I am Malala was never on my radar. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had not heard of Malala until this book began making the waves in blogospI am Malala was never on my radar. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had not heard of Malala until this book began making the waves in blogosphere. (Yes, I seem to be living under a rock. In my defense, I stopped reading the news about four years ago. I didn't have a desire to ruin my days after reading some particularly upsetting news.) The other reason was that I keep my memoir reading to a minimum, and I am never a fan of autobiographies that extoll the writer's great virtues. Luckily, Malala is one of the most matter-of-fact narrators I've come across. The only exclamations in her book are when she talks about having fun with her friends just like any regular schoolgirl should. There is no hint of arrogance or "I did a great thing therefore people worship me" attitude in it, and these made this book a seller.
If you, like me, had no idea who Malala is, this young Pakistani girl got shot by the Taliban in her own hometown because she was speaking out for education for girls. Talk about stuff that can get you killed in some places! Malala was 14 when this happened and the last 15-20% of the book follows this incident and her recovery afterwards. But it is the first 80% of the book that won me over. I cannot reiterate enough how much I loved Malala. She was just like any other girl I knew growing up. She had fun with her friends, she had opinions, and more than anything, she just wanted to be a regular every-girl who attended school without issues. Instead, the Taliban had different plans for her.
Her hometown in Swat was not a heavy Taliban area initially. There were boys and girls schools, and even some coed schools. But a certain Maulana Fazlullah was just beginning to slowly influence people with his religious and often misogynistic opinions. Over time, he began to condemn people who still let girls into school, while also publicly appreciating those girls and women who dropped off school. Malala continued attending.
Besides, her father was also an anti-Taliban activist. All he had ever wanted in life was to run a school where kids like Malala could attend. He encouraged Malala to be strong, though when the death threats started pouring in for him and Malala, he began to worry that he will regret his decision later. But Malala was becoming more renowned on her own accord. She was meeting government officials, writing a blog, and airing her opinions without fearing for her life. Her father was her role model and she had never seen him cower or hide in fear. So why should she?
Malala also gives a good history of her country, Pakistan, and its apparent friendliness with Afghanistan. I'm sure many people know that people in Pakistan also suffer from backwardness, thanks to an inefficient and ever-changing government and its physical and spiritual proximity to Afghanistan. But the latter gets in the news more, simply because the problems there are bigger in comparison to those in Pakistan. Malala is ready to criticize her country when something wrong is being done and also expresses embarrassment when negative attention falls on Pakistan, but her thoughts are nowhere near the disgusting or impractical ones that usually occupy the airwaves most of the time.
I purchased this book on Audible when I had to choose a book to complete a sale. Funnily, this is the book I listened to first, of the lot. The narrator, Archie Panjabi, did a great job narrating this story and made for a great voice in my car during the couple of weeks it took me to finish listening to this book. I am glad this book turned out to be informative (there is so much about Pakistan that I learned here - all interesting stuff too) and personable (Malala is certainly a charming person), but most importantly, this is a record of a little girl's triumphing over the Taliban, and that, in my opinion, is a great read anytime. On the other hand, books like these make me sad though, because for every well-known girl like Malala getting shot and saved, there must be countless other girls dying without a grave or newsprint to honor them....more
I have a confession to make. I have a morbid curiosity for what goes on behind some of the most popular technological companies out there. I love to fI have a confession to make. I have a morbid curiosity for what goes on behind some of the most popular technological companies out there. I love to find out how some of their products came into being, who decided who would become the CEO, and how these companies or people got funding to build and sell their products. I don't care much for established products of yesteryears such as Microsoft, Yahoo, or Apple. But dish me some of the sordid stories from Google, Facebook, or Twitter and I'll probably be all ears. I guess some of that interest comes from being a programmer myself but it's fascinating to learn how an everyday programmer, the likes of whom I see everyday at work, would build something that the world would just adopt heavily.
Still, none of that eagerness nor watching (and being shocked by) The Social Network prepared me for just how sordid a background Twitter has. Seriously, I'm surprised that such a discordant company led by people who barely got along managed to produce a product that is used by every Tom and his neighbor.
Hatching Twitter starts at the very beginning - with Blogger's creation. Evan "Ev" Williams developed what would become Blogger and it wasn't soon before it was bought by Google. After a brief stint at Google, he left the company and started a podcasting company called Odeo along with his neighbor Noah Glass. Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone joined shortly, along with several others who would be part of this group for a long time to come. Although they were officially building a podcast product (though that term was not yet in the mainstream), unofficially an idea to share status messages with other people in an SMS-like manner was taking hold among them. Jack Dorsey came up with the idea first, and soon they put together a very early version of Twitter. Then they sat waiting for people to sign up.
Except, it didn't get anywhere.
It isn't until months later that Twitter began to make a tiny name for itself at a time when startups were all the craze.
I found Hatching Twitter immensely fascinating. These founders are clearly very intelligent, but most of them were also very introverted or socially awkward. Twitter was a big part of who they wanted to be. As Noah often said, Twitter was where he could make lots of friends and not feel too alone, as he often did in real life. These guys bonded with each other easily, but some of them were quick to back-stab someone if it meant getting a leg up in the small Twitter corporate ladder. Jack and Ev abhorred confrontation and many a problem at Twitter could be blamed at their hesitation to address issues constructively.
Over time, Twitter's leadership changed hands quickly and people were getting fired. Jack Dorsey was made CEO first since Twitter was his idea after all. Noah Glass was fired from the company even though he was a big part of the company. When Jack wasn't fixing problems but trying to make new plans for Twitter, the board fired him and made Ev the CEO. The board would later do the same thing to Ev and make Dick Costolo the CEO. There were times I wanted to gouge my ears out - this company was filled with people who didn't know how to solve problems! Unfortunately, that's the story of many corporate companies.
If only the story ended there.
Just as in fiction, Jack comes back to get his revenge on Ev for firing him. He seemed to be playing some mental chess where he moved his pieces (the people influencing Twitter) around and managed to get back on top. At least, this is what the author says and after doing a fair bit of research since, this does seem to be true. Amidst all this betrayal and poor sportsmanship at Twitter, Noah's is certainly the saddest tale of all. He had a very effusive personality and was often a difficult personality to handle, but I got the feeling that he was also the only genuine person working at Twitter. Being fired from the one company he poured his soul into hit him too hard, so much that he has mostly disappeared from social media.
