Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

The Punch Escrow

Book Notes

Okay, this review is going to be one giant spoiler. If you have not read the book, and plan on reading the book, don't read on.

Stop now.

Stooooooop.

Stop.

Okay then, years ago, likely a couple decades at this point, I read a science-fiction short story about teleportation. An alien race arrived at Earth with this nifty teleportation technology, and is willing to give us this technology, interface with us, grant us the use of this amazing technology, but they will still control it and maintain it. I vaguely recall the aliens looked like dinosaurs or reptiles, and the teleportation unit had some human that operated it. Both of these recollections may be wrong, but they might be accurate, unsure.

Anyway, the teleportation worked by duplicating the object being teleported. The object (yes, including a human) would exist in the origination and the destination points at the same time. When the copy was deemed complete, the original would be destroyed. This was one of the rules the aliens laid down: that only one copy can exist, the other must be destroyed. Breaking this rule meant the technology would be revoked, and humans would lose it. This loss would include losing the ease of visiting stars, losing instant (near instant, go with it) transportation, losing access to untold riches and cultures and other technology.

Humans were not willing to lose this technology.

From an individual being teleported's perspective, you go to sleep and wake up at the destination. WOW how amazing!

From an outside perspective, the original splits. The one at the destination has this "OMG I've been teleported!" perspective, life continues along happily. The one at the origination has this "OMG I am about to die!" perspective, and is killed. Normally the origination doesn't actually have this perspective because everything goes okay and after being knocked out, doesn't wake up and know she's about to die. She dies in her sleep, with the teleportation happening while she's out.

In the short story, there's a glitch, and the transportee wakes up. She's confused. She's in the original place, the operators aren't sure the process worked, and there are tortuous hours while they figure out if she was teleported, are there two of her?

Turns out, there ARE two of her, and the local copy needs to die. She's led to the airlock, all the while begging to live, thrown into it, and is spaced. The human operator who does this killing knows the consequences of not doing it, and actively kills the woman of the story.

Phew. That's the short story I read years ago.

So, when I started reading this book, I"m all of 20 pages into it when we learn about the teleportation in the book. And I think, "Fuck, this is going to be a duplication of that story, isn't it?"

Yep.

Which ruined the whole book for me. Because this was a longer version of that short story.

Except it wasn't. It wasn't the antagonizing build up of the "I am going to die, but I didn't do anything why am I going to die? Let me live!" torture of the short story. It is the hang-wringing, "oh, what do we do? we can both live you know," teen-angsty version of the psychological torture of the short story.

Which is to say, if you haven't read either this review nor that short story, this is a fun beach read. If you have read either, skip it.

Sorry to ruin the book for you if you were going to read it and didn't stop when I told you to stop.

Because of the Entscheidungsproblem, computers couldn’t make an original decision. Every choice they came to could only be based on data and algorithms that had been preprogrammed into them. That’s not to say computers couldn’t get new ideas, but every new idea they got could only come from remixing old ideas, or external input from other computers, or through human input.
Page 21

So yeah, things weren’t great between me and my wife, but we were doing our best. Well, technically, she did her best, and I trailed along behind, living off the scraps of her drive and success like a remora.
Page 39

Sylvia had always given everything 110 percent, whether it was our relationship, her job, or even planning vacations. She was the one who did the research, built itineraries, then told me when and where to show up. She was also the breadwinner, which I guess made me the bread loser. Some spouses might have been irked by that, but not me. I was content to take it easy.
Page 39

Shit always goes wrong when Sylvia and I go on vacation. We’ve always referred to these mishaps as adventures, because we don’t want to call them vacation fuckups. Besides, who wants to have a textbook holiday anyway? Half the fun is partaking in some ridiculous misadventure that you can later tell your friends over drinks.
Page 48

"We will save your souls; We will fulfill your pact with the Creator, your obligation to live one life and die one death."
Page 55

Aren't religions great?

Narrator: "No."

“So, what happens now?”

Corina was obviously prepared for the question. “Joel, this is new territory for me, and for all of us here at International Transport."
Page 88

Okay, so, this is entirely BS. The company HAD to have considered this possibility. Is impossible NOT to have thought of it.

“Why are you doing this for me?”

“It is my belief that, given the circumstances, anyone might have done what you did."
Page 105

Wow, leading with compassion? Now we KNOW this is a work of fiction.

But really, leaders and followers recognizing that perfect people do not exist, what a world that would be, eh?

"Corporations don’t make decisions; people do.”
Page 105

Hrmm.

*cough* Abdication of responsibility.

*cough* Diffusion of responsibility.

*cough* Mistakes were made.

It’s the centerpiece of our new world order. Unelected, undemocratic—you in the West no longer have the power to vote with your money, despite what they tell you. But I suspect you already know this, Yoel: that they control your lives through commerce, and that it is fine. Maybe even you believe it is better this way.
Page 110

Well... the best fiction has truth in it, eh?

'You could even jailbreak your printer, buy a Big Mac, and then replicate it for your friends—but it wouldn’t be the same—the copy wouldn’t be “signed” by McDonald’s. We humans place a lot of stock in originality—our culture has always focused on “the real thing” having true tangible value, and with molecular signatures, it has become nearly impossible to make illegitimate replications of anything patented.'
Page 119

Laughing at this one. No, our culture does not focus on "the real thing." Look at diamonds, we're JUST FINE having cheaper man-made ones than nature made ones. We just want EVERY ELSE to think we have the real thing.

I’m guessing if you asked anyone from IT about the moral implications, they would likely extol humanity’s well-documented historical grapples with new transportation technologies. When railroads were first introduced, some people thought the speed would be so intense, it would cause their organs to shoot out of their rectums. But folks still got on board.
Page 124

Today you are rewarded for asking your questions, they call you a salter, and they pay you chits. But he, in his time, he was punished, and they took his name away, and exiled him.” A brief snigger. “It’s funny how the devout pretend like they want people to ask questions, but really they only want you to ask the questions that they have answers to.
Page 162

“Bullshit this, bullshit that. You keep on using that word like it means something other than what comes out of a cow. It’s not bullshit, Yoel. It’s life.”
Page 168

“Come on!” I called up to him, really laying on the disbelief. “What could you possibly do that can’t be undone by someone else?”
Page 315

Unthinkable

Book Notes

A short bit ago, maybe last summer, I bought Bob a book that he was considering for PALAC. He was going to read the book first, as the leader for any book group should do, and was a bit frustrated that it wasn't available at the library for a while. So, I bought the book for him. He didn't end up using the book for the book group, as it was considered too technical. The group, however, ended up using this book for their science book discussion that quarter.

So, I picked it up and read it, too.

Unthinkable tells the reader about eight different head / brain injuries, then discusses what we have learned as a result of those injuries. As a bonus for many of the brain injuries and lessons learned, Thomson includes parts of "how you, too, can experience this weird brain phenomenon!" which I found entertaining. The book isn't a difficult read, and covers a few stories that are common in other books on thinking and brain injuries (hello, Phineas Gage, the most talked about brain injury ever in American culture).

Most amusing to me was the story of The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine, as they were also mentioned in Wanders as a neuropsychiatric disorder possibly bacteria and viral in origin. Turns out, no, more likely it was a conditioned response, which makes the brain both our friend and our "enemy." Also, people are jerks.

It was a fun read, not technical, but a good introduction to brains on the outside of "normal," and the inside of "fascinating." Recommended.

For the majority of us, our most vivid memories are those that have some kind of emotional content.

...

They essentially tell the rest of the brain, “these events are important, remember them.” This in turn makes the memory of that event more easily recalled at a later date.
Location: 460

THROUGHOUT SCHOOL, SHARON CONTINUED to hide her problem from her friends and family. The seeds of condemnation planted by her mother at such a young age had clearly taken hold. I feel a wave of sympathy. Sharon is so likable—so friendly, funny and intelligent. I’m amazed she kept this to herself for so long. Sharon was almost thirty before her secret came out in the open.
Location: 880

“I’ve always been silly and funny because it misdirected people away from the things I was hiding. Everyone always said, ‘You’re always in such a good mood.’ They didn’t know that I would go home at night and cry.
Location: 994

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COLOR and emotion is well established in the animal kingdom. Female animals often use the color red to signal hormonal changes in their body associated with fertility, for example. Certain male primates show red following a surge of testosterone in their bloodstream, due to aggression or as a show of dominance. Testosterone suppresses the immune system, so the flush of red tells any females that the male must be in good health to cope with such deficits.
Location: 1,189

... asked several men to have a conversation with a woman who was wearing either a red or green shirt. Men who spoke to the woman while she was wearing a red shirt asked her more intimate questions than those who spoke to her while she was wearing green. In another experiment, men sat closer to a woman and classed her as more attractive when she was wearing a red shirt than when she was wearing an identical shirt in other colors.
Location: 1,195

Evolutionary anthropologists at Durham University and the University of Plymouth wondered whether wearing a red shirt might exploit our innate response to the color red and so influence the outcomes of sporting contests. They studied fifty-five years’ worth of English football league results, and found that teams whose home colors were red won 2 percent more often than teams who wore blue or white, and 3 percent more often than those who wore yellow or orange.
Location: 1,202

In fact, across a range of sports, wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning.
Location: 1,206

Winners wear read.

Why Mischief's colors are red and whatever. Thanks, Doyle!

Dopamine is used all over the brain and is important for motivation and producing a drive toward things that make you happy. If you have too much dopamine, though, it can lead to disinhibited behavior.
Location: 1,723

As you might expect, when the roles were suited to their brains the teams performed best. But here’s the rub: this occurred only when the task was completed in silence.

...

When the researchers watched back the trials, they discovered that each person quickly took over the other’s role, helping them to achieve their assignment. In other words, complete strangers had spontaneously discovered their strengths and weaknesses and modified their behavior to get a job done.
Location: 1,789

For instance, if you come across a problem that you can’t solve, try thinking about it using the kind of strategy that doesn’t come easily to you. “It takes more effort to think in a different mode,” says Kosslyn, “but anyone can drop into any mode if you really try.”
Location: 1,796

It’s a dangerous misperception among reporters, the public and policymakers that mental illness is at the root of violence.
Location: 2,236

“Most people with mental illness are not violent toward others and most violence is not caused by mental illness,” says McGinty.
Location: 2,239

In 2006, Laureys and his colleague Adrian Owen developed a test to check whether someone in an apparent vegetative state could in fact follow orders, by inviting them to think about moving around their house or playing tennis. These two thoughts produce very different patterns of activity in the brain, which the team could identify using brain scans. Their first patient—a twenty-three-year-old woman who had fulfilled all the criteria for vegetative state after a road traffic accident—was able to produce the two patterns of brain activity on request. Later they discovered she was very much aware of her surroundings, despite not being able to move, because she was able to answer their questions by attributing the two different thoughts (thinking about moving around her house or playing tennis) to the words “yes” and “no.”
Location: 2,822

It was the first sign that tactile stimulation isn’t always necessary for us to perceive the sensation of touch—in some conditions vision alone is sufficient.
Location: 3,074

So how do we empathize without burning out? A series of studies, many by Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, in Leipzig, Germany, suggests we should transform empathy into compassion.9 We often use these words interchangeably, but they mean different things. “Compassion” can be described as having caring thoughts for another person—for instance, when a mother reaches out to a screaming child. “Empathy” is putting yourself in another person’s shoes and vicariously experiencing their emotions.
Location: 3,280

Our inability to understand our own minds is the price we pay for the ability to question them in the first place. Back in that first lesson with Clive, I was told by my professor that “if the brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”
Location: 3,526

Wanderers

Book Notes

Oh, I enjoyed this book so much. Again, I need to keep notes on why I pick up books, this one may have been on some Book Riot recommendation list, I don't know. It was, however, a zombie book (sorta, but not quite), and we know how much I enjoy a good zombie book.

