I was very impressed by Lena Dunham's HBO show Girls when I first saw it - it was smart, well-written and funny. It also provided me fascinating insigI was very impressed by Lena Dunham's HBO show Girls when I first saw it - it was smart, well-written and funny. It also provided me fascinating insight into the lives of a certain kind of modern twenty-somethings. I was amazed to see how much some things have changed since I was in that demographic, and how other things remain exactly the same.
Not That Kind of Girl is a collection of Dunham's personal essays, reflecting on such topics as her childhood as the daughter of two successful New York artists, her path to her own fame, her body image and her crippling anxiety.
As interesting and Dunham's life may be, however, this book was a struggle for me. Like the characters on Girls, Dunham is obsessively focused on herself and her emotions. While she has tremendous talent as a writer, she has not yet learned that certain things that are fascinating to you in your twenties are not going to be that interesting to anyone else. The food diary might have been funny at 2 pages but not 10. Her detailed history/list of boy crushes is a weak way to open the book. Footnotes within footnotes that are longer than a piece itself are very hard to pull off (even David Foster Wallace couldn't always do it), and they are completely unworkable when what you are annotating is not fascinating facts but your own emotions.
While there are several pieces that are unsuccessful, this book has some good moments. Her stories of working in a high end children's boutique are very entertaining. Her chapter on being sexually assaulted in college edges around why the definition of rape has become so contentious. An essay on her start in Hollywood looks at exploitation from an unusual perspective. Her description of an encounter with a self-conscious man who was impacted by her own fearlessness in showing her body was very touching. She is often funny.
Ultimately, however, I felt like it was too soon for Dunham to write this book. She doesn't have the perspective to glean full wisdom from her experiences. I came away from it feeling a lot like I did after the second season of Girls: Dunham is a really important voice for her generation, but she's still working out the best way to say what she has to say....more
Ever since the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, Sam Harris has been making the argument that we can no longer afford the luxury of religious belieEver since the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, Sam Harris has been making the argument that we can no longer afford the luxury of religious belief. In his writings, he has explained his theories about not only why the unproven beliefs of dogma are so dangerous, but also how many of the benefits that religion provides can be found in secular places.
In Waking Up, Harris addresses the issue of what he terms "spiritual" states - altered states of consciousness that can be spontaneous or induced by things like contemplative practice or drugs. Most religions point to such states as proof of their assertion that there is a world beyond this one. Harris, however, uses these pages to argue that a.) they do no such thing, and b.) they are worth cultivating anyway.
There is a fair bit of neuroscience in this book as Harris delves into what we currently know about consciousness. He also discusses his personal experiences with transcendent states, first on an Ecstasy drug trip and later as a rationalist in deep study of Eastern contemplative practices. He also discusses the risks of both of those paths, including the dangerously unpredictable impact of psychedelics and the hazards of attempting to learn about consciousness from imperfect human teachers.
Despite the risks, however, Harris's book is an unapologetic argument that the cultivation and experience of spiritual states can drastically improve the quality of one's life.
I agree with Harris about a number of things, including that experience of such states can be potentially life changing. I also agree that there is an urgent need for people who experience such states to be given an opportunity to understand them outside the context of a particular religion or the New Age book aisle.
Where I am not totally on board, however, is with his assertion that people who have never experienced such states should try to do so. Harris believes that the cultivation of such states can reduce human misery and suffering. I don't doubt that's been true for Harris and for many others. What I question is whether or not consciously exploring such states can work for everyone. As I understand it, the current research on meditation as not sufficiently answered the question of whether people who seem to be experiencing the benefits of contemplative practice do so because the contemplative practice actually changed them or because they had brain chemistry that predisposed them to self-select for contemplative practice in the first place. Harris himself acknowledges that traditional concentration practice has significant limitations, and the value offered by pointing-out practices is often lost on those who are exposed to it without previous context.
The role of psychedelic drugs in Harris' own journey also raises questions for me - did that fundamentally alter his brain chemistry in such a way that he was enabled to have experiences he couldn't have had without those drugs?
Ultimately, I'm not certain someone starting from scratch could induce the kind of experiences Harris describes by following his instructions. I think it's a question well worth asking, and I applaud Harris for asking it. I'm just not quite as convinced of the answer as he is....more
This book is similar in format to their previous works - present a supposedly unconventional idea and support it with some entertaining storytelling.This book is similar in format to their previous works - present a supposedly unconventional idea and support it with some entertaining storytelling. It's a very fast, mildly interesting read. Unfortunately, I had the feeling that I'd heard almost all of these stories elsewhere, so the book feels more like it's filling out a book contract than breaking great new ground in human thought. ...more
This extremely important book takes a close and counter-intuitive look at how the brain behaves when confronted with the lack of something. That sometThis extremely important book takes a close and counter-intuitive look at how the brain behaves when confronted with the lack of something. That something is often money, but it can also be time, or will power, or human connection. In a nutshell, it explains how the brain's default method of creating immediate solutions to urgent problems can very often create a much larger problem down the road.
The reason for this is that urgent problems causes the brain to tunnel, which takes a tremendous amount of cognitive processing capacity. Focus on the immediate problem creates a "tax" on processing power that impairs the ability to step back and take a wider view of the situation; in particular, it causes us to underestimate the long-term costs of what may seem on the surface to be a good short-term solution.
This book is written in a fairly academic style and is somewhat repetitive in the first half. While it is not a self help book, it does contain critical information on how we can counteract mental habits that keep us in a scarcity loop. It also contains scores of real world examples of the bandwidth tax in action, from farmers in India to small business owners in the Caribbean to air traffic controllers in the Midwest. That latter group offered a particularly unique example of the bandwidth tax - on days when flights were backed up and they were required to manage a heavier load of airborne planes than normal, they demonstrated decreased ability to parent their children in a consistent fashion.
I originally assumed this would be an academically interesting book that would be most useful to those who develop aid programs. It is definitely that, as the authors address how many programs designed to help people get out of poverty fail because their structure contributes to a worsening of this bandwidth tax.
In reading it, however, I also saw more and more of myself in its pages. Though it took me weeks to finish it because I was trying to put out so many fires at work (the irony of it ending up overdue at the library was not lost on me) it gave me tremendous insight into how I had ended up so far behind and what I need to do to fix that. Thanks to Richard for encouraging me to bump it up my list....more