There were some interesting mentions that most of us users were a part of. Remember the #failwhale that used to grace the page of Twitter every so often? The #failwhale is also a big part of the book. I was amazed to learn that Twitter's failwhale woes hung around for years. I joined Twitter in early 2010 and even then it was the one page I ran into more times than any other. The #failwhale is also one prime reason for both Jack and Ev to get fired. Another interesting detail was that the Twitter founders didn't care for the hashtag. They considered it too technical and didn't think users would ever understand how to use them. Programmers do need to get down from their high horse and give people more credit....more
Ever since Aarti and Personally, if I heard that something was bad for the baby, I didn't care too much to question it. Not because I was lazy or tooEver since Aarti and Personally, if I heard that something was bad for the baby, I didn't care too much to question it. Not because I was lazy or too frightened by everything that could go wrong, but rather the sacrifice was just for 9 months - that's doable. Plus, I barely cared much about almost everything that was considered a big no-no, the sole exception being tuna. Oh boy, what I wouldn't do for a tuna sandwich right now!
But Oster is obviously completely my opposite, but thanks to her, I learned a little more about how many of those no-nos were legit. Right from the day she started trying for a baby, Oster has been researching. She starts off with how to increase the chance of conception and different ways to track the ideal time for uhhh... sex. And then she moves on to the dos and don'ts while pregnant. Should you abstain from coffee completely? If a little coffee is okay, how much of it is okay? What about alcohol? Or wine? Oster goes through plenty of researches and studies done on women who had varying amounts of coffee (or alcohol or drugs) while pregnant and looked at their babies after birth and also the miscarriage rates. (If you're curious, 2-4 cups of coffee a day is okay, drinking a tiny glass of wine slowly is also fine, but smoking and drugs are absolute no-nos.)
Some good takeaways from this book:
1. Not all research is good research. But we already knew that, right? Oster shared some great strategies on how to identify good research from the bad ones. Good research had to be truly random - the candidates being studied need to span across age, habits (whether they smoked or drank), lifestyles (shouldn't limit to just upper class or lower class people), education level (you don't want to study just well-educated people), and so on. This way, you can get a true random pool where there is maybe only constant (say, they all drank coffee or they all smoked).
2. You can show the same information to two different people and they may choose to do two opposite things. Again, nothing new, but I liked how Oster was able to demonstrate this. Many times, she and her friends took entirely opposite decisions based on the same information.
3. Reading through research papers can be fun! I cannot begin to explain how much I dreaded reading all the tons of papers I had to read in grad school and draw conclusions from them. If I had read this book sooner, I may have had a lot more success with all that researching. Since listening to this book, I have had to read through several papers, and I had a lot more success with them than I ever did in the past. Plus, it has made so much of my decision making easier - especially those that banked on other people's experiences.
Not only does Oster talk about some of the much debated aspects of pregnancy like coffee or which side to sleep on or exercising or what foods to not eat. She also questions several less-questioned practices like episiotomy, prescribed bed-rest to avoid pre-term labor, to bank cord blood or not, induction vs waiting it out, and when a c-section makes sense. I took plenty of notes while listening to this book - some of these had to be mental notes because most of the time I listened to this book, I was driving.
If you are pregnant or planning to have a baby (whether it is your first or otherwise) or if you are just plain interested, you should check this book out. Although I was bothered by Oster's frequent mentions about how economics is super important (I agree) and how you have to look at everything and analyze it well before taking a decision (sometimes impulsive decisions are a-okay, according to me), overall, the benefits I obtained from this book definitely outweigh some of that nagging.
Oh and if you were wondering as I was before I started this book, Oster staunchly recommends staying away from tuna. I guess I'll just have to wait a couple more months....more
Every once in a while, I like to read books about health, food, and the environment, mainly to remind myself that there are plenty of problems out theEvery once in a while, I like to read books about health, food, and the environment, mainly to remind myself that there are plenty of problems out there and plenty of things we do wrong, but also to make myself extra mindful of the food I eat and the unhealthy habits I still nourish. When Jill recommended this book early this year, I wanted to read it for pretty much those same reasons, plus the fact that Jill loved it a lot.
The Story of the Human Body wasn't entirely what I expected it to be, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I guess I was expecting more a contemporary history of how we harm our bodies currently and how we pay for that. But I liked Lieberman's approach much much better - he pretty much took the entire history of the human body, from before our true ancestors' arrival on Earth, to the present. And while he was at it, he gave a good understanding of how we went from hunting cavemen eating what's available in the ground to the more laid-back people of the present who eat food from a can.
When Lieberman started off talking about the Neanderthals and the Australopithecus, I admit not liking it too much. For some reason, I couldn't quite see how that could have any connection to what I was hoping to get out of the book. But he doesn't take a textbook approach of just stating facts - he makes some strong surmises, talks about the conclusions of certain studies, and most importantly, focuses on the food habits of these ancient men and how evolution and lifestyle changes usually happened hand in hand at an immeasurably slow process. Today, our lifestyles advance way too rapidly for evolution to be able to catch-up, leading to an outcrop of diseases like cancer, heart ailments, diabetes, etc, which the ancient men didn't experience but which is the status quo today.
He also explores a great deal about evolution. One interesting analysis he mentioned is how our ancestors chewed on mostly hard food but how we now have our foods softened so much that our teeth don't get much exercise. That is part of the reason why we increasingly need braces to help align our teeth better. This book is littered with tons of such interesting tidbits that often fascinated me, but occasionally also left me feeling disappointed about our rapid advancement and industrialization. Make no mistake - I am in no way saying that I will give up today's technologies so that we can have a healthier environment. Remember how smoking was considered okay to do? And now we have in-your-face ads (rightfully so) to help stop it from being a fad. When it first entered the market, who knew that smoking could be a bad thing (something that we just seem to know now). That's the danger - we seem to know what's bad only after it has become bad for us.