And no, this one wasn't quite a zombie book in the "brains... braaaaaaaaaaaains" sort of zombie book, but it was sort, in that the Wanderers are a group of people who leave their house with no apparent reason, and start walking. From the East Coast to the West Coast, gathering up more individuals as they walk, their loved ones fluttering around them like insects, trying to help even as the zombies with their single focus on no-one knows what keep walking.

This book gets a lot of things right: AI progress, outbreaks and epidemics, society's breakdown, power manipulation, and human deception. It introduces a number of technologies in a non Hollywood-OMG-we-are-all-going-to-die sort of way, but rather in a here's-how-it-is-let's-deal-with-it sort of way, which I can appreciate.

The only downside to the book is that a number of cultural fuckeries (black men in America and racial discrimination, women in science and tech and gender discrimination, dominance and cultural manipulation) are described in passing, as a gnat buzzing around, rather than the Good Ole Boy network f'ing shutting down the black man, regardless of his doctorate, degree, experience, and ability to save them. I can't say that one could actually incorporate the topics in any more meaningful way, though, and I appreciate their being mentioned at least.

For the most part, the book is engaging and fast-paced. Literally one short section of a chapter made me think, "UGH," the rest was "wheeeee!" Strongly recommended!

“Way it works is this: You go in, and you can talk to it, ask it questions. It won’t answer in words, but rather, with green pulses or red pulses to indicate yes or no, respectively. It can also answer with images and data, but it won’t communicate with you the same way you communicate with it.” “That does not seem like an exact science.” “Benji, even an exact science is not an exact science—surely you know that above others.”
Location: 816

Seriously, who designs an interface where you can ask only yes / no questions? Yes, there are nuances to the language, but you can work through those with a limited vocabulary. Honestly, this is one of the very few WTF parts of this book, where I was pulled out and thought, "That doesn't make sense."

That, she said with almost zero confidence. She made that prediction only out of hope, and hope she knew had like, zero basis in reality.
Location: 1,117

“That’s not—no, that’s not what happened to him. We don’t know what happened to him.” “That instills us with little confidence,” French snapped. Benji offered both hands in a placating gesture. “That is how science and medicine are practiced best, though—we are best when we admit our ignorance up front, and then attempt to fill the darkness of not-knowing with the light of information and knowledge.”
Location: 1,266

He relied on his faith in the numbers. Numbers did not lie. Oh, you could lie using numbers (to which Benji could personally attest), but the numbers themselves were inert, unbiased, and pure.
Location: 1,867

The future wasn’t Newsweek. It was fucking YouTube. And that sucked. Because YouTube—the whole damn internet—was the antithesis of Garlin Gardens. It wasn’t fun and whimsical. Dreams were not made on the internet; they were killed there. By mean, nasty little shits who were all looking to one-up each other. Like crayfish in a bucket, all trying to climb over one another to get to the top.
Location: 2,109

Politics, despite what some believed, was not morality, nor reflective of it.
Location: 2,446

“It looks like the end of the world out there. I don’t think you can dodge the end of the world.”
Location: 2,537

“Hola, chica,” Shana said, going for a fist-bump and blowing it up after, then moving in for the hug.
Location: 2,591

Love this. Totally how I fistbump, too.

“I try not to worry about anything until I need to. Because honestly, what’s the point.”

“Screw that. I worry about everything constantly.”

“That sounds awful.”

“It sounds smart, is what it is.”

“If you say so.”
Location: 2,603

Worry about everything, maybe not.

Consider bad outcomes, absolutely.

“Before anyone asks,” Vargas said, “I don’t have any new information for you about your friends and family members.” Anger ran through Shana. People were supposed to have answers. Experts were supposed to know shit. And they didn’t know anything.
Location: 2,804

Shana knew this angst over the fact life is super unfair, wah, was hyper-fucking-cliché of her, but it was what it was, and she felt what she felt. Things, she thought, were supposed to be better than they were.
Location: 2,809

The moment they made one slip-up, that would give Homeland Security an opening to take over the whole show. They were already itching for it. What if they considered these people a threat? Benji could not imagine he lived in a country that would up and execute these people. Still… History had too many cruel examples of this very thing happening. Worse was: Would people even flinch? Would Americans quietly look away? Or would they rise up in defense of the flock?
Location: 2,869

Well, giving ICE shit happening now, we know which way this one would go.

This, he decided, was a problem for Future Benji.
Location: 2,870

Love this.

Death was a tragedy. But death was also a data point.
Location: 3,174

That marked her as either someone who had a lot of untapped courage—there was that word again, echoing the conversation with Arav—or someone who cared little for herself or her own life. (He wondered idly, How often do those two things intertwine?)
Location: 3,341

All Quiet on the Western Front

Book Notes

I bought this book a couple years ago at Powells, from the bargin bin. The version was a new translation, from around 1994, and had wordings and phrases that really worked for this "modern reader." As with One Hundred Years of Solitude, it was a book I needed to read. Much past that, I am unsure why I picked it up, or why I read it at this point.

As with One Hundred Years, one should not read the introductions. This book's introduction, "oh look at me, I am so learned about this book and this author, let me discuss the most essential plot point before you have even started the book," (YEARGH!) also gave away too much.

While I know this book is often assigned in high school, I'm completely certain that I understood more having read the book as an adult, than I could have possibly understood as a teenager. The main character is nineteen, twenty, so reading it without life experiences could possibly allow an emotional connection to Paul, the narrator, but not knowing the horrors of war (as most American high schoolers do not), nor having the larger world perspective, nor understanding of the cycles of history, leads me to believe that the book will read as just a story rather than a fictionalized telling of Remarque's WW1 experiences.

There's a part of the book where the main character's company is deployed to the front, and need to walk to the actual front. They are walking single file through a forest when the line is ambushed, and the soldiers scatter. The telling of the scene is so rich that one is taken to the French forest, one can feel the thumping of the artillery on the front, smell the decay of the forest floor, feel the night air and the darkness of a world before plentiful light and never night. The described sounds of the company and the gut reactions to the ping ping of the shots downing the guy in front of the narrator send chills and terror in a visceral way that I believe most people don't experience these days: how can they when they've grown up on first person shooter and infinite light and connectedness?

The book is incredibly powerful. I'd argue that Fives and Twenty Fives is a similar retelling of a different war with a different outcome, with the same shit situation: that the boots on the ground are experiencing the worst, and that none of the rest of us fully understand, or could understand. Those experiences break most, and destroy even those who bend.

Strongly recommend reading this book as an adult. I will buy you a copy, a nice copy even.

On the right-hand edge of the field they have built a huge latrine block, a good solid building with a roof. But that is only for new recruits, who haven't yet learned to get the best they can out of everything. We want something a bit better. And scattered all around are small individual thunderboxes with precisely the same function. They are square, clean, made of solid wood, closed in, and with a really comfortable seat. There are handles on the sides so that they can be carried about.
Page: 24

I can still remember how embarrassed we were at the beginning, when we were recruits in the barracks and had to use the communal latrines. There are no doors, so that twenty men had to sit side by side as if they were on a train. That way they could all be seen at a glance - soliders, of course, have to be under supervision at all times.
Page: 25

Out here in the open air the whole business is a real pleasure. I can't undertand why it was that we always used to skirt round these things so nervously - after all, it is just as natural as eating or drinking. And perhaps it wouldn't need to be mentioned at all if it didn't play such a signifcant part in our lives, and if it hadn't been new to us - the other man had long since got used to it.
Page: 25

For the others, for the older men, the war is an interruption, and they can think beyond the end of it. But we were caught up by the war, and we can't see how things will turn out.
Page: 37

We had an hour of saluting practice this afternoon because Tjaden gave a major a sloppy salute. Kat can't get over this. "Watch out, lads," he says, "we'll lose the war because we are too good at saluting."
Page: 55

For me, the front is as sinister as a whirlpool. Even when you are a long way away from its centre, out in the calm waters, you can still feel its suction pulling you towards it, slowly, inexorably, meeting little resistance.
Page: 68

With the first rumble of shellfire, one part of our being hurls itself back a thousand years. An animal instinct awakens in us, and it directs and protects us. It is not conscious, it is far quicker, far more accurate and far more reliable than conscious thought. You can't explain it.
Page: 69

French rockets shoot up, the ones with silk parachutes that open in the air and let them drift down really slowly. They light up everything as clear as day, and their brightness even reaches across to us, so that we can see our shadows stark against the ground. The lights hang in the sky for minutes at a time before they burn out. New ones shoot up at once, everywhere, and there are still the green, red and blue stars.
Page: 71-72

Searchlights begin to sweep the black sky. They skim across it like huge blackboard pointers, tapering down at the bottom. One of them pauses, shaking a little. At once another is beside it, they cross and there is a black, winged insect trapped and trying to escape: an airman. He wavers, is dazzled, and falls.
Page: 72

He notices his helmet and puts it on his head. Slowly he comes to himself. Then suddenly he blushes scarlet and his face has a look of embarrassment. Cautiously he puts his hand to his rear end and gives me an agonized look. I understand at once: the barrage scared the shit out of him. That wasn't the precise reason that I put his helmet where I did - but all the same I comfort him. 'No shame in that, plenty of soldiers before you have filled their pants when they came under fire for the first time. Go behind that bush, chuck your underpants away, and that's that -"
Page: 75

The screaming goes on and on. It can't be men, they couldn't scream that horribly.

"Wounded horses," says Kat.

I have never heard a horse scream and I can hardly believe it There is a whole world of pain in that sound, creation itself under torture, a wild and horrifying agony.
Page: 75

"Albert, what would you do if all of a sudden it was peacetime?"

"There's no such thing as peacetime," replies Albert curtly.

Mulller persists. "yes, but if ... what would you do?"

"I'd bugger off out of it," grumbles Kropp.

"Course. And then what?"

"Get blind drunk," says Albert.

"Don't talk rubbish, I'm being serious - "

"Me, too," says Albert, "what else would there be to do?"

[...]

"Christ almightly," says Haie, and his expression softens, "the first thing I'd do is pick myself some strapping great bint, know what I mean, some big bouncy kitchen wench with plenty to get your hands around, then straight into bed and no messing! Think about it! Proper feather-beds with sprung mattresses. I tell you, lads, I wouldn't put my trousers back on for a week!"

Silence all around. The image is just too fantastic. It sends tremors right across the skin.
Page: 88

All at once everything seems to me to be pointless and desperate.

Kropp takes it further along the same line, "It will be just as difficult for all of us. I wonder whether the people back at home don't worry about it themselves occassionally? Two years of rifle fire and hand-grenades - you can't just take it all off like a pair of socks aftewards - "

...

Albert puts it into words. "The war has ruined us for everything."

