Wednesday, February 22, 2012

No, and Nope

A couple of surrenders this week.  I swear, it's the first sign of midlife in me.  I don't have enough years left to spend them on books that I don't care about.  My standards are getting higher and higher.  I think this must be a good sign, right?

Heist Society, by Ally Carter.  This just sounded so unbearably clever--a 17-year-old girl whose parents raised her while gallivanting around Europe stealing art, has quit the business and gone legit, conning her way into a fancy boarding school.  But when she finds out her father has been accused of stealing from the wrong guy, she comes back for one last job to save her dear old dad from a vengeful mobster.

Right?  It's like, The Sting and Leverage and How to Steal a Million, and just adorable.  Plus, look at that cover.  Doesn't it make you think of Audrey Hepburn?  How can you not want to read this book and discover the clever plans that Kat and her merry band of sexy teenaged outlaws will come up with?

Alas, no.  First, I can't remember if she's supposed to be 15 or 16, but even the most jaded, globetrotting teenager is not going to have the laser focus and front-brain activity of this girl.  Second, not a lot happened.  There was a LOT of jetting around the world just to stand around talking quietly with people.  No hijinks ensued at all in the first quarter of the book.  And third, Kat just wasn't terribly likeable.  Most of her reactions seemed kind of pat.  She hates her bimbo-esque cousin, for no particular reason I can tell.  She's constantly exasperated with her friend Hale, who hasn't done anything exasperating, and is kind of adorable.  She just takes herself way too seriously.  If Kat's not having any fun, how am I supposed to have fun?  I was promised fun!

Flip side: Ethical Wisdom, by Mark Matousek.  I've really wanted to read a good book about ethics or morality, and this one looked accessible and well-reviewed.  I can't argue with accessible--it was certainly quite readable.

But I try to be pretty careful with books like this.  I often find myself convinced of any argument made with apparent logic, supporting data, and a confident tone.  The less I feel I know about a subject--and the more I think it might matter to me--the more careful I find myself being.  And this book rang a lot of alarm bells for me near the beginning.  From using cloning as an obvious example of something that's morally wrong, to citing and basing a substantial conclusion on a single study that sounds a little sketchy (infants deprived of their mother's gaze wind up insecure and emotionally damaged), this book looks less like something well-researched and more like some thoughts the author had that he backed up with some Googling and wrote down.

Now, I don't actually think he did that.  There's a lot of science cited in here, good science--mirror neurons, primate studies.  But the conclusions, the material that tied them together, doesn't read like good science or good philosophy.  It reads like a magazine article.  Right now, I'm looking for something a little better than that.

So if you have any suggestions for a good book on ethics, send them my way.  I think I'm going to go with Sophie's World at some point soon--I've heard it's a good, basic introduction to philosophy, which I haven't read any of since college.  Seriously, how did the expect us to get all this huge stuff when we were 19?  I'm much more ready to think about ideas like this now.

Then again, I had a lot more time to read back then.

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