Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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I am late to The Martian party, people. I was told by every person I know (and a few people I didn’t) that I would LOVE this book. And, I said, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. I’ll put it on the list.” And, I did put it on the list. Then, they made a film out of it and I thought, “Oh, I’ll read it before I see the film.” And, then the film was released and I thought, “That really does look good.”

And, then my friend gave me the audio book to listen to on a road trip. R.C. Bray read the audio book and he nailed the main character. I’m in love with Mark Watney. Seriously. If Mark Watney were a real dude I’d have his poster in my office. He’s like the Chris Hadfield of fictional astronauts. Mark Watney might be my new book boyfriend.

In case you don’t know the story, it’s like this: We’ve gone to Mars! And, Watney is an astronaut on a Mars mission who accidentally gets stranded on the planet. Oops. The whole novel is about how we works to survive on the surface. How he feeds himself, how he makes contact with NASA, how he’s eventually rescued. There were so many tense moments and so many funny moments and so many wonderful, “let’s work this problem” moments. This book reminded me why thirteen year old Kate wanted to work for NASA. (She didn’t want to be an astronaut. She wanted to be one of the nerds on the ground that runs eleven thousand different scenarios so that things don’t explode or go wrong (and so there is a back up plan when things do explode and go wrong.) Thirteen year old Kate, much like [redacted] year old Kate is claustrophobic and could never be an astronaut. Riding on the subway freaks out her a little. Especially when it stops between stations, for the love of god.)

So, this was a really excellent book and I want to sing the praises of the narrator of the audio book for a moment. I can’t say enough good things about them. Bray did such an amazing job that two things have happened. 1. I’ve looked for other audio books they’ve narrated just because they narrated it and 2. I’ve pretty much decided that I’m never going to see the movie because Matt Damon isn’t Mark Watney. He won’t sound right.

I highly recommend this book. If you somehow also missed the hype and you’re interested in space, suspense, and occasional comic relief, she should pick this book up!

This counts as my Audiobook for the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading Challenge.

This Month in Reality: Sit Still Already 

I’ve been thinking about starting a meditation practice for awhile now and last month’s Relovution reminded me of that. So, I’ve started one. I’ve been using Stop, Breathe and Think. And, it hasn’t been too bad! 

So, for this month I’m going to talk about two books that are of a the Buddhist/meditation perspective. (One that I just listened to and one that I admittedly read awhile ago).


Awhile back I read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. I was having a rough time because it was winter and I had sinus infections that I couldn’t shake and I was pretty bummed out. And, the title just caught me. It seemed pretty apt for my situation (because I’m overly dramatic so, of course, my life was falling apart because I never saw the sun and I was on antibiotics). Two things from the book stuck with me: the idea that even terrible situations have something to offer us (other than their terribleness) and that we should practice loving-kindness. Loving-kindness has a particular meaning here and refers to a practice of gentleness, compassion, flexibility and forgiveness. Mostly I remember that this idea of loving-kindness (maitri is the word Chödrön used for it) means being gentle and as someone who can be sharp tongued, being reminded of the importance of gentleness is always something I need. Chödrön talked for a long while about starting this practice with yourself. Yes, you mess up sometimes. Yes, you are uncomfortable. Yes, things hurt and you can’t always fix them or make them better. But, you can be gentle with yourself. You can be gentle with others. You might not be able to make something better, but you can, at the very least, not make it worse by being hard and inflexible. This book is full of discussions of Buddhist practice and how practice is important in difficult times.

The second book for this month isn’t actually a book. Mindful Living is a series of audio recordings of lectures given by Thich Nhat Hahn at a retreat that have been compiled for our listening pleasure. This audio recording is a nice example of what the audio format can do that you don’t see in books. It is really neat to be able to hear the monk’s words in his own voice. I enjoyed the lectures. My favorite of the lectures talked about thinking about what your face was like before you were born. We, none of us, came from nothing so it is an interesting exercise to ponder where we came from and how we have been influenced by things. I liked all of the little reminders of how to be mindful and how to make reminders to be present and to enjoy the experience of being you.
This is was interesting audiobook and I recommend it if you know a little about mindfulness and you are interested in expanding your understanding of it.

So, there you have it. One book and one lecture series both of which are worth a look! Yay!

Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I downloaded this book from the library and for some reason it downloaded two copies of every file.  So, when I was halfway through the book, I thought I was only a quarter of the way through the book.  This made me very confused about the book and where it was headed right up until it ended.
This is the story of a preacher in Gilead, Iowa who has been diagnosed with heart failure and is reaching the end of his life.  He married and had a son late in life so the entire narrative is told through letters written from the father to the young son.  The father talks about his father and grandfather and the roles that they played in the Civil war.  He talks to his son about his relationships and the wife and child the he had before he met and married his son’s mother.  He talks about how racial issues played out before, during and after the Civil War in Gilead and the rest of the Iowa territories.  And, he talks about his godson Jack and how Jack has recently appeared in town after a long absence.
I really enjoyed this novel.  I liked the narrative pace (even if I was confused about how far I was in the novel).  I was interested in the mystery of why Jack had reappeared and what caused him to disappear in the first place.  I was interested in the tension between the father and grandfather as told by a son to his son.  That is a confusing sentence, but trust me the novel isn’t confusing.  It is an interesting look at how different generations see the same issues.  And, how history sometimes repeats itself.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Marilynne Robinson (which is ridiculous since she’s considered an Iowa treasure and Iowa is my home and it one the Pulitzer Prize in 2004.)  I really liked the prose and I think I will be reading more of her work in the future.
I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries