Reading wrap-up #65

Good news: I read a lot in August! Bad news: I’m still playing catch-up from reviews pushing a month old now. Ugh.

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 Push by Ashley Audrain The Push: A Novel: 9781984881663: Audrain, Ashley: BooksRating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, thriller, contemporary

GoodReads rating: 4.14 / 5 (105,000 ratings)

Medium used: Hardcover (purchased from Secret Garden Books in Seattle, WA)

Summary: Motherhood isn’t all Blythe Conner thought it would be. She does not feel a connection with her new baby girl Violet and as Violet gets older, Blythe begins to think something’s wrong with her daughter. Blythe’s husband Fox thinks it’s all in her head. When their second child Sam is born, Blythe feels an instant connection to him. But when tragedy strikes, Blythe once again looks to Violet as not only different, but dangerous.

Thoughts: My God, I loved this. This is one of those books that you read in a day it’s so damn good. I’m usually pretty lukewarm to domestic thrillers but this is the new exception. The second person perspective takes a few chapters to get used to but it was definitely a choice that paid off; it made the book more memorable. The plot didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but the writing was absolutely stunning and immersive. I love how we were constantly questioning the narrator and the dual plotline. A lot of people compare this to We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I couldn’t get into that book.

Other adaptations: Heyday Television got the rights after a vicious battle.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers: A Novel (Random House Large Print): Bennett, Brit: 9781524709860: BooksRating: ★★★

Genre: Fiction, contemporary

GoodReads rating: 3.89 / 5 (88,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Summary: Six months after her mother’s suicide, Nadia falls pregnant with the child of the pastor’s son, Luke. Her choice to end the pregnancy and keep it secret follows her through her life, namely with the relationships with her father and Audrey, her God-fearing best friend who later dates Luke.

Warning: This book contains themes of child (sexual) abuse and mention of self-harm, abortion and miscarriage.

Thoughts: Although this is an excellent debut novel, it didn’t entirely float my boat. It was a good character study but not much else going on. I feel the dramatized abortion plotline has been overdone a bit, or maybe I’m just indifferent to what other people do what their bodies (as we all should be). However, not everybody shares these views and make laws governing people’s bodies accordingly. In Texas, most abortions after six weeks have been banned: before most people know they’re pregnant. Here are some resources and websites to help: || || || ||

Other adaptations: Kerry Washington and Warner Bros are behind the coming adaption, with Brit Bennett writing the screenplay.

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion: Harris, Sam: 9781451636024: BooksRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, spirituality, philosophy

GoodReads rating: 3.90 / 5 (39,000 ratings)

Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Summary: “For the millions of Americans who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris’s new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology… Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.”

Warning: This book contains discussion of abuse.

Thoughts: I feel like a lot of this book (at least 25%) addresses consciousness over spirituality, but it was still fascinating nonetheless. I’ve now read three of Harris’s books (End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) and you can definitely tell how his writing has become more accessible over time. Here are some great points (paraphrased) that resonated with me:

  • Everything we want to accomplish (painting the house, get a new car, etc.) before we can relax and enjoy our lives in the present is a false hope: we’re always trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied in the present that we never are. Meditation is a way to realize your mind is capable of peace as these conventional resources of happiness are unreliable
  • LSD/psilocybin (mushrooms) are a great “shortcut” to spirituality and as McKenna put it, a way to guarantee a profound experience for better or worse that will impact you for weeks/months/years to come
  • However, this book has made one of the best analogies to tripping I’ve ever read: taking a large dose is like strapping yourself into a rocket with no GPS. Set and setting are important and can influence the outcome, but you never know your true trajectory

This book also did a great job of covering abuse in the guru world and how these can be especially bad. Harris doesn’t act like he has all the answers and encourages readers to think critically.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness: Godfrey-Smith, Peter: 9780374227760: BooksRating: ★★★★

Genre: Non-fiction, animals, philosophy

GoodReads rating: 3.86 / 5 (15,000 ratings)

Medium used: Paperback (purchased from Elliot Bay Book Co in Seattle, WA)

Summary: “Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?”

Thoughts: This book happened to tie into Waking Up in regards to consciousness in a lovely way, namely its evolutionary origins. Although it was interesting, it lost me at times and I was mostly there to read about the animals. Octopuses (not octopi) perceive the world in a way I can’t even begin to fathom, like “seeing” with their skin and have each one of their eight arms function independently (probably most comparable to human blinking: we don’t actively control it most of the time, but we can when we choose to do so). Being so distantly related to animals we typically think of as intelligent as an invertebrate and anti-social, octopuses are an animal intelligence experiment unlike any we’ve ever seen. If this topic interests you, I can’t recommend My Octopus Teacher or The Soul of an Octopus enough, they are much more accessible than this book.

Have you read any of these? 

Photo by Radu Marcusu.


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