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Mirkat Always Reading

I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.


Echo - Pam Muñoz Ryan, MacLeod Andrews, David de Vries, Rebecca Soler, Mark Bramhall, Corky Siegel







This book is classified "juvenile," but I think it's the kind of book that can appeal to readers of all ages.  A boy named Otto gets lost in a dark forest in Germany, and is assisted by three sisters who are somehow also characters in a mysterious fairy tale he bought from a gypsy, who also gave him a very special harmonica.  The sisters need Otto's help to break a witch's curse, and the harmonica will be the key.  A kind of "Fellowship of the Traveling Harmonica" ensues.  The harmonica will be passed along multiple times, and the narrative follows to each person who possesses it.  Just a bit of a warning:  The switch from one narrative to another is jarring when you don't know it is coming, especially since the narrator gets you to care about the characters, takes you to a cliffhanger, and then switches to a new set of characters.  Don't worry--the story comes back to those characters, resolves the cliffhangers, and ties it all together.  Just expect it and go along for the ride.


This is an instance where listening to the audio edition is the best choice, because music is so central to the story, and every musical piece mentioned is also played in the audio version.  I can't help thinking something is lost in the text-only version.  

Today Will Be Different

Today Will Be Different - Maria Semple, Kathleen Wilhoite



After having enjoyed Where'd You Go, Bernadette, I was excited to find another book by Maria Semple--and especially once I realized she had gotten Kathleen Wilhoite again, to narrate the audiobook.  The two books appear to exist in the same universe, as the central character's son goes to The Galen School, just as Bee does in Bernadette.  


Eleanor Flood used to be at the helm of an animated show called Looper Wash.  But that was years ago.  She and her hand-surgeon husband Joe Wallace had traded New York City for Seattle ten years before, based on the premise that Seattle was supposed to be the least religious city in the U.S.  They had a deal that they'd move back to NYC in ten years, switch again ten years after that, and keep alternating for the duration.  But Joe is well ensconced in his position as hand surgeon to the Seattle Sea Hawks, and the topic hasn't been broached in quite a while.


So, Eleanor decides that "today will be different," but her plans are interrupted when she gets a call from The Galen School letting her know that her son Timby is complaining that he doesn't feel well.  Eleanor is convinced he's faking sick because the same thing has happened a couple of other times recently, so she takes him straight to the pediatrician.  The visit reveals that the motive for being "sick" is conflict with a classmate, and the doctor prescribes "Mommy time."  An impromptu visit to Joe's office leads to the revelation that Joe had told his staff that the family was "on vacation" that week--which raises the question of what he's been doing while pretending to go to work every day.


So things take an odd turn as Eleanor attempts to figure out what's going on.  No, she can't just call her husband and have conversation, because then there'd be no plot!  Meanwhile, she and Timby have lunch with a former co-worker from her Looper Wash days, and he produces something she hasn't thought about in years: a hand-made illustrated book she made many years back, The Flood Girls.  What?!?!  Eleanor never told Timby she had a sister.  "I don't have a sister!"  Well, we'll see about that.


There were times when I found Eleanor exasperating, but she never completely lost me, and I enjoyed the payoff.  Kathleen Wilhoite again brings another dimension to the story with her narration.  I do wish someone had coached her on pronouncing "Clowes" and "Groening," though.  As in Bernadette, there is a scene where Wilhoite gets to showcase her beautiful singing voice.  In this case, she sings "Morning Has Broken."  Although I thought it was a pleasant enough song when the Cat Stevens version was popular in the 1970s, Wilhoite did something magical to it.  I almost teared up.  (Must see if library has her CD!)

