Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“Switch” by Lucy Taylor
Card picked: Ten of Clubs
From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible
Review: After a night of chinook winds batter her home, teenager Erika wakes to her neighborhood scrambled. The man and woman who say that they’re her parents think she’s a girl named Lizbeth. The friendly neighborhood dog doesn’t know her at all. Her kind grandmother is speaking a completely different language and beats Erika in the shins with her cane. The only person who recognizes her is Mrs. Markson who believes that God has cheated her out of the Rapture and is driving the beloved convertible that belongs to Erika’s molester uncle. And does this have anything to do with Erika’s own dreams of being someone else?
Although fairly widely published, I’m not at all familiar with Lucy Taylor’s work. Her writing is quite good, but this story didn’t work for me. The first section of the story warns that Erika is trapped in a dream, but that sort of ruined my situational empathy. Should I care about all the wackiness when it’s the content of a dream? (This from someone who used dreams extensively in the first novel she wrote… I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite.)
The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr
While excavating fossils in the tropics of Australia with a celebrity creationist, Will Storr asked himself a simple question. Why don’t facts work? Why, that is, did the obviously intelligent man beside him sincerely believe in Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and a six-thousand-year-old Earth, in spite of the evidence against them?
It was the start of a journey that would lead Storr all over the world—from Texas to Warsaw to the Outer Hebrides—meeting an extraordinary cast of modern heretics whom he tries his best to understand. Storr tours Holocaust sites with famed denier David Irving and a band of neo-Nazis, experiences his own murder during “past life regression” hypnosis, discusses the looming One World Government an iconic climate skeptic, and investigates the tragic life and death of a woman who believed her parents were high priests in a baby-eating cult.
Using a unique mix of highly personal memoir, investigative journalism, and the latest research from neuroscience and experimental psychology, Storr reveals how the stories we tell ourselves about the world invisibly shape our beliefs, and how the neurological “hero maker” inside us all can so easily lead to self-deception, toxic partisanship and science denial. (via Goodreads)
With the subtitle Adventures with the Enemies of Science, I expected something a little different from The Unpersuadables. Something harder and something more neutral. Or, maybe with my own biases, something more skeptical, even though I had been warned.
Will Storr is a seeker. The Unpersuadables is his record of trying to reconcile his nagging feeling of wrongness amid his skepticism. While investigating the followers of some more eccentric beliefs, Storr feels some measure of kinship. He finds it difficult to judge them when he himself has done pretty irrational things. What can be learned from Holocaust deniers, sufferer of Morgellons syndrome, and even the King of Skeptics?
Well, Storr learns that the human brain is incredibly fallible. Even on a basic level, the world we sense is somewhat inferred by the information we already have. On a higher level, we have all developed models of how we believe the world to work and are loath to deviate from them. Our memories are incredibly malleable, which is unfortunate since we rely on the stories we tell ourselves for our sense of being. Storr’s conclusion seems to be that all in all, human’s are not set up to be rational.
To frame this with my own story, I’ve been thinking about the pitfalls of narrative ever since I read Jenette Fulda’s book Chocolate and Vicodin back in early 2012. One morning, Fulda woke up with a terrible headache that would not go away and could not be diagnosed. By the end of her memoir, she still has the headache and I had a feeling of dissatisfaction. I realized, after some thought, that my unease had been caused by a lack of ending in her narrative. And this is something that sufferers of chronic conditions deal with all the time. “Get well soon!” is always the wish. In other words, “Please, end your narrative happily.” Unfortunately, people don’t get the chronic part of the equation.
The scientific method is not narrative friendly. “Conclusions” are always being overturned in light of more data. People want a tight, definite answer. Science is actually, surprisingly often not about those.
“The scientific method is the tool that humans have developed to break the dominion of the narrative. It has been designed specifically to dissolve anecdote, to strip out emotion and leave unpolluted data,” Storr’s writes. “But we can hardly be surprised if some feel an instinctive hostility to it, for it is fundamentally inhuman.”
