Tag Archives: survey books

World Where You Live

iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry Rosen, Ph.D.   (Palgrave MacMillan, $25.00, 246 pages)

“…the research is now showing that technology may act as a trigger to induce these mood swings.”

Sometimes a book doesn’t fit a particular category.   It may be intended for the self-help reader or perhaps the budding psychologist who’s exploring the profession before making the commitment to a degree and an internship.   Larry Rosen has produced a book in search of an audience.   If his goal was to offer some self-help for addressing the proliferation of electronic devices and diversions that absorb our attention, then Rosen has fallen short of his goal.   The statistically-dense text does contain several self-administered questionnaires and checklists.   Where other books have illustrations, bullet points and charming anecdotes, iDisorder has none of these.

To be fair, there are scenarios or quotes that begin each chapter that give the reader a glimpse of the basis for the topic under discussion.   These topics include:  addiction to the internet; depression/mania and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; communication (shyness); and obsessions with appearance.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is referenced frequently throughout the text, much as it is in the previously reviewed book, The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller.   Unlike The Other Side, iDisorder lacks a smooth, structured flow of ideas.   The frequent cross references to prior and future chapters invoked a frame of mind for this reviewer that there would be a final exam on the material presented.   Moreover, creating a set of book notes in order to follow the concepts seems punitive for a reader who is concerned about possible technology-induced mental disorders.

While we’re on the topic of school, perhaps Dr. Rosen, who teaches psychology at California State University at Dominguez Hills, could have offered extra credit for students willing to check his grammar and citations.   It may seem petty of this reviewer to point out the reference to MIT (Massachusetts Institute for Technology) – but, come on now – “for”?   Or, this amazing comment:  “At his last review his supervisors wrote that Colby’s excessive tardiness, absence at company meetings, and lack of completed paperwork are substandard and prevent him from doing his job correctly.”

To be clear, iDisorder is a book that showed potential – potential which went unrealized.   It does not make this reviewer’s list of recommended survey books.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Here is a link to a review of The Other Side of Normal:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/have-you-ever-been-mellow/

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Coming Up Next…

A review of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us by Larry Rosen.

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Sunshine Superman

The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Ever Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong by David Shenk (Anchor, $15.00, 400 pages)

“Greatness was not a thing to Ted Williams.   It was a process.”

Are some people born with more talent and ability than others?   For as long as most of us can recall, the premise of nature vs. nurture has been used to describe the two major components that influence a person’s life.   Best-selling author David Shenk makes it his task to showcase a different, somewhat overlooked alternative concept in The Genius in All of Us.   He believes that hard work and practice are critical to success, not something you either have or not.   As he states, “Talent is not a thing; it’s a process.”

This book is more than what it appears at first glance.   It is not one man’s attempt at coining a new phrase or repackaging old ideas in a new survey-book format.   Rather, Shenk has spent time gathering information and gives credit where credit is due.   He thoughtfully presents the reader with a manageable amount of information geared at unseating the status quo regarding genius, or the lack thereof.   He is direct in his take on what has been fed to the public over the last 100-plus years – personal concepts that have not stood the test of rigorous scientific study, sensationalism and, lastly, letting slackers off easily by claiming that genius is a genetic gift that is passed on to a person.

If you choose to read the book in the original Doubleday hardcover edition, which was this reviewer’s experience, it is worth taking a few moments to examine the book without the dust jacket.   In doing so, please observe the care and deliberate effort that went into the creation of the volume.

The physical proportions, type font, graphics and paper stock (even its slight buff color) lend an air of timelessness.   What better way to present a concept that is meant to be taken seriously?   The text is divided into two main parts followed by “The Evidence” – an equal number of pages devoted to elaboration on the sources and points made in parts one and two, along with comments by the author.   Clearly, Shenk and the team he brought together to produce the book devoted their best efforts to showcasing an alternative to what he calls a wrong-headed approach to genius and success that has been imbedded in the minds of the general populace.

There is one new term, “interactionism,” that is used to characterize the concept of genetics interacting with environment.   An easy-to-remember shorthand for this is G x E.   The reader is advised that plasticity in humans, even as early as during gestation, guarantees that no ability is set or fixed.   Just as Shenk advises that practice and hard work are required to bring about the best results, the reader needs to know that attention and open-minded commitment is required on his or her part to fully realize the value within The Genius in All of Us.

David Shenk is a master at writing and sets a pace that allows the reader to consider the concept of G x E.   His clear voice is consistently authoritative; however, he never casts the reader as a lesser person.   Shenk carefully sets out the premise of G x E using incremental steps to coax the reader’s acceptance of how thought has unfolded over time within the academic community.   Helpful citations referencing prior chapters reinforce the learning process.

