Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book 9: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Our Library Director, Janet Torsney, recommended The Antidote to me and sent me a neat video introduction to this book. You can find it here: The Antidote. I've never been into self-help books or any book that claimed to hold the secret to happiness or success (it always just seemed too easy!). I attempted to read The Secret, I perused How to Win Friends and Influence People, but, in general, they just aren't my cup of tea. The Antidote is not your typical self-help book (and perhaps not even in the same category). It is an exploration of happiness. Burkeman surveys experts and gurus in his quest to find out what it really means to be "happy" and how to get there. His surprising conclusion is: we are already there, and we just don't know it. In fact, it's our dogged effort to become happy that is precisely what is making us miserable.

I felt like a big ol' grouch reading this on the bus.

Burkeman, as well as many of the psychologists, philosophers, Buddhists, and modern-day gurus that he interviews, rejects the idea that "positive thinking" equates to happiness and provides the reader with an alternative route to happiness and success- one that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty.

My favorite little piece of wisdom in this book: When you're feeling unhappy or overwhelmed, always ask yourself, "Do I have a problem right now?" The answer is usually an emphatic "No." Our right-now problems are often simply problems that we are anxious to avoid in the future. Problems that stem from our fear of failure, insecurity, and uncertainty.

Burkeman has a wonderful wit and an admirable willingness to put himself in uncomfortable situations in the name of research. I'd highly recommend this book!

Here's a few quick reviews for other books that I've read in the past few weeks:

1. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker- The Earth's rotation is slowing down, and there are serious consequences for the human race. The premise is excellent, but the story is a predictable coming of age tale. The writing can be hard to swallow. Walker uses more metaphors and similes than a...just kidding.

2. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn- This book IS dark. I was in tears reading the passage about the satanic sacrifice of a cow. Flynn is a wonderful writer, and, while I was disappointed by the ending (which was a little too deus ex machina for me), I did appreciate Flynn's skill in crafting unforgettable characters.

3. After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey- Hainey's father dies when he is just six years old. At age 18, he finds discrepancies in several of his father's obituaries. At age 35, Hainey decides to investigate his father's death to find out the truth about how and where he died. I was really looking forward to reading this real-life mystery, but the reality of Hainey's ultimate discovery falls flat. Hainey's writing is choppy and his trip backwards and forwards through time is confusing.

4. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill-Hill, the niece of Scientology Leader David Miscavige, speaks out against the Church of Scientology and its abusive practices. While this book won't win any awards for being well-written, the content is captivating.

Stay tuned for a review of "Drunk Tank Pink" by Adam Alter!

Sharlene Edwards
Program Director

Guest Review: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnette Frils

The first book in the Nina Borg character series finds Red Cross nurse, Nina Borg, meeting long-time friend Karin who wants a favor. Karin's boss has asked her to retrieve a package from the Copenhagen train station. Karin does not explain why she cannot do the errand, but asks Nina to help her out by getting the package.

Nina goes to the train station locker and finds a suitcase in the one she opens. Nina lugs the heavy suitcase out of the train station and opens it. Inside is a naked three-year-old boy who somehow has managed to stay alive, folded into the suitcase. Nina puts him in the back seat of her car and covers him with a blanket and starts to look for help for the boy.

The boy does not understand either Danish or English and cannot tell Nina anything about himself. While looking for help, Nina discovers a huge man following her and tries to evade him.

The plot twists are very surprising and keep the reader guessing until almost the end of the book. Please read this book first because some of the events and characters in this book are referred to in the next Nina Borg book. The next book by the Danish authors featuring Nina Borg is Invisible Murder,  reviewed elsewhere in this blog. The authors have a very strong hero in the main character of Nina Borg. I look forward to the next episode.

Shirley Ayres

Monday, March 25, 2013

Guest Review: The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Soderberg

Guest Review by Shirley Ayres:

The book liner notes say the book is about Nurse Sophie Brinkmann whose patient, Hector Guzman, a Spaniard from the Andalucian region, starts a friendly relationship with Sophie while he is in the hospital recovering from a broken leg. To me, the most interesting character is Lars Vinge, a Policeman who works for National Crime, a Special Division of the Stockholm, Sweden Police Department. Lars is put on stake out duty following and photographing Sophie, due to her relationship with Hector, a known crime boss. Lars, addicted to pain medicines since childhood, is clean and sober when Sophie is first put under his watchful eye. 

