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Author Topic: 40 before 40
SenojRetep
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I turned 40 last week. For the past year I've been working through a list of ’40 before 40’; 40 books (actually 42; counting isn’t my strong suit) that I compiled when I turned 39 and hoped to read before I turned 40. I didn’t get to all of them, or even most, but it was nice not to have to perpetually wonder ‘what should I read next’. Here’s the complete list, along with my comments on those that I wholly or partially finished.
Nonfiction:
(Finished) American Prometheus: The Triumph and …
I loved this book. Oppenheimer is an incredibly complex character, and the book does an excellent job of putting him forward in all (or at least most) of his complexity. The personalities of all the characters are efficiently and effectively evinced. I found it extremely well-written and engaging.

(Finished) Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Excellent. I found myself referring to it over and over again in conversations. I’d previously read Complications by the same author and thought it was wonderful. I didn’t like this one quite as much; it felt less like a ‘solution’ than an examination of the problem. That said, the recommendations he does make, about having difficult, personal conversations, have already affected my behavior.

(Finished) Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt
I liked this book a lot. I thought the first several chapters were particularly good and engaging. The introductory chapter particularly spoke to me about the challenges of faith and doubt that seem to be common among myself and so many of my friends and acquaintances.

(Finished) The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
This was also very good. I particularly liked the description of Roosevelt’s romance with his first wife, Alice, perhaps because it occurred here in Cambridge/Boston. The book tends to the hagiographic, and Roosevelt’s jingoism (and particularly the author’s credulous and apologetic description of it) rankles given the current political climate. I came away with a greater appreciation for the man and the unique period of US history.

(Finished) Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn
Good. Very accessible, despite being rooted in complicated and somewhat esoteric principles of theoretical physics. The memoir elements of the story improved the book overall by giving the reader an entry into the story, although there were definitely times where I wished the author would talk less about herself, since I found the other characters more interesting. Warning: ample amounts of cursing

(Finished) Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum
I just finished this and am still unpacking it to some degree. I thought it was an amazing story about how Kennedy and Jessica built something wonderful. The story of hope and the impact individuals can have is wonderful. What degree it’s replicable, either for me as a reader or for us as a society, seems unclear. But definitely something worth striving for.

(Finished) Asia's Cauldron
I’ve enjoyed Robert Kaplan previously, and I enjoyed this as well. A nice mix of history and travel log and political exegesis. That said, I have a hard time recalling much of what I read. The book was easy to read, but it seems easy to forget as well.

(Finished) The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline
This was okay. Each individual story was interesting, but it was hard to draw any real conclusions about what it all adds up to. Part way through I realized that in different chapters, different (and opposing) principles were put forward as ‘good’. So it was good that Singapore had high salaries for civil servants, but it was also good that Botswana kept their’s very low; state-owned services are great in Brazil, but private-owned services are integral to the US energy revolution. The final chapter, in which Tepperman sings the praises of pragmatism, really resolved this for me; his intent isn’t to draw any conclusions, it’s just to put forward the stories. The problem is I don’t know that I trust the stories; he often papers over some of the darker elements (although he does acknowledge they exist), in an effort to provide confidence that people can solve real problems.

(Partially Finished) The Infinite Atonement (Hardcover)
I’m really enjoying this book by Tad Callister. I’m about 1/3 of the way through and have found lots of interesting insights into how we can better accept the healing offered by Christ’s atonement in our lives. I think the “Planted” book was good at explaining and discussing doubts; but when I read this book, I feel my doubts resolved.

(Partially Finished) Power, Faith, and Fantasy
This is an interesting book, but not the most engaging. And it’s long (600+). I got through the first section which discussed the period of engagement between the US and the Middle East/North Africa during the period immediately after US independence (essentially the Barbary Wars). It was well-written and readable enough, but I found myself losing steam and finding it difficult to want to read more. After 9 weeks, I returned it to the library only 20% read, although I may try again at a later date.

(Partially Finished) New Ideas from Dead Economists
I’m just starting this book (just finished the chapter on Adam Smith), but I’m enjoying it. It’s light, and probably a bit simplistic, but so far it’s a good read.

(Partially Finished) The Parties Versus the People*
I abandoned this after about twenty pages. I’m somewhat sympathetic to the message (although I think it’s better to solve the partisan problems we have within the party construct), but the author’s voice just came off a gratingly self-righteous to me.

(Partially Finished) Why Government Fails So Often*
This was impenetrable. I don’t think I made it through even 10 pages. Again, I’m not an unsympathetic audience, but I just found it so dry as to be unreadable.