There are no great leaps in thinking or pushy theories, just well-documented scientific thought and exploration.   Shenk does his due diligence examining findings from dissenters; he demonstrates where they miss the mark.   The Genius in All of Us is filled with hope and is a call to action that fosters flexibility in thinking and a commitment to growth and success.   This is a book worthy of a reader’s time, attention and contemplation.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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My Book Review Rules

I first posted my Lucky 13 book review rules and policies on July 31, 2009.   I am now reposting them with a few revisions and applicable updates.

The Lucky 13 Rules

1.   I am interested in receiving review copies on most subjects but especially biographies and memoirs; music; poetry; sports; science fiction; business books; nonfiction survery books; inspirational books (but not directly tied to religion); popular fiction; crime dramas; mysteries and suspense thrillers; family novels; Young Adult (YA) novels; children’s books and stories involving animals.

2.   I am not interested in vampire or zombie books; conspiracy theory books; political tracts; books promoting racism or hatred; books laden with philosophy or religion (been there, done that); overly simplistic self-help books (of which there are many); or books in which the author says the same thing on every page!

3.   If the reference to popular fiction was too vague, let me be clear:  yes, I will and have read “chick lit” (distinct from bodice rippers or old-fashioned romance) books.

4.   Whenever possible, I like to receive early stage review copies – paper bound galleys or ARCs, even if they are subject to final review, editing and corrections.   No one wants to write the last review of a new book.

5.   Yes, I do want to review books that are being re-released in paperback – especially in trade paperback form.   In this economy, paperbacks are often the only books on the radar screen of economy-minded readers.

6.   I finish around 80 percent of the books I start, but if I can’t finish it – meaning that attempting to do so is  more painful than dental work, I’m not writing the review.

7.   I’m a speed reader but it nevertheless takes me forever to read pages that have not been editing by someone in the world!

8.   Send an e-mail to me at Josephsreviews@gmail.com if you want to know if I’d like a copy of your book.   My receipt of your book does not equate with an automatic positive review (I simply try to be honest) nor a guarantee that I can or will finish it.   Again, I cannot guarantee that I will post a review of your book because you have sent it to me.   Also, please do not send me follow-up e-mails asking when I will be reading/reviewing your book.

9.   Some authors want me to not only review their book but to include a link to their website, or their Twitter account or other online address.   Sorry, I don’t do that.   Readers who have seen my review(s) and are interested in more information on an author can do a Google search.

10.  I do not read/review digital or e-books or pdf files.   (I have nothing against technology, it’s simply a matter of eye strain.)

11.  I love audiobooks on CDs, so if your book is available in this format and you or your publisher can supply me with an audiobook copy, it’s a big plus.

12.  Publishers, if you send me a book, please do include a P. R. sheet with some background information on the book and the contact information for the assigned in-house publicist or contact P. R. staff person.   If I post a review, I will be sure to let the contact know when it is posted.

13.  New authors – especially of nonfiction or self-published books, please have an experienced editor vet your work before submitting it for review.

That’s it.   Good reading to all!

Joseph Arellano

Note:   Some self-published books are reviewed on this site, although they remain the exception to the rule.

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The Heart of the Matter

I used to work with a program that trained local prosecutors (deputy district attorneys) and public defenders.   One aspect often covered at these trainings was the importance of opening and closing arguments in a criminal trial, and the point was usually made that these arguments needed to be “tight” rather than rambling and lengthy.   I often see a parallel with book reviews…

To me, book reviews are both opening and closing arguments.   They are an opening argument when it comes to introducing a reader to a book that he/she is considering purchasing.   The review says, “Here is what this book is about, and why it may be of interest to you.”   But it should also warn, “I don’t know about your own tastes, so I’m going to provide you with my perspective on this novel/nonfiction book.”

The same review is a closing argument when it attempts to convince the prospective reader that this is either something worth reading or passing by.   “I think this novel is great because…”   or “I really tried to read this survey book about _____ but I just couldn’t grab on to it…”   The key, though, is that the closing argument is not about TRUTH in capital letters – a review is an opinion piece, and the opinion is only as good as the structure of the argument it holds.

What I love about reading book reviews is not the bottom line – did this reader/reviewer love or hate the book – but the validity of the argument that takes us to the buy/don’t buy recommendation.   Is it logical, is it well structured, is it internally consistent (not a review that praises the author’s writing style at one point while attacking it somewhere else), is it honest?   If I write a review indicating that I love a book, I’m just as interested in other reviews that praise or condemn the book.   Why?   Because I’m not looking to win an argument, I’m looking to see how each and every reviewer made their arguments.

