I really enjoyed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and was eager to read Helen Simonson's sophomore attempt. Unfortunately this book was a disappointment. Although Simonsen's ability to craft a multilayered sentence was amply evident here, it was actually to the book's detriment as people engaged in dialogue that was long on eloquence and short on verissimilitude. This was most obvious when our hero and heroine conversed. Their detail-heavy exchanges were rather surprising for two people who barely knew each other, yet there was no sense that their actual relationship was deepening. The characters in this book were mostly interchangeable and the plotline felt clicheed for historical fiction; independent ahead-of-her-time single woman moves to town and wants to fight societal norms (she wants to write a book! Everyone in these novels wants to write a book!), swears she'll never marry (hmm, do you think this wonderful guy she keeps talking to will test her resolve?), she's younger and prettier than they had expected (don't things ever happen to average-looking people?), etc., etc.
I just lost patience after a while, and even though I enjoyed the convenience of being able to read this on my phone (free ARC from Netgalley; I do feel guilty panning it and dnfing it), it simply didn't do it for me....more
Though lighter in tone than the works of Oliver Sacks, this book similarly contained many fascinating tales of neurological damage and its idiosyncratic effects. It also asked a number of profound questions about the age-old mind/body problem and whether we truly have free choice given increasing evidence that our personalities and practically everything we do can be located in our neurology.
This fun and breezy book is a window not only into the social mores of modern dating but into some of the ways in which technology has impacted the waThis fun and breezy book is a window not only into the social mores of modern dating but into some of the ways in which technology has impacted the way we think and interact.
Aziz starts out by exploring the ways in which dating has changed in just a few decades. Whereas adults once expected to get married in their early twenties, today they tend to spend that decade exploring a variety of options before settling down (maybe) in their late twenties or early thirties. Unlike those in earlier generations who were happy to select from a limited pool and settle down with a good-enough spouse for a companionate marriage, people today tend to seek their soul mates and want a marriage that will be instantaneously passionate and fulfill a wide range of lofty expectations -- a set-up for inevitable disappointment, some scholars say.
The protocol of asking someone out has changed as well. The rise of texting has led, it seems, to heightened anxiety about actually calling a prospective date. Texting also tends to depersonalize the other person and disinhibit the texter, and texts can be highly embarrassing or, perhaps worse, generic and noncommittal. Texting can also result in an endless and unproductive back-and-forth before people actually meet, and some confusion about whether the person is being asked to "hang out" or asked out on a real date. When the dater is actually interested in the person, a whole lot of mind games ensue (e.g., how long to wait before texting back, the length of your texts vs. the length of their texts, etc.). Then, there's the question of how to respond if you're not interested in dating the person who texted you. Etiquette just gets more and more complicated, it seems.
Aziz goes on to discuss online dating and the impact of having exponentially more dating choices. "That's the thing about the Internet," says Aziz. "It doesn't simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it...we live in a culture that tells us we want and deserve the best, and now we have the technology to get it." We have an unprecedented number of romantic options today, but is having more choices a good thing?
Aziz explains the concepts of maximizers, people who do a rigorous amount of research to seek out the best, and satisficers, who are happy to make do with good-enough. In today's day and age, with the Internet, why not be a maximizer, right? Interestingly, research has found that with regard to jobs, maximizers put more time and effort into their job search and land better jobs but are less satisfied with them. Satisficers, on the other hand, have jobs that seem worse on paper but actually report higher job satisfaction. What happens is that the maximizers, who research a large number of jobs, end up creating a fantasy in their mind combining the best features of all the jobs they've researched and wishing for this unattainable ideal. The same may very well be true for people who perceive themselves as having lots of dating options available.
In fact, in another famous experiment, while people are more likely to sample jams from a stand that offers many choices, they're more likely to actually buy jams from a stand that sells a smaller number of flavors. Aziz seems to suggest that daters would be better off focusing on a smaller number of people and trying to get to know them better rather than allowing themselves to be continually distracted by the availability of so many other options.
With so many options available, people can also set the bar unrealistically high for a first date to impress them. This is compounded by the fact that first dates are often boring, taking place in banal settings with unoriginal choices of activity and conversation. They arguably don't offer daters the opportunity to show much personality or creativity, in contrast to more original date settings. Aziz also suggests giving dates more than one opportunity to impress you; many first dates are just okay whereas second and third dates can give someone an opportunity to warm up and improve rapport.
After going cross-cultural to inform us about the dating scenes in Tokyo and Buenos Aires, Aziz discusses the impact of technology on many age-old dating behaviors, e.g., jealousy, infidelity, and sexual intimacy. He explores the rise of sexting, the disinhibiting effect of texting and social media on infidelity, the fact that difficult breakup conversations can now take place on screens rather than in person, and the temptation to monitor your significant other's activities by snooping in their phone and/or computer.