He is right. We're no longer young men. We've lost any desire to conquer the world. We are refugees. We are fleeing from ourslves. From our lives. We were eighteen years old, and we had just begun to love the world and to love being in it, but we had to shoot at it. The first shell to land went straight for our hearts.
Page: 98

We are like children who have been abandoned and we are as experienced as old men, we are coarse, unhappy and superficial - I think that we are lost.
Page: 132

A few years ago we would really have despised ourselves. Now we are pretty well content. You can get used to anything - even being in the trenches.

This habit of getting used to things is the reason that we seem to forget so quickly.
Page: 147

Because one thing has become clear to me: you can cope with all the horror as long as you simply duck thinking about it - but it will kill you if you try to come to terms with it.

...

We want to go on living at any price, and therefore we can't burden ourselves with emotions that might be all very nice to have in peacetime, but out of place here.
Page: 147

We have never been a very demonstrative family - poor people who have to work hard and cope with problems very rarely are. They can't really understand that sort of thing either, and they don't like contsant going on about things that are perfectly obvious.
Page: 166

War is another cause of death, like cancer or tuberculosis or influenza or dysentery. The fatalities are just much more numerous, and more horrible.
Page: 266

But we are thin and starving. Our food is so bad and full of so much ersatz stuff that it makes us ill. The factory owners in Germany have grown rich, while dysentery racks our guts.
Page: 274

... they [the stories] are honest, and they call a spade a spade, because there really is a lot of fraud, injustice and petty nastiness in the army.
Page: 276

Leer groans and props himself on his arms, but he bleeds to death very quickly and no one can help him. After a few minutes he sinks down like a rubber tyre when the air escapes. What use is it to him now that he was so good at mathematics at school?
Page: 278

The Shape of Water

Book Notes

Andrea Camilleri passed away a short while ago. After his passing, his death was mentioned in the NYT and in a post on MB.

I wasn't sure if the MB post was a recommendation for the books or not, but figured, hey, the author passed away, he was a fairly prolific writer, maybe a book or two are worth reading. Problem is that most early works, especially the first of a series, and the first published by an author, have rough edges. The author may not have (that is to say, likely hasn't) developed their voice yet, so the first novel isn't a great choice for a reader's introduction to said author's works.

At least, that's what I'm going to say.

The book was a murder mystery. The characters were one-dimensional, feeling more like a long 1970s era Fantasy Island episode than a detective or mystery book. A prominent business man (was he as good as his public face, or was he good at covering up his corruption?) is found dead in a seedy location. A blonde is seen fleeing the scene, suspiciously.

Everyone thinks the guy died while having sex with a known high-class prostitute. Well, everyone except his wife and Urbane Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano. Let's take a moment to point out that only the wife saw that the dead guy's underwear was on inside-out, okay?

Yeah, so, when the murderer comes out of nowhere, I rather scream deus ex machina and flip the table.

I'd say, if you're on a desert island, sure, read this book. Or if you're a fan of Camilleri and are reading all his works, yes. Otherwise, watch the tv shows. Wait, maybe not, are they any good? Don't know.

Pecorilla was the foreman in charge of assigning the areas to be cleaned, and he nurtured an undisguised hatred for anyone with an education, having himself managed to finish middle school, at age forty, only thanks to Cusumano, who had a man-to-man talk with the teacher. Thus he manipulated things so that the hardest, most demeaning work always fell to the three university graduates in his charge.
Page: 5

“If, on the other hand, you hush everything up, the silence itself starts to talk, rumors begin to multiply out of control until you can’t stop them anymore.
Page: 100

If I had to express my sincere opinion of the man, I would say that he represents a splendid specimen of the nincompoop, of the sort that flourish wherever there is a rich and powerful father.
Page: 115

He thought it best to exit, return to his car, and get his pistol from the glove compartment. He hardly ever carried a weapon; the weight bothered him, and the gun rumpled his trousers and jackets.
Page: 118

“Where do we go now?” Ingrid repeated. She wasn’t joking anymore; utter female that she was, she had noticed the man’s agitation.
Page: 154

The Tangled Tree

Book Notes

This book was a Caltech Book Club selection, which is to say, I read it and more than a little bit didn't participate in the discussion. I am uncertain what to do in the online book clubs, and so, happily read the comments, and struggle with adding any insights.

And none of that is about this book, which is delightful. I recommend a read if only for the HORIZONTAL TRANSFER OF GENES. Like, wait, what? Genes do what? Yeah, that.

I enjoyed the book (even though in books that don't write women out of history, we learn that Crick's aha moment was actually inspired by a woman, no credit given), which goes through the development of evolutionary genetics. What? A science history book? Why, yes, including the parts of "oh, that's not correct," which is great. Science is never linear.

Recommend the book, worth a read.

There was class stratification in science as in every other part of Victorian British society.
Location 517

Into the 1860 edition of his Elementary Geology, he inserted his rejoinder to Darwin’s book, based mainly on proof by authority. He noted that Pictet saw no evidence for transmutation in the fossil record of fishes.
Location 579

That was characteristic of Crick—so brilliant and recklessly imaginative that he sometimes influenced the course of biology even with his elbows.
Location 593

But in science, wrong doesn’t mean useless.
Location 754

Then suddenly Brenner let out a “yelp.” He began talking fast. Crick began talking back just as fast. Everybody else in the room watched in amazement. Brenner had seen the answer, and Crick had seen him see it.
Location 812

“What I propose to do is not elegant science by my definition,” he confided to Crick. Scientific elegance lay in generating the minimum of data needed to answer a question. His approach would be more of a slog.
Location 841

Researchers at the time were so reluctant to believe that bacterial genes could be transferred into animal genomes that, before publishing a new genome sequence, they routinely edited out the bacterial stretches.
Location 3729

One consequence, unsuspected before but suggested by this Hotopp study in 2013, is that bits of naked bacterial DNA, possibly from broken-open bacterial cells, may often get integrated into cells (not necessarily germline cells) of a person’s body. Into cells of the stomach lining, for instance. Or blood cells. By “integrated,” what I mean is, not just absorbed or injected into the human cell but patched into its DNA. The good news about any such horizontal transfer, bacterial DNA into nongermline human cells, is that the change isn’t heritable. It won’t be passed to future generations. The bad news is that it might trigger cancer. How? By disrupting the cell genome in a way that allows runaway cell replication.
Location 3750

Hotopp and her colleagues looked especially at two kinds of human cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and stomach adenocarcinoma. In the leukemia cell genomes, they found stretches resembling the DNA of Acinetobacter bacteria, a group that includes infectious forms often picked up in hospitals.
Location 3755

The alternate hypothesis offered by Hotopp’s team, supported by genome data and now crying for further investigation, is that horizontal transfer of bacterial DNA may discombobulate one human cell, in the stomach, in the blood, wherever, and turn it cancerous.
Location 3761

“I have biologists who come into my office,” she said, “and it’s just, like, ‘No, it’s got to be an artifact. You have to be able to explain it some other way.’ ” Animals don’t experience horizontal gene transfer, period. Humans, certainly not. “Do you ever say to them, ‘Is that a faith-based statement?’ ” I asked. What I meant was: it seemed almost as though the Weismann barrier had become a theological dogma. She mused about that for a moment and allowed that some scientists did appear to be more religious about science than about religion. A touch of faith-based genomics? “I think it is,” she said.
Location 3767

It reminded everyone that the prospect of horizontal gene transfer from bacteria (or other microbes) into the human genome is a boggling thing, a trespass on our sense of identity, and an improbability against which there should ever be a high standard of proof.
Location 3819

Kilogram quantities, biomass: that’s what “Eureka!” sounds like from the mouth of a microbiologist.
Location 4549

This is what happens in science. Paradigms shift, but seldom twice in the life and mind of one scientist.
Location 4622

Woese hated the fogginess, she told me. He wanted to be able to think. There was nothing—no medical fate, no waves of pain—worse to him than deprivation of his ability to think. That was his life.
Location 5510

But he wanted clarity more than he wanted comfort.
Location 5513

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Book Notes

Okay, despite having read Love in the Time of Cholera, the book I actually wanted to read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was this one, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Thing is, I don't know why I wanted to read this book, why I bought this book, why it sang to me unopened from the stack of books.

I pondered this out loud, and Eric immediately said, "Oh, that's easy. 'Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.' That line! That drew you did, and wouldn't let you go!"

An excellent story. Not accurate, but true.

This book, along with All Quiet on the Western Front have broken me of any and all habits of and interests in reading book introductions. BOTH of these books have introductions that say, HEY, HERE IS A VERY IMPORTANT PLOT POINT THAT YOU'LL READ, BUT I AM AN FOREMOST EXPERT ON THIS BOOK SO I WILL TELL YOU NOW.

Yeah, don't read the introductions any more. Shit, I feel like Pride and Prejudice did this, too. No more reading introductions!

I enjoyed the book, the tale of one family and the cycle of the world. I suspect having to read this book for school would be a chore. Reading the book because it sang to you from the bookshelf, however, is a delight. Plot summaries are elsewhere, I recommend this book over Love in the Time of Cholera.

Silence

Book Notes

Have you ever had a book that you started reading (okay, really, that part probably lost 80% of the US population) and just unexpectedly sank into like a warm bath? Like, you thought you would like the book (which is why you started reading it in the first place), but didn't realize that the book was going to become a homecoming, that you found a safe space?

Yeah, this book was like that for me.

I borrowed the book from the library and read it. Then borrowed the audio book and listened to it. Then bought a hardback copy of the book, to read again.

The book is a sort of long essay on the beauty of silence, by Erling Kagge, who walked unsupported and unaided to both the North Pole and the South Pole. Yeah, while y'all are drinking beers and watching some stupid sports game, a man walked to the South Pole and back out alone. IDK, seems like someone worth listening to when he starts talking about silence.

The timing of the book in my life was amazing. Maybe the timing will be good for you, too? Let me buy you a copy.

The Art of Thinking Clearly

Book Notes

I loved this book. If I could, I'd have this be a textbook that every high school kid had to read, to understand biases and how they are being externally manipulated. Can you imagine how much better everyone would be if we were all aware of our biases and the cultural and commercial manipulations happening? WOW!

Anyway, ahem, this book.

This book lists a whole slew of cognitive biases, logic fallacies, and faulty thinkings that, once you know about them, you can see everywhere.

I suspect that, sadly, even if a lot of people know about them, they won't care enough to do anything positive about them, but for people who do care, for people who want to improve, knowing about them is incredibly powerful.

I loved this book. I found it amazing and will buy you a copy if you promise to read it fully.

