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« March, 2015 »
Saving the World

Such mixed feelings about this. I am not great at reading books where there are alternate chapters with two different stories. In this case there was one “here and now” story about a woman in Vermont managing with her depression and life in a small town. In the other, the subject of her next book, a real life tale of a woman who goes abroad to help spread the smallpox vaccine in the “new world” in the very early 1800s. Both neat stories, their intermingling was a little difficult and, near the mid-end of the book, one of the characters you’ve grown to like gets killed in a senseless way which was a startling plot device. Want to read more about the smallpox story Not totally sure how I feel about picking up other books by Alvarez.

Struck by Genius

Continuing in the “people with weird head issues” theme, this is a book about Jason Padgett who received a terrible beating and became a different person. Specifically, a different person who was really good at math and drawing mathematical concepts. i had a hard time with this book only because I’ve known people with mental illnesses (not brought on by head trauma) that mirrored a lot of the claims that Padgett is making. I can see why he is considered a savant and it really does seem true that some of his claims about his increased math skills are true. it also seems that some of them are ... possibly delusional and I wasn’t relieved of this skepticism by reading the book. I’m happy that Padgett’s life has turned around a lot after the first horrible years as a virtual hermit after his injury. At the same time it was difficult to read about his other untreated issues such as his OCD and chronic pain troubles. A good book but difficult to read.

Plague Land

Continuing in the human misery trend. This is a novel about a mystery that takes place right after the plague came through Europe. I know that the 14th Century was probably a truly terrible time to be alive in a lot of ways but even so, no one in this book is happy. Every single person is miserable most of the time. Everything smells. People are sick and gross looking and treat each other horribly. I appreciated this book a lot as an attempt to be a faithful period piece, but really would have enjoyed it more if there had been ups and downs and not just one long trudge through these people’s unhappy lives.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

Got this off of the new table at the library. It’s a really good look at what it’s like to live with OCD by David Adam who is an experienced journalist. The book talks about his own struggles with the condition (he is constantly hypervigilant about HIV infection) as well as the history of the condition in popular and medical history at the same time. Really readable. I learned a lot.

Hetty Green The Witch of Wall Street

I’d known about Hetty Green all my life but got re-inspired to learn about her when I drove by the Hetty Green motel. I had not known she lived for a while in Bellows Falls and in fact when she died Vermont was the only state that saw any estate taxes from her despite the fact that she lived mostly in New Jersey and New York. Green was clearly mentally ill but also a really shrewd businesswoman. The two issues get mushed together because... everyone and everything was a bit nuttier then. Green was a huge mortgage-holder and this book (which is based a lot on court documents and newspaper articles) talks a lot about how she was a private money lender for hundreds of churches (often getting 6 or 7 % interest on these loans) and other business people. Really interesting book though written in the 30s so the language is a little flowery and at times hard to follow. Green comes across as unlikeable which is not that much of a surprise, but I learned to dislike her in new ways which was not what I was expecting.

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes

Sakey wrote Brilliance which I loved so I went through some of his other books. This one was ... fine? The plot seemed contrived in places and the characters made choices I would not have made. It starts from an interesting premise: amnesiac guy comes to on the beach with no clothes on, wants to know what his story is ... and then turns into a bit of a romp through whodunit stuff. Mostly in LA, with some “let’s tell this part of the plot as if it’s a screenplay” device which I didn’t like much. Enjoyed the outlines of the plot, less so the characters and some of the resolutions.