An Open Book: What I Read in July

I did some mental math the other day and realized that it will be nearly impossible to read all the books I want to read in my lifetime. It got me thinking about the importance of being a discerning reader — and about being more thoughtful about where I invest my time.

I can’t imagine it would be healthy to think about life in terms of the amount of time we have left to live. But I also think there’s something to be said about being mindful of the fact that we’re not immortal.

You have 24 hours to live today: What social media will you scroll through? Who will you interact with? What will you read?

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book is quirky and surprising in all the right places. I love that it’s a collection of texts that coalesce to tell the story of Bernadette, a MacArthur Genius and derailed creative architect, who has been grossly misunderstood. Fun to read aloud as we kept wondering where the story was going.

You Are What You Read by Jodie Jackson (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: Yes, yes, and more yes to all Jackson posits in this book about needing less negativity and bad news (helplessness) and more robust storytelling and solutions (hopefulness) in the media we consume. As an advocate of solutions-focused journalism, reading this book confirmed what I already knew to be true, but Jackson puts facts and research behind her assertions and presents them in a readable and convincing manner. I read with a pencil at the ready, making notes and underlining key passages to revisit in my own work.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: When I’m reading, I often think about how “authentic” a character is depicted based on action and dialogue. The main character in Leaving the Atocha Station, a neurotic 20-something American living in Madrid, pushes authenticity to a whole new level, honestly admitting to saying and doing things a certain way to elicit certain reactions from others. So clearly writing about what we all do in real life (whether we realize it or not) is jarring yet refreshingly raw in a way rarely conveyed in literature.

Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation by Dean Jobb (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: I’m a sucker for well-written books about compelling but little-known real-life stories or topics. This one — about a man in the 1920s who convinced dozens of wealthy people to invest the equivalent of millions of dollars today in real estate and businesses that didn’t exist — should have been a page turner. Maybe it was the tangle of characters or the complexity of tangential story lines, but this one didn’t grab my attention; quite frankly, all of the greedy people who lost their life savings got what they deserved.

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Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book is a must-read for anyone working with or interested in climate change and environmental solutions. It is dense, comprehensive, dry at times, and more of a reference book than anything else but incredibly thorough, packed with data, and leaves no stone overturned when it comes to addressing each and every possible solution to address global warming. There’s nothing cushy or “easy” about reading this book, but it is so important, and it should be in the hands of every policymaker, government official, scientist, environmentalist, and journalist. Updates and more information can be found on the Project Drawdown website.

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book was like the late-night conversation you have with a good friend while drinking a bottle of wine. I laughed, I cringed, I felt guilty, I was educated — and I am a better person for all of this. Society doesn’t deserve someone as unapologetically honest and willing to put up with its ongoing BS. Thank you, Jacob.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This book started off a bit slow in order to build its foundation, but once it took off, I was hooked. Part mystery, part adventure story, part romance, and 110% captivating, State of Wonder follows Dr. Marina Singh as she travels to the Amazon to track down an elusive researcher, Dr. Annick Swenson, for information about their deceased colleague and Dr. Swenson’s pharmaceutical research. What I love most about this story is that it’s not only entertaining but also teases lots of issues that make for interesting discussion topics.

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