambling and other reward-based compulsive behaviors - behaviors that many might view as plain old poor decisions.

Poor decisions, and good decisions, are the subject of Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide.
Opening with quarterbacks, Lehrer then follows a poker player, credit counselor, and soap opera director (among others) to illustrate the brain functions that guide our decisions. He delineates the different types of decisions we face from simple to complex and explains whether we should draw from the rational or emotional in making up our minds.

If a decision can be summarized in numerical terms, such as price, he suggests utilizing the prefrontal cortex. Therefore making the best decision on which cereal to spoon up or which suitcase to open on Deal or No Deal requires a little thought.

Likewise, he also suggests using reason to work out new problems. While we can rely on past mistakes and our gut when encountering most problems, novel crises require an application of logic. He cites two cases involving a firefighter and pilot who both took the time to think through their life-threatening dilemmas and saved some lives in the process.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, with more complex decisions such as buying a new house or car, Lehrer cautions us not to over think. He says you may just rationalize yourself into a third bathroom by telling yourself that hour long commute isn’t that bad. It is.

To sum up, Lehrer advises us overall to think about thinking. Be aware of the kind of decision you are faced with. Then approach it rationally or emotionally. We can learn from our mistakes and listen to the emotional brain that has formed around those mistakes. Unless, of course, you are playing the slot machines.

To read more of Lehrer, read his Frontal Cortex blog or find him at Scientific American.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Klingon Poets

This summer leaves me little time to read with a growing list of books I’d love to read. Here is my short list. Small wonder they were all either written by speakers of other languages or by speakers attempting to learn other languages. Click on the highlighted words to read more about each book and/or author.

Dreaming in Hindi:Coming Awake in Another Language by Katherine Russell Rich

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hear an interview with Adichie here.

An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah
Hear an interview with Gappah here.

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language by Arika Okrent

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

To Peruse at Your Leisure

“You are not married. Perhaps you are looking for a husband. This is for you to peruse at your leisure.”

So proposes a man named Suketu as he hands his CV to an American microbiologist traveling in India in the opening story of John Murray’s A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies. Like the microbiologist, we’re both delighted and a little overwhelmed as we encounter the eccentric characters and often tragic details throughout the collection of stories.

Many of the stories explore the relationships between estranged family members. Many of the stories feature doctors. Most mention Darwin. We read about surgeons assisting refugees near the Congo border, Indian immigrants making a go of it in Vietnam-era Iowa, and mad explorers searching for Queen Alexandria’s birdwing butterfly.

Murray’s prose, like his characters’ penchant for order and adventure, is straightforward yet touching. Unfortunately, this is a debut, so other works are not available as of yet. In the meantime, I may just have to seek out a copy of The Vogage of the Beagle.