This book is a lovely little delight. 19th century cousins Kate & Cecy are separated when Kate is brought to London by her aunt for her debut seasThis book is a lovely little delight. 19th century cousins Kate & Cecy are separated when Kate is brought to London by her aunt for her debut season. But the young ladies keep each other informed of the active happenings in their lives through frequent correspondence.
Given that the high society the cousins inhabit is one in which induction into the College of Wizards calls for many social formalities, there is plenty for them to talk about. Their magic-tinged stories unfold in parallel in a surprisingly organic fashion. The book is apparently the result of "The Letter Game" played between two already accomplished novelists, and their skills shine through both in mastery of the epistolary form and the unfolding of their intriguing plot. Jane Austin meets Harry Potter, indeed....more
This collection of essays contains the two pieces that David Foster Wallace is probably best known for: "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much AThis collection of essays contains the two pieces that David Foster Wallace is probably best known for: "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All," his observations on attending the Illinois State Fair, and "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," his musings on a week-long Caribbean cruise. Both pieces are truly fantastic reading, entertaining, educational and brilliant all in the same breath.
Since I've often suspected that a mass market cruise would mirror my own personal version of Hell, I related particularly well to his commentary on the emotional underbelly that lurks beneath the shiny surface of the "managed fun" the cruise ship staff does its best to inflict upon its passengers. In the wake of the author's recent suicide, it was terribly sad to read some of his thoughts on the despair this situation inspired in him. At the time he wrote it, however, that despair was balanced out by an astounding sense of humor, and I am still laughing as I reflect upon sections such as the fear he inspired in innocent bystanders during his first skeet shooting attempts and the footnote in which he detailed the numerous breaches of etiquette he managed to make during Elegant Tea Time.
Other topics addressed in this collection include the impact of television on his generation of fiction writers (written long before reality television burst on the scene, leaving me wistfully wondering if he had written anything on that topic before his untimely death—if anyone knows of anything, I'd appreciate being pointed to it), observations on director David Lynch and why his films are so creepily disturbing, commentary on certain points of literary theory that was so far beyond me it came close to making my head explode (fortunately, this piece was short) and a surprisingly fascinating look at the "minor leagues" of professional tennis, those players whose names we never hear but who are the foundation upon which the TV-friendly greats all stand.
My favorite piece in this book, however, is the first one, "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley." It is a meditation on his own early tennis ambitions and how his understanding of math and intuitive sense of Midwestern weather allowed him to progress farther in his playing than his mediocre talent alone would have allowed. There is something so profound about the bittersweet tone of this piece and the intensity of its ending that I suspect it will stay with me for a long, long time.
This is an oral history of the iconic comedy show that interviews performers, hosts, writers and producers from the show's first year in 1975 throughThis is an oral history of the iconic comedy show that interviews performers, hosts, writers and producers from the show's first year in 1975 through this book's publication in 2002.
Like many of my generation, I grew up badgering my parents to stay up late enough to be able to watch such characters as Roseanne Rosannadanna and The Blues Brothers, then abandoned the show when creator Lorne Michaels and the original cast left 5 years later. Though I didn't start watching it again regularly until Tina Fey's resemblance to Sarah Palin set their political satire back on fire, I was surprised to realize what a powerful comedy force SNL remained even during its so-called "bad" years.
What I gained most from this book was an understanding of just how radically SNL transformed both television and American comedy. The book paints an excellent portrait of the historical context in which the show was born, and goes into some detail about the battles Michaels had to fight to get his comedic vision on the air originally and then get it back under his control after his return years later.
While hearing the story from multiple voices can sometimes get repetitive, the technique also offers a unique, multifaceted perspective on the show and its major players. As one might expect a book about a comedy show to be, it is also incredibly funny in some places; I laughed out loud more than once and resurrected a deep affection for cast members I never knew but still claim as my own.
If there is anything this book makes clear, however, it's that producing a weekly live comedy show is anything but fun and games. I learned more about the unpleasant sides of certain comedy heros than I wanted to know, and the stories of power struggles, drug addiction, sexism, and network politics make is appear miraculous that the show ever got on the air at all, let alone continues to have such an impact over so many decades.
