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.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Genre: Fiction, thriller, mystery
GoodReads rating: 3.86 / 5 (306,000 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via Overdrive)
PopSugar prompt: A locked room mystery.
Summary: In a high-profile wedding on an island off the coast of Ireland, a body shows up. Once the backstories of the wedding guests and bride and groom themselves come to light, the list of suspects only grows.
Thoughts: Like most thriller books, this wasn’t anything new and noteworthy. It was constructed well, the ending was great and I liked the multiple perspectives, but at the end of the day it’s just another general thriller. Noelle said it well: “entertaining, but won’t go down in history.”
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
Genre: Non-fiction, environment, economy
GoodReads rating: 4.08 / 5 (3,500 ratings)
Medium used: Hardback book (gifted from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon)
Summary: “A classic exposé in company with An Inconvenient Truth and Silent Spring, The Story of Stuff expands on the celebrated documentary exploring the threat of overconsumption on the environment, economy, and our health… From sneaking into factories and dumps around the world to visiting textile workers in Haiti and children mining coltan for cell phones in the Congo, Leonard… highlights each step of the materials economy and its actual effect on the earth and the people who live near sites like these.”
Thoughts: As someone more well-versed in environmental issues than probably the average reader, this review will probably be on the longer side, so strap in. First, the pros: the drawings and graphics are cute, this book actually blames capitalism by name (unlike some books *cough* Hope Jahren *cough*) and the book is organized well to easily digest the mass amounts of information. It’s not particularly hard information, just a lot. I picked this book up because the author is from Seattle and gave a few personal stories from the area, including the 1999 WTO protests which I’ve never heard of before.
Now, the general cons: it felt a bit textbook-y at times (meaning just pure information and not much in the way of storytelling) and some of the arguments are now outdated and need more expansion or nuance (like capitalism, more about imperialism, etc.). Two specific points didn’t sit right with me: one argument for halting deforestation was that there might be undiscovered species in the rainforest that can be useful to humans. Surely the species should live for their own intrinsic value first and foremost? Second, she stated that there are (paraphrased) “150+ chemical ingredients in women’s cosmetic products.” While she usually is good at differentiating between harmful chemicals, literally everything is a chemical. Hell, there’s probably around 1,000 chemicals in your morning coffee alone, so take those kind of claims with a grain of salt (also chemicals). On a different note, speaking of make-up, my favorite resource from this book is the cosmetics data base that assesses the potential dangers of beauty products and gives them an overall rating.
Finally, I’ll end with I was very happy she included one of my all-time favorite quotes to end the grim book with: “If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart.” – Paul Hawken
Other adaptations: The book expands on the short documentary that you can watch on YouTube. I’d recommend it if this topic interests you but reading isn’t your thing.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
Genre: Non-fiction, science, feminism, history
GoodReads rating: 4.48 / 5 (5,000 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via Overdrive)
Summary: “Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary.”
Thoughts: This was really cute! I loved the drawings, it even made the glossary interesting. However, sometimes I think the drawings took away from women of color: although it was usually explained in the text, I wish I knew immediately based on the pictures. Also, a lot of the women were talked about in the context of other male scientists they knew, which while it’s incredible sometimes took away from the point of the book. I thought it was funny that a woman with the last name Horney challenged traditional Freudian views.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Genre: Non-fiction, biography, adventure, travel, environment
GoodReads rating: 3.99 / 5 (921,000 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library via Overdrive)
Summary: “Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, Chris McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and, unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented.” In April 1992, after some time travelling around the continental US by foot, he hitchhikes to Alaska where he meets his end. This book documents his journey, those who knew him along the way and how he came to pass.
PopSugar prompt: A book set entirely outdoors.
Thoughts: Boy, do I have a lot to say about this. In my senior year of college (2017), I took an environmental ethics class that was probably my all-time favorite class. One of our assignments was to read this book and argue for or against McCandless’s perceived attitude towards the environment. Recently, I got into a heated, drunken discussion with a coworker about it and inspired me to re-read it. After all these years, I still kept my essay and I stand by most of what I said back then. A lot of readers comment that McCandless was stupid, arrogant, mentally disturbed, etc. for going into the Alaska wilderness unprepared. In my essay, I regarded Chris as arrogant at worst but believed he had no malice in his actions. However, I feel a better descriptor now would be misguided. After living as a tramp for a few years, he clearly got by alright and had some kind of preparation for Alaska. He did tell a friend “if this adventure proves fatal, I want you to know you’re a good man,” assuming he knew dying was in the realm of possibility. But I don’t think he foresaw a slow agonizing death of starvation but rather a more action-packed one. He didn’t even go that far off the grid and lived in an abandoned bus, suggesting total isolation wasn’t part of his spiritual journey. If he only brought a map and more survival gear, he might have lived. It’s hard to speak on this topic because we’ll never know for sure and now reading the book a second time over, I’m more conflicted than ever. It’s an interesting book to think on, the only reason it isn’t a five-star is because Into Thin Air is one of my all-time favorite books and by the same author.
Other adaptations: The 2007 movie fared well and Emile Hirsch is pure eye candy. But I’m afraid, like most things “inspired by a true story”, it dramatizes or even fictionalizes a lot of the story. One thing I love so much about this book is that Chris isn’t here to tell his own story, it’s all from other’s perspectives, leaving a lot of room for thinking and introspection. I’m afraid the movie might take away from that.
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.