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Books Archive

Monday

18

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

Written by , Posted in Reviews

3 Stars

Best for: People looking for a push to consider leaving social media.

In a nutshell: Silicon Valley veteran (seriously, he worked on internet stuffs in the early 80s) attempts to make the case that social media — in its current form — is harming us and society, and tried to get us to quit. Mixed results follow.

Worth quoting:
“Yes, being able to quit is a privilege; many genuinely can’t. But if you have the latitude to quit and don’t, you are not supporting the less fortunate; you are only reinforcing the system in which many people are trapped.”
“The core of the BUMMER machine is not a technology, exactly, but a style of business plan that spews out perverse incentives and corrupts people.”
“You know the adage that you should choose a partner on the basis of who you become when you’re around the person? That’s a good way to choose technologies, too.”
“When we’re all seeing different, private worlds, then our cues to one another become meaningless… Can you imagine if Wikipedia showed different versions of entries to each person on the basis of a secret data profile of that person?”

Why I chose it:
I’ve been spending time this year focusing on how I spend my time – I read “How to Break Up with Your Phone” and “Silence” in quick succession. I’ve also been more and more frustrated with how much time I find myself checking Facebook and Twitter, so I thought I’d see if this book helped push me one way or the other.

Review:
Author Lanier’s premise is that the internet is not bad, but our current social media options (most, at least), are. He uses the abbreviation BUMMER throughout as shorthand for what he calls “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” He makes some good arguments, but his writing leaves a lot to be desired. Part of my issue is seeing the word BUMMER multiple times a page (it feels like I’m being shouted at) and part of my issue is that the editing of this book is not great. There are a lot of ideas slotted into a lot of subcategories that makes it difficult to follow at times.

Lanier makes some great points. He discusses how our empathy for others has eroded because it is based on knowing a bit about what they experience, but the algorithms mean we all are seeing different things. It’s hard to respond to someone talking about something you’ve never been exposed to, or that is the complete opposite of what you’ve been exposed to. He also — and I think this is his strongest point — suggests we look at the type of person we are when we’re on different social media platforms.

As I said above, he’s not saying that it’s *the internet* that is to blame, but instead the business model that sells the consumer as the product. It’s not so much about malice (although the people behind the bots that helped sway the US election were certainly full of malice from my perspective), but about subtle adjustments to what we see so that we then do what makes the advertisers the most money. It’s obnoxious and is hurting our society.

Lanier has issues with some of the big companies — mainly Facebook, Google, and Twitter. And the companies owned by them, including WhatsApp and Instagram. I have to admit I’m confused by his disdain for WhatsApp, because they don’t do ads and the content of the messages is encrypted.

So where does that leave us? Yesterday I deleted my Facebook account … sort of. I’m trying to make a career out of writing, so I kept my blog’s Facebook page, which needs to have an administrator, so I created a new Facebook account that has no friends. I also deleted all the tweets from my personal account, and am now only posting things I write to @AKelmoreWrites on Twitter. I’d love to delete it all, but I also would love to figure out how to have a writing career, and the two things seem diametrically opposed.

Sunday

17

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for: People who know that there’s a deeper problem with the police than most of our society will acknowledge, but don’t have all the evidence at their fingertips.

In a nutshell: Sociology professor Vitale offers a logical and thorough examination of the many different areas where police are seen as necessary but are, in reality, making things worse. And, more importantly, offers alternatives to police involvement in those areas.

Worth quoting:
“At root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the law and the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo.”
“A kinder, gentler, and more diverse war on the poor is still a war on the poor.”
“We must break completely with the idea of using police in schools. They have no positive role to play that couldn’t be better handled by nonpolice personnel.”
“We must move beyond the false choice of living with widespread disorder or relying on the police to be the enforcers of civility.”
“They need stability, positive guidance, and real pathways out of poverty. This requires a long-term commitment to their wellbeing, not a telephone referral and home visits by the same people who arrest and harass them and their friends on the streets.”

Why I chose it:
I know that the police (in general) in the US are not helping. But even suggesting that perhaps their power needs to be tamped down is often greeted with disbelief and the suggestion that they are necessary. I wanted a book that would provide me with the facts I needed to counter the disbelief.

Review:
This is a well-researched, well-sourced, well-written discussion of the state of policing in the US. Author Vitale starts with a history of policing to redirect readers from the idea that the police were created to protect people. He then breaks down policing into eight areas where they are often seen as ‘necessary:’ police in schools, police as responders to people in mental health crisis, police sweeping up those experiencing homelessness, police “saving” sex workers, the war on drugs, police in gang areas, police at the border, and police silencing political opponents.