You'll Grow Out of It

You'll Grow Out of It - Jessi Klein



A collection of humorous autobiographical essays from Jessi Klein, head writer for The Amy Schumer Show.  I had not heard of Jessi Klein before stumbling upon this audio book, and I enjoyed her voice (both authorial and audio-narrative).  I frequently laughed out loud like a crazy person.  I was less fond of the direction she took with her "Get the Epidural" essay, because I felt it ended up being a little bit overly bombastic in its "GET THE EPIDURAL" refrain.  I agree that no one should be shamed for wanting one, but it felt as though she went too far in the opposite direction.  Like you'd have to be stupid to even consider not getting one.  Personally, I had planned to try labor and delivery without one, while keeping it as an option if I felt the need.  Ultimately, my entire birth plan went out the window, as I ended up with a c-section due to fetal distress.  Klein makes a very brief disclaimer along the lines of, "If you really want to give birth without an epidural, go for it," but that is pretty well drowned out by the frequent shout of "GET THE EPIDURAL!" 


As Klein explains in the essays, she was single and dating when she began composing them, and got engaged, married, and pregnant, and became a new mom during the course of completing them.  "I'm a slow writer!"  I would definitely seek out a stand-up special by Jessi Klein, should one become available (are you listening, Netflix?).

Flash Boys

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt - Michael Lewis, Dylan Baker



I really had no idea about HFT (high-frequency trading), let alone "dark pools," but nonetheless, appreciated Michael Lewis's telling of a disaffected group of finance guys looking to devise a new stock market immune from the loopholes that allow insiders to game the system, to the detriment of the average person with a retirement fund.  No need to be a finance wonk to appreciate this book.  Lewis does a great job explaining a murky topic.

Expecially A-holes

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (Audio) - Robert I. Sutton



With my interest in behavioral economics piqued, I found this book by searching "behavioral economics" in my library's e-collection and narrowing the results to available mp3 audiobooks.  This yielded a fairly short list, and this one interested me more than the others.


Nothing too surprising in this book.  Toxic jerks can be incredibly destructive to businesses and organizations.  HR people should not hire them.  If possible, workers with "a-hole" bosses should get out if they reasonably can.  If not, there are strategies  to reduce the damage.  There are anecdotes and studies cited.  The book could be helpful for people who are in a position to hire employees (know what to avoid) or have to navigate a-hole infested workplaces.


In case you're wondering about "expecially," that is the way Sutton pronounces "especially."  I know one person in real life who does that, and until I listened to this audiobook, I thought she might be the only one.  Now I know at least one other person does it.  I cringed every time I heard him do this and was reminded that most authors should not narrate their own audiobooks.

Undoing Project

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds - Michael Lewis, Dennis Boutsikaris

A little over a month ago, I attended a conference (I work in continuing medical education).  One of my favorite sessions was on psychology and behavioral economics.  By serendipity, concepts from the session are showing up in books I read/listen to.  Peak-end rule and elements of decision theory showed up in When by Daniel Pink.  And then...  Undoing Project recounts the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky's friendship and collaboration.  What is now known as behavioral economics grew out of their work.  Tversky and Kahneman challenged and dismantled old assumptions about people's decisions being based on rational thought. There are numerous non-rational factors that affect the decision process.


The book is as much about the friendship and the collaboration processes that grew out of it as it is about the research that resulted from it.  I'm fascinated by anything about our brains--how we learn, how we decide, how things go wrong (or right) in these mechanisms.  Going back to my notes from the session I attended last month, I found that the speaker had recommended two books:  Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (the authors of the latter were, of course, mentioned in The Undoing Project).  So I have requested the Kahneman book and checked out Nudge.  

This Feels Like My Other Job

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds - Michael Lewis, Dennis Boutsikaris

C'mon, Booklikes.  If I'm adding editions like, every day, maybe I can get a paycheck for all this work I'm doing?  That'd be great....  Thanks!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondō, Emily Woo Zeller



Marie Kondo earnestly believes that the objects she possesses want more than anything to please her, and that thanking them for their service, as if they are military veterans returning from combat, keeps them happy.  Silly girl.  The inanimate objects despise you and are silently plotting against you!  (See, I can do it, too, with the kooky anthropomorphizing.)


