The Martian, by Andy Weir
All the four-star Amazon reviews are warranted ... this was book was a complete blast. It may not resonate very well with most of the population, but for a hard science geek like me (and many others) it's a great big Tournament Of Roses Parade of puzzles, dilemmas, experiments, and solutions, one after the other, marching happily on for hours, start to finish. I loved it! Even though the hero was obviously put through hell and it eventually became absurdly unrealistic that he would survive or find solutions, I wanted the book to spontaneously grow another 200 pages just so I could keep basking in that feeling of facing a difficult - but somehow solveable - SOMEHOW! - engineering problem.
It was also refreshing to see that the author knew exactly when to end the story. He saw the exact moment when the bottom would suddenly plummet out of the narrative, and went barely a paragraph farther than that.
8.5 out of 10 crushed faceplates up!
America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren't, by Stephen Colbert (and his staff writers)
This book is a retread of the comedy style in his last book. Good on audio for chores or waiting in line, but not much else. Only the last chapter, where Stephen acts drunk for the whole thing, has real comedic energy to it. You might picture it as a coffee-table paperweight or as bathroom reading - something to leaf through when you're bored - but I recommend instead you go back in time almost 30 years by grabbing a copy of Science Made Stupid. The cover says it all!
4.5 out of 10 American lapel pins (made in China) up.
Inside The Kingdom, by Carmen Bin Laden
I'm not sure why I picked this up, but I'm glad I did. I think I was curious about a culture that was very obviously radically different from mine, and I wanted to view it from the perspective of someone who was intimately entangled with it but still, at heart, "a westerner". Looking back, I'd say this book is my equivalent to "50 Shades Of Grey". A drama-filled first-person story about bondage and putting parts in parts would bore me, but a drama-filled first-person story about descending into an appalling misogynistic culture and then fighting one's way back out of it? Hell yes.
It was very interesting to hear the author work through her conflicting emotions towards her ex-husband. She simultaneously adored him and resented him, simultaneously pushed against his desire for orthodox behavior, and supported him and advised him in his business ventures. She encouraged him to pursue greater status and responsibility, and generally tried to inhabit a role she could feel pride in as a wife without running too far astray from his family's strict muslim traditions. In a way, she was taking the ambitions that were being denied to her and displacing them to her husband. That in itself seems tragic, but on the other hand, if that displacement took place in a society where it could be mutual - where a husband was encouraged to take just as much pride in the success and the self-actualization of his wife - well, that sounds like a pretty fantastic marriage. Married partners should be each others' advocates, and in some measure, share in each other's ambitions as well.
I like that dynamic. I like the idea of being with someone who is going to push back.
But I digress. Carmen Bin Laden's story ended in divorce, healthy dynamic or no. She naïvely traipsed into the middle of a family with an entrenched culture that would never accept her. In fact, she simultaneously hungered for the acceptance and approval of the Bin Laden family while also feeling utterly repulsed by the pettiness, the ignorance, and the complete subjugation that the women appeared to embrace. It was a maelstrom of contradictions and it only grew worse when she had her own children, and it was only for their sake that she found the will to escape it.
Thought-provoking and certainly bound to create some interesting reading-group discussions. 7 out of 10 thieves' severed hands up.