Posts tagged with: book

A Short History of Nearly Everything — Bill Bryson

I’ve always been fascinated by the origin of humankind. How did we go from cavemen trying to figure out fire to being able to fly huge airplanes through the sky? I’m deeply interested in the many steps that led not only to our present day progress but also to our very existence in the first place. This was my first book by Bill Bryson and I went in with high expectations based on his track record.

But then I read through the first few chapters focused on the big bang and the origins of the universe and decided to take a break. I’ll admit that it didn’t meet my expectations at first because I was focused on a very specific part in the universe’s timeline. Not being one to give up and having run out of books in my backlog I gave it another chance. And I’m glad I did.

It’s such an entertaining read and Bill knows how to turn his well researched content into page-turners. I don’t think I’ll remember most (if any) names of the people mentioned but it gave me a really good overview on many topics that relate to my main interest at the moment–how humans evolved over time.

With that being said, the chapter I enjoyed the most was the obviously the one describing what little is known about our many Sapiens ancestors. This led me down a rabbit hole and I’ve found a few promising resources on the topic such as The Ascent of Man, Prehistory, Guns, Germs and Steel and Sapiens which I’m currently reading.

★★★★☆

A Man Called Ove — Frederik Backman

Ove is the grumpy old man that you’d complain about as a kid because he keeps telling you off. The kind who takes it upon himself to ensure rules are followed and things are done the proper way in his neighbourhood.

A Man Called Ove is the story of a man full of principles and a rigid mindset who slowly changes his ways with the arrival of new neighbours–a kind and energetic family of four. Parvaneh, the mother immediately sees through Ove’s facade and an unexpected friendship starts to unfold.

I enjoyed Frederik Backman’s writing style, which I first encountered in Anxious People and it’s no different with this book. He elegantly weaves Ove’s past into his day-to-day adventures which helps the reader discover the complex layers of Ove’s personality little by little.

This book is an emotional rollercoaster and a great reminder to be kind to other people as we don’t know what they might struggle with.

★★★★☆

Recursion — Blake Crouch

Before reading Dark Matter a while ago I had never heard of Blake Crouch who is best known for the Wayward Pines trilogy. I was pleasantly surprised by the entertaining writing style and his take on alternative universes. Was Recursion able to meet my expectations? Let’s see.

The story follows two main characters at different points in time: Helena, a scientist, 10 years before the main plot takes place and Barry, a NYC cop, in the present.

The things Helena did in the past start catching up to her and inadvertently turn Barry’s life upside down. This starts an endless journey through their respective memories to try and fix past mistakes and save the world.

It took me a moment to wrap my head around the various timelines but once I started paying more attention to the dates it all started to make sense. As much as a time-travelling sci-fi novel can make sense I guess.

I think I enjoyed this book slightly more than Dark Matter because it surprised me midway through. When I thought the story could end at a certain point, Crouch pushed his concepts one step further and kept me engaged until the actual ending.

If you’re into sci-fi thrillers that mess with time and space, definitely check this one out.

★★★★☆

Lord of the Flies — William Golding

After seeing this book referenced in the previous book I read as well as walking past a burger joint called Lord of the Fries one too many times, I figured I should finally check out this classic.

I naively thought the story would involve flies and other sorts of insects but it turns out I was wrong. Lord of the Flies is actually the story of a group of children stranded on a desert island during the second world war. Without any adults present they have to grow up fast and figure out a way to get rescued. The kids realise early on they will need to work together if they want to survive but soon tension start to arise in this newly formed mini-society.

It’s an interesting take on how children would self-manage and form their own little society. They face challenges on a daily basis, especially when it comes to agreeing on what’s best for the group. Despite this, I felt there was much happening in this book except for a couple of events that shake up life on the island for the main characters. I also got tired of the author’s long and often unnecessary descriptions of the surrounding landscape.

The ending wasn’t what I was expecting at all but I didn’t mind it. Overall a decent book, but I was left wanting more.

★★☆☆☆

Girl Gone Mad – Avery Bishop

Girl Gone Mad isn’t the type of book I’d usually read but since it was recommended to me and it had good reviews I gave it a shot. It’s a story about a group of women who used to be bullies in high school. Even though they’ve grown apart since, their past now seems to haunt them in mysterious ways.

I enjoyed the author’s style and the numerous flashbacks that progressively reveal more about the main character’s background. Throughout the story however I kept thinking Well now would be a great time to call the police and let them take care of it” but apparently the women prefer to take matters into their own hands–for better or worse.

It’s an entertaining book with many twists and turns with an ending that surprised me. In fact it was still on my mind several days after I’d finished it. Overall a decent thriller if you can forgive a few unrealistic story elements.

★★★☆☆

Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline

Where do I start? When I first read Ready Player One five years ago I was a fan. It was that book that drew me back into reading. The story was captivating and the premise of a virtual egg hunt with a lot at stake was thrilling. Since I like video games it made me appreciate the many pop culture references even more.

