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Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Stroll: A Novel

Elin Hilderbrand is a fun person. You are probably wondering how I know this. It's simple -- she served beer during her book signing at BEA this year. So, by process of alcohol elimination, she's a super fun person. I've never read any of her books before, but this one looked short and sweet and I figured it would make a great holiday read. It did. This is Winter Stroll.

It's been a hell of a year for the Quinns of Nantucket. The youngest, Bart, has gone MIA in Afghanistan; the oldest, Patrick, is in jail for insider trading; and Mitzi, Bart's mother, has left her husband for their annual Santa Claus. It's not all bad though: Ava, the daughter, is in love; Kevin, the middle son, has a fiance and a baby; and Margaret, the mother of the oldest three, is a successful newscaster. They all gather at the family inn on the island to celebrate the baptism of Kevin's daughter on the weekend of the annual festival, the Winter Stroll. Needless to say, there will be misunderstandings, bad choices, and secrets revealed. However, if they can all make it out alive, they will be a stronger family than ever before.

This book was everything I wanted it to be. I took it home for the holidays last week and I just jumped into it headfirst and spent some quality time with the Quinns. They were fun, they were crazy, and they reminded me of own family at the base of who we all are. The Quinns all love each other even if the kids drive them nuts with their video game playing or the brothers are far away. This was one of the few times I have read a book told from multiple perspectives and really liked it, because I felt that was the best way to tell this story. Hilderbrand weaves a fun and interesting narrative, and I found that despite being able to finish this book in a day, I wanted to drag it out just a little because I really enjoyed the characters and their mishaps.

The story was tightly told and to the point, and I'm really glad I saved this book to read while I was home for the holidays. It was the perfect read, and I'm so thankful to have something to take my mind off my own research for a bit. Not that Elin will ever read this, but I would like to thank her anyway for a couple of hours of my suspension of disbelief. It was much appreciated. 

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chasing the Dime: A Novel

After reading a couple of Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer series I decided that I really like him. I took a stroll to visit my Book Guy on a nice day a couple of weeks ago and picked up one of his older ones, Chasing the Dime.

Henry Pierce is a biotech entrepreneur who has done very well for himself--everywhere except his love life. When his girlfriend leaves him, he has to get a new apartment, new furniture, and a new phone number. Only that phone number recently belonged to Lilly, who appears to have been a very popular escort. Who is Lilly? What happened to her? Why did she give up her phone number, and why does it seem like she just disappeared into thin air? The more Henry digs, the more he finds he needs to know--before it kills him.

I love a good-samaritan-bad-situation-and-even-more-bad-choices kind of story. This is exactly what I got and I enjoyed every second of it. Henry, who by all means meant well, couldn't leave it alone. He had to keep digging, even when the reader (me) knew he was on his way up sh&% creek. You know nothing good could have come from Lilly's disappearance, and Henry's run-ins with her [ahem] business colleagues lead you to the same conclusion. However, it's not the destination, but rather the journey that is worth following Henry's little adventure.

I was a bit surprised by the ending. While it was a little on the far-fetched side, sometimes I really want that in my weekend reading. I don't want heavy-handed writing that is going to make me think and contemplate the meaning of life; I want fast-paced, interesting characters who drive me through a nail-biting story and make me want to not get up from my new and comfortable reading chair.

[It's not new; it's actually quite old. But I do sink down in it, for the record.]

Hard copy for purchase below.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Sociology Book

My love for the Big Ideas Simply Explained series runs deep. I've done psychology (for adults and youth) and science. This year I picked up The Sociology Book and was just as thrilled. Probably more, because there was quite a lot I didn't know in this book. 

Instead of telling you what this book is about, I'm just going to jump right in. You will hear about some of the big ideas along the way. 

Let's just be real with each other here – you know how much I love these books. I live for them. Every May, a Book Expo America, I immediately markdown DK Books as a must stop in order to pick up whichever book is coming out this year. This just past spring, The Sociology Book was released and hot damn if I didn't run to their booths that morning to make sure that I got it at its exact drop time.

