This was right up my alley. The author sets out to reclaim the unfashionable view that the language we speak affects the way we think. Deutscher's theThis was right up my alley. The author sets out to reclaim the unfashionable view that the language we speak affects the way we think. Deutscher's thesis is less sweeping than earlier ones but still fascinating. He directly addresses 19th century frankly racist thinking and makes a laughing stock of any view that "all languages do things this way" based on a sample of half a dozen Indoeuropean tongues.
His conclusion is that languages can affect how we think, but with constraints. However, these constraints aren't always what we expect, because our view of what is "commonsense" is based on the language we speak. He explores fascinating examples of languages that use other systems of directions than the egocentric (so called because right and left, in front and behind, change when you move) but most interesting of all is his examination of how giving names to colours changes how we perceive them. A titbit as an example: speakers of languages that give different names to 'green' and 'blue' perform differently in cleverly designed tests of colour perception than do speakers of languages, such as Russian, that instead give different names to what we would call 'light blue' and 'dark blue'.
Colour is an interesting one because, of course, our brains do oh so much processing to the "simple" electrical signals coming up our optic nerves. Best of all is that fact that all languages that have been researched have developed words for colours in the same order. Did you know that Homer used the same colour to describe the sea and oxen, and violets and sheep? They weren't different enough to use different words for them. It turns out that as people come to modify their environment they need words for colours and that makes them differentiate colours they just didn't bother with before. Isn't that mind blowing? Do you even believe it? I recommend you read this book for a fantastic and convincing explanation.
It is all told with a lot of good humour, and even had a couple of laugh out loud moments. Fascinating book. ...more
Pre-reading for my holiday in graphic non-fiction form continues. This came highly recommended so I was rather disappointed. Delisle tells the story oPre-reading for my holiday in graphic non-fiction form continues. This came highly recommended so I was rather disappointed. Delisle tells the story of his year living in Jerusalem while his girlfriend is stationed there with Medecins Sans Frontieres. He spends his time looking after the kids , exploring, sketching, doing the odd workshop, and offending people. Whilst his observations are interesting, there is no real depth, and far too many two-page vignettes on the frustrations of everyday life that are the same the world over. This really could have been so much more....more
I set standards for graphic storytelling pretty high, and anything in the memoir/documentary area tends to fall short for me as there is something lacI set standards for graphic storytelling pretty high, and anything in the memoir/documentary area tends to fall short for me as there is something lacking in the integration of text and image. However, this gets a bonus star for taking on a difficult topic and doing it pretty well. It is an account of the author as a young woman taking her birthright trip to Israel. The title is presumably ironic. There's potted history and attempts to understand different points of view on the country, while we follow the 26-year-old New Yorker struggle with her preconceptions. Points also awarded for portraying her younger self as not overly sympathetic, and for some neat visuals: the story of the British leaving Jerusalem is told against a backdrop of a child playing with toys, and ghostly figures of lost relatives are visibly present at a cross-community bereavement forum. Otherwise, the art is serviceable and the layouts completely straightforward. I have really been spoiled by some amazing graphic novelist/artist teams....more
This book was pitched wrong for me given my degree involved biochemistry and molecular biology and I worked on a cancer journal for a couple of years,This book was pitched wrong for me given my degree involved biochemistry and molecular biology and I worked on a cancer journal for a couple of years, but I rattled through it regardless for the handful of interesting nuggets it provided, filling in the history of familiar topics. However, I would have liked far far more detail, if not on the science then at least on the people and personalities.
The style was somewhat formulaic and journalistic, making it a lighter, though far far less satisfying, read than The Emperor of All Maladies. It seems unfair to compare it to that masterpiece though, as it is not trying to emulate that and it certainly has something of its own to offer. Although Armstrong seriously overuses the word "serendipitous", I enjoyed various little anecdotes about how chance can complement the hard work and ingenuity of researchers, such as when the temperature-sensitive mutant of p53 was discovered because of a faulty thermostat, and work against progress as findings that emerge before the world is ready for them sink without trace.
Not a bad book at all and worth picking up if you like pop-science and don't know much about the molecular biology of cancer....more
David Crystal is a very engaging writer. Unfortunately, a lot of the material in this book was already familar to me, so perhaps I wasn't the target aDavid Crystal is a very engaging writer. Unfortunately, a lot of the material in this book was already familar to me, so perhaps I wasn't the target audience. There were still lots of interesting nuggets though, which kept me reading to the end....more
Levy's premise is straightforward and, well, obvious: that raunch culture does not mean liberation and getting attention for your body and looks doesLevy's premise is straightforward and, well, obvious: that raunch culture does not mean liberation and getting attention for your body and looks does not mean being empowered.
There was some good analysis, but most chapters of this were written for Slate and New York magazine and have been repurposed here. I'm not a fan of the journalistic style and I don't feel that anecdotes and interviews are the best way to persuade a reader of your thesis. There is no balance to the selections Levy makes to provide her point.
I found myself thinking back to better books I have read on points touched on here (like Julia Serano on trans issues and feminism, although granted Whipping Girl doesn't talk much about trans men, and Melissa Benn on the expectations forced on teenage girls) and I would be pleased to read a book on this premise but with a little more depth and less anecdote.
