Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I found this memoir of a scientist profoundly moving. I loved how she elegantly described chapters on how plants work, which also worked as metaphors for various episodes in her life. Her research seems intriguing in the way it spans field work and lab analysis. Her struggles with doing science, dealing with sexism, and coping with mental illness contain an enduring sense of humour and optimism and a platonic love for her loyal and eccentric collaborator Bill. But her obsessively long hours affirmed that life as a professional scientist would not have been for me.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

A book with such a title and even an exclamation point, describing the Bigtree family wrestling “Seths”, their name for alligators, on their island in the Florida Everglades, suggests something farcical. But the stories told by the youngest daughter Ava in first person and about the eldest boy Kiwi in third person are told in earnest, as their idyllic ideals wrestle with the hard realities of the world. The writing is sometimes distractingly lyrical, but that seemed somehow suitable, evoking dreams of good, bad, and ugly scenes at a tawdry museum in some out of the way place.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

This audiobook of short stories was harrowing and hilarious. The stories all deal with modern immigrant Chinese families, generally told from the point of view of the young daughter. The Dads are mostly educated, unfaithful, yet struggling to support the family in America, working multiple jobs. The mothers seemed hysterical, in the sense of being crazy rather than funny. Sometimes grandparents are as well. Some of the stories include characters with the same names and use similar anecdotes. The sacrifices, the struggles, the anxieties, the family love. Maybe it was like picking a scab, but I found it so compelling.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This is heart breaking and mind blowing. I think Malcolm Gladwell once mentioned how much sadder it is when the favourite loses. This deals with devastation of one who seemed externally who had it made. I am probably naive, but the story kept surprising me with the revelations about characters. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I was amazed at how he shifts perspectives and whole vistas of a character open up. The political unrest of the 60s seems relevant today. I felt particularly moved by the disillusioned father whose best intentions and efforts are utterly wasted.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I enjoyed this story about a young designer after she notices a large robotic-looking statue on a street in New York. Contemporary in its depiction of social media, in particular YouTube and Twitter, it illustrates the benefits and drawbacks of fame, and the beauty of social problem solving. The mysteries that drove the plot reminded me of digital puzzle games I like to play. It is an thoughtful exploration of contrasting world views, of how to behave when faced with the unknown, — whether it is a powerful alien intelligence or I suppose life in general — with love or fear?

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

This book was a fascinating look at life during World War II. In the audiobook, three different voice actors read the sections associated with the three main characters. The primary story follows a young woman struggling against the world in so many ways. She has a hard life but remains persistent. I enjoyed the unpredictability of this novel. Diving before SCUBA equipment with the heavy gear and hoses. The double lives of a gangster. Surviving at sea on a raft. Also I’d just heard a Malcolm Gladwell podcast on “pulling the goalie” as survival tactic which seemed to apply here.

Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

I listened to this story as an audiobook from the library, so I don’t know how the names are spelled. The protagonist is a masterful game player in the Culture, but he’s getting a little bored with life. He ends up in another world built around a complex game. They unpleasant hierarchical society resembles our own. The importance of a game to a civilization reminded me a little of Magister Ludi. Banks referred to and yet remained vague about the details of this game. It contrasts with Reality is Broken, in which McGonigal advocates for making life itself a game.

A Midsummer's Equation

I borrowed this audiobook because it was based in Japan and I was curious about it. But it turned out to be even more interesting than I expected, because the main character was a scientist and it took place in a small seaside village. The different levels of jurisdiction and protocol seemed to be very Japanese in its procedures as did the secretive nature of the crime itself, the attempt to keep unseemly matters hidden. The crime rate is very low in Japan but now I wonder how much of that is because people don’t want to talk about things.


The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

I am loving this story, listening to the audiobook downloaded to my phone from the library, usually while washing the dishes. Every chapter is a delightful surprise, after a spry 100 year old man steps out of the window. We also find out about his past extraordinary encounters with major historical characters. It reminds me a little of Forrest Gump. This story is perhaps more of a parody of human behaviour. I have given talks on Japanese Canadian history, using my grandmother's life to illustrate the major events, and am intrigued by how a long life intersects with historic eras.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

This story was extra great as an audiobook because listening to the first person narration, felt like he, who might or might not be a Princeton-educated Pakistani terrorist, was talking to you, except that you were a white American male, who might or might not be some sort of CIA kind of agent. What was amazing was how he was mostly talking about a not quite requited love story between the narrator and a charming but troubled affluent white girl he met at college, interwoven with a diatribe on the post-911 American War on Terror, with growing tension.



One More Thing by BJ Novak is So Funny

Loved this audiobook by BJ Novak. So funny. It included others like Rainn Wilson and Mindy Kaling from the Office. Played with expectations and the use of the language so well, capturing the situations and characters. A warlord on a date. A guy returns a sex robot because it falls in love with him. A John Grisham novel gets on the bestsellers list even before he has decided on the title. A new Hitler. So many different funny takes on modern life and culture. I borrowed it from the library, but now I want to buy the book to reread.


China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

I enjoyed this (audio) book, even though I have no particular interest in extravagant wealth, fancy sports cars or designer fashions. I first was just curious about a story set in modern Asia. Initially, I was overwhelmed by the number of characters and all the brand name dropping. Maybe because this was a sequel and I didn't read the first one. Gradually, however, a main storyline and two minor storylines emerged, each involving outsider characters revealed different aspects of the appallingly materialistic and pointless lifestyles of the 1% in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. I wonder how realistic it is.


A Brief History of Oscar Wao

Fascinating and disturbing. Only thing I knew about the Dominican Republic was that they had resorts and it shared half an island with Haiti. I had no idea about the horrific dictator Trujillo and the long period of atrocities. Felt relieved to not have been born in that time and place. Some interesting stylistic devices with the narrators and the combination of Spanish and geek slang. The writer threw in a lot of Spanish without translating. Some I understood by context. Understood more of the nerdy book references of the protagonist to Lord of the Rings, Dune, and the Watchmen.

Could have looked up a mongoose reference. 

Could have looked up a mongoose reference. 

The First Bad Man

I was so impressed with this audiobook, though or maybe because, I sometimes I felt like I shouldn't be hearing it, like I was peeking through a keyhole at things I was not supposed to know, especially as a male. Maybe having the author reading added to this. The first person narration included funny similes, and quirky little fantasies. It begins with a meek, lonely Cheryl leading a tedious life, but it transforms dramatically as the intimidating grown daughter of Cheryl's bosses moves in for an indeterminate amount of time. Things become much more emotionally complicated than I was expecting.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki

Other Haruki Murakami stories I have enjoyed contain something profoundly weird in their world. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki is not like this, though I kept expecting it to be. Also this story seemed more Japanese in its outlook with the yearning to belong to a group and the reluctance to express feelings. It has some odd situations, which I imagined would lead to some bizarre explanation, but instead, they were just left unexplained. This culminated with an abrupt ending. I was especially surprised because I was listening to it as an audiobook so I didn't know when the end was coming.



I have not read Atwood before. And this one I actually listened to as an audiobook, which is interesting because the story itself deals with storytelling and points of view. This featured three different actors reading the parts corresponding to the points of view. This is the third book, but I have not read the other two and still enjoyed this science fiction story of a post-apocalyptic world which also deals with the circumstances leading up to it. I found it intriguing in the ways it dealt with technology, corporations, religion and environmentalism as all having their good and bad.