Zounds! This book is wildly entertaining and I giggled all the way through Candide's awful adventures. Who would have thought that murder, rape, slave...moreZounds! This book is wildly entertaining and I giggled all the way through Candide's awful adventures. Who would have thought that murder, rape, slavery, sexual exploitation, natural disaster, pillaging, theft, and every other oppression imaginable could be so funny?
Here's some pretty good insight from the old woman with one buttock:
"I have been a hundred times upon the point of killing myself, but still I was fond of life. This ridiculous weakness is, perhaps, one of the dangerous principles implanted in our nature. For what can be more absurd than to persist in carrying a burden of which we wish to be eased? to detest, and yet to strive to preserve our existence? In a word, to caress the serpent that devours us, and hug him close to our bosoms till he has gnawed into our hearts?"
We can try to remain optimistic and rationalize that the horrors we witness are all a part of some plan but the choice to keep on living is a truly irrational one given all of the evidence available for us to consider. We go on living against our better judgment and in spite of all of our misery. It is what we were born to do.
"'You lack faith,' said Candide.
'It is because,' said Martin, 'I have seen the world.'"(less)
I’m surprised this book isn't getting more love for how moving and honest it is. (Maybe props were given when these stories first appeared on her blog...moreI’m surprised this book isn't getting more love for how moving and honest it is. (Maybe props were given when these stories first appeared on her blog? Maybe I've been reading the wrong reviews?) Yes, Brosh is hilarious, but what makes it a 5-star book for me is her clear-eyed description of depression and her struggles to be an adult. “Motivation” and the “Depression” stories nearly brought me to tears (not from laughter, although they were quite funny). I see a lot of myself in her stories. They also helped me to better understand what one of my loved ones is going through right now. He spends most of his days lying on a couch in a hooded sweatshirt watching true crime shows. He tries medication but then he suffers from insomnia or his hair starts to fall out in clumps. He has said that the only thing keeping him from taking his life is his awareness that he would hurt his loved ones. It’s a helpless feeling being one of those loved ones.
I like to consider myself somewhat enlightened when it comes to mental health issues (psychology major in college; grew up in a family full of alcoholics and depressives), but I can’t help thinking that he just needs to get off the couch, turn off the TV, and DO SOMETHING! I know it isn't so simple, but when you see someone you care about wasting away day after day, you just want to smack them upside the fucking head and get them to snap out of it.
I can only imagine what depressed people must endure from others who know very little about depression. If a reasonably enlightened person like me thinks this way about a depressed loved one, imagine what all of the Neanderthals think. I read somewhere that Brosh was a psychology major. I’m willing to bet she’s had a conversation similar to one of these:
Neanderthal: What did you study in college? Me: Psychology. Neanderthal: Why the hell did you do that? Me: Ummm... Neanderthal: You should have studied something useful. Me: Ummm...
Neanderthal: I don’t believe in psychology. Me: Ummm...psychology really isn't something you believe in… Neanderthal: It’s all about willpower. People need to just suck it up. Me: ...It’s not the same as believing in Santa or the Easter... Neanderthal: If I had a drinking problem, I would just stop drinking. End of story. If I was sad, I’d stop being sad. I have no sympathy for those whiners. Me: ...Bunny.
So, anyway, yeah, this book is great. I ripped through it in a few hours and I've already doubled back and reread half of the stories. If you’re the type to avoid the “Humor” section of your local bookstore, just know that this book has no business being there, in my opinion, even though it is really funny. I happened to read a few pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse right after finishing this book and damn if I wasn't smacked upside the head with a connection between the two.
Here’s Brosh in “Identity Part One” on her ego and altruism:
I like to believe that I would behave heroically in a disaster situation. I like to think this because it makes me feel good about myself …The fact that I think about doing nice things feels almost like actually doing them. I get to feel all the good feelings without any of the inconvenience. It’s disgusting how proud of myself I am for things I've never done… I also feel disproportionately good about myself whenever I’m presented with absurdly easy opportunities to do the right thing and then actually do it.
Here’s Woolf describing Mrs. Ramsay’s reaction to a man who seems to mistrust her despite all she’s done to help him:
It injured her that he should shrink. It hurt her. And yet not cleanly, not rightly. That was what she minded … the sense she had now when Mr Carmichael shuffled past, just nodding to her question, with a book beneath his arm, in his yellow slippers, that she was suspected; and that all this desire of hers to give, to help, was vanity. For her own self-satisfaction was it that she wished so instinctively to help, to give, that people might say of her, “O Mrs Ramsay! dear Mrs Ramsay ... Mrs Ramsay, of course!” and need her and send for her and admire her? Was it not secretly this that she wanted, and therefore when Mr Carmichael shrank away from her, as he did at this moment, making off to some corner where he did acrostics endlessly, she did not feel merely snubbed back in her instinct, but made aware of the pettiness of some part of her, and of human relations, how flawed they are, how despicable, how self-seeking, at their best.
