Category Archives: Movies & Books

science books and notable books

I’ve really been enjoying reading a lot of science books lately.  I think since I’m not working, my brain is fresh, and at the end of the day, I enjoy diving into something moderately technical.  While I did some science reading while working, in general I was pretty sapped at the end of the day, and wanted to read something completely different.

If you’re looking for some great science books, my recent favorites are:

  • *Spillover / Quammen
  • The Body / Bryson
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh / Zimmer
  • *Heart: A History / Jauhar
  • *The Emperor of All Maladies / Mukhergee
  • *The Ghost Map / Johnson
  • The Hot Zone / Preston
  • *The Gene / Mukhergee
  • Sapiens / Harari
  • I Contain Multitudes / Yong

(Some of these are obviously more technical/science-y than others.  Books marked with * are my favorites.)

Anyone else have a science book to recommend?

The New York Times notable books just came out, and I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed with the selection of science books.  Here is the list:

  • BECOMING WILD: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace
  • THE BOOK OF EELS: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
  • THE END OF EVERYTHING (Astrophysically Speaking) By Katie Mack
  • HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD: Inside the Mind of an American Family By Robert Kolker (on schizophrenia)
  • OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl By Jonathan C. Slaght
  • THE SIRENS OF MARS: Searching for Life on Another World By Sarah Stewart Johnson
  • UNTIL THE END OF TIME: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe By Brian Greene

So, out of 100 notable books, seven are on science – one on animals, one on eels, one on owls, two on how the world will end, one on the search for ET life, and one on schizophrenia.  While a couple look interesting, where are the books on viruses and bacteria and biology?  Am I the only one for whom COVID has made these topics particularly interesting this year?  Maybe other people just want to escape them.  I guess I feel if I could understand how diseases work a little better, perhaps it would give me a modicum of control.  That’s a fantasy, no doubt.

Books by POC – recommendations

Highly recommended books by Black authors:

  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince (for kids)
  • Meb for Mortals by Meb Keflezighi (if you’re a runner)
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera

Recommended books by Black authors:

  • Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

Highly recommended books by POC (not Black):

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
  • Chemistry by Weike Wang
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Recommended books by POC (not Black):

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah
  • The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
  • I Sweep The Sun Off Rooftops by Hanan Al-Shaykh
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang
  • Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
  • In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
  • House of the Winds by Mia Yun
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • The Year of the Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

Books of the decade

Fiction

  • Euphoria
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  • James Herriot
  • Cloud Atlas

Non-fiction

  • The Sixth Extinction
  • What’s Going On In There
  • Zeitoun
  • Nothing To Envy
  • Shoe Dog
  • A Kim Jong-Il Production

Kids

  • The Ramona Series
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Reflecting on the greatest books of the decade makes me want to read more.  This decade also saw me transition from paper books to ebooks.  This has been a necessary move (reading in the dark with babies) but mixed, as the 3-week library limit can be very inconvenient at times.

2019 in books

According to Goodreads, I read 51 books this year (so far).  Several 4 star books stood out:

Sapiens – I didn’t love this whole book, but I loved the first couple chapters about our forebears (you know, early humans).  It’s so interesting to me to think about how “cavemen” lived – people just like me, but with a totally different life experience.

Evvie Drake Starts Over – This was just a fun, feel-good easy read.

Educated – This is a memoir of a woman who was raised in a highly unusual manner in Utah.  It has been fawned over by critics, probably with good reason.  I found it engrossing from start to finish.

Becoming – Michelle Obama is almost as interesting as her husband.  I loved the first half of this book.  The second half which describes her time as First Lady, sadly, read like political propaganda, but that’s to be expected.

Me Before You – Another easy, fun read about a woman who falls in love with a disabled man

Little Fires Everywhere – Thought-provoking, original fiction about an adoption gone wrong and a first-gen girl coming of age

I’m continuing to read to the girls every night.  It can be tough with pregnancy, babies, etc., but it’s often my favorite time of day.  This year, we read lots of Beverly Cleary.  Ramona the Pest was my favorite.  The girls love them all.  We’re currently finishing off Ramona, Age 8.   The girls also fell in love with Roald Dahl this year.  I’ve read his books to them before, but perhaps they were too young to fully appreciate them.  They LOVE Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Isla must have read it three times, and Bri loves to look at the pictures.  Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was also a huge fan favorite.

too much TV

When I’m pregnant, I spend a great deal of time in bed watching Netflix / Amazon Prime.  During the first trimester, I typically don’t even feel well enough to go downstairs and sit on the couch (prefer to be horizontal and too close to the kitchen and kitchen smells, and frankly, don’t really like being near other humans at this time.)  A huge percentage of my lifetime television consumption must have occurred during pregnancy.  It’s kind of ridiculous.

