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31Oct/08Off

Happy Halloween 2008!




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31Oct/08Off

Book Review: Sway

Spook

Note: This is #51 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

Much like Predictably Irrational from earlier this year, Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman's Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior seeks to educate us on quirks of the human mind that lead us to engage in decidedly irrational behavior. And it covers a lot of the same topics: confirmation bias, first impressions, loss aversion, diagnostic bias, sunk costs, and more.

The brothers Brafman do take a slightly different approach to the topic, though. They use these kinks in human nature to answer a variety of questions that they set up with short vignettes. What causes college football coaches to doggedly stick to losing strategies? What caused a jet pilot to risk his life and the lives of his passengers just to save a little time? How does the U.S. Supreme Court manage its own group dynamics to ensure that dissenting opinions are heard? Why would someone pay $200 for a $20 bill? Why would a studio audience deliberately sabotage a contestant seeking a "lifeline" in the TV game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Why would a dot com millionaire sit and watch all his newfound wealth slowly trickle away when he could stop it any time he wanted? Why would subway commuters ignore a free concert by a world-class musician playing on a priceless Stradivarius violin? Read this book and you'll not only find out, but you'll start to see where you're guilty of similar crimes of irrationality in your own life.

Ultimately, though, I didn't like Sway quite as much as Predictably Irrational because the authors seemed intent on keeping the language and the approach too mainstream. Instead of relying on descriptions of scientific studies that prove their points, the authors rely more on stories and case studies to make most of their points. This is fine and they're good enough storytellers to keep your attention, but being trained in psychology and the associated research methods myself, I kind of a geek for descriptions of study designs, hypotheses, and the like.

But maybe that's just me and Sway is the more accessible book for most people. The voice that the authors use manages to strike the right balance between educational and breezy. They're often cheeky, too --you gotta respect any authors who, after listing blurbs and quotes by experts in praise of them on the back cover of the book, tell you that if you buy the book because of these quotes you're being completely irrational. (But, they say, you should totally still buy the book.)

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28Oct/08Off

Week 248: Party, Singing, and Pumpkin Patch

Like last year, Sam's preschool class had their annual "Bring Your Dad for This Halloween Thing We Do Each Year" day. Sam dressed up in the cheerleader costume I described last week and we took a pumpkin to carve. Sam's arrival at the party (fashionably late since we had to turn the car around midway to retrieve her forgotten pom-poms) reminded me of an episode of Cheers because everybody shouted "Sammy!" when she walked in the door. She fluttered around from person to person, announcing "I'm a cheerleader! I like your costume!" One other little girl also showed up as a cheerleader, and for a moment I expected (and possibly hoped for) some kind of dance off a la the opening number to West Side Story, but unfortunately they pretty much ignored each other.

Besides hot dogs and conversations starting with "So, you're Sammy's dad, huh?" the center piece of the evening was the recital of Halloween themed songs. While the teacher sat on the floor with an old acoustic guitar, all the children all lined up and sang for us. Or rather, all the other children sang. What Samantha did is probably most accurately described as "bellowed." She had learned all the words, and BY GOD YOU WERE GOING TO HEAR THEM. This picture gives you a pretty good idea of the full body effort it took to belt these tunes out like a miniature and mostly sober Janis Joplin.

As is the norm with such performances there were hand motions to go along with the songs, which most of the other children seemed to put as much concentration into these as the vocals. Samantha, however, decided to change all the hand motions to "grip your skirt in your fists and yank it up under your chin," a maneuver which she had apparently mastered. This was still less elaborate than her nearby friend Michael who, dressed as a cowboy, had decided to replace all the hand motions with his own frantic dance interpretation of The William Tell Overture.

Of course, I was completely howling with delighted laughter throughout this whole performance, which I belatedly realized might not have been the most appropriate reaction. This on account of all the "Dude, why are you laughing at the children" looks that the other fathers were giving me. Still, Sam was absolutely beaming with pride at the end, and I told her in no uncertain terms that it was a completely AWESOME performance. I meant it.

As you might also see in the pictures, we also eventually made it to a pumpkin patch kind of thing. Only this place was kind of a rip off. They had a big playground area, but wanted to charge you highway robbery prices to do any of the actual stuff. Jump on the inflatable bouncy thing? $2.50. Ride a pony? $5.00, AND DON'T TOUCH THE PONY. We sprang for Sam to take a ride around the farm in a hollowed out plastic barrel dragged behind a tractor, but besides that they just went down the slides a lot. Could have been better.

