At the 2005 U.S. Memory Championships, Joshua Foer – an average-memory journalist doing research for a story on the world’s smartest people – watchedAt the 2005 U.S. Memory Championships, Joshua Foer – an average-memory journalist doing research for a story on the world’s smartest people – watched in awe as mental athletes memorized decks of cards in mere minutes, memorized hundreds of random numbers, words, names, and faces. The next year, he was competing alongside them.
While it might appear that feats of memory are the bastion of savants and freaks, mnemonists insist that anyone who’s willing to put in time and effort can do what they do. Like all magic, once you know the trick, it’s not nearly as thrilling. Joshua Foer decided to put the theory to the test, studying for an hour a day under the tutelage of some of Europe’s foremost mentalists. (It’s a small club.)
The foundation of Foer’s memorization practice was the art of constructing “memory palaces,” a technique that dates back to ancient Rome. With it, ancient and medieval scholars memorized entire books. Though almost no one has heard of it today, it was once incredibly popular, perhaps the most popular method of bulk memorization. Foer also learned techniques like the “major system” for memorizing numbers and the “PAO system” (person-action-object) for memorizing decks of cards.
Today it might seem like the art of memorization is unnecessary. After all, we’ve got computers, calendars, smart phones, and all sorts of other devices to remember things for us. We read extensively (skimming for the gist of a wide variety of works) rather than intensively (memorizing individual texts so they may be digested at a later date). But is a gist really the same as internalizing information? Can we really say we “know” something when we must look it up every time we want to remember it? These are some of the questions Foer poses, particularly given the speed at which our electronic, external brains are advancing.
Sadly for an aspiring bard like me, the field of mnemonics doesn’t offer much by way of word-for-word memorization, the sort you need for poetry. Apparently ancient epic poets would be trained in the form of the poetry and then effectively re-compose the poem every time they told it, which is why the Iliad and Odyssey have so many repetitions of “wine-dark sea” and “swift-footed Achilles,” even when he’s sitting still. It fits the meter. (Fun fact: you can also play this game with pop songs. Give me a song with the line “I’ll love you from the morning light” and I will bet money that the next line ends with “night.”)
In the end, this is a fascinating book. If anything, it proves that just about anyone can vastly improve their memory for speeches, books, names, and phone numbers without too much effort. I haven’t personally tried the techniques yet, but it sounds like it might be fun. ...more
We all know the common advice for weight loss: eat less (or less of the wrong things), exercise more, exert willpower. Anyone who wants to be thin, reWe all know the common advice for weight loss: eat less (or less of the wrong things), exercise more, exert willpower. Anyone who wants to be thin, really wants it, can be.
But what if all that advice is wrong?
Gina Kolata comes to the conclusion that a lot of the common dieting and weight loss advice is bunk. Nominally a book tracking a huge two-year study which compared the Atkins diet to a traditional low-calorie diet, every other chapter is a looks at the history or science behind losing weight. She notes that people who go on very low-calorie diets tend to respond, physiologically and psychologically, like prisoners of war who have been starved: they can't stop thinking about food, and their bodies no longer can tell when they are sated. (Sound like anyone you know?)
Moreover, based on studies of twins and adoption, Kolata shows that heredity plays a much larger role in determining body size than environment. The children of obese parents will much more likely become obese, even if they have lived with thin adoptive parents since birth. (80% of children of two obese parents become obese, compared to 14% of children of two normal-weight parents.)
Through these and other studies, Kolata suggests that people have control over their weight, but within a surprisingly narrow range (20-30 pounds). Dip too far below that range, and you'll gain the weight back. Surprisingly, however, it's actually quite difficult to go too far above that range as well, and fairly easy to lose weight back down to it.
Kolata ends with a particularly controversial chapter, speaking about some very large-scale studies that asked whether being overweight is actually as big a health risk as the medical community (and society at large) believes. The answer was generally no. A massive (pardon the pun) study by Katherine Flegal, David Williamson, Barry Graubard, and Mitchell Gail, for example, showed that mortality rates are highest among the very thin and the very fat -- being merely "overweight" is not actually that bad. The study, and others like it, naturally produced a firestorm of controversy which has still not abated.
