June 2016 – Book Review

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The “Just Because” Philosophy.

This is a fun, insightful little book. Benjamin Hoff posits that our favorite little bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, is the quintessential Taoist. He may be a Bear of Very Little Brain, but he’s also the perfect example of the best way to live your life.

Winnie-the-Pooh lives in the present. He isn’t bogged down with Cleverness or Knowledge, but rather Kindness and Love. He lives day-by-day. And, while he’s a flawed bear, he uses what he has to his advantage. Pooh is happy and does things “just because.” He celebrates a Thursday “just because” he can. He takes each day as a day to live.

Hoff’s writing is very clever. Between his small “lectures” (though, they really aren’t) on the history and ways of Taoism, he inserts parts of the original Milne stories to illustrate his points, as well as adding in fun sections where he interacts with the Hundred Acre Wood gang. I knew very little about Taoism, practically nothing, before I read The Tao of Pooh, and Hoff does a swell job of giving us the fundamentals of this Eastern belief system by relating it all to a very well-known Western set of characters and stories. This was a joy to read, and it got me thinking of how I can “walk lightly,” live a more “just because” life, and better interact with the rest of humanity. 4/5

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is an essay that touches on several interlinking subjects all relating to feminism. She discusses the current climate of gender inequality; the separate expectations of men and women given the social and cultural sphere in which we’ve been brought up; the unfair shame women hold because it’s been continuously engraved in their minds since birth; the detrimental effects society has on boys, who then grow up to be men that cannot recognize their fragile egos; and the degradation of both genders due to societal norms.

Gender, like race, is a social construct. It’s easier for people to classify others, into the smallest number of groups, based off of unchosen characteristics. We see this in psychology and literature all of the time; we don’t like dissonance, something that doesn’t fit into our categories, or the abject, something monstrous or taboo that we are equally fascinated and repulsed by. By reducing people into two groups and shunning those who don’t snuggly fit in, we become a lesser culture populated by lesser people. And in the recognition of a false superiority of one gender over the other is cruel, shameful, and should be disposed of. The concept of gender has plagued us, all of us, and has devalued our society. Equality, to some, seems almost like a foreign concept; I don’t think some people realize that we can and should improve ourselves for the betterment of the world after we’re gone.

I think some people, and it’s mostly men, are turned off by the word feminist. They believe that one must be feminine to be a feminist. That’s just absurd malarkey. It’s just not true, and an easy cop-out to dismiss a serious problem. Us feminists won’t hurt your pride. We cannot improve unless every single one of us recognizes the inequality between genders. Adichie writes: “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” Let’s let go of our gender expectation and pave the way for a brighter future. 4/5

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This is a puzzling collection of short stories. Diane Williams’ Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine assembles 40 short stories–and some of them are very short. Like, 50 words short. Many of the stories seem like they’ve been cobbled together from disparate notes and passages Williams jotted down once upon a time; they just don’t make sense to me and are almost instantaneously forgettable. I actually did like about a dozen or so of the stories, including that very short one, but most of this book just falls apart for me. I hoped that I would like it, as I’ve barely read any flash fiction before, but I just wasn’t feeling this collection. Perhaps I didn’t “get it,” but, in looking at the other reviews on Goodreads, it looks like I’m not the only one. Hey, at least the cover is awesome. I’d get a poster of that and hang it on my wall. Too bad that’s the best part of this collection. 2/5

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Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s melodramatic, cloyingly sugar-sweet, and rather sappy. Even though the novel isn’t a romance, it does try to tear at your emotions–though, it doesn’t succeed for this fella. Instead, it comes off as annoying. (I swear, Louisa Clark cries every few pages. I understand the situation Louisa is in, but maybe I’m just too heartless to be suckered in.) And, speaking of Louisa, her personality is grating. Besides how emotional she is, I cannot understand how she figured her rebound job, with a definite end-date, would end as a prince-finding fairytale with dollops of sunshine and unicorn-ending rainbows. Louisa declares that she’s not as smart as her sister, and it’s clear that she is not.

Nothing in the story comes as a surprise, either; everything’s laid out from the get-go. While I don’t mind an unchallenging book once in a while, I was hoping for some more substance than what’s offered. That’s the book’s biggest weakness for me, and I’m perplexed as to why Me Before You is so beloved. As unsurprising as everything is, Moyes’ writing is at least easy to read and well-flowing. There were no problems at all with reading. Plus, I do like the conversation Moyes’ brings up with assisted-suicide. That’s the novel’s biggest strength for me. It’s a controversial topic, and Moyes does well with illustrating both sides of the argument.

I liked Me Before You, but it’s not the special snowflake most people believe it to be. 3/5

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I’ve seen the film version of Isherwood’s A Single Man a few times before and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I knew I wanted to read the novel sooner or later. I finally got around to it.

Isherwood’s novel is slim–it’s under 200 pages–but I don’t feel like anything was rushed or only partially created; it’s a full experience. The story follows a day in the life of George Falconer after the loss of his partner, Jim. We go through his routine, of how he wakes up, how he teaches his classes, how he winds down, how he torments himself, how he tries to live again after such a debilitating loss.

George is a prime example of an outsider, but he is universally relatable. And that’ all because of Isherwood’s fantastic writing. The prose is specific, pointed, and very easy to read. There’s a sense of sadness on every page, but there are also moments of happiness and black comedy. There’s sincerity throughout. Isherwood easily manipulates us and his words tug at your heartstrings. A Single Man was my 26th book this year, and it’s certainly one of the best I’ve read in 2016. 4.5/5

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