With interesting research into expert skill and performance, the authors poke holes in the persistent myth of natural talent. While at times the bookWith interesting research into expert skill and performance, the authors poke holes in the persistent myth of natural talent. While at times the book made me feel hopeless that I'd ever be really good at anything (I'm past the developmental age when I could have become a top-rated ballerina or concert pianist - not that it had occurred to me to want those things for myself), it also gave me hope that if I really, truly wanted to become an expert or highly skilled at something, it was all within my reach if I had the right training and practice plan. And while I found it interesting to daydream about what I might do with the principles of deliberate practice, my favorite parts were near the end, where the authors discuss the negative side of the myth of natural talent, especially in the education system. It helped to illuminate where I and other children were categorized and discouraged from certain directions (in my case, discouraged from physical activity and sports because I was uncoordinated and encouraged academically because I was able to grasp reading and math and was thus "smart"). I admit that the research fit quite nicely into what I already believed about the potential of humanity, so I read it with a welcoming rather than criticial lens....more
This book contains some of the most richly drawn characters I've met. I can't even quite understand how the author did this, but she draws rich, conflThis book contains some of the most richly drawn characters I've met. I can't even quite understand how the author did this, but she draws rich, conflicted characters who are split by fate between different cultural contexts - and who are unwilling or unable to give up any part of who they have become. The plot is about a Sudanese-Russian scholar researching a late 19th century Muslim mystic/warrior, jumping between Scotland in 2010 and the Caucasus in the 1850s. It explores cultural identity and the pull between what are politically view as "opposing" cultural identities of Christian tsarist imperial Russia and Western Asian Muslim resistance. And maybe at the very bottom, this is about what I understand (as a pretty uninformed outsider) as a central tenet of Islam and Sufism: submission to fate and the unexpected; a human struggle of faith in something beyond what human minds can see or understand....more
The characters and stories in this book inhabit the best kind of alternate universe - familiar in all of the surface and basic ways, but operating onThe characters and stories in this book inhabit the best kind of alternate universe - familiar in all of the surface and basic ways, but operating on another kind of logic. The stories are sometimes opaque - how does this character know that one? how does the person come to be in this place? what power operates within and around them?
The way the author writes her characters' identities is intriguing. She seems to dig below the surface, or allow things to settle in surprising and even unsettling ways.
The stories kept me engaged, even if they seem to begin in the middle and stop before ending - perhaps because I ended up with more questions than I started. But somehow they are questions to savor and turn over and over in my mind, not questions that frustrate me with answers that are too elusive. I suspect this book is not for everyone's taste, but it definitely is mine!...more
Teju Cole's writing makes me feel like I'm having a conversation with him. He shares interesting things and perspectives that he has come across, andTeju Cole's writing makes me feel like I'm having a conversation with him. He shares interesting things and perspectives that he has come across, and he connects them in revealing ways. He helps me look at everyday life with a different set of insights and realizations. He is at times funny, at times circuitous, and always engaging. Highlights include his writing about James Baldwin, his meditations on politics (especially White Saviour Industrial Complex), and his consideration of Roy DeCarava. I am not usually someone who gravitates toward "public intellectuals," but I am drawn in by Teju Cole's way of leading the reader on a journey through his own responses and connections to everyday life. I am finished reading the book, but it is full of notes and dog-ears marking things I want to look up and read more about....more