Aziz then explores the process of deciding to settle down in a serious relationship as opposed to continuing to play the field. Casual dating is fun for a while, says Aziz, but eventually it gets old, particularly as your single buddies increasingly couple off. Despite this, it can still be difficulty to take the plunge and remove oneself from the single life, where there is always the theoretical possibility of an "upgrade."
Aziz discusses the typical phases of relationships, passionate love followed by companionate love. Passionate love is, and should be, short-lived; the world couldn't function if people remained infatuated with their partners and obsessed with their relationships. That being said, the transition from passionate love to companionate love can create some challenges. In some cases, as the haze dissipates, people realize that they've made a poor choice of partner. Even in the best-case scenario, the relationship's waning excitement can make people wonder if they've made a poor choice. According to researchers, this phase is normal and typical and, if you stick it out, you'll often find that you've created a deeper relationship.
Examining all of this, Aziz asked an interesting question. Wouldn't life be more enjoyable with a series of multiple passionate relationships, so that someone can repeatedly experience passionate love rather than only experiencing it once and having it dissolve into apparently more mundane companionate love? The answer he received from the psychologist he asked bears quoting: "If you think the best life would be the one with the most passion in it, then yes, that strategy would be much better than getting married. Falling in love is the most intense and wonderful experience..." However, the psychologist adds that there is another way of thinking about satisfaction -- what he calls the narrative view, "that the best life is about building a story." He states: "If you take a narrative view, there are different things to accomplish at different stages of life. Dating and having these passionate flings are perfect when you're younger, but some of the greatest joys of life come from nurturing and from what' called 'generativity.' People have strong strivings to build something, to do something, to leave something behind. And of course having children is one way of doing that. My own experience having children is that I discovered there were rooms in my heart that I didn't even know were there. And if I had committed to a life of repeated sexual flings, I never would have opened those doors. If you think the whole point of life is to gaze into your lover's eyes all day until you die -- well, then, I wouldn't want your life." Aziz also tells us honestly that although it's one thing to imagine a single life that is an endless series of passionate relationships, the reality is far more complicated and less satisfying.
Since many of my clients are adult singles seeking a relationship, it was fascinating to get this window into today's dating world and how things have changed. What I truly appreciated, though, was the opportunity to consider the impact of technology on our functioning beyond dating. The accessibility of so many choices -- good for us, or bad for us? Is it better to be a maximizer or a satisficer? Finally, Aziz points out that although books like this can make us get negative about technology and its impact and romanticize the past, the reality is more nuanced. Technology also gives us tools to store, remember, and share reminders of our love for each other. And finally, Aziz tells us, "no matter how many options we seem to have on our screens, we should be careful not to lose track of the human beings behind them. We're better off spending quality time getting to know actual people than spending hours with our devices, seeing who else is out there."...more
It's always a tough call for me to give a book five stars. I'm afraid of overselling something and then disappointing people (although my critical revIt's always a tough call for me to give a book five stars. I'm afraid of overselling something and then disappointing people (although my critical reviews appear to offend more people than my hyperbolic ones). I was also reluctant because the beginning of this book felt like hackneyed, well-trod ground and I wasn't sure I should bother to keep reading. But I did, and this book completely grew on me, with insights that I found original, useful, and truly resonant. So five stars it is.
Leonard Sax, impressively, is a family physician who also has a Ph.D. in psychology. He has been practicing medicine for about 20 years, and has also traveled cross-culturally to examine current developments with children and adolescents. His book is informative and heavily footnoted but also easily readable, which is nice. Sax begins with the problems and then offers some solutions.
Sax starts off by describing a "culture of disrespect" which has developed in America. He reports that schools were once more responsible for imparting cultural rules in the early years, but have changed their focus to academics so that the burden of socializing children falls more heavily on parents than it once did. Alas, parents today suffer from role confusion, wanting to be their child's friend and the object of their affection and confusing authority (which Sax defines as having their opinion valued by their children) with discipline (i.e., enforcing rules). Feeling uncomfortable disciplining too harshly, parents relinquish their claim to authority. As a result, children value their same-age peers' opinions more than those of their parents. Sax makes the interesting claim that this contributes to an increase in anxiety and fragility in children (ironically, sometimes manifested as excessive reassurance seeking from parents in early adulthood after having soundly rejected their opinion in adolescence) because they seek the elusive conditional approval of their friends rather than valuing the unconditional support of their parents.
Sax then takes on a number of contemporary childhood challenges. He writes convincingly about childhood obesity as a function of parents' abdicating authority over their children's food choices. Then there's that topic so close to my heart as a psychologist, the overprescription of psychotropic medication for kids. According to Sax, a number of behavioral problems for which medication is prescribed might be better addressed by turning off devices so that children sleep more at night, teaching children self-control by setting and enforcing limits, and, according to some surprisingly stark research findings, eating dinner as a family. Apparently, at almost every step from zero up to seven evening meals consumed as a family per week, each extra dinner a child has with a parent significantly decreases the risk of emotional and behavioral problems -- not to mention reducing the risk of obesity. Finally, Sax explores possible reasons for American students' underachievement and emotional fragility.
