Friday, May 20, 2022

Third 10 Books I Read in 2022

  Reading Period: May 13 - June 20

1. One of Us is Lying, by Karen McManus


    In an effort to expand my reading horizons, I decided to read this high school murder mystery book. Honestly, it wasn't half bad. It was a bit more young-adult than I expected, but it was very engaging. I kind of wished it had ended differently, and the story could have used a few more twists and turns. Still, this book make me realize I don't need to ever watch TV again, as even the trashy high school TV dramas can be replaced by more interesting and thorough books of a similar genre. 

2. Verity, by Colleen Hoover


       This book was soooooo messed up. I'm astonished that Colleen is traditionally a romance writer, given that she probably scarred me for life with some of the scenes in this novel. Given the disturbing subject matter and aggressive sex scenes, I would never recommend this book to anyone. Still, I have to say that Colleen did a phenomenal job in accomplishing whatever the heck this book was meant to accomplish. Bravo Colleen, bravo. There were plenty of flaws with this book, but I tried not to take it too seriously and treat it as I would any horror movie. Far from the type of book I enjoy, but any book that I read in a single day deserves some respect.

3. Beach Read, by Emily Henry


    My first ever romance novel. There were some obvious flaws that I'm guessing are very common to the genre. Emily seems to "tell instead of show" character attributes and character development, and she gives the same descriptions for the main characters at a frustrating frequency (Gus's crooked smile is mentioned every two pages). These would have made me angrier if the rest of the book wasn't so shockingly good. It was heartfelt, funny, and overall just a cute story. I read this in a couple of days and I'd recommend as a solid vacation read.

4. It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover


    Absolutely unsure how I feel about this book. On one hand, I hated the beginning and almost did not finish, due to how much I despised the characters and the writing. I also had plenty of gripes with the ending. On the other hand, this book was totally heartbreaking and could very well be a masterpiece. My current take is that Colleen isn't a fantastic writer, and she's pretty bad at writing characters. I actually think that overall she's just kind of a bad writer. All of her characters are completely flat and unlikeable. However, she's a pretty fantastic storyteller. This is probably the saddest book I've ever read, and it was also one of the most gripping. That is a hard combination to pull off, especially given the disturbing realism of the subject matter (domestic abuse). I think this will be my last book of hers, as I really didn't like her romance writing (read like bad fanfiction), but I'm glad I took the plunge.

5. People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry


    Honestly, this was just another enjoyable, easy read. Probably not as good as Beach Read since it lacked any real emotional weight, but the characters were extremely likeable and very charismatic. Emily has a great sense of humor and writes banter very well. This might be my last romance for a while; I think the detour was informative.

6. Lightning, by Dean Koontz


    I wouldn't be surprised if Dean wrote this in a single weekend. Really not that great of a book with pretty much every aspect (plot, characters, writing quality) all lacking. Also as a huge fan of time travel, the way it was designed in this book was extremely stupid.

7. Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer


    This is one of those books I wish I never read. Not because it is not good, but because now I have to contemplate every decision I've made and potentially completely change my lifestyle. This book (audiobook version) is about animal rights, and it is essentially a defense of the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle on purely the basis of preventing animal suffering. There are three main reasons to go vegetarian: personal health, environmental concerns, and animal suffering. The first two have never swayed me at all. Cutting out potential food options places constraints on your personal nutrition optimization, so while it may force you to eat more vegetables, it cannot by nature be healthier than a balanced diet where you can pick and choose from more available options. The environment is in a tough spot, but refusing to eat meat is pretty much an empty gesture for climate concerns. There is already a ton of attention on climate, and it's pretty silly to think that your personal decisions (not showering to save water) has any effect whatsoever. Now we get into animal suffering. I used to brush this off, and I definitely have lived with some strong cognitive dissonance. I love to eat meat. Eating meat is truly one of my favorite things to do. Eating meat is seriously one of the best parts of being alive. But it may be like really, really unethical in a lot of circumstances. Shit.

