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.
The events in The Secret Commonwealth occur twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and eight after His Dark Materials. I admit that I could benefit from rereading His Dark Materials (I read it more than ten years ago…), but Philip Pullman tied all of the characters and events so well in The Book of Dust #1 and #2 that I was able to recall the backstories as I read on.
The Secret Commonwealth was almost perfect, except that it felt too much like a lead in to a third book. But I appreciate. I’m going to rave about certain events in the book, so I will tell you now that this post has spoilers.
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.