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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Currently reading

Nine Perfect Strangers
Liane Moriarty, Caroline Lee

Killing Commendatore

Killing Commendatore - Haruki Murakami, Kirby Heyborne

Murakami's first-person narrator for Killing Commendatore never discloses his name (something that didn't actually occur to me until I was close to the end of the novel).  The narrator is a portrait artist whose wife unexpectedly asks him for a divorce, sharing that she has been seeing another man.  Portrait Artist (calling him that for convenience) leaves the apartment he shared with his wife, embarks on a journey, and ends up living in the remote mountain home of a well-known artist--the father of an old art-school friend.  The father, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, has been moved to a nursing home.  For a nominal rent, Portrait Artist cares for the home, focuses on his art, and does some teaching at a community center.


Portrait Artist discovers in the attic a remarkable painting called "Killing Commendatore," which depicts in Japanese style a version of a famous assassination scene in Mozart's "Don Giovanni."  Portrait Artist brings the painting into the studio and becomes mesmerized by it. His friend's father, as a young man, had studied in Austria, but mysterious events over there during the Second World War resulted in his being returned to Japan, where he abruptly changed from painting in a European style to a Japanese style.


Although he has quit doing traditional portraits through an agency, he accepts a commission by a wealthy neighbor who gives him the direction to paint the portrait in any style he chooses.  The shared experience that produces the portrait leads to a friendship between the artist and his subject, ultimately leading Portrait Artist to accept his neighbor's request to paint the portrait of another neighbor, a 13-year-old girl, Marie.  The neighbor who requests the portrait may have a connection to the girl--but I won't spoil that.


Bringing the painting "Killing Commendatore" down from the attic--where its creator had ostensibly hidden it with the intention of preventing anyone from seeing it--seemingly sets into motion certain fantastical events, calling forth "ideas" and "metaphors" that are personified, and making possible/necessary a crossing into an alternate world.


This is one of those books I can't quite assign a star rating to.  There were aspects of this book that I loved:  Its depiction of an artist's mind, the narrator's visual memory, the power of art to capture elements that go beyond surface appearance.  There were aspects that I found troubling, too.  I've seen discussions where people note that Murakami seems obsessed with breasts and ears.  The breast obsession definitely comes through in this book (including the narrator sharing that his sister, who died at age 12, had very small breasts, as does the 13-year-old Marie, in contrast with her aunt, who has large shapely ones--while his wife also has small ones).  He also gives his weirdly detailed descriptions of women's ears in a couple of instances. 


There is also a scene that involves a sexual dream where the narrator basically rapes his sleeping estranged wife--he himself identifies it this way when he thinks about the dream, noting that if she's asleep, she's not consenting.  On the one hand, he was dreaming, but on the other--the dream might not have been an ordinary dream, so possible unfortunate implications.


In addition, although the book had me hooked most of the time, there were also segments where the narrative dragged, and I actually found myself doing "wrap it up" gestures with my hands (I listened to the audio version).


In sum, I am glad I experienced this novel.  I think Murakami's fans will, on the balance, appreciate the story, though possibly with misgivings.

Perfect Mother

The Perfect Mother - Aimee Molloy, Cristin Milioti

A "May Mothers" group brought together by a Prospect-Park, Brooklyn-based website called "The Village" meets on a regular basis, usually in the park, to swap stories, share milestones, and commiserate on new motherhood.  The members' interactions began online, and expanded to real-life meet-ups.  The "May Mothers" signed up during pregnancy, and continued through the births and beyond.


In July, right around the time the babies are hitting the eight-week mark, some of the May moms plan a night out at a bar, without the babies, for a bit of fun. Single-mother Winnie is reluctant to participate, as she has no sitter, but group member Nell offers to lend her Alma, her nanny.


By the end of the night, Winnie's son Midas is missing. Earlier in the night, Nell had taken Winnie's phone--left behind on a table--and dropped it in her purse.  But the phone is nowhere to be found.  Winnie's house key had been tucked into a pocket attached to the back of the phone.  Did someone steal the phone and use the key?  And if so, who would do that?