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24Oct/08Off

Book Review: 150 Things You Need to Know

Note: These are books #49 and #50 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

100 Things

100 Things

100 Things Your Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR and 50 More Things You Need to Know: The Science Behind Best People Practices for Manager & HR Professionals (whew!), are curious and different from most books that I've seen on similar topics. As you might guess from the titles, they contain 150 chapters between them, covering sup-toics like selection, Human Resources law, leadership, HR metrics, corporate culture, training, recruiting, HR technology systems, compensation, benefits, motivation, organizational development, job design, teams, performance management, surveys, and more.

Each of these 150 chapters is dedicated to a single "fact," which is framed as a multiple-choice question at the beginning on the opening page. Do applicants have preferences among various selection techniques? Is there still a bias against African Americans in the workplace? Do people differ in how they learn from experience? How many points should your survey question response scales have on them? How skilled are managers, typically, at being good coaches?

You're supposed to try and answer the question without peeking, and there's even places to keep track of your answers so that you can get "scores" for the books that reflects your knowledge of these 100 and 50 things. (Me, I always just peeked.)

After the opening question in each chapter, the correct answer is given, along with a 1-5 ranking of how solid the current state of the research is on this answer, from suggestive to absolutely sure. Then there's a discussion of the factoid, then citations of research that back up the claim, then a discussion of what it means to HR practitioners, then finally a bibliography for further research. This all happens in the space of 3-5 pages each, so it's nice and easy to digest. I would typically read a chapter or two over lunch at work or when I needed to take a little break but still wanted to feel like I was doing something work related.

What I like about these books is that they are very research oriented, with each of the 150 assertions backed up by scientific research, usually taken from refereed journals in various branches of psychology and management. It's not, in short, arm chair punditry or bland platitudes. And while I found myself disagreeing with their reading of the current literature on some topics --such as the importance of emotional intelligence for job performance or the nature of employee engagement as a construct distinct from others-- they were mostly spot on from what I could tell.

My only substantial complaint about the books are that I wish the authors had organized all the similar chapters together. I would have liked, for example, to have read through a chunk of chapters all dealing with leadership development all at once, rather than having those same chapters sprinkled randomly throughout the book. Still, with the use of a good index and some skimming, these are going to make pretty good reference books, especially with the bibliographies in each section serving as jumping off points for more in-depth reading.

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23Oct/08Off

On the way to the party

"Sam, which of your friends do you think will be there tonight?"

"Well, Michael, Mia, and [REDACTED]. But [REDACTED] isn't always my friend. He's my enemy."

"Your what?"

"My enemy. He's my enemy."

"Sam, you're four. You can't have enemies. It's in the Geneva Convention or something."

"But sometimes [REDACTED] isn't nice to me. But sometimes he is. So I guess he's my frienemy."

"Your frienemy?"

"Yeah."

"...Okay. You can have a frienemy. But just one."

"Okay."

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22Oct/08Off

Week 247: Leaves, Hay, and Cheerleaders

It's Fall in the midwest, and that means one thing: leaves on the ground. Maybe they have trees in other parts of the country. I don't know. I try not to think about it.

This has meant that we went through the annual tradition of my repeatedly raking up a ton of leaves and then having the kids giggle and run through them repeatedly, returning them to their natural state. Or sometimes for good measure they'll just flop around in them or ask me to bury them. But, I found out, if you actually scoop the children up and place them in a lawn bag that is GOING TOO FAR. So I'm still learning new things.

The season also means that we get to take the kids to pumpkin patches, which is prime photo taking material for those of us with such a compulsion. This week we only made it to this farmer's market kind of thing near Ger's dad's house, but the kids liked it well enough. And by "liked it well enough" I mean "took the opportunity to cram fist fulls of hay into strangers' purses." There were also tractors to be ridden, gourds to be examined, and all kinds of new and dirty things to cram into one's mouth. We hope to hit a proper pumpkin patch sometime this week.

Halloween is also fast approaching. Like last year, we view this largely as an opportunity to dress up tiny human beings in fabulous costumes. Mandy is doomed to be a bumble bee, but Sam has really reached the point where she took an active role in selecting her own costume. Unfortunately she changed her mind every time you asked her, except in the last week or so. This is because Geralyn had found some "How to be a cheerleader!" (I think there may have actually been two exclamation points, but I just can't go there) set. Possibly she found it in a thrift shop. Or won it from some bag lady in a contest of wits or speed. At any rate, it came with the expected ensemble: a top, skirt, pom-poms, and even a megaphone that was quickly banned while in the house.

