Saturday, June 18, 2011

Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

In this book, Gladwell takes a close look at the people we deem to be most successful - athletes, musicians, businessman and the like. Rather than looking just at the individual and what they are like, Gladwell examines how they got where they are today and who helped them either personally or through circumstances that were set forth.

He also looks at how our culture, families, our generation as well as idiosyncratic experiences in upbringing create a person who will be successful - or not. This is a book chock full of information from everything from Canadian Hockey players to why Asians are better at math, to why airline crashes occurred for some airlines more than others.

This book could have turned out extremely dry and boring but Gladwell does a good job writing in an engaging manner so that the information he presents is interesting enough that you want to keep reading. I would definitely consider reading other books by Gladwell. The two I have heard of are: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking which is all about how we make decisions, and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference which is about the point in which an idea, style, social trend etc. begins to spread like wildfire or, to coin a phrase "becomes viral".

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

If you have seen the movie, you know what this book is about and how it ends. If you liked the film and the idea of the story line, I highly recommend reading this book.

The story is set during the Civil War. It takes place in essentially two locations. One, is Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the second location is wherever Inman is on his way back to Cold Mountain from the war.

I think this is a love story that has several loves. The first and most obvious is the love between Inman and Ida that had only just begun as Inman left for the war. Now, four years later he has decided to head home to see if Ida feels about him the way he feels about her. Meanwhile, Ada who never felt any man up to her ideals, pines for Inman for reasons she can't quite understand.

The second love in the book is the love that Inman has for Cold Mountain. The language used to describe the mountain for which he pines is spectacular. I felt like I could smell the mountain and could easily visualize each area that Inman would dream about. Ada also begins to love Cold Mountain, most specifically, Black Cove where she lives. With the help of Ruby, an extremely capable, no-nonsense young woman, Ada begins to learn about the land and how to sustain herself with the land. Ada was raised in the city and for the period of time where she and her father lived in Black Cove, they had hired hands to do the work of life. When her father dies and the hired help leave, Ada is clueless about caring for and feeding herself. She wears dirty clothes because she doesn't know how to do laundry. Ruby saves her life and then starts her on a journey of discovery about herself and the land she learns to love.

This book does a really good job describing the way that the Civil War affected both the people who fought as well as those on the periphery. It was an awful war and many people died because of the war who were probably never even counted in the totals of the dead soldiers.

This was a great book and I enjoyed it very much.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

This is the prequel to Glass Castle which I have not read. I am planning on reading it now that I have read this one.

Half Broke Horses is about Walls' grandmother, Lilly. She was quite a woman. Her early years were spent on a pretty hard-scrabble farm in west Texas. Her family moved to a more fertile but still rustic farm in New Mexico when she was still fairly young. At the age of 15, she became a teacher in a one-room school house. The men were at war and the teachers and other women were working in the factories. Her stint as a teacher only lasted a couple of years but she was hooked.

This story takes us through Lilly's life until her daughter, Rosemary (Walls' mother) is married and has had children. Where Lilly was a grounded and hard-working woman, it's pretty clear early on that her daughter Rosemary is hell-bent to fight such convention every step of the way.
I understand that Glass Castle is a pretty dysfunctional story that can be a difficult read. I'm still looking forward to reading it now that I've started at the beginning.


Shipwrecked by Mishka Shubaly

This is a short story that depicts a brief adventure of the author. Mishka has led a pretty slovenly life drinking, doing drugs and slacking his way through school. Now working as third mate on a ship in the Caribbean, he gets some quick life lessons. When the ship runs aground during the night, Mishka must strike out for help to save himself and his fellow ship-mates.

Grave Sight

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

This is the first book in Harris' "Harper Connelly" series.

Harper is a young woman who, after being struck by lighting, can sense the presence of dead bodies and how they died. She, along with her stepbrother, makes her living finding bodies as well as confirming how people died.

This first book was a fast, fun read. Harper and Tolliver end up in a small town in the Ozarks of Arkansas and end up having to help solve the mystery behind 4 deaths in order to be able to get out of the town.

This is definitely not hard-core police drama but it's definitely a fun, summer read.

I look forward to reading more books in this series.

Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

The latest in the Sookie Stackhouse series did not disappoint. It's still a fast fun read. More of the same: vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, and fairies. Sookie gets a few questions answered but, of course, has more to think about because of it all as well. I figure there's at least 2 more books before Harris can tie up the series. I'm looking forward to them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

This novel is sent in 1960 in a small New England town. The narrator/protagonist is a grocery store clerk whose family helped to found the town. He is only a grocery store clerk now because his father lost the family fortune. This book is a kind of study of the successes of man and what motivates men to success, or not. The tone of the book was strange and I felt anxious as I read - as though the discontent was a tangible thing in the words of the book.

Ethan is a clerk who is discontent but somehow unaware of this until his fortune is read and he is told that he will become wealthy. At this point, the discontent of his family with their economic situation boils to the surface. Ethan begins to realize that he also is discontent and begins to plot various ways by which to make money. He begins to study and question the morals by which he was raised and wonder about those that haven't got such morals.

The language of the book is wonderful to read but again the tone was difficult at times. The end leaves you somewhat unsure as to the actual outcome. You think you know the path that will occur but there's a chance that it didn't work out that way. We'll never know.

I highly recommend this book along with all others by Steinbeck.