This is the story of two women who find their ways through negotiating and crossing gender barriers. It is a domestic drama, often hemmed in by walls,This is the story of two women who find their ways through negotiating and crossing gender barriers. It is a domestic drama, often hemmed in by walls, that hints at the larger drama of Afghanistan. The characters of Rahima and Shekiba are sympathetically drawn, and the chapters interwoven for suspense. I found myself worrying about them at times throughout my day, wondering when I would get back to read more - just like Rahima wondering about Shekiba in between her Khala Shaima's visits. While my sympathies aligned clearly with the heroines, the stories of all the women in the book are somewhat sympathetic - even those who mistreat Rahima and Shekiba are drawn with sympathy for the way survival has shaped their responses to life. Even Bibi Gulalai gets her moment when we see her as a girl, enduring the same treatment she gives to others. Women's sexuality is noticeably absent, amidst the details of the rest of their ilves. Their relationships with each other, and with their children, are richly drawn, but there seems to be no room for relationships with their husbands, separated as they are from the distinctly inside/outside dichotomy they seem to live in. In general, the men in the book are, at worst, sadistic and, at best, uncaring of the suffering they seem to ignore. Perhaps this is part of the larger story told in this book. Shekiba witnesses the promise of a new dawn in Queen Soraya's speech - and yet so many years later, this promise seems further deferred in Rahima's story. The author doesn't claim to write Afghanistan's political history, but the threads are woven in - what happens when men like Abdul Khaliq take authority. The story is compelling, devastating at times, and ultimately, shyly, hopeful....more
Oddly enough, this is such a well-written and well-told book that the things that I didn't like stood out in more stark relief. I am not generally a faOddly enough, this is such a well-written and well-told book that the things that I didn't like stood out in more stark relief. I am not generally a fan of historical fiction, and I find that many books written about WWII don't hold my interest. This one, however, kept me returning, taking tastes and slices of the book whenever I had a few minutes to spare. What I liked best was the synesthetic descriptions of the world through Marie-Laure's perceptions. The author richly describes sound as color, drawing a beautiful portrait that doesn't let us forget that she is blind, but doesn't blind us to her experience of her world. A rather remarkable translation between non-seeing and sighted. I also appreciated the way the author built the slow drip of evil, the tiny steps that certain characters (and the nation of Germany) took to succumb to the banal horrors of fascism. The author gives us somehow sympathetic characters who face moments of reckoning and fail in their morality - and yet provides some redemption by giving us a view inside their confusion. I also appreciated the way the book was written in glimpses, like slides shuffling through a slide projector - short chapters that jump around. I found the time leaps a bit maddening. In part, they held suspense, but there were times, especially in the cellar of the Hotel of Bees, where the leaps between time and space frustrated me. I also found the end a bit rushed. We spent so much rich time growing up with the characters that it felt tacked on to leap ahead 30 and 50 years just to find out what happened. And at the same time, the payoff at the very end - the final chapter with the grandmother musing as her grandson is playing a game on his phone - the juxtaposition of the present and past was a beautiful insight into the way we respond to our own history and the way that "some griefs can never be put right."...more
I was lucky enough to find this at my local library in the "Lucky Day" section (I was number 50-something on the waiting list). And Ta-Nehisi Coates wI was lucky enough to find this at my local library in the "Lucky Day" section (I was number 50-something on the waiting list). And Ta-Nehisi Coates was not wrong in his praise.
The author manages to distill a sweeping and horrific history of colonialism and the impacts of slavery into a series of vignettes in the lives of generations of West Africans from the 1700s to today. With each new chapter and subsequent character, she captures unique voices and perspectives. Some characters are all in their heads, while others have more poetic or textural experiences. Some are told through mental illness or addiction, while others told through shame or hope. Throughout the stories, the author gives new dimensions to the realities of colonialism and slavery as experienced on the side of the stolen and enslaved people brought through the slave castle at Cape Cost to the US; while also giving voice to those who were complicit with the Europeans in enslaving their neighbors. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of our history, but she also does not lose the thread of hope and survival that, miraculously, continues to emerge.
