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Spook-tastic

11 Jul

Book: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

Origin: Borrowed from the neighbors

Ghosts, spirits, the recently deceased and things that go bump in the night are not for the faint of heart, but Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife is hardly hair-raising. Mary Roach is a hopeful skeptic, traveling cross-country and over the ocean to uncover humanity’s attempts at scientifically proving (or disproving) the existence of life after death. Drawing on a long history of scientific and philosophical inquiries, it’s a compelling compilation of our attempts at solving the unsolvable, wrought with humorous interjections by the author.

It seems like Roach has become famous for writing wherever her curiosities take her. An admirable feat, if you ask me. I’m guessing it has something to do with her unique ability to paint less than pleasant topics with colorful humor while still maintaining the objective eye of a curious researcher. She asks the questions we’re all dying to ask, but are too afraid or grossed out to investigate on our own.

Spook is no exception. Part popular science, part personal essay, she covers everything from reincarnation, ectoplasm, hauntings, near-death experiences and more. She even enrolls herself in Medium School. She exposes a long history of failed attempts to cash in at the expense of faithful believers and introduces us to some folks who are impossible to dislike; faults, biases and all. And sprinkled throughout are plenty of fascinating characters doing incredibly convincing research on the matter.

While I’ve seen some complaints across the web about her excessive use of (sometimes irrelevant) footnotes, I found they offered humorous insight into her personal experiences during research. She never claims to write academic science, so you can’t expect the same attention to scientific principals (and boring footnotes) that you might encounter in a science textbook (thank goodness).

If you are even slightly curious about what happens when science tries to uncover the truth about life after death (and prefer a more readable pop sci approach), this book is a must read. Don’t be surprised though if, occasionally, a ghost-stalking duo of quirky guys cast in grainy, green hues pointing homemade gadgets into the night wander through old abandoned buildings in your mind. An unexpected side effect I thoroughly enjoyed.


This Book’s Fate: Return to the neighbors.

Next Up: Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit.

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Happiness: Just Do It

27 Jun

Book: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Origin: Impulse Purchase from the 84th street B&N

One of many books in the “Spend a year doing something and write about it” genre, Gretchen Rubin sets out to research happiness (scientifically, philosophically, practically, spiritually) and apply the principles she learns to her life over the course of 12 months. She documents her experience in The Happiness Project.

Whether or not happiness is a worthy pursuit has been debated time and again, so I won’t go into that here (see also Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America). However, the underlying theme of Rubin’s book is really that making positive behavioral changes can result in greater positive change to your immediate world and can influence you to treat yourself and others better. She also concludes, though, that being happy requires constant hard work and that it’s much easier to be hard and critical (something I believe to be true since lasting joy often requires us to forgo pride and be humble).

She frames her 12 month journey by coming up with some lists: a list of 12 Personal Commandments to follow each day (such as “Be Gretchen”, “Let it go”, “Lighten Up”), twelve months worth of Resolutions (such as “remember love”, “aim higher”, “make time for friends”), and a list of some “Secrets of Adulthood” (important bits of wisdom she’s picked up in life). She also distinguishes a resolution from a goal. As Rubin notes, “you hit a goal, you keep a resolution.” A goal can be accomplished, but a resolution is something you have to “resolve to do every day, forever.” It’s a very important distinction to make, one I hadn’t really thought of before, and especially useful come December 31st. I’ve been doing it all wrong!

I dog-eared a whole bunch of pages in the book with the intention of writing about specific things here, but this is one of those books that is worth reading only if you are into self-help experiments. It’s certainly interesting, if not a bit wordy at times, and she does support her claims with valid research, but it’s not for everyone. The best part of the book for me was that I felt like Rubin was the kind of person I could be friends with. Maybe it’s because she’s also an East Coast girl from the midwest, or maybe it’s because she also likes kid lit and bad music and the transient feeling of superiority when being critical (even if it’s always followed by a twinge of guilt and remorse). It also inspired me to take a harder look at my own behavior. In fact, as I was reading, I found myself spontaneously writing down my own Resolutions and Secrets of Adulthood.

