Jonah Lehrer caught making up Dylan quotes

Back in April, I reviewed Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine. Today I found out that his big long section about Bob Dylan that bored me to tears was not even true. That’s right; he made up his own quotes and stuck them in Dylan’s mouth. He resigned from the New Yorker over the whole thing, which is reminscient of the 2003 film Shattered Glass.

In my review, I said:

Some of the stories are painfully familiar, like the invention of Post-It notes. I don’t even know where I’ve heard these stories before, but they’re not new.

Ironically, Lehrer himself may have written about some of the material before: he is also accused of recycling his own work (that is, getting paid again for articles he’s already sold to other publications).

I didn’t love Imagine, but I thought I’d learned a little about how creativity works from reading it. Now I’m wondering, though. If he didn’t have any actual insight into Bob Dylan’s songwriting process, what is there to be learned from that section? How do we know he didn’t fabricate other parts of the book? Perhaps he hasn’t made any contribution to our knowledge of the creative process after all.

Reading Malaise

Is it me? It is the books I’m choosing? I haven’t finished a book in over two weeks (which might be a life record. Seriously.)

A few times I got excited about a book only to have my excitement fizzle out after the first chapter.

Fiction: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I heard about this book because there’s going to be a movie in December. Supposedly it’s about reincarnation and how our actions and their consequences play out over centuries. Awesome.

Unfortunately, the idea was the best part. The actual book was…boring.

Worse, I started to feel like I was trapped in Italo Calvino’s if on a winter’s night a traveler, which I attempted twice and just couldn’t love. Now that I look at the IMDB entry, I see the movie is going to star Tom Hanks. If I’d known that, I would probably not have picked up the book in the first place, because the number of times Tom Hanks and I have liked the same material has been zero or fewer.

Nonfiction: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan

I like food (too much). I’ve learned so much from books by Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan. I’ve enjoyed food documentaries like Supersize Me and Forks over Knives. The introduction to this book sounded like just my thing, so I carried it to the comfiest spot in the house and settled in for an evening of serious reading.

Usually if I’ve enjoyed the first several pages, I’ll enjoy the book. It was surprising and disappointing to find myself getting increasingly bored. I started flipping ahead to see if it gets better. I skipped to the end to see what her main points were. Then I put it away sadly and found something else to do with my evening.

I’ve browsed dozens of books over the past few weeks and most of them didn’t even interest me enough to mention. Maybe it’s just summer and I feel like swimming and going to outdoor festivals more than I feel like reading right now. Or maybe the perfect book is right around the corner.

Meditation for Moms (Book Review)

This is not a book about meditation. A better title may be been, “Relaxation for Moms.”

Some of the “meditations” include a video meditation on page 45:

…slide in your favorite DVD, and then sink your tired body onto some soft cushions and let the story take your mind on a lovely side trip.

“pamper yourself” on page 69:

Why not find a local spa or beauty shop and zip on over for a manicure or pedicure?

Why not, indeed.

Other suggestions include having a cup of tea and taking “a nice long bath” (there’s a list of 17 things to focus on in the bath, including a prayer of gratitude for your feet). Don’t confuse the long hot bath with “take a luxurious shower” from a different chapter.

Sigh.

There’s a CD included. My husband is obviously not a mom, but he does meditate and sometimes we meditate together. I suggested we pop the CD in for our meditation. It was so incredibly cheesy I was embarrassed.  Track three was called “motherhood meditation” and involved lying on the couch with a journal. “What part of this is meditation?” my husband asked. One of the journal prompts was straight out of Oprah, “What do you know for sure to be true?”

I don’t want to imply that it’s a bad book. Just that I’m clearly not the target audience (even though I’m a mom and I meditate). I’m picturing the audience as the type of upper class women who are always saying, “I’m not rich” even though they obviously are, who have money and time to “zip on over” to a local spa or spend the afternoon strolling art museums or seeing movies alone (recommended on page 155). When they get home from a full day of “me time” they pour themselves a glass of red wine while they cook dinner,

savoring the taste, enjoying the deliciousness, and appreciating the luxury –p. 75

This is for the kind of women who honestly believe this stuff about how mothers are “the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacation-less class” (p. 167). I mean, I honestly did feel that way when my kids were toddlers, but I wasn’t exactly getting pedicures. Apparently I should have had a bedtime routine for myself when my kids were small (rather than falling into bed exhausted after wrestling the kids to bed like I was trying out for one of those nanny shows). I could have taken

a few minutes to slip into your favorite pajamas, whether they’re wispy cotton or snuggly flannel

and rubbed myself with a “refreshing scented lotion” (p. 97). Honestly, I slept in yoga pants and a t-shirt when my kids were small because you never know when you’re going to get roused from a sleep or how long you’ll be up, and I didn’t want someone knocking on my door the next morning and wondering why I’m in my nightgown.

