This Week, I Read… (#24)

57 - This Is Your Brain On Music

#57 – This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin

Given my love of music and my gifted-amateur level of talent as a musician, I thought this would be fascinating.

And it was, occasionally.

But writing a book which combines neuroscience and music theory, and writing it for the general public . . . that requires hefty, extensive, basic-building-blocks explanation of every concept introduced. And I’m not the general public, not in this arena. My degree might not be in neuroscience, but it is in biology, and I know plenty about the human brain. And about music.

I skimmed past a lot to find the interesting parts.

Also, I didn’t immediately realize how long ago this book came out, in 2006. That’s not to say it’s already obsolete, because this is an incredibly narrow field of study, so I’m sure the bulk of it still holds true. But I snorted when the author “predicted” customizable Internet radio–I used Pandora for years. Then I checked the front matter and realized my mistake, thinking this book was more recent.

Overall, I’d call this an interesting subject, saddled with questionable execution (was it necessary to tell extensive personal anecdotes or spout philosophy?), and I would not recommend it.

58 - Troublemaker

#58 – Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, by Leah Remini

Years ago, I was an active member of a hobby-related forum. One of the rules to keep this forum a nice, safe place, was “Avoid discussing religion” — easy enough, since why do we need to talk about religion when we’re there to talk about the cool stuff we make?

Then Tom Cruise went on Oprah and had his famous meltdown, and I found myself sucked into the off-topic section of the forums, which prior to that was mostly people asking forum-friends for advice, or bragging (in a goodnatured way) about their families.

After several hours of consternation and drama, the thread was locked by a mod, admonishing the lot of us for “speaking of a religion in a harmful, derogatory way.”

I could definitely see how some of the things said would offend a Scientologist, and though I hadn’t actually participated, only followed the discussion, I walked away with a bad taste in my mouth, feeling like I had enjoyed watching something horrible.

I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s not a religion, it’s a cult, and it’s not worthy of tolerance or respect as an institution. And the irony is, that discussion was unlikely to have offended a practicing Scientologist, because they’re actively discouraged from using the Internet or engaging in any arena where outsiders might challenge their beliefs.

Remini writes of her experiences with Scientology in the same brash, hilarious voice that is the trademark of her acting style. She constantly acknowledges her flaws and mistakes, but shows how the structure of the church which purported to offer a path to solve them only increased her feelings of guilt, despair, and isolation. The combination of her engaging writing style and the sheer insanity of what Scientologists endure to be successful, productive members of the church made it difficult to put this book down. And while I’ve never been a fan of celebrity gossip for its own sake–I scoff at tabloid headlines in line at the grocery–it was interesting to get some perspective on the Tom/Katie shenanigans from someone who was actually there.

This was a fascinating, disturbing read.

59 - Where She Went

#59 – Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

My feelings are a lot less mixed than they were for the first book, If I Stay. Even though second-chance romances aren’t any more original a plot, this one felt fresh, and I think for a few reasons: first, we already know the characters from the previous book (unlike in a standalone second-chance, where we have to learn their history as we go); second, Mia and Adam actually deal with their issues before getting back together, instead of falling into each other’s arms and then apologizing; third, the story’s told from Adam’s perspective, and that’s unusual for a romance (male POVs aren’t absent, but they’re usually one half of a dual POV structure.)

Forman’s writing style remains clear and easily readable, yet not truly simple, because simplicity would have washed out how different Adam’s narrative voice is from Mia’s. I loathe multiple first-person POVs in a book/series where everyone sounds essentially the same.

I’m glad I forged ahead and read this one too, even if the first book left me a little iffy. I won’t be looking to grab my own copies, but they were definitely worth the read.

60 - If I Was Your Girl

#60 – If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo

  • Read: 6/12/16 – 6/13/16
  • Provenance: Library (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: Read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Gender-identity issues have never troubled me–my tomboy phase in late childhood wasn’t a matter of not feeling like, or not wanting to be, a girl, but a rebellion against the atrocious kiddie fashion of the late ’80s. I have never questioned my womanhood.

That being said, I have never identified so easily with a character so unlike me, as I did Amanda, and that is the brilliance of this book.

I’ve gone through much of what Amanda does in her day-to-day life: moving to a new place and being nervous about making new friends, wondering about the intentions of the boys who show interest in her, fighting with her friends or her boyfriend, and the inevitable catastrophic meltdown of someone at a social event.

Having these incredibly accessible experiences presented to me with the extra layer of Amanda’s fears and struggles about her transition, her family, and the acceptance of her community? Even though it was something I’d never gone though, it was only the tiniest leap to empathize with her, to remember those fears I had in high school and shade them with the extra depth of having a secret that, in the wrong situation, could be life-threatening.

This book is for everyone–the trans people who desperately need healthy representation, and the cisgenders like me who need to be exposed to struggles outside their experience.

And while I normally try to avoid going political, it would be great if certain Congresspeople could read this and other books like it, and maybe get their collective heads out of their collective asses about where trans people are allowed to pee.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? And did you read anything awesome this week you want to recommend to me?


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