This book was far, far better than I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected: the title, 10% Happier, suggested to me something akin to GretcThis book was far, far better than I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected: the title, 10% Happier, suggested to me something akin to Gretchen Rubin’s somewhat inane Happiness Project, which I didn’t care for. Turns out, the original title for 10% Happier was “The Voice in My Head is an Asshole,” which is both far more amusing and a better description of the actual content of the book. Still, though, it doesn’t convey the fact that the book is really a memoir of Dan Harris's life in broadcast news, of trying to replace the high of war correspondence with cocaine, and of attempting to be happier through meditation. The happier through meditation thing is tough for Harris, though, because he finds it easy to jump to conclusions about soft-spoken hippies named Spring who exhort everyone to love all living beings.
I’ve already bought into meditation, hippies named Spring or no, but I haven’t really been able to incorporate it into my life as much as I’d like. I started practicing through yoga, and enjoyed the peace of mind I got at the end of every yoga class. Incorporating this into life, though, was hard. I was lucky enough to go to graduate school in department that had a number of people examining meditation from a cognitive neuroscience point of view, so I also didn’t need to be convinced of the science. That didn’t mean I had started a serious meditation practice, but at the very least it had wormed its way onto the long list of things I knew I should be doing.
Harris’s description of the sheer difficulty involved in meditation is spot on. When left to its own devices, my brain seems to bounce between random thoughts (I wonder what the demographics of Antananarivo are like), productive-sounding distraction (it would be a wonderful idea to learn all of the most important viticultural areas in Germany right now, let’s do that, maybe Austria too!!!) and unfounded worry (I can’t believe I still haven’t responded to that email, I’m a terrible person and I’m going to ruin my career and my life, and I won’t even be able to afford to live in the Bay Area anymore so I’m going to have to move to somewhere terrible like Kentucky or New Mexico or at the very least Southern California and I’ll never have a job again and probably In-n-Out wouldn’t even take me as a line cook because they’re all religious and stuff).
I recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in self-improvement, but who doesn’t want to hear woo-woo crap about cosmic synchronicity. Although I listened to the well-produced audiobook, I’m planning on buying myself a physical copy to use as reference!...more
I waffled between giving this a two or three star review, and, as much as I’d like to give it three stars, I just can’t do it. Still Alice sounds likeI waffled between giving this a two or three star review, and, as much as I’d like to give it three stars, I just can’t do it. Still Alice sounds like an excellent book: the story of a Harvard Professor Cognitive Psychology who gets diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. Author Lisa Genova, also a cognitive psychologist, did a considerable amount of research for the book, and I looked forward to reading a depiction of the experiential reality of Alzheimers from someone uniquely qualified to fictionalize it.
Unfortunately, Genova’s academic expertise far outpaces her writing ability, which significantly reduced the impact of her overall message. Indeed, it read more like a subpar young adult novel than serious fiction for adults, which is a shame. I figured this out early on: in one of the first chapters, Genova describes Alice and her husband’s physical appearance by having them look at themselves in the mirror (note to aspiring writers: if you find it necessary to make sure the reader knows what your characters look like, emulate Tolstoy, rather than Stephenie Meyer. I can still picture Natasha, slight and ebullient, sitting restlessly on the couch of her drawing room, just as I can easily visualize the Little Princess, with her peach fuzz mustache. Yet I have no recollection of what Alice is supposed to look like, even though I just read the description two days ago, because Genova never gave me a reason to care.). The writing doesn’t get any better from there, with a random Mary Sue-ish episode in which Alice ends up at the same restaurant as Jennifer Aniston, and obnoxious PSAs about support for people with Alzheimers thrown in, seemingly independent of the plot.
Actually, the whole thing read like a very special episode of a lowest-common-demoniator sitcom. Exhibit A:
Definitely a fascinating subject, though. I’d like to see it explored in the future, in the hands of a more capable writer....more