I loved this book for its many interesting facts. Lieberman doesn't try to convert you one way or the other. He portrays the picture as it is and explains what can help revert it (eating real food), but admits that it is not something that is going to be easy to do. It doesn't help that some very powerful corporations control a huge chunk of the food industry and no matter how much you look for good food, it is still hard to come by because of how much this industry has been tainted. I will admit that for a good while after listening to this book, I have been feeling very lost in the kitchen when I try to decide what to cook. There is only so much of the same foods you can eat, but while we indulge once in a while, the husband and I have been mostly trying to cook healthy at home.
I will echo what Jill said - "I recommend buying this for people you love, and insisting they read it." There are some valuable lessons in here and I think it is crucial for people to know more about their bodies, how they were meant to evolve, and how their lifestyles evolved instead. It may not make you say no to the next donut you see (though I have now been able to more easily walk away from such foods than I have been before). Rather than just get an oft-stated premise that certain lifestyles are bad for you, this book goes one step ahead - it gives you the history of the human body and lets you figure the lessons out yourself....more
Having read and loved Raina Telgemeier's Drama, I was eager to read her Smile, which was really the only other book of hers that I'd heard about. (ImaHaving read and loved Raina Telgemeier's Drama, I was eager to read her Smile, which was really the only other book of hers that I'd heard about. (Imagine my wonder though when I discovered today that she has a whole series under her name - The Baby-Sitters Club, which luckily, my local library has the whole set of!) As soon as I finished Drama, I requested Smile from PaperBackSwap. I received my copy last night and devoured it in two sittings, and that too only because I had to step out on an errand.
Smile has every bit the same style of fun graphics that I loved the most about Drama. While Drama was fiction, Smile is a graphic memoir. When Raina was in sixth-grade, she tripped near her porch when racing with her friends and broke her two front teeth. One of the teeth fell out while the other went all the way into her gums and lodged itself there. (Yes, I cringed heavily during this phase. A tooth getting pushed into the gums is a spooky thought.) This harrowing incident was going to send Raina on a four-year trip through the world of dentists, periodontists, and other different kinds of -dontists, enough to upset her a lot about her physical appearance. Considering that she is also entering the world of teenhood, the accident couldn't have come at a worse time.
Smile was a lot of fun to read, mainly because Telgemeier laces her story with humor. At the same time, it isn't hard to see how much the whole incident hurts her. It doesn't help that her friends love ridiculing her, not giving her the support that she craves. She also learns first-hand the effect of smiling at other people. However, I struggled with her narrating style. There were sudden pauses in the story that seemed very jarring to me and when I expected more explanations at certain points, none came. It wasn't too big a deal really - Telgemeier makes up for it with her awesome graphics that definitely articulate the book Raina's feelings and worries very well.
And now, I'm off to post this book back on PaperBackSwap and pick up her series....more
For a very long time, I've been fascinated by Michael Pollan. I've wanted to read some of his books - I sometimes pick one of them at a bookstore aislFor a very long time, I've been fascinated by Michael Pollan. I've wanted to read some of his books - I sometimes pick one of them at a bookstore aisle and read passages while I'm there. But the idea of reading a very subjective research-oriented book was a bit daunting for me, no matter how intriguing the subject matter. Lately, I seemed to have found a solution for such books - listen to them! My library had only one audiobook (what a pity) and so I picked this one and started listening to it, waiting for some magic to happen to my food thought process.
In In Defense of Food, Pollan advocates eating real food (food that is as close to its original incarnation as possible). He wants us to toss out all those brands we see calling our names in the supermarket aisle, which are not really foods, but something produced industrially. He quotes bread as a popular example - the ingredients label of most brands has 20+ ingredients when you can make bread with under 5 ingredients. In fact, 5 is his magic number - he prefers to avoid anything involving more ingredients than that.
In the first part of In Defense of Food, Pollan talks about how we have reduced diets from the concept of eating foods to eating nutrients. How everything is about carbs, proteins or trans fats or zinc. How people have begun to stop looking at a food as what it actually is but instead is looking at it as say, 50% carb + 10g protein. I have to admit, I've been on that bandwagon too. Even after reading this book, it's hard to stop thinking nutrients and start thinking whole foods. On the other hand, it is quite reassuring to be told to stop thinking in terms of nutrients - there are too many of them and who wants to track them on a daily basis?
I enjoyed listening to In Defense of Food, even though I knew about a lot of the information he shared. This book was originally published in 2008, and five years later, the status quo now is the same as, if not worse than, it was then. In addition to reading book blogs, I read a ton of food blogs (as probably many of you do too), and some of my favorite bloggers are those who make an effort to cook yummylicious dishes with healthy ingredients. Not that I'm so disciplined - I do go for the occasional (or maybe more than occasional) treat by indulging in my guilty pleasures (who doesn't love pizzas and icecream?) but on the whole, I try to stay on the healthy side. So when Pollan shared a ton of strategies to help the reader choose a healthy food over a non-food item, I realized that many of them are much-advocated tips today.
That said, I did learn a lot from this book. Mostly, it made me even more watchful of what I put into my mouth and more aware of what to look for when I decide to buy or eat something. Honestly, it's very hard to step away from all the processed foods around you when they have been drilled so hard into your brain. And besides, who doesn't like to stock up on canned foods for those days when you have PMS and would rather eat junk than labor on to make a good meal? The husband and I love eating at restaurants and if one more person tells me that I can eat salads for dinner, I'll choke. I love salads, but I won't exactly spend $$$ for them at restaurants.
The last section of this book focuses mostly on ways to make the right decisions where food is concerned. I liked his strategy of walking along the contours of a supermarket to get real food (dairy and produce are usually along the edges). If you have been eating well for a good while, you probably already follow many of his ideas and this book may not exactly be enlightening for you, but if you are looking for a book that can set you on track for healthy eating or if you are looking for some motivation, then this book will satisfy that.
