book 34: Best Loved Poems by Neil Philip
As you can guess, this is an anthology of poetry. I was so-so about it at first read, but as tends to be the case with poetry, re-reading added meaning and appreciation. It has old favorites like William Blake's "The Tyger" and Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", but it mostly had poems and authors that I hadn't read before, in spite of many of them being classics. New discoveries for me were Thomas Hardy and that Robert Burns sure could write romantic poetry. There were several individual poems that I really enjoyed, just a couple were "If--" by Rudyard Kipling and "The Skip" by James Fenton. I also finally have read some of the big classics, like "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and "Crossing the Bar" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Overall, there's over 200 pages of poetry, and it was a worth-while read.
book 35: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The best description that I saw for this book is "magical realism". It's basically a modern tall-tale set in early twentieth century Mexico, relating the story of a passionate love that wouldn't die, told in monthly installments including native recipes and home remedies. The author is Mexican, and the story has an authentic ethnic flavor. But the story is fantastic as well as fantastical. Intense, humorous, thoughtful, boiling-over..."like water for chocolate". I thought it was a great read, and it's up there with Life of Pi in my modern literature favorites.
book 36: Literary Ghost by Larry Dark
This is, well, a anthology of "ghost" stories that belong to the literature genre rather than horror. ;) It has many well-known authors, such as Joyce Carol Oates, John Gardner, and Graham Greene. My favorite story was "The Ghost Soldiers" by Tim O'Brien, which ironically doesn't even have a supernatural being in it and is set with soldiers in the Vietnam War. I also really enjoyed "The Portobello Road" by Muriel Spark, which reads like a murder mystery. The anthology doesn't have the shock value of the horror genre, but it's not meant to. The stories included are more of the thoughtful kind that just happen to have the theme "ghost" in common.
book 37: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This is a book about introversion...what causes it, its historical and cultural treatment, pros and cons, etc. It's very well researched and documented. I learned quite a bit, even with being an introvert myself. It made me a bit sad, though. Introversion is a normal variation of personality, but in the Western World, the United States especially, it is treated like a mental disorder. Even though up to 50% of the population are introverts. Introverted children are coached to think something is wrong with them. Introverts are frequently over-looked, under paid, and under valued; while extroverted couterparts gain notoriety while also contributing more to crime, infidelity, and other reckless behaviors. Of course, these are over-all statistics. No one trait dominates a person, and personality types among all other characteristics have huge variations and can be overcome at that. The book isn't extrovert bashing. More it is trying to explain that it's perfectly fine and necessary for there to be introverts as well. Boldness balanced by introspection, etc. etc. Value everyone for what they can contribute. Biologically, there seems to be a couple of genetic differences in how the personality types process and respond to serotonin (a stabalizing hormone) and dopamine (the pleasure or "reward" hormone). Introverts are more sensitive to stimuli, which is why they tend to withdraw while extroverts seek MORE to overcome their less reactive, for lack of a better descriptor, senses. Introverts, on the other hand don't respond as readily to serotonin (the stabalizer), so they are more prone to be upset or rather overwhelmed, and extroverts get an extra kick or "buzz" from the reward drug dopamine. So, extroverts have to do more to get excited, but when they get excited they get a bigger buzz from it, encouraging them to do even more. (Cocaine releases dopamine, by the way.) Introverts, meanwhile, just think the extroverts are insane because what they are doing doesn't seem all that fun to begin with, and introverts certainly don't get an extra advantage for doing it. (Okay, maybe it's just me that think most extroverts are insane, but, hey, this is my story... :P) Beneficially for introverts, their sensitivity to stimuli tends to make them more perceptive and their introspective natures tend to make them more socially concious and diligent (extroverts tend to be more antisocial, ironically...hedonism over social consciousness). The biggest thing that makes me sad is that knowing this stuff doesn't really change anything socially. Everyone would have to read it and understand, but at least half the population probably wouldn't sit down and read it in the first place. It's easier to continue to ignore the "quiet" ones.
book 38: DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
Well, I imagine a lot of the well-read people already know this book. I am behind the times by a decade or so. But, for any like me that hadn't gotten around to it yet... The DaVinci Code is a fast-paced murder mystery where a code breaker and a symbolist falsely accused of murder try to clear him of the crime while following a set of encoded clues set to guide them to the holy grail, well, literally the Holy Grail. The novel seemed well-researched and intelligent. I don't know what percentage of the "facts" presented are true, but they are fascinating to think about nonetheless. I thought this book was worth the hype.