Before long, the local news is obsessed with the missing "Baby Midas" story, and the other members of the "May Mothers" group are soon under the intense scrutiny of the media, crime blogs, and police.


I enjoyed this fast-paced narrative.  (Remember that *** = "good" for me; not "meh.")  I will say there were times when the lengths some of the "May Mothers" went to, in order to "help" with the case/insert themselves into the investigation strained credulity, and that is the one reason I didn't four-star this book.


Without giving anything away about the ending, I will say I did NOT see it coming.


Side note about the narration:  Cristin Milioti narrated the audiobook. In case you are doing exactly what I did--thinking "WHY do I know that name?"  Well, among other roles, she played the mother in How I Met My Mother.  I will add that she is an excellent narrator, and I would definitely make a point of listening to another book that she narrates.


Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America - Beth Macy



Beth Macy narrates this book herself.  She generally does a fairly good job with the narration, but there was one moment where someone directing the production should definitely have insisted she do a second take.  She began to read the word "similar" with the stress on the wrong syllable.  So it came out "sih-MIH..."  at which point, she came to a dead stop, paused, and then continued with "similar."

As a journalist covering the "opioid epidemic" beat in Roanoke, Virginia, Beth Macy got a close view of the devastation in Appalachian communities.  Before the crisis reached affluent suburban communities, the people she had come to know through her reporting were the "canaries in the coal mine."


Along with providing a historical overview of the prescribing of opioid and synthetic-opioid medications, Macy reports on interviews she conducted with addicts, heart-broken family members, drug dealers, and assorted other relevant individuals.


To a certain extent, I was already familiar with material Macy covered, but she deepened my understanding.  A major take-away is the need for a shift in focus from punishment/incarceration to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment.  And responsible prescribing practices.

Broken Things

Broken Things - Lauren Oliver, Erin Spencer, Saskia Maarleveld, Sarah  Drew

It has been five years since a horrific murder happened in a small Vermont town:  beautiful Summer Marks, on the verge of turning 13, was found in the woods, stabbed seven times--in what appeared to have been a ritualistic killing.  Immediate suspects were Summer's two best friends, Mia and Brynn, and a male friend/love interest, Owen.  Although the three were cleared of having committed the crime, the cloud of suspicion has never left them.  Mia transferred to another school, but ultimately turned to homeschooling.  Brynn stole some prescription pills, leading to rehab, which felt so much safer than home (and school), she got her cousin Wade to periodically smuggle in drug-positive urine to extend her stay.  Owen went away to boarding school in Scotland.


The three girls had been obsessed with a fantasy novel, The Way into Lovelorn.  The book maddeningly ended on an unfinished sentence, which inspired much speculation from fans.  Did the author intend to finish the sentence in a sequel she never got to (the author has been dead for many years)?  The three friends, along with "playing" Lovelorn, had been collaborating on a Lovelorn fan fiction.  (Summer's death bore a resemblance to a scene in the fanfic.)


Going through old papers, Mia makes a discovery that raises new questions about her friend's death.  Although they haven't spoken in years, Mia drives out to the rehab that Brynn is about to be discharged from, just as a freak storm prevents Wade from arriving with drug-positive urine to extend Brynn's stay again.  Unwittingly, Mia becomes Brynn's ride, and soon they are warily considering whether to trust one another.  And Owen (who is back, having graduated from the school in Scotland).


What can the old friends discover about the long-ago murder?  What actually happened that day, and who is really responsible?  Should they pursue these questions, or simply let the past go?  (Well, you know that last won't be the chosen option!)


Lauren Oliver demonstrates a deep understanding of the contradictory sides of friendship and obsession, particularly the love-hate, push-pull the queen bee of a friendship-group can inspire.  

Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us - Julia Whelan, Sarah Pekkanen, Greer Hendricks

Mea culpa time:  I received an ARC of this book in September of 2017 (had to search my emails to figure out when this was!).  I had the best of intentions but kept not getting to it.


Fast forward more than one year, and the book has gotten a ton of [well-deserved] attention.  And....  It's available as audiobook.  Which seems to be the only way to come close to a 100% guarantee I will complete a book anymore.  I requested it from the library e-collection, waited, downloaded, listened.  Got almost immediately hooked.  Kicked myself for not jumping on this one right away.  Back in September of 2017!


