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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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kas has commented on (17) products.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The Sense of an Ending

kas, October 26, 2013

***Profoundly Impressive, Unforgettable Read***

Personally, The Sense of an Ending is a novel that I expect will prove unforgettable. That is, it made some very strong emotional and intellectual impressions on me that I expect will come to mind in situational contexts and mental frames -- regardless of consistency of the memory content -- longer and more often than most novels I've read.

Part of the reason for this effect is that I simply loved this book! The most compelling books stick out more in the mind for the reasons they were compelling in the first place, right? Also, my reading inspired a deep admiration for Julian Barnes as an artist, so I will remember it as part of my exploration contemporary literary fiction. But, my expectations of how important this book will be in my future thoughts cannot be accounted for by these reasons alone. In discussing why this novel feels so sticky, as it were, I hope to give better sense of whether you'd also find this work compelling or valuable:

1) The Sense of an Ending deals with a few themes very specifically, directly and consistently through it's brief duration (approximately 163 pages). For me, the ideas in this novel were very emotionally resonant, and the issues raised engaged some strongly-rooted values as well as pre-existing philosophical questions I had about how and why to live.

Some thematic descriptors that come to my mind are:
--the differences between an event and what any given person will perceive about the event;
--the differences between perception and memory;
--the variability in depth as well as content in personal memory over the course of life;
--self-concept - how does it develop and change?
--Is there any absolute truth that can be known about oneself or another person?
--our level of responsibility for the consequences of our actions when knowledge is incomplete
--the dangers of recriminating emotional injuries by purposeful infliction of a seemingly lesser or equivalent injury ("eye for an eye")
--what we feel guilty about and ruminate about remorsefully vs. other potentially questionable things people do that we just let slide, as it were, in our psychology
--Narrator's deep-seated discomfort with as well as acceptance of "complacency" as a way of life in adulthood.
--Good reasons to live or die vs. bad ones, the unquantifiably damaging nature of human experience, you know -- that stuff. ;)

2) All this is done through a first person stream-of-consciousness narration of events and his reflections. The threads of his tale ultimately come together in a truly dramatic story of life, love and death. I, for one, was surprised and always interested by the twists of the plot.

Thanks for reading this. I hope this provides someone with a better idea of what this book is.
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Custer's Last Battle: Red Hawk's Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Paul Goble
Custer's Last Battle: Red Hawk's Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

kas, October 26, 2013

***Unusual Artifact***

Well, this thing sure is an interesting artifact. I was intrigued by the description of the book, so I entered a GoodReads Giveaway for a copy and was lucky enough to win.

This is structured as a children's book -- short, straightforward text with each 2-page layout dominated by stimulating imagery with comparatively less verbal content. It is not a very detailed story, and there's nothing I would call truly original about its actual content according to my own perspective and experience with related history and adult historical fiction.

However, the story is not an oversimplified or facile one. The reader gets a historically informed fictional account from an underrepresented perspective. And, this perspective speaks directly about big picture issues -- how events were shaped and interpreted by the narrator and his community. These interpretations, implicitly if not explicitly, are clearly depicted as being rooted in particular culture and history.

Make what you will of that. It's not like most books, I don't think, and nothing like my typical reading.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
The Almond Tree

kas, October 26, 2013

I found The Almond Tree to be rather uneven altogether. It was likable in a lot of ways and has a few truly admirable qualities. However, I noticed a few clear weaknesses of this novel. That said, I would recommend this book overall because the weaknesses do not diminish the reader's enjoyment of its better qualities.

In particular, the characters are drawn with great warmth, and I found I could empathize with the protagonist even when I disagreed with his actions or views. Moreover, Corasanti portrayed the profound suffering of various characters sympathetically and highlighted moments of ordinary human tenderness, but I think she managed to avoid melodrama in the former case and maudlin narration in the latter. This book was written with love -- it's not overwrought.

Another reason I found the novel worthwhile is that the author, an American Jew, depicted a Palestinian protagonist and other characters not only positively and as multi-faceted characters, but she gave a relatable voice to the suffering experienced by many Palestinians, due in significant part to Israeli policies -- in a way that respected rather than discredited the sufferings of all people affected as a result of the instability and cycles of violence in the Mideast. Her characters and the societies they inhabit are filled with real human beings -- not just forces who affect certain characters' lives.

I am not at all surprised that a Jewish woman could and/or would so tenderly depict the torments and joys of a young Palestinian man! That wouldn't be consistent with an understanding of the range of goodness in every people -- or more specifically, show basic knowledge of the spectrum of opinion among Israelis and American Jews on Israeli policies and the future of the Palestinians. But, I think it makes an important political statement in support of human rights to publish a novel that inspires this level of constant empathy with an Arab. It's an important book that way, I think.

The two primary weaknesses of the novel include:
A) an uninteresting, emotionally out of tune, cheesy ending to the story, and;
B) the book is not really well-written. I mean it's clean; Corasanti tells her story and connects the reader to her strong characters. But the structure of the novel and the style of her prose leave much to be desired.

I would read it again -- definitely worthwhile for me, but this is a poor example of literary fiction, as such.

I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway.
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John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger
John Quincy Adams

kas, October 26, 2013

***Satisfactory for Those Hungry for JQA Info***

A) Some Criticisms
To start, I'll point out that this book does not make any clear historical argument. It is certainly unabashedly positive in its portrayal of its subject. For example, I was surprised the author was so uncritical of John Quincy Adams's insistence on a point of courtesy in negotiating a key treaty between the US and Britain; although he did portray the opposition to the strategy of standing on courtesy by his fellow American diplomats working on the matter, including Henry Clay.

Also, the author passes over some atrocities uncritically. This could be a very individualized reaction, but as I read the part concerning Andrew Jackson's actions in Florida against the Seminoles and African-American communities there, I felt as though one could append the phrase "like you do" to statements like, "And then Jackson killed the entire town of black residents, giving no quarter to women and children." In other words, the book was uncritical, and the narration accordingly was nonchalant.

B) My Overall Impression
All that said, I was satisfied with this book. I wanted to learn new things about this President, and it certainly allowed me to do just that. I enjoyed a lot of it
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Attention-Deficit Disorders and Comorbidities in Children, Adolescents, and Adults by Thomas E. Brown
Attention-Deficit Disorders and Comorbidities in Children, Adolescents, and Adults

kas, October 26, 2013

***Informative and Empowering***

A) Review of Dr. Thomas Brown's own ADHD scholarship: Original, nuanced, accessible, life-changing in my case.

B) Review of this collection of ADHD scholarship he edited: great for an overview of current discoveries about ADHD and complexities of treatment in various cases and current psychiatric treatment options. This is not a great book if you do not have a real interest in understanding the scientific and medical issues fully - not at all written for a general audience. It does not directly provide any guidance for patients who want to educate themselves about their condition or how to get the most appropriate treatment.

That said, with sufficient background in the scholarly discourse at the time, I was able to find insight into my psychology that allowed me to develop some informed coping practices without access to professional therapy. I speak specifically of the article on the particular susceptibility to harmful belief schemas among ADHDers. If anyone involved with that work reads this, thank you -- it helped me directly.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)

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