Title: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
Author: Dan Ariely
Number of pages: 336
Genre: psychology, non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 48/52
My Rating: 4/5

The author, a professor of psychology, explains why the majority of good & honest people lie and cheat under many different circumstances. (Apparently the social factors dramatically influence people's behavior, even when they're not consciously aware of it.) He shares results of his research, with detailed descriptions of the experiments, along with the ideas how to decrease cheating in various situations.

The book is written in easy but non-condescending language; the inevitable anecdotes from the author's biography are well placed and do not overshadow the main content. It's not only educational but amusing read.
Title: How to Do Things with Videogames
Author: Ian Bogost
Number of pages: 192
Genre: non-fiction, games
Book Number/Goal: 43/52
My Rating: 4/5

The book analyses and categorises various facets of videogame usage and features, such as being an art expression, inducing and teaching empathy, enabling player's creativity, serving for advertizement, providing a meditation/relaxation experience, encouraging exercise, and many more. Every feature is illustrated with several examples, ranging from obscure and exotic games to famous and mainstream games. The book is written in a mostly academic style, but is easy to follow nevertheless. It's an informative and inspiring reference which proves once again that games are a serious matter, not just mindless toys, and there's a lot of application for games in every possible area of human culture.
Title: The Final Hours of Portal 2
Author: Geoff Keighley
Genre: non-fiction, games
Book Number/Goal: 39/52
My Rating: 3/5

The book provides a peek into the Portal 2 development - in particular, what was the original concept, why it didn't work, and how the game evolved into its current stage. The story comes together with a cute interactive presentation (on Steam), containing video clips, slideshows, 3D models and other clickable stuff, inspiring nostalgia.

However, it also includes loads of useless boring gossip, such as anecdotes from the developers' personal life (as for me, I'm interested in technology and ideas, not in people!) and hype about Valve being the best workplace ever (which only makes me depressed and bitterly envious).
Title: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures
Author: Kurt Kalata
Number of pages: 772
Genre: non-fiction, games
Book Number/Goal: 27/52
My Rating: 5/5

This book contains hundreds of adventure game reviews, covering most of the important games starting from 80s till 2010. It includes screenshots, brief description of the theme, the interface and gameplay, the author's opinion on the game, and anything else he considers important, such as characters, backstory or particularly memorable puzzles.

The book doesn't present any groundbreaking or new information, apart from several interviews with game developers; if you played these games, you know everything there's to know about them, and if you didn't, it might be better to skip these entries in case you will someday, to avoid the spoilers. But it is a HUGE NOSTALGIA RUSH. I frequently had to stop reading and took a break to cool down, because I couldn't handle such an overload of memories! Moreover, it rekindled my desire to create adventure games.

Wonderful reading and great emotional experience all the way! (I see that the Amazon reviews complain about monochrome screenshots, but my version, bought at storybundle.com, has gorgeous color screenshots :)
Title: Reality Transurfing 1: The Space of Variations
Author: Vadim Zeland
Number of pages: 182
Genre: non-fiction, psychology, esoterics
Book Number/Goal: 26/52
My Rating: 1/5

Make your wishes come true - not by changing yourself or the world, but by navigating to another version of reality where you are already successful. The book presents the model of reality composed of infinite number of possibilities existing simultaneously in the space-time continuum, where it's possible to change your fate only by the power of thought. However, it doesn't mean "wishing for success", because there is the law of balance which sabotages every intention as long as you consider it important. In particular, you attract everything you hate or despise, and repel everything you strongly desire. Besides, the world is populated with malicious energy-devouring entities called "pendulums", which arise from human activity but exist for their own sake (such as, every organization and every popular idea is a pendulum). These should be avoided, or at least not taken seriously.

This book is a hybrid of The Secret and Taoism. It claims that a certain way of thinking allows to achieve everything you wish for, but the approach is ripe with contradictions. What's the use of success anyway if you're not allowed to "really" want anything? The theory is supposed to be taken on faith, as there is no proof save for primitive analogies. It sounds kind of scientific and doesn't appeal to any higher force, but unlike religious and occult systems, it has no aesthetical or emotional benefits. The book doesn't include any practical techniques either, though maybe they're presented in the sequels (there's at least 5 books in the series).

There are some interesting concepts, such as love and hate being basically the same thing from the energy point of view. But as a whole, it's just another New Age nonsense.
Title: Keri: the shocking true story of a child abused
Author: Kat Ward
Number of pages: 745
Genre: memoir, non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 24/52
My Rating: 3/5

Young Keri was considered a problem child and a pathological liar, but in fact, she was systematically abused by her psychotic, hateful mother and violent step-father, by bullies and even by social workers. No one believed her (at least no one who could make any difference). This is the first book in the series, it covers Keri's life from birth to the age of 15.