There are those who argue that SNL has lost its edge, and no longer takes the risks that it did when it was first born. This is undoubtedly true, but the book does a good job of arguing that part of the reason for this is because SNL was so successful in bringing cutting edge comedy to the mainstream that what used to be so radical is now normal.
That said, the show continues to be a major force in American entertainment, having produced more household name stars than can be easily counted. I completed this book as Jimmy Fallon was launching on The Tonight Show, an event I doubt even Lorne Michaels could have foreseen when he cast him as a Weekend Update anchor shortly after plucking him from obscurity. Where SNL will go from here remains to be seen, but after nearly 40 years, its safe to say it will continue to have an impact as long as its on the air....more
Dr. John Gottman became famous for his work in Seattle's "Love Lab," a research apartment wired with cameras he used to observe how volunteer couplesDr. John Gottman became famous for his work in Seattle's "Love Lab," a research apartment wired with cameras he used to observe how volunteer couples communicated with one another. Through his observations, Gottman discovered patterns of communication that correlate with lasting relationships.
Among Gottman’s observations was that the frequency of a couple’s fights had less to do with relationship success than other factors including whether or not they had compatible styles of dealing with conflict, whether the partners engaged in certain destructive communication behaviors Gottman labeled "the four horsemen of the apocalypse," and how successful partners were in responding to what he calls breakdown "repair attempts."
It’s been a while since I read this book, but I recall it as having a lot of useful, down-to-earth information for improving communication in intimate relationships. ...more
The Blank Slate is Steven Pinker's ambitious attempt to close the gap between the conventionally accepted dogma that human beings come into this worldThe Blank Slate is Steven Pinker's ambitious attempt to close the gap between the conventionally accepted dogma that human beings come into this world free of innate characteristics, ready to be molded and shaped by society, and what science has begun to reveal about genetic predisposition.
Prior to reading this book, I had no idea that the origin of human nature was such a contentious topic amongst modern intellectuals. Seems that a lot of people think acknowledging that something like violence might have been evolutionarily adaptive is the same thing as condoning violence and excusing those who engage in it, or that admitting that men and women are genetically different justifies discrimination against women. Pinker spends a lot of time in this book carefully addressing these concerns while at the same time making a compelling argument that the current tendency to deny any genetic influence on society's more vexing ills only handicaps our ability to successfully deal with our most serious problems.
Pinker is not shy about tackling controversial topics as he makes his points. The chapter in which he pointed to evidence showing that a child's intelligence and personality are shaped far more by genes, peers and random influences than they are by parents got him an enormous amount of mail, as did the section in which he discussed genetic influences on our appreciation of the arts.
Despite the radical nature of many of the theories Pinker presents, I found myself having continuous "ah-ha!" moments as I read this book. At its core, the idea that we are shaped by our genes as well as our experiences fits far better with reality than the idea that we are all nothing but moldable blank slates. Though these theories may not intellectually fashionable, Pinker makes it clear that there are a wealth of benefits to be gained by accepting what science has to tell us about the true origins of human nature. ...more
John and Jenny Grogan were newlyweds when they decided getting a puppy would be good training for the family they hoped someday to start. Like many peJohn and Jenny Grogan were newlyweds when they decided getting a puppy would be good training for the family they hoped someday to start. Like many people, they chose their new dog with little awareness of the details of his breed or lineage. As their rollicking yellow bundle of Labrador joy began to grow, however, it became apparent that they had acquired an animal with some rather significant issues.
Marley and Me is Grogan's memoir of his life with an animal who displayed both the best and the worst of the canine world. An unusually large version of a dog originally bred for field hunting, Marley was ill-suited to a life in a Florida housing tract and channeled his boundless energy into, among other things, meticulous destruction of the Grogan home. Despite his terrible habits, however, Marley was also fiercely loving and loyal in the way that only a dog can be, forcing his bulky, muscular way into his owner's hearts and refusing to leave.