To fight against the confirmation bias, try writing down your beliefs—whether in terms of worldview, investments, marriage, health care, diet, career strategies—and set out to find disconfirming evidence.
Page 24

Since this behavior was discovered, nearly every airline has instituted crew resource management (CRM), which coaches pilots and their crews to discuss any reservations they have openly and quickly. In other words: They carefully deprogram the authority bias. CRM has contributed more to flight safety in the past twenty years than have any technical advances.
Page 26

Whenever you are about to make a decision, think about which authority figures might be exerting an influence on your reasoning. And when you encounter one in the flesh, do your best to challenge him or her.
Page 27

If something is repeated often enough, it gets stored at the forefront of our minds. It doesn’t even have to be true. How often did the Nazi leaders have to repeat the term “the Jewish question” before the masses began to believe that it was a serious problem?
Page 32

We prefer wrong information to no information.
Page 33

availability bias. Fend it off by spending time with people who think differently than you do—people whose experiences and expertise are different from yours. We require others’ input to overcome the availability bias.
Page 33

Life is a muddle, as intricate as a Gordian knot.
Page 37

We want our lives to form a pattern that can be easily followed. Many call this guiding principle “meaning.” If our story advances evenly over the years, we refer to it as “identity.”
Page 37

“We try on stories as we try on clothes,” said Max Frisch, a famous Swiss novelist.
Page 37

Stories are dubious entities. They simplify and distort reality and filter things that don’t fit. But apparently we cannot do without them. Why remains unclear.
Page 38

Whenever you hear a story, ask yourself: Who is the sender, what are his intentions, and what did he hide under the rug? The omitted elements might not be of relevance. But, then again, they might be even more relevant than the elements featured in the story,
Page 39

The real issue with stories: They give us a false sense of understanding, which inevitably leads us to take bigger risks and urges us to take a stroll on thin ice.
Page 39

The hindsight bias is one of the most prevailing fallacies of all. We can aptly describe it as the “I told you so” phenomenon: In retrospect, everything seems clear and inevitable.
Page 41

So why is the hindsight bias so perilous? Well, it makes us believe we are better predictors than we actually are, causing us to be arrogant about our knowledge and consequently to take too much risk.
Page 41

Overcoming the hindsight bias is not easy. Studies have shown that people who are aware of it fall for it just as much as everyone else.
Page 41

Keep a journal. Write down your predictions—for political changes, your career, your weight, the stock market, and so on. Then, from time to time, compare your notes with actual developments. You will be amazed at what a poor forecaster you are.
Page 42

but the diaries, oral histories, and historical documents from the period. If you can’t live without news, read newspapers from five, ten, or twenty years ago.
Page 42

The more we like someone, the more inclined we are to buy from or help that person.
Page 64

According to research, we see people as pleasant, if (a) they are outwardly attractive, (b) they are similar to us in terms of origin, personality, or interests, and (c) they like us.
Page 64

Of course your vote counts, but only by the tiniest of fractions, bordering on the irrelevant.
Page 66

So, if you are a salesperson, make buyers think you like them, even if this means outright flattery. And if you are a consumer, always judge a product independently of who is selling it. Banish the salespeople from your mind or, rather, pretend you don’t like them.
Page 66

If someone says “never,” I usually register this as a minuscule probability greater than zero since “never” cannot be compensated by a negative probability.
Page 72

In sum: Let’s not get too excited. Improbable coincidences are precisely that: rare but very possible events. It’s not surprising when they finally happen. What would be more surprising is if they never came to be.
Page 72

Have you ever bitten your tongue in a meeting? Surely. You sit there, say nothing, and nod along to proposals. After all, you don’t want to be the (eternal) naysayer. Moreover, you might not be 100 percent sure why you disagree, whereas the others are unanimous—and far from stupid. So you keep your mouth shut for another day. When everyone thinks and acts like this, groupthink is at work: This is where a group of smart people makes reckless decisions because everyone aligns their opinions with the supposed consensus.
Page 73

Induction seduces us and leads us to conclusions such as: “Mankind has always survived, so we will be able to tackle any future challenges, too.” Sounds good in theory, but what we fail to realize is that such a statement can only come from a species that has lasted until now.
Page 94

if you want to convince someone about something, don’t focus on the advantages; instead highlight how it helps them dodge the disadvantages.
Page 96

The fear of losing something motivates people more than the prospect of gaining something of equal value.
Page 96

We can’t fight it: Evil is more powerful and more plentiful than good. We are more sensitive to negative than to positive things.
Page 97

In the West, teams function better if and only if they are small and consist of diverse, specialized people. This makes sense, because within such groups, individual performances can be traced back to each specialist.
Page 99

We hide behind team decisions. The technical term for this is “diffusion of responsibility.”
Page 100

People behave differently in groups than when alone (otherwise there would be no groups). The disadvantages of groups can be mitigated by making individual performances as visible as possible.
Page 100

When it comes to growth rates, do not trust your intuition. You don’t have any. Accept it. What really helps is a calculator or, with low growth rates, the magic number of 70.
Page 103

Second, avoid ad-contaminated sources like the plague. How fortunate we are that books are (still) ad-free!
Page 211

try to remember the source of every argument you encounter. Whose opinions are these? And why do they think that way? Probe the issue like an investigator would: Cui bono? Who benefits? Admittedly, this is a lot of work and will slow down your decision making. But it will also refine it.
Page 211

Let’s call it alternative blindness: We systematically forget to compare an existing offer with the next-best alternative.
Page 213

Warren Buffett does things: “Each deal we measure against the second-best deal that is available at any given time—even if it means doing more of what we are already doing.”
Page 213

Forget about the rock and the hard place, and open your eyes to the other, superior alternatives.
Page 214

social comparison bias had kicked in—that is, the tendency to withhold assistance to people who might outdo you, even if you look like a fool in the long run.
Page 215

Kawasaki says: “A-players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B-players hire C-players so they can feel superior to them, and C-players hire D-players. If you start hiring B-players, expect what Steve [Jobs] called ‘the bozo explosion’ to happen in your organization.”
Page 216

Hire people who are better than you, otherwise you soon preside over a pack of underdogs.
Page 216

Suppose you sit on the board of a company. A point of discussion is raised—a topic on which you have not yet passed judgment. The first opinion you hear will be crucial to your overall assessment. The same applies to the other participants, a fact that you can exploit: If you have an opinion, don’t hesitate airing it first. This way, you will influence your colleagues more and draw them over to your side. If, however, you are chairing the committee, always ask members’ opinions in random order so that no one has an unfair advantage.
Page 219

On a societal level, NIH syndrome has serious consequences. We overlook shrewd ideas simply because they come from other cultures.
Page 223

We are drunk on our own ideas. To sober up, take a step back every now and then and examine their quality in hindsight.
Page 223

U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, but at a press conference in 2002, he expressed a philosophical thought with exceptional clarity when he offered this observation: There are things we know (“ known facts”), there are things we do not know (“ known unknowns”), and there are things we do not know that we do not know (“ unknown unknowns”).
Page 225

Put yourself in situations where you can catch a ride on a positive Black Swan (as unlikely as that is). Become an artist, inventor, or entrepreneur with a scalable product. If you sell your time (e.g., as an employee, dentist, or journalist), you are waiting in vain for such a break. But even
Page 226

Free Will

Book Notes

I picked up this book because I had read Lying, also by Sam Harris, and found it to be life changing. Who knows, this one could be life changing, too.

Yep. It was. It totally fucked me up. And not in a good way.

I used to talk with Ken Klein about free will. He argued that all of our actions are the result of chemical reaction in our brain. I disagreed, but really, how much philosophical sophistication is a 12 year old going to have? Answer: not much.

Fast forward to this year, couple the year with a looming birthday likely to kill me, and a book that asks, "Those thoughts you have, where do they come from?" and shit, I don't know.

Hence, fucked up as my brain went into an infinite loop on the question.

The book is worth reading if you're of a mind to pay attention and ponder the question of free will, it could change your life. If you're not in the mood for the thinking part, not worth the time to read.

Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. Nor can we account for why we are not like them.
Page 4

Even if you believe that every human being harbors an immortal soul, the problem of responsibility remains: I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of a psychopath.
Page 4

How can we make sense of our lives, and hold people accountable for their choices, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds?
Page 5

Willpower is itself a biological phenomenon. You can change your life, and yourself, through effort and discipline—but you have whatever capacity for effort and discipline you have in this moment, and not a scintilla more (or less). You are either lucky in this department or you aren’t—and you cannot make your own luck.
Page 38

Many people believe that human freedom consists in our ability to do what, upon reflection, we believe we should do—which often means overcoming our short-term desires and following our long-term goals or better judgment.
Page 38

You have not built your mind. And in moments in which you seem to build it—when you make an effort to change yourself, to acquire knowledge, or to perfect a skill—the only tools at your disposal are those that you have inherited from moments past.
Page 39

My choices matter—and there are paths toward making wiser ones—but I cannot choose what I choose.
Page 39

Rory Miller’s excellent book Meditations on Violence.
Page 43

You will do whatever it is you do, and it is meaningless to assert that you could have done otherwise.
Page 44

Our interests in life are not always served by viewing people and things as collections of atoms—but this doesn’t negate the truth or utility of physics.
Page 46

Why is the conscious decision to do another person harm particularly blameworthy? Because what we do subsequent to conscious planning tends to most fully reflect the global properties of our minds—our beliefs, desires, goals, prejudices, etc.
Page 52

No human being is responsible for his genes or his upbringing, yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character.
Page 54

it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.
Page 54

Clearly, vengeance answers to a powerful psychological need in many of us.
Page 57

We are deeply disposed to perceive people as the authors of their actions, to hold them responsible for the wrongs they do us, and to feel that these transgressions must be punished.
Page 57

it seems clear that a desire for retribution, arising from the idea that each person is the free author of his thoughts and actions, rests on a cognitive and emotional illusion—and perpetuates a moral one.
Page 58

Why did I order beer instead of wine? Because I prefer beer. Why do I prefer it? I don’t know, but I generally have no need to ask. Knowing that I like beer more than wine is all I need to know to function in a restaurant. Whatever the reason, I prefer one taste to the other. Is there freedom in this? None whatsoever. Would I magically reclaim my freedom if I decided to spite my preference and order wine instead? No, because the roots of this intention would be as obscure as the preference itself.
Page 60

Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works.
Page 61

Consider the biography of any “self-made” man, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make and of which he was merely the beneficiary.
Page 61

Even if you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you, you must still admit that your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition.
Page 62

And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society.
Page 62

Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us. The moment we pay attention, it is possible to see that free will is nowhere to be found, and our experience is perfectly compatible with this truth. Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind.
Page 64

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Book Notes

To my recollection, I have not read an Agatha Christie mystery before this one. Given she was a prolific writer, knowing which of her books to read, which are better than the rest, is a worthwhile endeavor. Fortunately, others have read all of Christie's books, and I can use their wisdom to curate my reading list.

This book tops many of Christie's must-read books lists. It is the highest rated Poirot books, and the highest rated Christie mystery book, so, rather than skipping to the end, I started at the top.

And read this one.

I had the advantage of not having read this book before and not having seen the movie. I loved the ending. Well, not the ending ending, but the big reveal. Wow, just wow. I suspect if I had read the other Poirot books, I would have recognized him when he was introduced. I didn't, so even that small reveal was fun for me.

Basic plot: small(-ish) town doctor receives a call in the middle of the night that a friend / patient / big name in town is dead, and rushes to find, yes, indeed, he is not only dead, but also obviously murdered. He then works with the local police and, when invited, Poirot to discover who the murderer. It could be any number of persons in the dead man's household, based on given testimonies, and wow, everyone has something to hide. Society and shame has a way of doing that to us.

The glimpses into a past society was fun, too.

While normally I'd say, "I strongly recommend one read an Agatha Christie mystery," regardless of which one, I agree with all those who have read many if not all of her books, this one is great. Strongly recommended.

“Do not disquiet yourself. It is not with me a habit. But you can figure to yourself, monsieur, that a man may work towards a certain object, may labour and toil to attain a certain kind of leisure and occupation, and then find that, after all, he yearns for the old busy days, and the old occupations that he thought himself so glad to leave?”

