Friday, April 30, 2010


25. The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley
I really like the main character of Lidie Newton, and was interested in the history of Kansas in the 1850s, but there was maybe too much history in this novel. Parts of it seemed like a dry history book and were kind of boring. By the end, I started to feel like Lidie's life got into too many twists and turns, and she didn't seem like the character I'd liked in the beginning. Still, a well-done historical novel about Kansas and Missouri and the dispute about slavery in these two states. Also, it was fun to be reminded of a time when Illinois was called "the west!"

26. Pretty Little Mistakes (A Do-Over Novel) by Heather McElhatton
A Choose Your Own Adventure for grown ups! This book is kind of fun for awhile, but really is mostly a novelty book. There are so many possible outcomes that even after spending a few hours on this I could not figure them all out. Mostly I was impressed at how hard it must have been to interweave so many stories. Read this if you miss Choose Your Own Adventure books or always wished they had way more possible outcomes.

27. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Very fun vampires in Louisiana story with romance and a mystery! If you want romantic vampires and a heroine who can stand up for herself, read this instead of Twilight! :)

28. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
I read this on the plane because it was lying around the house and I could leave it behind at my destination. It was ok. Total fluff, secret spy stuff.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


21. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
Seriously about everything you ever wanted to know about traffic. It is super interesting, and engagingly written, but could be a bit much sometimes. There is just sooo much info. I had to take a few breaks, but really enjoyed it in the end.

22. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
So towards the end this totally sucked me in and I could not put it down. If not for a late rally it might only have gotten two stars. There is a light of explaining of various hacker things and tech jargon that I did not enjoy. Also, this is a Book With an Agenda and I generally don't like those unless the story is super awesome. This story was not super awesome enough. That said, I liked the characters and the voice, and like I said I really go sucked in at the end.

23. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
A lot of people really hate this book, just like a lot of people really hated Gilbert's first book, "Eat, Pray, Love".
I liked this one, but I also liked "Eat, Pray, Love". Although I think people irritated by Eat, Pray, Love might like Committed more, as I felt she was more self-aware in this book and more directly addresses the fact that she is totally privileged and lucky to have the adventures she does. Anyway, I think I mostly liked the book as I am also someone who has partaken of legal marriage although I am deeply conflicted about it, and it was nice to read that point of view from someone else. Some of her research was interesting, but a lot of it seemed very superficial, and I know a little of it was inaccurate. But she bends over backwards to say she is not an expert on any of this and the book is about her personal journey.

I don't feel like I sold the book very well, there, but I did enjoy reading it. For me, it was like hanging out with a smart, interesting friend who shares my views on a lot of stuff and so made me feel normal for awhile.

24. The Darling by Russell Banks
This is another book a little about chimpanzees and Africa. In this one, the main character is a radical leftist in the US, involved in the Weather Underground and ends up moving to Liberia, marrying a Liberian man and kind of getting involved in Liberian politics. Along the way she works with chimps used for medical research, and eventually starts a chimpanzee sanctuary. I really liked the conclusions the main character came to about interactions between the powerful and the powerless, but she was also kind of just pushed a long in her life, and seemed to make few decisions and never stood up and took control of anything. That really frustrated me. So, this book is good for reading about Liberia and chimps, but the main character/narrator was pretty annoying to me.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Awesome video of the sun, from NASA. See more here. And remember, as They Might Be Giants said, the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma.

Friday, April 23, 2010

stuff lately

Hello! Here is an update for you! I have been having a crisis about my online identity. I have recently been talking to people about the importance of being a "public scientist" and sharing more about what I do with the general public. Sometimes I feel like I would like to have a more professional blog. But how to keep it separate from this blog? How to keep personal and public separate on the internets? I could make another profile under my real name, but I know I will just mess up one day and log-in with the wrong one. So I am having an internet identity crisis. Maybe I will think about this later, after I finish my PhD. Which I still have not finished, btw. I got a lot of great comments back from my committee, but they will take awhile to address. So that is what I am working on now.

Thanks to those comments and a recent trip to a professional conference, I am feeling re-focused on my work, which is good. I have unfortunately let exercise slide in favor of extra hours in my campus office which is like a little isolation chamber of productivity. I am planning that this will not be a permanent change, but is some time budgeting I need to do to get through this push of work work work. I don't go to campus on Fridays, though, so I might get to swim or run today.

I am transforming even more into a post-PhD person, though. I have some collaborations that might appear, and lots of ideas for the future. I have started to get a glimmer of how busy I will continue to be as a non-student. So many more projects instead of only the dissertation! It is exciting, though, and I am trying to keep powering through so I can reach that place sooner rather than later.


18. Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
I am not totally sure what to think of this book. I thought it was really well written and the characters and setting were all interesting. The book follows a woman who studies chimps through three key time periods in her life and I thought this was really well done. Also, as a primatologist, I was impressed with the author's portrayal of primatology. He must have done some serious research!

Here's why I am not sure what to think about the book in the end, though. I felt like there is some deeper meaning I am meant to grasp, but I don't know what that meaning/message is, and all the ones I can think of seem not interesting to me. Apes and humans are the same? We have a cruel, animal nature? Chimp society is not a peaceful ideal? I feel like all those are obvious truisms, and I think I would have liked the book a little more if it seemed more like the story of the main character, and left the attempt at bigger messages out.

19. Fire by Kristin Cashore
I really loved this book, which is sorta related to the author's other book, Graceling, but not really. It is the story of a kingdom where there are "monsters", versions of living things that are more beautiful and mesmerizing than the normal sort. They can also control minds to get what they want. The main character is Fire, the last human monster.

I thought the characters in this book were so compelling and well-realized, and the rather complex plot with political intrigue and war was handled really well. The story is really that of people with power learning how to handle their power responsibly. Seriously, I could not put this book down and wish I still had more of it to read.

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
This book is a pretty harsh critique of America's obsession with positive thinking. I was skeptical of reading it as I consider myself an optimist and a positive thinker. However, my kind of positive thinking is not what Ehrenreich is talking about. She is more talking about a belief that a good attitude will get you success in life without the accompanying work. A la The Secret.

Parts of this book were great, and parts were not. In the end, I think it was not enough content for a whole book. I thought the first part, about the problem with the obsession with positive thinking in regards to cancer and medical treatments was great. I also like the part about how positive thinking lead to the recent economic crisis. The middle parts about how positive thinking has roots as a backlash against Calvinism and how it is used today in Christian mega-churches were not as strong.

In the end, this is an interesting premise, that I think either needed a lot more rigorous research and a longer book or should have remained as two essays, about cancer and the recession.