So much for problems. Lest we get too depressed, Sax does move into some possible solutions. He makes a compelling case for bringing back those underrated virtues, self-control and humility. He encourages parents to make changes that will help them actually enjoy time spent with their children. Finally, in one of my favorite chapters, he encourages parents to teach children about the meaning of life which he quotes as meaningful work, a person to love, and a cause to embrace. He challenges the "middle class script," which he describes as work hard in school so you can get into a good college --> get into a good college so you can get a good job --> get a good job and then you will make a good living and have a good life. Of course, this is a script I have been zealously promoting to my four children so I must admit that reading this gave me pause. I'm no fan of poverty and want financial security for my children, so it felt like Sax and I were parting ways here.
But Sax redeemed himself for me when he described what he calls "the Flashdance illusion." Based on the 1980s movie, Sax describes this as, "Go for your dream. If you work hard enough, it will happen. If you build it, they will come." This is a toxic script, says Sax, leading kids to focus on one narrative: "initial failure must be met with the resolve to try harder in the same domain, leading to ultimate success." Instead, Sax advocates being willing to accept failure and try other things. He also advocates finding meaning not through personal success but through character development, and moving away from Hollywood-esque self-absorption and into service and integrity. Achievement vs. happiness is a false dichotomy, says Sax. Instead, have a sense of meaning in your life so that you know why your achievement is worth pursuing.
It's always a good sign when I find myself folding down pages of a book because there are passages I want to remember -- for myself, for clients, etc. Definitely a keeper. Five stars....more
I was underwhelmed by The Cuckoo's Calling, the first book in this series, and picked up its sequel The Silkworm reluctantly but found myself pleasantI was underwhelmed by The Cuckoo's Calling, the first book in this series, and picked up its sequel The Silkworm reluctantly but found myself pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was. So I was eager to read the third book in the series, Career of Evil, and was unfortunately somewhat disappointed.
Like The Cuckoo's Calling, this book was certainly readable enough and entertaining for what it was, but I didn't love it. Maybe some of it was the fact that I ended up listening to part of it on audio only to have my digital copy remanded by the library, with a long gap before the hard copy finally arrived for me at my local library. So it's possible that the audio and/or the long gap detracted from my experience. That being said, I was bothered by the characterization of Matthew, Robin's long-suffering fiance, who is becoming even more of a cartoon. I was also annoyed by the occasional interludes where we're inside the serial killer's head; I found them distracting and annoying and felt they detracted rather than adding.
Eh. Not bad if you're in the mood for a mystery and/or curious about what happens next to Robin and Strike, but I know J. K. can do better and I hope she will in the next one, which I will probably pick up despite my curmudgeonly review....more
Although my feelings about Ruth Reichl's books have been somewhat mixed since her first memoir, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, I will saAlthough my feelings about Ruth Reichl's books have been somewhat mixed since her first memoir, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, I will say that this book actually had a lot to recommend it. It's kind of halfway between a cookbook and a memoir, with some touching sections about Ruth's emotional struggles after the abrupt termination of "Gourmet" Magazine and her editorship and how cooking, and eventually turning her cooking experiences into this cookbook, comforted her. Ruth writes poignantly as well as sensuously about the experience of cooking, to the point where some poetic lines would come back to me as I shopped and cooked for my far more mundane meals and actually made me appreciate how mindful this process can be. Additionally, the photographs were absolutely gorgeous and enhanced the overall effect of the book.
Why only three stars, then? Once again, I'm being entirely subjective. As a kosher cook of family-friendly meals who really can't devote my days to finding and using exotic ingredients, most of the recipes (appealing though they sounded) were truly impractical for my lifestyle. Also, this may simply be my anal nature but I get annoyed with cookbooks that are organized thematically rather than practically -- I just want to know where to look when I want to choose a soup, a side dish, etc. So this book was a bit schizophrenic in that it wasn't really a memoir -- the memoir pieces were relatively brief and broken up regularly by recipes -- and it also wouldn't work for me as a cookbook, given the incompatibility of the recipes with my realities.
Still, though, the process of leafing through this was actually quite enjoyable for me and, while I wouldn't purchase it for myself, I could see it making a nice gift for someone who's a devoted gourmet cook or foodie as well as a reader....more
This slim book, a relatively fast read, documented an interesting dialogue between staunch atheist Sam Harris and former Muslim radical Maajid Nawaz.This slim book, a relatively fast read, documented an interesting dialogue between staunch atheist Sam Harris and former Muslim radical Maajid Nawaz. Nawaz offers us a fascinating and nuanced view of how radicalism develops (making this an interesting book to read in tandem with Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist: An American Story) as well as various Muslim communities' relationships with their heritage and with radical views.