I can't say whether I agree with Kolata or not, having not seen most of the studies myself. I should note that over the few weeks I read this book, I actually gained a pound or two, though whether the "relax, it's not that bad" message of Rethinking Thin had anything to do with it, I can't say. (For the record, results of the study comparing the Atkins diet and the low-calorie diet had not yet been published at the time of the book's publication.)
Final verdict: thought-provoking, but doesn't actual provide any actionable items. ...more
In Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress, Shelly Mazzanoble sets out to do the seemingly impossible: introduce girly-girls to D&D. I will be the fiIn Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress, Shelly Mazzanoble sets out to do the seemingly impossible: introduce girly-girls to D&D. I will be the first to admit that I am not Mazzanoble's target audience. The girls she's talking to are the sort who fawn over shoes and purses, grab weekly mani-pedis in the summer, and down margaritas with their girlfriends. And maybe, just maybe, they wonder what the heck their boyfriends are doing when they go out to their "Dungeons and Dragons" nights and what possible fun anyone could see in rolling dice.
I'll give this to Mazzanoble: she writes to her audience. It's an extremely basic introduction, and the analogies are all based on things women stereotypically love or can relate to: the rogue "picks a lock with his Amex card and uses charm to avoid paying late fees"; gnomes "are like the lucky cousins who grew up without a curfew and ate organic fruit and were allowed to watch R-rated movies." Not all the analogies are spot-on, but many are close enough, in a weirdly Valley-girl sort of way.
I think Mazzanoble's best point in the entire book is that D&D should be a women's game: it's all about storytelling. Women (or girls) are natural storytellers. Even I will admit to making up long stories and backstories about my dolls when I was a kid. In as much as D&D is all about telling a grand story, it should be right up our alley, and it's a shame the game hasn't pitched itself that way.
I also found the chapter closers highly amusing. For the last two or three pages of each chapter, Mazzanoble provides a diary entry, written from the perspective of her character Astrid. The blend between D&D-world and real-world descriptions are pretty fun. (e.g. When the group's male cleric accidentally brushes up against Astrid, he declares that it's his "spiritual weapon" she was feeling. "Ursula [the dwarf fighter] shoved a gnarled little fist under his chin and told him if he came near me again, she'd take her greatsword to his spiritual weapon. Yeah, that spiritual weapon.")
On the other hand, I was intensely frustrated by a lot of the descriptions of play. For one of their first sessions, the DM placed the characters in a village market square, so that they could equip themselves for the upcoming adventure. Mazzanoble's character Astrid immediately declared she was going to Nordstrom and the Cheesecake Factory. Look, I appreciate that not everyone has the deep historical knowledge that I do, but even girly-girls know (I hope) that there was no such thing as Nordstrom in the middle ages. On Astrid's list of equipment -- I swear I'm not making this up -- there's a Balenciaga clutch and three pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes. One of the more established female players in the group had about the same reaction to that as I did: a barely-controlled need to whack Mazzanoble over the head with a clue stick.
In any event, this book was clearly not written for me. As both an established roleplayer and as far from girly-girl as you can get while still being female, I didn't find much to empathize with in this book. It was cute... in an, "Oh, my God, the pink!" kind of way. I'm just glad I didn't pay any money for it....more
There are only two certain things in this world, so the saying goes, death and taxes. But what happens to us after we die but before we reach our finaThere are only two certain things in this world, so the saying goes, death and taxes. But what happens to us after we die but before we reach our final resting place, wherever that may be? What happens to our bodies in the hands of undertakers and funeral directors? That's what Tom Jokinen, a CBC radio producer from Winnipeg, set out to discover when he took a leave of absence to apprentice in a local funeral home/crematorium.
The opening chapters of the book discuss, as you might expect, Jokinen's initial reactions towards being around corpses, from transporting them from the hospital back to the funeral home, to dressing them, embalming them, and sorting the remains from the "retorts" (where the bodies are cremated). He's just like you or I, really. If I had to carry a dead body, I'd probably be pretty uncomfortable. And even more so if you asked me to search around with my hands for the femoral artery and rip it out (to introduce the embalming fluid). And so's Jokinen, at least initially.