(Still Pending) The Looming Tower
(Still Pending) Public Enemies (Rise of FBI)
(Still Pending) Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River
(Still Pending) The Continuous Atonement (Hardcover)
(Still Pending) Letters to a Young Mormon
(Still Pending) Hillbilly Elegy
(Still Pending) Churchill: A life
(Still Pending) Science: A Four Thousand Year History
(Still Pending) How We Compete

Fiction:
(Finished) The City and the City
This was my favorite book that I read this year. The weird conceit (which I won’t go into, because part of the fun is having it slowly revealed) seemed totally unworkable to me at first. But by the end it was fully realized and very compelling. The characters were all great, the mystery elements were interesting, and the setting and descriptions were phenomenal. Highly recommended. Warning: language.

(Finished) Parable of the Sower
This is the first novel by Octavia Butler that I’ve read. It was really good. A lot of emotional heft, very good pacing, realistic depictions of speculative scenarios. Less dark than The Road, and maybe less impactful for me, but very well-written.

(Finished) Pillars of Earth
Very readable, 1000+ pages flew by in a matter of a few weeks. I would say the ‘story’ was good, but there isn’t really a singular story; Follett effectively entwines lots of individual stories in an arc that is very fun to read. That said, as with many ‘readable’ novels, I felt the characters were often a bit one-dimensional, and the resolutions were sometimes too pat. I could see this making a great miniseries adaptation, very visual and visceral, but doesn’t leave you with a lot to think about afterward. Warning: plenty of violence, sex, and language. Had I known how much there was beforehand I personally wouldn’t have chosen to read it.

(Finished) All the Light We Cannot See
I enjoyed all the parts of this book, sometimes very much. I was particularly drawn to Werner’s story, and how one can stumble through a sense of self-preservation, into situations you feel powerless to control. At times, the book felt a little manufactured, in terms of everything being positioned so carefully; it could feel a bit stiflingly perfect at times. But really it was excellent and I would recommend it to anyone.

(Finished) Let Me Die in His Footsteps
I enjoyed this book, although it doesn’t really stick with me. There’s a certain darkness, with lots of interesting family and community dynamics. I liked the mother/daughter mirroring, the different personalities, and how the mystery slowly unwound itself. I didn’t find it as gripping as other mysteries I’ve read, but I did like it very much.

(Finished) It’s Kind of a Funny Story
This was good, but not great. It felt very honest, and relateable, and it’s short enough that it can be read in just a few sittings. I thought the growth the main character experienced was well justified, but also realistic. I didn’t have a lot of connection points with the story, not growing up with the same background or challenges as the main character, but I still felt by the end that I’d learned something about both myself and life in general.

(Finished) Ordinary Grace
Another good but not great book. Even though I read it fairly recently, I had to look up its Amazon description to remind myself of even the broad subject. I’m always a sucker for stories about fathers struggling to do what’s right in a sometimes capricious and vengeful world, but maybe because I’ve read too many of those sorts of stories, this one didn’t have the impact it could have.

(Finished) Sunshine (Robin McKinley)
I didn’t know what to expect from this book, knowing nothing but the title and the author (whose other YA books I’ve very much enjoyed). The opening chapter was appropriately jarring, as I set myself up to have one kind of experience, and then had it shift suddenly under my feet. But after that I felt like it was somewhat generic. It had the trademark fierce female protagonist of McKinley’s other books, but in this case I felt like both her foil, and the story lacked much immediacy.

(Finished) Still Life (Louise Penny)
This wasn’t a bad book, but I don’t think I’ll read anything else in the series. Perhaps it’s the cultural gap between 1970s French-Canada where it was written and set, and modern day New England, but the issues just didn’t feel very potent for me. And the mystery wasn’t great, nor did I feel it was resolved in a very appealing manner (a bit too gimmicky, IMO).

(Partially Finished) Foundation
I got three chapters into this before I realized I’d read it a few years ago and forgotten. It had been on my ‘must read’ list for so long, that I guess I never mentally removed it. That said, if it had hit me as hard as I expected it to (given its stature as a SciFi classic), I doubt I would have forgotten it so quickly. Personally, while it might have been revolutionary at the time it was written, I didn’t feel it as strongly as others have. There are definitely others from that time and genre (Left Hand of Darkness jumps to mind) that stuck with me much more.

(Partially Finished) Here Be Dragons
I barely started this before I had to return it to the library. It was long, and it seemed like always the third book I was reading. And after about fifteen pages I realized I’d tried (and failed) to read it once before. I may yet try again, because it’s still an era I’m interested in, and it seems like a good book. But this wasn’t the right time, I guess.