My favorite part of this book is that Vitale offers not just descriptions of the problems, but also attempted reforms (and why they aren’t sufficient), and then offers ALTERNATIVES. That is what, I feel, is missing in so many books that take on this topic. They share important information and outline the problems, but then sort of throw up their hands in a ‘yup, it sucks’ manner. Vitale instead points out what will actually work, and it’s often much better (and cheaper) for the community.

The best examples of this are in the sections on police in schools, police and homelessness, police and those with mental illness, police at the border, and police as political silencers. The solutions offered in the police and sex work and police and the war on drugs sections require a bit more on society’s part, but are definitely do-able. The solutions offered on gang violence, however, admittedly require a much larger shift in how we provide support to our communities than many people accept.

The section on the border patrol was especially poignant given what is going on in the United States right now; I know many of us would like to see ICE abolished, and this book certainly helps make that case.

The only thing that was missing, and that I would have liked to see, would be a discussion of the need (or not) for police to investigate crimes. Does Vitale think that in situations where murders have taken place, we could have a small police squad? Or does he think the community could manage that as well? I’m unsure what that could look like, but would enjoy reading his thoughts on that.

Wednesday

13

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for: Those looking for a bit of inspiration in tough times; those who want to learn more about a group of WWII women (the Rabbits) who haven’t received a lot of coverage.

In a nutshell: Three women’s lives intertwine – Caroline, a retired US broadway star who volunteers at the French Consulate in NYC, Kasia, a Polish teen who is just starting to assist the resistance, and Herta, a German Doctor who experiments on young girls in a concentration camp.

Worth quoting:
“To make things worse, Washington tightened visa restrictions, and it became almost impossible to enter the United States from Europe.”
“A new thing the Nazis had forced upon us was patriotic music, played via loud-speaker outside the theater.”
“It’s just a thing, Kasia. Don’t waste your energy on the hate. That will kill you sure as anything. Focus on keeping your strength. You’re resourceful. Find a way to outsmart them.”
“The county doesn’t want more foreigners.” — “Foreigners? Half the country just got here a generation ago. How can you just let people die?”

Why I chose it:
I’m not sure why I originally purchased it, but I brought it with me when I moved. I decided to read it now partly because of the horrendous actions the US government is taking against refugees seeking asylum. I thought there might be some parallels, and there definitely are.

Review:
That whole idea of ‘never again’ seems to ring hollow these days. It’s distressing how a book set nearly 80 years in the past can resonate with the current state of the world. And yet, here we are.

Note: There are some minor spoilers below, but this is a novelization of real events, so it’s more history than spoilers. Also, this review is LONG.

First, let’s start with the fear I had: that the depiction of the Nazi doctor Herta (who really existed) would attempt to bring the readers to, if not an understanding of her perspective, then at least an explanation for her actions. But nope. Herta is evil in the scariest way: she’s not extraordinary. She doesn’t bark orders or dream up new ways to kill people. She is not pleased with her first task, of ‘expediting’ the deaths of those at the ‘reeducation’ (read: concentration) camp who were ‘too ill.’ She loves Germany, and sees nothing wrong with what Hitler is doing. She doesn’t try to get away from her tasks, which includes the horrific sulfonamide experiments on teenage girls.

Ms. Hall Kelly’s depiction of Herta shows that there are no excuses for participating in such activities, and that even if there are parts of your personality that are perfectly pleasant and normal, you can still do evil things. Even more so than in “All the Light We Cannot See,” the author here is effective in avoiding the trope that you have to be a monster to do monstrous things. Herta is a human. A horrible human, but she’s still a human. Nazis weren’t animals; they were people who made the active choice to harm other humans; to view them as less than.

I share this somewhat spoiler-y (there is no redemption arc for Herta) information so that those who might find any book that tries to find the good in the Nazis repugnant needn’t worry that this is one of them.

The style of this book is quite effective – each of the three women featured speak from their own perspective in alternating chapters. In the first part, it’s a simple 1 / 2 / 3 pattern; in the second part it mostly sticks to that; by the third and final part, Herta is featured less as we focus on the post-war lives of Caroline and Kasia. Many chapters end in cliffhangers, which can get a bit old, but for the most part it worked well.

