Book Recommendations: Jan-Mar 2016

I’m a bad book critic.

Of the 200 books I’ve added on Goodreads already, I’ve only rated 4 books 2 stars and 0 books 1 star. I don’t have the literary taste to distinguish between good books and bad books. As a result, I rate almost every book I read positively.

What I can do, is compare books I have read. And in a quest to read more, I’ve blasted through 9 books this year, not counting anything in English class.

After some deliberation, here are my recommendations:

Warning: Due to above tendency to rate nearly all books positively, after a brief synopsis, most of my “reviews” turn into gushing about the book and/or author. I’ll try to keep it short.

Nonfiction: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam

22609334So I think about education a lot. Like, a lot. I’ve read on in school influences, out of school influences, teaching methods, etc. and I’ve constantly mulled over what factors really, really matter.

Our Kids analyzes these societal factors and nails their root causes on the head. After Putnam describes his own upbringing, he identifies 5 factors that contribute to a child’s upbringing, and uses a crazily impactful mix of research and interviews with students growing up in today’s society.  From the privileged child growing up with two parents, going to the best public schools, getting overloaded with extracurriculars, to the child raised by a single mother (who was also raised by a single mother) who isn’t guaranteed a place to sleep each night, who goes to an underfunded school and is unlikely to go to college.

I think everyone who reads the book can identify with at least one child growing up, and regardless, it serves as a good wakeup call as to “how the other half lives.” It includes a good mix of statistics that show the scope of the problem, as well as personal accounts that demonstrate how these factors apply to an individual’s day to day life.

Other books:

  1. In Defense of a Liberal Education, Fareed Zakaria
  2. How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students, Cal Newport
  3. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough

Memoir:  Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman

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This took me a bit too long to listen to as an audiobook (3+ weeks), but I found every chapter incredibly fascinating. This book affirms my belief that yes, immensely smart people CAN BE and often ARE interesting.  But more importantly, they have a curiosity to learn about anything and everything and are constantly thinking about ways to improve . From going to strip clubs, to cracking safes, to criticizing the Brazilian education system, Feynman’s modest yet quirky personality manifested itself in multiple ways throughout his life.

It’s that same theme that keeps popping up: watching people who genuinely enjoy what they’re doing is attractive. Nuff’ said.

Other books:

  1. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Ariana Huffington

Young Adult Fiction: Every Last Word, Tamara Ireland Stone

23341894This was the second book I’ve borrowed from my school library after Everything, Everything. The inside front cover revealed that the main character, Sam, was amongst the most popular in her high school, and I joked with a friend nearby that this book was my chance to vicariously live the life of a popular girl.

But this book quickly moves past the shallowness of high school culture to something more serious: Sam’s purely-obsessional OCD. To help, she meets a new friend, Caroline, who takes her someplace she’s never been to before: an enclave in the school called “Poet’s Corner,” where she meets a new cast of characters she would have dismissed had she stayed within her popular clique.

For most of the novel, I was expecting the generic plot of “a quirky but broken guy meets a quirky but broken girl and they don’t get along well at first but they totally fall in love afterwards”, but there’s a plot twist right when everything seems to be too normal.

There’s a special type of love I reserve for characters that I know can’t exist in real life but are somehow perfect in concept. There’s a special type of love I reserve for stories that I know can’t exist in real life but are somehow perfect in concept. This book gets pretty close to reaching that level of purity

Other books:

  1. Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins
  2. All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven

Currently, I’m reading The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff and listening to The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol. Hoping to finish both of these books by the end of the break.

Feel free to follow me on Goodreads and/or suggest any recommendations.

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