It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted, mostly because of family medical issues. When you’re writing a dissertation while playing nurse, everything else tends to fall by the wayside! This means I’m way behind on reading lists, but I’ll catch up eventually, one hopes. In the meantime, here you go:
- Horns, Joe Hill
- Freud’s Blind Spot, ed. Elisa Albert
- Apartment 16, Adam Nevill
- Do the Work, Steven Pressfield
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
- The Girl who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson
- The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson
- The Great Stagnation, Tyler Cowen
- Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Caplan
If you’re a horror fan, I recommend Horns. It’s psychological horror with a supernatural twist: a young man suspected of murdering his girlfriend inexplicably grows horns, and along with them gains the power to see the darkest side of the people he’s always known. I liked the way the character’s power drove his increasing social isolation, and I also appreciated that he becomes a trickster figure rather than simply evil.
Apartment 16, on the other hand, is not very good. I bought it by accident while browsing the Kindle store – I literally clicked on the wrong link and it auto-downloaded to my device! – so I felt I should read it and get my money’s worth. The beginning was even quite promising! A young American woman who runs a vintage shop inherits her great-aunt’s apartment and goes to England to sort through all the antiques that haven’t been touched for decades. It’s a lovely setup for why she persists through the initial creepiness, and reading about how and why her great-aunt became a shut-in was genuinely effective. Unfortunately, the rest of the book relies on worn-out tropes of OMG THE GHOST MADE ME CRRRRRAZY, and its investigative plotline never quite gels.
The Stieg Larsson series was probably my favorite of this batch. Like everyone else in the world, I was enthralled by the fast-moving plot, the cleanly drawn (if occasionally cartoonish) characters, and the tricksy ploys within ploys. The first book stands alone quite well if you’re looking for a fast-paced mystery with both psychological and action elements. The second two were not as good, but also more satisfying, if that makes any sense. Blomkvist and Salander poke an anthill and have to deal with the consequences, and then the consequences of their response to the consequences, which is always a favorite narrative device of mine.
Freud’s Blind Spot is a book of essays about sibling relationships – something which, as the title points out, gets far less attention than the parent-child bond. Despite some early screaming matches and one unforgettable hair-pulling fight, I have a great relationship with all my siblings, and I was totally and voyeuristically curious to see how other people do it. I got what I wanted, too! The authors are generally quite courageous in baring their souls (and, er, sometimes the souls of their siblings, like it or not). I really felt like I got a glimpse into what other kinds of sibling relationships are like – from the angry to the silent to the intimate to the deeply competitive. I even found a couple of essays that captured the Hammer sense of extraordinary solidarity and pride!
The Great Stagnation is a book I find quite hard to evaluate. Cowen argues that America has profited from a unique historical combination of circumstances – the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of technological innovation, increasing educational access, and more – which are now changing. He argues that we’re entering a ‘new normal’ of lowered growth rates, at least until we get another burst of real scientific innovation. His prescription? More funding for research, better education, and close attention to happiness rather than simply growth. I found him quite persuasive, but I don’t have the economic background to evaluate the accuracy of his argument. I’ve been reading reviews that seem to indicate his ideas are controversial, but even if he’s not correct in every detail, I rather like the world he envisions. I would happily live there!
Finally, the Caplan book was both fascinating and troubling. I picked it up because I’m professionally interested in issues of domestic labor, and economists have traditionally gotten this issue rather wrong. Caplan barely addresses the gendered division of labor, which seems deeply weird to me in a book about parenting, and especially one that tries to convince people to have more kids. On the other hand, he tries to marshal evidence to demonstrate that parents should put less per-child effort into child-rearing, and use cost-benefit analyses that weigh their own needs as well as the needs of the child. More mothers in our culture need to hear this message! But on the third hand, his argument relies on the notion that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a ninetieth-percentile or fiftieth-percentile parent, because so much is genetic anyways, and I was left vaguely uncomfortable by how he deployed the evidence on that front. He goes through a ton of twin studies that show a genetic influence on long-term outcomes – and hey, yay for well-designed studies! – but never presents any of the data on the impact of nurture, or raises the issue of how many of the things he lists depend on the same underlying personality traits and hence don’t really serve as independent sources of evidence. That said, it’s well-written and makes a smart argument. I’d love to read* something about male and female discourses of parenting labor with this book as a case study**, and if I ever read it again, I’ll probably read it in conjunction with Hochschild or Folbre.
(You’ll notice I haven’t written about the Pressfield. That’s because it’s not a book. It’s one of those brain-dumpy pasted-together mediocre-blog-post motivational things. I picked it up because people keep pointing me at The War of Art, but now I’m seriously dubious about the entire Pressfield enterprise. If you feel differently, sell me on why I should pick up anything by this guy ever again!)
* I am not allowed to write this essay. I am not allowed to write this essay. I am not allowed to write this essay.
** Themes: martyrdom. The performance of labor versus the outcome of labor. Locus of control. Social norms and the violation thereof. But I am not allowed to write this essay!