Read Old Books

C.S. Lewis:

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones… People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.

This quote amused me because it certainly feels like we are making the same mistakes. I suspect our lack of reading about the past (new or old books) leads to Dunning-Kreuger style hubris where we commit the same mistakes.

Resolution Progress 2017: First Half

(Original ; First Quarter ; Half ; Three-Quarters ; Final)

For the first half, I should have progressed about 50%. So, let’s see where I am.

Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in 2012, I took the Moral Foundations Questionnaire test. So almost five years later, I finally got around to reading the book that explains it. Since it is now Facebook integrated, I kind of want ALL my friends to take it.

The framework presented here makes sense to me. I was fascinated by Drew Westen‘s
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation
talking about fear being the key to reaching conservative voters. I could see that in the 2012 and 2016 elections. But, in the 2016 one, it felt like there was something missing. This book explains that pretty well for me. First, there are several values: Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. People who favor certain ones tend to skew into certain parties.

Also, the cycle tends to be we feel something, then judge it based on the feeling, and then create reasons to explain away the judgement. We mistake the reasoning as the basis for values and morality when it is much more subservient to the feelings. I would love to see where Behavioral Economics could go with Moral Foundations Theory.

Applied to politics, I finally understand why people so often vote for policies that will hurt them. They are keyed to emotional reactions to values triggered through how candidates express themselves. Being such a fan of behavioral economics, my impression of humans as purely rational was discarded long ago. MFT fits my observations of others and even myself better than anything else I have seen.

We also are highly social and dependent on the group dynamic. And yet, what policies are chosen to by governments can fray the social capital they have. Immigration and ethnic diversity can trigger a push back leading to more racism.

The book does not really have answers. The questions will drive some of my reading for the next decade in search of them.

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Review: Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works

Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works
Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works by Rick Santorum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Santorum believes the family is the core unit of society not the individual. That has interesting implications such as what does that mean where there are so many divorces, single parents, and “failures to launch”? Making policy decisions based on that are also interesting.

I can definitely see evidence that supports Santorum’s story that Trump based his campaign on ideas from this book. Certainly he sought the votes of those in the rust belt, jobs for everyone, gut the government, repeal Obamacare, eliminate regulations, vouchers, and lower taxes. Something about feels hollow though.

The examples have that right homey feel politicians are so good at relaying. I found myself frustrated with the prescriptions, but I agree with the problems.

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Review: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have not read Moby Dick. My guess is if I had read it first or been a fan of stories about ship life, then I would care more about the sailors, the details, and the narrative. Then again, I found the claim interesting that MD was not successful or acclaimed when it was published. I guess it found fame later? How and why that happened would be easily worth another star.

Philbrick’s writing is concise and direct. Flowery narratives in biographies from some of the acclaimed authors who bully their editors annoy me with feeling bogged down in unnecessary language. Then again, I should have felt the harrowing-ness of this event.

These are people who…
* Have had the unthinkable happen of a whale sinking their ship.
* They are a couple thousand miles away from South America.
* All they have to cross this are short distance vessels.
* They lack the food and water to make the trip.

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Books and FCB

I sent my Recommendations post as a response to something on Facebook.

In the aftermath, it made me realize some things.

  • The false consensus effect which is why we are tempted to think others agree with us about political stances is what also causes us to expect others we like like the same books, TV shows, etc. The post I’d sent was my musing about disliking it that others do this in an effort to justify to myself fighting my own temptations to do it. FCB was not in my vocabulary when I wrote that post.
  • Subjectivity leads to diversity. Coming from the standpoint that my friends like strange things leads to trying things outside my normal self-imposed bounds. I dislike some chicklit and lie some others. I’ve got to try something new to find out whether or not I like it.
  • Subjectivity leads to better friendships. Trying things my friends recommend leads to better understanding my friends and myself. If something leads me to better understand my friends because even though I do not like it but I can see why  my friends do, then I feel the risk worth reading books I hate.

Why You Should Read Books You Hate

But reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?

A few years ago, things were really in a weird state. Work was not going well. My sleep was atrocious, so every day I was in a foul mood.

I decided to read The Painted Bird. This book is the mental equivalent of self-harm. A sociopath might be able to read it without getting really upset. What I did not put in the review is my headspace. I think now that choosing to read it then was perhaps a good thing.

As bad as I thought things were? Nah. The perspective of this kid revealed my problems were not at all problems.

Reading fiction improves empathy by getting the reader into the perspective of others. Meaning, outside the book, readers are better able to tie another person’s behavior to a character they have followed and come closer to understanding.

I try to stick out books I dislike in hopes of finding something of value. I also try out new genres because who knows. Maybe I will like it? I sometimes like chicklit, horror, and other genres not normally in my usual rotation. I come up with challenges to my reading to pull me out of my comfort zone. The challenges help keep things interesting.

Review: Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a couple hundred pounds of chains bearing down on the reader. A father who writes about the race in America in the time just before #BlackLivesMatter attempts to put into words what it means. This stands out as a better expression of the weight of it all than anything else I have seen.

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Thrawn

thrawn-zahn-tall-435x375In the 90s, Lucasfilm strongly pushed the Star Wars novels. Timothy Zahn wrote the Thrawn Trilogy. I probably bought as many as 50 Star Wars books wanting to read about what what happened next, before, and during the movies.

I suspect the strength of all our interest is what made Episodes I-III possible. And Disney seeing the continued strength of the brand made VII-IX plus Rogue One and the coming Solo movies appeared obviously good moves.

However, I dunno what to think about Thrawn.

When Disney bought Star Wars from Lucasfilm with the intent to make more movies, we fans in the early days thought “Heir to the Empire” starring Mitth’raw’nuruodo (aka Grand Admiral Thrawn) was not likely the next story because it took place five years after Return of the Jedi. That movie should have been released around 1988.  We figured back then on a Jacen and Jaina Solo (the force sensitive twins of Han and Leia) story. Then Disney dissolved all this material into the Legends. Fan theories show people still want to believe in the old material.

Thrawn is evidence why we continue to have faith some of the old Expanded Universe stuff is not permanently dead. Disney brought him back for the Rebels series foreshadowing and expanding on Rogue One. They have expanded his character so much they even tasked Timothy Zahn to write a novel chronicling his rise. First he was the future, then he was banished, and now he is back.

So… Bring back Mara Jade!

Resolution Progress 2017: First Quarter

(Original ; First Quarter ; Half ; Third-Quarter ; Final)

For the first quarter, I should have progressed about 25%. So, let’s see where I am.