CB Book # 6 Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin

A few of my friends thought it was odd for me to read Going Rogue: An American Life and my boyfriend was even a bit upset with me for “supporting” her and her message by renting it from the library. No, I didn’t pick up Sarah Palin’s memoir because I suddenly became a different person. I’ve always been curious by the thoughts of people with whom I starkly disagree. I’m not so much curious about Sarah Palin as I am curious as to why people are curious about her. She’s much loved by conservative moms everywhere who think they can relate to her. She’s much loved by the media because she is so easy to pick on, having a personality that’s almost cartoonish in nature. But politically, is she all that important?  She just doesn’t seem that impressive a politician to me. Of course, Palin makes it a point not to look like a typical politician. She makes it a strong point. If there is anything I took away from Sarah Palin’s memoir, it’s that doubt her sincerity more than I had before.

Sarah Palin’s memoir can be split into two parts that are entirely different in tone and language. There is the first half that deals with her life before the McCain-Palin campaign and the second half about her life during and shortly after the campaign. The first half is plagued by Palin’s well known colloquialisms. I don’t know how much of this book was written by Palin or a ghost writer, but you can hear her voice in the words. The problem with all the idioms and simple language isn’t that it makes her sound dumb. Sarah Palin is not dumb; she’s just not an intellectual. There is a difference. The problem with the language was that it was annoying. Plus, I didn’t always understand all of her idioms and she didn’t bother to explain. (She does explain the word “mandate,” though.) When she does use “big words” she seems apologetic about it. I’ve never known anyone to try so hard to seem unpretentious. She isn’t even that successful. After bringing up the kitchen table so many times, she just sounds insincere. Besides, you can be unpretentious and still be arrogant and self-righteous. It was frustrating reading about someone who thought so highly of their own ideals. The words “common sense” must have been on every other page. I really think Sarah Palin believes that every idea she has in life is “common sense” and if anyone differs, they’re the weird one. A typical section reads that she once made some policy or other and while criticized for it later, she knew that she did the right thing. I kind of wanted to send her off to a distant and very different culture than hers so that she could learn that people can have different ideals and values and not be wrong, that her way isn’t always, necessarily, the right way.

The first half also has a lot of Alaska imagery and facts peppered throughout. I should mention that I lived in Anchorage from January 2005 until April of 2008, so I greatly appreciated the Alaska imagery. This means I also lived in Anchorage during Palin’s election as governor. I will never say that Sarah Palin was a bad governor for Alaska. (although her claims of being a tiny unknown grassroots candidate that miraculously won over the big guys is a bit ridiculous) Palin’s personality and ideas are very typical for Alaska. Alaskans are very independent. In a lot of ways, Alaska really is the last frontier. You can tell by the language Alaskans use for the rest of the country. They use terms like “the lower 48″ or “the outside.” I remember walking through one of the malls in Anchorage and I saw this man arguing with the security guards about his gun. “Why can’t I be here with my gun? It’s my right to be able to have my gun!” Obviously, this guy doesn’t represent the entire state–he’s kind of an extreme example of someone who doesn’t like the idea of the government being any kind of authority. Alaska’s ideals and needs are very specific to Alaska. Therefore, Alaskan politics are not always the same as national politics. Palin constantly says that she is on the people’s side, but she doesn’t seem to understand that the nation holds a lot of different sides to be on. It was alright reading about her life, but whenever she would bring up politics in that first half, she just came off as naive and self-righteous.

Despite the fact that Palin largely dropped the Palinisms in the second half of the memoir, after getting a few pages in, I found myself missing the first half. It was over two hundred pages of complaining. Now, I understand that maybe the media was pretty harsh towards Palin and her family. The media has a tendency to pretty evil now and again. But Palin went beyond just being ticked at the bad press she got during the presidential campaign. I’m talking all out self pitying victim hood here. Somehow, she seemed to know every single mean thing anyone in the world ever said about her EVER and she needed to mention all of it. Palin had someone to blame every time she looked less than awesome in front of the world. She is especially unhappy with Katie Couric. Poor Katie Couric. She didn’t do anything wrong. I watched those interviews. Ms. Couric wasn’t condescending or badgering as Palin insists. Palin was asked pretty straight forward questions and if she choked, she only has herself to blame. Palin went on and on about those interviews and about how it was all Couric’s fault. Couric apparently personally edited the interviews to make Palin look bad. Ugh. She was also pretty vindictive of the McCain campaign staffers. She blamed the senior staffers of being controlling and mean and of cussing in front of her young children. I know that a lot of people have come out and said that this is all pure fiction, but I couldn’t tell you who is telling the truth. It’s all hearsay, really. I’m sure the campaign was genuinely a tough time in her life and I would have loved to have heard about it in a less self-serving sort of way. I mean, reading about a presidential campaign could have been really interesting, but instead she made it to be whiny.