Unfortunately Ready Player Two is pretty much the same plot all over again and the main character Wade Watts is joined by the same group of people to help him in his quest to save the world…again. Even though he’s supposed to have grown up in the nine years that have passed since the first book Wade’s behaviour is that of a spoiled and insecure billionaire man-child.

As luck would have it he’s the chosen one which means only he is able to complete the main stages of each quests. This leaves very little room for the rest of the characters to shine and develop their stories.

In this sequel the pop culture references were gratuitously sprinkled all over and didn’t feel very relevant to the story. It seemed like the author just wanted to brag about his vast knowledge of the 80’s which gets old quickly.

Unless you’re a huge fan and want to check out what the hype was all about I would avoid this one.

★★☆☆☆

Deep Listening — Oscar Trimboli

Last year I had the opportunity to meet a designer from Google. During our chat he mentioned that a course on deep listening helped him become a better designer. While I don’t have access to the course I figured a book is the next best thing to learn more about this topic. Deep Listening — Impact beyond words seemed to be the most popular so I went with it even though it’s really short–just over 100 pages.

Turns out the secret to deep listening is…to just listen:

  • Be present in the moment
  • Give the speaker your undivided attention
  • Give the speaker space to think–avoid jumping in just because they pause
  • Don’t start thinking about a reply
  • Don’t interrupt

When you think about it, it all just sounds like common sense and mindfulness. I’ve been guilty of interrupting, eagerly waiting for my turn to speak and being distracted to name a few. In the past few days however I’ve made a conscious effort to notice those things in order to become a better listener.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” –Epictetus

★★★☆☆

On Writing Well – William Zinsser

After reading The Elements of Style and a couple of other books on writing I didn’t necessarily plan on reading another one on this topic. But when I saw that Derek Sivers recommended On Writing Well on his site I thought it might be worth checking out.

I learned a lot about how to improve my writing in the first few chapters of the book. They were relevant, filled with examples and easy to understand. The main takeaways for me were:

  • The best writing comes from rewriting as much as necessary.
  • Strip down each sentence to its essence.
  • Avoid long sentences. Break them down into smaller pieces if it’s easier to understand.
  • Ask yourself What am I trying to say? and check in later Have I said it?.
  • Writing in the first person is the most genuine way to write.
  • Don’t forget to have fun, your readers will notice and enjoy it.
  • Use people and places in your writing, they make your story come to life.
  • Write like a human being and avoid confusing your readers with fancy words that don’t mean much.

Now every time I write whether it’s for my blog, at work or anywhere else I try to put these learnings into practice. The book gave me new tools to improve my writing and made the process more enjoyable. It’s like I was given a clear path to follow on my journey to becoming a better writer.

All that’s left do is write. And rewrite some more.

★★★☆☆

Project Hail Mary — Andy Weir

I rarely pre-order anything, let alone books but when I found out that one of my favourite authors–Andy Weir–was about to release a new book I couldn’t resist. His previous book Artemis was disappointing because I had somehow expected it to be similar to The Martian, which I loved. In fact, it’s my favourite book. Now here I was wondering Is Project Hail Mary going to scratch that itch for a cynical space adventure filled with danger and more importantly, humour?”

The short answer is: Yes, it does.” You follow the day-to-day life of an average high school science teacher–Ryland Grace–whose career could have been much more successful. He alienated his peers with controversial theories about minimal requirements for life forms to exist.

Turns out that these very theories will come in handy when an alien species threatens all of humanity. As an expert in his field he is recruited by special task force on a mission to save Earth from impending doom. From there it doesn’t take long for Ryland to end up on in space facing all kinds of difficulties that take quick thinking and a healthy dose of science to overcome.

Along the way I stopped trying to make sense of the the many scientific facts and references mentioned throughout. It’s obvious that a lot research has gone into the subjects to ensure they were realistic, even if sometimes far-fetched.

Without giving away too much of the story I’ll say that Project Hail Mary follows in the footsteps of the Martian and even takes it one step further: our hero isn’t the only one in space this time.

If you’re looking for an entertaining page-turner with a story full of surprises Andy Weir’s latest book might be for you.

★★★★☆

Anxious People — Frederik Backman

I’m changing the format of the book reviews to individual posts per book instead of bundling them by month. This way I don’t feel like I need to wait until I have a few lined up before publishing.

When I was looking for an entertaining book to read on a flight Amazon suggested this one to me. After reading a few reviews I bought it but ended up not reading it on the flight at all. Oh well.

Anxious People is a wholesome book that starts with a divorce which leads to a chain of consequences and unlikely social interactions.

Despite the slow start and what appeared to be a predictable story initially I enjoyed discovering a bit more about each character as I progressed through the chapters. For me things started to get interesting with the introduction of Zara, a cynical old woman who seems to despise everyone else but carries a secret throughout the entire story.

As you read on you discover the many intricacies that link the various characters together in unexpected ways. It’s an entertaining read although I wish it ended sooner than it did from a story perspective.

★★★☆☆