[Thanks to Jonathan, Somervta, dndnrsn, and Elena for buying me books.]
Outdoor Life: Hunting and Gathering Survival Manual: 221 Primitive and Wilderness Survival Skills: I got this book on Kindle which, in retrospect, was a mistake, as I cannot imagine a circumstance in which I require information about how to make animal traps but also have access to a fully-charged laptop. This book made me terrified of gathering, because each section about the plant you can eat is followed with “make sure not to confuse it with the deadly bloodpuke [insert image of identical-looking plant here], which will kill those who taste it!” On the other hand, I did learn that apparently you can make tea out of pine needles, which will provide you with five times your daily value of vitamin C. I may wind up starving in the woods, but at least I won’t have scurvy.
Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture: An anthology of essays by Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter, cofounders of FACT, the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce, which advocated that pornography be covered under free-speech rights. The anthology focuses on pro-porn feminism, LGBT rights, and lesbian and gay studies. Worth reading for anyone with an interest in the Feminist Sex Wars, if for no other reason than its inclusion of the FACT amicus brief against the MacKinnon-Dworkin porn ordinances, which is one of the best summaries I’ve ever read of every argument against anti-porn feminism. Sex Wars is fascinating on a historical level: it’s interesting to see how old many arguments are (“LGBT people shouldn’t be fighting for marriage!” long predates Lawrence v. Texas) and how many arguments we no longer have to have (fortunately, we don’t have to strategize against no promo homo laws anymore). One thing I found striking was how sexist a lot of anti-porn feminist writing was: the book cites a brief which claims that women should be assumed not to consent to be in porn, just as children were not (!). Throughout the essays, Sex Wars connects such rhetoric– and related rhetoric that men are attack dogs primed by porn– to patriarchal ideas that men are helpless in face of their sexual urges and that women are innocent victims incapable of sexual agency.
The essay I found most moving, from a disability rights perspective, was about two women who were life partners when one was in an accident which caused brain damage. Despite the disabled woman’s repeated communications that she wanted to continue to live with her partner, her parents refused to allow her to do so, because they felt it was immoral. I am so happy that same-sex marriage is legal now, because this is never going to happen again.
The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder Through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating: I love this book! It is an experience to see an intelligent person writing about experiences you share– from picking up personality traits and interests from your romantic partners, to the frustration of people saying that you can’t have borderline personality disorder because you’re not like that, to the first time when you read ‘the lives of borderline patients are unbearable as they’re being lived’ and feel like someone gets it. I appreciated that it wasn’t salacious about Van Gelder’s disorder: while it makes it clear that she’s gone through a lot, the fact that it starts when she’s recovering means it doesn’t feel like ooh-look-at-the-crazy-borderline rubbernecking. And I really liked that the book ends with a frank admission that she still has problems and she’s probably going to have problems for the rest of her life. A lot of writing about mental illness implies that there’s a cure or epiphany which suddenly turns people into neurotypicals. I feel like that discourse is harmful both to mentally ill people (we beat ourselves up when we’re not suddenly well) and to our caregivers (who overextend themselves expecting the magic fix that’s around the corner any day now).
Doing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: A Practical Guide: I have read too many books about how to treat my own disorder and it just makes me cynical about therapists. “Oh, now you’re validating me! I see how it is!” “Hey, wait, you were supposed to matter-of-factly discuss diagnostic criteria and relevant research! It says so right here in the manual you’re supposed to be following!” “Why aren’t you emphasizing my freedom to choose and absence of alternatives now? What am I PAYING you for? Gosh.”
The line that made me giggle the most was “In nearly all situations and with nearly all clients, you can assume it will be welcome if you validate that the client’s problems are important (problem importance), that a task is difficult (task difficulty), that emotional pain or a sense of being out of control is justifiable, and that there is wisdom in the client’s ultimate goals, even if not in the particular means he or she is currently using.” I thought that was brilliant. You can basically always tell borderlines that the thing we’re trying to do is really hard, and we will nod and say “yes it is! This therapist truly gets it!”
What You Can Change . . . and What You Can’t*: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement: This is an amazing book and you should buy a copy. Seligman provides an engaging and funny review of the literature on treating common concerns from obesity to depression to erectile dysfunction. In the days after reading it, I was continually spouting off interesting facts I’d learned. “Did you know that it’s easier to experimentally induce a phobia of a snake than it is to experimentally induce a phobia of a horse, because we’re evolutionarily prepared to be scared of snakes?” “Did you know some people think panic disorder is a product of catastrophic misinterpretations of bodily sensations?” “Did you know that formerly obese women burn fewer calories while sitting than do women who were always slim?” “Did you know that Krafft-Ebing kicked off biological psychiatry by providing that syphilis caused madness?”
I have not fact-checked the book, but on subjects I know things about he made no errors. Seligman’s perspective fits in a lot with my biases: he’s evolutionarily grounded without flying off into evo-psych just-so stories, he’s justifiably skeptical of both biological psychiatry and of rooting everything in childhood trauma, and he is honest about how much work is required in lasting psychological change.
Also, there are quizzes!
A Mind For Numbers: How To Excel At Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra): I thought this book would explain to me how to do math. Unfortunately, it seems it is actually a study skills book. Oops. Sometimes I read books and I get a sense “this is a person who reads Less Wrong”; A Mind for Numbers definitely gave me that sense. But I suppose it is not impossible that an independent person attempting to figure out the best method to learn science and math would wind up hitting on Pomodoros, Anki, and Seth Roberts. I really liked the emphasis on how a lot of learning happens in the back of your mind while you’re thinking about something else, and the reason to get started studying early is that it won’t click while you’re cramming, it’ll click while you’re biking to class or taking a shower. This is 100% true to my experience of creativity and of studying.