The Girl Who Fell to Earth

The Girl Who Fell to EarthThe Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria (2012)

Summary

Sophia Al-Maria’s mother is a white woman from Washington and her father is a Bedouin from Qatar. As she grows up, Sophia is caught between these two cultures and families – not fully fitting into either – as she tries to figure out her identity.

Review

I got this book because it was on sale, I liked the cover, and it was partially set in Washington. 😛

The concept of the book was interesting and I liked it, but I really wish there had been more depth. I wanted to read more about things like how Sophia’s father got by on his own when he traveled to America and what it was like to experience 9/11 in the Middle East, but these were just glossed over. Characters other than Sophia also felt superficial.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memoirs
  • Coming of age stories
  • The Bedouin
  • Arab vs. American culture
  • Teenage angst

Yes Please

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)

Summary

Comedian and actress Amy Poehler shares personal stories in this memoir.

Review

This isn’t the type of book I’d normally read, but I needed a memoir for the Seattle Public Library Summer Book Bingo and an audiobook for the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. Amy Poehler narrates the audiobook herself with the assistance of some famous special guests.

Yes Please was funny, honest, and enjoyable, but it’s not going to stick with me.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Amy Poehler (duh)
  • Celebrity memoirs
  • Humor
  • Saturday Night Live
  • Behind-the-scenes of acting
  • Parks and Recreation

Dead Wake

Dead WakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)

Summary

In May 1915, a luxury ocean liner called the Lusitania left New York for Liverpool, full of passengers. Believing the Lusitania to be safe from attack, passengers and crew traveled through a U-boat-infested war zone, ignoring German warnings. A single German torpedo took out the world’s largest passenger ship, claiming the lives of 1198 people.

Review

Dead Wake is an extremely well-researched non-fiction book. It tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania through its passengers and crew, as well as the German U-boat captain who torpedoed the ship, a top secret British intelligence unit, and President Woodrow Wilson. I liked all the various perspectives, though there wasn’t enough to become attached to any of the characters. I also felt that including Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Galt should have been left out.

It was a good book and I respect the research that went into it, but I didn’t love it.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • The Lusitania (duh)
  • Well-researched non-fiction
  • World War I
  • American and/or European history
  • Sinking ships
  • U-boats

The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a New York Times bestseller by Daniel James Brown that was published in 2013.

Summary

The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington’s 8-man rowing team that shocked the world by winning the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

In an age when Americans enjoy dozens of cable sports channels, when professional athletes often command annual salaries in the tens of millions of dollars, and when the entire nation all but shuts down for a virtual national holiday on Super Bowl Sunday, it’s hard to fully appreciate how important the rising prominence of the University of Washington’s crew was to the people of Seattle in 1935.

They were the poor sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers coming into adulthood during the Great Depression. Rowing was thought of as a prestigious sport for upper class boys on the East Coast. Through exhaustive hard work, determination, and team work, the UW rowing team overcame some impressively tough obstacles to become not just American, but world, champions.

The US Olympic rowing team in 1936
The US Olympic rowing team in 1936

Review

I went into this book as someone who knew nothing about rowing, wasn’t a sports person, and preferred fiction to non-fiction. The fact that I really enjoyed this book should tell you something about how compelling The Boys in the Boat is.

It was maddeningly difficult, as if eight man standing on a floating log that threatened to roll over whenever they moved had to hit eight golf balls at exactly the same moment, with exactly the same amount of force, directing the ball to exactly the same point on a green, and doing so over and over, every two or three seconds.

There is so much detail in this story, coming directly from the rowers, their families, diaries, video footage, and other records. Although the book focuses primarily on one rower, Joe Rantz, it also tells about his dysfunctional family, teammates, coaches, the man who crafted the rowing shells, and the time period (the Great Depression, Hitler, the Dust Bowl, etc.).

Even if you don’t think this is the type of book for you, I encourage you to read it.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Rowing (obviously)
  • Pacific Northwest history (1930’s)
  • Rooting for the underdog
  • The rise of Nazi Germany
  • The Great Depression

Book trailer

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthChris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, became an internet celebrity during his last flight to the International Space Station in 2013. He shared what life on the ISS was like with those of us stuck on Earth through his “How to” Youtube videos, “Ask me anything” posts on Reddit, photos from space, Twitter account, and the first music video recorded in space, Chris Hadfield’s cover of Space Oddity.

After he got back from the ISS, Chris Hadfield published a memoir, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, which became a bestseller.

Summary

Chris Hadfield wanted to be an astronaut since he first saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon when he was 9 years old. He knew it was an impossible dream (Canada didn’t even have a space program yet and NASA only accepted U.S. citizens), but he thought that if he worked toward it anyway, maybe it would be possible some day down the road.

I tried to imagine what an astronaut might do if he were 9 years old, then do the exact same thing. Would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book?

Since Chris Hadfield knew he was unlikely to ever be an astronaut, he made sure that he enjoyed and made the most of every step in his career. And when he did finally become an astronaut, he kept the same mentality toward space flight — that it might never happen, but he would work toward it and enjoy the process.

If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me. The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on.

Review

I started following Chris Hadfield on social media while he was on the ISS, because I’ve always been fascinated by space and he does such a great job kindling that fascination. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth not only gives insight into what it’s like to be an astronaut, but Chris Hadfield also shares life lessons that would apply to anyone. I really liked this book. It’s interesting, insightful, and funny and I don’t think it could have been written by a more humble guy.

Book trailer

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Last month, I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, a non-fiction book about how introversion is misunderstood and undervalued in our society that glorifies being social and outgoing.

