Books! Reviews of Books! (Part 4, Book List 2)

This is the last set of reviews for the second Better in Real Life book list! Yay!! It only took me like over a year to finish it. Ugh. And! I didn’t even read all of the books. Unfortunately the Stephen King book, 11/22/63, because I (to be honest) ran out of time. I do still want to read it, but it will have to wait. Tomorrow is the launch of the 3rd book list and things have been mixed up quite a bit (To help me stay on track and to keep book reviews happening on this blog a lot more frequently.) but we’ll get to that tomorrow!

For now, the final few books, hopefully with a lot of discussion in comments (I have been waiting for this forever!! YAY!) and also my final recommendations for anyone needing to replenish their book pile.

So, first up – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, This took me forever to finish, not because I was slogging through it, but because of life. Ugh, LIFE! Why you gotta be like that?

Bottom line: this book is genius. It is a story cycle, and for those who do not know, that means a group of stories that stand alone but are also linked. Some of the stories are more of a challenge than others – as far as pace and my personal interest – but how they all work together, the mystery of figuring out how they are all linked, and the totally amazing characters kept me completely hooked.

If you are at all interested in reading this book – don’t watch the movie first. Kamel and I just finished the movie and it’s pretty good, but not nearly as rich as the book. I think going in as blind as possible is the best way to approach Cloud Atlas. Maybe that is just how I like to tackle things in general though – I’m a huge fan of going to see a movie knowing nothing about the film, and with the book lists I read a little bit about a lot of the books you all suggest, but then once the books arrive I just pick them up as I stack ’em and dive on in.

**Don’t read this next paragraph if you want to go in blind**

Anyway – I digress. Who has read Cloud Atlas? Favorite story? (Mine is the Somni one, Kamel’s is the Cavendish one.) Do you think it was about reincarnation? Or history repeating itself? Both? Do you think we are all types of clones just living semi parallel lives forever and ever and ever, on and on and on? I could talk about this book for daayyss. I have so many thoughts. Like! How each of our stories make up the bigger existence, and how everything ripples together like the butterfly effect. I have lived in my head with this book for a very long time. Please share with me your take.

After Cloud Atlas I needed to totally shift gears, so next up was Run With The Horsemen by Ferrol Sams: This is the first book in a series about Little Porter’s life. It takes place between world wars in rural Georgia and reads like a million short stories about the same character all strung together to make a book. It is not quite a novel with a clear beginning/middle/end, but instead follows one character through childhood and explains where he comes from, his motivations, and why the people around him act the way they act and do the things they do.

Initially I felt this weird sense of stagnation while waiting for the backstory to be finished and the main plot to unravel, but then you sort of stop waiting for the story to pop up and allow yourself to be enveloped into the characters and the time and the narration and the book sort of sucks you in, in this very charming way. It didn’t have an immensely strong plot that that I obsessed over, but it was relaxing and enjoyable to sit with the book and read along as if you were a fly on the wall in someone else’s life.

My own issue with the book is that I think there are instances of it being racist. Keeping in mind that it is a period piece in the south, clearly there will be some instances of racial tension and of seeing black people treated horribly and talked about as unequal. But! As a writer, there are ways of navigating that world in a better way than how the book did. It wasn’t just that the book explained how rural southern white people view or talked about rural southern black people, it was that even the characterization of the black characters were silly, confused, overly good (like a beloved dog who never does anybody any harm and is always loyal to the last minute), and childlike. They seemed mostly like caricatures to me. I found this off-putting and left a bad taste in my mouth. 

The next book on my list was A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore: I don’t know what was going on with me during the time I read this book but me and the world of death were hand in hand. I started binge watching The Long Island Medium while applying for jobs and then this book came along. So there I was, on my couch, crying and watching people connect with loved ones who had passed over, then I started A Dirty Job and low and behold – it’s about the work of death! Which I did not know until I started the book! And now I have a lot of thoughts on the whole after life thing. It was quite the communal conscious experience.

This is one of very few books I think would make an even better movie! The supernatural aspect + the comedy would translate so well to film. This book is funny, sometimes shockingly funny, and I just kept wanting to see the dialogue in real life – I could totally see Seth Green as the main character. It’s a really fun story (the outcome I did see coming, though, so sometimes I was like “just get to the point, already!”) and has tons of twists and turns and interesting side stories which I really appreciate.

