An Open Book: What I Read in November

Let’s talk about overrated books, shall we?

It seems to me that once a book gets mentioned by Oprah or stuck on a must-read list, it gets circulated as something that can’t be missed. And yet … I often find that over-hyped vibe leaves me lukewarm.

That’s how I felt reading Educated this month. The number of people I know who have read this book or want to read this book are enough to make any would-be author envious. I bought into the hype — even though I knew better — and was unsurprisingly disappointed.

As we near the end of the year and the oodles of to-read book lists that will undoubtedly make their way around, I’d like to know: What must-read books have left you feeling a little bit meh?

book reviews

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Short, simple, and to the point, Newport doesn’t mess around when it comes to offering suggestions on cutting technology out of your life. While some of his suggestions seem really extreme, I took notes on a few ideas that I hope to implement in my life in order to keep digital clutter to a minimum in the new year. The best thing about this book is that he very clearly laid out action items, which I appreciated.

The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This is an interesting collection of essays focused on sight problems and related neurological conditions. It made me realize that the ability to see is one of those things we probably take for granted until we can’t for some reason. Sacks is a neurologist who suffered from his own sight-related ailment, and I found the chapter chronicling his condition particularly compelling.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson (1/5 stars)

Three-line review: It’s a very rare day when I abandon a book, but this one definitely got tossed about 20% of the way in. My main problem was the length and rambling prose that bumps up against all sorts of unrelated topics — seriously, where was this guy’s editor? But then mid-way through rule #2 a not-so-subtle religious overtone dropped into the text, and that’s when I knew it was time to give up.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This is another fantastic book by Thomas told from the perspective of a black teenage girl as she attempts to follow her dream of becoming a rapper. I love that On the Come Up refers back to incidents that took place in The Hate U Give, so I felt grounded in the setting right away, though you don’t have to read one of these books in order to follow or appreciate the other one. Once again, Thomas has done readers a great service by writing an accessible, realistic story about a marginalized population.

Educated by Tara Westover (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: This wildly popular memoir is popular for a reason: It is equal parts gripping, horrific, and courageous. It is also well-written and has good pacing; Westover knows how to write a great book. I’m giving it three stars because we’ve been here before with the so-unbelievable-you’ll-eat-it-up memoirs. I’m just not sure this one adds much to that conversation.

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