I realize that I missed the "Konmari" hype when this book first came out.  This title popped up as an available audiobook in my library's e-collection, and it sparked my curiosity.  Soon I realized, "Oh, THIS is what was being mocked on that one episode of The Simpsons.


Like many other readers, I started out interested in the premise that decluttering would be beneficial, but the further I got into the book, the more I recoiled from Kondo's rigid rules about sorting, discarding, and storing, and her weird relationship to inanimate objects.


Others have already made this connection, but Kondo reminds me of Adrian Monk, in the sense that she appears to have made OCD work for her career.  It seems she is making it work for herself, but there were definitely parts of the book where I got the queasy impression that she legitimately shows signs of mental illness, with little to no self-awareness.


Here are my takeaways:  Sort your stuff.  Figure out what to keep (nope, I won't insist everything needs to "spark joy" in me--sometimes I just need things or find them useful).  Find places for your things.  Nope, not going to switch to folding all of my clothes and putting them into drawers or boxes.  I am a hanger kind of girl.  My clothes told me they're "hanger" girls, too, so it's okay!  Nope, nope, nope on putting all the books on the floor and getting rid of some large percent of them.  The books are fine, not making any noise, so I'll leave them as they are.  No, I am not going to take things out of my purse every night, and put them each in their own special drawers and shelves for the night after thanking them.  For one thing, I hate purses, and use a messenger bag unless I'm going to a fancy-dress event.  For another, that's a stupid time-wasting ritual.


Don't waste your time with this book.  But I seriously look forward to delving into the parody:  The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy.

Added Edition (Again)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondō, Emily Woo Zeller

Booklikes, if you could just please already have whatever book (including edition) I choose to shelve next, so I don't need to add the edition myself?  That'd be great, thanks.

Last Black Unicorn

The Last Black Unicorn - Tiffany Haddish

A co-worker of mine recommended this book to me.  I had not previously heard of Tiffany Haddish, but I'm ready to seek out any stand-up specials or movies I can find featuring her.  Haddish recounts stories of an abusive mother, absent father, foster care, ex-boyfriends, abusive ex-husband, and her journey into stand-up comedy.  She is hilarious, compassionate, and original.  Narrated by the author.  Bonus:  Sings a "Last Black Unicorn" song a the very end.  If you listen to the audio version, make sure you do not miss the song.


North:  Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail - Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek!  I didn't think it was possible for me to love him more than I already did.  Having read his book Eat and Run and Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, I already considered him a role model and inspiration in the realms of ultrarunning, endurance sport, vegan athletes, and human decency.  When he was making his attempt at a new FKT (fastest known time) for a supported through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2015, like many people, I was tracking his progress online, reading updates and hoping he'd meet his goal.  Although I'd seen reports about injuries, adverse weather, and other obstacles, I was interested to know more about the 46+-day experience.  When I saw North on a list of recommended books for runners, I was eager to grab the audiobook from my library's e-collection.  The library didn't actually own the edition (yet) when I first searched for it, but I put in a recommendation on the title, and was pleased when I received the notice that the library had obtained it and put me on the list.


The audio edition is narrated by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek, in alternating chapters.  I loved getting the two different perspectives on what led to the FKT attempt and the experience of executing it. Before Scott's decision to take on the AT, Jenny had gone through a life-threatening loss of an ectopic pregnancy, and Scott had reached an impasse with his running, where he'd train for ultra races but take a DNF because he wasn't feeling it.  What could he do to regain his old spark?  While on a hike together, Jenny challenged him to figure out how to do just that, and the idea of trying for an AT FKT came to him.  The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea.


They drove from their Colorado home to the southern start of the AT, in Georgia, in their black van dubbed Castle Black (love the Game of Thrones reference!).  Going north on the trail is known as NoBo (northbound) as opposed to starting in Maine and heading down to Georgia being SoBo (southbound).  Scott had been warned that this way was "backwards" and "harder," but he was undaunted.  


