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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

I am about half way through this really amazing book called Stumbling on Happiness which discusses how the human brain predicts the future and more specifically how terrible a job it does causing us to wrongly predict what will make our future selves happy. The book discusses perception, imagination, and memory in a very engaging way using psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and several other disciplines. Half way through I’ve already learned a lot of new things about the mind. Below is a quote I came across while reading this afternoon and wanted to share. It clearly illustrates one of the most interesting things I’ve learned from this book (so far).

To give you some context, the paragraphs leading up to this example discuss how people are really bad at predicting their own emotional responses because when predicting the future its difficult to consider and factor in those things we don’t consider. Meaning, there are always factors we fail to consider when predicting/imagining future responses and these ignored factors are those which will fundamentally impact our future emotional response.

[M]ost Americans can be classified as one of two types: those who live in California and are happy they do, and those who don’t live in California but believe they’d be happy if they did. Yet, research shows that Californians are actually no happier than anyone else – so why does everyone (including Californians) seem to believe they are? California has some of the most beautiful scenery and some of the best weather in the continental United States, and when non – Californians hear that magic word their imaginations instantly produce mental images of sunny beaches and giant redwood trees. But while Los Angeles has a better climate than Columbus, climate is just one of many things that determine a person’s happiness – and yet all those other things are missing from the mental image. If we were to add some of these missing details to our mental images of beaches and palm trees – say traffic, supermarkets, airports, sports teams, cable rates, housing costs, earthquakes, landslides, and so on – then we might recognize that L.A. beats Columbus in some ways (better weather) and Columbus beats L.A. in others (less traffic). We think that Californians are happier than Ohioans because we imagine California with so few details – and we make no allowance for the fact that the details we are failing to imagine could drastically alter the conclusions we draw.

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I read this book for one reason – Nora Ephron wrote it. You know, Nora Ephron. She wrote You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally which are two of my absolute FAVORITE movies. I mean who does not love Meg Ryan in those roles? I mean she obviously didn’t create Meg Ryan but you get what I’m saying.

Anyway, while this book had some of the wit that made me love those movies, I left with the feeling that this book is schizophrenic. There were about fifteen essays total and several of them focused on getting older. I knew to expect this going in but I guess I expected something different. So much of what she talked about were vain attempts to look younger. Vain attempts characterized by the use of procedures, salon visits, and creams that are essentially a luxury of those with money. She came off as shallow and vain during a lot of these essays. At first I couldn’t tell whether she was intentionally being tongue in cheek or if she was serious. I somehow ended up with the impression that she was more on the serious side and this bothers me… A LOT. Granted I’m not even middle-aged yet, I like to think I’d be more accepting of what time will start to do to my body rather than attempting to dye and primp  my way to looking younger. I’m not particularly looks obsessed now and hope to stay this way.

The parts of the book I really liked were those that recounted stories from here life sans the pitfalls of aging. There was more wit and less whining. My recommendation – pick up this book and then call me so I can tell you which essays to read.

Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after of day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

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Whenever you give up an apartment in New York and move to another city, New York turns into the worst version of itself. Someone I know once wisely said that the expression “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” is completely wrong where New York is concerned; the opposite is true. New York is a very livable city. But when you move away and become a visitor, the city seems to turn against you. It’s much more expensive (because you need to eat all your meals out and pay for a place to sleep) and much more unfriendly. Things change in New York; things change all the time. You don’t mind this when you live here; when you live here, it’s part of the caffeinated romance to this city that never sleeps. But when you move away, your experience change as a betrayal. You walk up Third Avenue planning to buy a brownie at a bakery you’ve always been loyal to, and the bakery’s gone. Your dry cleaner move to Florida; your dentist retires; the lady who made the pies on West Fourth Street vanishes; the maitre d’ at P.J. Clarke’s quits, and you realize you’re going to have to start from scratch tipping your way into the heart of the cold, chic young woman now at the down. You’ve turned your back from only a moment, and suddenly everything’s different. You were an insider, a native, a subway traveler, a purveyor of inside tips into the good stuff, and now you’re just another frequent flyer, stuck in a taxi on Grand Central Parkway as you wing in and out of La Guardia. Meanwhile, you rad that Manhattan rents are going up, they’re climbing higher, they’re reached the stratosphere. It seems that the moment you left town, they put a wall around the place, and you will never manage to vault over it and get back into the city again.