I appreciated a couple of things about how Caroline was portrayed (keeping in mind that she is a real person): that she was still living her life even against the backdrop of the horrors of war, and that part of her life involved helping people she didn’t know and might never meet. There is a romantic entanglement that shows that the world does not stop when bad things happen, even if perhaps we feel it should. Caroline does a lot, working at the consulate, selling possessions to fund care packages for orphans in France and then fighting on behalf of the Rabbits years after WWII is over. I don’t know if she could have done more, but there are certainly others who were doing less. She cares about people who have been harmed, even when some of her countrymen think we should all move on.

Finally, Kasia. Kasia is the one character who isn’t 100% real, although she is based mostly off of a real Rabbit. The Rabbits were Polish political prisoners at a concentration camp who were operated on in horrendous ways (by Herta, and by others). Over ten years after the end of the war, many still had challenges getting quality medical care, as Poland went from Nazi control to Communist control when the war ended.

Kasia changes the most in this book, from a 15-year-old whose biggest issue is that the boy she likes seems to be into her best friend, to someone having an understandably difficult tie adjusting to what the Nazis did to her, her family, her friends, and her country. She survives six years in the ‘reeducation’ camp, and at one point wonders how ordinary life could be as challenging. She is not perfect; she is spirited, scared, and filled with guilt as she blames herself for getting her family in the position they find themselves in. It is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful.

As I said in the beginning, this book reminds me of what is going on in the US regarding immigration. I’m going to quote the book at length here because I think this is important.

Mr.s Mikelsky held Jagoda [her baby girl] tight.
“Give it to me,” the prisoner-guard said.
Mrs. Mikelsky only held tighter.
“She’s a good baby,” I said to the guard.
The guard pulled harder at the child. Would they tear her in two?
“It can’t be helped,” the guard said. “Don’t make a scene.”

“Just take it,” Binz said with a save of her crop.
The guard who had come with Binz held Mrs. Mikelsky from behind while the first guard pried Jagoda from her mother’s arms.”

The guard hiked the baby higher on her shoulder and walked back through the incoming crowd.
Mrs. Mikelsky crumbled to the floor like a burning piece of paper as she watched her baby be taken away.”

First, notice the guards always refer to the little girl as “it?” She’s not a human baby, she’s a thing to them. Hopefully you can see why this stood out to me. ICE agents might claim to just be following orders, but what they are doing to people is inhumane and disgusting, and somehow it’s just … happening. Some members of the US Congress are speaking out, but US citizens haven’t taken to the streets, haven’t shut down all of the detention facilities. We could argue that we’re exhausted because every day, the US President or his minions do something more horrendous than the day before. And that’s true. We must pick our battles. But preventing children from being torn from their parents arms, and all of them being locked into cages? That seems to be a damn good battle.

Saturday

9

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew D’Ancona

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for: Those of us feeling a bit hopeless as we see that facts don’t seem matter to so many people.

In a nutshell: Over five brief but information chapters, author Matthew D’Ancona walks us through what has been happening lately (focusing on Trump’s election and Brexit), offers some ideas of how we got here, and suggestions about what we can do to keep the hole from deepening.

Worth quoting:
“Yet political lies, spin and falsehood are emphatically not the same as Post-Truth. What is new is not the mendacity of politicians but the public’s response to it.”
“This collapse of trust is the social basis of the Post-Truth era: all else flows from this single, poisonous source.”
“All that matters is that the stories feel true; that they resonate.”
“Among the most pernicious myths to afflict our times is the insistence that there is an unbridgeable gulf between an intellectual, ‘over-educated’ elite and ‘ordinary people’ in the ‘real world.’”
“It should be a core task of primary — not secondary — education to teach children how to select and discriminate from the digital torrent.”

Why I chose it:
I am someone from the US who now lives in the UK. I’m watching as Trump destroys relationships with allies, rips children from parents, and generally screws over the US, while watching the UK continue punching itself in the face as it refuses to accept that Brexit is a utterly shit idea. I was looking for something to pulls me out of the despair.

Review:
This is an interesting and well-written book that left me feeling slightly more optimistic, although it’s definitely not a panacea. Mr. D’Ancona has researched the history of politics (and philosophy; more on that in a minute) to provide a feasible argument for how we’ve gotten to a place where facts matter very little, and opinions on what is true are all equally weighted even when they very much shouldn’t be. He spends time discussing climate change and anti-vaccine absurdities, but most of his focus is on how Trump was elected and how Brexit happened.

He offers support for his thesis that we are shifting to a place where emotions matter more, but he is careful to point out that we haven’t ever lived in some utopia where everyone accepts and views reality in the same way. I think that’s important, because while things are definitely getting worse, it’s naive to believe that there was a time that was dramatically better. The concern is that its getting so much worse, and will keep going unless we actively stop it.