About the narrator: I had previously listened to a few minutes of another book that Scott Brick narrated. I couldn't continue with it because I found Brick using too many inflections and tones during narration, and almost sounding very lazy. However, in this book, Brick did a good job. He still had traces of those over-inflections but on the whole, he was the perfect narrator for this book....more
I read Bossypants four months ago. For some reason, I have been postponing my review since I first wrote it couple of months back. Not that I am unsurI read Bossypants four months ago. For some reason, I have been postponing my review since I first wrote it couple of months back. Not that I am unsure of it or it was controversial or I had any such juicy reactions. Bossypants simply didn't fascinate me. This is the not the first time I was listening to the book though. I had first played the audiobook in my car two years ago when I went on a short drive - I did get to the halfway point before I had to return the book. I remember enjoying the book tremendously then - so it surprises me that I didn't like it too much this time around.
I really like Tina Fey. The husband and I watched Admission recently, and while the movie isn't award-winning material, it certainly was a nice entertaining way to spend a late evening. She is certainly funny - hilariously. In Bossypants, she narrates so many funny anecdotes that I ended up feeling that I had been living a very unfunny life. She talks about pretty much everything in this book - a lot of it on the sets of Saturday Night Live. But there's also a good chunk of glimpses into her private life - about female topics, college romances and teenage obsessions.
Despite how funny she was, I found most of her humor very self-deprecating. Depending on my mood, I find that brand of humor either very entertaining or very depressing. If you look through all my reviews of books boasting of self-deprecating humor, you'll find that I either really loved it or really hated it. But one thing is usually consistent - if I come across a lot of it at one go, I rarely ever like it. The other issue with me was that I have never really watched much of Tina Fey. Other than seeing occasional clips here and there, for the most part, she is just a name I know but whose work I am not too familiar with. Maybe because of that, I could never get fully interested in Fey's anecdotes. It felt like listening to someone I don't know talk about her day. If you are a Tina Fey fan, you'll probably enjoy it more than I did, that is if you haven't already read it yet....more
Marbles is a super important book for everyone to read because
1. it is a memoir, 2. it is a graphic memoir (so you see the world from the artist's eyesMarbles is a super important book for everyone to read because
1. it is a memoir, 2. it is a graphic memoir (so you see the world from the artist's eyes), and 3. it is a book about how the author realized she was bipolar and how she battled it.
Honestly, you have to read it to appreciate it. Although the beginning of the book felt like being thrown into a wild roller-coaster ride without really having the time to understand what was happening, I loved that it was also a reflection of the author's true nature. Ellen has a wild personality, when she is manic, which she is when the book starts. She is an unimaginable bundle of energy who has a zillion ideas about what to do and what projects to start and what parties to plan. It is exhausting just watching how she spends her time. Her social worker recommended that she meet a psychiatrist and that is when she learns that she is bipolar. But she doesn't want to do anything about it, because hey, all this immense energy has to be a good thing, right? As she recounts, when a bipolar person is going through a manic phase, she has a skewed optimistic memory of what a depressive phase actually feels like. So when the depression hits her a few weeks later, and armed with the knowledge that she is bipolar, she finally understands why she has to treat her bipolar disorder.
The treatment isn't a piece of cake though. She is an artist and after finding out that many famous artists have also suffered various mental disorders, she wonders if the disorder is what makes her an artist. Plus, none of the medicines really work too well on her (for reasons she reveals to her doctor towards the end).
I loved this book. I will admit that it was a challenge reading it occasionally, if only because of her energy. In person, I struggle with people who have so much energy. So I found it amazing that this book had the same impact on me - the author certainly portrayed herself well in the book. But it was totally worth it. It was as good as (and maybe even better than) books about mental disorders, especially considering that pictures can enhance the story too.
Soon after finishing We Bought a Zoo, I began to fancy adopting some really crazy project. Like buying a zoo or a restaurant. Or a big farm. Or livingSoon after finishing We Bought a Zoo, I began to fancy adopting some really crazy project. Like buying a zoo or a restaurant. Or a big farm. Or living 100% on homemade food. Of course, I wouldn't do any of those. At least not in the forseeable future. But reading this book did get me thinking about how wonderful it would be to take on such a huge project and watch it arrive at fruition.
I first heard about this book after the movie based on it and of the same title was released. There are typically two simultaneous reactions I have to books like these: 1. What? They bought a zoo? They are absolutely nuts! 2. But, how wonderful it is - to buy something that's on the verge of extinction and to transform it into something beautiful? *go starry-eyed*
So, when I saw this audiobook in the library, I had to take a crack at it. The author, Benjamin Mee, and his wife, Katherine, saw the ad for a rundown zoo and applied for it. Their application was rejected and then they promptly forgot about it. Until they chanced upon another ad for the same zoo, a few weeks later, this time with the implication that the animals may be killed if the zoo gets no buyers. This time, their application was accepted and they became the new owners of the zoo.
A lot of the book focuses on the challenges the new owners face at the zoo. The workers at the zoo are not used to giving their opinions and Mee tries to change that. There is a lot of redesign work involved - enclosures that need to be moved, animals that are better off at other zoos, even rethinking which animals can be allowed to interact due to jealousy or compatibility issues. The zoo also brought with it a lot of baggage, thanks to issues under the previous owner and simply poor execution.
There's also the animal aspect of the book. Owning a zoo means coming in contact with a whole host of animals - from the timid to the murderous ones. It also means forming a bond with many of them, be it with a jaguar or a tiger. The author also points out the "special" animals - those that are endangered and need to be bred in captivity to continue their species. And then there are those that are released into the wild - after years of being within closed enclosures, this is not a natural concept for any of the animals.
The other focal point of the book was Katherine. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly before the zoo was purchased. The tumor was successfully removed but there was an increased risk that it would come back. And kill her. It did come back more vehemently than before and the decline of Katherine was a pretty hard part to listen to. Mee talks about his emotions while grappling with the danger of losing Katherine without making it over-dramatic (although one can be excused for behaving any way when they are losing someone they love).