One of the cool things that came through in this book was the awesomeness of the running community and ultra community.  Both Jureks acknowledge that they couldn't have succeeded without the help of friends as well as strangers who jumped in to offer help in the form of food, companionship, advice, and encouragement when it was most needed.  And in that same spirit, Scott was back the next year, supporting Karl "Speedgoat" Melzer in a successful new AT FKT attempt.  


I wholeheartedly recommend this to running enthusiasts, ultra enthusiasts, Jurek enthusiasts, and "challenging endeavors that push a person to their personal edge and make them a better version of themselves" enthusiasts.



When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing - Daniel H. Pink

This is one of those books I think everyone should read.  Daniel Pink explains that instead of a "how to" book, he sees this as a "when to" book.  We all have daily cycles, with a peak and a trough.  For most of us, the trough is in the afternoon--typically around 2:00-3:00 (though that varies by individual).  Making important decisions during our "trough" period, according to Pink, is a terrible idea.  Surgical errors are much more likely in the afternoon, than in any other time frame.  Though there are certain types of activities that can be performed successfully during the "trough" time, so planning tasks according to our own cycles is a useful strategy.


Just as there are daily cycles in every person's day, there are lifetime cycles, economic cycles, and others.  Pink offers useful information and strategies on the various types of cycles--offering ways to become a "time hacker."  There are hacks to use as an individual as well as synchronizing groups.  Having listened to the audiobook, there are points I plan to review in the print book.  I might actually buy this one.

The Magicians

The Magician's Land - Mark Bramhall, Lev Grossman

My absolute favorite book of this trilogy, Grossman has pulled off a true hero's journey for Quentin, while giving rich character development to the other members of this book's ensemble cast.  The mature version of himself that Quentin becomes by the end of this installment feels almost like a completely different person, compared to the magic-obsessed teen he was at the beginning of the first.  My favorite thing about his growth is the role of empathy.  There is so much power in that empathy--but the good kind of power.  A great payoff to readers of the trilogy.  


[And yes--I created this edition, because the one I listened to did not exist here.  ::sigh::]

Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury - Wolff-Michael Roth, Holter Graham

It's been about a week and a half since I finished this one, and I've procrastinated on reviewing it.  (Well, part of that is I've been away at a conference this week.)  I am once again copping out on assigning a "star" rating.  I don't thinkof this book as either good or bad.  In certain ways, it confirms what I would have expected about the inner-workings (or lack thereof) of the Trump White House, though in other ways it's my expectations augmented exponentially.  At least two of his inner circle reportedly compared him to a toddler (trying to figure out what a toddler wants; working with a recalcitrant two-year-old).  And of course that is genuinely terrifying.


According to Wolff, the White House staff were essentially divided into two camps:  the Bannonites (aligned with former campaign manager Steve Bannon) and the "Jarvanka" team (aligned with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, both of whom had installed themselves into the White House as loosely defined advisors).  Bannon's vision of Trump as disruptor were at odds with Jarvanka's desire to appeal to more moderate contingents, while positioning their own political rise (Ivanka musing that she'd be the first female president of the U.S.)


The epilogue ends with Bannon making some terrifying pronouncements about "President Bannon" and "Bannon 2020."  


Bottom line:  check out this book if you are curious.  Check it out from your library. (Or download the audio from their website, as I did--though I also downloaded the Kindle version and, again, went back and forth between audio and text).


No, Booklikes, I am NOT reading this book!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  - J.K. Rowling

I did a one-book import of my "currently reading" book over from Goodreads, because it is an edition that (of course) did not--and apparently STILL does not--exist on Booklikes.  A little over four hours later, I received my email notice that the import is "complete."  Yet somehow, this resulted in a completely other book being listed as "currently reading."  






I want to remove this from my currently reading, but I guess I will leave it up for a little while, in case this helps BL figure out what has gone wrong.


Then I will probably spend five minutes doing what I was [gosh-darnit] trying to avoid doing in the first place.  Manually adding a new edition.  Is it so, so wrong that I just want this to be easy?!?!?!!?


