Mini-Reviews: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, Little Moments of Love, & Nimona

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Sweet, funny, and quietly poignant, Debbie Tung’s comics reveal the ups and downs of coming of age as an introvert.

This illustrated gift book of short comics illuminates author Debbie Tung’s experience as an introvert in an extrovert’s world. Presented in a loose narrative style that can be read front to back or dipped into at one’s leisure, the book spans three years of Debbie’s life, from the end of college to the present day. In these early years of adulthood, Debbie slowly but finally discovers there is a name for her lifelong need to be alone: she’s an introvert.

The first half of the book traces Debbie’s final year in college: socializing with peers, dating, falling in love (with an extrovert!), moving in, getting married, meeting new people, and simply trying to fit in. The second half looks at her life after graduation: finding a job, learning to live with her new husband, trying to understand social obligations when it comes to the in-laws, and navigating office life. Ultimately, Quiet Girl sends a positive, pro-introvert message: our heroine learns to embrace her introversion and finds ways to thrive in the world while fulfilling her need for quiet.

I previously really enjoyed Debbie Tung’s Book Love, and it’s predecessor definitely did not disappoint. These little vignettes of Debbie’s life as she deals with anxiety and a world that always expects her to be “on” were so relatable. So many of the comics in this book were things that have happened to me over the years.

Panel from Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: Debbie is crying surrounded by negative comments. You need to make more friends. Why are you so shy? What's wrong with you? Are you all right? You seem really sad. You should talk more. It's not normal to not say anything.

The only real complaint that I have about this is that the themes are very repetitive. This is a book about Debbie being an introvert, and that’s it. There are only so many ways you can say you’re an introvert before you start to repeat yourself. But I, as an introvert, enjoyed seeing my life illustrated like this and I’d definitely recommend this book.

#wian: an antonym

Little Moments of Love by Catana Chetwynd
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 19, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Soppy meets Sarah’s Scribbles in this sweet collection of comics about the simple, precious, silly, everyday moments that make up a relationship.

What began as stray doodles on scraps of paper became an internet sensation when Catana Chetwynd’s boyfriend shared her drawings online. Now, Catana Comics touches millions of readers with its sweet, relatable humor. Little Moments of Love collects just that – the little moments that are the best parts of being with the person you love.

I love Catana’s comics so much, and after reading (and loving) my ARC of Snug, I knew I had to get to Little Moments of Love next. It was just as cute as Snug, and I enjoyed it just as much… if not more. I’d already seen most of the comics included in Snug, but since Little Moments of Love was published two years ago, I had either not seen (or forgotten about) most of these.

Catana comic: Catana has a low battery indicator over her head and hugs her boyfriend. The battery indicator raises until it shows that it's fully charged.

I always think that Catana’s comics are really relatable to anybody who’s been truly in love. Her comics never fail to make me smile, and I’ll happily read her next collection (while also checking out her comics on Instagram daily).

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Source: Borrowed

The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

I previously read and really enjoyed Stevenson’s Lumberjanes series, and knowing that Nimona was pretty beloved in the book blogging community, I was excited to dive right in. Right away, I loved both Nimona and Ballister. I loved the way they interacted with each other, and we all know I love a good morally gray villain.

The only thing I could have hoped for was a little more backstory on Nimona. I would have loved a little bit more resolution on where she got her abilities and what exactly she’s capable of. Still, this was an excellent graphic novel that I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a good fantasy/adventure storyline.

Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Southern Lady Code, How I Resist, & Humans

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The bestselling author of American Housewife is back with a fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way.” Say “weathered” instead of “she looks like a cake left out in the rain.” Say “early-developed” instead of “brace face and B cups.” And for the love of Coke Salad, always say “Sorry you saw something that offended you” instead of “Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants.” In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen. While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

I moved to Tennessee a few months ago, so I figured I should learn how to be a proper Southern Lady. What better than this collection of essays to teach me?

First of all, this book was hilarious. Second of all, it made me question every person that’s ever been nice to me since I moved down here. And third of all, it made me want to read more from Ellis.

Ellis is really legitimately funny, and she’s had such great experiences to write about. I feel like she’s the kind of person that it would be really fun to sit down for a meal with.

How I Resist by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Source: Borrowed

n all-star collection of essays about activism and hope, edited by bestselling YA author Maureen Johnson.