For me, science is about creating systems. I find a great satisfaction and even joy in cohesive systems. Stories still have their place. I’m a writer; obviously I believe that. But narratives and science can be parsed. I also believe that we can attempt to overcome some of these human deficits, though it takes a certain amount of vigilance to continually question ingrained models. I was surprised by Storr’s hostility toward the skeptic movement, but on the other hand, skeptics aren’t immune to the same biases and failures.
A word about the science: The Unpersuadables was originally published in early 2013, which means the neuroscience theories presented are older than that. Given the pace at which theories are being formed and reformed in this field, the science isn’t “latest,” it’s old. Just sayin’.
On the writing front, The Unpersuadables is a good reminder of what thought processes go into belief. Handy when writing characters that have different beliefs from my own.
Publishing info, my copy: Overlook Press, 2014, hardback, library
First, Some Notes
This can’t be the last week of Nonfiction November. I haven’t read all the books yet!
My reading list shifted after a trip to the library and a online library hold become available. I’m currently working on The Unpersuadables by Will Storr and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. I should finish the former in time to review it on Thursday.
I never quite managed to organize last week’s post on diversity in nonfiction magic literature (or rather the lack of it). Instead, I have a notion of spotlighting some women in magic every first Magic Monday of the month.
New to my Nonfiction TBR
New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan – Growing up in Nebraska, I never had much of an interest in agriculture or the history of the Plains. That changed when I moved to Arizona. From The Relentless Reader
The Nazi Séance: The Strange Story of the Jewish Psychic in Hitler’s Circle by Arthur J. Magida – I tend to think that the heyday of spiritualism was past by WWII. Not so? From James Reads Books
(Also, when adding this to my Goodreads “Want to Read,” I came across The Rabbi and the Hit Man: A True Tale of Murder, Passion, and Shattered Faith by the same author. Doesn’t *that* sound interesting?)
The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr – A book I wanted to read enough that I checked it out from the library during week two. From Bibliophilopolis
Freak Show by Robert Bogdan – Reading about stage magic leads to reading about vaudeville which leads to reading about other attractions including freak shows. From eclectic / eccentric; actually, Trisha posted a whole list of intriguing books on “freaks.”
Again, despite growing up in Nebraska, I didn’t really become a sports fan until I moved away. I’m still picky about what/who I follow, but I am intrigued by sports nonfiction. Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves has a whole list of sports recs!
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson – I spend time wondering what it would be like to live in the past. What day-to-day life was like. I have a feeling after One Summer, I’ll be reading more Bill Bryson. From Reading, Writing, Working, Playing (A shout out to Stainless Steel Droppings too, who happened to review this book last week.)
Unfortunately, the link-up this week is probably only going to further expand my TBR list. It already has with Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. From Musings From A Bookmammal
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“The Invention of Robert Herendeen” by Steven Millhauser
Card picked: Nine of Diamonds
From: The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser
According to Amazon, I purchased The Barnum Museum on December 21, 2011, probably with birthday money. I bought it for “Eisenheim the Illusionist.” This was a bit before my interest in magic was completely aflame. I had enjoyed the movie The Illusionist which came out in 2009 and I remember being happy that I could finally read the source material.
According to Goodreads, I started reading The Barnum Museum on April 17, 2012. I had intended to read it during the spring edition of Dewey’s Readathon, but I didn’t get to it. Honestly, I don’t remember when I finally read “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” but I loved it. And then of course, I put the anthology aside, as I often do with anthologies. When I picked it up again, I started at the beginning. The first story is “A Game of Clue.” I could not get into it. And I put the anthology aside again. I was a little disappointed. One story was *so* good. The other…not so much. My enthusiasm for Millhauser waned. Part of the reason I joined Deal Me In was to get through The Barnum Museum, hell or high water.