I only gave it three stars, though, because I found Nawaz's sections lengthy, rambling, and hard to follow at times (this could just be me) and ultimately, I'm not sure what I'm really walking away with. This book feels to me like a nice beginning rather than a comprehensive addressing of the various issues, which I guess is to be expected given its short length. That being said, I think it's a worthwhile read with much to discuss....more
My five star rating is entirely subjective. I don't know how others might feel about this book, or whether it would speak to them the way it spoke toMy five star rating is entirely subjective. I don't know how others might feel about this book, or whether it would speak to them the way it spoke to me. I found it highly compelling, but I'm sure that has at least as much to do with my own background and interests as with the book's objective power.
I very much enjoyed Like Dreamers: The Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, and the Divided Israel They Created and was eager to read this, the author's far more personal book. Here, Yossi Klein Halevi describes his Orthodox childhood in 1950s-1970s Boro Park, raised by a Holocaust survivor father whose views were very much shaped by his experiences and the broader reactions of Jewry to the Holocaust. From an early age, Yossi felt passionate about wanting to fight for Jewish causes and sacrificed his grades and other more typical pursuits as well as intellectually honest complex thinking in service of becoming a radical activist. As Yossi matured, he began to struggle with the fascinating insight that rather than a way to fully embrace life, his activist activities were actually an escape. Gradually, he distanced himself from radical friends and ways of thinking and found more moderate ways to advocate for fellow Jews, joining the ranks of individuals he had earlier disdained.
Some of the appeal of this book for me, admittedly, lay in the familiarity of Yossi's childhood context (although he's significantly older than I am) and the influences that shaped his thinking. I also loved his passion and his earnest desire to act, not just think and feel. Most of all, though, I appreciated Yossi's honesty and insight. While adeptly helping the reader feel what he felt and understand his choices, Yossi remains self-critical and causes you to consider the flaws as well as the appeal of embracing an activist view....more
I know I'm a snob, but I can put aside those tendencies for a really good thriller. And this book started outThis book started out with such promise.
I know I'm a snob, but I can put aside those tendencies for a really good thriller. And this book started out that way. It had a great premise, family dysfunction that was explored rather than glossed over, and dialogue that sounded not only sharp but real (many authors are lucky if they achieve just one of those goals in their dialogue). It was so readable at first. Then, the psychopathy just got to be over the top. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was somehow compelled to keep reading despite this. Here, I just got sick and tired of the whole torture thing.
Many other people really liked this, so don't take my word for it. I would actually be open to trying another of Karin Slaughter's books; she definitely has potential as an author and really had me hooked for a while there (and her other books have higher goodreads ratings than this one does, for what that's worth). But eventually, despite nearing the end, I just had to put this one down....more
This book chronicles three families' experiences leaving the U.S. and creating a life in Israel. The families' circumstances, backgrounds, and time frThis book chronicles three families' experiences leaving the U.S. and creating a life in Israel. The families' circumstances, backgrounds, and time frames vary. One idealistic newlywed couple leaves America for pre-state Israel post-WWII, another individual moves back and forth between America and Israel as an adolescent in the 1960s/1970s and ultimately finds himself in Israel, and finally a modern Orthodox family in the early 2000s relocates from Queens with a great deal of turmoil and adjustment challenges.
I found this book very readable and engaging but, other than the stories of the families themselves, wasn't sure what I was left with at the end. The author acknowledges that, as a ninth generation Israeli who chose to relocate to America, he wrote the book in part to wrestle with his own conflicts over the choice to live in Israel and didn't actually reach any conclusions. Although the individuals in the book speak for themselves about their satisfaction with their decision, the author remains unsure of why someone would abandon the comforts of America to live in Israel which was a bit surprising to me. Also interesting is the author's expressed antipathy to his own book more than a decade later; he apparently wrote a goodreads review bashing it and did the same on his podcast, Unorthodox. I kind of wonder why he's so down on his book, which I feel explores an interesting topic in an engaging way even if it perhaps falls short of anything profound.
In any case, as someone who also feels close to the topic of moving to Israel, this book spoke to me. It was also a short, quick read that maintained my interest which is always a positive thing. I'm only giving it three stars, though, because ultimately it's pretty forgettable and would probably only appeal to a limited audience....more
I have four children, and there was never a question of whether I would breastfeed them. I had read about all the benefits of breastfeeding, and withI have four children, and there was never a question of whether I would breastfeed them. I had read about all the benefits of breastfeeding, and with all the uncertainty surrounding parenting, breastfeeding was on a very short list of things I knew I could do right. But when I had my first child, it was not that simple. Nursing hurt. Her feeding schedule was unpredictable. I felt tied down in all sorts of ways, physical and emotional, by the need to be on call for her and the pressure of being the only thing standing between her and starvation. When I returned to school and work after two and a half months, I had the added pressures of pumping to contend with at a time when there was far less awareness of the needs of nursing mothers in the work environment.