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“Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it’s your last, or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live twenty more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really all going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievable delicious? And what about chocolate?”

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I live in New York City. I could never live anywhere else. The events of September 11 forced me to confront the fact that no matter what, I live here and always will. One of my favorite things about New York is that you can pick up the phone and order anything and someone will deliver it to you. Once I lived for a year in another city, and almost every waking hour of my life was spent going to stores, buying things, loading them into the car, bringing them home, unloading them, and carrying them into the house. How anyone gets anything done in these places is a mystery to me.

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Since Cleopatra’s death her fortunes have waxed and waned as dramatically as they did in her lifetime. Her power has been made to derive from her sexuality, for obvious reason; as one of Caesar’s murderers had noted, “How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!” It has always been preferable to attribute a woman’s success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life. Against a powerful enchantress there is no contest. Against a woman who ensnares a man in the coils of her serpentine intelligence – in her ropes of pearls – there should, at least be some kind of antidote. Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent.

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She elicited scorn and envy in equal and equally distorting measure, her story is constructed as much of male fear as fantasy. From Plutarch descends history’s greatest love story, though Cleopatra’s life was neither as lurid nor as romantic as had been made out. And she became a femme fatale twice over . . . it is difficult to say where vengeance ends and homage begins. Her power was immediately enhanced because – for one man’s historical purposes – she needed to have reduced another to abject slavery. It is true that she was a dutiful, father loving daughter, a patriot and protector, an early nationalist, a symbol of courage, a wise ruler with nerves of steel, a master at self presentation. It is not true that she built the lighthouse of Alexandria, could manufacture gold, was the ideal woman, a martyr to love, “a silly little girl,” the mother of Christ . . . On a good day Cleopatra is said to have died for love, which is not exactly true either . . . She sent even Shakespeare over the top, eliciting from him his greatest female role, his richest poetry, a full, Antony – less act, and in the estimations of one critic, a rollicking tribute to guilt-free middle-aged adultery. Shakespeare may be as much to blame for out having lost sight of Cleopatra VII as the Alexandrian humidity, Roman propaganda, and Elizabeth Taylor’s limpid lilac eyes.

 

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This past week, I finished reading My Life in France and couldn’t have loved it more! The book is incredibly inspiring and really fascinating. It’s full of interesting things I didn’t know about Julia Child. The absolute best part of the book is the insight into her writing process. Talk about dedication! Tirelessly checking recipes, testing them, experimenting with different methods and ingredients, hiring and illustrator, laboring over instructions to make sure they are as clear as possible and not the least bit confusing! Her work ethic is awe inspiring! This book is guaranteed to make everyone want to go on a quest for that one thing they were made to do – that is if you haven’t discovered that thing yet.

I absolutely recommend this book – even if you don’t like cooking, or France, and even if you don’t care one bit about Julia Child! Her story is wonderful!

“Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food it truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile – and learn from her mistakes.”

“I simple won’t take a house that hasn’t got a wine cellar! I don’t care what they say!”

“When do you pause? When do  you paint or pant? When write family, loll on moss, hear Mozart and watch the glitter of the sea? … Clearly I am softened by the luxurious style of our Parisian life: comes Friday night in Paris and down comes that iron curtain between job and what I really life doing. Wham!, and I’m off with Julie on the flying carpet…” (letter by Paul Child to his brother Charlie)

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I am currently reading My Life In France by Julia Child. The book chronicles the years she lived in France with her husband Paul. The book is mostly in Julia’s voice composed by her grandnephew through a combination of letters written by both Julia and Paul, and recorded interviews held specifically for purposes of the book.

Let me tell you – this book is captivating. It makes me want to pack my bags and run off to France. I’m about 50% of the way through and there has never been a dull moment. It is the story of Julia going to France and just flourishing. The book is not only fascinating but also inspiring because it tells the story of how someone discovers themselves only after being taken and dropped in a completely foreign place.

I came across this book because of this book club and am so happy I took the recommendation! Like the blogger, I too saw Julie & Julia and loved it. I also tried to read the book and found myself putting it down quickly. I just didn’t find Julie Powell likable or sincere. And she cursed a lot. But My Life in France. Wonderful. Obviously so different and it really does tell the more interesting side of the story – the Julia part.

I 100% recommend this book to anyone who wants to be swept up in wanderlust, who wants to feel inspired, or who just wants to read a really great story told by a truly captivating narrator.

So go read it !!!