The book delivers exactly what is advertised - it's shocking and realistic. Obviously the author can't be blamed for not having exciting magical adventures, never encountering any celebrities, or lacking the gift of turning pain into poetry. If many pages of depressing details of an ordinary child's life in a disfunctional family is your thing, you might enjoy it.

The weird part is that the author provides extensive descriptions of many events, scenes and long conversations no normal person would be able to remember so precisely, being so little. Most likely she is embellishing the memories to make them more vivid and real for the readers; but then the question is, how much of it is indeed true?

The story has no obvious "moral". Perhaps it's calling for a change in the structure of child-caring institutions, as many more children may be suffering under similar circumstances. For me, it reinforces the idea that children are a burden, and no one should be allowed to breed unless they want a child more than anything else in their life; and forcing a person to keep a child they do not want can ruin many lives.
Title: The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success
Author: Kevin Dutton
Number of pages: 288
Genre: non-fiction, psychology
Book Number/Goal: 22/52
My Rating: 4/5

The author analyses character traits commonly found in psychopathic criminals, and shows that these traits are favorable for succeeding in other, non-criminal, activities, and in fact, are found in many successful people (in which case, the term "psychopath" is probably misleading). He doesn't glorify crime or mental disorder but rather, argues that "psychopaths" have certain talents that everyone would benefit from learning. He calls them "seven deadly wins": ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, action.

The book includes interviews with psychopathic patients in a mental hospital/research center, results of psychological experiments, and examples from the lives of famous killers. Sometimes the style is too technical and sometimes too informal, but overall it's amusing and insightful, although not really helpful, because the author just conveys the information but doesn't teach the reader how to become a psychopath - and after reading the book, it starts to feel like a really good idea!

In the words of one of the patients, "The problem with a lot of people is that what they think is a virtue is actually a vice in disguise. It's much easier to convince yourself that you're reasonable and civilised, than soft and weak, isn't it?"
Title: Hooked on Games: The Lure and Cost of Video Game and Internet Addiction
Author: Andrew Doan
Number of pages: 200
Genre: non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 9/52
My Rating: 4/5

The author claims that video game addiction is similar to other kinds of addictions, e.g. drugs. He gives a long list of reasons and explanations why people become addicted. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific reason - escape from reality, satisfying curiosity, providing a sense of purpose in life, heightening a sense of invincibility, feeding the ego, etc. He provides an abundance of examples from his own life, media stories, and his friends' lives (or maybe made-up examples created to illustrate the point).

The book is written in easy, informal language, which makes it accessible to general population, but in the same time, makes it appear less credible. There are several psychological references, but in the "popular science" style. Also, the author often goes into unnecessary details of his biography; while it's entertaining to read, it feels self-centered and too far-fetched for the theme of the book.

The author's personal solution for kicking his own gaming addiction was turning to (Christian) religion, which, for me, was quite an anticlimax, even though he doesn't insist that it's the only way to deal with it.

This book probably won't change anyone's mind. But it's amusing, especially for a gamer; and if you're already predisposed to game addiction and realize it's a problem, it might pose a few questions and encourage you to analyze your behavior. (It also provides references to a few games that seem to be worth trying out ;)
Title: The Real History of the End of the World
Author: Sharan Newman
Number of Pages: 313 pages
Book Number/Goal: 17/50 for 2011
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: Ever since people realized that things have a beginning and an end, they have wondered if the world was fated to end. In entertaining and sharp prose, historian Sharan Newman explores the various theories of world destruction from ancient times to the present day--theories that reveal as much about human nature as they do about the predominant historical, scientific, and religious beliefs of the times.

Review: Does what it says on the tin. This was an easy read, and it was interesting seeing how so many people throughout history have felt that they were living in the end times.
Title: Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti
Author: Maya Deren
Number of pages: 350
Genre: non-fiction, religion
Book Number/Goal: 22/50
My Rating: 5/5

The author is a filmmaker who had traveled to Haiti for the purpose of making a documentary about native dancing, but was "sidetracked" due to becoming deeply fascinated with Vodou and getting personally involved in the practice. This book contains the results of her research - in particular, there are chapters on the most important Lwa, detailed descriptions of rituals, many of them witnessed by the author (she even experienced possession!), her own thoughts, insights and conclusions. It is not a dictionary of names, dates and spells but rather an attempt to understand the philosophy and psychology behind this incredibly sophisticated religious practice, and what people gain from following it. The book is neither a dry scientific treatise nor straightforward memoires; the writing flows naturally and maintains just the right balance between factual and lyrical without degrading into meaningless ramblings - everything is logical and serves to demonstrate the author's points.