Is there a difference between positive and negative reviews?   Yes, I think so.   It’s much easier to convince the average reader that you, the reviewer, love a book because (as has been said so many times before) everyone loves good news.   If I pick up an interesting-looking new novel at Borders and then use my BlackBerry to find reviews, I’m quite pleased to see 4-and 5-star reviews and flat-out recommendations.   I’m much less pleased to do a digital search only to read that this book is a disaster.   But, wait, maybe it isn’t – maybe I need to see how good a case is made by those who are criticizing it.

Decades ago, I used to read music reviews in every major publication of the time.   There were a number of reviewers that I really admired, including one in particular who never liked the same things I did.   But that reviewer always made a great case for his position, an enlightened and entertaining case.   He wrote a brilliant negative review of one classic album in a single sentence!

So, yes, it’s not the length of the argument that counts.   It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the amount of fight in the dog.   And the next time you read a book review, you may want to ask yourself, “Did this reviewer deliver both an opening and closing argument this time around?”   Don’t forget that you are the juror in the court of public opinion, and it’s your vote that counts each and every time.

Joseph Arellano

Pictured:   The Good Daughters: A Novel by Joyce Maynard.

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Watching the Wheels

On Book Reviewing and Reading

During his unfortunately short lifetime, John Lennon had to deal with a lot of guilt.   Some of it was due to the break-up of his personal and working relationship with Paul McCartney.   But for a time, the public viewed his relationship with Yoko Ono as the likely cause of the Beatles’ dissolution (in retrospect, there were other factors involved).   It finally arrived at the point where John felt compelled to sing, “I don’t believe in Beatles/ I just believe in me/ Yoko and me/ and that’s reality.”

It may seem odd, but a book reviewer is sometimes affected with guilt.   This is especially true after spending hours and days reading a novel, a memoir, a nonfiction account or a survey book and finding it a disappointment.   You might not think so, but most reviewers would love to just write positive reviews.   Except that in the real world, writing exclusively positive reviews just would not reflect reality.

So the books that don’t meet the reviewer’s high expectations must be documented with a dreaded negative review.   And here is where the guilt comes in…  As the reviewer begins to draft a not-so-positive review, he/she begins to wonder if he/she did something wrong or miss the point?   Is it somehow my fault that I didn’t like it?   It’s an odd question but it’s one that I find me asking myself.   Other reviewers that I talk to ask themselves the same question.   Regardless, it’s a thought that must quickly be put aside.

Each of us, after all, is providing only one perspective, one that each review reader (and author) is free to accept or reject.   Talk to four or more people about the Beatles, for example, and you’re likely to hear all of the following:  “John was my favorite.”   “I was always a Paul fan.”   “I always loved George.”   “Ringo was my guy.”   If you were a Paul McCartney fan, you didn’t wonder if it was somehow your fault that John wasn’t your cup of tea.

When I talk to people about music, I get a sense of honest straight forwardness about one’s opinions.   You may know that I love Van Morrison but have no problem in telling me that he is not someone you listen to.   Why should it be different with literature, with books, with popular fiction?   I think it’s because many of us grew up seeing academic standards applied to literature that were not applied to modern music.   There was a sense that opinions about books were more formal, more standardized; therefore, there should be a consensus as to whether a particular book was “good” or “bad.”

Of course, all that has changed with the advent of the internet and with the more traditional style reviews (especially those printed on paper) moving into the background.   We’re entering the new world where, it might be said, we’re all “free to be you and me.”   So your opinion about a book is just as good, as valuable, as mine and vice-versa.   We’ve entered a zone where everything in life is, as one New York City newspaper observed, both large and small all at once.

So when, for a moment, the feeling of guilt crops up because you love something that other people don’t – or fail to admire a book that others may – it’s time to move past that moment and accept that you simply feel what you feel.   You think what you think and this is fine.   You get to judge what you want and need to judge, and don’t ever believe those who tell you that you “shouldn’t judge things.”   Everyone judges everything in life almost every minute of the day, but only some admit to it.   Book reviewers, by necessity and by role, must admit to it.

And John Lennon offered us some valuable advice – in the song “Watching the Wheels” – as to what to do once we’ve boarded the merry-go-round of guilt…  Get off of it.   “I just had to let it go.”   We just need to let it go.

Joseph Arellano

One in a continuing series of articles.   Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy by author-musician Ken Sharp was published by MTV Books.

