Book Review: Learned Optimism

I’ve written before that one of my favorite nonfiction subjects to read is psychology–I’m fascinated by how the mind works (on the level of thoughts, not so much neurons).  I recently read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., and it was one of the most intriguing I’ve read to date.

Seligman details extensive studies he undertook and the conclusions drawn from them to define and explain pessimism, optimism and depression.  In brief, he found that learned helplessness (believing that whatever you do doesn’t change the outcome) is a key component of depression, and that explanatory style (how you explain events, especially negative ones) influences whether learned helplessness becomes prolonged and intense.  Optimists and pessimists explain their lives and events very differently, but it’s possible to learn optimism by challenging your explanations of events and consciously changing your thought processes.

This is an old book (about 30 years old) but as far as I can tell, Seligman is/was the foremost expert on the heavily related topics of learned helplessness and optimism/pessimism.  He’s the one that the later books cite, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him referenced in other things I’ve read.  I’d like to read something more recent to see if there’s been any updates in thought, especially regarding the causes of depression.

Continue reading “Book Review: Learned Optimism”

Book Review: I’ll Have What She’s Having

I was looking for new audiobooks recently, and wandered into the library’s (digital) humor section.  I happened across I’ll Have What She’s Having by Rebecca Harrington, a nonfiction humor book about the author’s foray into celebrity dieting.  If you’re thinking that diet books aren’t your thing, this is far less advice and much more an exploration of weird and humorous eating experiences.

The book is made up of a series of experiments, with each chapter focused on a different celebrity as Rebecca tries out their diet.  The celebrities range from Old Hollywood (Greta Garbo and Elizabeth Taylor) to modern (Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz).  I’d heard of very nearly all of them, which made it more interesting.  Some celebrities offer specific dieting advice, while for others Rebecca searched interviews and biographies for the preferred foods of celebrities. Continue reading “Book Review: I’ll Have What She’s Having”

Book Review: Quit Like a Millionaire

On a friend’s recommendation, I recently read Quit Like a Millionaire by Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung.  And then by coincidence, my book club picked the same book after I’d already started it, so maybe this one is a trend at the moment.  It was interesting, readable and…probably useful?

Despite the co-authors listed (who are also married), the book is told entirely from Kristy’s point of view.  That seems like the correct term, because even though it is a book of financial advice, it has a very strong personal voice, and large sections are about Kristy’s life and experience (with Bryce, eventually).  The first section is largely about her deeply impoverished childhood, first in China and eventually after emigrating to Canada.  After becoming a tech engineer and marrying Bryce, the book shifts focus into investment advice.  And ultimately, after Kristy and Bryce quit their jobs with a million dollars invested, how they secure that investment and live as retired thirty-somethings.

This is in many ways a very easy financial book to read.  Large sections read almost novel-like, and Kristy’s voice is friendly and engaging.  Perhaps predictably, there’s an inverse relationship between easy reading and usefulness.  The parts about her childhood are very readable and interesting but have limited practical application (some philosophy around placing value on money and possessions).  The parts about investing, while pretty good for chapters about, you know, investing, are tougher to decipher but much more directly relevant to the key question.

Continue reading “Book Review: Quit Like a Millionaire”

TV Review: Elementary, Season One

I was recently lamenting Hollywood’s apparent need to force all platonic, opposite-gender characters into romantic relationships, and received a recommendation (thanks, Beedrill!) to check out Elementary as a contrast.  Happily, my library had Season One on DVD, and I had an opening in my “mystery show” viewing slot.

Elementary is a Sherlock Holmes-reimagining, set in modern-day New York (though Holmes is still British), following the adventure of recovering-addict and consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and his sober companion/eventual friend Joan Watson (Lucy Liu).  Consulting with the NYPD, it follows the usual mystery show format of a murder-a-week, with a later in the season arc involving archenemy Moriarty.

I was reluctant to watch this show back when it first appeared because the gender flip of Watson was weirding me out.  I think gender flips in general are interesting, but I had assumed Hollywood would do what Hollywood does and wind up with an eventual Holmes/Watson romance which just feels deeply, deeply wrong on some level, no matter who is what gender or orientation.  So it was good to hear that wasn’t the direction the show went, and I can verify that at least in Season One there isn’t even a hint of romantic interest between the show’s principal characters—which I find all to the good, because their friendship is more intriguing.