    Singer makes quite a lot of bad arguments in this book. For some reason, he treats all suffering across species as entirely equal. For example, he claims that deer are likely more sensitive to pain than a human infant is, so all else equal we should save a deer from getting hit by a car over a human infant. I feel like this is the trolley problem but for really, really weird utilitarian philosophers. Peter also doesn't treat sentience as a scale at all, but rather has this strange argument he calls "the least common denominator." His theory is that since there are some humans who are dumber than chimpanzees, we should treat these groups as morally equivalent (otherwise, we would have to concede that eating and experimenting on mentally retarded people is no worse than eating and experimenting on chimpanzees). This is a laddered argument, so since some pigs are smarter than some chimpanzees, and since some rats are smarter than some pigs, well, you see where that goes. The problem is, this is a stupid philosophical argument to base your ideas on. What if we kill all the stupid people? Does that then give us license to treat a lower animal horribly since there is no least common denominator tying the groups together? In addition, does this line end anywhere? Peter actually does draw the line, he draws it at plants. The line isn't at shellfish, since we can't really be 100% sure that oysters don't feel pain (but we can for plants?). Also, I have some friends dumber than your average oyster, so I guess eating an oyster is pretty much as equally bad as eating one of my friends.

    The problem with this step down function and the idea that (pain in mouse) = (pain in human) is that it makes it pretty unclear how to do anything in life. In regards to ending animal testing for HIV cures, Peter suggests that people in the gay community are "begging" to be test subjects for new medications, as if that somehow invalidates the dangers of skipping animal trials. He claims over and over again that we can't really infer anything from animal trials, since animals are different than humans (someone tell the scientists!). He seems to suggest that we either stop all forms of animal experimentation or skip directly to human trials, and that animal research really hasn't led to any scientific breakthroughs. I feel like his take on this entire subject is just really uneducated. In regards to eating animals for food, Peter solely focuses on pain, which is not really a utilitarian position (pain + pleasure = utility). So if a cow lives a rockin' twenty years and then dies by the guillotine, Peter is still pretty against the whole thing. Rapid fire bad arguments and responses real quick: "meat isn't essential, therefore it is ignorant to eat it" - showers aren't essential, "Ghandi was a vegetarian and he lived until 80" - a grandma smoked and lived to 100, "small, rural fishing villages aren't making as much money due to Big Fishing" -so, stop eating fish entirely?, "not eating meat but still eating dairy products is just as bad" - probably not.

    Now lets talk about the good arguments. "Unnecessary animal suffering is bad" - true, "we don't need to eat meat, and could have a healthy life and environment without the meat industry" - true, "a lot of times, factory farming is completely terrible and we will probably look back on the industry in 200 years as one of the biggest injustices of our time" - dang, probably true. Honestly, the most important part of this book was the thorough walkthrough of factory farms and the detailed descriptions of exactly how different animals suffer throughout the industry. If you believe that animals can suffer and that suffering is bad, it is really hard to finish this book with out some sort of worldview change. I am less convinced that I will be totally cool with eating pigs, cows, and even chickens that live their lives in pretty clear misery. In fact, I'm pretty sure that we need to draw the line somewhere further than where it is at currently. Now, it's just a matter of where.


8. Edgedancer, by Brandon Sanderson


    Pretty straightforward and short audiobook that I finished in a day. Given how much I hated the character of Lift in Words of Radiance, I'm impressed that Brandon transformed the character into someone actually tolerable. I'm glad for the additional context, and it is abundantly clear that this guy is one of the best storytellers of our time. Pretty glad I got this out of the way as I've been dreading reading this book for quite a while.

9. Normal People, by Sally Rooney


    I really don't know what I was supposed to learn from this book. Boring plot, dreadful writing, and terrible ending. One of the most frustrating tropes in storytelling is the "miscommunication" trope, where all of the story's problems can be solved by two characters communicating in a way that isn't completely idiotic. Needless pain and suffering is caused by the main characters refusing to have even one sentence of legible communication. The only positive of this book was the unique writing style. Pretty much everything else deserves criticism.

10. Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson


    Brandon Sanderson does not miss. I cannot for the life of me understand how he writes these books. He is undoubtedly a genius, and his storytelling ability is unparalleled. I think the other Stormlight Archive books edge this one out slightly, but honestly it is tough to compare. The character development of Shallan wasn't my favorite, and it is clear that Kaladin's story has for the most part been told. Still, Dalinar's character arc in this book was likely the most compelling of the series. Frankly, it was beautiful. The worst part about reading these masterpieces is that it makes it so much harder to feel confident writing anything. It's almost like watching an insane guitar performance and then recording yourself struggling through Hotel California. At some point it's not inspirational, it's defeating. Masterclass work.

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