Lorrie Moore has an amazing grasp of the complexities of being human. This is one of the best books of short stories that I've read and it includes my...moreLorrie Moore has an amazing grasp of the complexities of being human. This is one of the best books of short stories that I've read and it includes my favorite short story: "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk."
Thought experiment inspired by Chapter 2 of Chris Hayes' awesome book (which you should read, by the way):
Imagine that the bookies in Las Vegas allow...moreThought experiment inspired by Chapter 2 of Chris Hayes' awesome book (which you should read, by the way):
Imagine that the bookies in Las Vegas allowed gamblers to place bets every year on which 5th graders in New York City would test into Hunter College High School, one of the highest ranking public schools in the country. Getting into Hunter is particularly kick-ass because a large percentage of its graduates end up attending elite colleges and universities. To get into the school, students must first score high enough on their fifth-grade standardized tests to take the school’s entrance exam (roughly 3,000 to 4,000 students qualify for the entrance exam each year) and then students must be one of the top 185 scorers on the exam.
Let’s say that all bets would need to be placed by the eve of the fifth-grade standardized test. Bets could be placed on any 5th grade student in NYC and payouts would go to those who placed bets on the 185 students who tested into Hunter. Payouts would be based on the odds Vegas placed on each student. (If you’re familiar with Vegas odds on something like March Madness or the World Cup, teams that are a long shot of winning the championship might have odds at 500,000 to 1 while the favorites might be 3 to 1.) The information about each child available to a gambler would be the race of the student, where in the city he or she lives, the student’s family income, the student’s grade average (Straight A’s, A-, B, etc.), and other pertinent information that might be useful to the gambler’s decision. (I’m not sure how Vegas would gather all of this information but bear with me. This gambling scenario doesn’t need to be plausible.)
Ok, so you’re in Vegas to see Dina Martina or Penn & Teller or whatever, and you decide to place a few bets on some of these NYC kids while you’re there. Let’s say you’ve considered all of the factors and determined that you would need roughly 200-1 odds (i.e. a 200 dollar payout for every dollar wagered) to place a bet on a poor black student from Harlem who has never earned less than an A in school. With that as your baseline, consider what odds you would need to be willing to bet on an upper-class black student from Manhattan who has never earned less than an A in school? Is it fair to assume they would be lower than the odds you needed for the poor student from Harlem? What sort of odds would you need if the upper-middle class A-student from Manhattan were white or Asian? How would the odds for an uber-wealthy white student in Manhattan who occasionally got Bs compare to the odds for the poor black straight-A-student from Harlem? After thinking through various scenarios, who would be the favorites? Who would be the long shots? How would you determine where all of these students fall on the continuum? You need to know all of this to determine where you are going to put your money, right?
In my mind, if you want to make money, one thing you’re not going to do is listen to the crap so many people in America spew about how America is so great because we all have an equal opportunity to succeed and how America is truly a meritocracy where those who work hard are rewarded. Vegas will happily take all of the money you gamble on the hard-working low-income Black and Hispanic kids from Harlem who get straight A’s. To make money on this bet, what you’re going to need to rely on first and foremost are the indicators related to the student’s socioeconomic status. The academic achievement and work ethic of these kids plays a role in your gambling decision but it’s a decidedly smaller one than how much money and how much education mommy and daddy have. It’s not rocket science. Do you know how lucrative it is to be a tutor or test prep company that offers prep classes for the Hunter entrance exam? According to Hayes’ research, NYC parents pay $90 an hour for private tutors and more than $2,500 for a 14-weekend Hunter test prep package. And what about all of the resources that have been available to wealthier children from birth through 5th grade? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that the kids in Harlem probably didn’t have the same resources and opportunities.
Even though NYC is 25 percent black and 28 percent Hispanic, it’s not surprising that the entering 7th grade class at Hunter in 2009 was 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic.
In a truly meritocratic system, all kids would have access to the same resources and opportunities. This, of course, is impossible. There is no level playing field. There never has been and never will be. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try our best to even it out for those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into a family that can afford expensive private tutor lessons and test prep packages. The next time you hear someone (or hear yourself) talk about how everyone in this country already has an equal opportunity and how the government shouldn’t spend money to give unfair advantages to kids from low-income families, I ask you to think about how utterly ridiculous that sounds. If you're so sure about the meritocracy in America, you can go ahead and put all of your money down on the poor kids from Harlem. I’ll take the rich kids from Manhattan every time. Then I’ll use my winnings to ensure that my kids beat out your kids.
In this brilliant book, Chris Hayes develops what he calls The Iron Law of Meritocracy, which states that “eventually the inequality produced by a meritocratic system will grow large enough to subvert the mechanisms of mobility. Unequal outcomes make equal opportunity impossible... Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up." (less)