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The Omnivorous Reader - February, 2018

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The Omnivorous Reader

March 7 · Issue #7 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam


Hi, all.
Here’s what I’ve been reading this month (and this year).
Why You’re Getting This: This reading list is going out to old and new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it.
Feel free to unsubscribe–obligatory reading is the worst.
If you know a fellow reader who might enjoy it, please pass it along.

Department of Caprinology (i.e. The G.O.A.T. Report)
Dracula was my GOAT (i.e. a work that I’ve begun multiple times but couldn’t get through) for February, and given how easy it was for me to read this one, it was interesting to consider why I might never have finished it before. 
One of the interesting side effects of committing to read these books is how it pushes me to explore other titles in my own home book collection that I haven’t read or haven’t read recently. I consistently avoid reading my GOAT of the month for some reason, and because of that, I find myself actively searching for alternative titles to read. So recently, I’ve been rereading Pullman’s The Golden Compass (a YA GOAT of mine itself–I’ve already abandoned it again) as well as Stephen King’s It, which I’ve read quickly countless times but haven’t full digested for a while.
Next up on my GOAT list is Frankenstein. I was planning on saving that one for later in the year, but since it’s the 200 anniversary of its publication, there are a bunch of new and annotated editions that I’ve recently grabbed from the library.    
Fiction
Dracula was easy enough to read. I had gotten bogged down before in the second section when poor old Lucy is being slowly drained of life by the Count, and no one except for Van Helsing understands why. I suppose that there’s an air of mystery and suspense that might pervade this section if you don’t know the signs of vampirism, and I get it that Stoker invented the genre with this work…but it’s likely the reason that I never made it through this one in the past is that none of it is as surprising or thrilling as I suppose it must have been when it was first published. I’m glad to have read it, but doubt I’ll do so again. 
Artemis by Andy Weir was a fun, quick read. Unlike his first book, The Martian, which was the truest example of science fiction I’ve ever read–in that it was fictional, yes, but grounded in science and something that could realistically happen in a decade or so–Artemis is a little more speculative, set in the 2080s on a colony on the moon. Weir’s writing and style, though, is chockfull of hard facts about astronomy and physics to ground the fictional setting in a satisfying sort of realism. And the story about conspiracy, Moon Station politics (yes, I know how that sounds), and intrigue was fun and fast-paced. 
A Column of Fire by Ken Follett is his latest–and probably his final–novel taking place in his fictional cathedral town of Kingsbridge. I have a soft spot for The Pillars of the Earth, which was my first introduction to Ken Follett, and read it first when I was 11 or 12 years old, inspired partially by the medieval history unit we were doing in Grade 6 history and (admittedly) by the R-rated content in the book. A Column of Fire takes place 500 years after The Pillars of the Earth and focuses mostly on the succession of Queen Elizabeth and the Catholic/Protestant turmoil and violence of the era. 
It has all the obligatory tropes from a standard Ken Follett work, and in that way, was a bit like reading Dracula–you know that the sinister French Catholic villain will at first succeed and then come to a bad end; you know that the star-crossed lovers initially married to other people will ultimately end up together in their late-middle age; you know that there will be the requisite amount of sex, violence, betrayal, and at least one irredeemably evil character. Still, Follett’s books are successful for a reason, and I enjoyed Follett’s depiction of the St. Bartholomew’s massacre, the Spanish Armada, and the Guy Fawkes incident. It captured the depth of the Protestant/Catholic strife of the era in a resoundingly engaging way. 
Nonfiction
Principles by Ray Dalio was well worth a read–and it’s likely to be a book that I pick up from time to time to review. Dalio’s status as founder of Bridgewater Associates–one of the world’s most successful investment companies–and his argument that his success is because of the basic life and work “principles” that he’s developed is compelling. He argues that we should work to determine and define a set of principles for ourselves, that is “fundamental truths that serve as a foundation for behavior that gets you what you want out of life.” By “classifying situations into types” he explains, and “having good principles for dealing with them, we will make better decisions more quickly and have better lives as a result.” Less a business book and more a practical, but philosophical, manual for life, work and management, I’ll probably be returning to read and think about Principles for a long time.
Digital Ephemera
How To Become A Centaur
List of common misconceptions - Wikipedia
Rhesus macaques form preferences for brand logos through sex and social status based advertising
I hope you’re all doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest. And if you know of a good book that you’d recommend, please pass it along.
Take care,
Chris Cunningham
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