I think this is a great reading for anyone who's interested in Haitian Vodou.
Title: Haiti, History, and the Gods
Author: Joan Dayan
Number of pages: 362
Genre: non-fiction (history)
Book Number/Goal: 16/50
My Rating: 4/5

This book describes the history of Haiti during its colonial period (Saint-Domingue) and the 1791-1804 revolution. The author combines historical references, literary fiction and religion to create a picture of the society and culture of that time, viewed from different angles. The result is somewhat chaotic - it seems like the author constantly jumps from one subject to another, and the writing style changes between dry/scientific, philosophical and poetic. But overall, the book is informative and engaging, and useful to get the more "informal" general feeling of the period.
Title: Writing the TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV
Author: Pamela Douglas
Number of pages: 300
Genre: non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 11/50
My Rating: 4/5

Review: The book explains the mechanics behind writing and producing TV series, and provides advice about getting into this business. There are a few interviews with successful TV writers (including Damon Lindelof, the creator of "Lost"), and two sample scripts with a detailed analysis.

It describes writing for TV series as a stressful and demanding but much more creative and satisfying occupation than writing scripts for films.

Strictly speaking, the book has no practical value for someone who lacks adequate writing skills, people skills, energy and motivation. But nevertheless, I found it interesting and encouraging. I can always pretend that what I'm writing is a TV show, and try to use the same rules, structure and techniques.
Title: Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Number of pages: 256
Genre: non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 9/50
My Rating: 4/5

Review: The book exposes the cult of positive thinking enforced on people by the modern society. The author describes her experience with cancer support groups where the patients are expected to appear cheerful and optimistic, to the extent of considering cancer a gift and an opportunity for spiritual growth, otherwise they are berated and blamed for being responsible for their problems. The attitude of blaming the victim goes far and wide. (For example, Rhonda Byrne, the author of infamous "Secret", allegedly claimed that tsunamis and other natural disasters only happen to those who are "on the same frequency as the event".)

The author draws a parallel between the condemnation of "negativity" by relentless optimists and the condemnation of sin by Calvinists. It appears that positive thinking is elevated to the rank of religion, together with the accompanying magical thinking (the law of attraction etc) which is supposed to solve all the problems without resorting to realistic solutions.

I didn't find a lot of unexpected revelations or entertainment, but I find it comforting and reassuring that not everybody buys into the delusions of happiness at all costs.
Title: The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises
Author: James Scott Bell
Number of pages: 272
Genre: non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 8/50
My Rating: 2/5

Review: The book is loosely inspired by the classic Chinese military treatise "The Art of War". The author tries to adopt and customize Sun Tzu's advice so it can be applied to the field of writing.

Almost half of the book deals with the ways to get published, which is currently not my concern. The rest reads like a motivational/cheerleading speech intended to get you in the mood. Most of the practical suggestions are either sketchy or well-known/trivial. I bought the book only because I was curious how the author manages to pull off the analogy with the war strategy, but it doesn't sound authentic and any close to the original.

Good for boosting your morale and for some quick tips, but not much else.
Title: The History of White People
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Number of Pages: 496 pages
Book Number/Goal: 2/50 for 2011
My Rating: 4.5/5

Amazon Summary: Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter's inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter's wide-ranging response is a who's who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early medieval period; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, the philosopher king of American white race theory. Painter reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for. For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens.

Review: This was an interesting book, but I often felt like I was slogging through a textbook trying to read it (especially the early chapters), so I kept setting it down and it actually took me several months to finally finish. I just didn't find the writing style engaging at all, otherwise I would probably have given if five stars.

But it was interesting, and I learned a lot of things about famous people of the past (none of them good) that I didn't know before. It was also interesting to see how little anti-immigrant rhetoric has changed. A lot of things people were saying about Irish, Italian, Eastern European, Jewish, etc. immigrants is pretty much word for word what people say about Latin@ immigrants today. A lot of "oh noes, the right people aren't having enough babies and the wrong people are having too many!" and that sort of thing. Except it wasn't Those Brown People who were going to destroy the White Race, is was Those Other Inferior White People.

Also, while this book is called The History of White People, it's very US-centric. She traces things from Europe to the US, but once she gets to the US, she really never talks about whiteness elsewhere for the rest of the book.
Title: Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Author: Lynne Truss
Number of Pages: 209 pages
Book Number/Goal: 50/50 for 2010
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now "txt msgs", we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. If there are only pedants left who care, then so be it. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From George Orwell shunning the semicolon, to New Yorker editor Harold Ross's epic arguments with James Thurber over commas, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

Review: This was a pretty funny and entertaining read, and I liked that she was able to make fun of herself and admit that punctuation is always changing. The thing that actually really annoyed me was her assumption that people who care about grammar and people who use smileys are two separate groups with no overlap. XD (Also the general tone of "oh noes, the internets!" that some of it had.) I don't think it lived up to the massive hype around it, though.