When the President* refers to facts as fake news, and people believe him, it’s hard to not feel as thought everything is a lost cause. How do you reason with someone like Jenny McCarthy who ignores all the actual evidence and decides that her son is all the proof she needs? How do you get through to people who have a worldview — and values — that are incongruous with many facts?

Mr. D’Ancona talks about the influence of post-modernism on where we are (though he is careful to point out that this seems less intentional — Trump likely doesn’t know what that even is); that it makes some measure of sense since that school of thought asks us to question our reality. The problem comes when you view all the perspectives of that reality as equally valid.

So, what can we do? The final chapter focuses a lot on technology, but also on our need as people to be vigilant about checking our sources and not spreading misinformation. This is where I start to diverge a bit from Mr. D’Ancona — he talks a lot about trying to reach those who, for example, voted for Brexit. I’d argue that perhaps the better use of our time is trying to work with those who have expressed indifference in the past, at least initially. In the US in 2016, 100 million people didn’t vote. Perhaps they are less invested in manipulating facts, and are just tired of trying to sort it all out. Perhaps we can reach them.

Wednesday

6

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags by Tim Marshall

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: People interested in world politics.

In a nutshell: Tim Marshall examines many (though not all) of the flags of nations, as well as flags of political movements and other organizations as a way to examine what these symbols mean to people.

Worth quoting:
“The people of the nations of Europe have stubbornly resisted becoming one, not because they don’t like each other but because they like themselves.”

Why I chose it: I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Marshall’s examination of how geography influences world politics, so I was excited to see he has other books on somewhat similar topics. Considering what’s going on in the US with the national anthem, NFL, and protests against racial injustice, this seemed especially appropriate.

Review:
Can you make flags interesting? If you’re Tim Marshall, you can, and you do. I inhaled this book, finishing it over the course of two days while on vacation (in Portugal, whose flag includes a coat of arms that dates back to the 1100s). It’s not just an explanation of the symbolism of flags (though it is that); it’s a look at how the flags are viewed by those who fall under them, and by those who are outside them.

The book starts out with chapters on the US flag and the UK flag; I learned some new things about my own nation’s flag, and about the flag of my current home nation. It was interesting to be reminded of how the US flag is often burned abroad, and how the flags of both the US and UK have been co-opted at times by far-right nationalist groups that might make other residents of those nations uncomfortable with displaying them.

From these two deep dives into imperial nations, the book shifts to focusing on themes along different types of flags. Mr. Marshall looks at many flags of the EU member nations (and the EU flag itself), the flags in the Middle East, flags that are meant to invoke fear, flags in Asia, flags in Africa, flags in South America, and a smattering of others (including the Jolly Rodger and the Red Cross).

The book is full of some fun facts that you might find useful at a pub quiz or when playing trivial pursuit (1/6 of the world’s flags have Christian symbolism on them!), but it’s also full of interesting observations about what it means to have a flag, and what a flag can mean for a people, or a movement. June is Pride month in the US, and there is discussion of the rainbow flag in this book. While you might not be clear on what each of the six stripes represents (don’t worry, Mr. Marshall will inform you), you know what it means when you see it. That’s powerful.

Tuesday

5

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Word by Word by Kory Stamper

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Four Stars

Best for: People who love words. So, you know, ALL OF US.

In a nutshell: Mirriam-Webster Dictionary lexicographer Kory Stamper shares a behind the scenes look at what goes into that tome so many of us take for granted, the dictionary.

Worth quoting:
“The fact is that many the things that are presented to us as rules are really just the of-the-moment preferences of people who have had the opportunity to get their opinions published and whose opinions end up being reinforced and repeated down the ages as Truth.”

Why I chose it:
I love words!

Review:
I’ve been in a bit of a reading black hole the past month. After powering through all three of the Crazy Rich Asians books in like a week, I posted just one (ONE!) review in May. I have maybe three or four books that I’m a chapter or two into, but I just couldn’t get into any. So I picked this one up because it seemed fun, and thank Maude, I’m cured. This was a delight to read, and has kick-started my consumption of the written word.

Being a dictionary editor sounds partially amazing and partially horrible. No one talks except outside the office on lunch breaks (which, most days, is my dream, but still, I like to at least have the option), and there’s a lot of time spent reading. Unfortunately, the reading isn’t for pleasure so much as it is to look for interesting examples of words being used, to refer back to at a later time when revising the dictionary.