There is no question that this is a moving book. Some of the antics Grogan writes about are very funny, and anyone who has ever felt a deep bond with an animal will not be able to avoid empathizing with the Grogans as Marley's life runs its inevitable course. Despite this, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I was anticipating given its blockbuster status. It sort of had the feeling of listening to stories about other people's kids; they just aren't quite as interesting when they're not your own. In addition, I had a hard time connecting to Grogan himself as a character. I think the movie did a better job of actually showing how crazy dog and man grew together; the book leaned a little too heavily on the dog. Despite this, it will probably be enjoyable reading for anyone who has ever struggled with a challenged dog, provided they keep a big box of tissues at hand for the end. ...more
In LMTTM, sociology professor James Loewen takes a close look at the subject of American history and why it is that high school students tend not justIn LMTTM, sociology professor James Loewen takes a close look at the subject of American history and why it is that high school students tend not just to loathe the subject but also come out of that class so badly informed. His verdict - the textbooks are to blame.
In the 1992 version of this book, Loewen took a close look at the 12 most widely used history textbooks and discovered that their true purpose was less to educate American students about the entirety of their history but instead to accomplish the following: to present events in such a way as to prevent students from feeling bad about the less than sterling actions of our ancestors; to create polished heroic images of major historical figures untarnished by any hint of human complexity, to formulate the idea of perpetual progress, thus diminishing the students awareness of still existing societal inequities; to include every possible factoid that might make the book more appealing to people in various locations, and most importantly, to completely avoid offending any group that might have the power to prevent the textbook's adoption and thus diminish sales.
The net result of this are tombs that are both mind-numbingly dull and exceedingly incomplete. Loewen does his best to correct the latter by highlighting in gruesome detail the horrors of our past left out of these books, from the brutal enslavement of the natives by Columbian explorers to the explosion of racist suppression of blacks after the Civil war to the nefarious actions of a government that is all too often acting at the behest of special interests rather than its wider citizenry.
In addressing facts such as the ownership of slaves by the founding fathers and the overt racism of Woodrow Wilson, Loewen points out what students of literature have always known - complex, conflicted humans make for far more interesting subjects than one-dimensional superheros. Yet in neglecting to discuss the shadow sides of both our history and the people within it, our textbooks give the idea that history is a set of boring facts to be learned and perfect heroes to be emulated rather than a perpetually evolving compilation of interlocking and often conflicting ideas and the people who struggle with them. By denying students the ability to see history in this way, textbooks also deny them the ability to learn how to consider competing ideas, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each, and in the process, discover how to think for themselves.
At a time when so much of America seems to have lost touch with even the most basic facts of the present let alone the distant past, Loewen's book is incredibly important for anyone not just interested in our nation's past but also in its future.
That said, however, this is not an easy book to read. In striving to provide balance to the mindless positive propaganda of our textbooks, Loewen dives so deep into the most horrible aspects of the American past I found this book often hard to stomach. It's not that I was unfamiliar with the basic atrocities he presents (though I did learn a great deal I hadn't known before), but the fact that he presents them in such a relentless litany, with only a passing reference to anything positive about America, left even a good liberal like me feeling starved to hear SOMETHING positive about my country. After reading this book, I can imagine how incredibly fascinating and stimulating a history book that included both the good and the bad sides of America would be and how far it would go in enabling the US citizenry to make better decisions about our future, but this is unfortunately not that book.
I read the 2007 edition, which addressed changes that have been made in the 15 years since the original came out. Though some minor improvements have been made, the current dent in the problem is minor compared to the size of it, particularly at a time when right-wing fundamentalists on Texas textbook adoption boards are wielding such a huge influence on what will and won't get read by students in the rest of the country. Until the textbook Loewen envisions has been written, this will remain a crucial counterbalance to conventional American history. ...more
This is probably the most comprehensive book I’ve read about insomnia. It recognizes that elusive sleep is often a complicated problem comprised of phThis is probably the most comprehensive book I’ve read about insomnia. It recognizes that elusive sleep is often a complicated problem comprised of physiological, psychological and behavioral issues, and that different types of insomnia require different approaches.