This is a smartly-written expose of dating and relationships in the technologically-connected world. Combining research in sociology and psychology wiThis is a smartly-written expose of dating and relationships in the technologically-connected world. Combining research in sociology and psychology with first-hand narrative, personal musing, and research on comedy tours and subreddit, the author delivers a surprisingly balanced view of how internet and smart phone technology have shifted dating and romance for better and for worse. Witticisms abound - some as groan-worthy as a video dating app, some as zany as....putting the Rock over your ex's face on facebook. He takes a few food-motivated side trips to Buenos Aires and Tokyo, and somehow turns it all into some pretty solid advice about how to navigate a world with boundless choices that somehow are likely to make us feel worse about our options....more
In this inventive story, the reader is plopped into the middle of a world that is somehow very familiar yet quite different from our own - a work of aIn this inventive story, the reader is plopped into the middle of a world that is somehow very familiar yet quite different from our own - a work of almost cultural anthropology. The author remarkably gives very little background, and yet somehow the world of Leiodare emerges almost as a work of cultural anthropology. There is wealth and poverty, shiny and mysterious technology in the middle of a very grounded physical reality. There is unexplained magic (that perhaps is simply new techology), strange paranoia and civic customs, and a religion born from surviving climate change and sea level rise. And there are the characters, falling in love, fulfilling their own ideas of destiny - grappling with social and political events that no longer make sense. Anna, who guards her past and her secrets even as she falls in love with a performer whose voice she recognizes. Eugenio, the scientist and desk bureaucrat who survived his own disaster and seems rather obsessed with uncovering the roots of a different disaster. And there is Rory, the remnant of a rich playboy cocooned by trauma but willing to redeem himself. These characters (along with others) are far from stock players - they are as richly imagined as the world of Leiodare and the neighborhood of Smoketown (which has survived since the American Civil War). I look forward to reading more by this author....more
This is a direct, deceptively simple book that is ostensibly about trading, but actually about overcoming internal barriers and challenges. The authorThis is a direct, deceptively simple book that is ostensibly about trading, but actually about overcoming internal barriers and challenges. The author is quite astute about how internal experiences and emotions can create barriers - to traders and investors, or to anyone. I actually found this book helpful in thinking about relationships, work, and more....more
This is a revealing book about the politics of news coverage and the US (and the Western world in general) response to "African problems." The author,This is a revealing book about the politics of news coverage and the US (and the Western world in general) response to "African problems." The author, having covered many nations on the continent, brings a perspective that is undeniably his own - in a way that I found refreshing, because it isn't as shaded by assumptions often made in writing by non-Africans about Africa. The author breaks through a lot of these assumptions and blind spots, showing how Africans are doing things differently in some areas - and how a lot of social, industrial, and economic development is happening in spite of blunders, hypocrisies, and intentional mishandling of outsiders. Aid agencies and international collaborations come under a lot of critique in the book. It seems that, to a large extent, many of their staff would do well to read this book as well....more
An intriguingly complex book about a variety of Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh. The novel tracks the experiences primarily of three men of different cAn intriguingly complex book about a variety of Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh. The novel tracks the experiences primarily of three men of different circumstances, the the various people connected with them. What starts as a rather straightforward stroll through their lives turns into, at different times: a political intrigue, a descent into madness, explorations of existential angst from multiple angles, a social commentary on youth, a postmodern romance, and a family drama. The author blends elements from multiple genres into a satisfying whole. His account spans a dizzying number of issues with a light and deft hand.
It contains one of the best, though concise, descriptions of descent into homelessness I have read, and it deals accessibly with the complex discombobulation of emigration that throws class, gender, and race up in the air - recounting the stories of arbitrary (or not?) winners and losers.
This is not exactly a beach read, although you can read it there. It gets a bit heavy in places, but the pace keeps moving in surprising directions. ...more
This is different sort of novel about colonialism and culture than I've read before. Rather than focusing on what happened in a literal sense, this stThis is different sort of novel about colonialism and culture than I've read before. Rather than focusing on what happened in a literal sense, this story circles around the early impacts of German, British, and French colonialism in what would become Cameroon. By focusing on the stories of Sara and Nebu, I got a different view of the rather nonsensical way that colonialism forced its way into the lives of ordinary people who were influenced by cultural exchanges and shifts between their own communities (as well as by Christian missionaries who are also described with a rather bemused eye).
The Sultan's story is also revealing in the way that Cameroonian leaders might have tried to adapt or weather the Europeans' insertion of themselves where they didn't belong - and the sometimes tragic ways that leaders tried to adapt to something they expected would be over soon enough.
The frame story - a historian interviewing the elderly Sara - provides the anchor and a level of joy and sadness in the discovery lost history, culture, and art. And the primary stories are told with a sort of nostalgic, sort of magical tone that memories might have when they are rarely spoken out loud.
Finally, another great thing about this book is that it describes historical figures like Sultan Njoya and Charles Atangana, even as it spins a fictional story instead of an exact historical account. ...more