Update: Lost my patience, removed wrong book from my import list.  Manually added edition I am actually reading.  Yes, that thing I spent all day trying to avoid.  When I foolishly thought I had a "shortcut."

She Loved Him. He Knew.

The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher

[Grrrrrr.  Another edition I "had to" create--yes, knowing full well I could just shelve one that wasn't "my" edition, but OCD.]


Note that the two stars I am assigning to this book are a "Goodreads" ** and not an Amazon **.  It's more like an Amazon ***.  This book is fair...  There are parts of it that are quite good, but there are parts that are more like filler and some that make me either cringe or feel impatient.


And yes, I miss Carrie Fisher.  Just hearing her voice doing the narration--it was like, "Awww.  Carrie Fisher."  She died such a short time after this book was released, it is eerie hearing her mention her obituary, her legacy, and other related ideas.


The impetus for writing the book was the discovery of journals Fisher wrote during the filming of the original Star Wars film back in 1976, when the actress cast to play Princess Leia was only 19 years old and had been in just one film (Shampoo, with Warren Beatty).   The focus of the journals was not so much the experience of filming the soon-to-be iconic film, so much as it was a three-month affair with the much older, married Harrison Ford.


Fisher shares that she went into the filming with the intention of having an affair, though she never wanted to have one with a married man.  After all, her father Eddie Fisher had notoriously left her mother Debbie Reynolds to pursue his affair with Elizabeth Taylor.  Fisher had seen what it had been like for her mother to be the "left" spouse, and as one of two "left" children, she'd internalized the feeling that she was somehow responsible for her father leaving, because of her not being "enough."


The Carrie Fisher of 2016 prefaces the actual "diary" part with a brief overview of her pre-Star Wars life, leading up to the audition, the news she had been cast, and the time spent filming in London.  She shares the story of a surprise birthday party for George Lucas, where crew members pressured her to drink alcoholic beverages that she didn't actually want, before an odd attempted kidnapping that Harrison Ford intervened in.  The intervention leads to a ride home, which leads to a "sleepover," as Fisher calls it.  No, she provides no lurid details.  Just a fling that comes off rather sad, since Ford is apparently emotionally unavailable and ostensibly misjudges how "experienced" Fisher is at this point in her life (one real boyfriend).


This article sums things up pretty well:  "Carrie Fisher's last Harrison Ford story isn't romantic, it's tragic."


Fisher has another, younger narrator deliver the reading of the diary entries.   They read like what they are:  the journal of a nineteen-year-old.  They alternate between angsty poetry and oblique journals referring to her lover's reticence and possible contempt.  I had to cringe--but not with judgement.  I expect I sounded fairly similar when I was 19.


In the chapter following the journal, Fisher notes that "My affair with Harrison was a very long one-night stand.  I was relieved when it ended.  I didn't approve of myself."


Her answer to "why now" is "it's been 40 years."  For his part, Ford has merely commented that he was surprised when Fisher let him know she was writing about their fling 40 years later.  He has not commented, otherwise.


After the post-journal chapter, the narrative shifts.  At this point, there is another 25% left (according to the Kindle edition).  The last quarter is really about the experience of being associated with the Star Wars franchise, and especially its fans.  Fisher likens autograph signings to "celebrity lap dances," so you can see that she did not consider this a dignified way to earn money.  There are segments where she creates bizarre dialogues with [I expect] fictionalized fans, to the point where I feel she is mocking them.  And as if she heard me thinking that, she assured me:  "I need you to know that I'm not cynical about the fans.  (If you thought I was, you would quite properly not like me, which would defeat the purpose of this book and of so much else that I do.)  I'm moved by them."


Don't worry, Carrie.  I still like you.  Love you, even.  But there were other things I would rather have heard from you, instead of the space you fill not mocking your fans.  That whole section could have been about reuniting with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill for Episode VII, and I would have been all ears.  You share the odd experience of meeting people who seemingly wish you could have stayed the 19-year-old Leia forever.  But I am more than happy to remember you this way:





RIP, Carrie Fisher.