Category: Book Review (page 2 of 14)

Book Review of Spark by John J Ratey

Last fall I moved a bookcase out of (and back into) the bonus room (putting up a wall makes a mess!) and I realized I have way too many non-fiction books that I’ve never read.  I decided to pluck one from the shelves and just start reading!  These are bathroom reading book, which means it can take me a while to get through them, but I finally finished the first one earlier this month and it was an eye-opener.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain* by  John J. Ratey, MD with Eric Hagerman. Copyright 2008.  ISBN: 978-0-316-11350-2

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Supercharge Your Mental Circuits to Beat Stress, Sharpen Your Thinking, Lift Your Mood, Boost Your Memory, and Much More. 

The book blurb says it all!  Exercise really does all those things, and much of those effects occur quickly.  If you have a difficult task that is going to require a lot of brain power, it’s proven that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise just before you begin your task will sharpen your brain, expand its computing power, and help you more readily focus and retain information for the next couple of hours.

I’m sure the current knowledge on the effects of exercise on the brain has expanded exponentially since this book was written a decade ago, but I learned a lot from reading Spark.  And I’ve put that knowledge to work.  Since I started reading this book, I’ve been making a concerted effort to include more movement and exercise in my daily life.  When I need to go up the stairs for something, I go up and down several times – it only takes a couple more minutes to do so.  We set up our Gazelle (elliptical) exercise machine in the living room and both of us are using it daily, hopping on when we have a free five or ten minutes or just when we feel that we need to move a bit.  We also have been riding bike on the weekend.  And both Bill and I are noticing that we are feeling more energized throughout the day by doing so.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, addiction of any type, attention deficit, or hormonal changes of any sort, or if you want to potentially extend your lifespan and/or your mental abilities, you NEED to read this book.  It even comes with a chapter of exercise recommendations and suggestions – very helpful.

European Reading Challenge 2017 Wrap Up Post

I participated in a few reading challenges in 2017 and one of my favorite was the European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader.

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it’s supposed to be a tour.

I was aiming for the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage) level of participation, which meant reading at least five such books.  Surprisingly I was able to read NINE such books.

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, by Timothy Egan – Ireland

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson – Sweden

 My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes, by Emily Dilling – France

 The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict – Switzerland

 Palm Trees in the Snow, by Luz Gabas – Spain

 Push Not The River, by James Conroyd Martin (The Poland Trilogy, Book 1) – Poland

 And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini   – Greece (& other locations)

 Us, by David Nicholls – Italy (& other locations)

 The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt – The Netherlands (& other locations)

This was an interesting reading challenge and I seriously considered joining again for 2018.  Ultimately, I decided to concentrate on some other reading lists, but I will definitely keep this challenge in mind for the future.

Book Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I read this book as part of the 2017 European Reading Challenge and also The Bestseller Code Reading Challenge.   Locations include Belgium &  The Netherlands, mostly Amsterdam, and the United States.

The Goldfinch*, by David Nicholls

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Goldfinch (2014) is Donna Tartt’s third novel, following her critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2003).  Observe the number of years between each publication date; Tartt takes her time, writing large novels, both in length and in scope.

Bildungsroman

When I finish a book, I like to read other descriptions and reviews.  Sometimes those reviews gel the thoughts and feelings I had while reading the novel, while other times I disagree entirely with the reviewer.  While reading through a few reviews for The Goldfinch, I came across a new term (to me): bildungsroman.  Merriam-Webster provides this definition:

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character – a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

This is certainly an apt description for The Goldfinch, as Tartt leads the main character, Theo Decker, on a decade long journey of life-altering catastrophes, emotional and physical upheavals, grief, and survivor’s guilt, providing plenty of opportunities for moral and psychological growth.  As a reader, Theo drew me in from the very beginning, and I followed his journey avidly, hoping he would make it through the storms, while preparing myself for the possibility that he would not.

Truisms and Real Literature

Some reviewers blasted The Goldfinch for not being “real literature” because the novel explained too much to the reader and didn’t require said reader to have to analyze the book for its underlying message.  The last chapter presents several “truisms” that Theo has come to realize from his bildungsroman, and they are spelled out for the reader.  These reviews included long rants about what the term “real literature” means, what makes a book “serious” and “literary” rather than merely a contemporary novel, quickly read and easily forgotten.  The same discussion occurs with art.  What is art?  What makes it art?  Tartt addresses this:

You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

 

In the end, art is whatever makes us, as individuals, feel.  Literature is the same.  It challenges us individually.  It speaks to us individually.  It affects us individually.  For me, The Goldfinch is definitely literature, worthy of the time it took to read.  It’s a book that I will think about and mull over for weeks to come, and one that I will quite likely read again.

This is an abbreviated review.  For the full review, please visit It’s A Mystery Blog.

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