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Summer Reading

7 July 2008

Back from vacation, sad to be back. The week truly went well, with a good mix of family togetherness and quiet nuclear-family time. As the Consort, his sister, and Impera all said at different times, “No drama!”

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t discrepancies in what people said and what they actually did, from time to time, or that certain things weren’t mentioned that could have blown out of proportion, or that I didn’t notice any pomposity from the usual suspects, but, how could a family gathering be complete without at least some of that?

We brought way too many books (as we are wont to do on trips), and the girls and I kept hopscotching the same books, so I read widely but not deeply. Strangely (for me), most of it was nonfiction, and now I have random information swirling through my head – information that is affecting the way I think I need to interact with other people. Did you know that in scientific experiments, people who were treated badly by someone and had the opportunity to report them to a superior felt worse (angry, stressed, etc.) than those who did not have a chance to complain? We all believe in the power of a good venting, do we not? But it seems that complaining may actually feed our anger, not release it.

Well, shoot.

Did you know that the simple act of self-identifying for race (filling in the “African-American” bubble on multiple-choice aptitude tests, for example) before taking a test significantly lowers the test scores of people of color?


I don’t know if I’ll ever finish these books now that vacation is over, but the portions I read were certainly eye-opening. May I recommend:

  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, by by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
  • The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History, by Stephen Jay Gould

I put down Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver after page 29, because the first character does something so out of character that I just couldn’t continue. Impera and I both read The Poisonwood Bible last spring, and loved it. I enjoyed Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, although in my case it was preaching to the choir. We listened to the audio version of Pigs in Heaven eight years ago as we drove from North Carolina to Florida for a family Christmas, and it was entertaining. But Prodigal Summer just didn’t work.

What interesting stuff are you reading these days?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 July 2008 1:50 pm

    Cookery books and 18th century social history, at the moment.

    I think that being able to have a good moan to a friend or husband *cough* straight away vents the anger, but having to formalise it into a complaint can make me dwell on it and it’s easier on myself to let it go. But whereas a decision to forgive makes you feel good about yourself, impotent anger is upsetting.

  2. 7 July 2008 4:13 pm

    (i’m not reading very much beyond stuff on the intertubes)

    But this:
    it seems that complaining may actually feed our anger, not release it
    both doesn’t surprise me AND makes me wonder if I should lay off griping on my blog when I’m down. Hm.

  3. Three of Four permalink
    7 July 2008 4:23 pm

    I haven’t read “Blink,” but I had the chance to see Gladwell speak at a corporate event a few years ago. He’s such a wonderful storyteller! I hope for you that he reads as well as he speaks.

    If you’re looking for more good non-fiction, I recommend “The Immortal Game” by David Shenk. It’s a history of chess that is very engaging. He presents the evolution of the game using almost a short-story format, so it doesn’t feel like a drawn-out textbook history. The parts on Benjamin Franklin are particularly funny.

  4. 7 July 2008 6:31 pm

    What?! You’re not going to publish juicy outtakes from the notebook!?

    Agree that Prodigal Summer is sort of odd and not up to her usual standards.

    Books: Just finished a load of nonsense, partway through a little book about Jungian psychology & mythology, and a big fat novel about Vietnam is next up.

  5. Cateling permalink
    7 July 2008 10:37 pm

    I’ve read Blink through. It’s interesting I suppose, but after a while becomes just more of the same.

    In professional reading, I strongly recommend Crucial Conversations. The authors describe and help the reader learn a set of skills that can help to remove some of the volitility from high-stakes arguments. This helps one to concentrate on the goal of the conversation (gaining understanding, coming to a consensus) rather than getting sidetracked with unproductive behaviors (trying to “win” the conversation, rubbing the other person’s nose in their mistakes, being cowed into complicity). I’ve had the opportunity to put these skills to use in personal and professional conversations, and I can see a difference. Of course, I do see interpersonal communication as a skill, and not one that comes naturally to me, so your mileage may vary.

    In fluffier summer reading, I’m re-reading Prince Caspian (to my children) and also re-reading The Eyre Affair (et al) by Jasper Fforde. Have you read him? Two heaps of fun for bibliophiles.

  6. 9 July 2008 4:02 am

    Is Prodigal Summer the one where she lives in the woods? I don’t remember that too well, but I did finish it, which is saying a lot for me.

    Oh wait…that’s not the one with the baby goats is it? That disturbed me, for obvious reasons. Hmmm…wonder if that’s a precursor of Animal Vegetable?

    Anyway, I do the same thing–bring books I don’t read. I mostly read the Rough Guide, to see where I might want to go the next day.

  7. Peaceable Imperatrix permalink*
    9 July 2008 9:01 am

    Z: I agree about immediate venting, and believe me, the Consort gets an earful on a regular basis! With the family vacation, though, I made an effort not to complain (too much) since this involves his family, rather than simply rude strangers.

    Stew: Hmmm, I think asking for help when one is depressed is different than complaining. Unless the request for help is manipulative — but I only know one person who does that.

    3 of 4: Aha! Finally, a book suggestion! I will give that chess history a look. And lucky you, to have heard Gladstone!

    KathyR: A novel about Vietnam, you say?…

    Cate: You’re right about Blink being a bit repetitive. i suppose the fact that I was reading it in snippets here and there probably alleviated some of the boredom. The Narnia series is a good one, isn’t it? And I did read the Eyre Affair that you gave me a couple of years ago. I should try it again. I think I wasn’t int he right frame of mind at the time.

    KathyF: Yes, it’s the one about the forest on the mountain (but I only got 30 pages into it). BAby goats? Perhaps it’s all for the best that I didn’t continue. I do believe her new focus on Appalachia is due to her move to the family property down there.

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