STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES

"DREAM LIFE" AND "SEEING THINGS"

This slim volume includes two extended essays, incisive and conversational, that have plenty of connections between them.

Both “Dream Life” and “Seeing Things” were previously published in different form, but they complement each other as if they were two sides of the coin of the unconscious, the former focusing on dreams and how they work and what they mean, the latter illuminating a rare (or is it?) perception disorder that serves as a more general metaphor. As a writer (of fiction and memoir) and teacher of writing, Herman (Dog, 2005, etc.) confesses that she isn’t a specialist in these areas, that she has a “lack of expertise, paired with plenty of ideas…that combination of knowing little and having theories and opinions about much.” Yet her opinions are often revelatory and help her overcome the challenge that is central to the first and longer essay, that “nobody wants to hear anybody else’s dreams; everyone wants to tell his dreams to somebody.” So even as readers are threatened with drowning in details about the author’s dream of her grandmother, such specifics lead to the universal understanding that “understanding one’s dreams is more like reading Wallace Stevens—or looking at a painting of Mark Rothko’s—than it is like the one-to-one correlation…of translation. To make ‘sense’ of our dreams, we don’t interpret them so much as we feel our way through them.” The second essay proceeds from the way her daughter occasionally sees things (and her mother in particular) as much smaller or larger than they really are. What initially seems rare, even unique, turns out to be surprisingly common, as so many with whom they share this experience say that they, too, have had it and thought they were the only one. It even has a name: “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.” Eventually, the author realizes that there are “no experts when it comes to the way our minds work. It turns out that your guess really is as good as mine—or as good as a neurobiologist’s.” An engaging companion offers a spirit of shared humanity.

 

Pub Date: March 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60938-153-0

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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