There was ALSO, however, an instructional DVD. Yes, that's right. A DVD about how to be a cheerleader(!!) that you were supposed to watch. On Saturday Ger popped it in for Sam to watch and I couldn't help looking in. Honestly, my own experience with cheerleaders had been limited to having one's boyfriend try to beat me up once, so I was a little curious to see how the concept had evolved over the years. Turns out, not at all.

The video itself looked like someone had bought the cheapest video recorder to be found at Wal-Mart and then threw darts at the Post Production Effects section of a Microsoft Movie Maker for Dummies book. This person's daughter and her insufferably perky friends were brought on to lead Samantha through a few cheer routines and share some pro tips on how to be a super cheerleader which, I was surprised to find out, did not include a star swipe transition to a section entitled "Ignore Jamie and Laugh at Him Behind His Back."

After a few moments gaping at this ensemble of zealous pre-teens in uniform with a pure "WTF?" expression on her face, Sam ran to go retrieve the accompanying cheerleader uniform, changed into it (right there in the living room) and started doing her best to emulate these effervescent idols/overlords. I'm not sure, but I think she recreated the famous showdown scene from Bring it On 4: Bring it On to a Greater Degree than Ever Before. Mandy showed little interest in the on-screen activities, but she was attracted to the tactile delights of the pom-poms. Whenever she tried to grab for them, though, Sam would pull them away, saying "No, Mandy! This isn't for you. You can't be a cheerleader!" Chided and rebuffed, Mandy eventually wandered over to the corner and started reading some books by herself.

Portent of attitudes and relationships to come? Self-fulfilling prophesy? A one-act dramatization of teenage social shenanigans with Sam playing the tall, thin, and outgoing cheerleader trying to put Mandy's shorter and less developed character in her place? Simple blog fodder?

Yes, probably. At any rate, I like the bee costume, too.

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17Oct/08Off

Book Review: Spook

Spook

Note: This is #48 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

After reading Mary Roach's Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, I decided that while that particular subject left me kind of weirded out and uncomfortable, I liked Roach's style and tone quite a bit. She was both funny and educational, which is a hard combination to pull off. So I decided to give one of her earlier books a turn and picked up Spook: What Science has to Say About the Afterlife. I liked it quite a bit better.

Basically, the approach is similar to what she took with Bonk in that Roach sets out both to document the scientific study of the afterlife and to do a little exploratory action research herself. So we learn about early natural philosophers and anatomists who tried to measure the weight of a soul by loading up a dying man on a scale and squinting at the dials during the moment of expiration. We learn about scientific debates over what bit of the brain houses the soul, fueled by case studies of head trauma and, unpleasantly enough, vivisection. We learn about surgeons who put laptop computers up above the operating table, but with their screens facing the ceiling so that a patient who reports having his consciousness float above his body can prove it by reporting the contents of the computer's display. And then there's the part where a cryptologist hatched a plan for proving that one can commune with the dead by encoding a message that was indecipherable without the key that he would only provide from beyond his own grave.

What I really admire about Roach's books, though, is that she's not content to just summarize her Google searches on a particular topic. Instead, Roach actually jumps right in with two feet and a wry smile. We see her travel to India to ride along to rural villages with a researcher looking for scientific proof of reincarnation. We hear about her trek out to the site of the Donnor party tragedy with a group of people showing how they can use tape recorders to receive hidden messages from the deceased. And in my favorite part of the book she travels to England to attend a 3-day workshop full of crackpots trying to learn how to run seances and communicate with the dead. It's hilarious to see Roach as the lone logical wolf biting her tongue amid a room full of sheep doing their best to convince themselves that the can hear the voice of your old Aunt Millie when both their parents were only children.

And it's pretty clear that Roach isn't buying any of this, as she gently (and sometimes not so gently) mocks the researchers and mediums she encounters. In her own very piercing and funny way she's quick to point out errors in their reasoning, biases in their thinking, and fatal flaws in their research design. But a friend of mine once said that the best scientists are those who can be two opposite things at once: completely open to any idea, and utterly skeptical about everything. Roach comes pretty close to this ideal. She's willing to entertain all kinds of claims about the afterlife --reincarnation, messages from the dead, ghosts, the existence of a soul that persists after shedding its mortal coil, out of body experiences, and more. But she's also the kind of person that demands real, scientific proof before she'll buy into it. She doesn't report getting that kind of proof in Spook, but she has a lot of fun looking for it. So did I.