I’ve never put a whole lot of thought into dictionaries; I don’t own a physical one anymore, but I think I might pick one up after reading this. Ms. Stamper has a great grasp of language (as you’d hope), and manages to make what could be extraordinarily dry subject matter come alive with interesting stories, clever anecdotes, and vivid imagery. Its a great little book that I think my fellow Cannonballers would enjoy.

Wednesday

9

May 2018

0

COMMENTS

Eyewitness Guide: Lisbon

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4 Stars

Best for: People visiting Lisbon

In a nutshell: It’s an Eyewitness Guide. They have pictures and highlights.

Worth quoting: N/A

Why I chose it: I’ve tended to enjoy the Eyewitness Guides in the past, and we’re going to Lisbon later this month.

Review:
I appreciate that these books start with some history of the area that they cover. I have basically no knowledge of Portugal, other than that when I look at a map of Europe, it looks like a face to Spain’s hair. Now I know a little bit more, including it was devastated by an earthquake in the 1700s.

This book seems perfect for visiting for just a few days — there isn’t an overwhelming amount of information, and the four main areas don’t have loads of suggestions for things to do, but there’s enough to have some choices. I also enjoy that while the attractions are grouped by neighborhood, the sections on other sort of run-of-the-mill items are separated. For example, instead of scattering a few interesting bookshops throughout the neighborhood highlights, they’re all clustered together under ‘bookshops’ so I can figure out which I want to see and then build them into my time when I’ll be in that area.

I tend not to use the hotel recommendations in these books (that’s what Trip Advisor is for), but the recommendations on restaurants and just the overall discussion of what type of food to expect and seek out in Lisbon will come in handy, as will the two totally doable walking tours.

The only thing that I found lacking were the photographs. There are a lot, don’t get me wrong, but they are mostly details of buildings and parks. I’m still not entirely sure what the skyline of Lisbon looks like. (Yes, I know Google image search exists, but you know what I mean).

Sunday

29

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

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4 Stars

Best for: People who want some resolution of the dangling storylines from China Rich Girlfriend.

In a nutshell: The family matriarch is dying and is still estranged from one of her grandkids. Most potential heirs start acting even more entitled.

Worth quoting: N/A

Why I chose it: I read the first two books over the course of three days. I needed to know what happened next.

Review: (Spoilers below)
I didn’t fully enjoy how every storyline was tied up, but for the most part I found this to be and extremely satisfying end to the trilogy. The absurdity is ramped up a bit, and there’s a bit of a deus ex machina at the end, but whatever. The entire series is a messy soap opera and I loved it.

The character of Rachel continues to be a mostly non-entity, despite having been the instigator for the first book and our access point into this incomprehensible world. But that’s okay – there are other interesting women to follow, like Astrid, who has one of the more interesting arcs of the story. Some of the men are interesting and complicated as well.

There are also some REAL simple dudes. Oh Eddie. Eddie, you are the worst, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment when things didn’t go your way. I also found the evolution of Michael’s character to be intriguing – when he had (relatively) little money, he was a good father and partner who just wanted a way out of the life he knew didn’t fit him; as soon as he starts to get money he become overbearing and controlling and an ass.

My favorite part of the book came halfway through, when the matriarch’s will was read. Sometimes my eyes will dart over the full page and certain names will stand out, so I covered the pages with my hand so I couldn’t skim ahead. And it was worth it. So glorious.

I read these three books over the course of four days. I haven’t inhaled a series like this since … probably The Hunger Games. I enjoyed the frivolity and decadence, sure, but I also enjoyed the characters. I can’t wait to read what Mr. Kwan comes up with next.

Friday

27

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for: People who enjoyed the first in this series (Crazy Rich Asians)

In a nutshell: We follow many of the original characters — and a few new ones — in this second book in the trilogy.

Worth quoting: N/A

Why I chose it:
I bought this at the same time as I bought China Rich Girlfriend because I figured I was going to like that and would want to start the sequel immediately.

Review: (Spoilers below)
I feel like I’m reading an amazing soap-opera, and I continue to thoroughly enjoy it. Yes, it’s all over-the-top and ridiculous. Yes, some of the characters are horrible and unlikeable, but I appreciate how many of them are changing over the course of the two novels.

Before I get too far into this review, I want to say how much I appreciated that Mr. Kwan played around a little with the formatting of the chapters this go round. We still get different point of view chapters, but we also have some chapters that consists solely of emails, or diary entries, or text messages. One is even the instructions offered by a super-fancy life coach (I’m sure she’d cringe at that description of her role, but eh, that’s what she is in my view) to someone who is desperate to be accepted.