Sarah Palin did inject some politics in there at the end. It was the only part where she sounded like the politician she probably actually is. I still don’t agree with Sarah Palin politically or philosophically. I’m not even sure I have any more insight into her as a person after reading her memoir. It just seemed a bit insincere. Not all of it. There were parts where I felt like I was hearing from Sarah Palin, the human, but not most of it. Most of the memoir sounded like she was trying to sell this every day, hockey mom vision of herself. To what end, I’m not sure. I suppose, we’ll just have to wait and see.

CB Book #5 Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

“Life is like a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” Albert Einstein wrote this in a letter to his younger son, Eduard. Einstein was known for these sorts of witty comments. He also had a talent for finding simplicity in a complex universe. When his son asked why he was famous, he answered, “When a beetle walks along a branch, he doesn’t notice when it curves. I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle did not.” Einstein’s faith that the answer to the universe’s complex problems were simple ones is what drove Einstein throughout his life. He referred to this faith in physics as religious in nature. Physics was his passion and his sanctuary from the painfully personal. However, Albert Einstein was a whole human. He had love and pain, flaws, and also strengths. Humans are complex and there usually isn’t a simple explanation. Walter Isaacson seems to understand this. Einstein: His Life and Universe isn’t about Einstein the genius or Einstein the celebrity; it’s about Einstein the person.

I should mention that on the surface, this book shouldn’t have interested me. I have never taken a physics class—not even in high school. Although, as a weather forecaster, I deal with it a little bit. That’s not to say that physics is uninteresting to me—I just don’t understand it. Before the Air Force put me in a crash course on meteorology, I didn’t think science and I would ever have a working relationship. Also, as much as I want to, I rarely finish a non-fiction book. I like the idea of non-fiction as I love learning new things, but I have a serious commitment issue with them. Halfway through, my eyes will wander over to the nearest fiction novel and that will be the end of it. Neither of these facts stopped me from devouring Isaacson’s 550 page book.

Albert Einstein was born and raised in Germany. Never a fan of Germany’s nationalistic and authoritarian culture of the time, he renounced his citizenship as soon as he could. His post high school education was spent at Zurich Polytechnic Institute in Switzerland. There’s a famous rumor that Einstein failed math. This rumor was established during Einstein’s life and even though he refuted it, this rumor persists even today. While Einstein was actually very good at math, he didn’t always appreciate it or feel it was important compared to his studies of physics. Therefore, he didn’t always think it was necessary to attend class. This fact didn’t help him to make friends with his professors. It also didn’t help that Einstein was strongly antiauthoritarian, especially in his younger years. So when none of his professors would recommend him during his job search, Einstein became the only person who graduated in his class who could not find a job teaching. He couldn’t even get a full time job teaching at a high school. This is how history churned out another of her great ironies. The man who managed to rock the world of physics and change the way we look at the universe did so while working at a patent office. The year Einstein wrote The Special Relativity Theory is known as his miracle year. This is the year that gave us one of the world’s most easily recognizable equations, E=MC2 (the implications of which gave rise to the idea of the atom bomb).

Einstein’s interesting life didn’t end the year he wrote his relativity theory. He continued to influence the physics world with his General Relativity Theory and then by constantly testing the new-fangled idea of quantum mechanics. He influenced the world in some political ways too. After WWI, he fought for passivism. After WWII made him a refugee for being Jewish, he fought for a supranational entity to govern so that nationalism could be suppressed when necessary. He was even offered the presidency of Israel.

Isaacson goes through all of this. He also delves into Einstein personal life quite a bit. The biography is loosely written in chronological order, making it story-like, but the chapters are dedicated to an aspect of his life instead of strictly covering an amount of years. Einstein’s physics is heavily peppered throughout the book. I was actually kind of glad that I read this book without knowing any physics. I felt like I was making the discoveries right along with Einstein. Isaacson knew his science and he had a lot of help from the professionals, so it was written well enough that I was able to understand all of it. Since, it’s also been a long time since I’ve had a class on post 19th century world history, this biography served as a lesson in physics and history for me.

Altogether, Walter Isaacson is a genuinely good writer. This biography was never boring. While it was long, it never felt long. It was obvious that Isaacson likes Einstein a lot, but he tried to be objective and didn’t gloss over his faults in character. Reading the biography was a bit like taking a long walk with someone as they told their life story. For the entire time I was reading it, I couldn’t get through a conversation with anyone without bringing up Einstein. (Just ask my annoyed friends.) Getting to the end of the book was like saying goodbye. It was a nice walk and I was a little sad to see it end. I’ll never look at the universe the same.

