Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Reading Wednesday

Recently read: The examined life: how we lose and find ourselves by Stephen Grosz. (c) Stephen Grosz 2013; Pub Random House Vintage 2014; ISBN 978-0-099-54903-1. This is a book of vignettes from Grosz' practice as a psychoanalyst, lent to me by [personal profile] angelofthenorth.

Grosz is an engaging writer, and unlike the recently departed Oliver Sacks to whom several blurbs compare him, he is relatively humble. He mostly just recounts experiences, without claiming that he has some magical insight into either his patients or the human condition. He explains some of his patients' problems in terms of his specialist knowledge, but he just offers a possible explanation and some implied suggestions for how a reader might live a more psychologically healthy life, without really insisting on either his explanations or the broader philosophy he espouses.

Sometimes this was a bit unsatisfying; he simply tells you that he met a patient and this is how they felt about their experiences, and I'm left thinking, ok, so? I think part of my problem is that I don't really believe in psychoanalysis, I find it hard to accept that dreams actually mean anything. Yes, they can relate to issues that are emotionally significant in waking life, and talking about them can be a way to think creatively about said issues, but looking for symbols and direct correspondences in dreams seems pointless to me.

Grosz doesn't fall into the problem I see in a lot of popular non-fiction by clinicians, of speaking only as an objective expert. Grosz comes across as a real, and fallible, person, and talks about things like his own anxieties around difficult patients as well as his successes in helping them. I found the most interesting essay was Going back, about the failure Grosz' attempt to help his elderly Survivor father visit the places where he grew up on the Hungary-Ukraine border. I mean, on the one hand, it seems strange that anyone, especially a psych professional, would ever have thought it likely that his father would be happy returning to his childhood home sixty years after nearly everybody he knew was killed, to confront the reality that nothing of his culture or society is even remembered there. But it is of a piece with the rest of the book, where Grosz is surprisingly open about his own emotional and psychological issues and his failures as well as his insights.

Currently reading: The three-body problem by Cixin Liu.

This one recently won the Hugo for Best Novel, and generally there's been a lot of excitement about a major Chinese SF novel published in English. I'd been meaning to read it as a Hugo nominee, and I was up to a book published this year in my Bringing up Burns book challenge. However, I'm not sure it really counts, since this is a translation of a book from 2006 and the Hugo definitions of published "this" year don't exactly correspond to this calendar year.

Anyway, although I've seen some quite negative reviews of The three-body problem, I'm really enjoying it at about a third in. Yes, the central conceit (which hasn't been developed fully yet, but as far as I can tell so far it's hinting at the idea that mysterious powerful beings are manipulating fundamental physics) isn't really sensible. But tT-BP is doing really interesting things with exploring that conceit, against a background of twentieth century China. I commented to rysmiel that rejecting the premise feels like hating on Orwell because it's not realistic for talking animals to attempt to overthrow capitalism. I am really enjoying the political allegory, it's not heavy-handed at all, but there are clear parallels between the aliens manipulating physics and the Communist regime attempting to manipulate reality.

It doesn't at all seem short of female characters to me, or even particularly sexist, but I am admittedly not very picky about that. Honestly if I heard that Liu used Alderman's trick of flipping a coin to decide gender I wouldn't be surprised, there are women in both major and minor roles, likeable and not, including many of the brilliant physicists the book is about. I do agree with [personal profile] seekingferret's criticism that the scientists don't really feel like scientists to me, but then the whole novel comes from a culture I'm totally unfamiliar with, so I hesitate to judge. Also the Cultural Revolution setting of the first section is really really horrible, and I wasn't completely unaware of that fact, I've read English-language biographies and fiction from that part of Chinese history, but with European history I generally have good instincts for which books I should set aside until I'm in the mood to cope with horribleness, and this didn't have the same immediate emotional resonance, so I picked up tT-BP unprepared.

I've just got to a really fun sequence involving a highly creepy VR game, and in generally I'm finding the book really readable.

Up next: If I count tT-BP for published this year, the next item on the list is simply a book by an author you've never read before, which should be easy enough, I have plenty of those on my to-read piles. Possibly Sleepless nights by Elizabeth Hardwick, which I picked as an alternative for the book picked just for the cover item. Or possibly I shall reread an old favourite which is relevant to my plans for this weekend. (Sorry for cryptic, plans involve organizing a surprise.)

The last two weeks have been a roller coaster, I've had loads of fun including a couple of long weekend breaks, and also quite a lot of stress both work and personal, and all that adds up to never getting time for DW. I feel a bit deprived that I'm only managing to talk about books here, I have lots of thoughts and lots of articles I want to link to and I miss all of you. But anyway, talking about books is a start.

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Tags: book, reading wednesday

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