Books I Read This Month (Jan2022)

Hidden Habits of Genius – Craig Wright
Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey – Alice Robb
Perception: How Our Bodies Shape Our Mind- D. Profitt & D. Baer
WSJ Guide to Real Estate Investing – David Crook
The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact – Alexander Shulgin

I broke my self-imposed ban on fiction to read Jonathan Lethem’s “The Fortress of Solitude,” which I’ve had lying around for over a year and started to become an albatross on my reading list. It’s a coming of age novel about a white kid growing up in predominantly black part of Brooklyn with his hippie mom and artist dad. (I sent the book home, and cant remember the characters’ names, except for the main character’s nerd-turned-wigger 2nd best friend.) After his mom abandons them, he’s forced to navigate this troubling social terrain by himself, and befriends the mixed son of a soul singer. He’s bullied and sometimes mugged all the way thru high school, and then leaves for college, and after that, the West Coast. While the destinies of him and his graffiti- and comics-obsessed friends wildly diverge in adulthood, Lethem weaves them together to a satisfying denouement.

I was hoping “Hidden Habits of Genius” would be something like Robert Greene’s books on power and seduction, but about genius. And it is in many ways, by using examples from history to make his point. However, he intersperses his text with a lot of politically-correct nostrums (i.e. “everyone can be a genius”) and perfunctory denunciations of Trump, which detract from his message. Some of the best chapters were on sleep and dreaming, and how many writers and artists sought inspiration from their dreams. Another was on walking, and how the great philosophers often had their best ideas while going for their routine walk. All in all, not bad but disappointing.

“Perception,” on the other hand, was full of scientifically-backed, psychological insights about how our physical bodies shape how we experience the world. For example, an overweight person will overestimate distances and the steepness of hills. But that’s not all. Because of evolution, we tend to view our ability to complete tasks in terms of energy expenditure. Thus, by being physically fit, each task takes far less out of the tank, so to speak, than overweight person who needs more energy for each task as it is. Favorite line from the book: ‘While it may be cliche to say that an exercise routine will change your life, but regularly working out will literally change how you experience the world.”

“WSJ Guide to Real Estate Investing” was a good primer on purchasing properties with the intent of renting them out, whether apartment complexes or single-family homes, and how to make them work for you on your tax returns. But damn, Crook is very unfortunate last name to be giving financial advice.

“The Nature of Drugs” are the lecture notes from a class Shulgin taught by the same name. I was initially intrigued because Shulgin is the renowned psychedelic compound researcher who invented close to200 different drugs and experimented with them upon himself, all with the tacit approval of the US government (and this was during the 80s). However, this book is a little science-heavy, with an emphasis on biological processes and chemical makeups, that’ll seem like gobbledygook to average lay person.

Part philosophical inquiry, part scientific investigation, “Why We Dream” delves into the history of the science of dreaming, as well as tracing its influence throughout the ages. Our, Robb notes, is an uniquely dream-averse culture. She also reviews the growing body of research that underscores the importance of dreaming to our health and well-being. For example, there was an experiment where rats were awakened before REM began; they died in a couple weeks. The best sections are those in which Robb reports the evidence for why dreams exist and why we need to do it. Not only do dreams help us process difficult emotions and overcome trauma, they can point to physical ailments that have yet to manifest themselves. She also delves into the world of lucid dreaming and dream groups, and how both can turn our nocturnal visions into personal therapy. By the end of the book, you’ll be convinced to keep a dream journal of your own–I was.

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