(Partially Finished) Ready Player One*
I got about a third into this one before I abandoned it. It wasn’t that it was bad, but I had the same issue as I had with Cryptonomicon. The author got in the way of his story, because he was so excited to use his characters to explore his particular hang-ups. Maybe I am just skeptical of techno-genius protagonists who ‘know better’ than everyone else. I just find them insufferable.

(Still Pending) The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)
(Still Pending) The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
(Still Pending) The Way of Shadows (Night Angel, #1)
(Still Pending) The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)
(Still Pending) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
(Still Pending) Light Between the Oceans
(Still Pending) The Sympathizer
(Still Pending) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Sean Monahan
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(Finished) The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
I have had this on my bookshelf for years, but have not read it yet.

(Still Pending) The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)
Great one, but I have yet to read the others.

(Still Pending) The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
Will this be your first Sanderson book?

Also: Oh, how I fondly remember 40.

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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by Sean Monahan:
(Still Pending) The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
Will this be your first Sanderson book?

No, I've read several of his before (Wheel of Time, Elantris, Way of Kings/Words of Radiance), but none of the Mistborn books. I haven't loved any of them, but they've all been pretty good. Impressively consistent.
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theamazeeaz
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I've read these:

Hillbilly Elegy
The author's personal politics that bubble up to the surface from time to time (he name drops the Tiger Mom and Peter Thiel later in the book) were fascinating (and also ironic because it was the government that ultimately turned his life around). I disagree with OSC's take on it in some cases. I think the parts that spoke to me was having family members that grew up in abusive situations, and how some got out and some didn't, and what baggage that comes with.


Here Be Dragons - Sharon Kay Penman, right? Unless there is another book with this title. This was required summer reading for freshman high school history class. Got quite the sex ed. I think I would have liked this book if I'd read it as an adult, and yeah, it's probably a great introduction to John I's reign in a way that isn't dry.


Ready Player One - Someone called this Twilight for Boys, and yeah, that's probably true. I whizzed through it, enjoying the characters and the ride. I was much too young for the references. To me, 80s video games start with the NES.


Light Between the Oceans - Interesting book. If you read the book blurb, you know the premise, and it promises it will trick you into a gray area. Eh. I was rooting against the wife the entire time, though I get that infertility makes people crazy.


The Sympathizer - Forgotten a lot of this, except the end. Good though, and from a perspective you don't often see.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children - Interesting premise. Typical with a lot of fantasy type books, I get confused with the big bad and what's really going on with all the action sequences. I was keen to read the sequel when I finished, but now that times has gone by, I might not get to them.

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theamazeeaz
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I should add that of your list, I want to read The City and the City and Being Mortal.
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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by theamazeeaz:
I've read these:

Hillbilly Elegy
The author's personal politics that bubble up to the surface from time to time (he name drops the Tiger Mom and Peter Thiel later in the book) were fascinating (and also ironic because it was the government that ultimately turned his life around). I disagree with OSC's take on it in some cases. I think the parts that spoke to me was having family members that grew up in abusive situations, and how some got out and some didn't, and what baggage that comes with.


Here Be Dragons - Sharon Kay Penman, right? Unless there is another book with this title. This was required summer reading for freshman high school history class. Got quite the sex ed. I think I would have liked this book if I'd read it as an adult, and yeah, it's probably a great introduction to John I's reign in a way that isn't dry.


Ready Player One - Someone called this Twilight for Boys, and yeah, that's probably true. I whizzed through it, enjoying the characters and the ride. I was much too young for the references. To me, 80s video games start with the NES.


Light Between the Oceans - Interesting book. If you read the book blurb, you know the premise, and it promises it will trick you into a gray area. Eh. I was rooting against the wife the entire time, though I get that infertility makes people crazy.


The Sympathizer - Forgotten a lot of this, except the end. Good though, and from a perspective you don't often see.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children - Interesting premise. Typical with a lot of fantasy type books, I get confused with the big bad and what's really going on with all the action sequences. I was keen to read the sequel when I finished, but now that times has gone by, I might not get to them.

I've seen the movies of both Miss Peregrine's and Light Between the Oceans, so I know somewhat to expect from them.

Hillbilly Elegy was near the top of my interest list, but it was always in high demand at the library. It'll certainly be one of the holdovers into my next round (41 for 41).

I'll probably give Here Be Dragons (yes, Sharon Kay Penman) one more time. I'm broadly interested in the conquest of Wales, Owen Glyndower and all that; I know very little about it, and this seems like pretty accessible historical fiction from that time. That said, if anyone has other options, I'd certainly entertain them (particularly since I've tried this twice now and it hasn't taken either time).

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