“Yes,” I said slowly. “I fancy that that is a common enough occurrence. I myself am perhaps an instance. A year ago I came into a legacy—enough to enable me to realize a dream. I have always wanted to travel, to see the world. Well, that was a year ago, as I said, and—I am still here.”

My little neighbour nodded. “The chains of habit. We work to attain an object, and the object gained, we find that what we miss is the daily toil."
Page: 17

“And anyway,” continued Miss Flora, “all this making a fuss about things because someone wore or used them seems to me all nonsense. They’re not wearing or using them now. That pen that George Eliot wrote The Mill on the Floss with—that sort of thing—well, it’s only just a pen after all. If you’re really keen on George Eliot, why not get The Mill on the Floss in a cheap edition and read it.”
Page: 27

Youth is very buoyant. Even the brutal murder of his friend and employer could not dim Geoffrey Raymond’s spirits for long.

Perhaps that is as it should be. I do not know. I have lost the quality of resilience long since myself.
Page: 59

She knows the value of being direct on certain occasions. Any hints would certainly have been wasted on Caroline.

“You see,” she explained, following directness with tact,
Page: 62

“Everyone has something to hide,” I quoted, smiling.

“Exactly.”

“You still believe that?”

“More than ever, my friend."
Page: 85

“Curiosity is not my besetting sin,” I remarked coldly. “I can exist comfortably without knowing exactly what my neighbours are doing and thinking.”
Page: 142

I should not like Caroline to know. She is fond of me, and then, too, she is proud…My death will be a grief to her, but grief passes….
Page: 241

Fight Club

Book Notes

Okay, everyone knows the movie.

Not everyone knows the movie was a book. The afterword in the book confirms this.

I had read recently about how Palahniuk's financial advisors had pretty much swindled him out of his earnings from this book ($6000 advance, according to the afterword!), and that, well, he had taken a startling Classical Stoic view on the whole thing. Maybe my purchasing of the book (twice, actually, to my surprise) will help in some small way.

So, this book.

The Narrator is living a typical American life, everything is normal, and he feels empty. He starts going to support groups to feel alive.

I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window. You had their full attention. People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. And when they spoke, they weren’t telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.
Page: 107

Eventually he meets up with Tyler Durden, who is pretty much the asshole every guy wants permission to be. The narrator's life begins to unravel. Said narrator doesn't care much, because Tyler is there to carry him along.

I had seen the movie, I know how the story goes. I had the eight rules of fight club (all lowercase in the book, unlike the uppercase the media uses) memorized at one time. Having now read the book, I am impressed with how closely the movie is to the book. The more subtle details such as the single porn movie frame being spliced into a family movie translated into the movie really well, I can appreciate those details.

Pretty much anyone who is a fan of the movie should read the book. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Palahniuk's writing style, or even a minor one, so I'm unlikely to read another book of his any time soon, but this one was worth reading if you are a fan.

I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.
Page: 48

It used to be enough that when I came home angry and knowing that my life wasn’t toeing my five-year plan, I could clean my condominium or detail my car. Someday I’d be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car. Really, really nice, until the dust settled or the next owner. Nothing is static.
Page: 49

Ever since college, I make friends. They get married. I lose friends. Fine.
Page: 62

"You know, the condom is the glass slipper of our generation. You slip it on when you meet a stranger. You dance all night, then you throw it away. The condom, I mean. Not the stranger.”
Page: 66

Marla tells me how in the wild you don’t see old animals because as soon as they age, animals die. If they get sick or slow down, something stronger kills them. Animals aren’t meant to get old. Marla lies down on her bed and undoes the tie on her bathrobe, and says our culture has made death something wrong. Old animals should be an unnatural exception. Freaks.
Page: 103

Cancer will be like that, I tell Marla. There will be mistakes, and maybe the point is not to forget the rest of yourself if one little part might go bad.
Page: 105

There are a lot of things we don’t want to know about the people we love.
Page: 106

By this time next week, each guy on the Assault Committee has to pick a fight where he won’t come out a hero. And not in fight club. This is harder than it sounds. A man on the street will do anything not to fight.
Page: 119

The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world.
Page: 122

"You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.
Page: 149

On a long enough time line, everyone’s survival rate drops to zero.
Page: 176

The Thirst

Book Notes

Book 8 11 in the Harry Hole series, which I read out of order, and have come to really like. I didn't like the initial Harry Hole book I read, which is a shame, because I now look forward to them.

So, the end of book 7 10 felt like a good conclusion for the Harry Hole series. He gets to live happily-ever-after, the fairy tale ending we all want (well, most of us, I guess). Thing is, said endings are rarely The End, and the shine can often wear off in the mundane. Except for when it doesn't. When you don't trust it. When you realize it can all come crashing down in a moment, because life is like that, it keeps going, it keeps changing, it keeps moving, and loss in the in the cards for everyone playing the game of life.

Also, Nesbo had a few more loose ends to wrap up, like, oh, IDK, the one who got away maybe?

Who comes back.

The story starts with a couple gruesome murders, and Harry saying, "Nope, I'm not on the force any more, I'm sober, I'm with the most amazing woman for me, I got this, go away." Except when you have a calling, you can fight it until you die, or give in and follow it.

So back in Harry goes.

When a storyline wraps up and you have another 20% of the book left, you will often realize that you're reading either George R.R. Martin or some Harry Hole book, and that what looks like a nicely wrapped gift ... isn't.

I enjoyed the book, it's worth reading. If you're a fan of Nesbo's Harry Hole books, keep reading. If you aren't yet a fan, start at book one and see if you like it before reading this one (and include the six between).

Unrelated, this was book 50 that I've read this year so far, and another square on my 2019 Goals Bingo! card. Yay!

"That was the experience they were buying when they employed her. For instance, you shouldn’t betray your ideals. Or those closest to you. Or your responsibilities and obligations. And, if you get it wrong, you apologise and try to get it right next time. It’s OK to make mistakes. But betrayal isn’t OK."
Location 673

The second sort was waking up alone. That was characterised by an awareness that he was alone in bed, alone in life, alone in the world, and it could sometimes fill him with a sweet sensation of freedom, and at other times with a melancholy that could perhaps be called loneliness, but which was perhaps just a glimpse of what anyone’s life really is: a journey from the attachment of the umbilical cord to a death where we are finally separated from everything and everyone.
Location 1170

Happiness was like moving on thin ice, it was better to crack the ice and swim in cold water and freeze and struggle to get out than simply to wait until you plunged into it.
Location 1200

“Harry?” He could tell from the tone of her voice that she wasn’t going to give up.

“Don’t start with my name, please, you know it makes me nervous.”
Location 1269

Kinda like starting a sentence with "So....."

“OK. I suspect you of suggesting a dead woman because you assume I’ll think you’d find it less of a threat if it’s a woman I can’t spend the night with, in purely practical terms..."

“In that case, why don’t you just do it? Why not have a fling?”

“To start with, I don’t even know if my dream woman would say yes, and I’m no good at dealing with rejection. And secondly, because the bit about ‘no consequences’ doesn’t apply.”

“Really?”

Harry focused on the newspaper again. “You might leave me. Even if you don’t, you won’t look at me the same way anymore.”

“You could keep it secret.”

“I wouldn’t have the energy.”

“When you say you wouldn’t have the energy to keep an affair secret, do you mean ‘couldn’t keep up the pretence’?” Rakel asked.

“I mean ‘couldn’t be bothered.’ Keeping secrets is exhausting. And I’d feel guilty.” He turned the page. No more pages. “Having a guilty conscience is exhausting.”
Location 1303

“I feel that I’m trying to answer your questions as honestly as I can. But in order to do that, I need to think about them, and be realistic. If I were to follow my initial emotional instinct, I’d have said what I thought you wanted to hear. So here’s a warning. I’m not honest, I’m a slippery sod. My honesty now is merely a long-term investment in my own plausibility. Because there may come a day when I really need to lie, and then it might be handy if you think I’m honest.”
Location 1316

“Heredity. It’s like going to a fortune-teller and regretting it. As human beings, we tend not to like things we can’t avoid. Death, for instance.”
Location 1350

The most peculiar thing wasn’t that he’d become a teacher, but that he liked it. That he, like most people usually regarded as taciturn and introverted, felt less inhibited in front of a gathering of demanding students than when the guy at the only open checkout in the 7-Eleven put a packet of Camel Lights down on the counter and Harry thought about repeating his request for “Camels,” before noticing the restlessness of the queue behind him.
Location 1363

Wow, okay, this.

“Mm. Just because there are only a few of them doesn’t mean that they’re not right.”
Location 1459

“You yourself have said that if you can think of any form of deviancy, there’ll be someone out there who’s got it.”

“Oh yes, it’s all out there. Or will be. Our sexuality is all about what we’re capable of thinking and feeling. And that’s pretty much unlimited."
Location 1464

Harry remembered something he had once thought. That when he fell, when he pulled the cork from the bottle and took the first swig, it wasn’t the way he imagined, because that wasn’t the decisive moment. The decision had already been taken long before. And from that moment on, the only question was what the trigger would be. It was bound to come. At some point the bottle would be standing there in front of him. And it would have been waiting for him. And he for it. The rest was just opposite charges, magnetism, the inevitability of the laws of physics. Shit.

Shit.
Location 1499

“Are you still dry, Harry?”

“As a Norwegian oil well, boss.”

“Hm. You do know that Norwegian oil wells aren’t dry, don’t you? They’ve just been shut down until the price of oil rises again.”

“That was the image I was trying to convey, yes.”

Hagen shook his head. “And there was me thinking that you’d get more mature with age.”

“Disappointing, isn’t it? We don’t get wiser, just older."
Location 1522

“Some detectives might regard it as—what’s the word I’m looking for?—challenging, to have such a big name from the past looking over their shoulder.”

“Not a problem—I always play with my cards on the table, sir.” Katrine gave a brief smile.
Location 1658

He turned and looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “Why do you ask that?” And she felt it now as she had back then, the way that look could hit her like an electric shock, the way he—a man who could be so reserved, so distant—could bulldoze everything else aside just by looking at you for a second, and demand—and get—all of your attention. In that one second there was only one man in the whole world.
Location 1829

Harry was running. Harry didn’t like running. Some people ran because they liked it. Haruki Murakami liked it. Harry liked Murakami’s books, apart from the one about running—he had given up on that one. Harry ran because he liked stopping. He liked having to run. He liked weight training: a more concrete pain that was limited by the performance of his muscles, rather than a desire to have more pain. That probably said something about the weakness of his character, his inclination to flee, to look for an end to the pain even before it had started.
Location 2018

“What’s your point?”

“That people are more scared than the likelihood of meeting a vampirist ought to make them. Because it’s all over the front pages of the newspapers, and because they’ve read that he drinks blood. But at the same time they light cigarettes that are pretty much certain to kill them.”
Location 2298

And then you had people—like Isabelle and he himself—who wanted absolutely everything: power, but without any suffocating obligations. Admiration and respect, but enough anonymity to be able to move freely. Family, to provide a stable framework and help their genes survive, but also free access to sex outside the four walls of the home. The apartment and the car. And solid shit.
Location 2964

Possibly because she was exhausted and nervous, possibly because the brain takes refuge in silly things when it ought to be concentrating on things that are overwhelming and terrifying.
Location: 3162

“And you sound like you’re thinking about employing a thief.”