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15Oct/08Off

Week 246: Crime, Punishment, and Contrition

As I've mentioned once or twice recently, Mandy seems to have been hitting the "terrible two" milestone ahead of schedule. She's gotten to the point where if she's denied anything, she'll actually lie down on her stomach and flop aroudn, screaming and flailing her limbs. Sam never really did this, so it's fascinating to watch. Some of Mandy's shenanagains, though, have begun landing her in "time outs." Most often this is for something like hitting her sister Sam, which I am convinced Sam subtly encourages yet remains something we can't leave unanswered. But since Mandy seems to conveniently lose all her burgeoning verbal skills once she hears "Stand in the corner for two minues," we've resorted to dumping her in the play pen prison while the kitchen timer counts down her sentence.

For either child, the time out routine always ends with our asking the parolee to apologize to the offended person, which as I mentioned is normally Sam. Of course, Mandy usually attempts to jump straight to this point since it signals the time when she gets to get out and resume her mischief, so as soon as we place her in the pen she starts sqawking "I'm sorry, sister" like a jail house snitch looking to say anything necessary to commute her sentence. The other night, though, I gave Mandy a time out after she gleefully scattered her dinner all over the kitchen table, floor, walls, and parts of the ceiling.

"I'm sorry, sister!" she said as soon as I deposited in the penalty box.

"Mandy," I said, "You didn't do anything to Sammy. You're getting a time out because you scattered your dinner all over the place."

Mandy blinked, looked up at me for a monent, then said, "I'm sorry ...food?"

I gave her, of course, time off for amusing behavior. It's how all my kids get out of their time outs, it seems.

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13Oct/08Off

Book Review: How Starbucks Saved My Life

How Starbucks Saved My Life

Note: This is #47 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

Thanks to his privileged upbringing, author Michael Gates Gill is handed a cushy job as an executive at a major advertising agency, but he has to sacrifice a lot of time with his family and opportunities for personal development to succeed. Eventually Gill is unceremoniously fired from that job for being too old and too expensive, and soon after THAT he has an affair that leaves him with a broken marriage and a new son. Gill is edging ever closer to being financially destitute when a 28-year old African American woman managing a Starbucks offers, almost accidentally, this old White man a job as a lowly Starbucks barista. And so begins How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else in which the author re-evaluates all of his assumptions about everything from what makes him happy to the ugliness of class and race inequality.

Okay, as far as memoirs go, this isn't a bad hook. It was good enough to make me read it, but the problem is that How Starbucks Saved My Life is so badly written and so badly executed on every level that it's a shoe-in for the worst book I'll read this year. The ONLY good thing about this book is that it's giving me the chance to use, without irony, the word "maudlin" to describe it.

This thing has all the art and subtlety of an After School Special for the geriatric set. Not only is the prose clumsy and boring, but I quickly got tired of Gates's patronizing amazement over everyday things that I can't believe any person of any intelligence would marvel over. A bucket full of soapy water? ASTOUNDING! People taking the subway to work? INCREDIBLE! A successful Black businesswoman? INCONCEIVABLE! Is he kidding? Does he really expect me to believe him when he claims his mind is blown by these kinds of things? (Answer: yes, he does.)

And that's not even the worst of it. In a blatant sign of an advertising man trying to turn serious author, Gill seems intent on explaining every single reaction or sentiment you're supposed to have in response to every one of his stilted expositions. After someone pays him a compliment, for example, Gill looks you in the figurative eye and tells you "This made me happy. Because blah blah blabity blah blah..." and he goes on for a whole paragraph explaining something that he thinks you're too emotionally retarded to pick up on by yourself. Generally every sentiment and insight and thought is telegraphed in this manner, with the author telling you exactly how you're supposed to feel or interpret the events of the story, the telling of which is often completely lost in this mawkish exposition.

And this isn't surprising, considering the author's background. He may be making change and scrubbing toilets now, but Gill's legacy as an advertising man is all too apparent. Worse, most of the book reads like some kind of stealth marketing for Starbucks, with everything --EVERYTHING-- about the place sold and oversold as some kind of realm of mythical happiness for hourly workers where the baristas belch sunshine and the espresso machines dispense unicorn giggles. With the single exception of one co-worker who tries to get Gill written up for mishandling his cash register, everyone he works with is an overflowing fount of happiness, good intentions, and sentimental epiphanies.

It's not that I mind some of these things or think these people can't exist, but the ENTIRE experience is unbelievably hyped and presented in such an artificially positive light that I no longer felt like I was reading an authentic memoir or even a halfway credible fiction, which is the same problem I had with A Million Little Pieces even if it skewed in a slightly different emotional direction. So it's not only poorly written, but transparently disingenuous as well. Like, I suppose, most other advertising.