Year in Review

I made it to my goal! I had a slow start and by the end of June had only read 11 books out of a planned 50, so I decided to drop my goal to 30. Soon after that, I started reading a lot more often and once I got to 30 and it was only the end of September, I decided to go for 40. I hit 40 with a month left to go in the year and decided, well, if I read a bunch of short books, I can make my original goal, and so I did.

I figure since the main reason behind giving myself a goal is to simply read books I'm interested in (especially ones on my shelf), as long I am reading books I would otherwise read, and not just picking something at random because it's short, what does the length matter? This way by picking eight shorter books (I actually went for the short stuff starting with book #43), I was getting eight books read that I had wanted to read, and getting eight books off my shelf.

2011 Goal

I do, however, want to motivate myself to read longer books, since I have many of them on my shelf, so I think this coming year's goal is going to be 50 books total with at least 10 of them being 300+ pages. If I don't slack off in the first half of the year like I did with 2010, it should be an easy goal to meet.
Title: The Story of My Life
Author: Helen Keller
Number of Pages: 152 pages
Book Number/Goal: 48/50 for 2010
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: For the first nineteen months of her life, Helen Keller is a normal child who laughs and plays and explores her surroundings. But a high fever robs Helen of her sight and hearing, leaving her alone in a dark, silent world. Until the day Anne Sullivan comes into her life, Helen's only means of communication are crude signs and gestures. With the help of her new teacher and friend, Helen learns to read and write. Slowly, she begins to triumph over her handicaps...

Review: Blech. What a summary! D: Anyway, I realised a couple years ago when I read Lies My Teacher Told Me that I really knew nothing about Helen Keller other than, well, basically what the summary above says. I didn't know that she was a disability rights advocat, or "a suffragist, a pacifist, an opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter", to quote Wikipedia. So I thought I'd read up on her, and seeing she had written an autobiography, that seemed like the way to go. It's...really not. What I didn't realise, was that this was written when she was in college, so it doesn't talk about any of the awesome things she went on to do and is indeed just the same story I'd heard before. It's not a bad book, just not at all what I was looking for.
Title: The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?
Author: Deborah Cameron
Number of Pages: 196 pages
Book Number/Goal: 40/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: A thriving industry of self-help manuals and popular science books has grown up in the last fifteen years, all based on the assertion that there are fundamental differences in the way that men and women use language to communicate. Whether the reason given is nature, nurture, or planet of origin, the Mars and Venus story is widely accepted. But, asks Deborah Cameron, why do so many people find it convincing? Drawing on the findings of more than thirty years of academic research, Cameron dispels the myths to tell a much more complicated--and satisfying--story, and shows how selective and inaccurate is the picture presented by many popular writers. She also demonstrates that popular asumptions about male-female miscommunication can have far-reaching consequences in many areas of life: for example, attitutes to sexual violence or discrimination in the work-place.

Review: I originally read a series of excerpts from this book online (all three are linked in this old post of mine) and really liked what Cameron had to say. I still do, but unfortunately the book doesn't feel like it really expands on those essays at all, despite being almost two-hundred pages long. Also the section on trans people, while not outright offensive, made me :-/. She consistently talks about men who want to be women and women who want to be men, etc. Anyway, I recommend the essays, but don't feel like the book really had much to add.
Title: The English is Coming!: How One Language is Sweeping the World
Author: Leslie Dunton-Downer
Number of Pages: 352 pages
Book Number/Goal: 39/40 for 2010
My Rating: 2.5/5

Amazon Summary: English has fast become the number one language for everything from business and science, diplomacy and education, entertainment and environmentalism to socializing and beyond--virtually any human activity unfolding on a global scale. Worldwide, nonnative speakers of English now outnumber natives three to one; and in China alone, more people use English than in the United States--a remarkable feat for a language that got its start as a mongrel tongue on an island fifteen hundred years ago. Through the fascinating stories of thirty English words used and understood in nearly all corners of the globe, The English Is Coming! takes readers on an eye-opening journey across culture and commerce, war and peace, and time and space.

Review: This book was pretty disappointing. While some of the etymology/linguistics/history stuff was interesting, every time she started talking about global English (which was often, since it is what the book is about!), I started getting annoyed.

While she does say that English's dominance as a global language is not due to anything inherent in the language itself and that it could have been any language had history been different, she then goes on to talk a lot about the things that make English so easy for people to pick up and make it easy to spread rapidly and the tone is all just yay English! and yay America! and there's no critical thought or acknolwedgement of the (cultural) imperialism that made/makes English a global language. From reading this you'd think people around the world just started using English because they thought it was cool.

Also when she talks about these English words that are now used in so many other languages, she often doesn't distinguish between those that are used occasionally and those that are the primary terms people use. For example, when she talks about bank, she says it's used in Japanese, and while it may be recognised and some banks may use it in their name, the word people actually use is still 銀行(ginkou). So stuff like that made me not be able to trust what she was saying about other languages as well, since she could have made similar mistakes.


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