Are You My Mother?, Euonia, Thinking Fast and Slow, Paleofantasy, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

These 5 books represented a spectrum of commitment. Jekyll and Hyde, Eunonia, and Are You My Mother? were pretty easy and quick reads, where as Thinking Fast and Slow took some serious hours of reading. That being said, it was my favorite of the 5, and has made it onto one of the coveted spots of the list of books I recommend when folks ask me what I’ve enjoyed reading. (Joined by Kindred, Cairo: A Graphic Novel, Fun Home and the three Tamora Pierce books from last blog entry.)

For anyone who missed Thinking Fast and Slow, it’s by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist whose work with Amos Tversky on heuristics and decision-making revolutionized economics.  It’s an overview of what behavioral economics and psychology can teach us about two types of human decision-making (fast, and slow, logically, or as they are called in the book, Type 1 and Type 2). Kahneman is uniquely positioned to write this - often he cites studies as either his, or produced by one of his students or collaborators. I  had read a lot of the papers discussed, but I still enjoyed his take on things. The book does a great job of tying them together and presenting an overall view of the field without descending into the Malcolm Gladwell-esque “anecdote to study to global conclusion” pattern. Read this.

Euonia is perhaps better classed as poetry than as a book. Written in 5 parts, the author only uses words with one vowel in them at a time, and attempts to hit a number of thematic elements in each vowel-chapter. The endnotes say it took him seven years to write, and you can see why - it’s a masterpiece that actually is vaguely readable, despite the constraints. More about it at the Wikipedia page.

Are You My Mother? is by Allison Bechdel, and is a follow up to her earlier book on her childhood and father Fun Home. Fun Home is about Bechdel’s relationship with her father, and this book, not shockingly, is about her relationship with her mother, interspersed with a lot of information about her therapy and psychotherapy in general. It’s gorgeous in its layout and intricate in the number of different stories explored.  But that means that Are You My Mother? lacks the unifying plot that Fun Home had, and as someone who isn’t particularly into Freudian theory, for me, it was a miss. 

Paleofantasy is a book on the “paleo” lifestyle by Marlene Zuk, who is a professor who actually studies sexual selection and evolutionary biology. There were parts of it I very much enjoyed, but in general, it tended towards the repetitive (because there are only so many times you can say “caveman did not live like this”). Zuk also has the bad habit of quoting commenters on blogs as representative of the paleo movement’s broader consensus. I’m sure in some cases this was just because the comments were more pithy representations of a broader view, but it meant the book felt a little cherry picked. However, lots of interesting info about what evolutionary biology actually says, which given its ubiquity in Internet argumentation, is fun to read from someone who knows the field. 

Finally, I read a classic. (That never happens!) Jekyll and Hyde was fun, quick, and has good storytelling and plotting. Worth a read.