It was a stressful and anxiety-provoking period, and although I believed I was doing the right thing I struggled with a great deal of ambivalence. What made things even harder was being surrounded by family members who were militant advocates of breastfeeding. Of course, they were all stay-at-home mothers who had no clue about the challenges I was experiencing and didn't especially sympathize given that I had made different lifestyle choices. "Call La Leche League!" one of my relatives urged when I told her I was struggling. But I didn't want to call La Leche League. This same relative had blithely described La Leche League as an organization that would support my nursing by insisting I do it no matter what. That wasn't the answer I wanted to hear. I didn't want someone pushing a nursing agenda on me. In this, as in so many other areas, it felt as if my personal needs no longer counted now that I had an infant.
Thankfully, I got through that period okay. I ended up nursing my daughter, and my subsequent three children, for fourteen months each and have no regrets about having done so. Part of me feels that the pressure surrounding me, unpleasant though it was, helped strengthen my resolve to continue nursing and ultimately I'm grateful that I kept it up. But I do remember the resentment and anxiety I felt, and have wondered at times whether it was truly warranted. Naturally, I was extremely curious when I heard about this book and it did not disappoint.
Courtney Jung reports that she breastfed both of her children. She tells us that she's happy she did it. She also acknowledges that, for a variety of reasons, her breastfeeding experience was easier than that of many mothers. And she adds that the pressure many mothers feel to breastfeed may be unwarranted, coming from a conflation of societal agendas of varying origin and validity.
According to Jung, La Leche League was founded in 1956, when formula feeding was far more popular than breastfeeding in the U.S., out of an interesting combination of feminist and conservative agendas. From a feminist perspective, La Leche League wanted to empower women to wrest control of their bodies and childrearing practices away from the (largely male) medical establishment. At the same time, La Leche advocated for an agenda of full-time mothering and prioritizing childcare above all else, including housework and appearances. What further separated La Leche League from the feminists was the issue of whether to take a stand against abortion in the early 1970s.
Although La Leche League was a marginal organization for a while, breastfeeding got another boost in the 1970s when people became aware of high infant mortality rates in developing countries. These rates were attributed in part to the increasing popularity of baby formula in these countries, where conditions for preparing the formula were frequently unsanitary and poor mothers couldn't afford sufficient formula to nourish their babies. Idealistic Americans began boycotting baby formula companies and viewing breastfeeding as an act of social consciousness.
Feminists, too, jumped on the breastfeeding bandwagon as an issue of female empowerment. And as Dr. Sears and his books promoted attachment parenting in the 1980s, our culture of hyperparenting lent more support to breastfeeding. Hipsters embraced breastfeeding as part of a larger movement toward socially conscious consumption practices that includes fair trade coffee, locally grown produce, etc. Fundamentalist Christians embraced breastfeeding as part of God's plan. Politicians claimed that breastfeeding would reduce nationwide medical costs. And businesses, such as breast pump manufacturers, stood only to gain by enhancing breastfeeding's popularity.
But is breastfeeding truly superior? Maybe a little, but not nearly as much as people would have you believe. According to Jung's investigation, the benefits of breastfeeding are highly overstated. Much of the research is mixed or inconclusive. While there is some legitimate research supporting certain benefits of breastfeeding, the list is far shorter than people think and the benefits are modest at best. Further, it remains to be clarified whether the benefits are due to breastmilk itself or due to other aspects of breastfeeding, i.e., the bonding that mother and infant experience during the process. Notwithstanding the marketing efforts of breast pump manufacturers and government regulations to make the workplace friendlier to mothers who need to pump, the milk itself may not be the issue here (this was particularly disheartening for me to read, although I do believe that my efforts to pump were worthwhile because they helped maintain my milk supply at a time when I was out of the house a lot).
In what may be the most damning chapter, Jung discusses La Leche League's alignment with AIDS denialists and dangerous support for breastfeeding by mothers who are HIV positive. I was so horrified I had to google this. Sure enough, consistent with Jung's book, La Leche states that "it is no longer necessary for HIV positive women to give up all hope of breastfeeding." According to Jung's research, although the risk of transmitting HIV to infants through breastfeeding can be somewhat reduced under very particular conditions, reaching these conditions is not always realistic; formula feeding, on the other hand, would eliminate the risk altogether. This type of fanaticism is akin to bombing abortion clinics out of an ostensible concern for human life; if the goal of La Leche League is to protect the health of infants, why would they promote breastfeeding in a situation that could only increase the danger to an infant's health?
