Saturday, February 15, 2014

Balsamic Dreams - Joe Queenan

Ouch, this "short but self- important history of the Baby Boomer generation" can sting.  The author pokes fun at the generation of peace and love that have become Wall Street tycoons in McMansions with privately-schooled kids.  He describes the generation as self-absorbed, hypocritical, and suffering from premature nostalgia.  There's a lot of spot-on points made and toward the end, if your a member, your left feeling chastened and defeated with nothing of value having been contributed by you and your peers. He sums it up by saying "they could have been contenders" in contributing to society.

I thought the book was funny and stinging and after finishing it and reflecting on some of his points thought he overlooked the achievements of the females of the baby boomers.  After all, we're the first generation to take control of our reproduction, chose a career and/or family, crack the glass ceiling.  But maybe that's just another example of being self-absorbed.

Published:  2001   Read: February 2014   Genre:  Comedy

House Made of Dawn - N. Scott Momaday

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for its depiction of Native American life and is accredited with bringing native american literature to a wider audience.  It is written almost like poetry, painting the scene and thoughts of the characters leisurely and vividly.  The contrast between the culture on the reservation and the world outside is stark, clashing and the viewpoint sometimes difficult to follow.  Looking back on the book over 50 years later, its hard to imagine how foreign and distant the lives of Abel and his family and friends must have seemed back then.  It's worth a re-read.

Published: 1968   Read: February 2014  Genre: Fiction

The Song of Rhiannon - Evangeline Walton

The third book of the Mabinogi, the ancient folklore of the Welsh spun into adult fantasy stories, was satisfying to read and left me eager to read the last in the series.  The author wrote the tales based on Celtic mythology in the 1930's but the books weren't popular until they were republished in the 1970's.  I've enjoyed reading the stories and imagining that my ancestors may have grown up knowing these tales.  This volume was tragic, with war and death and loss taking center stage.  The central role of women in the society and their equal standing with men is a theme that sold well in the 70's and resonates even today.

Published:  1972   Read: February 2014   Genre: Fantasy

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ceocaching - Jack W Peters

Geocaching is the outdoor activity of finding hidden items with the aid of GPS.  Geocachers hide small boxes containing some treasures and a log book to record your find.  You can add your own treasure and then return the box to its hiding place for others to find.  I like the idea of having a purpose when exploring outdoors, the geekiness of getting familiar with GPS systems, and the thrill of the hunt without killing anything.
While the book was written when one had to use a dedicated GPS device which today might be integrated with our phone, it still had plenty of useful hints and tips on geocaching.  Now I just need to get out and do it!

Published:  2004   Read: February 2014   Genre: Non-fiction, Adventure

Mothering without a Map - Kathryn Black

This book is by an author who lost her mother in childhood after a long illness. She was raise by her grandmother, who seemed unable to forgive herself for losing her only daughter.  This left the author without a role model for motherhood.  She interviewed hundreds of women on their relationship with their mother and their experience of being a mother, to aid herself in raising her own children that she had in her 40s and help others be "the good mother you long to be even if you didn't have one yourself".

I appreciated the experiences of her interviewees and of the author but after a few chapters it was a lot of stories along the line of "I overcame a bad/missing/unknowing mother, and now I'm a better mother to my children"...basic mother bashing and those poorly mothered claiming their superiority in raising their own children.  I'd like to see a follow up in 20 years on "their" children.  I'm betting those kids will have plenty of complaints about their mothering too.

Published:  2005  Read: 2014  Genre: Non-fiction, self-help

Loneliness - John T Cacioppo & William Patrick

Sub-title: Human nature and the need for social connection

I got this from the library after reading some blog about aging and the increase in people living alone.  It's a quasi-scholarly work that reports on the affect of loneliness based on physical measures in laboratory settings.  Some tidbits I pulled from it were the evolution of our brains (the basest part is called "reptilian"), the importance of oxytocin, a protein found in breast milk, which increases when we're hugged or touched, and the importance of sharing positive experiences (promotion, sport success, winning something) with loved ones.

I got bogged down in the science explanations of the physiological effects of loneliness and took a break from reading until finishing up the last couple of chapters.

After reviewing all of the physical and psychological impacts of loneliness, the author spends the last few chapters discussing how to alleviate it.  One of his key findings is the effect of the "helper's high" or the good feelings we encounter when helping others.  "Loneliness is the prompt that reminds us how much we depend on one another".  People who experience social connection seek out and fully contribute to social situations and relationships.  They are less likely than others to let their own baggage or behabior cast a pall over a gathering. He points out that while we may not be able to control our emotions (feelings) of loneliness, we can "reframe our cognitive perceptions" [thoughts] to change our lives.  This is the power behind Cognive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, which teaches individuals to redirect emotions by modifying everyday thoughts and behaviors. For those starting on a path away from loneliness, he recommends "EASE" into it - Extend yourself, have an Action plan, be Selective with whom you connect and Expect the best.    He points out that loneliness can make us demanding, critical and behave passively and withdraw.  Helping the lonely person requires being aware of their underlying reality and doing what you can to make them feel safe.  Finally, when they evaluated various social connections, they found that those who participate in religious services found a strong, persistent perspective on life and a greater life expectancy.  It appeared that church attendance often reinforces family connections and provides trustworthy interactions with friends.

The author concluded the book with a call to a global recognition of our need to connect and  embrace our interdependance.

Published:  2008  Read: February 2014  Genre: Non-fiction, Science