Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book review: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Recently, I was quite worried that I was writing too many book reviews, and that I should spend more time on other topics.  However, I have come to the startling realization that I haven't written a review since September.

So, I've decided to review Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, partially because I saw it on display in the bookshop, and partially because it was released fairly recently, so reviewing it seems slightly less passé.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
(my own photo)
Kahneman's book is based on the idea that while humans are traditionally seen as rational creatures, we do a lot of irrational things.  So far so obvious, but Kahneman does more than just give a list of all the most illogical things we do. His book focuses on psychological research into heuristics, or mental shortcuts, and how they sometimes cause us to make poor decisions.  Much of the research is his own, but it's not the sole focus of the book.

It's really interesting to have someone writing about their own research.  Books that are this accessible to the lay reader are generally written by science writers.  While there is nothing wrong with that, I enjoyed the fact that we got it "straight from the horses mouth".

As I mentioned, the book is aimed at the lay reader, and the language is straightforward.  At the same time, I never got the sense that it was oversimplified or dumbed-down.  Kahneman seems very conscious that his work does have practical implications, and he is very keen to highlight them.

Overall, I thought it was a brilliant book.

That being said, I think that Part IV: Choices dragged a little bit.  It was probably due to the fact that the examples used were so similar, which meant I had several bouts of déjà vu.

Chances of finding it in my imaginary bookstore? 65%

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Thoughts on: The New Bell Jar Cover

This year Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar celebrates its 50th anniversary.  The book itself is incredibly haunting and poetic, and I would highly recommend it.  But I don't want to talk about the book.  I want to talk about the new cover that has just been released.*  It's incredibly controversial, and to be perfectly blunt, I hate it.

Firstly, it's not an accurate representation of the novel.  Yes, Ester Greenwood is an intern at a fashion magazine.  Yes, there are sections that discuss clothes and make-up and image. Nevertheless, completely ignores the book's darker side, and focuses completely on one small portion it.

This cover is clearly an attempt to re-market the book as chick lit.  There are two major problems with this.  Firstly, it's not actually chick lit.  Secondly, the fact that they are choosing to re-brand this book in this way clearly demonstrates another major issue for female writers and creators.  Their work is consistently branded as being "for women".  The fact that almost anything written by a woman is separated from other books and put into another, significantly pinker category creates this idea that women's writing is only relevant to women, which is ridiculous.

I understand that publishing companies exist to make money, but when you have the rights to an author's work, then you also have a certain level of responsibility to protect their legacy.  This warped representation of the novel completely ignores that responsibility.  With this cover, Faber have given up even pretending to care about anything other than profit margins.

Another problem I have with this image is that it glamorises the 50's inspired woman on the front. This  is not only historical revisionism, but again undermines one of the key ideas of the book.  The ideal of the 1950's housewife is not a sweet, simple notion. At that time it represented the only acceptable option for a woman.  Both Ester Greenwood and Plath struggled with the very limiting views on femininity, and the fact that this cover completely ignores that is insulting.

There are some people who have suggested that this new cover is good, because more people will buy it and be introduced to Plath's work.  While the sales of the book have gone up since the release of the new cover, but it's questionable as to whether this is due to the cover itself, or all of the hype surrounding the cover and the book's 50 anniversary.  Even if this new cover did increase book sales,  we seriously have to question the cost of these additional sales.  The new cover is a yet another example of "if we make it pink, women will buy it" syndrome.  These insidious stereotypes are harmful, because they normalise dichotomous notions of gender.   The marketing of this book might encourage some people to read it, but it is also clearly an attempt to appeal only to a very specific market, and this will alienate a lot of other readers.

This cover is horrible on so many different levels.

What are your thoughts?

*I haven't posted a picture to avoid any copyright issues.  If you google search something along the lines of "Bell Jar 50th Anniversary cover" it should come up.