How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love, Ed.D., and Steven Stosny, Ph.D., 2/5
Perhaps I’m just cynical, but I feel this book’s title may as well be How to Improve Your Marriage by Reading About It. Yes, the book presents some interesting psychological concepts, focusing mainly on how men’s vulnerability to feelings of shame and women’s vulnerability to fear can result in a sense of disconnection not reparable by verbal communication. Unfortunately, you have to take the authors’ word for even the most outlandish-sounding statements, since they provide no footnotes or references. This lack of academic documentation seriously undermines the book’s credibility, in my opinion, and gives a strangely pop-psych flavor to an unpopular message of resolute self-improvement and one-sided commitment to acts of connection. While I respect and agree with the authors’ encouragement to generally be an emotionally intelligent human being and not a shitty, selfish one, their “practical” advice seems laughably out of touch with reality. I honestly can’t see the “Power Love Formula” saving any relationships, but I guess what do I know since I’m lucky enough to be almost four years into a relationship with an amazing, sensitive man who is secure and loving enough to demand we talk things out even when I’d rather sulk in silence. In terms of practical relationship advice that resonates with what I’ve observed and experienced, I find The Five Love Languages to be much more relevant and helpful.
Why I read it: it resonated with my dad but not my mom, so I was curious.
Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 4/5
Written by a bona fide Arctic explorer, this book reflects a bygone era of exploration, when sane men packed up and left on insane adventures into unexplored territory from which they well knew they might never return. Indeed, every one of the five stories in this book involves death or disappearance, often punctuated by the horrors of starvation, betrayal, cannibalism and pure ineptitude. The author is not shy in drawing his own conclusions for each scenario and though his writing style is not the most entertaining, his first-hand experience and rational approach to the information available at the time make for a fascinating read.
I learned a lot from this book, such as that the Arctic, which I once imagined to be an abandoned ice desert, is (or at least, was) actually livable land, teeming with life. Unintuitively, the Inuit would move north during winter due to the abundance of game in the frozen landscape, killing everything from seals to polar bears without the aid of guns (often in territory in which well-armed Europeans managed to starve to death). I also learned a lot about scurvy, its causes and surprising psychological effects. According to Stefansson, scurvy plagued those explorers who tried to maintain a European diet, even when supplemented by fruits and vegetables. It was the author’s strong opinion that a diet consisting solely of native, fatty meat was the best way to stay healthy in the Arctic. It’s strange to think that the ketogenic diet is still controversial after over 80 years of arguments and studies.
Why I read it: an impulse buy in a used book store; for $3, who could resist?
Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff, 3/5
After loving Love Does, I was very excited to read Goff’s next book, which I hoped would provide further illumination on the challenge of how to love people extravagantly without getting used up in the process. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense the same spirit in this book: the stories felt a little forced, the resulting morals were sometimes a stretch and the whole thing came off a bit preachy and canned. It’s actually a little funny because when I read Love Does, I literally thought to myself that it was the kind of inspired book you would live your whole life to write and never write another.
Why I read it: I wished Love Does was a longer book.
No Holds Barred: The Complete History of Mixed Martial Arts in America by Clyde Gentry III, 2/5
Relentlessly packed with names, dates, dry facts and endless acronyms, this book is about as appealing to read as the world’s longest Wikipedia article (a comparison that could be considered a compliment if you account for the fact that it was written before Wikipedia even existed). The author has performed an impressive amount of research, including a jaw-dropping 125 interviews, but unfortunately seems completely incapable of telling a story, even when equipped with firsthand knowledge of the dramatic events and larger-than-life personas associated with the history of MMA. His blow-by-blow descriptions of classic fights are excruciatingly boring and he somehow sucks all the life out of even the most amusing or astonishing anecdotes. Adding to the faults of the original edition is a half-assed update written 10 years later that sees the clumsy addition of multiple-page “sidebars” (literally marked with bars) that completely disrupt the text’s already inadequate narrative flow, two off-focus chapters tacked onto the end, and multiple references to himself awkwardly as “this author” that made me grind my teeth every time they assaulted my eyes. In the preface, the author mentions that this book was supposed to be the first in a series that “never happened” and, after reading it, there is no question why.
Why I read it: A gift from my dad, accompanied with the warning “it will probably be terrible.”
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff, 5/5
Bob Goff knows how to tell a story. His stories were almost too good; I devoured them like a kid devours a bowl of fruit loops and had to keep reminding myself to slow down and digest the bigger messages. When someone who has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of remarkable experiences takes the time to write down what they’ve learned from a broad perspective, it’s a gift–a sneak peek of a meaningful work of art when all you could see before was the close-up chaos of individual brushstrokes.