The most important lesson in all of this? Just Do It.

Not to bring back memories of old Nike commercials or anything, but it really is true. My business partner and I are always talking about how we see so many people become successful not because they are the best at what they do, but because they just do it. And they did it before someone else did it. It reminds me of the phrase “50% of success consists in just showing up”. If you really want to change something, then change it already!

The writing down and reviewing of things tends to be a very useful trick to stimulate action. Even Rubin found her most useful tool was her “Resolutions Chart”, a chart she looked at every day which listed each of her resolutions. It’s hard to look your flaws in the face all the time and not want to do something about them (it’s much easier to hide them away and ignore them). I also think the very act of writing something down gives it a certain reality that it didn’t have before.

So, in an effort to start being more open myself (one of my resolutions), I thought I’d share my own lists here:

My Secrets of Adulthood:

  1. Eating real food makes you crave fake food less.
  2. People will be who they are.
  3. Nothing’s the end of the world except the end of the world.
  4. It is better to do it now than wait until a tomorrow that may never come.
  5. It’s not about you.
  6. Some things are worth spending money on.
  7. Knowing the problem you’re trying to solve makes finding the solution easier and prevents you from creating more problems.
  8. Doing the dishes now can prevent an argument later.
  9. Just because someone acts important, doesn’t mean they are.
  10. Feeling healthy and energetic is more important than losing weight.
  11. The past is in the past and that’s where it should stay.
  12. The secret to productivity is being able to accomplish twice as much in half the time so you can spend the afternoon at the park.
  13. The destination isn’t everything.

Know thyself – Truths about me:

  1. I will never know about music like my friends do.
  2. I like what I like and so what?
  3. Sitting by a river always makes me feel good.
  4. I like to fantasize about living on a river boat even though I don’t really want that life.
  5. Infants make me nervous. Children make me smile. Dogs makes me laugh.
  6. I don’t care to keep up with the latest celebrity gossip (I hardly know who most of these people are anyway).
  7. I really do prefer to be awake in the early hours of morning (maybe BECAUSE it happens so rarely).
  8. I unfairly judge others at times.
  9. I can be impulsive. I can also be very calculated.
  10. I generally prefer the company of dogs over the company of people.
  11. I prefer to be in the same room with Eric than in separate rooms.
  12. I have enough friends, but don’t always appreciate them.
  13. I will never be able to read the news on a regular basis. No matter how many times I try.
  14. I start a lot of things and finish few.
  15. I judge a book by it’s cover and so far this method has worked just fine.
  16. I really love midwesterners.

And finally…

My Resolutions:

Open up.

  • Talk first.
  • Share what you love.

Let it go.

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Pause when you need to.

Have more fun.

  • Make time for fetch.
  • Dance in your underwear.
  • Learn something fascinating and useless and share it.
  • Listen to as much Bon Jovi and Black Eyed Peas as you want to!

Remember what you love and feed it well.

  • Make time for family.
  • Be a better friend.
  • Listen to jazz.
  • It’s ok to feel angry. It’s not ok to lash out in anger.

Live now. Not Later. (But be prepared).

  • Take advantage of a beautiful day.
  • Remember your eulogy. What will they say about you?

Connect with others.

  • Practice small talk.
  • Talk to strangers.
  • Join a group.
  • Send things to people.
  • Share what you find.

Open your eyes.

  • Appreciate what’s here.
  • Listen to your words.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.

Just do it.

  • Stop avoiding.
  • Build something new.
  • Recognize what’s stopping you. Write it down. Throw it away.

Treat yourself well.

  • Shed your tattered layers.
  • Take your own advice.
  • Know your limits.
  • Use more lemons.

Record good things.

  • Write things down.
  • Make a book of life.

Work smarter. Not harder.

  • Remember the 80/20 rule.
  • Take a break and do something unrelated to work.
  • Sing while you work.

Maybe I’ll write these things on post-its and sprinkle them around the apartment as a reminder to follow through.

Conclusion:
I encourage anyone who’s into self-improvement projects to read this and create their own happiness project.


This Book’s Fate: Keep and re-visit in a year.

Next Up: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife