Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

There’s nothing like a nonfiction book to bring you back to reality after having read fantasy. I’ve just finished Smarter Faster Better, and I found it just alright. A little background here: Duhigg’s previous book, The Power of Habit, was the book that got me interested in nonfiction, so I was a little disappointed in how Smarter Faster Better turned out.

Since I’ve been reading psychology books here and there, I found the first two chapters a little lackluster. I thought to myself: I’ve read this somewhere before… I hope the rest of the book isn’t like this. Well, I’m glad that it takes a lot for me to decide not to finish a book because the middle chapters of Smarter Faster Better had some interesting concepts on using mental images and stretch and SMART goals. I even enjoyed reading some of the stories that gave context to Duhigg’s overarching ideas. (I particularly enjoyed the backstory to Frozen and the corporate culture of General Motors.)

Overall, there were maybe only two or three chapters that I liked. Most of the book fell flat to me. I found that the ideas did not flow well from chapter to chapter—each chapter could stand independently; I didn’t see the point of the book since none of the chapters built upon each other. I really wanted to like the book because I still think The Power of Habit is a good book to learn about habits, but Smarter Better Faster simply isn’t for me.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’d known early on that I did not enjoy reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Apart from reading depressing scenarios each time I open the book, I did not enjoy following too many characters—generations of the Buendia—most of whom repeated the same mistakes through the years. None of the characters were very likable, and most of them did not get enough airtime—with the exception of Ursula and Colonel Aureliano Buendia, both of whom lived very long lives—for readers to learn to love them.

It seems that I should have stopped reading the book early on, cut my losses, and moved on with my life. However, I chose to finish reading this book because (1) I didn’t have too many options during this ECQ, and (2) I refused to let my effort of including the book in my move from SF to MNL to go to waste. So I read a chapter a night until the last night when I realized I could finally get my closure.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautifully written book. I liked how the socio-economic landscape changed through the years even if it was as if nothing ever changed in that town. I found myself referring back to the family tree (very helpful if you decide to read this) provided in the beginning of the book. (The family tree spoils nothing, in my opinion.) When I reached the ending, I appreciated how Gabriel Garcia Marquez tied up all the loose ends. Everything made sense, and I appreciated the book as a whole after reading that last sentence.

Verdict: It is not my cup of tea, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment having read this book. I’m glad I didn’t have to read this for Literature class in school (some people had to). Otherwise, I would never have had the drive to finish this book since, on top of my not enjoying the book, I hate assigned reading.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I have only one regret when it comes to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See: that I waited all this time to read it when I’ve had the book since 2015. I received this book as part of a book club from my first job, but I was too overwhelmed learning about clients and portfolios and all to read the book. And then I came up with more excuses through the years: the book was too long; the story seemed too sad (this was not false), and I didn’t want to feel sad at the moment. Whatever possessed me to finally pick it up this month is probably the biggest blessing the bookish me could have received in a while.

The book is set during the rise of Nazism through the German occupation of France, and it alternates points of views between Marie-Laure, who grew up solving puzzles that her locksmith father made for her and reading books that her father could procure for her (she’s particularly attached to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), and Werner, who grew up taking care of his younger sister Jutta at an orphanage and tinkering with radios and listening to broadcasts about science. I grew incredibly attached to all of the characters, especially Werner and Etienne. Although they had a different energy from the usual hero types, they didn’t go unnoticed.

And the story itself, wow. It breaks my heart to think about how everyone’s stories unfolded. It’s the kind of story that will gently take your heart, tickle it a bit, and then crush and tear it into tiny little pieces because that’s just how life is. The story is set during the war, after all. How could I have even been tricked into thinking that it could end happily? No, I am making excuses; I was not misled by the story, but I was hoping against all hope that it would end well. Hope is dangerous. So many emotions.