“I’ve never had anything against thieves with acceptable motives.”
Location: 3603

She laughed. “In the end is somewhere between what’s dragging you down today, and the day when nothing can drag us down any more, Harry.”

...

Harry closed his eyes. Of course there was something to hope for, something to look forward to: the time that comes after what’s dragging you down today. The day when nothing can drag you down any more.
Location: 4144

He sat down, took a sip of coffee. Gave her the time she needed, didn’t fill the silence with words that demanded answers.
Location: 4,465

The sender was violentcrime@oslopol.no. No text, just an image. Presumably taken with a light-sensitive camera, seeing as she hadn’t noticed a flash. And probably a telephoto lens. In the foreground was the dog pissing on the cage, and there she was, in the middle of the cage, standing stiffly and staring like a wild animal. She’d been tricked. It wasn’t the vampirist who had called her.
Location: 4,635

“They often get angry and full of moral indignation at that age,” Steffens said. “They shift the blame for anything that goes wrong onto their father, and the man they once wanted to become suddenly represents everything they don’t want to become.”

“Are you speaking from experience?”

“Of course, we do that all the time.”
Location: 4,706

“Does it end up positive?”

“Sorry?”

“The joy of saving lives minus the despair at losing people you could have saved.”
Location: 4,711

“Yes, I saw the crucifix in your office. You believe in callings.”

“I think you do too, Hole. I’ve seen you. Maybe not a calling from God, but you still feel it all the same.”

Harry looked down at his cup. Steffens was right about the coffee being intriguingly bad. “Does that mean you don’t like your job?”

“I hate my job,” the senior consultant smiled. “If it had been up to me, I’d have chosen to be a concert pianist.”

“You’re a good pianist?”

“That’s the curse, isn’t it? When you’re not good at what you love, and good at something you hate.”

Harry nodded. “That’s the curse. We do jobs where we can be useful.”

“And the lie is that there’s a reward for someone who follows a calling.”

“Perhaps sometimes the work in itself is reward enough.”

“Only for the concert pianist who loves music, or the executioner who loves blood.”
Location: 4716

“Maybe he didn’t hate it as much as he claimed.”

“How do you mean?”

Harry shrugged. “An alcoholic hates and curses drink because it ruins his life. But at the same time it is his life.”
Location: 4735

“There are various answers to that,” Steffens said. “And one that’s true.”

“And that is?”

“That we don’t know.”

“Like you don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

“Yes.”

“Hm. What do you know, really?”

“If you’re asking in general terms, we know quite a lot. But if people knew how much we don’t know, they’d be scared, Harry. Needlessly scared. So we try to keep quiet about that.”

“Really?”

“We say we’re in the repair business, but we’re actually in the consolation business.”

“So why are you telling me this, Steffens? Why aren’t you consoling me?”

“Because I’m pretty sure you know that consolation is an illusion."
Location: 5274

"... detective you’re also selling something more than you say you are. You give people a feeling of comforting justice, of order and security. But there’s no perfect, objective truth, and no true justice."
Location: 5275

“Do you know what made crime rates go down in the U.S.A. in the nineties?

...

Because crime rates didn’t just fall in New York, but right across the U.S.A. The answer is actually the more liberal abortion laws that were introduced in the 1970s.” Steffens leaned back in his chair and paused, as if to let Harry think it through for himself. “Single, dissolute women having sex with men who vanish the next morning, or at least as soon as they realise she’s pregnant. Pregnancies like that have been a conveyor belt producing criminal offspring for centuries. Children without fathers, without boundaries, without a mother with the money to give them an education or moral backbone or to teach them the ways of the Lord. These women would happily have taken their embryonic children’s lives if they hadn’t risked being punished for it. And then, in the 1970s, they got what they wanted. The U.S.A. harvested the fruits of the holocaust that was the result of liberal abortion laws fifteen, twenty years later.”
Location: 5,292

“I suppose that’s just the way it is,” Katrine said. “We start off having everything, and then lose it, piece by piece. Strength. Youth. Future. People we like…”
Location 6243

And just as he felt tears welling up, they were suppressed by rage. Of course we lose them, everyone we try to hold on to, the fates disdain us, make us small, pathetic. When we cry for people we’ve lost, it’s not out of sympathy, because of course we know that they’re free from pain at last. But still we cry. We cry because we’re alone again. We cry out of self-pity.
Location 6245

“And then it comes back. Doesn’t it?” She laughed again. “Nothing’s forever, life is by definition temporary and always changing. It’s horrible, but that’s also what makes it bearable.”

“This too shall pass.”

“Let’s hope so."
Location 6260

“I don’t know. I just know that when I’m walking on the wafer-thin ice of happiness, I’m terrified, so terrified that I wish it was over, that I was already in the water.”
Location 6265

"Admitting that we have doubts is taken as an admission of our own inadequacy, not an indication of the complexity of the mystery or the limitations of our profession."
Location 6758

“I remember some advice I was given when I first started working on cases, Harry. That if you want to survive, you have to learn when to let go.”

“I’m sure that’s good advice,” Harry said, lifting his coffee cup to his lips and looking up at Hagen. “If you think survival’s so bloody important.”
Location 7205

“You should never underestimate the first thing you think,” Harry said. “That’s usually based on more information than you’re actually aware of. And the simplest solution is often the right one.”
Location 7546

“Harry doesn’t like people, you see.”

“I do like people,” Harry said. “I just don’t like being with them. Particularly not when there’s a lot of them at the same time.”
Location 7595

And this.

It no longer irritated Steffens that people thought that cold was a thing, and didn’t understand that it was merely the absence of heat. Cold was the natural, dominant state. Heat the exception. The way murder and cruelty were natural, logical, and mercy an anomaly, a result of the human herd’s intricate way of promoting the survival of the species.
Location 7911

We feel first and reason afterwards. We see a man who doesn’t intervene to rescue his wife, and we feel contempt. Then along comes what we think is cold, objective reflection, but is actually us trying to find new information to justify what we felt initially.
Location 8602

He had let go so many times before. Had given in to pain, fear, a death wish. But he had also given in to a primitive, egocentric survival instinct that had shouted down any longing for a painless nothingness, sleep, darkness. And that was why he was here. Still here. And this time he wasn’t letting go.
Location 8629

The Cleaner

Book Notes

I did not like this book.

I have previously like Cleave's writing, perhaps less than Mom does, but enjoyed it none-the-less. The first one I read of his, Trust No One, I really enjoyed. The second one less so. This one I actively dislike.

Why?

Because the main character is a sadistic murderer, and we hare supposed to feel sympathy for him because he got his ball crushed in a vise (yes, literally, I'm giving you a spoiler there) and he's being framed for a murder he didn't actually do. That is, one he didn't do. We're told to ignore the six murders and rapes he did do.

No. No no no. There is a lot of misery and pain surrounding those deaths (well, in the fictitious world there is, but there's enough around in the real world to be able to make the connection), and those are pretty hard to ignore with the basic premise of the whole plot.

Now, the social commentary part is a bit more interesting. Cleave weaves a tale of first impressions, how our prejudices blind us to reality, and how being able to see past our assumptions is crucial to surviving, even thriving, in this world.

That particular commentary, however, doesn't negate the horrid thought that we are to sympathize with an active and deliberate murderer.

Read Cleave's other books. Skip this one.

It was hanging over her heart when she drove her parents to the funeral home, sat down with the funeral director, and, over tea and coffee that nobody touched, shopped through coffin brochures, turning the glossy pages and trying to pick out something her dead brother would look good in. They had to do the same for the suit. Even death was fashion conscious.
Page 4

The cemetery is an expanse of lush lawn broken up with cement markers and, at the moment, mostly deserted, except for a handful of people standing in front of gravestones, all of them with tragedies of their own.
Page 4

How can it make sense that he should die at fifteen, almost sixteen? The other people planted in this location average sixty-two years old.
Page 5

Back at the bathroom door I call out to her. “Come out or I’ll break your cat’s neck.” “Please, please don’t hurt her.”
Page 9

It seems the only thing Mom has to live for is talking. And complaining. Luckily the two go hand in hand for her.
Page 18

The fantasy wasn’t as good as the reality, and the reality was much messier, but it was an experience, and they say practice makes perfect.
Page 39

Henry then went on to point out that if man was made in God’s image and man was doing nothing to help him, then God would be doing nothing too. If God came down to walk about the earth, Henry said, and saw him sitting there outside the parking building, begging for change and food, then God would look right through him and just walk on by. The same way everybody else did.
Page 59

Strangely, it was Martin who suffered the least, because he didn’t understand he was dying. Even at the end he thought he was going to be getting better. Didn’t they all think that? Yes. Life was always going to get better.
Page 71

I’m not actually sure where ideas come from, whether they’re just floating around out there in some dimension close to but not quite of this world, where our minds can reach out and pluck them, whether a series of firing synapses in our mind weigh up cold data into cold possibilities, or whether it comes down to a simple train of thought riding through Lucksville. Ideas come at any time, often when you’re not expecting them.
Page 73

Sometimes it’s all I need. Other times it’s not enough. Can’t complain. Who’d listen?
Page 81

The interesting thing about insanity is that Insanity is strictly a legal term, not a medical one. Patients like me are not insane—we just plead it if we’re caught. The reality is if we really were insane, we wouldn’t be trying to evade conviction—we’d be caught at the scene smeared in blood and peanut butter and singing Barry Manilow tunes.
Page 125

“So why are you talking to me?” I ask. “I’ve got bills to pay.” Sure, that and the fact that money will always win out over fear, loyalty, truth, or whatever other bullshit shoves its way into a prostitute’s life.
Page 227

“She threatens him, she even goes to the police, but at the end of the day her fear of him and her love for him prevent her from acting. This woman is a loser. You can’t understand how she could even have married a guy like that, let alone have his children. But you forget he’d been charming when she met him, the same way you were charming when you met your wife.”
Page 326

I also know that domestic abuse isn’t about a man who is in love with his wife too much; it’s about a man who is in love with the ability to control her.
Page 330

Do you know what it’s like, Joe, to know you’re absolutely right about something—I mean, beyond any doubt—but you can’t get somebody else to agree with you? It’s not that they don’t understand, or that they don’t want to. They’ve become so used to doing the wrong thing that there couldn’t possibly be another way.”
Page 332

Her parents reminded her time and time again, but the problem when people remind you so often is that you start to ignore it. The words go in, but they don’t settle anywhere.
Page 339

Binti: Home

Book Notes

Book 2 in the Binti series, this book picks up right where the previous one left off, with Binti at school, trying to adjust, and deciding that home is where she needs to go.

While I understand the bone-deep need to go home, home of our memories and melancholy don't exist. Okorafor conveys this in Binti: Home incredibly well, as Binti returns home and it just... isn't. Her family it torn between the joy of seeing her, and the rage at her ignoring the path they set out for her.

Which is pretty much the lesson one can take from the series so far: that we need to follow our own path, even as it is filled with stress and guilt and pain and disappointment.

Really liking the series so far, recommended, but be sure to have all three books before you start reading. The first two are fast reads, and you'll want to jump right into the third after finishing this one.

Plus, I didn’t want to turn back. Why don’t I ever want to do what I’m supposed to do?
Page: 132

I can relate to this.

