The Language of Sand - Ellen Block
If you are going to write a book about loss, you have to make sure the reader feels like there is something valuable that can go away. This book, while artfully written and subtly told, never quite reaches that goal.
Abigail is a lexicographer -- look it up, folks -- who pretty much runs away to be a lighthouse keeper after experiencing a family tragedy. There, instead of being consumed by her feelings, she finds herself learning to be part of a community again -- including people whose losses rival her own.
The story just sort of ends, with some closure and many loose ends. That seems realistic to me, if only there was more depth to the characters leading those lives.
Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization - Spencer Wells
This may be not only my favorite book of the year but among my favorites, ever.
Wells is an anthropologist and geneticist who traces our genetic history as a species, laying out his argument that that there is a glaring mismatch between our genes and the world we have created for ourselves.
That is, controlling our food supply -- moving from hunter/gather societies into agricultural ones -- is what led to our domination of the world and even many aspects of nature. But we cannot ignore the unintended consequences of that world: increasingly sedentary lives, an increase of animal-borne disease and unprecedented demand for limited natural resources.
Wells lays it all out, how today's crises can be traced to our movement into civilization 10,000 years ago. But more importantly, he looks at what may happen next: We are at a precipice where technology can put even more pressure on us, or we can manipulate it in ways that recognizes our human shortfalls and gives us more comfort.
Change, of course, is the only constant. Wells makes a great case for us to get control of that change now that we better understand the implications in our very nature.