Summary

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingIt’s estimated that a third to half of people are introverts. Introverts’ energy gets drained when they spend too much time with other people; extroverts’ energy gets drained when they spend too much time alone. Introverts are quiet, thoughtful listeners who prefer solitude; extroverts are talkative, energetic socialites. Contrary to popular belief, introverts aren’t necessarily shy, though some are.

Cain uses anecdotes and scientific studies to show that we are really limiting our potential by overlooking introverts.

Review

This will probably come as no surprise to those who know me — I’m an introvert. I would much rather stay at home with a book than go out partying with a group of people. There is a personality assessment mentioned in the book called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I’ve taken tests for it in the past and I definitely fall into the ISTJ type, which is described as:

Responsible, sincere, analytical, reserved, realistic, systematic. Hardworking and trustworthy with sound practical judgement.

ISTJs are faithful, logical, organized, sensible, and earnest traditionalists who enjoy keeping their lives and environments well-regulated. Typically reserved and serious individuals, they earn success through their thoroughness and extraordinary dependability.

In general, ISTJs are capable, logical, reasonable, and effective individuals with a deeply driven desire to promote security and peaceful living.

If you’re interested to find out your MBTI personality type, there are several tests online. The tests I found weren’t super great, so I suggest combining the results of a few tests with descriptions of each of the personality types (there are 16 types).

Anyway, back to the book.

Quiet isn’t about how introversion is better than extroversion (or vice-versa). Rather, Cain writes about how there is no “best” personality type and how we need to make sure we aren’t ignoring the needs and ideas of one group just because they’re less vocal, pushy, etc. Introversion isn’t something that needs to be “cured” and extroversion probably shouldn’t be so idealized. Both groups have their strengths and both groups are valuable in the workplace, school, family, and society in general.

Overall, I liked the book and I thought it did a great job illustrating introversion and its importance. I personally didn’t find it very enlightening (it was more an affirmation of things I already know), but it was thought-provoking and I found myself relating to a lot of the things Cain wrote about. If you’re an introvert or if you’re just looking to understand introversion better, I’d recommend reading it.

TED Talk

Susan Cain gave a TED Talk in 2012 called The Power of Introverts, which is definitely worth watching and it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the book. The video is below:

Twelve Years a Slave

Summary

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave is a memoir by Solomon Northup, a free-born black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. For 12 years, Northup worked on cotton and sugarcane plantations in Louisiana before he was ultimately rescued and able to go home to his wife and children.

I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under my own observation — only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. My object is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage.

Review

Twelve Years a Slave is truly a remarkable narrative and I was blown away by the amount of detail it contained. Solomon Northup provided fascinating and painful insight into what slave life was like.

So we passed, hand-cuffed and in silence, through the streets of Washington — through the Capital of a nation, whose theory of government, we were told, rests on the foundation of man’s inalienable right to life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

I read the enhanced edition by Sue Eakin, who spent her life researching Solomon Northup’s story. When she was twelve, she read a copy of the book, which had disappeared into obscurity by then. Eakin dedicated her life to researching Solomon Northup’s story and she breathed life into it again by republishing in 1968, annotated with her extensive research notes.

Movie

Solomun Northup’s story was turned into a movie, 12 Years a Slave, which received the Academy Award for Best Picture earlier this month.

Obviously, there are some deviations from the book in the movie (like omitting Northup’s escape from Tibeats through the swamp), but, for the most part, it stays very true to the book, even quoting some of it verbatim. Definitely worth seeing.

The Healing of America

Do people have a right to health care?

healing-of-americaAccording to The Healing of America by T. R. Reid, that is the first question a country needs to ask when designing its health care system. Every industrialized country — except the United States — has answered yes.

The Healing of America, published in 2009, was recommended to me by my mom. Although it was written before the ObamaCare health care reform was signed into law, the ideas presented in the book are still very relevant.

America’s health care system ranked 37th overall (just behind Costa Rica and above Slovenia) according to the World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2000, even though it was first for expenditure. The United States, the richest nation on earth, may have the best doctors and researchers, but we are far behind other developed countries in most other measures.

Obviously, there is a problem with our current health care system.

To figure out how to improve America’s health care system, Reid researched the health care systems of other countries like France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and India, to see what was working (and what wasn’t) in those countries.

In several industrialized countries, for example, citizens have an electronic card that contains their medical and billing records, providing doctors with a patient’s full medical history with the swipe of a card. Billing is also done electronically, which both speeds up the process and significantly reduces administrative costs.

I also liked that in most countries, medical costs were known up front. In America, prices are shrouded in mystery, unknown by both the patient and the doctor, due to our confusing insurance system and cost shifting practices.

The most significant differences, though, were that in every other developed country in the world:

  • It is unheard of for citizens to go bankrupt because of medical bills.
  • Basic health insurance must be nonprofit.
  • There is universal coverage for all of its citizens.

Reid also debunked some common American myths about foreign health care systems, including:

  • Myth: “It’s all socialized medicine out there”
  • Myth: “They ration care with waiting lists and limited choice”
  • Myth: “They are wasteful systems run by bloated bureaucracies”
  • Myth: “Health insurance companies have to be cruel”
  • Myth: “Those systems are too foreign to work in the USA”

Fixing our broken health system is not going to be easy and no health system is perfect, but I think we can learn a lot from what other countries have done. Reid doesn’t provide a solution to our health care crisis in The Healing of America, but he does bring up a lot of things to think about.

The first step is answering that basic question: do people have a right to health care?