As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:
- (★★★★★): Loved it
- (★★★★): Really liked it
- (★★★): Liked it enough
- (★★): Didn’t care for it
Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.
Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller
Genre: Non-fiction, science
GoodReads rating: 4.35 / 5 (1,800 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Warning: This book contains mention of attempted suicide.
Summary: “David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist [who discovered] nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—which sent more than a thousand of his discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered. Many might have given up, given in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection.”
Thoughts: This book sounded extremely promising. The front cover has praise from Mary Roach and Sy Montgomery, two science authors I adore. In case you can’t comprehend how large Jordan’s discoveries are… there are more fish species than any other vertebrate species (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians) combined and he discovered about 20% of them. I was eager to learn the story of this person I’ve never heard of but this book was disappointing. The book was about 1/3 about Jordan and 2/3 philosophy/memoir of the author which seemed to have nothing to do with Jordan. It was a shock to me that Jordan was a prominent eugenicist and I did enjoy the parts that expanded on that and when the author gave a personal narrative on seeing his specimens firsthand, but I wish the book focused more on how he discovered the fish and how to compromise these great findings with the dark side of his science. Regardless of how short this book is, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re especially into science or philosophy. To end on a happy note, I absolutely adored the art in this book, though (Kate Samworth).
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young adult, romance
GoodReads rating: 4.06 / 5 (365,000 ratings)
Medium used: E-book and audiobook (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Summary: Madeline is allergic to everything and her world is in her house. She finds comfort in books and the only two people she sees: here mom and nurse Carla. When a handsome boy Olly moves in next door, she has an urge to go Outside like never before.
Thoughts: I started this as an audiobook but realized a lot of the format and quirks were lost in translation, so if you can I’d highly recommend the book over the audiobook. Anyway, what is today’s obsession with hyper-emotional romances with chronically ill people? It feels like every other book has the same plot as The Fault in Our Stars (this book, Five Feet Apart, Me Before You, etc.). I’d really love to see a romance book (or any book really) where a character’s illness is something they have and not a point of contention/melodrama (if you know any, please drop your recommendations). Chronically ill people aren’t wounded puppies but hey, whatever is easiest to manipulate the reader’s emotions. I had high hopes for this book as I was pleasantly surprised by The Sun is Also a Star, Yoon has a really unique and easy-going writing style. But I didn’t like this book. Obviously it was engaging enough to finish quickly, but the only things I actively liked were the Maui bits (I’ve been several times and have stayed where they spent time in Ka’anapali) and the twist (which I feel should have been the focus of the book and not the “romance”).
Other adaptations: I actually watched this adaptation and was underwhelmed. It followed the book to the letter for whatever that’s worth and I like what they did to visually illustrate the online chat rooms. But other than that I had very much the same feelings about the movie as the book.
The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan
Genre: Non-fiction, psychology, history
GoodReads rating: 3.63 / 5 (6,000 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Warning: This book contains mention of abuse and murder.
Summary: “For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people — sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society — went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry’s labels. Forced to remain inside until they’d “proven” themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan’s watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever.”
Thoughts: This book was morbidly fascinating. Some of these practices sounded medieval but this is my parent’s time. They could have been admitted, sterilized, lobotomized, or worse. It’s mad to think how ridiculous and recent this all was. As someone who lives with mental illness, this book was especially fascinating and still relevant today. One of my favorite (paraphrased) quotes went something like, “a cardiologist wouldn’t diagnose heart disease by seeing someone on TV, why are we diagnosing media personalities with mental disorders?” This quote was referring to a presidential candidate at the time and it’s still pertinent today: why are people diagnosing Donald Trump from his TV appearances? Also, there are plenty of people living with mental illnesses who aren’t menaces, why are we trying to justify his shitty behavior by saying he’s “disturbed”? Anyway, I also really enjoyed the dive into what was wrong with Roshenhan’s work and was reminded of the Stanford Prison Experiment: extremely popular but unsound science (its shortcomings are briefly mentioned in this book). However, “it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen” now, its scientific misgivings can be forgived for its rhetorical value. This book was also an interesting transition from Why Fish Don’t Exist as they both largely took place at Stanford and the Department of Psychology was actually in a building named after David Starr Jordan. It’s been a couple of months since a book made me think as critically as this one did, well done.
Calypso by David Sedaris
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, humor
GoodReads rating: 4.11 / 5 (87,000 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Warning: This book contains mention of body horror and suicide.
Summary: Sedaris gives quips from his garbage-collecting days in Sussex, family days in a wealthy beach town and touring. This book as touching as it is humorous.
Thoughts: This book is more amusing than straight-up humor I’d say. Some of this audiobook was recorded in front of a live audience and I feel like I’m in the minority of thinking this isn’t the funniest thing in the world, the laughing from the audience was quite excessive. I really enjoyed the bits about Sussex as I’ve frequented the area but other than that, this book was mostly just okay. Learning to like “humorous” essays is still a struggle.
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.