Sophie and Hector start to date once Hector is released from the hospital, and Lars follows them everywhere they go, photographing the pair and writing detailed notes about them. The relationship between the two is strictly friendly. They never become lovers. Soon Lars becomes obsessed with Sophie. She is everything Lars' girlfriend, Sara, is not. Sophie's house is clean, bright, and tastefully decorated, whereas Sara is a hippie with no sense of style. Lars lets himself into Sophie's house when she is at work and takes lots of pictures to transfer to his computer when he gets home. 

The National Crime Unit plants "bugs" in every room in Sophie's house, including her teenage son, Albert's, room. Lars has to stay in the van outside Sophie's house and record everything that is said. Lars is not very well-liked by his co-workers and is ridiculed and given jobs, like stakeouts, which no one else wants. Soon Lars is back on painkillers, and everything starts to change. Lars protects Sophie and son Albert from the National Crime Unit. Finally, revenge and Lars' form of justice shows his character to be more analytic and strategic than any of his co-workers ever imagined he could be. 

Although Sophie and Hector remain friends, Sophie realizes who he is. Then,  and old boyfriend, Jens, comes back into Sophie's life, but he turns out to be an illegal arms dealer. Poor Sophie, she just seems to be  always attracting the wrong sorts of men. Hector, the Spanish crime boss, Lars, the drug-addicted police spy, and Jens, the international illegal arms dealer. 

I am strongly attracted to Scandinavian writers because I am half Norwegian. Reading these books, I find the names of my relatives and recognize certain words that I have not heard in decades. 

Thanks for your review, Shirley!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book 8: A Private History of Happiness: Ninety-Nine Moments of Joy from Around the World by George Myerson

Happy Monday!

My original Book 8 was John Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works, which I was thoroughly enjoying until I learned that the book was withdrawn from the market by its publisher after it was discovered that parts of the book were fabricated. I couldn't bring myself to continue reading it because the thought of remembering "facts" that aren't actually facts is kind of a nightmare to me. Lehrer had another book pulled from the market titled How We Decide. Lehrer seems highly adept at imagining.

After much dragging of my feet, I decided to take a look at George Myerson's A Private History of Happiness, which was published in 2012. This lovely book celebrates small, seemingly insignificant moments that, for whatever reason, filled an individual's heart with joy at a particular moment in time. The passages are often taken from diaries and memoirs. An afternoon chat with an old friend, a day spent serenely in a garden, a view of a frosty winter morning from an upstairs window-  the simple happiness evoked by the commonplace are what make our life truly worth living. This is the type of book that you keep in a bedside table and flip through on days when you're feeling uninspired.

I finally decided to give audio-books another go (I had tried one in the past, but the reader was painfully slow). I've been listening to A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson on my commute to work. What a wonderful book! Bill Bryson never disappoints. If you're interested in better understanding the universe and the origins of our existence, I'd recommend you read this fascinating book.

Sharlene Edwards
Program Director

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book 7: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M. D.

I'm one or two books behind with regard to the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, but it isn't because I haven't been reading! In the past two weeks, I've done my fair share of book consumption. I devoured Zeitoun by Dave Eggers for the Bookworms Book Club, Stay Close by Harlan Coben for the Mystery Lovers Book Club, and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis for our Black History Month book discussion. Tonight, I managed to finish Book 7 of the Challenge: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander.

"Proof" is used very loosely here.
Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has been employed by several prestigious institutions, spends one week in a coma after his brain is attacked by a rare illness: bacterial meningitis. During this time, he has a Near Death Experience that persuades him that there is a God. Prior to this experience, Alexander considered himself an agnostic and found NDEs to be easily explained away by science. His main, and I might go so far as to say only, "proof" that his NDE was the real deal is his insistence that he could not have had the realistic NDE that he did with a non-functional neocortex, which was out of commission while he was comatose. My problem with his proof is this: while Alexander is a neurosurgeon, which makes it safe to assume that he knows quite a lot about the brain, there are so many things that we DON'T know about the brain. Coincidentally, he touches upon this in the last few chapters of the book when he discusses consciousness and quantum mechanics. Ultimately, I think that this book is "proof" that the brain, consciousness, and the universe remain a mystery.....not necessarily "proof" that there is a heaven.

I wasn't a huge fan of this book, and it didn't help that Alexander coined a few phrases that I thought were a bit silly to relate his NDE to the reader, such as the "earthworm eye view" to describe the first level of his experience.

This was a mildly interesting, albeit unconvincing, read.

Sharlene Edwards
Program Director