Vanessa Thompson, recently divorced, wishes to prevent her ex-husband, Richard, from marrying his new fiancee.  


Why is she intent on stopping him?


Well....  This book has plenty of twists.  The kind that make you want to re-read early sections after a new piece of information blows your mind.  I don't want to spoil the fun by being more specific than that.  I'll just note that the book is divided into three parts.  You go into part two after your mind has gone boom.  Part three also occurs after an interesting shift, though not as brain-kicking as the first.


This is a quick, fun, gratifying read for fans of this genre (mystery/thriller)


The audio includes a recorded conversation between the two co-authors.

Unhinged (Apprentice White House Edition)

Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House - Omarosa Manigault Newman

I will disclose up front that I did watch the first season of NBC's The Apprentice (and a few seasons after that).  I was not a fan of Omarosa based on her season of the show, and I expected her to quickly fade from the public stage after season one concluded.  But of course, Trump brought her back for his Celebrity Apprentice spin-off (based on the premise that being on the original show had made Omarosa a celebrity), and she's gone on to make other reality-show appearances.  Her most prominent one was the reality show the entire world seems to be witnessing:  The Trump Administration.


Back when Donald Trump announced Omarosa's involvement in his presidential campaign, and subsequently his administration, I think my reaction was in line with many other people's:  stunt casting and tokenism.  I haven't changed my opinion on that since listening to Omarosa's audio narration of her book, but it does seem as though she herself had a long period of denial about that very thing.


Omarosa presents herself as a person who went into her job with the Trump White House with the intention of being a voice for persons of color and women--someone who would be in a position to help these communities and act as a stop gap against instituting or continuing policies with the potential to cause harm.  There were times when, according to the author, she felt there were missed opportunities when leaders of organizations representing these groups refused to engage with Omarosa out of distrust for the Trump administration.  Though eventually, she had to face the realization that internal obstacles and agendas would prevent her from promoting the causes she thought she could champion.


For a long time, Omarosa refused to believe that her longtime mentor Trump was a racist and misogynist.  She found ways to recharacterize things he had been documented as saying and doing, reasoning that he had always treated her well.  One of the things that caused her to allow herself to doubt that was the rumor of a recording, caught when Trump was on mic by NBC for the first season of The Apprentice, using the "n-word."  In the back of her mind, she had to start considering the possibility that Trump had used that word about her (and/or the one other African-American member of that cast, Kwame Jackson).


Throughout the book, Omarosa describes what she terms "Trumpworld," which includes all the people who are loyal to Donald Trump:  family members, counsel, and certain individuals in the administration, among others.  She confirms James Comey's perception that Trump demands a type of "loyalty" much like what a Mafia don expects of his mob "family."  For a long time, she reports, she was an enthusiastic member of Trumpworld.


Unsurprisingly, Omarosa concludes that Donald Trump is a narcissist who is incapable of empathy.  That has been evident for a long time, but according to Omarosa, her blind spot caused her to take a fairly long time to recognize this.  She expresses concerns about his physical health and what she sees as a sharp cognitive decline.  (Her theory is that Trump's high consumption of Diet Coke contributes to the cognitive decline that she perceives.)


One aspect I cannot ignore is that Omarosa is definitely a self-promoter, with some elements of narcissism, herself.  She does go out of her way to share with the reader self-praise about the work she was doing while in Trumpworld.  She characterizes herself as super-smart, well-educated, a military veteran, and an ordained minister!  (I actually didn't know about those last two items on the list.)  Throughout the book, much of what Omarosa reported simply confirmed things I've read from other sources or perceived on my own.  Often, I found myself very aware of viewing things through an "Omarosa" lens.  Though ultimately, it was interesting to hear her perspective.


Part of her conclusion aligns with Bob Woodward's reportage in Fear, that there are individuals in the Trump organization acting as stop-guards against Trump's worst impulses.  She also has noted that we should be afraid of Pence.


