Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New and Noteworthy--Life in Tehran, Organizing Data, Living Without Data, Life After Wrongful Incarceration, and Life with Recipes. How's That for a Whirlwind Tour?

Fresh in the stores this week is Daniel J. Levitin's The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (Dutton). A professor of pyschology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill, the author of This is Your Brain on Music argues for more organization in the face of "the modern world's flood of details" and backs up that claim with neuroscience research. Christopher Chabris in The Wall Street Journal notes: "Mr. Levitin devotes several meaty chapters to specific domains—including domestic matters, social connections and time management—in which we tend to fall short of what is needed for peace of mind and productivity. He also considers how to teach younger people to cope with the information-rich environment they will grow up in. Throughout, he mixes anecdote and science, first-person narrative and tips for successful living." Who couldn't use this?

Fellow Canadian Michael Harris has a different reaction to technology. He wants folks to not just organize, but be aware of what we give up when we embrace technology. The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection argues that "amid all the changes, the most interesting is the one that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence--the loss of lack." Of course that does ignore the possiblity of post-apocalyptic scenarios such as the one in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven (more on that to come, including a cool event with the author and the Soulstice Theatre) but I am being sidetracked. Lisa Zeldner in The Washington Post writes that "His far-ranging research provides a wealth of thought-provoking statistics and details, and The End of Absence has a kinetic energy well-matched to our jumpy attention spans."

British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai chronicles life in contemporary Iran in City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran. You know of course that the British edition, even if it has the same title, does not have a serial comma. It seems, however, that the author bio is lifted straight from the UK, as it references Channel 4, which is rather meaningless in the US, and notes that the author was a reporter for the Times, but it's likely the Times of London, or whatever one calls it now, along with a stint at PBS. Her premise is that to live in modern-day Iran, you have to lie, and her profiles an aging socialite, a woman filing for divorce, a former assassin turned government worker. Since the official pub date is September 2 (Perseus publishers use pub dates, not on-sale dates), most of the reviews are from the UK, but there are plenty, including Azadeh Moaveni's in The Financial Times (which is probably are best-selling newspaper, at least on Saturdays). The reviewer calls the book "Fast-paced and saturated with detail, each chapter describes a Tehrani whose life the treacherous, glittering city has disfigured in some way. A street prostitute rises to become a fashionable call girl and porn star whose best clients are a judge and a cleric." Read more here.

You can tell that the fall books haven't geared up quite yet because we're still displaying a book in new and noteworthy from early July, even though it has failed to get traction. It caught Jason's attention, so it seems worthy to still give it a shout out. Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace (Simon and Schuster) is the story of Michael Morton, who was accused of killing his wife in 1986 and sent to prison, only to be exonerated by DNA evidence 25 years later. As the publisher notes, the evidence had been collected days after the murder, but was never tested. The book got some good attention, including this report on CBS News. Perhaps it's that this is so common that it no longer seems compelling enough for a book, or perhaps that it tips into true crime instead of social justice, and that genre tends to be driven by region and by horror. Jesse Sublett in the Austin Chronicle champions the book: "Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas – even those who followed this case closely in the press – could do themselves a favor by picking Michael Morton's new memoir, Getting Life. It is extremely well-written, insightful, infuriating, and, in places, quite funny."

Perhaps we should end on a lighter note. Kathleen Flinn's newest memoir is Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family (Viking). I'm of course slightly confused as the author's bio notes that she divides her time between Seattle and Florida, but I guess the roots of the family are in a family farm in Michigan. Like her popular memoir of going to culinary school, the book is combination of stories and recipes. Kirkus Reviews called Flinn's memoir "a warm, poingant treat." Flinn's website has lots of tidbits--read more there.

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