Jul. 14th, 2012 04:36 pm
lorimt: (Default)
[personal profile] lorimt
In the past while (year?), I've read two excellent fiction and non-fiction books I've been meaning to post about. Well, I've only been meaning to post about the one I'm still finishing for a couple hours, but you get the idea. These are all quite good, and I recommend them if they sound like your kind of thing.

Fiction about India:
* A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: It's a giant novel about 4 families in India shortly after independence, it sprawls from relationships to politics to work, and from very rich to quite poor. I'm not sure quite why it resonates as much as it does, I think it's just compellingly written. If the Amazon reviews aren't convincing, here's Jo Walton's.

* River of Gods by Ian McDonald: This makes an interesting partner to A Suitable Boy, since it's also about a wide ranging group of people set in India, but this one's 100 years after independence and has artificial intelligence and genetic engineering as a running theme. Not quite as well written, and maybe doesn't hold up quite as well, but was really compelling while I read it. I thought I'd read a "Big Idea" post on it, but apparently not. Jo Walton reviewed another of his books here, which I think gives an accurate idea of the style of the thing - very realistic imperfect people with a thread of science fiction woven through.

Non-fiction not about India:
* Debt: the first 5,000 years by David Graeber: One of Graeber's starting points is that people treat owing money differently than most other obligations, and that you can understand why by looking at the history of debt. Some of the more interesting ideas I'm sure I'm butchering: economies never really followed the "self-reliant -> barter goods -> super-convenient cash!" model that's sort of assumed. He gives evidence that small communities seemed to work more on a communistic and mutual obligation / doing favors model than a strict accounting or barter system, that trade was usually with strangers you don't expect to see again, and somewhat hostile, and that physical moeny seems to be most common when you have a military to pay (even if people were using a unit of accounting for keeping track of debts and credits). He also talked a lot about an interesting division between how daily goods were traded and valued and the role of money in "relationship changes" like blood debts and doweries. All in all, a really interesting, readable, well-researched and idea-filled book. I highly recommend it. See also Fred Clark's post on it on Slacktivist.

* Flourish by Martin E. P. Seligman: I think [ profile] zwilichkl is responsible for me picking this up, though I'm not 100% sure now. Seligman's research focus is "positive psychology", which he talks about in the context of positive emotions (happiness and satisfaction, mostly), engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement. The two main tools he seems to find the most useful are identifying and using character strengths, and keeping a gratitude journal (in the form of 3 things that went well the previous day). He writes more about the exercises he's developed and tested, and how effective they are, then writes about the variety of places he's been applying them (from elementary schools to the military). It looks like he's got a lot of good research about their effectiveness on at least some fronts, though I didn't find them completely convincing. It's about the 3rd place I've read about gratitude journals and how valuable they are, though, so I'm thinking of trying it. It doesn't seem like it should really make that much of a difference, but evidence suggests the contrary. The book's interesting, if somewhat sales-pitch feeling at times. If this is your kind of thing, it's definitely worth taking a look at.

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