A note about the actual narration.  Omarosa's "Trump" imitation is hilariously bad.  She should not pursue a career as an impressionist.  Curiously, her version of Trump actually pronounces her name correctly.  (It's oh-mah-ro-sa; I have never, ever heard Trump NOT pronounces it ah-mah-ro-sa.)  On the other hand, her pronunciation of "Donald" hits my ears as "don-alt."

Skin in the Game (is the phrase I never want to hear again!)

Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Joe Ochman

Here is how I came to read this book:  There is a blurb from Taleb on the back of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I think very highly of.  Back in November, as we were about to go on a family trip, my husband asked me to see if I could get Skin in the Game from the library for Kindle.  It wasn't available, so he decided he wanted to re-read a couple of Taleb's earlier books, which I loaded on the Kindle for him.  While I was on the library's e-collection site, I decided to put a hold on the audio version of Skin in the Game.  After all, Taleb had thought highly of Kahneman's work, and my husband had found value in Taleb's earlier books.


Oh, my God.  Where to start?  I feel a little bad going with a one-star rating, since Taleb did convey some valuable concepts.  But to me, anything of value was counteracted by sheer nastiness against public intellectuals he has decided to dismiss or feud with, along with hypocrisy (engaging in the very approaches he rails against).


"Skin in the game" (I got to a point where I had heard the narrator say "skin in the game " SO many times, I now recoil anytime I hear it): basically, the idea is risk sharing. If I take advice from you, and I have a poor outcome, there should be a negative consequence for you.  In that way, you have skin in the game.  Taleb insists one should not take advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless the person is in a position to suffer in some way from a poor outcome.  But wait a minute.  Isn't Taleb issuing advice in this book?  Isn't he administering advice as a profession?  So shouldn't I NOT take his advice?  But then if I don't follow his advice about advice....  Do I circle back to TAKING his meta-advice?  PARADOX.  Also, how does Taleb have SitG when it comes to this book?  He keeps reminding the reader that he has "f**ck-you money."  He clearly doesn't need the book to do well for his own financial well-being.


One of his examples to illustrate his SitG position was when he was part of a roundtable discussion, and participants were asked to comment on Microsoft.  Taleb reports that he said, “I own no Microsoft stock, I am short no Microsoft stock [i.e., would benefit from its decline], hence I can’t talk about it."  Wait a minute, what?!?!  You know who I DON'T want to hear from, regarding Microsoft?  A person who owns stock or who shorts Microsoft stock.  Such a person would have a conflict of interest.  A person with MS stock would have a motive to say nice things about the company, to increase the value of the stocks, while the person who shorts MS stock would have a motive to make negative comments about the company.


At one point, Taleb warns against conflating SitG with conflict of interest, but he offers no guidance on disambiguating them, and his Microsoft comment leads me to suspect he doesn't have a solid idea on the difference.  Example:  I work in continuing medical education (CME).  It is standard procedure to have faculty and planners of a CME program to disclose any relevant financial relationships that could potentially cause a conflict of interest.  An example would be a speaker who has received a research grant from Pfizer, planning a presentation that discusses medications produced by Pfizer.  The speaker would need to disclose that relationship, and the CME provider would need a mechanism to resolve the conflict of interest.  Like having the content peer-reviewed by non-conflicted individuals and recommend changes if appropriate, to avoid bias.


I was disappointed to find that Taleb has decided that Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of Nudge, fit into his reviled category "IYI" (intellectual yet idiot).  Though everything he complains about regarding people he lumps into this category seem to apply to him.


Taleb shares an anecdote about meeting Susan Sontag.  Reportedly, she literally turned her back on him when he said he was a trader, declaring that she did "not believe in the market system."  Oh, wait a minute.  She was dismissing someone based on his profession?  As Taleb does with academics, journalists, economists, psychologists, and most intellectuals?  Does his own medicine taste bad?


He has a weird section on distrusting people who "look the part" for their profession.  He gives the example of surgeons, declaring that he would prefer a surgeon who "looks like a butcher," rather than looking however he thinks surgeons are expected to look.  His explanation is that a surgeon who looks like a butcher must be good to overcome his looks.  Bwuh?  And what part does Taleb think he looks?  Oh, right.  He thinks he looks "like a bodyguard."  Instead of F. Murray Abraham's understudy.