The book contains specific plans for dealing with the three main types of insomnia: difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and broken sleep. In the process, the authors strive to educate people about the physiology behind good sleep and how a person can strengthen their natural “sleep drive.” There are many specific practical suggestions for how to do this, such as the best times to take a hot bath or exercise to promote good sleep.
For those who have been struggling against unwanted wakefulness, some of the suggestions they make may seem counter-intuitive. But the rational behind the behavioral changes they recommend is clearly spelled out, making it easier to relinquish some of the maladaptive coping strategies long-term sufferers may have adopted.
The authors point out that psychology is often a large part of the insomnia problem, and they also include techniques from cognitive psychology to address this aspect of the issue. This is a key component since, in the process of trying to improve one’s sleep, things can often get a little worse before they get better. But the authors do a good job of clearly outlining the path, warning readers what to expect, and providing them with tools to combat issues as they arise.
I have just started implementing the changes they recommend, so it’s too soon for me to say how well the program works. So far, however, the changes I’ve made have resulted in slight improvements in my nightly rest, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the long term results are. ...more
As memoirs go, this story of a recent Columbia grad who ends up starring as a Western hussy in China's most popular soap opera is a fascinating one. IAs memoirs go, this story of a recent Columbia grad who ends up starring as a Western hussy in China's most popular soap opera is a fascinating one. I learned a lot about what modern day life in China is like from this book. It was particlarly shocking for me to read that some people there don't keep journals out of fear what they write might be used against them by the government. Still, the tone did get a little academic for me at times and I wish the author had included more of her own personal joureny within her very compelling observations about modern China....more
Margaret Singer has been studying cults and cult survivors for decades, and this book is a thorough overview of the many aspects of this complex subjeMargaret Singer has been studying cults and cult survivors for decades, and this book is a thorough overview of the many aspects of this complex subject. Written for the mainstream, the book is clearly written and very readable, although her detailed descriptions of the abuse suffered by some cult members can be disturbing.
I found the book to be very useful in helping me to better understand where a spiritual group crosses the line from something that benefits its members to something that exploits them. I found her detailed explanations of the sophisticated ways in which certain groups use deception and peer pressure to manipulate their members to be particularly educational. In addition, I felt the light bulb go off repeatedly as I read about things I’d personally experienced but had not yet fully recognized for what they were.
On of the main insights I got from reading this book was a recognition of how cults play on people’s desires to have meaning in their lives and feel that they are doing something important and special. Cults do an amazing PR job of convincing people that working to benefit the cult ultimately benefits the world. Yet in the vast majority of cases, members find themselves working long hours to do nothing more than help perpetuate the existence of the cult itself, while at the same time becoming more and more estranged from the world they wanted so much to help. It is sobering to consider how much society as a whole suffers from having so many of its talented and idealistic members siphoned off by cults.
Mission to America tells the story of two young men raised in an obscure, isolated Montana religious sect and what happens when they leave their cloisMission to America tells the story of two young men raised in an obscure, isolated Montana religious sect and what happens when they leave their cloistered world to recruit new blood for their unhealthily inbred clan.
I liked this book, though not for reasons I would have expected. Many of the reviews described it as laugh out loud funny. Though I did find myself smiling from time to time at the author’s wry perspective on life, I was more impacted by the thoughtful way in which he describes what happens when people’s cherished beliefs are tested in an unsympathetic environment. While some may find the Montana communities religious beliefs outlandish, I found them to be no more ludicrous than many religious systems I have encountered, and Kirn’s juxtaposition of this oddball faith against both a mercenary brand of fundamentalist Christianity and a greater world that just didn’t care really very much was thought-provoking. I found his choice of ending within this context to be really quite fascinating.
I’m afraid, however, that I must take exception with a scene in which Kirn sends the main character sets off to become a mystery shopper at a Boulder store thinly disguised as a Wal-Mart. Had Kirn spent any time in Boulder, he would know that our fair city would hang itself with its declining sales tax receipts before allowing such an abomination of mass retail culture to sully our pristine utopian landscape. But, I will admit, this is only a minor complaint in an otherwise fine novel.