Review: Knecht’s Who Is Vera Kelly

Who Is Vera Kelly
Rosalie Knecht

A clever spy novel that doubles as a coming out story, while also being an disection of gender and sexuality in 1950-60s American and is an subtle exposition of the catastrophic effects of U.S. involvement in Latin America. Many spy novelists are ostensibly liberals (LeCarre, Steinhauer come to mind) who use the genre to critique the lies and machinations of Western intelligence agencies. But few, if any spy novels address gender and sexuality, and none that I am aware have used the way the deceptions forced on some by the closets of 1950s America could turn into the skills to be a spy for the CIA.
If you’re a fan of the genre, (and I certainly am) its refreshing to see that you can keep the double crosses and international intrigue, while pushing thing in a new direction staring complex queer and female protagonists.
Recommended for the enthusiast.

Rosalie Knecht

Rosalie Knecht

Review: Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way

The Obstacle if the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

Ryan Holiday

When I first heard of Ryan Holiday, and his mini-stoicism inspired empire, I figured he was probably an asshole. It was all a bit too Silicon Valley bro-y for me (and I’m someone with a deep interest in stoicism and ancient though in general). But then I heard some interview with him, and was struck by his thoughtfulness and poise, and I began to change my mind. He has something to say.

This book is, at heart, a self-help book. But you know what else is a self-help book? Aurelius’s meditations. This isn’t as poetic as the Mediations, or as brilliant, but it’s still a thoughtful short read on the benefits of viewing the world through the lens of stoic philosophy. Meaning, through a lens, not of avoiding pain, or of silencing our emotions, but of valuing perseverance, and of focusing on that which we can control.

I don’t know that I learned much that was new from this book, but I did appreciate the reminder, and take inspiration from Holidays clear examples and advice on how to live a life of perseverance and reflection.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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Ryan Holiday

Review: Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

I Let You Go

Clare Mackintosh

A thriller about a dead child and a battered woman that has a plot twist that’s almost too clever. The writing is excellent, and the pacing in the first two third of the book feels like a perfect mix of long periods of dread and sorrow punctuated by short bits of joy or violence. This isn’t a perfect book, the bad guy, when he arrives is almost too bad, and while the first plot twist is genuinely surprising and well done, future plots twists feel a bit more forced.

Still, if you can handle some of the rougher stuff here (domestic abuse, dead kid) then this is a real top notch thriller. I finished it in a day.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh

Review: Hutchinson’s Endure


Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

Alex Hutchinson

Anyone who has followed this site for any length of time knows I’m obsessed with human endurance. Why (and how) do we push through pain, how do we keep getting faster? Why are some people so much better at this, and how did they get that way? How much is genes, how much is training and how much is will?

If you care about these questions, and I certainly do, then this book is a must read. Hutchinson writes probably the most scientifically based journalism in Runners World and Outside magazine and here he takes that experience, and PhD in physics smarts and melds it with years of personal running experience and real journalistic chops. He meets with some of the best runners and scientists in the world and does as good a job as anyone has in explaining the science and psychology behind remarkable endurance performances, such as Nike’s attempt at a sub-2 hour marathon.

If you have any interest in the science of endurance sports, you’ve probably already this gem, if not, you should. Even if endurance sports aren’t your thing, there’s lot to learn here from Hutchinson’s clear writing on the possibility of human performance.

Recommended for the Enthusiast

Alex Hutchinson

Alex Hutchinson

Review: Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant


Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self
Manoush Zomorodi

Another in a long line of books fretting over our distraction culture, this one focused on the importance of boredom in the creative process. I’ve read far more of these books than I care to admit (yet remain active on twitter). This one is better than most, grounded squarely in the science, and reasonable in its recommendations. Zomorodi isn’t saying you need to go live in a yurt without electricity to be creative, but she is saying, and the science backs her up, that time in reflection, time just spacing out, is necessary not only to be mentally healthy, but also to be you best, most creative and productive self.

If you’ve been paying attention to the attention economy issues, there isn’t much that is new here. But taking a step back  and reflecting is an important (and in our age, difficult) thing to do and Zomorodi gives you the ammunition (and inspiration) to make some changes in your own life to create more space for boredom, creativity, and brilliance.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Manoush Zomordi

Manoush Zomordi

Book Review: Westover’s Educated

Educated
Tara Westover

The injuries in this book, the real bloody, life changing injuries. I wasn’t ready for that. I was ready for the story on the cover, of a woman raised by Mormon survivalists in the remote west, the story of a woman who didn’t know what the Holocaust was until she went to college, but who would, eventually work her way all the way to Oxford.

That story, I was ready for. But I wasn’t ready for the junk yard, and the accidents that left Westover’s brother violent and unhinged, and her father horribly disfigured. That flabbergasted me. I expected guns and conspiracies and a story of finding one’s self, but I didn’t expect children routinely put in harms way. Nor did I expect Westover’s relationship with her family to be so complex into adult hood.

This book is a bestseller, and it has the bestseller qualities, both good (compelling narrative) and bad (a bit on the “oh look at these weirdos” side) but its also much more moving than I expected. If seeing up close how precarious it can be to live “off the grid” and “close the land” than this is worth a read.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Tara Westover

Book Review: Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready


Shovel Ready
Adam Sternbergh

A crime novel set in post-apocalyptic New York City featuring a hit man with a heart of gold as the hero.

New York has been hit with a dirty bomb, and most of the city has fled, or now lives their entire lives jacked into virtual reality. Except our hero, who lives in Jersey and kills people. Except when he teams up with a group of misfits to take on the powers that be and protect a young girl.

A mix of the clever and the trite, this book is by turns clever, and too loose with the corny jokes and crime novel clichés. Still, I enjoyed it for the dark confectionery ride it is. If you have a tolerance for a certain level of crime novel cliché, you’ll probably enjoy it too.

Recommended for the enthusiast.