And his belief that he looks like a bodyguard takes me to another fixation of his.  Weightlifting.  Did you know that Taleb LIFTS WEIGHTS?  Well, he DOES.  And this makes him superior to all of the professions he disdains.  Because no one who belongs to any of those professions could possibly LIFT WEIGHTS.  (Take a moment to consider whether you actually know someone from one of those professions who does lift weights.  Quietly chuckle to yourself, while it also occurs to you that the person you know probably does not think weightlifting makes him [or her--not that Taleb would acknowledge female weightlifters] special.)  Oh, and when Taleb LIFTS WEIGHTS, he lifts with REGULAR PEOPLE.  He has even....  I'll give you a moment to prepare.  He has even lifted weights with people who speak with a cockney accent.  (I KNOW.  So salt-of-the-earth, regular-guy of him.)


Related to the weightlifting, he made an offhand remark about what activities "low-testosterone people" engage in.  LOW-TESTOSTERONE PEOPLE?  What, like WOMEN?  No, surely this was his macho-man way to disparage men he considers less macho (and therefore less valuable) than himself.


This is turning out much longer than I intended!  I have noticed that many readers who thought Taleb's earlier books in his "Incerto" series were valuable were disappointed in this one.  Especially when it comes to the nastiness and score-settling.  Some who have noted this disappointment in reviews have still given this latest book high (or relatively high) ratings, based on the valid points that exist between the nasty stuff, while others have gone with low (or relatively low) ratings because the viciousness is such a turn-off.  My feeling right now is that I won't read another Taleb book, but I suppose I might change my mind.


Side note about the narrator:  I swear he read this book as though he had a near-constant sneer on his face.  I can kind of see why the narrator made this choice, but I think it made the experience even more painful than it would have been, otherwise.


Fear: Trump in the White House - Bob Woodward

This book is somehow simultaneously alarming and unsurprising. The latter, I suppose, must come from everything I have already read and heard about the inner (mis)workings of the Trump White House. One of the most fascinating things to come about when this book was poised to be released was Bob Woodward's published interview with Donald Trump. The opening of the book notes that Trump declined to be interviewed for it. In the interview, Trump initially claimed that no one had told him about the book, the whole time Woodward was attempting to set up an interview. Then during the course of the interview, it became clear that this was a lie. That captures so much of the way Trump operates.


In the interview, Trump claimed that the book was going to be flawed because it lacked his input. But Woodward is thorough and even-handed. Though I have to say, when the book ended, I thought, "Wait, that's <i>it</i>?" I'm not sure how I expected the book to conclude, but it felt as though it just stopped, and everything is so.... Unsettled. I guess that's one of the possible downsides of reporting on real life. I only hope there are still people in the White House averting disaster.

Before the Fall

Before the Fall - Noah Hawley, Robert Petkoff

Disclaimer:  I am giving this book a "Goodreads" two stars; not an "Amazon" two stars.  This is a "this was fair" two stars.


Seven passengers, one bodyguard, and three airline crew members are on a private flight from Martha's Vineyard to New York City, when the airplane crashes into the ocean.  Somehow two of the people on the airplane survive:  an artist named Scott Burroughs, and JJ, the four-year-old son of David Bateman, who runs ALC News, a cable station that appears to be a thinly veiled version of Fox News.  Against the odds, Scott is able to swim about ten miles to the shore of Montauk, Long Island, with JJ on his back, rescuing both of them.


Scott immediately becomes part of the 24-hour news cycle, with most reporters wishing to know more about the "hero" story.  Going against the grain is one of the talking heads at Bateman's network, Bill Cunningham.  Cunningham has recently come under fire for obtaining illegal recordings of various high-profile people's phone conversations, and he is not chastened.  Cunningham goes into tinfoil hat mode, insisting that his friend David was most definitely probably murdered as part of an elaborate conspiracy, and who was this Scott guy anyway, and who cares if he saved JJ Bateman's life, even dogs can be trained to save lives.  Or maybe it's because Ben Kipling, David Bateman's friend and a fellow passenger on the flight, was about to be indicted for laundering money from "non-friendly" nations.


