The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
(Picador, 2016, 315 pages)
I got so completely immersed in this book that I didn’t want it to end. Laing could have written hundreds more pages and I happily would have read them all.
Using the lens of loneliness Laing explores various artists whose work speaks to the feeling of being alone. She came to reflect on the connection between art and loneliness while she was living alone and lonely in New York City. Each chapter is essentially a biographic essay about a specific artist (Warhol, Wojnarowicz, Hopper…) that leaves you with an understanding of them and their work, but also has you poised to try and learn more. It’s no surprise this book was chosen as a 2016 best book of the year by a number of different publication, not to mention being a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for criticism.
I’ll certainly be going back and reading Laing’s other pieces. I loved getting so wrapped up in her work.
Rocks Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody
by William Poundstone
(Little, Brown and Company, 2014, 302 pages)
After hearing an interview with the author on NPR, I put this book on my “to read” list. I finally got around to reading it! It’s a fascinating book on randomness and probability. There are two parts in the book. Part one, The Randomness Experiment, has 13 chapters. Part two, The Hot Hand Theory, has 9 chapters. The chapters go into detail on various topics from office football pools, to home prices, to stock markets. If you play tennis, be sure to read Chapter five on how to improve your tennis serves. In the market for a house? You’ll get an edge on others if you read chapter 20. Want to outguess Oscars pools? Chapter 17 will show you how. Some chapters are eye-opening and inspiring, some could’ve used more in-depth explanations. I still had a great time reading it.
If you are into probability, game theory or consumer behavior, you’ll have a good time reading this book. Who knows, you may get richer, too.
The Jung Reader edited by David Tacey
(Routledge, 2012, 392 pages)
Editor David Tracey, in his general introduction to this volume, says of the psychologist Carl Jung, “If anything expressed the strivings and ideals of the psyche, Jung found himself interested in it and had something of interest to say about it” (1). This statement is certainly representative of the makeup of this collection of essays, lectures, and book chapters. The topics include the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, religion, mythology, literature, the nature of dreams, and the dynamics of psychotherapy.
This is an excellent introduction for those, like myself, who are vaguely familiar with Jung’s ideas but have never encountered his writings. The essay “The Role of the Unconscious,” is helpful in differentiating Freud’s approach to the unconscious from Jung’s, one of the core distinctions between these two psychological schools. “Psychology and Religion,” originally delivered as a lecture at Yale in 1937, offers a corrective to reductionistic approaches to psychology which fail to take into account the types of questions and concerns that have perennially been raised by religious traditions and speak to an irreducibly spiritual side of human beings. In “The Aims of Psychotherapy,” Jung explains how his broad ranging, and often metaphysical, investigations into the psyche are all directed toward his primary concern as a trained physician for the good of his patients. These essays, as well as the rest, give a glimpse at the development and range of Jung’s thought.
The particular selection of essays included gives a very accessible introduction to Jung. The fact that many were originally lectures contributes to the non-technical nature of the collection. The critical introduction by David Tacey is also very helpful, giving a good orientation to thematic and biographical issues without falling into the trap of using overly specialized language.
The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling
(Perigee, 2012, 208 pages)
This book caught my eye as I was perusing the stacks. It seems like there has been a glut of books on introverts and their particular challenges and strengths. I’m trying to find time to read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which seems to be the most popular and (to my mind) the most interesting of this ever-expanding category. However, The Introvert’s Way, looked to be a quick and humorous take on the same subject, and this is exactly what it turned out to be.
Dembling offers a lot of personal reflection on her own preferences for solitude to crowds, written communication to phone calls, and deep conversation with a single person to chit-chat with many. She carefully and repeatedly lays out the distinctions between shyness and introversion, insisting that introversion in no way necessitates shyness. Dembling’s goal is to show that introversion is a different way of being, not a faulty way of being. She helps introverts to see this about themselves and encourages them to be quietly confident in their interactions with those who find such a disposition odd or even off-putting. Also included are a good number of comments and observations that Dembling has gathered from other self-described introverts.
Dembling’s book is funny as well as informative. It did get a little repetitive – by the end I was pretty tired of hearing about how little she liked parties or the specific circumstances under which she is sometimes able to enjoy them. It almost turned into an introvert’s “party survival guide.” That being said, as someone who is most definitely an introvert, I could recognize myself in most of what Dembling had to say. On the whole, this was an enjoyable read.
Identical by Ellen Hopkins
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010, 592 pages)
This young adult book is the story of a family: 16-year old identical twins, Kaeleigh and Raeanne, their father, a judge, and their mother who is running for Congress. This, however, is far from a perfect family. The dysfunction among the characters includes substance abuse, eating disorders, cutting, adultery, and sexual abuse. Despite the disturbing content, this is a great book. Mysteries build throughout, and revelations are unexpected. The audio version of Identical is read by a single narrator who does an excellent job altering her voice for various characters. I highly recommend it for those interested in psychology and mental illness.
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
by David Brooks
(Random House, 2011, 448 pages)
In his day job as a columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks writes about politics and public policy, exploring ways that human flourishing can be promoted at a societal level. In The Social Animal, Brooks zeros in to look at what makes for a satisfying and well-lived life. Through an examination of the last thirty years of neuroscience and psychological research, he shows how the subconscious – the more affective, intuitive, and mysterious side of human beings – is shaped and formed through the relationships we forge and the traditions we are a part of.
Brooks weaves together scientific studies and the narrative of a fictional couple, Erica and Harold, to give a picture of the non-analytic side of everyday life, including decision making, the learning process, raising children, constructing meaning in life, growing old, and many other issues. By drawing our attention to the scope of the brains operations that underlie our conscious and overtly rational thought processes, Brooks helps to show how complex and elusive we really are.
There are two aspects of this book that I found particularly enjoyable. First, Brooks provides all sorts of interesting and unusual scientific studies about human thought and behavior. Some of these are pretty hilarious, in addition to making excellent trivia. Second, the story of Erica and Harold is well told and skillfully integrated with the scientific findings. I found myself fully invested in these characters, and I got caught up in their story in the same way I would get caught up in a novel.
Brooks writes with humor and emotional power while condensing and simplifying a vast amount of research. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in sociology, public policy, or neuroscience – or to someone who simply wants a little more insight into who they are and how they should live.
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals
by Hal Herzog
(Harper, 2010, 326 pages)
This non-fiction book with an eye catching title did not disappoint me. It was fascinating and provocative. Each time I opened the book, I felt like I was sitting in a Philosophy class being lectured to by this enthusiastic professor.
Why do we like some animals but not others? Browse the chapter “The Importance of Being Cute.” Ever wonder which sex loves pets the most? Find the research data from page 132 to 137. Why do we look at the exact same animal very differently depending on context? Most of us think of cockfighting as cruel but would have no problem stopping at KFC for hot wings. In reality gamecocks are treated very well when they are not fighting, and most poultry headed for the table lead short, miserable lives and are killed quite painfully. The author, an anthropologist, shares with us his intensive research on how humans and animals interact. This book got me to think and re-think my relationships with animals.
I really appreciate that the author treats these controversial issues with fairness and neutrality. He doesn’t offer conclusions, he leaves that to the reader. This book is informative, hilarious and disturbing at times. No matter if you are a pet owner, a vegetarian, or a meat eater, you can relate to this book.