Continue reading “TV Review: Elementary, Season One”

TV Review: Star Trek Discovery – Season One

I am very late to this game–a full year, in fact–but I finally watched Star Trek: Discovery.  Lack of access and doubtful reports kept me from exploring the newest installment of the Star Trek franchise for a long time.  I finally realized the library had it on DVD, which seemed like the perfect level of investment.  Watching it was, frankly, a bit rocky…but I’m ultimately glad I did.

As the series opens, it’s frankly hard to tell (or feel) that we’re in the Star Trek franchise.  I use the word “franchise” deliberately, because the universe is discernible, but the things that make Star Trek what it is seemed notably lacking.  We’re following the story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Starfleet officer who is involved in the start of a war with the Klingon empire.  She blames herself for the war; I frankly never figured out how it was her fault.  Discovery, the ship, doesn’t show up until Episode Three, where we meet her captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp).  Stamets is the inventor of a new propulsion system that runs on mushrooms.  Sort of.  It may be the key to winning the war with the Klingons.

I’m just going to be upfront here and say that I struggled with a LOT of things in this show.  Most of it was resolved or at least moved past by the end of the season but…yeah, if this didn’t have Star Trek as part of its title, I probably wouldn’t have watched past the third episode (which I still think was the low point).  In the interest of giving a full picture…I’m going to go ahead and include spoilers.  You have been warned!

Continue reading “TV Review: Star Trek Discovery – Season One”

Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

I missed this movie when it first came out (in 2012!) and just picked it up recently at my library.  Another semi-comedy about the end of the world, I found it thought-provoking…in ways good and bad!

The premise centers around the end of the world by asteroid–everyone knows the asteroid is coming in three weeks, all of life will be wiped out, and nothing can be done to prevent it.  Society is mostly holding together but starting to fragment (planes are no longer flying, phone service is down–which is plot convenient).  Dodge (Steve Carrell) has no particular plans for his final weeks, as he seems to be the movie trope of a hero who wasn’t really living his life to begin with.  But then he meets Penny (Kiera Knightley), his quirky, passionate neighbor.  She wants to get to England to reunite with her family; he decides to seek out his long-lost first love.  She has a car and he knows a guy with a plane, so they set out together.

The concept of the world ending, but with a few weeks notice, was really interesting.  Maybe it helped that it was an asteroid strike–whatever the actual odds, it feels out there and unreal enough that I could think of it abstractly.  Nuclear war and cancer diagnosis stories more likely make me anxious or depressed.  But this was pretty good as a thought experiment, about what becomes really important under that kind of time pressure.  How do you live your life when you have only a small amount of time left?  Some people rioted, some partied, others went on as though nothing was changed, one woman decided to wear all the beautiful things she bought but had been saving.

Continue reading “Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”

TV Review: Good Omens

I’ve read Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens more than once (review here) and Pratchett is one of my very favorite authors–so I was excited to see what Amazon did with their Good Omens miniseries.  And not only because David Tennant had a starring role!  I finished the final episode yesterday and I liked it a lot–with reservations.  Which frequently makes for the most interesting (I think!) review.

Good Omens, book and TV series, is a comedy about Armageddon.  It centers on Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant), an angel and a demon, respectively.  Both have been living on Earth for the past 6,000 years, forming an unlikely and unadmitted friendship, and when Armageddon approaches, they realize they don’t want the Earth to be destroyed.  But the Antichrist has been born–and, unbeknownst to anyone in Heaven or Hell, misplaced.  He’s now a perfectly charming eleven year old boy in rural England, with no idea he’s about to come into a lot of power.  The only one who knows where he is (more or less) is Anathema Device, descendant of Agnes Nutter who wrote the only completely accurate book of prophecy.  So Anathema, Aziraphale and Crowley are all searching for the Antichrist while Heaven and Hell prepare for war and the Four Horsemen begin to ride–on motorcycles, of course.

There is so much that is done so, so well in this series.  (In fact, right up to most of the way through Episode 5 I would have given this top marks.  More on that later.)  Neil Gaiman was heavily involved (as writer and executive producer) and it shows.  It’s been some time since I read the book, but it feels like an accurate representation, particularly in style.  I’ll usually forgive changed details if the feel is right, and this definitely was.

Continue reading “TV Review: Good Omens”