Books Read in March 2016

I read seven books in March (one was an audiobook), which brings my 2016 total to 27.

These are the books I started reading in March but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.



1) Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, Randy Frost & Gail Steketee

Description: Frost and Steketee were the first to study hoarding; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls. Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies. They also illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, none of us is free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live.

Hoarding intrigues me because it’s so clearly the opposite of my personality. I also realize I wouldn’t be a good therapist for hoarders trying to change their ways — their process is way too slow (I’d want them to get started immediately, throw that out, you don’t need it, why are you keeping that, you’ll never look at that again…you get the idea) and many of them backslide.

With all the studies that have been done on hoarding, it makes me wonder if there have been any studies on minimalism (probably not, since hoarding possessions is considered a disorder, while getting rid of possessions is not). Unsurprisingly, reading about people collecting vast piles of junk made me want to go through my belongings and get rid of even more than I already have.


2) The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, Matt Baglio

Description: Father Gary Thomas was working as a parish priest in California when church leaders asked him to train in the rite of exorcism. In Rome, as an apprentice to a veteran Italian exorcist, his eyes were opened to a darker side of the Catholic faith, and he came to see the battle between good and evil as never before. Journalist Matt Baglio had full access to Father Gary over the course of his training, and the story he found reveals that the phenomena of possession, demons, the Devil, and exorcism are not merely a remnant of the archaic past, but remain a fearsome power in many people’s lives even today.

This wasn’t a subject I had advance interest in, but when I came across the book, the concept seemed interesting. Exorcist training and exorcisms are still happening around the world, although they tend to be concentrated in certain areas (they’re especially prevalent in Italy, for example). I wasn’t enthralled by this book, but I liked that it was written by a journalist, and it contained a fair amount of information I didn’t know before.

3) When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Paul Kalanithi

Description: At the age of 36, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. This book chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student, into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

I didn’t rate this book so low because of the subject matter (a very smart man is diagnosed with cancer and dies less than two years later). While he’s an admirable guy, I just wasn’t interested in reading about his life (childhood, medical training, living through his diagnosis). To me, the most moving part was the epilogue – written by his wife – where she recapped her husband’s final days and hours.

4) Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Description: Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

I wanted to be able to recommend this book because everyone else loves it. However, while I liked some of it, and found other parts poignant, I was bored by a lot of it and spent too much time re-reading sentences, attempting to figure out what he was trying to say. Unsurprisingly, my favorite part was when he obtained his first passport at age 37 and went to Paris.

5) Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World, Nicholas Guyatt

Description: Guyatt searches for the truth behind a startling statistic: 50 million Americans have come to believe that the apocalypse will take place in their lifetime. They’re convinced that any day now, Jesus will snatch up his followers and spirit them to heaven. The rest of us will be left behind to endure massive earthquakes, devastating wars, and the terrifying rise of the Antichrist. Bizarre, funny, and unsettling in equal measure, Guyatt uncovers the apocalyptic obsessions at the heart of the world’s only superpower.

Having grown up in a religious family (a way of life I later rejected), I’m all too aware of doomsday predictions and other scare tactics. Some parts of this book were hard to read because I recognize the language of Rapture prophecy and have bad memories. After all, having a preacher yell about how you’re destined to go to hell is a great way to ensure you adequately prepare yourself for the unknown. (Sarcasm.)

I wanted to like this more than I did, but it gets a little dense sometimes with biblical history; I preferred the parts where the author focused on his modern explorations and interviews. I also would’ve liked to hear more about everyday people who believe the Rapture is going to happen, instead of just well-known Doomsday dudes like John Hagee and Tim LaHaye. The author’s consensus: “It’s undeniable that Bible prophecy writers both feed upon and encourage anxieties about where we’re heading.”

I also liked this quote from the book: “Most of the prophecy enthusiasts I’ve spoken with have one big limitation: they haven’t successfully managed to predict anything, in spite of their claims that the Bible foretells the future.”

6) Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong, Susan Blumberg-Kason

Description: When Susan, a shy Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture, started graduate school in Hong Kong, she quickly fell for Cai, the Chinese man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, Susan thought she’d stumbled into an exotic fairy tale, until she realized Cai―and his culture―where not what she thought. In her memoir, Susan recounts her struggle to be the perfect traditional “Chinese” wife to her increasingly controlling and abusive husband.

This woman annoyed me because of what she put up with for way too long. She was cowed by her husband; afraid to speak up. She contracted an STD; he denied cheating on her and she accepted that answer. He was volatile, extremely unreasonable, and did pretty much whatever he wanted without her saying anything. She finally left him but not before the book started to seem unnecessarily long.

7) An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, Richard Dawkins

Description: A disarming account of world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’s early life, from his childhood in colonial East Africa to the writing of one of the twentieth century’s seminal works, The Selfish Gene.

The good: Dawkins has no problem making fun of himself; he shares embarrassing stories from his early life growing up in Africa, and later, British private schools. The bad: Once he enters grad school, there’s a lot of in-depth explanation of his studies and experiments, and how he arrived at the theories that led him to write The Selfish Gene. I enjoyed the first half of the book, but I found the latter half a bit too technical for my liking.

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  • Reply Jaclyn March 31, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Looks like a very productive reading month! I am interested in the hoarding study. I had a family member (who has since passed away) who was a hoarder, and every time I came home from visiting him I would start throwing things away. (Steve would be like, don’t throw that houseplant away, it’s alive! Haha.) I’m not as much of a minimalist as you are, but I’m getting a lot better at clearing out possessions that are no longer special or useful to me.

    Have you heard about Marie Kondo’s new book, Spark Joy? I heard it is more practical and less woo-woo thank The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m on the wait list for it at the library, so will let you know!

    • Reply Zandria April 4, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      That’s funny! (But also sad, of course.) I know a few people who are hoarders as well, although I’ve never been in their homes — just heard it through the grapevine, or from people who have visited.

      I did hear about Kondo’s new book. I heard it was more practical as well; just not sure if I need it since I’m already so keen to get rid of everything. Ha! But yes, let me know how you like it!

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