Friday, July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Let me just backtrack a little and say that if you read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, you will recognize psychopaths all over the place. It can be fun! But it also can be a little horrifying. Like Ronson, I'm beginning to notice items from the Bob Hare Checklist (the list used in prisons and psychiatric hospitals to diagnose inmates and patients), and movies are a rather harmless thing to practice on. For example, I've bolded the characteristics which Maxine demonstrates throughout the film:
2.Grandiose sense of self-worth
3.Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
6.Lack of remorse or guilt
8.Callous/lack of empathy
10.Poor behavioral controls
11.Promiscuous sexual behavior
12.Early behavior problems
13.Lack of realistic long-term goals
16.Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17.Many short-term marital relationships
19.Revocation of conditional release
Needless to say, Maxine scores quite high.
I've been trying to think of an apt comparison to the relatively short history of psychopathology that Ronson investigates in his book. The best thing I can come up with is autism, in the sense that the two conditions share a unique cultural retroactivity. We often hear neuroscientists and psychologists speculate that with our current knowledge of the autism spectrum, famous people like Mozart, Newton and Jefferson likely place somewhere on it. And it's interesting to us because specialness is interesting, whether it results in extraordinary intellectualism or cold ruthlessness. I make the comparison because Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats; Them) is exactly the kind of author to launch such an intriguing concept into the pop culture lexicon. I suspect that the next trend to take off will be the labeling of various notorious figures as psychopaths. After all, the checklist is available for any armchair psychologist to find on the internet.
Psychopathy is not a diagnosis you want to receive, and as Ronson points out, if you are anxious that you might be a psychopath, you probably aren't one. The only sure way to find out about someone is to interview them at length, and then analyze not only their answers but their mannerisms and appearance. It's subjective until it isn't; recidivism rates among diagnosed and incarcerated psychopaths are much higher than non-psychopaths. The data suggests an ominous, Minority Report-esque course of action: longer sentences for high-scoring criminals.
The book is filled with Ronson's own nervous speculation, a sort of feedback loop of reacting to psychopaths and then assessing his reactions. His writing is self-effacing, but it is the sort of self-effacement that can only be achieved after one has become more confident and self-aware than one lets on, therefore undermining any real awkwardness. Do you see what he's done to me? All his bashful posturing about how he could never be a psychopath makes me suspicious...
To conclude this blog post that wants to turn into a research paper, I will just say that this is a great book for people who don't read much nonfiction, and for those interested in the history of psychology. It may not be a great, however, for those prone to paranoia.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Friday, July 08, 2011
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Big news! I just read a book about werewolves, and loved it! Not just werewolves, the LAST werewolf, which also happens to be the title. Glen Duncan (author of I, Lucifer) has a fresh, exciting writing style that kept me pleased and engaged sentence-by-sentence, no matter what was going on with the plot.
Whenever there's a character who by some supernatural phenomenon or another has become immortal (or is enduring a 400-year lifespan, as is the case here), I often find the personality of that character to be quite unbelievable. I never knew why until I read Duncan's book. His protagonist, Jake the werewolf, has lived 200 years and is utterly sick of life. He's painfully aware of the mundane and relentless cycle of cause and effect, punctuated by his monthly transformation. Even in the most nail-biting moments, he is just kind of done with all of it, and it made me realize that yes, that's exactly how one would feel after a life sustained by mandatory cannibalism. Jake is believable and likable because of his humanity; without the “curse,” he would just be another sex-crazed existentialist writing in a journal. Werewolfism turns out to be like a steroid and a depressant: both the best and the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone.
At its core, this novel explores familiar territory. How do we ever really connect with others, especially if we feel different from the rest of the world? I finished the book thankful, however, that Duncan decided to explore a very old and sometimes cliché subject with a very honest sense of the philosophical and the visceral. Never before have such highbrow and lowbrow references shared the same page so gracefully. Give this one a try if you are looking for something refreshing, frank, and scary. I know I'll be recommending it left and right.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Summer reading programs are awesome, because reading is already awesome, and getting prizes for doing something that is already awesome is awesome squared. Is that too many awesomes? NO! Impossible. That is how awesome summer reading programs are.
Why should you care? Because we have one this year! Finally! Yay! Here's how our summer reading program works:
1. Come in, sign up (just give a name and e-mail, no money or long questionnaire-answering or microchipping of your children required) and you'll get a reading log to keep track of the books your child reads, a lanyard on which to keep said reading log, a button that says some variation of "Summer Reading Rock Star," and a coupon for 20% off an entire book purchase. Then y'all set about filling that reading log up. You do not have to only write down books you've bought from us. Library books and books you have at home are a-okay. We just want to make it easier to stock up on new lit with those coupons.
2. When the kids have read five whole books (read-alouds are okay, especially for the Pre-K set) come back in and show us the reading log, and they can choose from a bin of prizes scientifically designed to drive elementary schoolers wild—silly bandz, erasers shaped like sushi, tiny slinkies, those giant pink bouncy balls (and honestly, we could all use a giant bouncy ball). They also get another button, and y'all get another coupon.
3. After ten books, kids get a big button that says "I Rocked Summer Reading at University Book Store," and they get to pick out a FREE book from our selection behind the Kids Desk. And hey, what's this, another coupon? These things'll be saving you money till September.
4. If any industrious readers want to go on from there, they can get another reading log and start over, and keep getting those fabulous prizes. At the end of the summer, we'll have a drawing for all the folks who've signed up, and someone from each participating branch will win a backpack full of school supplies! (All the school supply-loving children like me say, Yeeeeeaah! All the other kids'll groan, I know. How can you not love the smell of fresh binders and pencils, huh? It's the best.)
5. We're also encouraging readers to write and turn in Young Reader's Review cards, because we put those up on the shelf to help recommend books that you liked to other kids. And also because it's really fun to talk and write about the books you love. (And also because we do a monthly drawing of those cards and the winner gets a gift card to the store.)
And that's it. You're welcome. We are loving this program. So many people have signed up already we can hardly believe it. It's super exciting. And if you want some book recommendations from our professional book recommenders in the Kids Department, head over to the Summer Reading page on our website. Three cheers!