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Quick Quotes

The last week I’ve been reading non stop. Somehow – despite having found time to move, unpack slighty, attend a casual dinner party, buy a couch, make about 50 trips to the post office, and run countless errands – I managed to read 3 books in the last week. I’m not saying they were necessarily hard reads but still 3 books in a week is an accomplishment for me. I usually take quite a bit longer with books. The speed with which I finished these books is a testament to my boredom.

I started my fourth today, and let me say – I got pretty lucky on this round of reads. While I won’t be writing full posts on any of the books, I wanted to share short quotes from two of them because well they’re just too funny.

Both quotes make statements about NYC and I’m sharing them because they are 100% TRUTH. Honest to goodness, made me laugh out loud TRUTH.

“I’d never devoted much time to envy while living in Chicago, but there it had been possible to rent a good sized apartment and still have enough money left over for a movie or a decent cut of meat. To be broke in New York was to feel a constant, needling sense of failure, as you were regularly confronted by people who had not only more but much, much more.” From Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dave Sedaris

“[W]e loaded up the boxes in our living room and hauled them in our aging burgundy Bronco to our new apartment … in Long Island City, which is not on Long Island but in Queens. (Which is, yes, technically on the water surrounded landmass known as Long Island, but don’t ever tell someone from Queens or Brooklyn that they live on Long Island. Trust me on this; it’s a bad idea.)” From Julie & Julia, Julie Powell

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I try not to jump on the book series bandwagons. Usually when I’m looking for something new to read I look at Barnes & Noble lists of upcoming books, I read some book blogs, and look at the NY Times book reviews. But I try not to jump on series bandwagons. The reason? I hopped on the Harry Potter bandwagon before it was a bandwagon and when that ended I needed something to fill the void. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I tried to fill that void with the Twilight series. Let’s skip over the poor display of judgment on my part. I quickly realized Twilight wasn’t worthy of filling the void or of occupying my time and I expressed those feelings here and here.

So at first when this whole Steig Larson thing blew up I ignored it. I ignored it completely. I didn’t care and assumed it was the media trying to latch on to another series in hopes of striking gold like it did with HP. But then I read an article in the NY Times Magazine that made me rethink my position. I was then drawn to the books by the facts of the author’s life and not the hype surrounding them. In fact, I had no idea what the hell the books were about other than that they were some kind of mystery/thriller thing. So before the bar exam I went to Target and bought the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and let it sit on my shelf until about two weeks ago.

The truth? At least after reading the first book – I’m on board with the trilogy. I don’t want to talk about the plot or characters too much in case someone who wants to read the book reads this post, but the plot did a really good job of holding my attention. The characters obviously have a lot going on, far more than what the reader is told in the first book and I can only hope their histories will unfold in the two books I have yet to finish.

While sitting in a coffee shop on Thursday, I heard someone discussing this book with the shop’s owner. The woman in the shop commented that she thought the first book was really dry and talked way too much about Sweden and Swedish things and she had a really hard time sticking with it to get to the good parts. Here is my response to this – at times, ok frequently, the book refers to places in Sweden. Obviously I have no idea where these places are because I’ve never been to Sweden. So sometimes the book made me want to pull out a map but never did it make me want to put it down because I felt like it was talking about Sweden too much. There is a difference between being dry, boring writing and starting out slow to set the stage and picking up steam along the way. I think this book does the latter. The characters are complex and it takes time to set the stage. But steadily the book picks up steam and its worth sticking out. Also, really lady in the coffee shop? We’re going to dismiss the book because it talks about Sweden too much? God forbid we read something that might teach us a bit about another country,

There is one more thing I feel I should say about this book. I’m mentioning this only because it made me take pause while reading it and it appears to be a recurring theme now that I’ve started reading The Girl who Played with Fire. That is, the books deal very heavily with violence against women. In upsetting detail sometimes. So you’re warned. Go in knowing that so you won’t be totally shocked and disturbed like I was.

Anyway, I seem to be on a pretty good streak when it comes to choosing good books. This one was a good read and the second book is shaping up to be pretty entertaining as well.

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I’m 3/50 in to my 50 book challenge. Considering the year is almost over and I couldn’t really start the challenge until once school and the bar exam were over I’m considering setting a goal that encompasses what is left of this year and the entirety of next year because obviously I can’t read 50 books before years end. Problem is, I don’t know what would be a reasonable yet challenging number to use as my goal.

As usual, I welcome suggestions on what to read!

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