Much as I loved the story of this book, I wasn't a fan of the writing. I found it way too informal than I liked it to be and if I were reading this book (as opposed to listening to the audio), I would have put it down very early. We Bought a Zoo made for a wonderful book to listen to in the car - I found myself rooting for Mee when he was dealing with the challenges of the zoo and crying with him when he was battling his wife's cancer....more
In 1990, Chris McCandless graduated from Emory University and, instead of pursuing a career, he burned all his money, changed his name and vanished toIn 1990, Chris McCandless graduated from Emory University and, instead of pursuing a career, he burned all his money, changed his name and vanished to experience life in the wild. During this time, he hiked a lot, met a lot of people who made an impact in his life and also who were influenced by him, became close friends with a person who treated him as if he were his own son, went to Alaska with the full intention of living a sustainable life, without company or external influences, and eventually died when he made a fatal mistake.
I picked the audio version of Into The Wild to listen to in my car, after having a memorable time with the author's Into Thin Air. Into The Wild was a little less intriguing but it was still fascinating and, for the most part, I found it a revelation. That said, I had a contrasting reaction as well - that of anger - aimed at the protagonist, for multiple reasons.
Chris was an idealist. I like idealists. I think we need a few more of those (but not too many) in this world where people can be terribly pessimistic. He was also a thinker. Krakauer quoted many of his phrases from letters, diary entries and conversations with people that they alternately fogged my eyes over and made me go "Oh! That's brilliant!". Chris was also a stubborn arrogant fool. Forgive my being so crude on a dead person, but really Chris - couldn't you for once, call your family? Did you ever pause to think the effect that your actions could have on them? Did you really believe that if anything happened to you, they will be able to shrug it away easily? Each time, he went on and on about how his father is an and how angry he is that his parents think they can pay him to do what they want, it made me very angry. Maybe if he hadn't died, I would not have been so upset with him. But knowing about how he hadn't contacted his parents in two years and how he refused everyone's advice that the Alaskan bush is probably not a great place for inexperienced campers, I just couldn't forgive him. Although the author considerably sided with McCandless (but not entirely), due in part to really understanding him (because of similar experiences), I was mostly on the side of the many people who poured in their angry opinions against McCandless.
I totally understand the idealist fervor that grips almost every young person. I went through a phase myself when I thought I could do anything and that I was invincible. At some point, it dawned on me that I was nowhere close. That's probably what coming-of-age means. Chris, being an insufferable young adult who believed that nothing could touch him, even in freezing uninhabited wild parts of the world, had lots of ideas and opinions. I didn't agree with him on some, but he was passionate and he had sound arguments for his stance. Even when he died, it was not really ignorance that did him in, but a mistake that anyone could have made because research indicated that what killed him was really not deadly. Despite all this, my thoughts stayed with his family. I cannot imagine how they could ever get closure for the death of a son who never loved them well and yearned to get away from them.
Into The Wild made me very angry but I'm thankful for it. As in Into Thin Air, Krakauer's research is impressive. He dug out every single aspect of this man's life - and analyzed it as well as he could. He didn't hesitate to present harsh opinions from people who responded to the article Krakauer first wrote about McCandless' death. When I started listening to this book, I didn't expect to understand the protagonist well. But Krakauer talked about a lot other people who had similar aspirations - to live minimally out in the woods - many failed, some succeeded. Almost every one of them ended up depressed or lonely. I know I could never take up anyone's dare to live like McCandless did and I do have immense respect for him and others who tried to live that life. Like Krakauer quoted one of McCandless' friends, he was just born in the wrong century. His desire to live like the people from many centuries ago - on the land and without a map - was hard to emulate in today's world, not just because of how attuned we are today to the more accessible way of life but also because it is hard to escape from all the information around us. There's also the issue of what we can confidently eat in the wild - which is what eventually killed McCandless.
On the whole, I found Into The Wild highly interesting. Although some of the philosophical meanderings bored me, they did leave me thoughtful and conversing to myself in the car. I cannot say that the narrator of this audiobook, Philip Franklin, did a great job though. He wasn't terrible, or else I would not have finished the book at all, but it took a while to get used to him. Krakauer has cemented himself in my mind as an author I must follow, not just for the great adventurous stories he shares but also because of how well he researches his subjects....more
Ever since the idea of conquering Mount Everest rose in the minds of adventure-seekers, there have been countless number of people who have either attEver since the idea of conquering Mount Everest rose in the minds of adventure-seekers, there have been countless number of people who have either attempted or even climbed this Hulk among mountains. Many have died too, chasing this risky dream. But among the many tragic incidents that happened up there, one of the most infamous was that which happened on May 10-11, 1996 when eight people died during summit attempts under worsening blizzard conditions. There were multiple expeditions attempting to climb the summit during those couple of days - one of them being Rob Hall's, whose clientele included the author Jon Krakauer, and another being his chief competitors', Scott Fischer. Into Thin Air is Krakauer's account of what happened during that climb and after.
I had heard about Jon Krakauer and some of his works, most principally his response to the Mortensongate and his following piece, Three Cups of Deceit. I had also vaguely heard about his Into the Wild, which I plan to read soon. But Into Thin Air is my first exposure to his writing. It was Kim's review that made me want to read this one, but from experience, I know that my attention waxes and wanes while reading some nonfiction books. Because of my now longer commute to and from work, I used this opportunity to listen to books I want to read but am not quite sure of.
Into Thin Air is a pretty quick listen, all things considered. Moreover, this narrative nonfiction was very intriguing that I actually loved taking my time to reach office/home (well, maybe not home). Krakauer sets the tone of the book right from the prologue itself when he mentions running out of oxygen shortly after reaching the summit. There was never a dull moment in the book, even when he spends a whole chapter giving a detailed history of Mount Everest and some of the historically important summit attempts. I was initially confused by this history lesson, but I saw its relevance later when Krakauer talks about the rivalry/friendship between Rob and Scott, the two expedition leaders, and how much scaling the Everest meant to any serious climber. Moreover, it also set the foundation for understanding the many bad decisions, some fatal, that a few climbers made.
Not only does Krakauer narrate the events leading up to the tragedy, he also gives a very good insight into many aspects of mountaineering - the do's and don'ts, the rules set forth by expeditions and their guides to ensure their clients' safety, and also the many technical aspects of this sport. Mountaineering is not for the faint of heart or for someone who isn't fit enough. Krakauer describes so many possible risks associated with this sport that although I feel immense respect for mountaineers and their mental strength, sometimes I think they are just plain crazy!