As I struggled in my early days of nursing, I remember one relative's dogmatic insistence that there is absolutely no such thing as a woman not having sufficient milk, a position which is likely espoused by La Leche League. Jung debunks this myth as well. Although it's certainly far from the majority, a small percentage of women are in fact unable to nurse for physical reasons. To deny this possibility is highly irresponsible and does a terrible disservice to mothers and infants. Although I do think that nursing is a struggle for many mothers initially and, in my experience, is most often is due to a learning curve rather than to physical factors, it's important to explore all the possibilities rather than unnecessarily torturing yourself and your infant because of misguided propaganda.
Having said all that, I'm still a fan of nursing. The research has in fact firmly established some health benefits, even if they're not quite as far-reaching as we would like to believe. I'm happy that I got through my initial adjustment period and feel that both I and my children benefited from my breastfeeding in tangible and intangible ways. But I believe it's a personal choice, especially since the margin of benefit is not nearly as wide as is popularly believed. Aside from my interest in nursing itself, this book was a fascinating look at the way various societal agendas can converge to promote a trend with great emotional urgency at the expense of intellectual honesty....more
I really enjoy Erik Larson, I suspect for the same reason so many others do. He strikes that great balance between entertaining and educational, choosI really enjoy Erik Larson, I suspect for the same reason so many others do. He strikes that great balance between entertaining and educational, choosing particular events in history and bringing them vividly to life in books that are research-based but not dry.
I don't remember learning much about the Lusitania in high school, so it was eye-opening to me to learn about the many human aspects of this pivotal event. Larson's readable, almost novelistic book includes recently widowed President Wilson's new romance, various interesting characters on board the ship, and little-known doings of British intelligence in the early 20th century. Larson also raises some interesting questions about whether the Lusitania tragedy could have been prevented and wartime ethics.
Highly recommended for someone who wants something a cut above chick lit or a thriller but still engaging. ...more
Today my sister and I debated whether this book deserves four or five stars. I'm still undecided, but I guess I'll give it four since she gave it fiveToday my sister and I debated whether this book deserves four or five stars. I'm still undecided, but I guess I'll give it four since she gave it five.
It does arguably deserve all five stars, if only because it held my attention almost consistently for all 720 pages. That's really something, especially with my declining attention span. I loved the writing. I loved the characterization. I loved the interactions between the characters and their inner musings. I was compelled to see what was going to happen.
That being said, the book did have its flaws. As my sister said, this was a novel of extremes. The rich, nuanced characterization and relationships notwithstanding, people's behavior was generally either over-the-top kind or over-the-top cruel. The four friends chronicled in this book were all wildly successful professionally, even if their personal lives were a mess a lot of the time. Nothing was ever really average, which is something I usually get annoyed with in fiction although my tolerance for it was surprisingly high here. Also, at a certain point somewhere in the 600s, I felt the book took a bit of a downturn, and although I was still sufficiently interested to continue reading, my level of engagement was somewhat diminished at that point.
As I read this, two other books kept coming to mind -- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Want Not by Jonathan Miles. Rather than unequivocally recommending this book, I'll note that if you liked A Fine Balance and Want Not, you'll probably like this....more
It's hard to hit just the right note with chick lit.
You want something that grabs you right away and entertains you without demanding too much attentiIt's hard to hit just the right note with chick lit.
You want something that grabs you right away and entertains you without demanding too much attention or focus, but you also don't want it to be too stupid or shallow. It's a very fine line, and most of the chick lit I've read hasn't achieved it. Occasionally I'll give a chick lit book four or more stars if I feel it's really achieved that balance. More often, though, it'll be one or two. So three stars is a pretty good chick lit rating from me.
I know nothing about the romance of Prince Will and Kate, upon which this book is apparently based. But it's too the book's credit that I could enjoy the story despite that. Our heroine, Rebecca (nicknamed Bex), is a college student from middle America who spends a year at Oxford as an exchange student. Well, who should be in her dorm but Prince Nicholas of England? Cinderella, here we come...
I know, I know, it's a pretty ridiculous and clicheed premise and I fully expected to throw the book against the wall in disgust before I'd finished 50 pages. But surprisingly, I found myself engaged in the story. While I wouldn't go so far as to call this a deep or thought-provoking book, it went beyond girl-meets-prince and explored what it might mean to be romantically involved with a major celebrity and to have your ups and downs monitored by the paparazzi, not to mention dealing with sibling and friend jealousy. So while the idealized love affair trod pretty typical lines, the authors did a good job of creating a vivid context and some pretty believable complexities. Bex, though not quite transcending chick lit characterization and cliches, actually managed to be somewhat appealing as a heroine which was refreshing.