The narrative moves back and forth in time, filling in the backstories of the various people on the plane, which also include David's wife Maggie; a former preschool teacher; their nine-year-old daughter Rachel (who had been kidnapped at age two, hence the bodyguard); Ben Kipling's wife Sarah; the Israeli bodyguard, Gil Baruch; the pilot James Melody; co-pilot Charles Busch; and flight attendant Emma Lightner.


The plot held my interest, and I wanted to find out why the airplane went down.  But once it wrapped up, it seemed the author was rushing.  When the book ended, I said out loud, "that's IT?"  It felt as though it should have had at least one more chapter.


Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Audio) - Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein, Sean Pratt



3.5 stars on Booklikes (this rounds down to 3 stars on Goodreads).


Continuing my obsession with behavioral economics.  Having read The Undoing Project and Thinking, Fast and Slow, I was familiar with many of the concepts and examples discussed in Nudge, but still, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein had a somewhat different emphasis (plus I enjoyed their humor).  I really appreciated their concept of "choice architecture," and I think they have given me much to consider when it comes to applying their "nudge" ideas to life and work (I am in continuing medical education).


The edition I listened to (audio) is not their updated edition, and I am interested to discover what they have added (or changed).  One thing that struck me is how dated their section on same-sex marriage is, now that marriage equality is the law of the land.  I feel as though what actually happened is much more satisfying than any of their recommendations in that part of the book.


Some of their policy-oriented chapters struck me as a little dry, but mostly, I found their insights and ideas salient and applicable.  I believe we can all benefit from becoming choice architects.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Audio) - Agatha Christie

Although I recall seeing David Suchet's Hercule Poirot on the TV series Poirot, this is the first Agatha Christie I've read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A passenger is killed while lying in the bed of his sleeping car one night, and by coincidence, one of his fellow passenger on the same car is the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.  The murderer must be one of the passengers in the train car!


It was fun to witness Poirot's process of investigation, and his gentle, methodical techniques.  I can see why the book is considered a classic mystery.


[The victim was a man identified as "Ratchett," and every time I heard the narrator say it, I thought, "What about Clank?"]

Walking Dead Volume 30: Things Get Interesting

The Walking Dead, Vol. 30: New World Order -  'Robert Kirkman', Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn, Charlie Adlard


In Volume 30, Eugene and a small contingent from his (and Rick's) community reach a contingent from the community of Stephanie--the person on the other end of the radio communications Eugene has been engaged in for a while.  Understandably, both groups are wary, and long-time readers can appreciate the risks inherent whenever the the characters encounter new groups.


I don't want to give away any surprises, but there is a doozy of a surprise awaiting one of the core characters, at the community Stephanie belongs to.  There is a big "Wow" moment.  It soon becomes clear that this large, complex community operates under a fundamental philosophy that is quite different from that of Rick and and his neighbors.  


Will those differences lead to more conflict, or is mutual benefit in the characters' not-too-distant future?  We will have to look to volume 31 and beyond to find out.

Needful Things

Needful Things - Stephen King



An unusual store, Needful Things, opens downtown in Castle Rock, Maine, in October of 1991.  The store's mysterious proprietor, Leland Gaunt, somehow has an object with irresistible appeal for each customer.  Not only does Gaunt produce items his customers find they absolutely must have, for their own private reasons, but the prices he charges are astonishingly low--at least when it comes to the monetary exchange.  But for each transaction, Gaunt insists upon a dollar amount plus one "harmless prank."  The pranks are generally directed at someone the customer has no personal connection to, and Gaunt assures the customer that the pranks are truly harmless.


The pranks are actually calculated to ignite rivalries and resentments, as they essentially frame someone who had nothing to do with the prank in question.  At the same time, each of Gaunt's customers becomes increasingly obsessed with, protective of, and paranoid about the object purchased.  They are convinced that someone will steal the prized possession, so they become hyper-vigilant about it.