I’d come all this way to go on my pilgrimage because I’d thought my body was trying to tell me something was wrong with it. I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself, but I’d thought I’d broken myself because of the choices I’d made, because of my actions, because I’d left my home to go to Oomza Uni. Because of guilt.
Page: 144

Suddenly, I felt cold. Very very cold. With dismay. Deep down, I knew. From the moment my grandmother told me about the Zinariya, I’d known, really. Change was constant. Change was my destiny. Growth.
Page: 146

“Oh, they know, someone in those clans knows enough to build toxic ideas against us right into their cultures. That’s really why we are so outcast, untouchable to them."
Page: 147

Why did the Seven allow this to happen? Yet, drowning in the waters of death gave me new life. Not drowning in it, carried by it.
Page: 148

“You did not succeed your father. No man will marry you. Selfish girl. Failed girl.” I was supposed to be these things in order to be. I had not taken my place within the collective. This had left me feeling exposed and foundationless, even as I pursued my dreams.
Page: 149

I looked at my hands, wanting to bring them to my face and inhale the scent of the otjize covering them. I wanted to go home. I wanted to chase crabs near the lake until the sun set and then turn around to look at the Root and admire the glow of the bioluminescent plants that grew near the roof. I wanted to argue with my sisters in the living room. I wanted to walk into the village square with my best friend Dele to
Page: 150

I wanted to sit in my father’s shop and construct an astrolabe so sophisticated, my father would clap arthritis-free hands with delight. I wanted to play math games with my mother where sometimes she’d win and sometimes I’d win. I wanted to go home.
Page: 150

I wanted to go home, but I wanted to solve the edan more. Everything comes with a sacrifice.
Page: 152

Binti

Book Notes

I have had this book, and its two sequels, on my to-read list for a long while now. I recall seeing it on Martha and Chookie's door bench and commenting that I wanted to read it. Martha was enthusiastic about it, as was Sonja, resulting in my increased anticipation for reading it.

In Binti, we have the introduction of a girl / teen / young woman making a choice between what her society and family wants and expects her to be, and who she wants to become. She made a choice (decided to go to university), decided to start down the path to a life she chose, only to be sideswiped by circumstances so far outside of her control and history and experience that even her survival would be legend.

That the story takes place in outer space, that we have many many races as a stand-in for the human race in its prejudices and biases and faults and triumphs, makes the lessons slightly easier to digest for a younger person. That the story takes place in outer space makes it more delightful for an older reader.

The book is a fast read, maybe an hour. The shortness doesn't make it any less worthwhile. The book is definitely worth reading.

The shuttle began to move and I stared until I couldn’t see it anymore. “What am I doing?” I whispered.
Page 12

My father didn’t believe in war. He said war was evil, but if it came he would revel in it like sand in a storm. Then he’d say a little prayer to the Seven to keep war away and then another prayer to seal his words.
Page 16

Those women talked about me, the men probably did too. But none of them knew what I had, where I was going, who I was. Let them gossip and judge. Thankfully, they knew not to touch my hair again. I don’t like war either.
Page 17

So me being the only one on the ship was not that surprising. However, just because something isn’t surprising doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with.
Page 21

Imagine what it meant to go there as one of that 5 percent; to be with others obsessed with knowledge, creation, and discovery.
Page 28

But deep down inside me, I wanted . . . I needed it. I couldn’t help but act on it. The urge was so strong that it was mathematical.
Page 29

I’d read that Meduse could not move through walls, but even I knew that just because information was in a book didn’t make it true.
Page 34

I wanted to ask, “Why did you let this happen?” but that was blasphemy. You never ask why. It was not a question for you to ask.
Page 35

They say that when faced with a fight you cannot win, you can never predict what you will do next. But I’d always known I’d fight until I was killed. It was an abomination to commit suicide or to give up your life. I was sure that I was ready.
Page 37

The chefs on the ship fed these fish well and allowed them to grow strong and mate copiously. Then they lulled the fish into a sleep that the fish never woke from and slow cooked their flesh long enough for flavor and short enough to maintain texture.
Page 51

I paused. “Like my mother always says, ‘we all wish for many things,’” I said,
Page 53

The first thing I noticed was the smell and weight of the air when I walked off the ship. It smelled jungly, green, heavy with leaves. The air was full of water.
Page 73

Hawaii
Page 73

Several of the human professors looked at each other and chuckled. One of the large insectile people clicked its mandibles. I frowned, flaring my nostrils. It was the first time I’d received treatment similar to the way my people were treated on Earth by the Khoush. In a way, this set me at ease. People were people, everywhere. These professors were just like anyone else.
Page 75

Mem

Book Notes

I really need to keep a list of where I find books and add them to my to-read pile. I have no idea where this one's recommendation originated, but it was on my list, on hold at the library, and dropped. So, I read it. As one does.

The book takes some reading to understand the world of the book. In this world, memories can be extracted into living, breathing, existing beings. Said extraction removes the memory from the person whose memory it is, the Source. The extracted memories survive as long as a memory would, except the one whose tale this book tells.

How glorious and wonderful would this process be? That one could remove a memory and never feel the pain or sorrow or loss associated with that pain. Extract the memory of the lost love and it can share its joy with those around her.

Except, we are who we are because of the memories. Trials and troubles and difficulties are f'ing hell when we go through them. They can break us. They can make us stronger. They shape who we become.

And that's rather the point of the book, I would say. A commentary or illustration about how removing a memory adversely affects the person, how so much of our lives are intertwined that every memory has an echo in other parts of us, and how this process would be actually be a very awful thing indeed.

Mem is a fast read. If you're a fan of Morrow's, or like subtly sorrowful books, this one is worth reading. Otherwise, try One Hundred Years of Solitude for the sorrowful reading.

The Professor’s answer was always the same: he was pleased that the technology was bringing relief and sometimes even amusement to the affluent classes, but he regretted the way his work remained financially inaccessible to others. The science of extraction had been developed to help people heal from painful memories, he reminded them, and the poor had as many as the wealthy.
Location: 325

The overwhelming majority of extractions continued to be exercises in purging, and few Sources retained their extracted memories as keepsakes. In truth, few Mems were of the happy sort, and their shelf life was expected to be relatively brief (or so the Bankers’ observations had seemed to prove).
Location: 329

And while she enjoyed a good memory presentation as much as anyone, she felt entirely convinced that her Mems could be different. They could be like me. Certainly the Professor impressed upon her the fact that he could make no such guarantee and that he was entirely unsure why Dolores Extract No. 1 showed no signs of expiration, but life had taught the woman that all things were possible, as long as you made clear your reasonable desire.
Location: 385

It was the first time I’d been lied to by a man, that I knew of, and I felt it must mean something.
Location: 424

What surprised me most was that while he was the one being dishonest, I somehow was the one made to feel small and uncertain.
Location: 424

I thought of my own parents and the secrets they’d agreed to keep from Dolores the moment they rushed her to the clinic, the things they vowed never to discuss after her extractions, though she’d never remember them now. It seemed a sacrifice any number of families would make, and I couldn’t imagine they would lament escaping the memory themselves. The grand charade was never just for the Source.
Location: 737

It wasn’t love or death and it was rarely betrayal that sent them there. While women came desiring any number of memories extracted and for a variety of reasons, it seemed that men had an almost singular experience with which they couldn’t make peace.
Location: 780

“Perhaps if the law were written more clearly, they wouldn’t be fractured in the first place.” “But even better if the procedure could be perfected.” I’d never felt such a rush of violent disagreement. It rolled up the length of my torso and burned my chest, as if more than a mere opinion. It was strong enough in fact that suppressing it took effort. “If people are imperfect enough to destroy their minds, perhaps they cannot perfect the procedure that allows them to do so.”
Location: 851

Ettie and I had agreed that when it was just she and I we needn’t coddle each other’s feelings the way men often did.
Location: 924

But more than that, the experience. What’s it like to know there’s something you’ll never remember?” She scoffed at her own question. “Silly!”
Location: 927

“In that case, it’s just cruel. Trapping one moment or feeling inside someone and then leaving them to expire when the feeling runs its course.”
Location: 935

This moment is the first of its kind in Montreal, and so is the dead man. On all sides of the accident, pedestrians, streetcar patrons, and motorists alike vacillate between hysteria and calm. There is no way to know which will become the standard response when automobile accidents become commonplace. But there is something else. An understanding that this is possible. It is possible to be killed by the most prized of possessions, to be destroyed by the greatest invention of our time. It is possible to die in the street no matter how you began the day. This is the first universal truth I have ever come by on my own and it multiplies like fire. Because if this is possible—if sudden death is no respecter of persons—so must every horrid thing be.
Location: 993

“It’s heartbreak food. Real girls eat dessert first thing in the morning when someone’s made us sore.” She sat down beside me. “I do, anyway.”
Location: 1,468

“Real people assume it must be lovely,” I explained between tiny bites. “That she must have written me lovely things.”

“But it’s not true of every mother and child, Mem or not. Scores of families are hideous, Elsie, they are.”

“But they aren’t. Dolores’s parents aren’t hideous. They’re just hers.”
Location: 1,478

“Why is memory this way? Why isn’t it content to hurt you once? Why must it remind you of all the times you’ve been hurt before?”
Location: 1,482

The Professor tossed his own head to the side as though casting off regard. “Oh, but how many of them care for anything but the welfare of the stockholders, and how many of them worry about anything but a return on their investments?!”
Location: 1,526

Standing between them, I felt a weakness threatening my knees and a hot pounding in my chest, unsure which one would overwhelm me first.
Location: 1,729

There’s a chance that I was angry, that I had been all along. Even when I thought that I was tired of fighting, perhaps I was exhausted by having to.
Location: 1,730

Fives and Twenty-fives

Book Notes

This book was recommended to me by Kris. He had read it, and recommended it as a war tale for our generation. He nailed it with his recommendation.

The book follows several lives of the soldiers during and after a tour in Iraq. Following along the different story paths is difficult at first, as the plot moves from present day to the past, from one character to the next. Once we learn who the characters, and begin to understand how they know each other and how their stories merge and separate, the pace picks up. We learn the social dynamics among the soldiers. We learn the defining events that shaped their opinions of each other, both among the soldiers and between the soldiers and their leadership. We eventually learn of the secrets known and not discussed.

How accurate is the story to real life? How can a story express the boredom of between explosions, the underlying non-stop anxiety, the oppressive heat, or the immediate terror of an attack? I don't know that it can fully do so. This book, however, gives hints of those lives in a visceral way.

There is always loss in war. The strength of an author comes from how much you feel that loss in a tale of war. This one has that gut punch.

Worth reading, and recommended.