Okay, that being said...this was still just a three-star book. It was a great deal longer than it needed to be, with sections that felt largely unnecessary. The Oxford group of friends got on my nerves after a while; I know they were meant to be Characters with Quirky Personalities but at times they were simply over the top. With regard to Bex's unwanted infamy and paparazzi following, while some of it felt realistic and relatable, some of it felt awfully contrived (why would the paparazzi be obsessively fascinated with her during the long period when she was officially separated from Prince Nick, especially when they had allegedly only kissed the one time?). Prince Nick's family secret and the success in keeping it from the press felt unrealistic as well. Ultimately, aside from some unnecessary length and plot twists, I would say that my biggest problem with this book was the frequent need to suspend my disbelief.
And yet, I kept reading. Maybe I just needed chick lit at this time in my life. Or maybe this actually was pretty decent for chick lit, even if it was too flawed to cross the border into four- or five-star land. So, as I've said about many other books, if you're stuck facing a long plane ride and want some effortless entertainment, this is a fine choice. ...more
I've referenced this before but will again. Long ago, I read a particularly stupid chick lit book which would be entirely unmemorable except for one lI've referenced this before but will again. Long ago, I read a particularly stupid chick lit book which would be entirely unmemorable except for one line that stayed with me. Our heroine, contemplating life, muses about the following question: Do jerks look in the mirror and know they're jerks?
This question has come up for me a lot in general, and was particularly relevant as I read this book. I sought this book out after reading this article forwarded by my cousin, which I found insightful and validating. The book, unfortunately, though entertaining and insightful at times, was quite flawed.
First off, for a book about, well, you know, jerks, it was actually kind of dry and repetitive. Sure, I was glad the author chose to include research rather than simply shooting his mouth off about the topic as all of us are capable of doing, but the details of the studies he invoked did not prove particularly enlightening and sometimes felt like filler.
Second, which relates to my original question, I wondered who the audience was. My guess is that jerks don't know they're jerks, and that anyone picking up this book believes it describes other people. So a lot of it is arguably preaching to the converted rather than effecting actual change among people who need to read it. The quiz to test whether you're an, uh, jerk, was a bit problematic in my view in that it would require a great deal of self-awareness and insight for an actual jerk to answer these self-reflective questions accurately, and by definition he probably couldn't be that much of a jerk then, could he? A jerk who knows he's a jerk must feel at least a bit of remorse, no? This question can be debated, but I found the book a bit inadequate in this way.
So the one chapter which I felt actually related to the majority of this book's likely readers is the one about surviving other jerks in the workplace. Although the unfortunate reality is that we can't change other people and there are forces greater than ourselves at work, the author offers some tips for how to cope when you're surrounded by workplace bullies which may well be applied to the jerks in your personal life as well. I'll summarize them here:
1. Instead of trying to fight battles you can't win, learn ways to practice detachment and let their behavior roll right off you; remember not to take them personally or blame yourself for their inappropriate behavior.
2. Keep your expectations for jerks' behavior realistically low.
3. Find small ways to increase your sense of control in this situation, whether through building a support network at work, learning how to stay calm in the face of assault, picking small battles to fight that you can realistically win, etc.
4. Limit your exposure to jerks' behavior.
5. Try to get out of the situation if you can; even if the abovementioned techniques help you cope, don't allow them to lull you into complacency and out of seeking another job, because constant exposure to jerky behavior can have effects on your own character and on the way you see yourself.
Of course, there are some problems with these techniques as well which the author acknowledges -- seeking support at work can quickly morph into multiple unproductive gripe sessions which just leave everyone feeling bad. The author didn't really have an answer for this, other than trying to focus on staying positive and on picking and winning small battles.
Anyway, while this book focused on an interesting topic and had a few good insights, it wasn't a great book. I recommend you go with the article instead....more
I'll go ahead and give this four stars for being an interesting, provocative read that was relatively undemanding. It's nice when a book can get you tI'll go ahead and give this four stars for being an interesting, provocative read that was relatively undemanding. It's nice when a book can get you to contemplate things without placing an excessive burden on your time or level of focus. I didn't agree with everything Sheryl said and felt she was naive at points. Further, a lot of this felt removed from my work life; as a psychologist, I work in a feminized field and have been largely surrounded by women at my various workplaces, both in leadership roles and otherwise. Still, though, there's what to think about here.
The simple version of Sheryl's thesis is that women should be more assertive and proactive in the workplace and men should be more assertive and proactive at home. Archaic gender stereotypes are causing women to doubt their abilities and aim low, and also to be seen as bitchy (my word, not hers) when they take initiative to try to climb the career ladder (or jungle gym, as Sheryl puts it). Since men are overrepresented in leadership positions, women seeking career mentors often have to look to men which can create uncomfortable situations. Anxious to find mentors, women sometimes seek them out in ways that keep them one-down rather than doing this assertively. Sheryl also spends a lot of time discussing the myth of "having it all," noting that women who realize they can't "have it all" are often choosing to make career sacrifices rather than prioritizing across the board and setting their partners up to pick up their slack at home.