Before starting this book, I didn't read up about the tragedy - therefore, I got attached to a few characters who eventually died. Krakauer takes the time to introduce a lot of the people who were climbing with him. It did become overwhelming as I tried to keep the names straight but it didn't matter - I was able to follow along fine. The journey was occasionally fun and invigorating, but mostly stressful and tiring. Everyone suffered from something or the other most of the time, but they were all determined to make the summit. Some were climbing Everest for the first time, some had already conquered the peak. There were however a few who had attempted and failed previously and were hoping that this will be the one. It was sad reading the stories of those who still didn't make it, and even sadder to hear accounts of people who didn't stop to help the almost-dead but continued on their quest to greatness. But amongst this gloom, there were many stories of valor. There was a man who could have been as good as dead, only to make a full recovery. Many of the Sherpas who were involved in the expedition were also crucial to the recovery efforts as they weathered dangerous elements looking for missing people.
All in all, I was very impressed with this book. That's a weird thing to say about a disaster but Krakauer writes and reads the book so well that it left me feeling a whole lot of emotions - intense sadness, laughter, triumph. Some of the back-from-the-dead surprised me but then I cheered for them. He also doesn't hesitate to talk about some of the criticisms he received in the aftermath, but from what I understand and read post-Into Thin Air, there are some different versions also floating around, depending on what each surviving climber remembered or believed. Clearly, the summit is not where clarity of thought resides. Even three weeks after listening to this book, I know I'm still haunted by this incident. After finishing the book, I almost felt as if I lost some good friends....more
It all probably started with a bedbug scare, Susannah Cahalan feels. One day, she sees bite/itch marks on her arms and that makes her obsessively fearIt all probably started with a bedbug scare, Susannah Cahalan feels. One day, she sees bite/itch marks on her arms and that makes her obsessively fear that the parasites have taken up residence in her New York City apartment, even though thorough examinations by a licensed exterminator turned up nothing. Gradually, her persona changes subtly, when she starts exhibiting excessive mirth alternating with fear and gloominess. She begins to feel incompetent and diffident in her career and feels that the colors in her vision are enhanced. Then she has a seizure. What follows is a month of wrong diagnoses, almost-schizophrenic symptoms, aggression, while the doctors almost give up on her.
More than two years ago, when my brother was hospitalized after suffering inexplicable seizures and diagnosed with a generic term ('encephalitis') because doctors couldn't figure out what the problem was, my cousin and I tried to do our little bit by scouring medical documents and sometimes, simply Googling (which led to its own train of despair, of course because some of the results were scary enough to give me an anxiety attack). During this search, my cousin came across this article written by Susannah Cahalan, summarizing what she went through and how she was doing then. When I found out that Cahalan had written a book narrating her illness, I wanted to read it.
To write Brain on Fire, Cahalan interviews several people to get her story. Since she had no clear recollection of what went on during those days, except for some vague memories of the delusions that gripped her, her parents, brother, friends, colleagues, doctors, nurses, among many others fill in the blanks. Cahalan doesn't shy away from confessing the worst of her actions while under the hold of the illness - some of her experiences embarrass her terribly. But mostly she is still baffled by the person she was. Occasionally, she gets a bit repetitive in her narration as she tries to convey the full impact of what she went through. Or probably, it was just me who found it repetitive after already having been an observer to a similar experience.
I found reading about her recovery to be far more profound. Battling an illness is one thing, dealing with its repercussions is a whole other bag of trauma. Cahalan found herself awake one day, with no idea of what happened in that one month. Her cognitive skills were very poor, her memory abilities were on a vacation, and her movements were horribly uncoordinated. She found it hard to talk to her friends or do simple things like wear a dress. In a strange way, her battle was only beginning. This part of the book left me very sad but she does triumph in the end. There are people who believe in her and who help her overcome her disabilities.
There were some details that I found hard to believe though. For instance, when Cahalan was taken to the ER after her first seizure, the doctors were quick to discharge her even though her boyfriend insisted that Cahalan was behaving weirdly (although it was not too weird from a stranger's perspective). Even later, when her family would insist that something was wrong, all the doctors with a say in her health would shrug no. It took another seizure before anyone in the medical department would take them seriously. I also found it surprising that her doctors withheld considerable information from her family, such as suggestions to move her to the psychiatric ward.
In addition to sharing her experiences, Cahalan also goes one step further. The nature of her illness was such that it was easy for patients suffering from her same illness to have been misdiagnosed and sent to a mental institution instead. The doctor who treated her so much as admitted that. Cahalan achnowledges that she was lucky to have a firm support system in place, a good health insurance to take care of majority of her expenses, a family with the means to pay off her bills and a respectable job to come back to. She feels that these factors helped in giving her a successful treatment and I could see what she meant. She was thiscloseto becoming another inmate in a psychiatric ward. She raises plenty of questions in her book about all the other lost cases, the many other patients who were probably branded as schizophrenic when their problem could likely be a treatable neurological disorder.
Although I already knew Cahalan's story, I enjoyed reading her book - her story was compelling and hard to put down. Her big moment when there's finally a diagnosis was especially sweet to read. Brain on Fire was a fast read with quite short chapters (which is always a plus in my perspective). There was a sense of urgency and purpose in her writing tone that went well with the nature of the experience. And towards the end, when she tries to put together the pieces, the tone slows down to one of shock, loss, yearning and finally acceptance....more
I first read Maus in March of 2011. I remember approaching it with some trepidation - after all, this book is in a lot of lists and has even won the PI first read Maus in March of 2011. I remember approaching it with some trepidation - after all, this book is in a lot of lists and has even won the Pulitzer. What if I didn't get the "greatness" of this book? When I finished it, however, I loved it. This book blew my mind in a way no other graphic book did but when I sat down to review it, I couldn't for the life of me string two words together to form a coherent review. I eventually decided not to review it. Some books are great, and it is enough to say that.