But as the book wears on and Jokinen becomes less uncomfortable around the dead, the narrative turns towards the innovations within the funeral industry. If you think that "innovative undertakers" are as oxymoronic as "honest politicians," think again. The challenge to the funeral industry is twofold: first, people are living longer, and the first wave of deaths expected from the baby boomer generation probably won't hit for another fifteen years at least, so there is less need for their services. Second, people are increasingly opting for cremation instead of burial. Which means reduced fees (no casket, no elaborate service, no embalming, etc.) and reduced profits. Funeral directors are innovating in many ways, trying to regain their livelihood and their lost income.
As I Jew, I found a lot of Jokinen's anecdotes about funerals and services strange. A sparsely-attended service, personalized however you want, with a cremation at the end or a burial in an elaborate coffin, and then everyone flies back home? A completely foreign concept to me. I've never been to a small Jewish funeral (the ones I've been to have had at least 50-100 attendees), and it is forbidden according to Jewish law to be cremated. Caskets with ceramic liners or rubber gaskets (to keep out the elements for as long as they can) are likewise forbidden: Jews are buried in plain wooden boxes; in Israel they're buried only in shrouds. And Jews have a ritually-mandated mourning period called Shiva, the week after the funeral in which the mourners are visited by friends and family to help them grieve. I'm glad that Jokinen touched on some of these in Curtains. He even feels that the Jewish way may be the way to go. "I've seen the future and it's Jewish," he says.
In the end, Curtains was an interesting read that opened the door to a world I would otherwise know nothing about. It's written in a comfortable, conversational style that makes it quick to get through. While it might not be the most stand-out book I read this year, I think it was certainly worth my time....more
What could someone learn about your personality by checking out your bedroom? How about your iTunes playlist? Or your Facebook profile? That's what SaWhat could someone learn about your personality by checking out your bedroom? How about your iTunes playlist? Or your Facebook profile? That's what Sam Gosling sets out to discuss in Snoop.
Gosling uses our various environments, both physical and virtual, to describe our personalities according to psychology's "big five" indicators: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. He describes where many of our instincts get it right -- people are remarkably good about determining a subject's level of extroversion from their Facebook profile or their conscientiousness from their bedroom -- and where they get it wrong -- it's remarkably difficult to determine agreeableness from physical places and objects, even though we make snap judgements about it all the time. Moreover, certain domains reveal more information about certain aspects of personality: look to an iTunes top-10 list for how open a subject is, but you won't find out much about their conscientiousness.
Snoop isn't like a dream dictionary. You won't find concise lists of equivalences ("a hanging mobile = a whimsical outlook on life"). Gosling is clear that almost everything is context-specific and interconnected. A statue of the Virgin Mary could be a piece of kitch memorbilia in a room that also contains Christmas-tree lights and an Elvis bedspread but could indicate a deep religious spirituality if paired with a Bible and a poster of the Lord's Prayer. A desk organizer could be a sign of conscientiousness, but if everyone else in the office has one, it's more likely that it was just a corporate giveaway.
Can you use this book to fake your way into giving a false impression of yourself? Present yourself as more open or more conscientious, for example? Gosling would probably argue, "Yes, to an extent." He points out the difference between a "tidied" room and one that is "tidy," and shows that it's remarkably difficult to fake a truly conscientious personality. A single day (or even a week) of cleaning isn't enough; conscientiousness requires small daily actions to maintain. It's similar with the other traits: some of our effect on our spaces is under our control, but a lot of it is unconscious.
Is Snoop worth a read? It's certainly a fascinating look at how we interact with our environments. If you're the sort of person who people-watches and sneaks a peak into your host's medicine cabinet when you're at a party, you should probably check out Snoop. And if you're planning on doing any snooping in my apartment, my teddy bears will be watching you....more
A few months ago, I watched the first man-machine Jeopardy match, between Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and IBM's brainchild Watson. So when I discoveredA few months ago, I watched the first man-machine Jeopardy match, between Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and IBM's brainchild Watson. So when I discovered this book by Stephen Baker at my library, purporting to describe the development of Watson from idea to reality, I figured I'd pick it up and see how Watson came to beat two of the greatest Jeopardy champions ever.