“Leaders must have a strong sense of the great responsibility of their office,” I continue. “Because the resources they will expend in war are human lives.”
Page 40

If the secret police do come, what better place to hide than in the crowd?
Page 62

Lieutenant Donovan and Sergeant Gomez pretty much got it handled over at the platoon. Not much need of me.” All that explanation, all those excuses, and we had only just met.
Page 79

The whole company, all those Americans, were tucked right up against the edge of the plateau. I wondered if they knew that everyone down by the river could see them, clearly, moving around up there.
Page 79

“The dangers out there are sort of like the ocean.” He chuckled. “You’d never swim if you knew how many sharks there really were.”
Page 87

Marceau had a genuinely charming emotional blind spot. Perception didn’t much matter to him. He cared only for reality. As long as he knew he was doing his job, and keeping his friends safe, he was immune to peer pressure. Free to be a Marine without having to act like one. Free to make light of our national follies and remind us all that in the scope of wars that had come before, our war was silly. Worth a laugh or two.
Page 90

“My father and brother hated my rock music, and my friends,” he told me, “they always threatened to inform the state morality police of our performances.”
Page 109

I find an empty corner in the back of the bar and wedge myself into it, almost without thinking. I can see the whole club from this spot. No one can sneak up behind me.
Page 110

It may not be the usual thing, what they’re doing up there, but the metalheads start moving around a little bit. Like bubbles stuck to the bottom of a pot just before the water boils.
Page 111

Marceau said, looking down from his turret. “Really?” I asked. “Yeah. The gray water around here, the kind they pull from the river and have us shower in? It’s alkaline. Put water from the shower tanks on that grass and it’ll shrivel up.”
Page 154

Still, I do not blame this pretty girl for her disgust in me. I have disappointed many others before you, I think to myself.
Page 162

My father wanted me to study English, yes. But only so I could go abroad for secondary school. My father still hoped, even after the first war, so I still learned.
Page 165

It’s why I drink alone, mostly. I don’t have the discipline to drink around people and answer their simple questions without saying something awful.
Page 173

“We lack good people. And without good people, we won’t have a good country.”
Page 216

“Because when you have friends, you have people.” “Sure. But that’s a good thing, right?” Dodge shook his head. “You misunderstand. People have enemies. Other people. People with a reason to cut off your head. All it takes is the one friend. Like you. If I am your friend, then all Americans are my people, and everyone else is my enemy. If I have friendship with a Kurd, then the Kurds are my people and I must fight the Sunni and the Shia.” He waved the back of his hand at the river. “You cannot have friends, here. You cannot have people.” Then he added with a sigh, “Only family.”
Page 237

Professor Al-Rawi laughed. “In the end, Huck must learn two very important lessons. First, that civilization is an illusion. Second, that the only authority is one’s conscience.”
Page 253

I remembered all the times my father took me to see the canal as a boy, and how he watched the construction work with such satisfaction. Honest work, unlike politics.
Page 259

But outside the knuckleheads have already started in with their fireworks. The noise of it boils up from everywhere. Cracks and whistles in flurries all across the neighborhood. Black Cats and bottle rockets cooking off in bursts.
Page 291

Her eyes get round and she waves me over to the window to see. Her smile. It’s different than normal. She can’t control it.
Page 292

Before the first protest, they wanted only an excuse to party. But when the police showed them death, they did not run and quit as I had expected. They grew committed.
Page 299

“No. No, you see, the thing to do is stay. Let these things happen as God wills and try to survive the bullets when they come. Let some Americans die if they must, let them kill your brother and his people if they can, and we live until tomorrow, Kateb.”
Page 301

My flatmates labor under the misconception that fighting together necessarily makes men friends.
Page 330

“I am weak. And that is all. But I am not without a home. To be weak? To be scared and frail? This is to have a home. These people behind me are all very weak and all very scared. We are so easy to kill. President Ben Ali has made certain that we are all reminded of this. But to die here? Outside where it is cold? This would be to die at home. And few people are so lucky as to die at home.”
Page 374

Past Tense

Book Notes

So, this book is a Reacher that isn't really a Reacher book. Yes, Reacher is in it, but he's half the story, not the full story.

We meet Reacher at the beginning of the book deciding to look into his family's history. He finds out where his dad grew up, and heads to said town. Turns out, a Canadian couple, desperate for money and with something in their trunk, are also in said town. They run out of gas and end up in a hotel that is pretty much a fly trap for unsuspecting travellers. Cue tense music, something suspicious is happening at this hotel.

Turns out, the proprietor of said hotel is some distant cousin of Reacher's. Except, we don't really learn about that easily. Instead, weird thing happen with a cat and mouse adventure happening with Reacher, while the two Canadians are puzzling out WTF is going on in the hotel that they can't leave (no gas, locked in, is very strange). The book is mostly about the Canadian couple, with a puzzled Reacher feeling around the edges.

Which is fine, this is actually one of the better Reacher books. Too many times people know JUST KNOW what's going on, when reality is usually full of denial (this book is), confusion (this book is), and strong biases to believe that This Can't Be Happening (this book is). Which makes the female cynic delightful to recognize.

I enjoyed the book. I still can't figure out what happened to the sixth hunter in the climactic battle at the end (there's always a climactic battle at the end of a Reacher book). Also, Reacher doesn't screw Yet Another Woman. Maybe this isn't a real Reacher book.

I still liked it. Worth reading if you're a Reacher fan. If you're not yet a Reacher fan, start with book one.

“He said he couldn’t remember because birthdays weren’t important to him. He didn’t see why he should be congratulated for getting another year closer to death.” “That’s bleak.” “He was a Marine.”
Location: 842

Her accent was from the south. A drawl, but no longer honeyed. It was roughed up by exposure.
Location: 903

She looked in the mirror and blew her nose. She balled up the tissue and lobbed it toward the trash can. She missed. She bent down to correct her error. She was Canadian.
Location: 1,050

But out loud he said, “You were committing a crime on public land. I would be failing in my duty as a citizen if I didn’t point it out. That’s how civilization works.”
Location: 2,274

Reacher believed in staying flexible, but also having a plan, and in his experience it was about fifty-fifty which got used in the end. On this occasion the plan was to never slow down, to arrive at full speed, and to head-butt the wrestler mid stride. Which would check all the boxes. Surprise, overwhelming force, general shock and awe.
Location: 3,553

“What do they need, to make a bad thing happen?” “Theologically?” “In practical terms.” “There could be many things.” “They need a victim. Can’t do a bad thing without one.
Page 300

“One is the irreducible number.”
Page 301

Which meant Reacher was currently behind him. Always a good place to be. He looked
Page 316

The guy was tall and substantial, and his head was up, and his shoulders were square. But he wasn’t comfortable. Reacher had seen his type before. Not just in the army. No doubt the guy was a big-deal alpha male at whatever it was he was good at. But right then he was out of his depth. He was twitching with confusion. Or resentment.
Page 343

Up ahead and two acres away the motel was a low pile of glowing embers.
Page 362

You get a bigger picture with the naked eye. You don’t get distracted by the close up beauty.”
Page 373

“Did he have a happy life?” “He was a Marine. Happy was not in the field manual. Sometimes he was satisfied. That was about as good as it got.
Page 376

Lies Sleeping

Book Notes

This is book 7 of the Peter Grant series. Pretty sure I have that order correct.

Whoo! Another Peter Grant book! Yasssssss!

This wasn't one that I was able to switch from written to spoken words easily, I often will switch to audio when I can't be reading a book, then back to the written word as soon as I am able. This one, eh, easily, but that's a good thing, as the story was dense enough to want to read in one go (okay, two go's).

The Faceless Man is back, and Lesley is needed to help out Peter, except she can't, but she can. There are enough twists and references to previous books' scenes that, well, if you haven't started the series, okay now you can start the series, and read all the way to this book (you'll likely catch more subtleties in the details as a result, too).

I'm still enjoying the series. There are graphic novels with the series, too, but I haven't read them, so no comment on them.

Recommended if you're a fan (and waaaaaaay recommended if you are), otherwise, don't start at this book, bad idea. Go back to book 1 and start there.

Whoo!

You use Protection Command people for this kind of job because unlike SCO19 they’re trained to do guard duty. You want a certain kind of personality who can stand around in the rain for eight hours and still be awake enough to shoot someone in the central body mass at a moment’s notice.
Location: 207

As a police detective—which, by the way, I had officially become just that month—I get to spend a lot of time in people’s houses, often without their consent. Homes are like witnesses. They pretty much lie all the time. But, as Stephanopoulos says, the longer someone lives in a house the more intrinsically interesting the lies become. When you’re police, an interesting lie can be as useful as the truth. Sometimes more so.
Location: 240

When you arrive unexpectedly at someone’s house you go in through the front door, often after making sure you’ve got a couple of mates waiting round the back. For a business, especially the kind that involves big trucks and heavy metal, it’s always better to go in through the back. The customer-facing part of any modern business is purposely designed to be as politely unhelpful as possible. If you go in from the rear, the customer-facing staff are all facing the wrong way and everybody starts their conversation on the back foot.
Location: 551

I suggested the British Museum, not least because it’s possible to lose just about anything in their storage area. They’re still looking for a mummy that went missing in 1933—staff believe it was stolen but Nightingale said he’d always had a sneaking suspicion that it got bored one day and walked away.
Location: 1,119

People are often willing to tell you all sorts of secrets when they’re trying to hide something from you. You should always make a mental note—it may not be your case today but you never know, it might come round later. I asked what else was going on.
Location: 1,996

Have you ever had that sensation, just as you’re going to sleep, that a bomb has gone off inside your head? It’s a real medical phenomena called, I kid you not, exploding head syndrome. It’s what’s known as a parasomnia, which is Greek for “we don’t know either.”
Location: 2,156

“Londinium is next. But Suetonius, the governor, doesn’t fancy his chances so he buggers off with what troops he has and leaves the city to its fate.” I’ve read my Tacitus—I knew what was coming next. “The gentry always buggers off when London’s in danger. Have you noticed that?” he said. “One whiff of the plague, some social unrest, a bit of light bombing and the Establishment’s nowhere to be found.”
Location: 2,229

“So up he sprang. A thing full of hatred and mad laughter, capering through the ashes of the city. Because order did not save his children. Law did not save his wife. And, for all his faith in the gods, they did nothing.”
Location: 2,246

I’ve found that if you voluntarily take on a chore somebody else doesn’t want to do, they don’t check the results too closely—in case they have to do it again themselves.
Location: 3,437

He once told me that the problem was not that criminals were evil but that most of them were pathetic—in the proper sense of the word. Arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness. Recently I’d learned the Greek root: pathetos—liable to suffer. “You’ve got to feel sorry for them,” he said. And you didn’t have to be in the job long to see what he meant. The addicts, the runaways, the men who were fine unless they had a couple of drinks. The ex-squaddies who’d seen too much. The sad fuckers who just didn’t have a clue how to make the world work for them, or had started so beaten down they barely learned to walk upright. The people who shoplifted toilet paper or food or treats for their kids. “This is a trap,” he’d said. “You’re not a social worker or a doctor. If people really wanted these problems solved there’d be more social workers and doctors.” I’d asked what we were supposed to do. “You can’t fix their problems, Peter,” he’d said. “Most of the time you can’t even steer them in the right direction. But you can do the job without making things worse.”
Location: 3,611

Which is just as well, as I ran straight into Chorley coming the other way. I was half blind and he was looking over his shoulder—it was one of them meeting engagements that military theorists suggest you should never ever do if you can help it. He didn’t spot me until we were less than three meters apart.
Location: 3,979

“A romantic,” said Nightingale. “The most dangerous people on earth.”
Location: 4,089

So in I went clutching my Domestos and my spray bottle of generic own-brand surface cleaner and got on with it. Pausing a couple of times to throw up while I did.
Location: 4,147

Sometimes you’ve got to go hard to get the job done. Although not always in the way that people are expecting.
Location: 4,149

The whole of my left side from shoulder to knee went numb, in that worrying numb-now pain-later way of a major injury, and the air was literally knocked out of my body. I was trying to breathe in but it felt as if my lungs were paralyzed. Then I coughed. It hurt, then I breathed in—it was wonderful.
Location: 4,387

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