CB Book #4 Path of Daggers

Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

Note: It’s hard to talk about a book in the middle of a series without some spoilers. I tried hard to not get into details, but I want to put up my sign anyway just in case. So… SPOILERS

Of all the Wheel of Time books, Path of Daggers was definitely the quickest read. Part of the reason was it was the shortest—but only part. Another reason was the way the book was set up. The previous books were set up so a huge chunk of the novel would be centered on one character and then another huge chunk would be about another character. The fact that the PoD goes from character to character every few chapter made the book seem faster paced. It also felt more logically set up and less…wandering. It’s hard to read a book when you’re not sure it’s going anywhere.

There were two major themes that I noticed in Robert Jordan’s Path of Daggers. (PoD from here on) The first theme deals with Rand’s childish arrogance. According to car insurance companies, it’s normal for men in their early twenties to feel a small sense of invincibility. I suppose if you’re a male in your early twenties AND the Dragon Reborn, Lord of the Morning, feared savior and destroyer of your world, then you have slightly more reason to feel powerful. But after the hearing for the umpteenth time, “I’m the Dragon Reborn; I do what I want,” I wanted to slap Rand. Thank goodness for Cadsuane coming along and treating Rand like the simpering child he is. Oh and on an related note—can anyone tell me why THREE women are attracted to this brooding, half-crazy, tantrum throwing, paranoid twat!? GRR. Anyway, Rand’s arrogance is fully addressed in PoD. I’m hoping the hard lessons he received after the situation he got himself into blew up in his face sticks with him for good.

The second theme throughout PoD is watching the Aes Sedai start to stumble. From the beginning of the series, Aes Sedai have been presented as the most powerful society of people in the world. The Aes Sedai basically rule the world. They have power literally via the One Power, but they have also held power over the people through seemingly unnatural calm and secrecy. Aes Sedai are feared by everyone from the farmer to the king. Unfortunately, after hundreds of years of holding the world under their thumb, it seems the Aes Sedai have developed tunnel vision. So often, we hear an Aes Sedai assume that if she hadn’t heard of something, it can’t exist. But the world is changing and this near-sightedness is biting them in the ass. The Knitting Circle (a group of over a thousand White Tower drop-outs) are starting to transition from revering to resenting the Aes Sedai. This sentiment echoes one that the reader should have already been developing. It will be interesting to see if the Aes Sedai will be able to pick themselves up and pull themselves together in time for Tarmon Gai’don.

PoD is still an episode in a larger story, but at least the larger story moves forward. The crazy weather sub-plot finally goes somewhere. Rand’s growing arrogance comes to a head. Elayne and Nyneave get out of Ebou Dar. Perrin’s voice is heard again. (Although, unfortunately, Mat’s is not) Morgase’s story moves forward after several books that saw her playing chess with Pedron Niall. And while the Atha’an Miere turn out to be a pain in everyone’s ass, at least they’re doing more than sitting in their boats waiting. This book is a definite departure from the previous two installments which seemed to meander aimlessly. Maybe Robert Jordan had writer’s block with the previous two and lost his place in the greater story before finding it again in time for PoD.  I don’t mind the scope of Wheel of Time or the ridiculous amounts of characters. All that I wanted was to feel like I was reading a story again. So, it turns out that when I’m not reading about a bunch of people standing around waiting, I can really love the world of Wheel of Time.

CB Book #3 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I’m not gonna lie. I kind of loved this book.  I know a lot of people don’t take stock in self help books. With books out there like The Secret, I can see why not. The 7 Habits isn’t The Secret. It’s a much more mature book and actually helpful. The great thing about the seven habits is that most of them aren’t about effort so much as just having a different perspective on things. The book is about realizing that while you don’t have the power to change the way your boss is treating your workplace, that doesn’t mean you have to let your boss control your life. You always have the freedom to choose your response.

Some of the skills covered were listening skills, making life goals, time management, and some other miscellaneous leadership skills. Never once was Covey condescending in his writing. Often he offered his own examples at failure as examples. He writes as if he’s talking to you in a leadership class. For normal people, this would probably sound dull, but I like taking leadership courses.  I will say that Covey is highly idealistic. I’m sure you’ve met those people who truly believes that everyone is basically good and that if you treat everyone nicely, they’ll treat you nicely back. Well, he’s one of those. However, he is never so idealistic that I don’t think he makes sense.