Baker charts Watson from mere suggestion -- back around 2006 -- to the final version that played on the show. The perspective is mostly that of David Ferrucci and his team at IBM, the group that turned Watson from the long-shot idea that could never work into reality. Through it all, he charts the tension, frustration, excitement, and inspiration as the project progressed. For a book all about a machine, Baker lends the narrative a very human feel. While Final Jeopardy is about Watson, it's equally about the people who brought him to "life."
Final Jeopardy is also about the larger questions surrounding Watson: what's the current state of artificial intelligence and question-answering programs, and where can we expect it to lead over the next decade or two? Watson can answer natural-language questions (even tricky syntactical ones like Jeopardy clues), but even Ferrucci will claim that the machine is stupid. It doesn't know what its responses mean, not like a human being would know. It doesn't generate ideas or create connections. Some computer scientists believe that this is the correct course to pursue in AI, while others argue that we should be striving towards a more human-like intelligence for our machines.
The ultimate question, of course, is what do we do with Watson now that its Jeopardy match is over. What will IBM use this technology for, and will others (like Google) supplant it from an entirely different direction? Obviously, the ability to survey vast streams of natural language and come up with plausible answers could be a windfall in many professions: medicine, law, science, and all fields where knowing expands more quickly than any one person can keep track of. But whether question-answer programs like Watson creep into our lives in the near future remains to be seen.
I'll admit that this book isn't for everyone. It's well-written and Baker ensures that even difficult concepts are easy to understand. But if you're not interested in AI or the Watson computer, you're probably not going to get any thrills from Final Jeopardy. That said, if AI and the future of computing do interest you, I recommend it....more
Mindset may very well be the best book I've read this year. Certainly, it's the one that's changed my thinking the most, which is pretty much the poinMindset may very well be the best book I've read this year. Certainly, it's the one that's changed my thinking the most, which is pretty much the point.
In Mindset, Carol Dweck explains that people tend to fall into one of two mindsets. The first, the "fixed mindset," is one in which you feel that intelligence, artistic ability, business acumen, athletic potential, etc. are all fixed. You're smart or your dumb. You're a great artist or you're not. And if you're smart, you need to keep proving that you're smart. Every time you fail, it's an indication that you're not smart, you're stupid. So maybe you avoid hard or challenging problems, because you're afraid to fail (and thus admit you're not smart). Maybe you interpret everything as a judgment of praise or of blame. People in fixed mindsets tend to be afraid of failure, addicted to validation, and very stressed.
The flip-side of the fixed mindset is the "growth mindset." People with the growth mindset believe that things like intelligence or athletic ability can be improved by effort and practice. They often seek out difficult or challenging problems, because these provide the best potential to learn. Failure is no longer invalidating, it's an opportunity to ask, "What did I learn from this?" or "What could I do differently next time?" or "How can this failure help me get better?" Not only does it soften the blow of failure, but thinking in a growth mindset actually helps you improve!
Some people have different mindsets in different areas of their lives. Before reading this book, I had a very fixed mindset approach to intelligence and artistic ability (you've got it or you don't), but a more growth mindset approach to karate and cooking. Since reading Mindset, I'm trying to be constantly aware of how I'm thinking and move towards a more growth-mindset approach.
I was amazed how invigorating this book made me feel. A lot of times I'd put it down in the middle of a chapter (practically unheard-of for me) to do some task I'd been procrastinating on. It's made me tremendously excited about a number of projects. Just reading a few pages often filled me with energy. I highly, highly recommend this book to just about everybody. You might be surprised to find yourself in the pages....more
This was a pretty fast read, if by "pretty fast" you mean "I was home all day anyway with nothing better to do." Modeled after those kids' encyclopediThis was a pretty fast read, if by "pretty fast" you mean "I was home all day anyway with nothing better to do." Modeled after those kids' encyclopedias with lots of pictures and captions, as opposed to long paragraphs, Earth (The Book) is designed to be read a page or two at a time. The book delves into everything the reader -- future alien visitors to our planet, now deserted of human life -- could want to know about us, from science to culture to life cycles.
As might be expected from the host of The Daily Show, Earth (The Book) is full of wry, sarcastic humor that requires an in-depth knowledge of pop culture to understand. It's also distinctly not work-safe. There's a full page on pornography, and scattered explicit sexual images throughout the rest of the book. That said, it's quite entertaining, if not particularly informative.
