November Book Review: Freakonomics, Character and Foodie Memoir

Welcome to the November book review! At the end of each month, I review the books I’ve read. Enjoy!

This month, I’m rolling over a few of the goodies from October, because I stumbled into a treasure trove of reading wealth in the early fall. Unfortunately, I did not have the same luck in November. At the end of the post, I’ll list the books that I started with high hopes, but did not manage to finish. They weren’t for me, but one reader’s trash is another’s treasure, so I’m listing them anyway.

The Book: When To Rob A Bank… And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

The Category: Nonfiction

In Three Words: Highbrow clip show.

Biggest Takeaway: The wide variety of subjects and trademark unique perspectives were interesting, as was the commentary on each clip taken from the New York Times and Freakonomics blog archives. But what I liked best was the perpetual use of the word “We.” After more than a decade of working together, Levitt and Dubner are one of my favorite pairs of pals in book history.


The Book: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

The Category: Memoir

In Three Words: Funny, snarky, smart. 

Biggest Takeaway: I was underwhelmed by Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? so I almost gave this one a pass too. But I listened to it on Audible (I audiated it!) and that made a huge difference. I laughed a lot harder and more often, hearing lines delivered with Kaling’s personal pitch and timing. From now on, I’m listening to all comedy memoirs read by the author.

Also, I now really want to watch The Mindy Project on Hulu. 

The Book: The Road to Character by David Brooks

The Category: Nonfiction

In Three Words: Historical personality perspective.

Biggest Takeaway: This was one of “those” life-changing books (and also gave me some great character ideas for my historical novel). But most of the life-changing happened in the first few chapters; I started skimming some of the biographies toward the back, feeling as though the point had already been made.

In essence, the way we approach character in 2015 (if we approach it at all) is different from the valued personality traits of past decades. Some of my favorite quotes from the book explain it best:

“You don’t ask, “What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?”

“Moderation is not just finding the mid-point between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there. Neither is moderation bland equanimity… On the contrary, moderation is based on an awareness of the inevitability of conflict…. Moderation is based on the idea that things do not fit neatly together.”

The Book: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

The Category: Foodie memoir.

In Three Words: Incognito food critic.

Biggest Takeaway: Maybe I’m naive, but I had no idea the restaurant rating business was so cutthroat. My favorite descriptions were of the best restaurants of the 1990s and how they treated the honored guests vs. the hoi polloi. I think Reichl intended the story to be about the disguises she wore to restaurants so as to get the outsider’s opinion; she changed her personality as well as her physical appearance. But the true heart of the story is how the business changed her from food critic to food lover, from the most important critic in the world to someone who quit the “best” job she ever had.

The Book: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The Category: Writing and creative self-improvement

In Three Words: Resistance and Faith.

Biggest Takeaway: This book is considered to be one of the definitive tomes on writing and creativity, so I had high expectations. As I read through the first part, on Resistance and all the forms it takes, I kept thinking, “Why am I reading this? It’s so obvious.” I almost abandoned it. But then I got to the sections on Faith, and that was where all the gems lay for me. Lesson learned: if everyone in your world says you have to read something, finish it.

Abandoned Books (R.I.P.): Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams; Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter; Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen.

As I reach the end of this list, I notice that there are no novels on it. No wonder I’ve had such a dry reading month! Luckily, I’m reading two right now that are fantastic; they’ll be good shares for December.

What have you been reading lately? 

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