It's also pretty dated (roughly 2001-2004), which isn't the writer's fault. The chapter on bois and aspects of queer culture was also problematic....more
Although we had a fantastic book club discussion of this, I'm still not sold on it. Plenty rings true, but at the end of the day I feel there are no fAlthough we had a fantastic book club discussion of this, I'm still not sold on it. Plenty rings true, but at the end of the day I feel there are no foundations for hooks' theories beyond observation and rumination. She repeatedly makes massive generalisations, some of which are plainly false. Still, it did make me reflect on my relationships with family, friends and myself. I guess there is always value in things that make us consider the way we live our lives, but I prefer getting that through fiction, whether books, TV or plays....more
What a wonderful man he was. These pieces weren't written for collection so there are occasional repetitions, but overall this is well worth reading,What a wonderful man he was. These pieces weren't written for collection so there are occasional repetitions, but overall this is well worth reading, whether you are a fan of his work or not....more
A book club choice, this is effectively a self-help book for gay men written by a clinical psychotherapist. I would never normally read this type of bA book club choice, this is effectively a self-help book for gay men written by a clinical psychotherapist. I would never normally read this type of book, and I am not in its target demographic, but it was enjoyable enough despite that. The author's points about growing up with shame and lack of validation generally made sense, in a completely wishy washy kind of way. I wouldn't put too much store by it, depsite the prominent "Ph.D." after the author's name on the cover, but there is plenty of food for thought. I am already planning to pass it on to a gay male friend for whom it might be useful. Should be an interesting discussion at book club....more
I feel really bad DNFing this but I am not sure what more I can get out of it. Apparently Wollstonecraft wrote this in a hurry, and it shows. She setsI feel really bad DNFing this but I am not sure what more I can get out of it. Apparently Wollstonecraft wrote this in a hurry, and it shows. She sets out most of her points in the introduction and then goes around and around and around making them over and over again. The style is slow going, but that's not why I stopped. I feel like I have got the message, and I can't bring myself to plough slowly through the rest.
A Vindication of the Rights of Women is obviously a very important book, and it is right that Wollstonecraft has been given a great deal of credit for it down the years. She is responding directly to immediately contemporary and slightly earlier writers, very much throwing herself into the fray. It's a fascinating period in European history, and kudos to her for bringing women to the forefront of it.
It is obviously of its time in many ways. It won't go so far as to say that men and women can be intellectual equals, and its appeals for the education of women as presented as to the benefit of men (appropriately, as it is men who have the power to change things). Also, arguments that start from the premise "given that God also gave women a soul" and argue logically from there sort of fall at the first hurdle for me, although I can appreciate the ingenuity of her position.
One for academic study, I think. Casual readers might want to pick up one of the various heavily abridged versions that are available....more
Audre Lorde is a poet, and this shows in her prose. The writing is effortlessly beautiful and compelling as she moves between accounts of her family aAudre Lorde is a poet, and this shows in her prose. The writing is effortlessly beautiful and compelling as she moves between accounts of her family and relationships, the sometimes mundane details of life in New York, and meditations on how to live life being gay, and a woman, and black, and a gay black woman. Nobody can tell me what it means (meant in the 1950s) to be a gay black woman in New York, except someone who lived that experience, and I am grateful that this talented woman recorded it so evocatively....more
This is a very current and fairly UK-focused survey of issues facing women at various stages of life and in various contexts. The writer has two teenaThis is a very current and fairly UK-focused survey of issues facing women at various stages of life and in various contexts. The writer has two teenage daughters, and this informs the angle she takes here, but the book is not at all limited to issues facing teenagers.
The narrowness of focus means it can be fairly comprehensive, although those reviewers who called this a "literature review" were on to something. There are a lot of statistics and a lot of summaries and quotations of the views of other writers and thinkers. However, Benn does put forward theories and propositions of her own, some of which were very interesting. She's also, unsurprisingly, rather left-wing, which comes very much to the fore in the final chapter, which "throws down gauntlets for the future".
It's difficult to know who this is really aimed at. At least half of the material related to issues I had already read or thought about in depth, so it became more like reading for pleasure than for edification. That said, I am keen to gain a greater understanding of feminist theory and history, and this filled in plenty of gaps. Plus it is always instructive to see views you instinctively agree with set out eloquently and convincingly. Perhaps the person who gave me this copy, a man successful in a man's world who wants to understand how life will be for his 3 year old daughter, is actually the perfect audience....more
Hard work at times, but completely worth it. With my feminist leanings, it might seem that this book was preaching to the choir, but I admit I went inHard work at times, but completely worth it. With my feminist leanings, it might seem that this book was preaching to the choir, but I admit I went into it thinking, essentially, men and women are different but society treats these differences unfairly and insensitively. My girlfriend has frequently grumbled at me making statements about differences between how men and women act.
Fine crushes any illusions that differences between the sexes might be hardwired. She meticulously deconstructs the work of the researchers and pop-science writers who make such claims, and makes an incredibly convincing case for society's role in not only encouraging a girl to play with dolls and a woman to prioritize the home over her career, but also to influence the objective performance of the sexes in gender-stereotypical subjects and fields. (Don't worry, she is not insensitive to how gender stereotypes can harm males too.) My mind was thoroughly blown when I read about how priming (not just in relation to gender) can affect the performance of individuals in controlled tests.
There's a lot of hard facts in here, and the description of trial after trial in some sections can be a little tiring. However, Fine is at times hilarious. The New Scientist review on the cover says 'droll'; I would say 'sarky'.