Final verdict: a fun read, though not something I need to have on my shelf....more
This isn't a book I'd usually pick up. Written by the director of the Human Genome Project, it's all about genetics and how recent revolutions in thatThis isn't a book I'd usually pick up. Written by the director of the Human Genome Project, it's all about genetics and how recent revolutions in that field will affect the future of personalized medicine. That said, it's very well-written. Dr. Collins writes for a lay audience, presenting enough basic genetics for the reader to understand his points (sometimes accompanied by helpful illustrations) but yet not enough to make the content overwhelming.
Each section touches on some aspect of genetics, highlighted by case studies. Discussions start with conditions where a single "misspelled" letter in the genome causes disease (like cystic fibrosis) or much higher susceptibility to disease (like the BRCA1/2 variant yielding much higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer). But they broaden out to conditions where multiple genes are at work (to greater or lesser extent), how genes might interact with environmental conditions, what role your genes might have in personality traits or aging, and a number of other highly interesting topics. Collins mentions that some companies are already offering to sequence your entire genome for you and analyze the findings, and then discusses whether people would actually want to know their own risk factors. (The answer, like so many things, is: "It depends.") At the end of each chapter is a short list of practical action steps you can take now, with the resources currently available.
Collins ends with a section on the potential future of genetics and personalized medicine. I expect that just about everything he talks about beyond the next 5-10 years is going to prove to be wrong, just because the field is moving so fast. Collins himself admits that advances in the last 2-3 years would have seemed far-fetched as little as seven or eight years ago. I don't expect that pace to slow down any time soon. And I look forward to seeing some of that progress actually trickle down to the level of individualized care for the average person....more
**spoiler alert** This was a fascinating book on one of my very favourite topics: why our brains don't work the way we think they do. If you haven't a**spoiler alert** This was a fascinating book on one of my very favourite topics: why our brains don't work the way we think they do. If you haven't already, check out this video. I, for one, was one of the people who completely missed the gorilla the first time I saw it. (If you've seen this video already, check out this one. Trust me.) The invisible gorilla video is an example of the first of six "everyday illusions" Chabris and Simons discuss in their book. In the same way that optical illusions trick us into thinking one thing when we're really seeing another, the mental illusions in The Invisible Gorilla trick us into thinking our minds are more capable than they often are. Here are the six illusions:
1. The illusion of attention -- We believe that if something unexpected shows up in our field of vision, we'll notice it. In fact, whether we notice it or not is dependent on what we're focusing our attention on at the time.
2. The illusion of memory -- We believe that if we remember something, especially if we remember it vividly, then that memory is a valid reflection of what actually happened. In fact, memories fade and change over time, and just because a memory is vivid doesn't mean it's accurate. (Fun experiment: Do you remember what you were doing on 9/11 when you found out about the plane crashes? Write it down, and have the people you were with write their memories as well. You might be surprised by the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between memories.)
3. The illusion of confidence -- We assume that someone's confidence reflects their level of skill and ability. In fact, there's not necessarily a correlation, and the people who are worst at some skill are often the most overconfident. We tend to follow and believe people who are very confident, but that doesn't mean these people make the best decisions.
4. The illusion of knowledge -- We think we understand much more about the world around us than we really do. (Fun experiment: do you know how your toilet, zipper, or bicycle works? If you do, ask yourself "why?" a couple of times, and you'll see you don't really know as much as you thought. e.g. Why does the zipper grip the teeth? No clue.) Moreover, because we think we know how complex systems work, we often make predictions and plans that are doomed to fail. (Think about the financial crisis.)
5. The illusion of cause -- We see patterns where there are none, and see causation when there might only be correlation or chronology. Also, once we believe in those patterns and causes, it's extremely difficult for scientific evidence or statistics to sway us. This illusion is why there's a huge anti-vaccination movement in the U.S. right now.
6. The illusion of potential -- We believe that we only use a small portion or a small potential of our brains, and thus we can become much smarter, much faster. This is the reason for the whole "Mozart effect" phenomenon (even though no researchers have replicated the original experiment) and Nintendo's Brain Age. While we can become more skilled at tasks with practice, the idea that there's a "get smart quick" solution is an illusion.