Last year, I reread Maus. That's rare for me - I rarely reread and if I do, it is always the Harry Potter books that get that honor. So I'm not sure what made me want to reread this one, though wanting to read MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus after, may have something to do with it. I reread Maus and rediscovered how amazing this book is. Again though, I couldn't put a review together to say all I wanted to. But I'm giving it a try this time.
Maus is a graphic memoir/biography written by Art Speigelman about his father's WW2 experience and Art's years interviewing his father for the details. Art's father, Vladek was a Holocaust survivor, who managed to survive the unspeakable horrors with his wife, Anja. They lost their first son, Richie, to the genocide - the son who was now a photo on a mantel, and was often this idea of a perfect son causing Art to bristle at that. Art was born after the war and had no idea of the profundity of the life his family led before the war though he knew that they were survivors.
Maus is both Art's and Vladek's story. On the one side, Art narrates his father's story, as told to him by his father, beginning from his marriage to Anja to the end of the war. Theirs is a story of intense suffering. After managing to ride out the initial calls to camp, they were eventually brought to Auschwitz, where they were separated, each with no idea of whether the other had survived.
On the other side, in listening to and narrating Vladek's story, Art begins to feel several negative emotions. He feels that he didn't achieve much, considering everything that his father had been through. He feels annoyed that he is not a Mr. Fixit, while his father has an innate knack for how things work. He cannot stomach his father's miserliness, even though his father learned to stock and hoard after seeing the value of things in WW2. Art also gets bouts of depressions while he wades through his father's recordings and looks to a psychologist-friend to help him out.
During my second time with this book, I found some sections I didn't recollect. Part of it is because who remembers everything about a book? But part of it is also because every snippet in the book contains several layers, and it generally takes several rereadings to get it all. I even reread some sections a third time while reading MetaMaus, and found even more things to wonder about. This isn't a complicated graphic book. But it is a very well-made one with only the important stuff jumping at you at first read and then more elements of the situation becoming obvious on rereads. Art's use of animals to characterize in Maus is now legend. And in MetaMaus, he explains more about why he did that. It wasn't hard at all to look behind the mask and to empathize with the suffering mouse.
There is so much about Vladek that is endearing. A lot of his personality was born through his experiences in WW2. As Art mentions once, I did feel that Vladek was incredible lucky as well. He was resourceful, and had a few useful talents and contacts that helped him a lot at Auschwitz. Still, that is not to say that he didn't suffer. His wife wasn't that lucky, but she thrived in her own way. They both lose a lot though. There are some truly heartbreaking scenes in this book, such as when Vladek's father was registering to get papers along with other Jews, he decides to skip over to the "wrong side" to join his daughter and her four kids when he saw that they were going to Auschwitz.
If you haven't read Maus yet, you absolutely have to. Whether you read graphic books or not, whether you are tired of WW2 stories, whether the mouse and cats in books bother you, Maus is a book that is very accessible, moving, tragic, and empowering....more
Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer who murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991 and was also guilty of rape, dismemberment, necrophilia, and canJeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer who murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991 and was also guilty of rape, dismemberment, necrophilia, and cannnibalism. My Friend Dahmer is however not a narration of his crimes, but rather a portrayal of the killer from the viewpoint of the author, who used to be his classmate.
The husband and I read this book together and in the end, we both felt the same way. It was good but nothing fabulous or intriguing. Dahmer's portrayal was quite interesting. He grew up in a troubled home - his parents divorced, his mother moved out taking his younger brother with her. He was shy and an outcast at his school, but he managed to get some attention when he started imitating his mother's interior designer, who had cerebral palsy. He was also this "weird" kid who had smelly bottles of dead animals immersed in some liquid, which freaked some of the kids in his neighborhood one day. I found this book a nice insight into the person Dahmer was and the slow progression into the man he would become. It was informative, but it didn't leave any major impact....more
Early last month, there was a new graphic nonfiction book getting a lot of buzz. It's very rare that I see non-comic graphic books getting some much nEarly last month, there was a new graphic nonfiction book getting a lot of buzz. It's very rare that I see non-comic graphic books getting some much needed hype, so I was quite thrilled to see Green River Killer featured. But I wasn't very sure about the subject itself. I prefer reading non-graphic nonfiction about true crime, I wasn't sure how the graphic medium was going to handle that. How sensitive would it be? Words in reference to psychopaths can make me queasy, but pictures, even more so. Sometimes, it helps to be judgmental when you read - seeing the picture of a tragedy breaks open some vulnerable part in you, and can affect your perception of an incident. With pictures, there's usually only one side that's presented. Even in writing, it's hard to present two sides justly. Not that there's anything just or right about killing - but to understand why a killing happened, I find it necessary to understand the killer himself. But I needn't have worried much - this book was less about the killer and more about the detective who took charge of the investigation. And in that respect, I think the writers/illustrators did a genuinely wonderful job in bringing forth a lot of emotions and issues related to the case.
Green River Killer is, as the title says, about the Green River Killer, the serial killer who raped and murdered a possible 90+ women, many of them prostitutes. Most of the murders occurred between 1982 and 1984, and the bodies were disposed off in the Green River area in Seattle, hence the name. The killer, Gary Ridgway was arrested twice on charges of prostitution, but no one had any concrete proof to link him to the killings. When, finally, DNA technology made it possible to conduct more reliable tests, Ridgway was formally arrested and charged with seven murders. However, Ridgway came forward with a plea bargain - he will lead the detectives to the bodies of as many of his victims as possible. Rather than give him the death penalty for seven solved murders and leaving the remaining dozens of mysteries go unresolved and the victims' families without closure, the State Prosecution decided to spare him the axe and get as many answers as they could. Green River Killer is the story of that investigation, particularly from the viewpoint of detective Tom Jensen, as told to his son Jeff.