This is also an example of how being a parent has changed some of my sensitivities. I hate to admit it, but I really can’t handle certain story lines. And I know that this book was mostly just funny – but the death parts were ALSO upsetting to me. Especially the beginning AND the end – which I will not spoil – where I was actively crying and I knew that I probably wasn’t supposed to be crying. I also ended up worrying about the complications of having a child and questioning the reality of some of the child development moments mentions in the story. It distracts me and I know that many other people probably aren’t even noticing, but when the age of the child and her capabilities don’t match up it drives me nuts. Does anyone else feel this way about books + certain easily glossed over details? Am I just nutso parent now while I yell at the pages, “There is no way she could roll over that young!!”

I know there were a lot of people wanting to talk about this book, so let’s do it! Do you also think Seth Green would make an amazing Charlie? (Imagine him with a sword cane, do it.)

And lastly I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This is a nonfiction about the statistics of successful individuals and how, basically, we need to redefine how we view success. Famous athletes and those who make it big in business are viewed in society as somehow better/faster/stronger/smarter and on some level that is true, but on another level it also has to do with luck, being in the right place at the right time, that sort of thing. I read this on my kindle and I actually electronically dog-eared a page for the first time EVER because there was a passage I wanted to share with you.

(This is an excerpt talking about how super successful people who become experts in their field have also worked harder at the thing they are experts on more than most people – it has been calculated that to become an “expert” you need to work on that 1 thing for at least 10,000 hours.)

The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, ther won’t be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program – like a hockey all star squad – or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.

I found this book super, super interesting (Although, I needed about half the amount of examples they gave… after the first long example I was like “I get it, move on to the next theory.”) and it was fascinating to hear about how success isn’t just “so and so worked harder than you did” or “so and so was just born that way.” To be fair, both of those things are true… people are born taller than me (or whatever) and have worked harder than me at certain things, but that isn’t ALL it takes I guess is the point.

But I also found this book kind of sad? Because it reminds me (yet again! THANKS WORLD) that so much of our life is completely out of our control. So much of it is unpredictable, so much of it is handled by fate. Right place, right time? Millennial much? And then on top of that I have been obsessing over this 10,000 hour thing. Because now I have a child and a husband and a job and I’ll never be really really really good at ANYTHING will I? Who has time to be really good at things? I sort of came to the realization that I’m going to die (thanks A Dirty Job) and most likely no one 100 years from no is going to know who I am or what I did. Not even my kids, because they’ll probably be dead too.

Yay! Way to end it on an upbeat note, Lauren!

Ok, back to the books. Ultimately, for whatever reason, probably having to do with LIFE (again, with the LIFE!), this book list was kind of a flop. It took me forever to get through, a lot of the books felt tedious to me, and my heart just wasn’t 100% in it. My fault, completely. But I do have some favorites.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – a must read. I could not put it down, I still cannot stop thinking about it. Everyone must read this book if you enjoy any sort of fantasy at all ever. So much fun.

The Likeness by Tana French was killer. Such a good plot, kept me hooked the whole way through. Also a book that I still think about from time to time.

And lastly, Cloud Atlas. I really think everyone should read it. It is a masterpiece and so thought provoking and I wish I had a pinky nail worth of David Mitchell’s talent.

13 thoughts on “Books! Reviews of Books! (Part 4, Book List 2)”

  1. Yes!! A Discovery of Witches! SO good. Are you going to read the sequel? (You should. And I cannot wait for the third one.)

    I love your book reviews! I’ve also read several Gladwell and Moore books and enjoyed them. I want to read Cloud Atlas now!

    1. I am totally going to read the sequel, but I am spacing out my trilogies (or series’) for a little while to put a few more books I’ve been meaning to read under my belt. 🙂

  2. I loved Cloud Atlas too – I took it simply as history repeating itself. The casting decisions in the movie seem to suggest something more than that (although I haven’t watched the movie, so I’m not sure!) And now I am really excited to start reading Discovery of Witches (I *just* checked it out from the library!)

    1. Yay!! It is fun and a more grown up fantasy/romance-y book. It deals with real world issues (though I still have some reservations on the “controlling” cliche of romantic lead males).

  3. Ok, I’ve now had two people of good taste HIGHLY recommend “Cloud Atlas.” Clearly I need to pick it up. (And I skipped the paragraph you said to skip! I’ll be FLYING BLIND!)

    Children not acting their age bothers me in books, too. Although I tend to notice it more when it’s like, a supposedly 8 year old girl with the articulation of an 18 year old. Kids don’t talk like adults!