This book lived up to its hype. By hype, I specifically mean the that which I created in my head about the book. But seriously, DK does such a brilliant job with the series that it's impossible to not love it. I've written about The Psychology Book, and The Science Book, and this one absolutely matches up to both of those. It covers issues and theorists I care very much about, including social justice, how society functions, gender roles , and raise issues. There are definitely some sections I would like to have my students read in the future, and so this book will definitely be added to my recommended reading list.

I said before in previous reviews of the series, I think that the others do an incredible job of distilling incredibly important concepts and giving their readers a lay person version of some pretty complicated topics. Writers like Michael Foucault, bell hooks, WEB Du Bois, and others can be very difficult understand, but these authors do a phenomenal job of breaking it down. These books are well worth having on your shelf, and I can't wait to see what they have in store at Book Expo America 2016.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Nice Is Just A Place In France

When I picked up Nice Is Just A Place In France, I did so without knowing exactly what I was getting into. I found it in the same section as other books I had read and enjoyed and the title caught my eye, which is probably at least somewhat due to the fact that I’m from France.

The thing with Nice is that’s it’s much more of a self-help manual than anything resembling a novel along the lines of what I normally review here. So there aren’t characters or storylines to get into. But there are Betches.

The team of girls who wrote the book refer to themselves as “The Betches.” You’ll find them listed on the cover and referred to throughout the book as just that. And the book is about teaching you, the reader, how to be a “Betch” like them.

A Betch is not one of the “nicegirls.” Betches believe that nice girls are destined to lead lives of boredom and cats and that no one should or would ever want this. Though they spend pages and pages defining the Betch, The working definition of “The Betch” is best described as a fairly aloof, alpha female whose main weapon is manipulation. That’s right, this book is basically a recipe for how to succeed in the world as kind of an awful person on your way to becoming Miranda Priestly.

The book is really funny at times. The Betches most certainly have a way with words with lots of LOLs throughout the book. The tone is very Amy Schumer with some Chelsea Handler mixed in. The book absolutely gets rant-y and even downright mean at times.

If Nice is intended to be a joke where we’re all laughing together, then it totally works. However, as a self-help manual, it’s sad and falls short.

For purchase below.

Monday, December 7, 2015

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Jon Ronson, bestselling author of other books I've posted on here, recently released So You've Been Publicly Shamed, of which I have read an excerpt and enjoyed the reviews. I finally picked it up this weekend and enjoyed it for myself.

Public shaming has always been a part of human life. From the burning of witches and the wearing of the scarlet letter to criminals wearing sandwich boards advertising their crimes, we have always been a people who have loved to publicly burn at the stake those whom we feel better than. Social media has made this even worse -- it allows us to anonymously stone anyone who we feel has done the slightest wrong. It also keeps the wrong up on the internet forever. Who have we become?

I unashamedly, unabashedly adore Jon Ronson. I loved The Psychopath Test, so I will pretty much read anything this man writes for any publication he chooses to publish it in. I particularly appreciate, and it comes across very clearly here, that he doesn't present himself to be an expert in anything other than what he does well – which is journalism. I appreciate very deeply that he can tell a fantastic story, and he does it by researching others.

This particular book focuses on public shaming. I think it's particularly interesting, because from a personal standpoint, I have very little shame. I own who I am fully and completely, and there's very little that I'm embarrassed about. However, that being said, if I reach the level of into me that any of his subjects in this book did, that might be an entirely different story. I can say that I have never had my job put in jeopardy based upon my own public writings. I run this blog, and I run a personal blog, and I leave most of my social media open to the public because of both of those pieces of writing. My students of recently found me on Instagram, and I can't allow myself to be particular bothered by that. I just have to own everything I post.