Now, more than ever, young people are motivated to make a difference in a world they’re bound to inherit. They’re ready to stand up and be heard – but with much to shout about, where they do they begin? What can I do? How can I help?

How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O’Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Shaina Taub, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

How I Resist is the kind of book people will be discussing for years to come and a staple on bookshelves for generations.

As with most anthologies, How I Resist varies a lot in both content and quality. Some of the contributions were great — I particularly loved Libba Bray’s — but others were… not. I appreciate the point of this book and I think a lot of the contributions will do a great job of encouraging teens to stand up for what they believe in. There are just some less-great essays to get through along the way.

With that said, though, I am far past the target demographic of this book, so it’s entirely possible that any problems I had might not be problems that actual teens have.

Humans by Tom Phillips
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

An exhilarating journey through the most creative and catastrophic f*ck ups in human history, from our very first ancestor falling out of that tree, to the most spectacular fails of the present day.

In the seventy thousand years that modern human beings have walked this earth, we’ve come a long way. Art, science, culture, trade – on the evolutionary food chain, we’re real winners. But, frankly, it’s not exactly been plain sailing, and sometimes – just occasionally – we’ve managed to really, truly, quite unbelievably f*ck things up.

From Chairman Mao’s Four Pests Campaign, to the American Dustbowl; from the Austrian army attacking itself one drunken night, to the world’s leading superpower electing a reality TV mogul as President… it’s pretty safe to say that, as a species, we haven’t exactly grown wiser with age.

So, next time you think you’ve really f*cked up, this book will remind you: it could be so much worse.

At the beginning of 2020, I was scrolling through Goodreads and came across a list of nonfiction books that looked really interesting. Of course, I have no idea where that list has gone, but it added a bunch of books to my TBR. The one I decided to go for first was Humans, which describes itself as “a brief history of how we fucked it all up.”

Unlike a lot of brief histories, this one actually is brief. There’s no more than a few pages on each topic, and it’s just enough information that you’d be able to pull out some fun facts during trivia night, but not so much that you’ll get bored. These really are interesting bits of information, all about people screwing everything up and living (or not) to tell the tale.

This is a really well-written, funny history book. The only reason I didn’t rate it higher is that reading it all in a couple sittings kind of burned me out. (Ideally I would not have done this, but I had to worry about library due dates.) That’s on me, not on the book, but I think it would be better enjoyed a few pages at a time. It’s probably a better coffee table book than anything else.

Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good nonfiction recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Consent by Donna Freitas

Consent by Donna Freitas
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: August 21, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In this “compelling and disturbing” true story (Rebecca Traister), a young woman’s toxic mentor develops a dark, stalking obsession that disrupts her career — and her peace of mind. Donna Freitas has lived two lives. In one life, she is a well-published author and respected scholar who has traveled around the country speaking about Title IX, consent, religion, and sex on college campuses. In the other, she is a victim, a woman who suffered and suffers still because she was stalked by her graduate professor for more than two years.

As a doctoral candidate, Freitas loved asking big questions, challenging established theories and sinking her teeth into sacred texts. She felt at home in the library, and safe in the book-lined offices of scholars whom she admired. But during her first year, one particular scholar became obsessed with Freitas’ academic enthusiasm. He filled her student mailbox with letters and articles. He lurked on the sidewalk outside her apartment. He called daily and left nagging voicemails. He befriended her mother, and made himself comfortable in her family’s home. He wouldn’t go away. While his attraction was not overtly sexual, it was undeniably inappropriate, and most importantly–unwanted.

In Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention, Donna Freitas delivers a forensic examination of the years she spent stalked by her professor, and uses her nightmarish experience to examine the ways in which we stigmatize, debate, and attempt to understand consent today.

This is a hard review for me to write, not because of the subject matter, but because of the way this story is told. Although I think this book tells an important story that needs to be told, I have a number of issues with the way Freitas delivers it, and the messages that she — likely unintentionally — sends in the process. I will get into all of this soon, but I worry that, in writing this book, she has sent the exact opposite of the message she was hoping for.

There may be some spoilers below.

Let’s start with the premise, which is absolutely terrifying. When the author was a college student, she was stalked by a professor. As many students do, she went to his office hours during her first semester. She found the subject matter of his course interesting, and he misinterpreted that as her wanting to form a personal relationship with him. Things escalated to the point that he was inundating her with phone calls on her personal landline and letters to her parents’ house, information he would have only been able to find by accessing her confidential records. He struck up a friendship with her dying mother, only to use it to his advantage. To complicate matters even further, he was a priest at a Catholic university that was dead-set on keeping everything under wraps.