I remember how desperately frazzled and just plain tired I was at that point in my life and I can tell you right now this book by women too privileged to realize they’re privileged would not have helped me one bit.

2 out of 5 stars

Meditation for Moms: How to Relax Your Body, Refresh Your Mind, and Revitatlize Your Spirit in Minutes a Day

Kim Dwyer and Susan Reynolds

Alpha Books, 2012

The Obamas by Jodi Kantor (Book Review)

The most effective political attacks are often psychological, aimed not just at convincing the public but stunning the target. –p. 60

This is the book that caused all the furor when The New York Times Sunday Book Review called it “chick nonfiction.”

Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it’s about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that. This is a couple who listen to each other, and no one believes more in America’s 44th president than his wife.

Since the outrage over terminology is how I heard of the book, I can only assume the publishing houses are in cahoots with The New York Times to stir up controversy and sell copies.

There is a series of children’s history picture books with titles like You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Salem Witch! and You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pyramid Builder! This book could easily be called You Wouldn’t Want to Live in the White House! Combine ominous seclusion with a staff you didn’t hire who is omnipresent and won’t even let you get dressed without assistance, and you either have the makings of a gothic horror story or the life of a US President.

Michelle Obama was concerned that Jodi Kantor had portrayed her as an “angry black woman.” I think Kantor portrayed her as an intelligent, empowered woman who doesn’t need to be weak for her husband to be strong.

I found The Obamas fascinating. A few times while reading I wished that all political books were this interesting. Then again, according to The New York Times it’s not even about politics. I guess I just like chick nonfiction.

There were places where the author veered a bit too close to gossip, but frequently she shed light on things we’ve all lived through these past few years but didn’t have the privilege of a behind-the-scenes view. A few times the author saved a biting remark for the end of section and it sort of hung there, rather like if someone had been engaging you in conversation and abruptly made a harsh statement and then walked away.

At over 300 pages, it was a bit long, but it never got tedious despite the chronological structure — seeing “May-August 2009″ followed by “September-October 2009,” etc. at the beginning of each chapter makes it look like you have to plow through and try to stay awake, but once you’re into the chapter, interest pulls you along.

It’s to the author’s credit that I’m not sure whether this book, published in an election year, is for or against Obama. She’s equal parts critical and sympathetic. Perhaps Democrats will find it too critical and Republicans will find it too sympathetic.

4 out of 5 stars

The Obamas

Jodi Kantor

Little, Brown and Company, 2012

The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco (Book Review)

I discovered how much I loved art the summer I spent with my grandmother and father in Michigan…I couldn’t wait to take Art at school next fall when I got home to California. I only had one problem left — tests. I just couldn’t seem to pass them.

This picture book is a memoir of Patricia Polacco’s childhood as a student (probably with dyslexia) and how her art teacher stood by her and helped her develop her talent.

My first impression flipping through the book was that there was so much text. I prefer short picture books because I’m exhausted by bedtime. This book never felt long during the reading, though.

My younger son really related to the story because he has dyslexia and struggles with reading. He loves books, but reading doesn’t come naturally to him the way it does to me and to his older brother. He’s always been extremely good at finding patterns, so he was fascinated by the part where the author explained how she saw things differently on the page and that’s why her reading was slow. He was also inspired that someone could become an author even if they were a slow reader.

I’m always a bit jealous of adults who remember a teacher who took particular interest in them. I don’t even remember the names of 80% of my teachers (I remember absolutely zero of my elementary school teachers). I was one of those “good students” —  not a smart person, but someone who could keep the information in my short term memory long enough to regurgitate it on a test and promptly forget the whole thing. I guess teachers didn’t see the ways in which I struggled and didn’t think I needed encouragement. Or perhaps it’s a side effect of classes having 25+ students. Teachers would probably be able to focus on helping each child develop individually if there were only 5-7 students in each class.

I recommend the book to any parent whose child struggles in school or loves art. (Of course, picture books aren’t just for kids — I think I will still read them long after my kids are grown!).

5 out of 5 stars

The Art of Miss Chew

Patricia Polacco

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.

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