This is the second book I’ve read lately written by someone who is both very intelligent and also mentally -- what should I say? Not ill, but atypicalThis is the second book I’ve read lately written by someone who is both very intelligent and also mentally -- what should I say? Not ill, but atypical? (The last book was The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain.) They are both compelling reads because they allow us a window into an atypical mind: both writers are capable of having the feelings and reactions which their conditions give rise to, and at the same time stepping back and observing how those reactions differ from how they are “supposed” to feel. Fallon recognizes the deficiencies in how he deals with the people close to him, how he fails to account for their pain or inconvenience. And Allie recognizes that her motivations for behaving normally -- for cleaning the house, being responsible, not being mean to people -- are rooted more in a desire to maintain her fragile self-image as a not-shitty person than in any intrinsic desire to have a clean house, get things done, or be nice to people.
I do wonder how atypical that is. I know a lot of human motivation is rooted in maintenance of self-image. That’s why we have confirmation bias, denial, rationalization, and cognitive dissonance. On the other hand, I know (believe?) my motivation for being nice to people is more genuinely nice than Allie’s. And I like to have a clean house, and sometimes the only way for that to happen is to clean it. On the other other hand, though, I do recognize that part of my motivation for having a cleanish house is that I want to be able to think of myself as someone who has a cleanish house -- it makes me feel competent and grown-up. I don’t know, it’s all very circular.
Anyway, if you want to ponder this and other matters of mental health and motivation, and also laugh at Allie’s terrible dogs, I recommend this book. ...more
This is a book about aging and dying, and how our society doesn't handle those processes very well.
The two topics — aging and dying — are quite distinThis is a book about aging and dying, and how our society doesn't handle those processes very well.
The two topics — aging and dying — are quite distinct. The first part of the book is about how to make aging better.
There comes a point in most lives, if we live long enough, when you can't carry on being perfectly independent. Maybe you need someone to change lightbulbs because you can't manage a stepladder. Maybe you can't wash your own hair because your shoulders are too arthritic. We don't live with our elders any more, so there isn't a youngest daughter or niece around to help, so we've tried to fix the problem by creating homes for the elderly. But those homes weren't ever designed with the needs of the elderly in mind. They were designed to open up space in hospitals — that's why they're called "nursing" homes.
Traditional nursing homes are organized to accommodate the staff, and to ensure safety. Everyone wakes up at the same time and is washed and dressed in time for breakfast to be served to everyone. Doors don't have locks, residents are not allowed to cook.
The problem is, no-one wants to live like that. Humans require agency and purpose. When you give people a door that locks, when you let them decide when to get dressed and when to eat, what to do and with whom, and when you give them something of value to do — look after a pet, tutor a child — they are happier, healthier, and they actually live longer.
The second part of the book is about end-of-life care. The most striking idea within, for me, is this: doctors can always do something. Before I read this I hadn't thought hard about it, but if I had I probably would have said that you start preparing for death when the doctors can't do any more to help you. But it turns out they can always try one more thing: an experimental medicine, another surgery, a drain here, a shunt there. Doctors can keep on poking at you until you go cold.
But if you let them keep poking at you, your last weeks, days, hours will be spent in hospital, fighting, full of tubes and wires. There's nothing wrong with that, if that's what you choose, but it seems that mostly people don't realize that that's what they're choosing. And often, they're not even offered a choice — you're dropped onto a conveyor belt when you receive a diagnosis, and no-one tells you that you can push the STOP button and climb off. You can choose to die at home, hopefully full of nice pain meds and home-cooked food, with your family and your pets by your side. Maybe a few weeks or months sooner than in the hospital — but maybe not.
There used to be something called "the art of dying". You were supposed to make peace, atone, connect with your loved ones, tell your stories. The art of dying lets your life come to a sensible end, like a novel, not just stop like a film with a broken reel.
If you are getting old, or expect to die, or love someone who is, Being Mortal is useful, moving, thought-provoking, and inspiring. ...more
One of my personal failings is that I can read pages of description about the history of a place -- who invaded where when, who lost power to who elseOne of my personal failings is that I can read pages of description about the history of a place -- who invaded where when, who lost power to who else, and so on -- but I will never remember that history until I encounter it in the context of the personal narrative of someone I connect with emotionally. Stories are how I make sense of the world. So this book was very helpful to me in filling in some holes in my understanding of the history and geography of Pakistan.
My favourite thing about this book is the writing style: it's conversational and clear and casual. I have only seen Yousafzai on TV once so I can't say whether it's a good reflection of her speaking style specifically, but it does read as the voice of an intelligent, engaging teenage girl. I especially enjoyed the blend of politics and Malala's personal concerns: whether she is tall enough; details of her sometimes-turbulent friendships.
This is a great overview of the options available to kids finishing high school in Canada today. The most valuable thing, and I think why they wrote tThis is a great overview of the options available to kids finishing high school in Canada today. The most valuable thing, and I think why they wrote the book, is the information about alternatives to university.