Before I get into my criticisms of this book, I want to make it clear that I think what Freitas went through was absolutely awful. I don’t think that anyone should be subjected to the kind of behavior that she lived with. Her professor is 100% at fault for everything that happened, regardless of any time she willingly spent with him when they first met. With all of that said, I do have a few problems with this book.

I think that the first point I want to make is how disjointed everything is. Freitas tells her story in the most roundabout way. She’s in grad school being stalked by her professor, and then she takes us back to high school when she kissed a bunch of boys, then we’re back in grad school and she repeats herself, and then she’s talking about how she’s the only female on the entire campus who ever dressed nicely, and then she’s back with another weird phone call from the professor. It was almost as if she thought she didn’t have enough to say on the actual topic of the book, so she decided to fill up space with a bunch of random asides.

The second point I want to make is about her lack of action. It infuriated me. I can understand feeling trapped. I can understand feeling powerless. But her professor did so many creepy things, and people noticed. He’d call her parents’ house, and when her family asked how he got the number, she’d lie and say she gave it to him. He’d show up somewhere unexpected and she’d lie and say she invited him. She had so, so many chances to tell even one person that something wasn’t right, and she made excuse after excuse for why she couldn’t. He’s a priest, so he doesn’t mean it like that. I don’t want to get him in trouble since he’s probably just being friendly. My mom is sick and she’s super religious and I don’t want to upset her. Okay, so don’t tell the school. Don’t tell your mom. But tell a friend. Tell your boyfriend. Tell someone.

In the end, more than sending a message that this behavior was wrong or needed to be challenged, I think that Freitas sends a message that the Catholic church is corrupt. I don’t think that she necessarily meant to do this. But after going on about the stalking and harassment for 300 pages or so, the whole thing is never resolved. The Catholic university and Catholic church end up giving her some money and telling her to sign an NDA to make it all go away.

I’m not saying that Freitas’ experiences aren’t valid or that her pain from this situation isn’t real. I can’t even imagine the recovery from something like this. But I feel like this book would have been much better if it had included any kind of resources on what you should do in this kind of situation. Freitas mentions, probably dozens of times, that she lectures on Title IX and abusive behavior. I imagine this means that she shares resources with the audience. That she offers some sort of advice for who you can talk to, where you can go, what you can do to get out of a situation like this. The book was, sadly, lacking any of that. It’s just a sad story of a young woman being stalked and harassed to the point that it effectively ended her career before it even began. The story feels incomplete, and it mostly just left me feeling disappointed.

Have you read Consent? Have you read any good books on Title IX?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Mindf*ck by Christopher Wylie

Mindf*ck by Christopher Wylie
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Source: Borrowed

For the first time, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower tells the inside story of the data mining and psychological manipulation behind the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum, connecting Facebook, WikiLeaks, Russian intelligence, and international hackers.

Mindf*ck goes deep inside Cambridge Analytica’s “American operations,” which were driven by Steve Bannon’s vision to remake America and fueled by mysterious billionaire Robert Mercer’s money, as it weaponized and wielded the massive store of data it had harvested on individuals in–excess of 87 million–to disunite the United States and set Americans against each other through psychological manipulation. Bannon had long sensed that deep within America’s soul lurked an explosive tension. Cambridge Analytica had the data to prove it, and in 2016 Bannon had a presidential campaign to use as his proving ground.

Christopher Wylie might have seemed an unlikely figure to be at the center of such an operation. Canadian and liberal in his politics, he was only twenty-four when he got a job with a London firm that worked with the U.K. Ministry of Defense and was charged putatively with helping to build a team of data scientists to create new tools to identify and combat radical extremism online. In short order, those same military tools were turned to political purposes, and Cambridge Analytica was born.

Wylie’s decision to become a whistleblower prompted the largest data crime investigation in history. His story is both exposé and dire warning about a sudden problem born of very new and powerful capabilities. It has not only exposed the profound vulnerabilities and profound carelessness in the enormous companies that drive the attention economy, it has also exposed the profound vulnerabilities of democracy itself. What happened in 2016 was just a trial run. Ruthless actors are coming for your data, and they want to control what you think.