I think this book is fascinating, and I recommend it. If you read it, you'll start seeing these illusions everywhere, which is I think what the authors intended....more
I don't remember where I first heard about this book. Cara Muhlhahn was the midwife featured in the documentary The Business of Being Born. She's a nuI don't remember where I first heard about this book. Cara Muhlhahn was the midwife featured in the documentary The Business of Being Born. She's a nurse-midwife who specializes in home births. (Disclaimer: No, I'm not pregnant. Thanks for asking.) I don't usually read biographies, but this one was compelling. Muhlhahn discusses her early life and how it developed into a midwifery career. She talks about the joys and triumphs, but she doesn't shy away from the failures, either. In one particularly moving scene, she talks about the only baby she ever lost (out of 700+ births) and how it affected her.
Muhlhahn has worked in the labor and delivery wards in hospitals and is ambivalent about them. She appreciates that they're there for emergencies, but she finds that they do too many unnecessary interventions and they take away a woman's sense of empowerment and independence. She looks to the European and Japanese systems for inspiration, where the majority of births take place in the mother's home, assisted by midwifes, and doctors are only consulted in the case of emergencies or high-risk pregnancies.
I found this book thought-provoking. I'm not sure it's for everyone, but it's definitely a great way to get a conversation started about home births, which are a tiny minority in the U.S. and Canada. I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in the topic....more
The Heath brothers are among my very favourite non-fiction authors of all time. Their first book, Made to Stick, is one of my favourites, and I stillThe Heath brothers are among my very favourite non-fiction authors of all time. Their first book, Made to Stick, is one of my favourites, and I still reference it today, years after I first read it. So I was extremely happy to see the release of their new book, Switch. Whereas Made to Stick is all about how to make your ideas memorable, or "sticky," Switch is about how to change. How do you change a behaviour or an attitude, whether in yourself, your company, or your community?
The Heath brothers use the metaphor of your brain as an elephant rider. The rider is your conscious mind, the part that reasons and considers. It's analytical, thinks things through, and knows where it wants to go. Part of making change, therefore, is to direct the rider: give it a clear goal and script the critical steps along the way. (So, for example, a scripted step for dieters might be "Buy 1% milk instead of whole milk.") One part of the "direct the rider" section I really like is to look for the "bright spots." Instead of looking at a situation and asking "what's wrong?", instead ask "What's right?" And then try and replicate that success.
Of course, the rider can tug and tug all he wants, but if the elephant wants to go somewhere else, the elephant is gong to win. The elephant is our subconscious mind, our emotions. If you really want to change, you need to motivate the elephant to go where you want to go. That might come from finding a way to get emotionally involved in the change. It might also come from making the challenge smaller so that you don't feel overwhelmed. I used this all the time when I was in school: I couldn't face the idea of writing a whole term paper, but writing one or two pages was manageable.
Finally, you've got the path the rider and the elephant are on, which is to say your environment. Sometimes what looks like an insurmountable personality problem really comes down to the environment. It's the recovering BlackBerry addict can't check his email at the table if it's locked in his desk drawer, for instance. It's harder to tempt yourself with junk food if you don't keep it in the house. The people you surround yourself with are also part of the "path"; people naturally tend to do what the people around them are doing (or even what they think the people around them are doing), which is why restaurants seed their tip jars.
In short, I loved this book. I only wish that they had come up with some clever acronym, like the "SUCCESs" acronym in Made to Stick, in order to remember the various ideas in each of the three sections. But even without an acronym, I know I'm going to be using the ideas in Switch for a long time. I highly, highly recommend this book....more
I was first introduced to Gilbert's writing through her first book, Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn't my kind of book, but I really liked it anyway. My mom rI was first introduced to Gilbert's writing through her first book, Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn't my kind of book, but I really liked it anyway. My mom recommended it to me. It wasn't her kind of book, either, but she really liked it, too. Gilbert's TED Talk on creativity and genius is among my favourites. So when I saw that her new book Committed was out, I figured I should check it out.