Okay, so the content of the book. As I said above, I like the evolution of the different characters. We see some parents taking dramatic steps related to their children. We see some formerly humble folks turn into nightmares, and some nightmares humble themselves. Estrangements still exist in some areas, but in others they get resolved.

From a storytelling perspective, I appreciate that the will they / won’t they of Nick and Rachel is handled quickly, and their wedding happens in the first third of the book. I also enjoyed most of the handling of Rachel’s relationship with her father and brother. I do think Rachel could bee built out more, but at the same time, it’s nice to have a character who isn’t completely beyond reasonableness. She is an economics professor; she’s a smart woman who doesn’t seem interested in drama. While I LOVE reading about drama, I wouldn’t enjoy it happening to me, so I like that she mostly rolls with things, and then occasionally, when appropriate, says exactly what needs to be said, regardless of the ‘appropriateness’ of it from the perspective of many of these extremely rich families.

Like I said, I’m still enjoying these books. I read the last few pages of this one while on the bus to pick up the final one, and I started it as soon as I walked out of the book shop. I’ll go back to my dense non-fiction books next week, but for now I’m loving spending some time in this world.

Wednesday

25

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for: People looking for a comic look at the absurdity of obscene wealth.

In a nutshell: Nick is the kind of wealthy that never talks about money. His girlfriend Rachel doesn’t know it. He brings her home to Singapore to meet his family, and things get awkward.

Worth quoting:
“All her life she’d been treated like a hothouse flower, when in fact she was a wildflower that was never allowed to bloom fully.”
(I find this metaphor — or is it simile? — ridiculous because women =/= flowers, but I also weirdly like the imagery.)

Why I chose it:
The film’s trailer was released two days ago. I decided it was finally time to suck it up and pick it up (I’d been avoiding it for years because I don’t like the use of words like ‘crazy.’).

Review:
(some minor spoilers below)

After I finished the book I went back to read other Cannonball Read reviews. I’m intrigued by how many folks thought it wasn’t that great — I think maybe we viewed it through different lenses? I went into this knowing that I would find so much of it absurd, and I think the fact that the author is clearly both interested in pointing out the absurdity of many of these people AND is aware that lots of people like absurdly fancy shit (whether than can afford it or not) made it pretty easy for me to dive into this ridiculous world for awhile.

I loved the book. I devoured it. I enjoyed that Mr. Kwan was able to write chapters from multiple perspectives. (Seriously, that takes talent, to not just create many characters, but to take their point of view and have them really be different characters.) I liked that while some of the women were horrible, they weren’t all just one-dimensional materialistic harpies. There were very rich women that were appealing, and very rich women who … super weren’t. The men were also more complicated than just absent fathers or playboys. Nick, for example, seems to be a genuinely good guy, but his actions result in some pretty serious distress for quite a few people because he lacks some self-awareness. Astrid is obviously someone who has no real comprehension of how much money she has, but she’s also, to me, extremely likable in trying to lead a life that matches what her husband is comfortable with.

One of my favorite parts are the friendships between Colin and Nick and between Rachel and Piek Lin. Colin and Araminta pick Nick and Rachel up from the airport in Singapore is so … normal. These are people we will come to learn are essentially Singapore royalty, and they want to do the things friends do: welcome their friends to town and take them out. I also like that Rachel is pretty chill for most of the trip, and then when it makes sense, just sort of loses her shit. Not in a theatric way, but in the way many people do: she completely shuts down.

At the same time, I also like how unlikable so many of characters are. Nick’s mother Eleanor and her friends are obnoxious and kind of shitty parents. They can convince themselves they’re trying to do what is best for their kids, but they don’t really KNOW their kids at all. And Eddie … I’ve not wanted to smack a character so badly as I did here. What. An. Asshole.

I’ve seen some reviews that chastise Mr. Kwan for being so ostentatious in his descriptions of things like clothing and decor, but I feel it’s necessary. This isn’t the kind of rich I’m familiar with — these are definitely not the Kardashians. These are next-level rich, and I think that’s fascinating. It’s not the only thing I want to read about in life because it’s not realistic, but then neither is the world of Game of Thrones. If the only books available were books like this, that would be a problem (I want novels about people who aren’t absurdly rich), but I think Mr. Kwan does a great job with this one. I’m interested in the characters, and I’m putting off starting the next book until tomorrow because it’s late and I know I’ll just stay up reading it.