Friday, June 29, 2012

Quiet-Susan Cain

Quiet: the power of Introverts in a world that won't stop talking- Susan Cain


 the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 266
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2012
Non fiction

Discusses the undervaluing of introverts and the benefits of acknowledging them within the 'extroversion-ideal' world we live in.

Ok, so I am an introvert. I'm one of those people who is dead quiet in groups, gets easily bored with small talk, and genuinely prefers to stay home instead of socializing. I've also, throughout my life, often dated extroverts-folks who love the limelight groups allow, will happily talk your ear off, and who want to go out every night. Most of the world seems built and set up for extroverts and Cain points this out.

Her strength is the ways she suggests introverts can navigate extroverted spaces and stay true to their own tendencies. She argues that no, you are not too timid, quiet, and unassuming but instead you have a different quiet strength. She points out some physiological reasons for introversion. It's inspiring especially since so many of her points are well researched and poignantly argued. There were many times in which I identified with her points (i.e. why I can't stand small talk in person) and was like, oh thank god, someone else noticed that. She explains why I might prefer a cafe (no demands on you but you may choose to be social if you like AND you can leave anytime you like) to working at home or why I want to recharge.

I loved it but not uncritically. At times, Cain is a bit too polemic. Parts of the world is either perfect for extroverts or perfect for introverts and binaries by their nature unsettle me. I spent part of the first bit of the book wondering if introversion was so tied to everything else, how could pseudo-extroverts exist? I personally have no problem with public speaking and have performed as a dancer in multiple countries-supposedly an extrovert's skills. She attempts to explain it through Free Trait Theory but that does not address the binary issues that unsettled me.

I do recommend it to introverts of all kinds though-moments of  "YES THAT'S ME!" galore.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Speak-Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak-Laurie Halse Anderson


the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 231
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 1999
Novel, YA

Classic YA novel about an outcast teenager, Melinda, and her secrets.

I'm catching up on my YA classics because some of them I can't believe I've not read before. Speak is one I remember passing up years ago because it seemed, plotwise according to the synopsis, run of the mill. Oh boy, I remember thinking, a teenage girl with no friends who doesn't speak...let me read something else instead. Geez, was I wrong. There are twists to the character so I'll restrain myself to merely mentioning that the trauma was very realistically treated.

There's a note at the end that says that while Anderson did not undergo the trauma, the hatred and pain of high school outcast life was drawn from her own experiences. And I can believe that. The whole novel was raw, just raw, much like Melinda herself. But there was a poetic quality to the writing that prevented it from being depressing. The reader can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Dialogue is sparse and so this is more of a character development monologue rather than a typical novel. This means as Melinda goes through her journey of healing alone, you the reader are right there-in her realistic head. Melinda as a character is a strong one, hard to forget.

Recommended to all readers of YA.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Optimism Bias-Tali Sharot

The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain-Tali Sharot


the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 211
gender: F
nationality: Israeli
year: 2012
Non fiction

A neuroscience based investigation of optimism and how it affects our lives.

I think I've been reading too much on neuroscience lately. Not only did I feel like I had already read this before but I read this in record time for non fiction. The last bit might be because while there are a lot of concepts covered in this book, the language was clear and accessible. It's almost a whirlwind journey through the major topics in popular neuroscience today. For that, it's great and could almost be like a reference book in that it quickly reminds you of what the concept is, a few major case studies, and then a reference to the positive mind.

I guess what made me give it a side instead of an up is that at times, Sharot seemed to be off-thesis. She covered all the major topics in neuroscience but failed at times to tell you what the positive benefit was. I remember most notably the chapter on flashbulb memory-that even though our memories of big events may seem vivid, that doesn't mean they are accurate (so flashbulb memories of 9/11 aren't as accurate as we're convinced). Maybe it was that my idea of optimism is different than Sharot but it isn't until the last paragraph of the chapter that she mentions the applicability of those studies to optimism. And I failed to be convinced.

Her main thesis was that optimism is good because by convincing ourselves we will be great and successful, we're more likely to be great and successful. But then she mentions things like some of the lowest earners in a company are the most optimistic that success will come to them and it's the realists who actually work towards their goal. How's that not a counter argument against optimism? Sure optimism should be like a "fine wine" but it's also a 'trick' to convince the mind that it's not so bad after a serious injury. That kind of language to describe what I'd identify as adaptive-strategies seems to make the world a bit of a horrible place that our minds have to trick ourselves into living in.

It was good as a review of major ideas but as a book convincing me of the value of optimism it fell short.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Plague of Doves-Louise Erdrich


Plague of Doves-Louise Erdrich

such striking cover art

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 311
gender: F
nationality: USA, Chippewa
year: 2008
Novel

The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation. 

Given that this book elevated Erdrich into my favorite authors list, it should be no surprise that I want to just gush about it. The problem with Erdrich is that I can't really do her justice. There's little I can definitively say about the book that sticks out as why you should read her. I loved it, as a whole and nothing stuck out as specifically amazing...it was as a whole, amazing to read.

I love her different viewpoints-the different ethnically distinct voices full of off hand references to their own cultures that makes them seem the more real. I never feel so fake as when I have to stop and explain the offhand references to my own cultural background and so I love how Erdrich doesn't tell you but rather shows you the context in which her characters are talking and moving in.

