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The Last 5 Books I Read (October 2016)

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

I picked up this book purely for entertainment, and it served that purpose well. The pacing is quick (at times excessively so), and the events are interesting. I found nothing about it revolutionary, but it was well-written. In particular, I liked the dialogue because it felt real (perhaps accentuated by the fact that I read the book aloud).

As events unfold in a few different timeframes, we see some characters and events in a new light. While many of these unveilings worked well, they sometimes felt like they were explaining too much, taking away some of the fun of piecing together the story. Following these threads of story through various timeframes is fun, but feels pointless sometimes. For instance, the author traces a paperweight's journey which I didn't find engaging.

The characterization left something to be desired. Only once did I feel like I understood a character at a non-surface level (the description of Miranda's thoughts on clothes being "armor" gives insight into her post-divorce life/feelings). Still, while I didn't end up caring very much about any of the characters in particular, I kept reading because the story was interesting.

This book seems like one that many will like, but few will choose as their favorite. That's completely fine; not every book can be a total masterpiece. Go into it looking to be entertained, and you probably will be.

So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal Newport

I loved Deep Work, so I decided to read this one, too. The book is about creating a fulfilling career, which seems appropriate for a new college grad. His premise seems solid to me--"follow your passion" is terrible advice. I appreciate the cynicism of lifestyle bloggers (it seems the only ones making a living are the ones selling lifestyle blogging to people who hate their jobs).

Newport tells the stories of several individuals well. Like all self-help books, these stories keep the book moving while demonstrating a point relevant to the larger topic.

My least favorite part of the book was that the author sometimes comes off as overly cocky, which is annoying at best.

Like lots of books in this genre, it got a little repetitive; he summarizes himself over and over again.

Aside from these two criticisms, though, I really liked the book. I seem to have lucked out in that I'm fascinated with computer science/software development, and the market seems to also like it. Still, the career advice seems well thought out and will be useful in the coming years.

You Can't Win, Jack Black

Originally published as a series of newspaper articles, this book is the autobiography of a rail riding, jewel thieving hobo in the late 19th and early 20th century named Jack Black. He recounts many tales including prison sentences, hobo rituals, and his most interesting crimes. The glimpse Black offers into a very specific subculture is fascinating. If you're interested in reading a collection of true, interesting tales about a life on the road, consider picking this book up.

Pastoralia, George Saunders

This collection of short stories enjoys giving its readers a look into the internal monologues of its characters. The titular story was gripping, forcing its reader to piece together the world from hints in the text.

While the book is a collection of short stories, they are all drawn from the same universe--an exaggerated version of America. I recently finished watching the series Black Mirror, and reading this book reminded me a bit of that series. Though there's less technology in this book, it still feels like the author is using a somewhat imagined world to critique our real one.

Slaughterhouse-Five, George Saunders

This book is a unique blend of science fiction and World War 2 tale. Its central character, Billy Pilgrim, is cast about in many ways by the war. Perhaps uncoincidentally, he sort of trips through time, which makes for an interesting literary device.

This book leaves me feeling very bleak. Pilgrim adopts the belief that everything that will happen will happen, is happening, and has always been happening; we are like bugs trapped in the amber of this moment. This belief takes away hope and meaning. Without these two things, I'm not sure life is worth living.