(For the record: 13 weeks 2 days – still not feeling better.  Any day now, right?)

Anyway, I bought the first season of GOT and watched it, end to end.  And . . . it’s OK.  I mean, it’s not bad.  It’s engaging.  I like many of the characters.  Overall, the acting is good.  There’s clearly a lot of money that’s gone into it.  A wee bit over-dramatic, well maybe more than a wee bit, but nothing ridiculous.   But with all the hype lately, you’d think it was seriously the best. show. ever.  Maybe it gets better?  I enjoyed watching the first two series of Home Fires (love the BBC) considerably more.  And that got canceled after two season!  Two many female characters and womens’ plot lines, I presume?  Not enough sex and murder?

I also enjoyed The Forest on Netflix and on Amazon Prime, The Snow Walker, Beverly Hills 90210 (original – first season), and Wonderland.

girls and books

I came upon L and B cuddling together in bed this evening.  L had just read B the first four chapters of her new Magic Treehouse book.  For some reason, I just found it to be the most adorable thing ever.  B loves those ridiculous treehouse books.  (We’re on Book #25, but who’s counting?)  I sadly told Bri we’d have read the entire series after we finish the latest bunch, but L cleverly noted that there is a whole second Treehouse series, some kind of Merlin thing, which has another 25 books.  Yay?  Maybe L will read them.

L and I are reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  I always remember that my third grade teacher, possibly my best teacher ever, loved and recommended this book.  I think I read an abridged copy, but I don’t think I ever read the real thing, and i’m glad to finally read it in her honor.  It started a little slow, but we’re both enjoying it now.   Next up: Grandfather’s Dance (#5 in the Sarah Plain and Tall series) and My Friend Flicka.  I’m trying to decide if L can handle Where the Red Fern Grows – such a great book, but she would not like the part where the dogs die. at. all.

in my mind, in my head

Loving the Gigi d’Agostino mix of In My Mind.

I’ve been reading to Isla for about four years now.  Every night.  It’s one of the most effortless parts of parenting for me.  The kids are happy, and I’m happy.  Reading kids books, the picture books, can make me a little crazy.  I don’t mind the good ones (Ox Cart Man, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, Make Way for Ducklings, etc.) but the lame ones are just horrid.  Chapter books, though.  I love them.  The kids are still letting me pick, and I’ve been picking ALL my childhood favorites.  I wanted to make a list, so here goes.

Surprise Island (Boxcare Children #2), The BFG, Stuart Little, Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (I can’t recommend this one), The Moffats, Abel’s Island, Strawberry Girl, Island of Blue Dolphins, Caddie Woodlawn (twice), The Secret Garden*, Over Sea Under Stone, Heidi*, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Family Under the Bridge, Betsy-Tacy, Little House on the Prairie* (thrice), Pippi Longstocking, Little House in the Big Woods* (twice), Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Winnie-the-Pooh, Danger in Ancient Rome, Rescue on the Oregon Trail, Charlotte’s Web (twice), James and the Giant Peach, The Tale of Despereaux, The First Four Years, Those Happy Golden Years, Little Town on the Prairie* (twice), The Long Winter (twice), By The Shores of Silver Lake (twice), On The Banks of Plum Creek* (twice), Matilda*, Anne of Green Gables*, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I may have missed one or two, but that’s the bulk of them. 45 readings of 36 books.  There are still a good few I want to read.  A Little Princess.  Joan Aiken’s series, including my favorite, The Stolen Lake.  Maybe James Herriot.  Little Women.  What am I forgetting?  I finally bought the first four of The Magic Treehouse, mainly to appeal to Briony.  I’ve actually read her a few Amelia Bedelia.  She’s been slower than Isla to take to the chapter books.  Isla loved LHOTP at age 2, whereas Bri is only really now having the patience and vocabulary to appreciate them at age 4.  Anyway, I thought the treehouse books might appeal to her.

I can see Isla’s reading comprehension growing by leaps and bounds these days.  Whereas before she definitely missed a lot of subtleties (in the early days, she missed a lot of important story points, never mind the subtleties), she follows the story much more closely these days.  Bri still misses a lot, but she seems to enjoy listening anyway.