I also love how bits and parts can seem super random in terms of a coherent whole (so maybe you're reading a short story) but then get pulled into a messy but understandable conclusion. Her books are almost like detective stories in which there are clues in every anecdote and character but it isn't until the end that all those clues get pulled together.

I recommend this as thinking fiction from unusual viewpoints.

Monday, June 18, 2012

From Eternity to Here- Sean Carroll


From Eternity to Here-Sean Carroll


the facts
satisfaction: side/up (☞/☝)
pages: 375
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2010
Non-fiction

This a popular-level book on cosmology and the arrow of time.

I was not supposed to pass physics. I was the kid who failed every quiz (except two) and I developed a sort of learned helplessness that manifested most poignantly when I actually misused a protractor during the refraction of light through various materials section. It certainly didn’t help that the honors physics class I was in was primarily theoretical with very little hands on experimentation-we mainly looked at numbers, formulas, and word problems about cows falling off cliffs which was and will always be like a foreign language to me. I only passed due to the pity of my teacher and the special, just for our class, creative project that allowed me to scrape by every marking period. (Thank you by the way Mr.G, even if you did it to not have me in your class another year.)

So the fact that I actually enjoyed and somewhat understood this book is astonishing especially considering that I am probably not the target audience. Let’s be frank, I thought this would a bit more philosophical when a friend recommended it to me as a new idea of time. I only glanced at the book jacket but it seemed full of philosophical possibilities. A chapter in, I realized that my friend was probably playing a joke on me but I was already hooked and I ploughed on through.

By focusing on entropy, Carroll explores the complex issue of time specifically the arrow of time. He talks about the precise implications of our very fixed arrow of time, for instance on time travel or black holes. His explanations are lucid and so the armchair physicist, the physics failure, and the physics genius alike would be able to understand the nuances of Carroll’s apparently well developed theory. Folks like me would probably require another reread before being able to voice any of the theory in public (which explains the heavy autobiographical slant of this review) but even a casual read gives you beyond a gist of the idea. I don't know if this is radical or ground-breaking but it did the job for me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Painted Drum-Louise Erdrich


Painted Drum-Louise Erdrich



the facts
satisfaction:up
pages: 276
gender: F
nationality: USA,Chippewa
year: 2006
Novel


A painted drum is found in an estate sale and the novel follows its creation and its present and the people involved.

This was not a happy book. There are some disturbing stories that I have never encountered before. There is a lot of grief and bones going on. And yet, it was a beautiful novel. Finely crafted and exquisitely aching. It feels earnest and it even has a happy ending.

The intersecting and cross-generational time lines and stories all flow into each other. Even more importantly, the coincidences are not that outrageous and it's all so completely believable. I believed in this story tracing this drum from its creation out of tragedy to its healing to its exile to its return. Yet the story is also interwoven with spirituality and beliefs that are clearly not White Western ideas. Whether the drum heals people or not was not really the important part of the story, it was the people who believed in it.

I loved it, punto finit.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Feeling Sorry for Celia-Jaclyn Moriarty


Feeling Sorry for Celia- Jaclyn Moriarty


the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 278
gender: F
nationality: Australian
year: 2000
YA Novel

Elizabeth Clarry is a 15 year old with an unreliable friend and tons of letters in her life. The letters which are from her psyche, her mother, her penpal etc, make up the text of the novel.

Now, letters as novels can get a bit gimmicky when written for a YA audience but Moriarty does really well. Mainly, the humor is great! I loved the mom's voice most: zany and usually not home but grounded. The letters from the psyche take the form of imaginary associations like the Teenage Association and usually deliver the cold hard truth of unhappy teenagers everywhere.

Since it's a YA novel, I'm not giving you any spoilers when I say drama happens but I especially found it a better book as Elizabeth rises above it and 'comes of age'. This is pretty much a bare bones review mainly because I don't want to overhype it or inadvertently spoil it so I'll stop here. It's a short and quick read (there's a lot of space and caps locked notes in those 278 pages) and you won't suffer for the reading of it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Outwitting History-Aaron Lansky


Outwitting History- Aaron Lansky



the facts
satisfaction:  up
pages: 312
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2004
Non fiction



 Written by the president of the Yiddish Book Centre, he chronicles the early years of collecting Yiddish books up to more or less the present.

I picked this up on a whim during a trip to the library and actually procrastinated reading it for a few months. I was worried it'd be a bit dull or too factual. Boy was I wrong! It's a highly readable account of meeting people, saving a language and culture, and the organizational trials and tribulations of a non-profit catering for a minority interest. Except, as Lansky points out, Yiddish is actually less of a minority interest than most people would realize.

I particularly loved his insistence on the books forming a bridge. Though Yiddish is far from a growing language of native speakers, it nevertheless is a language that encodes the quotidian and often ignored lower class culture that has been more or less wiped out and dispersed. For a comprehensive view of history, something is necessary for all cultures, minority of otherwise, then gaps must not be tolerated. In saving so many Yiddish books from trash heaps, Lansky has helped immensely, writes accessibly, and for that I applaud him.

I definitely recommend this book to historians, people who like books, Jewish people whether religious or not, people who speak other minority languages, non-profit sector workers, and Yiddish speakers.