Cowboys & Aliens by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Review: I hate to say this about any book, but this wasn’t good. Actually, it was much worse than I had expected. I saw the movie first, and while I didn’t love it, it was better than the book. What’s more, the stories are completely different, the only real connection is that, in both, there are cowboys and – wait for it –  aliens.

This wasn’t terrible, but the story is way too basic and nothing, not the characters, the setting or the events, gets explored in the slightest, which was a disappointment.

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Review: This book follows Mark-Alem, a young man from an aristocratic family in the Ottoman Empire, who, at the bid of his family, starts working in the Palace of Dreams. This is a place where the dreams of every person in the empire are collected, sorted and interpreted, in order to control the citizens and find the Master Dreams, the ones that give clues into the future of the Sultan and the Empire. The building is a nightmarish maze that engulfs Mark-Alem in despair, and his powerful family’s interests are frequently at odds with those of the Palace, so he fears that his life will eventually be touched by disaster.

The premise of this book is quite interesting, but I had problems getting into it because of everything else. I don’t know how much was lost in translation (this is an English translation from the French version – the original is in Albanian) but the writing style didn’t work for me. Mark-Alem’s disposition in the entire book went from very nervous to outright panic, and I couldn’t understand why. It felt like the book was telling me that he had reasons to feel terrified but wasn’t actually showing me the reasons.

I really liked the premise, and I usually like metaphors and political dystopias, but this one just didn’t work for me.

P.S. Even though I wasn’t crazy about this book, I do have an interesting back story about it. My friend André bought it in Cuba (of all places!) when we went there a couple of years ago, but only managed to read it on a journey to London. He lent it to me so I could read it on our trip to Scotland. So this is a very well traveled book!

Húmus by Raul Brandão

Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Review: “Húmus” is a monologue / diary about the emptiness of life, the misery of the human condition, and the grotesqueness of the hidden lives everyone leads.

This was the first book I read by Portuguese writer Raul Brandão. As a classic, it would have benefited from some kind of introduction or background – as it was, without a context, I had a harder time getting into it.

It was very well written, with a few beautiful passages, but I found it rather repetitive and self-pitying. Not really my cup of tea.

In Real Life: Six Women Photographers by Leslie Sills

Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Review: I bought this book while researching for an essay on women photographers, but after reading the parts about Dorothea Lange and Cindy Sherman (those included on my essay) I found this book to be too superficial for use in my work and didn’t read it until now. Well, after giving it a go, I found that my opinion hasn’t changed.

The photo reproductions aren’t great, the tone of the book is rather patronizing (I mean, who was it written for if the author has to explain what she means every time she mentions 35 mm?), and the biographies are so superficial that a quick internet search about each of the photographers would be more useful than reading this book.

I guess I just don’t understand the purpose of this book. If it was meant to educate people about women photographers, why choose only six? And why these six? The criteria for this choice is never explained. And why such a superficial look into their work?

Unfortunately I can’t recommend this.

Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland

Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Background: I was given this book by a friend on Christmas, and I started reading it soon afterwards, but unfortunately had to stop for a couple of months and just recently finished it. This is unfortunate, since I recall a lot of things I thought about the book while I was reading it, but didn’t mark any of the pages for quoting. Oh well.

Review: This book in a nutshell: humans can be very irrational at times.

I know. Common knowledge, right? However, the book goes on to try to explore, explain and offer solutions to the various forms of human irrationality, always relying on studies to back up the conclusions. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it just fell short of what it was trying to do.

Be warned. This book was written in 1992, and it shows. I noticed right away some very strange factual errors that, at times, by light of new evidence that has since been gathered, completely defeat the points being given by the author. I noticed this particularly with medical studies – having been in medical school myself I spotted the, at times, glaring mistakes, which didn’t impress me at all. I guess I was using one of the irrational thought processes he described – the “halo effect”, which when applied to this, means that when I saw that he was completely wrong in some thing he vehemently defended, it made me look at the rest of his book in a negative light. It probably means this review is tainted by irrationality as well. I’ll take my chances.

I wish I had marked the exact quotes to back up what I’m saying. I recall at least that at some point in the book he goes on and on about how doctors were wrong to think that blood cholesterol levels had anything to do with what you eat, because a study had proven they had no correlation. Yeah. This reminded me of all the smokers who will quote one study that says that smoking is not bad for you at all and has nothing to do with lung cancer. Let’s ignore the rest of the studies who say otherwise, then.

I also had a problem with the tone of this book. It was way too patronizing, and the author seemed to have personal vendettas against some members of society, namely feminists, members of the medical profession, and psychologists who do social experiments.

There were some positive aspects to it, and I found a few pearls of wisdom, but overall, the book was simply not worth it.

What’s Next: If anything, reading this book made me wish there was a better one on the subject that I could read.

Like I said in my last post, fiction is next on my list. I haven’t decided which book to read yet, but I definitely need a break from all the non-fiction. And after this book, if it’s irrational and the people in it don’t use statistics obsessively, even better.