Formerly a lawyer and law professor, Goff was not a “professional Christian” when he wrote this book, so I didn’t get the uncomfortable feeling that he was trying to sell some pre-packaged, preachy, lifeless form of religion. He is very practical and realistic, using stories to transcend the cliched verbiage of encouraging people to fearlessly follow their hopes and dreams while living in God’s love.
I used to think following God required complicated formulas. I thought I needed a big stack of books, so I could figure out exactly where I was all the time. I thought if I constantly measured the distance between me and God, I’d get closer to Him. Early on, the religious people I knew explained to me all kinds of nuances for doing this sort of spiritual math. They suggested that I say certain things in my prayers, have quiet times, go to Bible studies, and memorize Bible verses. They said I needed to know how to explain to someone that God could be a person and a spirit at the same time. They urged me to know how God was going to come back someday but that some people would be here and other people would go missing because it would be a time of great tribulation. They said that for me to know God, there was a whole pile of things I’d need to know first. […] What I realized, though, is that all I really needed to know when it came down to it was the direction I was pointing and that I was somewhere inside the large circle of God’s love and forgiveness (156).
There are a lot of crazy stories and insightful life lessons packed into this easy-to-read book, but perhaps the thing that stuck with me the most a couple weeks later, was how fearlessly Goff loves other people and gets involved in their lives. If he was giving bits of himself away, he would soon be reduced to nothing, but instead his life seems immeasurably richer. It truly seems that he has an endless supply of supernatural love from which to draw. I still don’t fully understand how to live this way without getting used up by the “takers” in the world, but this book was a helpful piece of the puzzle for me and an amazing reminder that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Why I read it: My friend, Joy, recommended it to me.
How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe, 5/5
This book does not disappoint! It is filled with hilarious, ridiculous, scientifically strenuous “solutions” to problems ranging from “how to jump really high” to “how to change a light bulb.” As a piano teacher, I found the chapter on how to play the piano particularly hilarious and thought-provoking. I’ve never thought to ask questions like “how many keys would need to be added to the piano keyboard to make music for whales?” (spoiler: it’s not as many as you’d think!).
Pose! 1,000 Poses for Photographers and Models by Mehmet Eygi, 2/5
I like the basic layout of this book, which features one pose per page, each accompanied by a short summary, tips and three variations. Most of the poses seem to exist on a scale of somewhat to extremely cliched but presumably that is practically the point of a reference book like this. It is also understandable that many of the photos would feel lifeless and contrived, since they necessarily feature the same models and backdrops over and over again. Less forgivable are the extremely repetitive “tips” which add little additional value to the images, and the inclusion of many mediocre and a few absolutely cringe-worthy pose variations that made me question the author’s taste and expertise altogether.
My confidence in the author was further eroded by his brief “key lessons,” which did not display a nuanced or insightful perspective, but repetitively recommended a contrived and inorganic approach to photography at odds with common sense, psychology and my observation of other methods. What kind of photographer broadly advises others to methodically exhaust the possibilities of every single pose and variation before relentlessly moving on to the next? I was curious, so I visited Mehmet Eygi’s website (which was mentioned in two places in this book) and Facebook page. Surprisingly, neither features any of his photography or even mentions his name: they represent his comp card printing/design business. His Instagram page, where he identifies only as “Entrepreneur & Author,” is certainly no convincing testament to his photographic expertise either, displaying only a few generic pictures. In fact, I could find no other website, portfolio, resume or examples of his work not associated with this particular book, which seems very strange. Though Pose! does technically fulfill the promise of its title, I feel that it attempted to accomplish more and failed.
Why I read it: I’m trying to improve my photography and ordered every book on posing my library had.
David Busch’s Canon EOS 5d Mark IV Guide to Digital SLR Photography, 5/5
Much more appealing than the chunky little manual that came with my camera, this book is thoughtfully laid-out and well-illustrated. I read straight through it, but it was also easy to look up the answers to specific questions, thanks to the functional index.
Why I read it: Because I was waiting for my new camera to arrive and knew this model would be a bit different from my previous one.
Convoluted Universe: Book One by Dolores Cannon, 1/5
In retrospect, I should have known better than to attempt to read a book on any topic written by a self-proclaimed “investigator into the paranormal through the use of hypnosis.” However, I succumbed to the back cover’s tantalizing promise of “metaphysical ideas that border on quantum physics,” thinking that perhaps the old saying it’s the message, not the messenger, was applicable. Alas, I was too optimistic.