The book slips back and forth in time, almost unobtrusively - in the present, the detectives are interviewing Ridgway, who isn't exactly having any significant detail or evidence to share. The images set in the past almost always follow the fruitless investigation and the immense effect it has on Tom Jensen. Following a true detective "story" on graphic media was an interesting experience. Some of the guys had been working on the case for years. Jensen had been on it right from the start and following the progress on the case was like cheering on an embattled fighter in a ring, or the valiant underdog team in a high-stakes game. You just wanted him to nail the guy, and go home to enjoy his retirement. But it wasn't easy. What he expected to take "no time" at all, took almost twenty years. During that time, the years catch up on Tom Jensen, though he remains as charismatic as ever and still smoking many cigarettes a day, after having promised to give it up when the case is finally solved. In all these years, he remained the primary investigator in the Green River killer case, which pretty much overtook every aspect of his life.
This book is as much about the detective process as it is not about the killer himself. And that's where I was slightly disappointed. Ridgway was shown as mostly the killer he is with not much remorse or back story. What we hear about him is what's mostly in the public domain already - his troubled childhood, his compulsion to conquer in sex and death, his fascination with committing necrophilia and difficulty to resist it. Although I hoped for a little more insight into this man, this wasn't the book for it, as the writers also made it clear. Still, that's not to say that Ridgway was portrayed as one-dimensional. There are times you can actually see some feeling in him, while you're trying not to feel that sensation of your skin crawling when you look at his pictures. I hated it when he tried to justify his killing habits by saying that he was doing a good thing for the country by ridding it of prostitutes. On the other hand, he loved his wife (his third), and even liked one of the women he killed. When he was trying to provide evidence to the detectives, it was hard to not feel sorry for him while he tried to recollect his memory. The detectives kept accusing him of how they would never forget it if they did something of this magnitude. My guess was more that raping and killing was such a routine exercise for him that it wasn't hard for him to forget the details.
Green River Killer was very thought-provoking and well-done. It had the right amount of mystery, intrigue, and humanity added to the illustrations. The black and white sketches also gave the book a dark gothic tone, well in sync with the tone of the story itself. This is yet another fabulous graphic book that I will strongly recommend to you guys. It's far less disturbing than it might be reading about the killer, and the crime itself is never exploited in graphics - giving it just the amount of truth and sense of tragedy as is necessary, but the people's emotions and reactions lend the tragedy the rest of the weight....more
In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a new church in Indianapolis called the Peoples Temple. Being charismatic and fully aware of how to influenceIn 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a new church in Indianapolis called the Peoples Temple. Being charismatic and fully aware of how to influence people, he began preaching his idealistic beliefs and managed to quickly gather a good number of followers. Over the next twenty years, as the church moved from Indiana to California, and ultimately to its deathbed, Guyana, Jones would amass a huge number of followers, many willing to follow him to the ends of the earth, in the hopes of making the world take heed to their socialistic beliefs. Their temple did make history in 1978, but for its role in the largest mass murder/suicide of Americans, when close to a thousand people either killed themselves or others, in answer to Jones request to commit 'revolutionary suicide'.
I had never known something this horrific had even happened. I ordinarily wouldn't have read this book because of its heavy leanings into religion, but the tragedy behind this book kept popping in my radar. If there's one thing I struggle to understand, its how people can stop trusting their instinct or listening to their inner person, and do something so outrageous as kill themselves. And this isn't one or two people we are talking about - the statistics are incredibly hard to believe. Moreover, this tragedy wasn't the result of a war or a religious faction taking control - instead these people had free will and the freedom to do as they wished. But, as Julia Scheeres shows in this book, A Thousand Lives, it's one thing for me to tell my friends that I'm not interested in joining them for something. It's a totally different thing and an impossibly hard one to walk out of a huge violence-capable mob, with your freedom and dreams intact. And that's why riots are hard to control.
A Thousand Lives chalks the intertwined histories of Peoples Temple, Jim Jones and many of its members. It is written based on the diaries, letters, and several tons of paperwork left behind by the people of Jonestown, recently declassified by the FBA. Some of these documents contain evocative dreams, hopes and wishes, while others are devoid of feeling and very robotic. From very early on, Jim Jones and his temple made for fascinating news material. Stuff about Jones' healings and miracles attracted people. These staged miracles did find him a lot of believers who couldn't wait for him to pull a magic trick on them and ease their sufferings. Jones also seemed to pull in more African Americans with his call for equal rights for all, at a time when America was going through an intense segregation period. And he even had some interesting but disgustingly cheap tactics to discourage people from leaving his temple. From the moment Jones had the eureka moment of taking his power a step beyond, his followers were doomed. And this was many years before the actual tragedy.
Scheeres shows how Jones started off as a perfectly reasonable, though idealistic person. It would be hard to refute his claims, especially by someone looking for some identity, something to belong to. His intentions were initially noble, he genuinely wanted to provide his people a place where they can all be equals and find in others a companion rather than an adversary. And despite what horror he cultivates in the end, it was hard not to see in him what people like to see in some leaders. But power is a dangerous thing in highly influential minds. And paranoia soon starts becoming him.
At the outset, the reader (at least me) doesn't know who manages to survive the tragedy. Although there is no single protagonist, some victims/survivors take the reins of the story occasionally. Some are highly religious people and have always been so, others are looking to find something to help overcome a recent tragedy in their lives, yet others are barely religious, but Jones' teachings made perfect sense to them and hence they decided to join the group. While most of the principal 'characters' in this book sounded sane to me, it is the ones who are always in the background but playing important roles in Jonestown that didn't sound so sane. Almost all the information on them are third-hand, which makes it hard to know exactly what they were thinking or why they felt compelled to partake in Jones' paranoia. Religion and socialism are the two major characters of this book, apart from the architect Jones himself. The author paints a clear picture of how even sane people like you and me ended up committing the unbelievable act.
Ultimately, I'm glad I read this book. Full suspension of belief in some religious people has always boggled my mind. Having been fiercely independent for most of my life, I find it hard to fathom someone else making a decision for me and deciding what I will do each day. There's usually a word for the kind of behavior described in this book - cult. The author makes it clear at the start that she wouldn't be using that word in the book, because it isn't the right word here. The book does justify her perspective (of course she wrote the book), and although I do think it's not too hard to write a story to make it look both cult-like and non-cult-like, I am inclined to agree with her here. There was nothing cultish in the behaviors of the people here, except for maybe their final action, which I'm still struggling to understand on so many levels....more