45: Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, And the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark, 310 p.
I know I picked this book up based upon a review by someone else, but for the life of me I can’t find it doing any of the site searches. So either I’ve just had an epic fail or I saw it on another review site (note: that’s quite possible, looking over the dust jacket I see the author writes for Slate.)
This is another fun edition to the league of science-y pseudo-journalist non-fiction that I’ve been reading lately. Clark details the physiological response our body goes through when we’re afraid and how the natural fight/flight response has been jacked up to gazillion in modern times despite the overall plummet in the odds of death by lion. He then goes on to use a mix of anecdotes and research to discuss ways to lessen anxiety, why some people choke and others do better when under pressure, and why fear is still a good thing.
I’m not sure that Clark delivered on all fronts, insofar as that I wouldn’t call this the self-help book that it sometimes wishes that it was. Sure, you’ll get tips on how to deal with fear, but I’d hardly call controlled breathing and confronting your fears groundbreaking. However, it’s an interesting introduction to the topic of fear in modern lives. He went a little overboard using story after story of sports celebrities and military heroes for my taste, but each to their own. It was an entertaining bit of non-fiction.
46: in which I read a bunch of children’s classics
I finally gave my kindle a serious break-in during a business trip this week. I had a bunch of free ‘classics’ preloaded so I read those. Considering how short they all are (around 100 pages) and that I’m familiar with all the themes, I’m just counting them as one.
Low-lights: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Like, whoa. Done shrooms, much? I knew it was a stalwart of the literary nonsense genre and would be absurdist, but I’m still in awe of Carroll’s decision to say the hell with a plot. When Carroll ran out of ideas, he simply kicks everything under the rug by having Alice wake up from a dream. If I had known more about the cultural/historical bits that Carroll was riffing off of for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, then I may have enjoyed it more. As it stands, it was just a confusing jumble of ‘adventures’ that didn’t really flow well linearly.
My initial reaction was that this story just makes more sense when represented visually. That may be a bias, as my introduction to Alice was via the Disney animated version. But I may be suffering from a misguided memory, because looking over its plot synopsis on Wikipedia, it seems like the animated version stayed pretty close to the original stories in the book. There wasn’t really more or better plot, yet I remember it being much more straightforward.
I loved that much of the book followed Alice’s train of thought and logic, even when it went off on the odd non-sequitur or three. This is the sort of thing that you expect from a young child and yet is so often rarely displayed in the children’s or YA literature that I’ve read.
High-lights: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
I’ve read that Baum got inspiration for this story from Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland. I can definitely see this as much the same, after all, it’s another story of a little girl going off on an adventure in an odd new world. Baum, however, is kind enough to give us a plot to follow. Perhaps a little over handed with the insecurities of the Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow, it’s nevertheless a great children’s story. It dabbles in darkness, but not to the extent of Alice. Although the reluctance of the Wizard to help them and Dorothy routinely losing her friends could be harrowing for young readers or listeners, at almost every twist and turn something miraculous happens to make sure all the good guys are safe.
I enjoyed it and feel it’s on par with the classic film. There’s an element of the visual, especially in the introduction of Technicolor, that really gives it extra impact. But this story, much like Alice, was meant to be read with illustrations, which I lacked in my kindle editions. With a straight-forward narrative and never veering too far to the weird or scary, an illustrated copy would make a great book for young readers.
Middle of the Road: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Okay, this isn’t a children’s book. It really only fell in with this bunch because it’s in the classics category as well. I recently watched the BBC series Jekyll on Netflix instant and realized that although I knew the story (and I really can’t say from where, as this doesn’t have a popular Disney animation — how the hell does everyone know this story?), I had never read the book.
What a delight! Stevenson has an amazing way with words, transforming what would have been a rather stodgy and boring Mr. Utterson into a riot through the use of vocabulary and quaint turns of phrase. I was never bogged down by the Victorianess of the times. I enjoyed both the story and the format, which is told through Dr. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer Mr. Utterson, who uncovers the facts of the strange case along with the reader. It holds up equally well to its many adaptations. Largely being untold in the first person, Jekyll leaves itself up for allegorical interpretation. If you’re looking for a quick, easy classic to read, this is definitely one to pick up.