In the interest of fairness, I persevered through 113 punishing pages of unmitigated nonsense, presented in the form of interview transcripts with two hypnotized women. The first woman claims to have been a medieval prince in a past life, who was taught the “real” history of earth by an extraterrestrial being. Her story focuses on intergalactic political intrigue and alien visits to earth throughout history, during which they supposedly imparted knowledge and intermingled with humans. There is nothing remotely plausible about these outlandish ideas, which read like standard sci-fi fare, presented in a tedious Q&A format.
Even poorly written sci-fi was more bearable than the interviews with the second woman, who does an absolutely terrible job of pretending to channel alien beings. Her acting is cringe-worthy and she artlessly strings the author along in an attempt to obscure the fact that she has nothing of value to communicate. Here’s an example from pages 99 and 100:
D: Are you listening to someone?
J: (Her voice sounded more normal.) Yes. It’s somebody that wants to speak to you, but they can’t talk English, and I can’t talk that. And we’re trying to figure out how to do it.
D: Can they have someone else communicate it?
J: They’re looking. They’re talking. They’re having a little discussion. They’re in the corner. It’s like they’re trying to decide.
D: Tell them we’re running out of time here. I really want to get the message, because they were giving me instructions. (Confusion) Maybe they can relay it to someone else who can give me the message.
J: That’s what they’re doing. (Softly, as though talking to someone else.) Okay. (Big sigh.)
D: Are they ready now?
J: (Another louder voice.) Perhaps.
D: Because I have no way of knowing if I’m breaking any regulations, if they don’t instruct me.
J: (She started to talk, then cleared her throat, as though the being had to adjust to her vocal cords. The next voice was definitely feminine and softer.) There have been no regulation violations. But we would caution you to be extremely careful in your casual discussions of the phenomenon. You must be careful with whom you share casual information. There are sensitive areas. It is important, I repeat, just casual information and sharing is not allowed. You have done well, and we are thankful. One of the problems could be the nature of the information, and the timing. It is not a matter for everyone to know everything. You are very good at being able to determine who should know what. That is a level of your expertise that allows us to work with you well. It is not a matter of trusting or not trusting you, as much as it is a matter of timing. Time to know, time not to know. So, whenever you are given information in the future there will sometimes be instructions not to divulge it, until you are given further instructions. Perhaps you can find a way if it is necessarily crucial to something on which others are working, to advise them. But do not divulge your source. We will be orchestrating their knowledge, so that anything that is shared with others will be of a nature that it is preapproved.
Throughout, the author does not seem concerned with establishing even the pretense of plausibility and her interview techniques are atrocious, clearly meant to assist her subjects in their inventions. The so-called secrets of the universe that these women are meant to possess are nothing but sci-fi cliches and it is telling that, in both cases, the women made great efforts to get in contact with and work with Cannon, who made herself available to them only sporadically. If, as she claims, Cannon was receiving “lost knowledge” and “allowed to have the answers to any questions [she] wished to ask” from these women, it is odd that she was unwilling to go out of her way to meet with them, and prioritized speaking engagements and mundane entrepreneurial activities over receiving information that, if true, would be of infinite value.
All of this might lead you to wonder, as I did, how such a ridiculous book could come to be published. It turns out that the author literally started her own company (Ozark Mountain Publishing) because no one else would touch her work. The fact that she was forced to go to such lengths would be an encouraging statement about the survival of common sense amongst readers, if it weren’t for the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, Cannon managed to develop a following of people who took her seriously and continue to propagate her bat-shit crazy legacy even after her death.
Why I read it: It came up in conversation with my massage therapist.
Trader Horn: Being the Life and Works of Alfred Aloysius Horn, the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience taken down here and edited by Ethelreda Lewis, 3/5
It’s safe to assume that everyone has a story to tell by the age of seventy-three, but not everyone was a trader who explored central Africa in the late 1800s. As such, “Trader Horn” fully deserves to have his life adventures immortalized in print and lovers of tall tales will have no quibble with his fantastical stories and idiosyncratic writing style. However, readers, like me, who prefer a clear separation between fact and fiction, will struggle to distinguish between the two in this book. At first, I wrongly suspected the author was not even a real person, but further research did not necessarily inspire confidence in the historical accuracy of someone who, for example, embellished even their own age in the book’s subtitle (he was sixty-seven at the time of publication, according to Ian Cutler’s excellent and very detailed article). The fact that editor Ethelreda Lewis was a novelist, not a historian or biographer, and that Horn aspired to be a novelist as well, further muddies the waters. While this sort of factual ambiguity does not make for a very enjoyable reading experience in my opinion, I’m glad that Horn’s life story was preserved instead of being lost forever.
Why I read it: Making progress in my efforts to ensure my collection of old books is more than purely decorative.