And that is pretty much a boiled down version of how I feel about Millhauser’s stories. There are a few that rank as some of the best I’ve ever read. And some go down that road of vague literary fiction that makes my head hurt from frowning too hard. “The Invention of Robert Harendeen” kinda straddles the line for me. The story is narrated by Robert Harendeen, a man with an extraordinary imagination who can’t settle on finishing a project or sometimes even beginning one. No profession suits him and his parents are getting a little tired of him living at home. So, Robert decides to test the limits of what his imagination can truly invent. It’s much more than he expects… The story, especially the beginning, is full of the rich, baroque details that I love from Millhauser. Unfortunately, the end veers into a surreality which weirdly doesn’t work for me after the solid, visual reality.*
* This will now lead me to internally debate why grounding in reality is necessary in a supernatural story, but I find it off-putting when reality meets the surreal. And where does magical realism fall in all this? Something to chew on in the New Year.
This was originally published in Entangled Continua Publishing’s monthly newsletter.
During November, hundreds of thousands of writers around the world participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month on a new novel. Which means that Eric and I aren’t participating *this* year. We’re both hard at work on in-progress projects.
Eric is close to finishing a first draft of PHYSICa, the direct sequel to PHYSIC. He’s written over 60,000 words thus far and is working through a tricky ending. To compare, the first rough draft of PHYSIC was 70K words. The end product is 100K words. Still lots of work to do.
Work on In Need of Luck, the second book featuring Aleister Luck, is a little behind schedule. I hate rewriting, even when I know that the new scenes will be better than the originals. Regardless, I intend to have a 60K first draft done by the end of the year.
Deals & Steals
We’ve dropped the price of Divine Fire, book 2 of the Apothic Man series, to $0.99USD. Model Species, book 1 in the series is still free.
Speaking of free, PHYSIC is $0.00 once again, for a limited time only!
Links to all our sales pages (a quick email signup for this newsletter to be delivered straight to your inbox) can be found at Entangled Continua.
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“The Last Vanish” by Matthew Costello
Card picked: Eight of Spades
From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible
Review: There is an uneasy interplay between magicians, their secrets, and mentoring. Obviously, if magicians truly never told their secrets there would be a lot fewer magicians in the world. All the novices would be continually reinventing the wheel. But jealousy isn’t unknown in the profession. What happens when the young wannabe makes good and become the success the master never was?
“The Last Vanish” tells such a tale. Tommy Fina is a young magician who has become famous for his Chair Illusion. A volunteer is seated on a chair on casters, covered with a satin sheet, spun around three times, and disappears. Gary Hayes is one of Tommy’s mentors, a washed up magician left to play the Catskills. Tommy feels a mixture of disdain and fear when dealing with Gary and his peers. The young man doesn’t understand how Gary’s career could have gone so flat and also realizes that he could be Gary in a few years with a bad turn of luck.
When Gary asks Tommy about the Chair Illusion, Tommy doesn’t tell. But the Amazing Gary Hayes is going to make a comeback filled with regret and revenge.
Obviously, with its direct magician themes, I enjoyed this story quite a bit. Doesn’t hurt that Costello is a pretty darn good writer. I like his style enough that I’m interested in reading a full novel by him.
About the Author: A couple of weeks back, I read a story by F. Paul Wilson for Deal Me In. If Wilson has a partner in crime, it’s Matthew Costello. The two created FTL Newsfeed for the Sci-Fi Channel in the early 90s (back when the Sci-Fi Channel was what it said on the tin…) and co-wrote several novels. Costello’s biography in the anthology makes special note that Costello is the writer of the “bestselling interactive CD-ROM game The 7th Guest.” The amount of nostalgia contained in one man’s biography is astounding.
Is This Your Card?
Speaking of nostalgia, I had a card trick for the eight of spades, but I need material for next year! Instead, one of Copperfield’s most famous vanishes:
I was eight years old when this aired and was duly impressed. Thirty-one years later, some of it seems pretty hokey, but I’m still impressed by the showmanship of it. It’s a pretty ballsy illusion.