I guess the part of the book I related to most was the whole work-family/having it all thing. This was also the part that left me most ambivalent. Sheryl describes a friend of hers who tested her dates' commitment to supporting her career by cancelling on them because of work conflicts and seeing whether they were willing to bend over backward to accommodate the constraints of her professional commitments. Maybe this is an emotional knee-jerk reaction for me, but in general I'm really not a fan of this kind of game-playing in relationships so that put me off from the get-go. And then, isn't the guy allowed to have his own career conflicts? Would this same woman imposing all these demanding tests be equally accommodating of his needs? I was also a little skeptical of Sheryl's various anecdotes about men pulling their weight at home with childcare and household duties. She paints a rosy picture of what could be based on a couple of people she knows, but in my experience division of household labor between spouses can be a highly fraught issue no matter how much they negotiate ahead of time, and it would be unwise to overlook or minimize this.
Sheryl was equally glowing when it came to describing women with great careers who also had great relationships with their kids, and ostensibly managed this by prioritizing and letting go of perfectionism, e.g., not caring if the linen closet was orderly. Whoa, whoa, whoa. First of all, letting go of perfectionism and getting ahead at the workplace are not always the most compatible goals. Second of all, unless you can afford great household help, working moms have to deal with a lot more than messy linen closets. How do you get a nutritious dinner on the table five nights a week when you're gone before 8am and back after 6pm, and then clean the kitchen so you don't have mice, while still connecting with your spouse (if you're lucky enough to have one) and kids and somehow managing to get enough sleep to function the next day? Linen closet? What's that?
But there were many things I liked about the book. I felt that Sheryl was open and honest about her own struggles, and made the insightful (I felt) point that having options by definition means being a little conflicted and ambivalent about what you ultimately choose. Her descriptions of the conflict many women experience between wanting to be a good parent and wanting to succeed at work resonated with me, and I also appreciated her point that many of the conflicts facing working moms would be diminished if workplace policies (e.g., family leave) were more family-friendly. There was a lot more to the book, which still managed to clock in at under 200 pages.
Overall, I tend to be a sucker for an engaging and undemanding read which piques my interest. So although objectively this may have been more of a 3.5, I'll err on the side of 4. It was pleasant and offered some fodder for discussion.
As others have pointed out, contrary to what might think, this is not a self-help book. Rather, it's a book about cognitive biases that interfere withAs others have pointed out, contrary to what might think, this is not a self-help book. Rather, it's a book about cognitive biases that interfere with our ability to understand and predict exactly what makes us happy. Gilbert is both informative and entertaining, and I enjoyed the book overall but found myself oddly reluctant to pick it up at times. Was it too dense with information? Was it missing a sense of a cohesive thesis statement? Or was it just timing on my part? I'm not sure whether it was the book or me, so I still give it four stars for information and readability when I was into it.
Whenever I read celebrity memoirs, I usually don't know much about the celebrity and am simply judging the memoir on its own merits. The questionMeh.
Whenever I read celebrity memoirs, I usually don't know much about the celebrity and am simply judging the memoir on its own merits. The question of whether I would have liked the book more (or possibly less) if I were better acquainted with the celebrity's persona lingers in the background, so take this from who it comes.
This celebrity memoir is arguably a little different from the usual how-I-got-famous-and-the-dysfunction-I-suffered-along-the-way genre because of the Scientology angle. I was fascinated by Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and curious to read a more personal account of someone's experience with Scientology. Well, if I wanted sensationalist gossip this memoir didn't disappoint, even if the gossip mostly centered around Tom Cruise. That being said, this could just be me but I had a bit of a hard time tracing the path of Leah's disenchantment with Scientology; I get that there was some friction for her at Tom Cruise's wedding to Katie Holmes but wasn't exactly sure how the whole 180 happened as a result.
Otherwise, this memoir hit a lot of the same self-absorbed celeb memoir notes -- how I got my big break, name-dropping, more detail than I wanted at times, etc. Since it was readable and interesting at times despite this (and as I said, despite my never having heard of Leah Remini), I'll go ahead and give it three stars....more
In my experience, essay collections tend to be uneven and repetitive. While this particular collection didn't completely escape, it was surprisingly eIn my experience, essay collections tend to be uneven and repetitive. While this particular collection didn't completely escape, it was surprisingly enlightening and enjoyable with pretty consistent quality.
My favorite essay was the one by Lionel Shriver, who made a good case for why someone would not want to have children while acknowledging that this represents a societal value shift that may not reflect entirely positively on us. Other authors wrote more personally about going through periods of ambivalence followed by resolution and making peace with the decision to be childless. Some essays touched me more than others, but the vast majority of them were interesting and provocative.
As someone who grew up in a society where it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that one will become a parent (provided circumstances allow), a decision that goes largely unexamined and unquestioned, it was fascinating to read about this as a complex choice....more