I was familiar with some of the stories that Ronson wrote about in this book, specifically the Justine Sacco story and the wealthy Zumba instructor prostitute. The other stories I found to be incredibly interesting, specifically the one about the Formula One baron who overcame shame almost immediately and entirely. I agree with his assertion that we can only be as embarrassed as we allow ourselves to be, but then again, I've never been supremely publicly shamed. This book did leave me to ask a lot of questions about myself though. Specifically, what could be said about me publicly that would shame me to the point where I would feel that I need to hide? I don't have an answer to that, and I hope to god I never find out, but I do wonder if in fact there is anything. I own a lot of who I am – I am a feminist, I am a liberal, I am a social justice advocate, I make irreverent comments, I say what's on my mind even if it means that it comes across as inappropriate, and I post on social media and the Internet without shame.

Ultimately, I think that this book was an incredibly interesting study of public shaming in the age of social media and how we go about tearing others down. You could look at the story as one of how people overcome shame, but it's really an indictment of those who live for tearing others down anonymously on the Internet. I am proud to say I've haven't explicitly been a member of this; I do this through being an actively aware poster. (Or have I and just not known that I've done it -- and this is where Ronson excels. He makes you question your assumptions about yourself.) I would easily argue, however, that I'm not above a little base shaming myself, particularly in the area of human rights. No matter how you look at it, I found Ronson's book to be incredibly interesting and well worth the read. Any of his books, really, are well worth the read, and this one is no exception.

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Psychologists Defying the Crowd: Stories of Those Who Battled the Establishment and Won

Recently at my office job (I have several jobs, btw), I was asked to help a departing colleague clean out his office. Happy to oblige, and knowing I would get a boatload of great books, I agreed. One of the ones I borrowed was Psychologists Defying the Crowd: Stories of Those Who Battled the Establishment and Won. I read it this weekend in order to keep myself on the "one for you, one for me" reading track (the "you" being my beloved field of psych). 

This volume of reflection, edited by one of my personal idols, Dr. Robert J. Sternberg of intelligence research (Triarchic Theory WHAT!), aimed to ask eminent psychologists across a range of disciplines how they have defied the establishment and gone on to make great contributions to the field. This allowed these figures to reflect back on their collective centuries of work and examine how the field in general resists new ideas and change, especially in the move from behaviorism in the mid-century to the renewed dominance of cognitive and social psychology. (For the record, both of those are where I spend a great deal of my teaching and research, so I am most certainly biased!)

I was particularly excited to read chapters by people that I just admire and respect. Most of those were chapters that were incredibly illuminating and eye-opening, such as Dr. Elizabeth Loftus reflecting on her research of false memories, leading to a great deal of backlash from the public but helping a tremendous amount of people who had been falsely accused of sexual molestation in the 1990's; Dr. Walter Mischel, who changed the face of personality psychology against strong resistance from some of his own colleagues (you might be familiar with his Marshmallow Test); Dr. Robert J. Sternberg himself, who took the field of intelligence and turned it upside down, angering so many in the process (I LOVE YOU!); Dr. Edward Zigler, one of the founders of Head Start and its arguably staunchest advocate, who continued to push for psychologists involvement in preschool development even when everyone around him thought this was the dumbest idea ever; Dr. Kelly T. Brownell, whose obesity and dieting research changed how we understand yo-yo dieting; Dr. Ellen Berscheid, reflecting on her love research that caused a massive public backlash, threatening her safety and health, and how she pushed through to make incredible breakthroughs in the field; and last, but certainly never least, Dr. Elliot Aronson, one of the fathers of cognitive dissonance research who challenged his own adviser to edit his theory in order to take into account self-concept to explain a theory that was too broad in scope to be applied to everyday work.

Holy moly, that was a lot. But honestly, it was a great book to read as I sit here stuck on how I am going to finish my blasted dissertation. Sometimes it feels not worth it at all, then I have to remind myself that I can't do the bigger things I want to do -- defy the crowd, if you will -- until I finish. It was not just enlightening, but inspiring, to read these essays by people I admire and see how they also faced adversity not just early on, but throughout their careers.

Some of the essays were pedantic and self-congratulatory, and I won't mention their names here -- but let's just say I wasn't surprised. (It was none of my favorites listed above.) So instead, if you pick up this book, focus on the ones that really lay out for the every day reader, or newbie psychology major, how they had to push forward in the face of defiance to make the difference they knew they could make.

For purchase below.