The fact is, university is becoming extended high school -- "everyone" goes because you "have to" have a degree. (I heard Tom Mulcair bragging on the radio that daycare workers have four year degrees now. Daycare workers. Yes, I want at least one person at my kids' daycare to have a four-year degree, but it shouldn't be a requirement for a job which mainly involves changing diapers and breaking up fights.) High school grades are so inflated that it's easy to get into university (but the kids who go don't necessarily know how to write or do math), so the first year of university is either remedial or a kind of hazing to get rid of the kids that the professors (rightly) don't want to have to deal with.
So anyway, the authors, both university types frustrated with the state of universities, have written this book seemingly to dissuade kids from going to university if it's not right for them. One of the highlights of the book is a tough-love quiz about whether university is right for you: Are you intellectually curious? Do you read a LOT? If you decide university is the way to go, this book will tell you what to consider when you decide which university to go to, with notes about military and religious options.
But the authors don't leave the rest of the kids hanging: they present a compelling smorgasbord of alternatives to university: colleges and polytechnics (and the difference between them), private colleges, work, entrepreneurship, travel.
Even though the authors' motivation is pretty transparent, this book is exhaustive and useful, and I highly recommend it to anyone (or the parents of anyone) finishing high school in the next few years....more
I abandoned this because my tolerance for old-timey child psychology advice books is wearing thin. The advice seemed fine, but the tone is just so weiI abandoned this because my tolerance for old-timey child psychology advice books is wearing thin. The advice seemed fine, but the tone is just so weird. Also it didn't really help with what I'm having trouble with, which is more of a sibling identity issue than an education problem....more
I picked up this book because I saw a bunch of images from it on Buzzfeed. I'm a sucker for wedding pictures and photography in general, and same-sexI picked up this book because I saw a bunch of images from it on Buzzfeed. I'm a sucker for wedding pictures and photography in general, and same-sex wedding pictures in particular make me all gooshy inside.
In addition to being a great coffee table book of wedding pictures, this is also an advice book for wedding photographers on how to photograph LGBT weddings, and as such was an eye-opener. I didn't realize what a fandango wedding photography is in general, what with having to photograph the dress and other accessories, the wedding party and family members, and capture all the special moments, planned and spontaneous. Not to mention making everyone look great while making them not look posed at all. And those are just the problems of photographing every wedding; there are special considerations for an LGBT wedding, like how to light and photograph two white dresses without them blending into an amorphous mass, or how to photograph two grooms to make it clear that they're not brothers or buddies. (Hint: get them to stare smoochily into each others' eyes.)
My ulterior motive for getting this book was to leave it around so the girls would look at it. They are starting to get into the homophobic ages at school and since we have basically no LGBT people in our social circle they don't have any exposure to different families or relationships. My ruse worked: both girls looked at the book and we talked about wedding stuff in general and why LGBT weddings are special and interesting, and I hope it planted a seed in their minds that LGBT love and romance is as legitimate and beautiful as the straight kind....more
This book is about the horrible selfishness of life, focused around the DNA which uses us and all other organisms to replicate itself. The book is orgThis book is about the horrible selfishness of life, focused around the DNA which uses us and all other organisms to replicate itself. The book is organized into chapters corresponding to the seven deadly sins, with each chapter describing several manifestations of that particular sin in nature.
The thread which ties it all together, oddly enough, is the author's love for his son. Like me (and many other nerdy overthinkers, I'm sure), Riskin has wrestled with the thought that the love he feels for his son is just an artifact of his DNA's need to successfully replicate. The love he feels for his son only exists because animals which felt this way about their offspring were more likely to successfully reproduce. It's all a horrible trick! Cuteness isn't real, it's just a feeling you invoke in me which makes you more likely to survive! You're cute so I won't throw you out the window when you cry!
It all gets a little convoluted and red-pill-blue-pill -- in my head, I mean, not in the book. The book is fine. The book is great, and he came to the same conclusion about the parental love thing that I did. And on the way I learned lots of cool, interesting, and gross animal facts....more
A good and funny memoir, structured as a coming-of-age book and larded with feminist lessons-learned.
A couple of sour spots: the author took a coupleA good and funny memoir, structured as a coming-of-age book and larded with feminist lessons-learned.
A couple of sour spots: the author took a couple of pages to talk about what kind of fat is "okay" fat and what kind is "bad" fat. Apparently it's okay to be fat if you just really love food and eating, but it's not okay to be fat if you eat because of anxiety. Thanks for clearing that up!
The author also talked about the births of her two children and manages to imply that if you are relaxed and ready for birth and just breathe properly, you'll have an effortless natural birth and will be a better woman because of it, but if you're tense and don't appreciate your body's ability to birth a child you'll have to have a c-section. So my two c-sections are my bad, I guess. But it's really hard to talk about one's own experiences without implicitly criticising others, especially in the murky swamps of childbirth, so I'm not too bitter.
But there were other parts that were spot on: the transformative power of parenthood; the horror of menstruation; the ridiculousness of tiny panties; the nastiness of the media's treatment of female celebrities. It's worth a read....more
This is a great little book about how to be a copyeditor. Not how to copyedit, but how to manage projects, how to communicate with clients and co-workThis is a great little book about how to be a copyeditor. Not how to copyedit, but how to manage projects, how to communicate with clients and co-workers, how to organize your work, and so on. Lots of great advice. I will probably add this book to my reference shelf....more