  4. Gah! I’ve been waiting for you to read A Dirty Job and review it forever. Because I read a lot. And for a book to really stick with me, and be something that I think about often, it has to be special. This book hit my sweet spot in so many ways. Within those first few pages I was crying (during my lunch hour at work mind you) because BAM! It just starts off with big sad scenes. I loved all of the characters, I loved the dark and sarcastic humor, I loved all the twists and turns. I just hands down loved it so much. There was comedy, there was drama and sadness, there was sexual innuendo and fantasy. I just enjoyed reading it from the first page to the last. And I totally get what you mean about it translating into a movie really well. The description of scenes and happenings gives you such a vivid picture in your head that you can visualize it throughout the book. My only thought on that though would be that I’d rather see it be made more as a lower budget indie type movie rather than some block buster. The tiny creatures? Yes please. This is totally one of my top 5 books of all time. Granted that is just my opinion, but it is one book that I recommend any chance I get. Love love love it.

    1. I think the dialogue was especially well done. It just seemed so REAL. It didn’t fall into any weird book-cliches of how people “talk in books” it was like… watching a conversation happen in real time.

  5. Re: Outliers and the 10,000 Hour Rule… It gives me chills. I know it’s meant to be reassuring (“It’s only practice! Everyone can be a genius!”), but hello? Who has 10,000 hours for anything? I feel like I’m coming into my own with the crafts I’m trying to master in the last few years, but what happens if/when I have a kid? The hours will vanish. So will my skills. I collapse into theatrical despair when I think of it. The only bright spot is all the articles I greedily absorb that poke holes in the “rule”, especially the ones that show you don’t have to put in 10,000 hours to be *successful* at something.

  6. Here’s the way I thought about the 10000 hours thing after reading that book (mostly to make myself feel better, haha):

    a.) It’s pretty fun to be “5000-hrs-good” at something too, or even “1000-good.” I’m probably approaching what… a thousand hours of learning to cook? Slowly over the last few years? And it’s very enjoyable. 😀

    b.) Creatives can get away with not being the 10k-hr-best at what we do in a way that hockey players can’t, because we bring a unique voice or personal style to the table as well. Sure, there are a lot of people who can draw an elephant better than me, but none of them will draw it in the exact same way that I do, so there’s some definite value there. I bet writing’s similar- you’ve got stories that nobody else can tell.

  7. My PhD is in creativity theory and how it applies to fiction writers and… good news… the 10000 hours things isn’t true of all creative areas or all creative folks. Mastery of your domain can take many forms – for most writers it IS about applying bum to seat and writing – good stuff, bad stuff, small stuff, large stuff, stuff no-one sees or stuff that’s published in mags, short story comps, etc before getting to novel publication. But you know what? Some folks get their novel published the first time out, and others write millions and millions of words before anyone sees anything. In the end, there are other aspects that you also need to be working on besides just the writing – you need to be immersing yourself in the domain to learn all you need to learn about writing (reading!) and you need to be immersing yourself in the field to learn all you need to learn about how to get published – that’s where the “luck” or “right time, right place” part generally comes in – it’s not random chance at all – but positioning yourself for the best opportunities. These days, because publications from a slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts is increasingly rare, writers are finding alternate access points to the field – through competitions, agents, networking, etc. That stuff is almost as important as accruing hours. Obviously practice is still necessary, but not to the extent that you ignore the other stuff. For writers, I’d count the reading and acquisition of knowledge about the industry in the 10000 hours.

    Haha, sorry for the academic abstract.

  8. I really want to read A Dirty Job after all of the discussions on this blog, so I’m definitely putting it on my list.

    Re: Ferroll Sams, I’d be interested to see how you/people/anyone feel after reading the next one (or two). I feel like the first book is much more juvenile (maybe intentional, seeing as how Porter is so juvenile throughout the entire book?), and the next two really explore his growth and maturity and dawning awareness that his world view is incredibly limited.

    Also, i have the third discovery of witches book release date on my calendar and i CAN NOT WAIT. I wonder if i’ll be able to stop myself from reading it immediately so i can do so on my loooong flight to europe a couple of weeks later…

  9. My faaaaavorite David Mitchell book is Black Swan Green. It’s different than his others, in that it’s a quieter sort of book, but I LOVE it. His others are all really excellent, too.

  10. I am definitely adding “A discovery of witches to my list”. I tried to see Cloud Atlas but got bored… I think I was super tired. Maybe I will try to read the book.

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