With the pranks causing domino effects leading to ever-escalating acts of violence, and Gaunt somehow knowing intimate secrets about every customer--and possibly every town resident--what hope does the town have that sanity will prevail and Gaunt's spell can be broken?


This book sucked me in effectively, and I enjoyed Stephen King's narration.  (Though I was startled when he pronounced "coiffed" as "koyfed.")  The book makes references to several other "Castle Rock" stories, and unfortunately, I'd only read two (Cujo and "The Body").  People who have read all of the previous books and stories can expect a richer experience for it.  Without giving away the ending, I will say that I found it satisfying.

Stranger Beside Me

Stranger Beside Me (Audio) - Ann Rule

This was an abridged audiobook--which I did not actually even realize until I got to the end credits, and "abridged by" came up.  Had I realized this was abridged, I would not have downloaded it from my library's e-collection.


This was...  Okay.  I don't feel as though I gained much insight into sociopathic serial killer Ted Bundy.  Ann Rule by coincidence was friends with him, having met him when they both volunteered for a suicide-prevention hotline.  She of course did not want to believe the handsome, polite friend could have been the perpetrator of the series of murders, kidnappings, and attempted murders that were happening in various places where Ted Bundy happened to be living at the time.  In Washington State, Utah, Colorado, and Florida.  And yet....  It was.  At one point, she makes the strange statement that Ted Bundy had taken lives, but he had also saved them.  She had seen him do so (via the hotline, presumably).


As mentioned above, this was an abridged recording--I have no way to know whether the full book provides a deeper analysis of Bundy.  If you are curious, go ahead and find the full text at your library.  But I suspect you can find out just as much via online searches and Netflix specials on murderers.

Good and Mad

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger - Rebecca Traister

"Anger is an energy."


--John Lydon


"If you're not angry, you're not paying attention."




As Rebecca Traister points out in this book,  women are constantly discouraged from experiencing or expressing anger.  It's unattractive; it's not received well.  Female politicians who dare express anger are chided and/or ridiculed, while their male counterparts are lauded when they do so.  Women are told anger is unhealthy; it needs to be pushed down, or it needs to be sublimated.


But as Traister demonstrates, throughout history, women's righteous anger, when channeled into political action and organizing, has effected real change.  And many women who had never considered activism or politics have been mobilized by the excesses of the Trump regime, as well as systemic abuses of male power that have been exposed (so to speak) following the Harvey Weinstein revelations.  In 2018, women have run for political office in record numbers.


Traister encourages women not to suppress the anger, not to revert to silence and comfort, but to continue so that the current "moment" continues to become an ongoing movement.


This is an important book.  Angry women should read it for reassurance that they are not crazy; that they can use their anger in productive and healthy ways.  Women who are not angry should read it to understand why other women ARE angry and to consider why they themselves are not.  Men should read it to understand why women are angry and should not be talked out of it.  And if many of them can become allies, that would be great, too.

Thinking, Fast & Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow (Audio) - Patrick Egan, Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman uses the metaphor of "System 1" and "System 2," coexisting "characters" in our brains responsible for the two types of thinking the book's title alludes to.


* System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.


* System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.  The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.


System 1 is in charge of our brains most of the time, making quick, intuitive judgments.  System 1 relies heavily on our biases, without our necessarily being aware that this occurs.  When confronted with a complex question that needs the resources of System 2, System 1 is liable to make a quick substitution, answering a simple, replacement question instead.


System 1 can serve us well, except when it doesn't.  It's a feature that can sometimes be a bug, and this book provides a series of frameworks that can help identify when it's useful to hack our systems and get the most out of the two systems.


As I mentioned in my review for The Undoing Project, I've become fascinated by behavioral economics and the thinkers whose work has shaped it.  I will say that this is very much a system 2 book.  It should be read carefully, and I hate to say it, but I realized by listening to this, that audiobooks lend themselves more to system 1.  The upshot is I often found myself rewinding to listen to something I realized my brain had only partially taken in (because it decided to go off on a side trip).  I also checked out the hardcover edition from my library, and I intend to review it.


The value of this book is understanding how to make better decisions and create frameworks that also help others to do so.