Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

(5/5 stars) This is an exploration of shame as a punishment, as a fundamental human impulse, as a force for good and bad. Ronson goes into a little bit of the history of how shame has been used in the past, but focuses especially on how shame functions in our internet-based society today.  To wit, he explores several contemporary case studies in shaming.

This book functions in some ways as a collection of essays rather than a structured exploration of ideas. As such, there are points where he pursues aspects of shame that seem to be a digression from the core theme, for example the parts about Radical Truth and humiliation paraphilia.  Those parts don’t make the book less interesting, but readers should be warned: you probably won’t come away with any strong conclusions about what can be done about internet lynch mobs. 

In sum, this book is funny and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it.

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What is Free Will?

What do people actually mean when they talk about free will or volition?  I don’t have any answers to that question, but I think about it from time to time and I thought this time I would jot down some of my thoughts.

Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

(5/5 stars)  I’m not sure where I heard of Akata Witch; it was probably one of my podcasts. I was just excited to read a fantasy novel based on a magic system from a non-European mythology. I did not know it was a YA novel, though, and I was very delightfully surprised by what I found.

The story structure and plot aren’t exceptionally different from other stories of this sort: a young outsider learns that she has a destiny and finds camaraderie in a community of other outcasts.  But the characters are fun and interesting. The culture is lush and fascinating.  And the magic system is scary and fascinating.  Overall, I really enjoyed this book quite a lot. 

Parasite (Parasitology, #1) By Mira Grant

(2/5 stars) Strange, inconsistent characterization in the main character combined with an extremely predictable plot made this a distinctly un-entertaining read for me.  You can pretty much guess everything about this book from the summary on Amazon:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system — even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

If you want a book about parasites taking people over, I would recommend The Girl with All the Gifts instead.  And in my parasite hobbyist’s opinion, I think the chosen parasite in The Girl with All the Gifts makes more sense than a genetically modified tapeworm.

A Review of Two Books About Google

I recently chose two audiobooks from one of my local public libraries and they just happen to both be about Google.  Kinda. They are Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and The Circle by Dave Eggers.

It was a coincidence that they turned out to hinge on common themes and elements, but it was a very interesting contrast in perspective.  Mr. Penumbra’s takes a rather positive view of technology and data and how it can help us solve mysteries and enjoy life more deeply.  The Circle, however, takes a far warier view of our connected, internet society and the threat it poses to individual freedom and liberty.

I would recommend them both for different reasons.  The first book is a fun, light-hearted mystery/adventure with lots of literary color.  The second book is basically a horror story in the tradition of 1984 and A Brave New World.