Do you like these book reviews? Check out my profile on Goodreads.com.

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10Oct/08Off

Book Review: Killing Monsters

Killing Monsters

Note: This is #46 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

The full title of the book here is Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. In it, author Gerard Jones presents a thesis that exposure to violence --especially fantasy violence-- is not unhealthy to children, but actually critical to proper emotional, social, and mental development. It's the inverse of the "violent media makes violent kids" angle that most of us are used to hearing, and it's pretty interesting and compelling in places.

Basically, Gerard's book boils down to the fact that when kids watch violent media, it helps them develop emotional coping mechanisms to work through the stressful and frightening things in their lives. When a kid picks up a coat hanger, points it at her playmates and pretends that it's a gun, she's not practicing for some future school shooting as much as coping with stressors in her life by feeling powerful and in control. The key is that the kid knows it's make believe and can tell the difference between, say, cracking someone on the head with a bat and having a mock sword fight with the empty cardboard tube. It's about facing and triumphing over their imaginary monsters. It's about the sense of power and control that this brings.

Gerard returns again and again to the point that kids are attracted to things that make them feel powerful in the face of what we adults may have forgotten is a very intimidating world. Whether it's Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Pokemon, Superman, or professional wrestlers, kids dig it because humans like to feel powerful and safe. Jones even hits some impressive insights when he talks about why pop idols like Britney Spears infatuate little girls so much: Spears is, in some very important ways, just like the ass kicking Power Rangers. She moves around the stage with powerful, kinetic energy, with backup dancers and even the camera reacting extravagantly to every kick, punch, and hip thrust in her routine. Girls like that kind of power, and they like pretending to have it. It's just in a different package than ninjas, barbarians, or super heroes.

This is just one example of the kinds of things that Killing Monsters presents in ways that I wasn't used to, and I enjoyed seeing different perspectives and conclusions. Jones mixes in reports from his own workshops that he's done with children of various ages with real research done by psychologists, sociologists, and other scientists. And for someone not trained in as a scientist, Jones displays an impressive amount of acumen for understanding and critiquing research on the effects of violent media. Even though he may use different terms, I often caught Jones talking about things like the confirmatory information bias, overgeneralization, and selection bias in the research he examined. It's not just some dude with an opinion. It's some dude with an informed and thought out opinion.

So while I'm not about to sit down with my 4-year old daughter to watch the Die Hard trilogy with her, Killing Monsters has made me rethink some of my assumptions and I'm not about to freak out just because she points her fingers at me, makes "pew! pew!" sounds, and gleefully shouts "I KILLED YOU!" Instead, I'll just clutch my chest and fall down. She loves that.

Do you like these book reviews? Check out my profile on Goodreads.com.

Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

  • Jeremy reviews Stiff by Mary Roach and Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
  • Heliologue reviews Watchmen by Allan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
  • Nick reviews Gravity Journal by Gail Sidonie Sobat
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8Oct/08Off

Week 245: Just pictures

Busy week, so I'm taking it easy this time around and just posting a bunch of pictures. Enjoy the shots from our company picnic, in which Sam climbed utility poles, went up in a bucket truck, and perhaps most frightening of all, braved a porta potty.

Mandy had a good time, too, though it zonked her out.

Filed under: Parenting 2 Comments
6Oct/08Off

Book Review: Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters

Note: This is #45 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

The Diskworld books I've read so far have been lampoons of the high fantasy genre, and author Terry Pratchett keeps that up in this sixth book, Wyrd Sisters. He does, however, also head into some new territory by blending in some satire of Shakespeare in general and of Macbeth in specific. Indeed, he starts with the Macbeth references right off the bat by recreating the famous three witches scene and using it to introduce the three main characters of book: the truculent but ultimately good hearted Granny Weatherwax, the jovial and moderately ditzy Nanny Ogg, and the inexperienced and slightly naive Magrat Garlick.

Wyrd Sisters is the most tightly plotted Diskworld book I've read yet, with the three witches getting involved in shenanigans loosely based on the plots of Macbeth with a shot of Hamlet thrown in. There's the ghost of a murdered king, a lost heir, the aforementioned witches, a villainous usurper, a traveling band of thespians, and some really angry forest animals. Like the rest of Pratchett's stuff, it zips along and entertains along the way. If you don't laugh out loud, you're sure to at least smile every other page or so.