Gilbert's writing is, as always, insightful and engaging. But through the whole book, I felt that there was something missing, and I think that "something" was a clear sense of forward motion. In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert is trying to put her life together after a bad divorce, and goes through three distinct phases in Italy, India, and Indonesia, complete with happy ending. Committed, on the other hand, is the story of Gilbert's ambivalence towards her upcoming enforced marriage to the man she loves. In short: In order for her boyfriend to ever enter the U.S. again, she needs to get married to him so he can get a long-term visa. While they both love each other and have pledged their lives to each other, they are both highly suspicious of the institution of marriage, Gilbert perhaps more so than Felipe, her paramour.
Committed is interesting, and I learned a lot about historical and international attitudes towards marriage. But I just can't relate to Gilbert, no matter how compelling her writing. She's in her mid-thirties, suffered a very bad divorce, and is trying to square her feelings with the Department of Homeland Security's ultimatum. I'm in my late 20s and know that I'll be married someday, and I will have kids within that marriage. So while I enjoyed reading Committed, I didn't engage with it the same way I engaged with Eat, Pray, Love... and that's fine. Committed is still a good book, though I might recommend it to a narrower spectrum of people than her first....more
This was one of the books recommended by Dan Pink (A Whole New Mind). I suppose it might be a cheat, considering that it's written, appropriately enouThis was one of the books recommended by Dan Pink (A Whole New Mind). I suppose it might be a cheat, considering that it's written, appropriately enough, in comic book format. But that's also the point. McCloud argues convincingly that comics don't need to be juvenile or amateurish. Just because that's the way most people think of them does not mean that's all they are. This is old news to anyone who's read Neil Gaiman's Sandman series or Art Spiegelman's Maus, but it's still the prevailing view of society at large.
McCloud does an excellent job of walking the reader through many aspects of comics, which he defines broadly as "sequential art" and more narrowly as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence." He touches on their history, the "vocabulary" of comics (i.e. why do so many comics use simplified drawings, and are there other options?), the form (use of panels, etc.), and how time and motion work in a static medium. He has a brief chapter on colour and another on the steps involved in becoming a comic book artist (hint: it's more difficult than it originally appears).
Through it all, McCloud aims to shatter the myth that "comics are for kids" or "comics can never be high art." Using the very medium he describes, he's able to explain clearly, visually, and expressively. This is, in short, an excellent book, not just for comic book lovers, but for anyone who wants to see the potential of this art form and how it can go far beyond the social bounds we've confined it to....more
I read this book in less than a day because it was so compelling. Fernyhough, a developmental psychologist, chronicles the first three years of his daI read this book in less than a day because it was so compelling. Fernyhough, a developmental psychologist, chronicles the first three years of his daughter's life, touching on all aspects of her development but mostly focused on her mind. He intersperses episodes of her life with psychological theories as to why she might be acting the way she is and what, exactly, she is experiencing. The major question of the book is, "What is it like to be an infant or a toddler?" Fernyhough is an apt observer, an engaging writer, and an experienced researcher, all of which combine to make one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a while.
We may never truly know what goes on behind the eyes of a baby, but Fernyhough gives it his best shot, combining the methods of a scientist with the love of a father. Whether describing the chaotic bundle of sensations of a newborn infant or the cunning first lie of a three-year-old, his descriptions draw the reader in, making this one of the few non-fiction page-turners I've ever read....more
This was one of those wonderful books that bridges the gap between scientist and lay-person. Each chapter is based on an hour of the twenty-four-hourThis was one of those wonderful books that bridges the gap between scientist and lay-person. Each chapter is based on an hour of the twenty-four-hour day (starting at 5 a.m.), and is loosely based around a theme connected to that hour. So, for example, the chapter set at 5 a.m. revolves around what happens in your brain when you wake up; noon is based around eating; 10 p.m. is based around sex, love, and lust. For every chapter, there's an explanation of what's happening in your brain and what effect it has on your body and your perceptions. Also, there are discussions of what can go wrong (like insomnia or sleepwalking in the sleep chapters) and occasionally digressions into why things might be the way they are, evolutionarily speaking.
The writing is clear and straightforward, which is a decided benefit in a book whose topic easily lends itself to complexity. It's not necessarily one of those reference books I'd return to again and again, but it fills its niche well, and I feel more knowledgeable for having read it....more