What I Read: Summer 2014, part one

It’s time, once again, for a recap of everything I read last season. Summer is a great time for me, in terms of reading, because I love, love, love to spend time in my hammock swing with a book and a glass of lemonade. I didn’t get to read quite as much as usual this fall, due to constantly needing to study for Economics. I did manage a little over a dozen books, though, and I’ll share those with you over the course of the next three What I Read posts. Let me know in the comments if you read anything interesting over the summer- I’m always looking for titles to add to my wait list!
Moneyball
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
Full disclosure: Moneyball was the assigned reading for my grad program over the summer. In the event that you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a brief synopsis: Billy Beane was the manager of the Oakland A’s, and had no money to draft the players that everyone else wanted to draft. So he brought in a statistician who worked out some algorithms to measure the effectiveness of a player and how they contributed to a win, and suggested that recruiters were focusing on the wrong things when chosing who to draft. Beane builds a successful team and everyone is left scratching their heads. Although I care very little for baseball and even less for their statistics, I was able to take away the lesson of measuring the wrong data for the task at hand. At the end of this book, I was left thinking about how we can choose the right data to get at the information we want; for example, using test scores as a measure of teacher performance is ridiculous- all those results show is how well a student performs on a given test. What other metrics could be used to measure the success of an instructor? I can’t give Moneyball a five star endorsement for its entertainment value, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve been assigned to read for a class- and has provided plenty of fodder for small talk and party conversation!
The CircleThe Circle, by Dave Eggers
I’ll start by saying that I am a person that loves the book 1984, and I’ve read it more than a dozen times- I think theories on dystopian societies are great and terrifying to read. The Circle is 2014’s answer to 1984- it’s the story of Mae, a post-graduate young professional who takes a job at The Circle, an employer that could easily be Facebook or Google or Yahoo. Citizens increasingly lose/give up access to privacy, and The Circle endorses slogans like SECRETS ARE LIES and PRIVACY IS THEFT. Mae and her peers (internal to the company and, eventually, including society in general) are encouraged to share their every opinion and thought, with the reward an expansion of their perceived levels of influence. Pretty much, The Circle outlines one possible future for the world if technology and social networks continue to permeate into every single aspect of life. The lesson that is taught regarding loss of freedom and ease of persuasion is compelling, if nothing else. I highly recommend this book.
Goodnight JuneGoodnight June, by Sarah Jio
This novel is a bit more lighthearted than the previous one, but I also really enjoyed it! Goodnight June is the story of a successful young woman who leaves her fast moving career in banking when she inherits a children’s bookstore from her late aunt. The plot drags a tiny bit at times, and wraps up with a twist that seems a bit out of place, sure. Even with those concerns, this is a lovely story with characters that I enjoyed reading about, and which kept my interest. It’s not a work of genius, okay, but it was a great book to read on vacation, much better than my usual vapid chic lit choices.
This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
This is Where I Leave You is a family drama, set during the shiva period the family observes after the death of the father. Between the overly sexual mother, childhood drama resurfacing between the brothers, a sister in law who is having difficulty conceiving, an older girlfriend brought home by a younger brother, and everyone staying in one house, there’s a good deal going on. My problem with the book is that, even though there’s a ton going on, none of it is very interesting/surprising/intriguing. The writing was pretty solid, but I just thought it was…boring. Every time I see a trailer for the movie I’m disappointed- the actors are interesting, I just don’t think it will be any more exciting on screen than it was in the book. So, overall, I don’t regret reading it, but I also wouldn’t recommend This is Where I Leave You with any enthusiasm.
The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This book was chosen for my book club over the summer and, although I turned out to be the only one reading it, I recommended it very strongly to the rest of the group! The thing about The Marriage Plot is that the basic premise is very tired (the wealthy protagonist graduates college with a degree in literature and follows around a man whom she thinks is quite brilliant but is actually mentally unstable and emotionally abusive) and Eugenides is excessive in his descriptions and the entire section on literary criticism was nearly unreadable- in fact, the book is actually annoying, and a struggle to read. Even with all of that, I was actually quite captivated by The Marriage Plot, and found it hard to put down. So take from that what you will- if you can put in some time in the beginning to get into the story, I think it might be one that you’ll be happy that you read. Not a ringing endorsement, but an accurate reflection of my experience.