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A Room of Our Own

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (Doubleday; $28.95: 448 pages)

Veteran author Bill Bryson delights in skewering the arrogant rich in England and the United States, particularly the folks who lived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in this quirky survey book.   His litany of the vast number of servants, silverware and foodstuffs at meals makes this point.   The premise of the book is that an individual home is an excellent jumping off point to a wide variety of subjects.   Bryson happens to live in a former church rectory that was built in 1851.   While his home is not typical of most, it is clearly an excellent basis for an historical survey.   This is a loosely structured stroll through many centuries and cultures with Bryson as the tour guide.   He was born in the United States and educated here; however, his manner of speaking is clearly influenced by his long-time residence in England.

The notion of inventiveness and progress being a function of opportunity and dedication to an idea is a thread that runs through many chapters, each of which focuses on a particular room or area of his home.   The associations are reminiscent of the Public Broadcast System series, Connections, narrated by James Burke.   The tangents developed within each chapter tend to take the reader a bit far afield from the room being featured.   The basement, for example, correlates to the notion of a sturdy underpinning for the home which evolves into an explanation of the evolution of construction, culminating in the Eiffel Tower.   This is clearly a case of going from the mundane to the sublime in a matter of pages.

Conversely, the study, a room which might easily provide a scenario related to reading, education and leisure time, instead becomes the scene of mice and extermination.   The chapter is clearly the most disconcerting as it focuses on the vermin and critters with which we share our homes.   Bryson seems to delight in the mind-numbing and chilling statistics for mouse and rat populations of the past and present.   He concludes the chapter with the smallest living creatures in our homes and on our persons, namely insects and microbes.

Underlying the premise is a charming and unexpected feature.   Many of the chapters draw attention to the unsung heroes who were the real inventors as opposed to the persons who made vast sums of money and achieved fame.   Included for good measure are the names of men who almost got it right but for a twist or turn in their path have not even made it to footnote status in history.

At Home is worth the reader’s effort, but the author may remind the reader of an entertaining college professor who expects a fair amount of retention of his lecture points.   It is a safe choice for history buffs along with the reminder that the accuracy of any non-fiction book is subject to a point-in-time qualifier.   Some conclusions by the author appear to be made to the advantage of his effort to make clever connections.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.   At Home will be released by Doubleday on Tuesday, October 5, 2010.

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Wonderful World

Good Vibrations: The Physics of Music by Barry Parker (Johns Hopkins University Press, $27.95, 274 pages)

“Music is sound but it’s a very special type of sound.”

An alternate title for this book might have been Music and Math for Morons, but it is seriously easy to understand.   Yes, there have been many survey books out in the last few years attempting to explain the science of sound.   Most of them have been too high-level for the average reader to understand, including this reader.   Kudos should go to Barry Parker for translating a few not always simple-to-understand concepts into plain English.

It is clear that Parker loves having been born into a world that includes music.   Reading this book is like listening to a teacher who worships his subject matter.   Parker explains rhythm and the major types of music, and gives us an overview of how all of the major instruments – including the human voice – work.   He examines the acoustics of classical concert halls, but he’s no snob when it comes to “new” recording techniques.   He concludes his survey by explaining electronic (computer-generated) recordings and acceptance of the new world of iPods and mp3s.

Bach or Dylan?   It’s all good.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

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Hungry Heart

This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness by C. Clinton Sidle (Larson Publications)

C. Clinton Sidle is a recognized expert in consulting, leadership training, and human potential development.   This Hungry Spirit is a departure from his previously published works that focused on strategic planning and achieving personal and organizational greatness.   Instead, Sidle uses his personal journey through difficult times as the structure for sharing the skills needed to make it past the rough spots we all face.   (The original subtitle of this book was Seeking Happiness in the Heart of Discontent.)

This book is well-organized.   There are exercises within each chapter designed to engage the reader and bring to life the concepts being taught.   Key phrases, pearls of wisdom, are highlighted in sidebars that accompany the text.   Sidle draws from a wide variety of resources to make his pitch for mindfulness and introspection.   His approach seems best suited to a reader who has not yet explored the concepts of meditation, keeping a journal and opening one’s heart.

It’s easy to picture the author leading workshops and drumming up enthusiasm for the topic at hand.   He conveys a sense of importance and necessity when describing the steps that can lead the reader to a calmer, more fulfilling, life.   However, Sidle’s writing is a bit labored.   This reviewer sensed that he would rather conduct an interactive workshop than be restricted to mere words on a page.   His message is bold and somewhat aggressive.   The feeding of the hungry spirit becomes a mission with goals and objectives, not unlike the leadership skills and human potential topics he is known for in business and military circles.

A counterpoint to This Hungry Spirit can be found in The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.   Many of the concepts are quite similar; however, the tone and mood created in The Power of Now is highly suggestive rather than direct and blunt as is the case with This Hungry Spirit.   It will fall to the reader to decide which approach is likely to be the most effective for his/her personal needs.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME).

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