I the the reason, I appreciated the book so much was because I could relate to it in a few ways. Covey wrote the book to be applied in both your personal and professional life. The part of me that is a brand new NCO in the Air Force learned from it and the part of me that wants to finally stop fighting with her boyfriend learned from it. To say that mastering seven “habits” will make you a perfect person is ridiculous. The book isn’t about being perfect so much as just trying to continually be a better person. So, I’m hoping that the next time my boss is a dick, Stephen Covey will be my shoulder angel and I won’t choose to respond to said boss by decking him. :)

CB Book#2: Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich

                Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter. She’s not a very good one, but she’s tenacious. Ten Big Ones is the tenth in Janet Evanovich’s long running series about Stephanie Plum’s bounty hunting adventures. The usual cast of characters includes Lula, the ex-hooker turned file clerk. She files her nails more than paperwork. There is Grandma Mazur, Stephanie’s grandmother who packs heat and goes to wakes as a hobby. There is also Stephanie’s cousin, Vinnie the bail bonder who is rumored to have had a romantic relationship with a duck. Stephanie’s two love interests are Joe Morelli, the cop and Ranger, the general bad-ass. There are a handful of other silly side characters as well.

                In Ten Big Ones, Stephanie pisses off the local gang so they send a mercenary after her. She must hide from the mercenary while catching her FTA’s (failure to appears). One of the FTA’s is a dieting woman who stands up a Frito truck. To keep up her energy, Stephanie and Lula eat a dangerous amount of donuts. Seriously, she and several other characters have an unhealthy relationship with food.

                There’s a lot not to like about a Stephanie Plum book. If you’re looking for something remotely believable, don’t bother. This series is cartoonish at best. But there is a lot to like about Stephanie Plum too. She’s independent. She’s not the kind of woman whose ultimate goal is finding a man. Her hamster keeps her company just fine. In fact, her goals don’t usually extend much further than finding her next F.T.A. Besides that, Evanovich’s novels are quick and easy to read. They only take a day or two. They are also genuinely funny. True, they are simple books and very little depth or thought is involved, but sometimes books can just be for fun and Ten Big Ones is just for fun.

The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

A few years ago while I was living in Anchorage, AK, a good friend of mine found out that her favorite author would be speaking at the University of Alaska and she asked me to go with her. This author was Barbara Kingsolver. I had seen her name around the bookstore, but had never read any of her books. At the lecture, Kingsolver spoke a lot about environmentalism–buy locally grown food, stick with organic, pesticides are bad. This lecture can be heard throughout the entirety of The Prodigal Summer.

This novel takes place in Zebulon Valley, a valley in rural southern Appalachia. There are three separate stories centering around three separate people. The first character is Lusa. Lusa is an entomologist from Lexington, KY who after marrying a farmer moves to his farm in Zebulon Valley. Her husband unexpectedly dies one day, leaving her with the farm. While grieving her husband, Lusa has to get along in a community that she doesn’t quite fit into and figure out how to make a life on a farm.

The next character is Deanna Wolfe. Deanna is a forty-something woman who has basically exiled herself from the world of humans for the past two years. She lives and works in the national forest just outside of the valley. It’s here that she meets Eddie Bondo, a sheep herder from Wyoming who is traveling the country while hunting coyotes. Deanna just happened to write her Master’s thesis on why coyotes are the most awesomest animal ever and makes it her goal to get Eddie to agree. If Eddie has a reason behind his coyote-hate besides the fact that they eat sheep, we never hear it. This is a common theme with most of the side characters.

The third story is centered around Garnett Walker. Garnett is a cantankerous septuagenarian who believes the world ought to be a certain way. He also believes rock and roll is a fad that will die soon. He and his neighbor, an elderly woman named Nannie, butt heads constantly, but are probably each others’ best friend.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about The Prodigal Summer. Kingsolver is obviously a great writer. She presented a clear and precise picture of small town Appalachia. Her descriptions of the smells, sounds, and sights of Zebulon county were absolutely beautiful. There were times while reading the book that I felt like I was going on vacation there. The main characters were developed and interesting people. The stories, on the other hand, were not very interesting to me personally. Every story involves learning and teaching others about being better environmentalists. Don’t get me wrong, I think environmentalism is great, but sometimes I wanted to tell the characters, “Hey, you guys are great, really, but could you stop lecturing me and do something?”

Why I’m Here

Hello, World.

I started a book review blog so that I can participate in a reading challenge over at good ‘ol Pajiba. The challenge is to read 52 books in a year starting November 1st AND write a review for all of them. The truth is, as much as I read, I’m pretty slow at it–so I might not succeed, but no one is going to yell at me or give me an LOC for failing. I love reading, writing, and criticizing so I may as well try. Besides that, my best friend and I already have a mini-book club (which thus far exclusively covers the Wheel of Time series) so we’re really just consolidating our book club with Pajiba’s. Other reasons for joining in include improving my writing skills and keeping myself busy when my other half is deploys in April. (I tend to be a worrier)

So, here goes nothing. I guess my first step is to come up with some books to read. Wish me luck!

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