Okay, so I kind of just picked this book up on a whim — something about that bright green cover and the big “Mindf*ck” got me — but wow, this was fascinating! I remember the controversy over Cambridge Analytica, but I never followed it all that closely. We all know Facebook knows way too much about us, right? We all know that ads are targeted to our specific interests now. I never really cared that much. I also never really understood the extent of what happened until I read this book.

If Cambridge Analytica aimed to do one thing with all of the data it collected from Facebook, it was develop a deeper understanding of people. If they could form connections between different aspects of peoples’ lives, they could target political messages in just the right way to influence people’s opinions. For example, take a woman who loves yoga and eating organic and is also incredibly homophobic. What kind of messages will work on her? Reading this was like looking at a detective’s wall with string connecting all of the different bullet points about people.

Cambridge Analytica really came up with some cool, interesting stuff. I can see why Wylie was involved, even if their clientele didn’t quite mesh with his personal political beliefs and their methodology was sketchy at best. This is a company that could tell you anything about anybody, and its employees really had the freedom to research anything they wanted.

Take a look at this study, which I don’t want to believe, but unfortunately, I do:

In one experiment, CA would show people on online panels pictures of simple bar graphs about uncontroversial things (e.g., the usage rates of mobile phones or sales of a car type) and the majority would be able to read the graph correctly. However, unbeknownst to the respondents, the data behind these graphs had actually been derived from politically controversial topics, such as income inequality, climate change, or deaths from gun violence. When the labels of the same graphs were later switched to their actual controversial topic, respondents who were made angry by identity threats were more likely to misread the relabeled graphs that they had previously understood. What CA observed was that when respondents were angry, their need for complete and rational explanations was also significantly reduced. In particular, anger put people in a frame of mind in which they were more indiscriminately punitive, particularly to out-groups. They would also underestimate the risk of negative outcomes. This led CA to discover that even if a hypothetical trade war with China or Mexico meant the loss of American jobs and profits, people primed with anger would tolerate that domestic economic damage if it meant they could use a trade war to punish immigrant groups and urban liberals.

Reading this book made me wonder what kinds of things Cambridge Analytica would say about me, and what’s been targeted to me. (Though, given my completely opposite political leanings, I kind of doubt Bannon, the rest of the Republican party, and the Russian interference wasted their money on me during the 2016 election.)

This book is incredibly well-written and incredibly interesting. I’ve hardly even scratched the surface in this review because I honestly don’t know where to begin, but if you have any interest at all in social media, data analysis, targeted advertising, current events, the current political situation in the United States, Brexit, ethics, or just interesting nonfiction, read this book.

Have you read Mindf*ck? Have you read any good tech or current events books lately?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: A Warning by Anonymous

A Warning by Anonymous
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 19, 2019
Source: Borrowed

An unprecedented behind-the-scenes portrait of the Trump presidency from the anonymous senior official whose first words of warning about the president rocked the nation’s capital.

I’ve been interested in Trump’s presidency since it began. A celebrity with no political experience running an entire country was bound to be an experience, and it certainly has been. Whatever your political beliefs, whether you agree with what Trump does or not, I think we can all agree that he’s a very different kind of president than we’ve seen before.

After slogging my way through Fire & Fury, more or less enjoying Fear, and being pretty satisfied with Proof of Collusion (my opinion of these Trump books was only going up), I was excited to get my hands (or, more accurately, I guess, my ears) on A Warning. Probably the most interesting thing for me, and for many people, is the anonymity of its author. I’d love to know who wrote it just so I can send them a thank you card, because this is definitely the best book on Trump’s presidency that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

I think that the best thing about A Warning is that it’s not written by someone who disliked Trump from the beginning. It’s not written to be shocking. It doesn’t call for his removal from office — not because he’s doing well as a president, but because the consequences may be worse than the current situation.

What the book does very well is present information in a clear, organized manner. It’s not a rehashing of CNN and Fox News, either. While there wasn’t a ton of brand new information, the author does put everything in context, describing the daily inner workings of the White House and how things we already knew fit in.

I was a little worried that this book would be poorly written, but I was surprised to find it better-written than any other book I’ve read on Trump’s presidency. It flows nicely, it’s never awkward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was written by someone who writes professionally.

I’d recommend this to anyone curious about the inner workings of the White House, especially with the election coming up later this year.