I wasn't impressed with Granny Weatherwax as a character when she debuted in Equal Rites, but here Pratchett seems to get a better feel for her and she's much more entertaining in the context of working among her peers and her hapless rivals. I liked watching the author work with the witches' idea of "headology," which roughly correlates to psychology and getting in the right state of mind to make things work. Using, by virtue of sheer stubbornness, an ordinary copper rod as a substitute for a magic sword in a demon-summoning ritual, for example, is a fun contrast to traditional witchcraft formulas, ceremonies, and occult flim-flam. Pratchett also has some fun contrasting the pastoral and humdrum kingdom of Lancre with more exciting (and, as it so happens, deadly) places like the city of Ankh-Morpork. My favorite part of the book was when the three witches attended a play for the first time in their lives and were completely flabbergasted by all the strangely dressed actors prancing around and thinking they could fool them into believing that they were kings and ghosts and such.

So it's fun stuff, different enough from previous books but familiar enough in tone and overall setting to be comfortable. I'm still a fan and I'm warming to Granny Weatherwax as a recurring character.

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3Oct/08Off

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Note: This is #44 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.

Some books work because they take you to new places you could never go on your own. This has, in my experience, included fantastical realms, outer space, periods of history long past, and Canada. Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time adds another place to that list: the mind of an autistic boy.

The story here is told in the first person by 15 year old Christopher Boon, who suffers from autism or, perhaps, the related Asperger syndrome; the novel never directly addresses the question. Christopher is a math wiz and has a phenomenal memory, but his condition leaves him with severe difficulties dealing with things like simultaneous multiple streams of information, new people, and the subtleties of everyday human communication. He also doesn't like anything yellow or brown, and he is completely incapable of getting emotional responses right or understanding (or caring about) the emotions of other people. Still, you get the sense that he's a good kid, and his dad loves him.

The book's plot starts off with Christopher trying to play detective and investigate the death (by pitchfork) of his neighbor's dog. Thus the title. That mystery quickly falls away as the main character's investigations accidentally put him on to another, bigger mystery dealing with the fate of his absent mother. Haddon cleverly constructs the book so that chapters alternately deal with Christopher's autism and his quest to solve these mysteries. One chapter, for example, will have Christopher discussing how he doesn't understand the concept of jokes or puns because he can't get his autistic head around the concept of a word meaning more than one thing at once, and then the subsequent chapter will continue on with the main plot until another interlude takes us back to the world of autism.

Both parts are engaging and what unfolds is a fascinating character study and a really enjoyable and emotionally satisfying bildungsroman about Christopher's mysteries and what their resolution means for him and his family life. I'm no expert on autism, but the novel at least feels to me to be really genuine in that area, and even if it's not it's unarguably compelling to see it all described from Christopher's point of view. I also loved how the affective punch of the story was actually heightened given its narration by someone as emotionally distant, logical, and clear-headed as an autistic boy. I felt for his family even if he was incapable of it, and that created an unusual dramatic tension. It's really well crafted and a surprisingly good debut for a new novelist. And yes, you do find out who killed the dog.

Do you like these reviews? Check out my profile on Goodreads.com.

Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

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1Oct/08Off

Week 244: Antagonization, Combat, and Bedtime

I think we have finally passed over some line that separates people who have "one kid and a baby" to people who have "two kids." This is sometimes good, as when Sam and Mandy play together, and sometimes it's bad, as when Sam and Mandy play together. Mandy has developed a habit of antagonizing her big sister, baiting her into roughhouse play that more often than not ends up with Mandy flat on her back and crying. Yet she continues to kick at Sam in the tub or jump into Sam's chair and shout "MYCHAIRMYCHAIR!" while looking at Sam expectantly. And if there's anything that Sam can't stand, it's Mandy's having something that she thinks belongs to her, which is to say Mandy's having anything.

I keep trying to explain to Mandy that she's inviting this abuse opon herself, but she doesn't seem to get it. I suppose one solution would be to just place both of them in some kind of pit and equip them with various gladiatorial weapons and tools so that they can just settle it between themselves. But this hardly seems fair, given how much longer Sam's reach is than her sister's. So I'm out of ideas, since the same issue arrises when you consider cage matches, boxing rings, or Thunderdome.

You may have noticed that the theme of this week's pictures is the kids' bedtime routine. I'd like to say I attempted to put together a photo essay on the subject, but the truth is more closely related to the fact that I forgot to take any pictures of them this week until Sunday evening. Or we could go with the photo essay thing.

Filed under: Parenting 4 Comments