Have you read A Warning? Have you read any good books recently about current events?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? & Stiff

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Gift

Every day, funeral director Caitlin Doughty receives dozens of questions about death. What would happen to an astronaut’s body if it were pushed out of a space shuttle? Do people poop when they die? Can Grandma have a Viking funeral?

In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty blends her mortician’s knowledge of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious, and candid answers to thirty-five distinctive questions posed by her youngest fans. In her inimitable voice, Doughty details lore and science of what happens to, and inside, our bodies after we die. Why do corpses groan? What causes bodies to turn colors during decomposition? And why do hair and nails appear longer after death? Readers will learn the best soil for mummifying your body, whether you can preserve your best friend’s skull as a keepsake, and what happens when you die on a plane. Beautifully illustrated by Dianné Ruz, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? shows us that death is science and art, and only by asking questions can we begin to embrace it.

buddy read with my boyfriend!

I was immediately drawn to Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? just because of the title. Luckily, I ended up getting it for Christmas, and I absolutely loved it. The book is written in a Q&A format, answering questions asked by children. The questions range from things like the titular “Will my cat eat my eyeballs?” to “Can I be buried with my dog?” and “Can we give grandma a Viking funeral?”

Everything is explained in a really straightforward, informative way without ever getting too heavy. Death is hard and it’s sad and it’s scary to think about our own mortality, but Doughty puts just enough humor in her answers that the book never gets weighed down.

I learned so much about death and dying from this book and now I’m just waiting to read Doughty’s other books.

Stiff by Mary Roach
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 17, 2003
Source: Borrowed

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

I’ve seen Mary Roach’s books show up on a number of lists of best nonfiction, and after finishing (and loving) Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, I figured that Stiff would be a good place to start. I really thought that this book would focus on what happens to the body after we die, and it sort of does… but mostly it’s about all the different things a body can do after it dies.

Sure, you can be embalmed and buried in a casket, like many people do in the United States. But you can also donate your body to science — and what does that mean, exactly? What are the different paths your body can take if it’s donated to science? You can become an organ donor and save a number of lives. You can have a natural burial. You can be cremated and spend eternity in an urn or have your ashes scattered. Roach covers all of these possibilities and more.

The book is fascinating, and at times pretty disgusting. I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to most medical stuff, but the section on the materia medica even made me nauseous, so just be prepared for that. Still, it was worth it to learn about ancient remedies, and now that I’m prepared, I’d actually like to learn more about it.

I’ve decided that all of Mary Roach’s books are now on my TBR and I just have to decide which one to read next.

Have you read either of these books? Have you read any good science-y nonfiction recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers — and why they often go wrong.

How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?

While tackling these questions, Malcolm Gladwell was not solely writing a book for the page. He was also producing for the ear. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll hear the voices of people he interviewed–scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. There’s even a theme song – Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”

Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.

It’s been a long time since I finished a book feeling quite as conflicted as I do now.

On the one hand, Talking to Strangers is an incredibly interesting, engaging book about a number of high-profile news stories over the last several decades. Gladwell takes on Jerry Sandusky, Amanda Knox, Sandra Bland, Sylvia Plath, Larry Nassar, and more. He presents really interesting psychological studies. He made me think about how I interpret strangers’ behavior and how other people might interpret mine.

On the other hand, I’m not sure he ever makes his point, or if he really has a point to make. He makes some disturbing excuses for sexual assault and race-based crimes. I’d like to think that he’s just trying to provide a well-rounded view on the topic, but if there were ever topics that shouldn’t be excused, they’re sexual assault and racism.

Two things I learned from this book:

  • We naturally default to truth. We want to believe that people aren’t lying to us, so we’ll rationalize weird behavior, as in the Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar cases. Not defaulting to truth, and instead defaulting to everyone being a criminal, is what results in cases like Sandra Bland’s arrest.
  • Things like crime and suicide are coupled, meaning that their place and context of occurrence are tied to their existence. For example, adding a suicide barrier on a bridge will overall reduce suicides, not encourage people who might want to commit suicide to find an alternate method. Increasing police presence in a high crime neighborhood will overall reduce crime, not force it to a different area.

It seems that Gladwell’s main point in this book is that many of the problems in the world can be traced back to misunderstandings. That seems to be a pretty flimsy idea to base a nearly 400-page book around, and I don’t really think the connection worked for me. That said, this book was so interesting that I don’t really care.

Have you read Talking to Strangers? Have you read any good books on psychology recently?
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