Book Review for: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics

Title: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition
Author: Charles Eisenstein
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adults
Rating:  3.5 stars
Versions Available: eBook, paperback

How come doing the right thing for the environment is often not the smart economic choice? Why does it feel like most people are falling further and further behind economically, despite machines doing much of the hard labor these days? Is there another economic system that would allow people to live their values? Charles Eisenstein asks and attempts to answers these questions in his intriguing book, Sacred Economics.

Eisenstein assumes his reader knows nothing about economics and patiently explains the history of money and how exactly our current economic situation works—pointing out both the value of this system and the many problems and side effects it causes. He goes over what we’ve been taught are the “rules” of economics and neatly points out, one by one, how these “rules” aren’t real. They’re all made up and are only true because we as a society let them be true.

Eisenstein then focuses on the problem with interest-based loans and points out how this particular “rule” of always having to get bigger harms our society and has caused much of the inequality we have today. He explains in great detail how interest-based loans are the driving force behind climate change, lower worker wages, and the general hamster-wheel life most people feel trapped by.

Early on in the book Eisenstein makes a promise to the reader when he says, “Long ago I grew tired of reading books that criticized some aspect of our society without offering a positive alternative. Then I grew tired of books that offered a positive alternative that seemed impossible to reach: ‘We must reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.’ Then I grew tired of books that offered a plausible means of reaching it but did not describe what I personally, could do it create it.”

Does Eisenstein make good on his promise? Yes and no. He does lay out a plan for realigning our economic system so it works better for most people. Much of his plan has to do with getting rid of interest, putting some kind of expiration date on money to deter hoarding, and tying the value of money to the health of the earth, rather than the gold standard. He goes through each point carefully, explaining how the current system works, and what kind of new system might take its place.

While the new ideas are intriguing and worth reading about, Eisenstein does not concretely describe how his most intriguing idea—tying the value of money to the health of the earth—would work in concrete terms. By the end of the book I did not feel like I knew exactly what my role was in changing things either. I did however have a much better understanding of how money works and why our current economic system works so poorly. I was also introduced to some very cool ideas about how we as a society might change things, which for me was worth the time it took to read the book.

Review for: Stray (Touchstone #1), by Andrea K. Höst

Image- StrayWhile walking home from school in Australia, 17-year-old Cassandra Devlin mysteriously ends up in another world that looks similar to Earth, but isn’t.  She’s not sure how she got into this new world and can’t seem to get back to Earth, so she focuses on surviving alone in the wilderness of her new strange world.

This is an indie published novel and currently available for free on Kindle or Nook.  It’s the first of three books in the series.  I really liked Cassie’s basic common sense at the beginning of the story.  She’s clearly terrified by her situation, but manages to trundle on—as most people would—and figure out how to survive in her weird new world.

The story is told in journal form, so there’s an awful lot of telling at first, but that changes in the second half of the book.  The story was oddly hypnotic for me.  I kept wanting to read more and more.  The new world Höst creates is pretty cool.  As someone who enjoys learning languages, I could relate to Cassie’s struggles with becoming fluent in an alien language with no one who knows English around to help. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction /Fantasy

Book Review for: Paris in Love, by Eloisa James

Paris in Love

After surviving breast cancer, Shakespeare professor and romance novelist, Eloisa James, takes a year long sabbatical in Paris with her husband and their children. James’s memoir is made up of expanded vignettes from her Facebook and Twitter posts. Her thoughts on Paris are literary, witty, insightful, and a tad pretentious— in the fun way one would imagine a romance novelist to write about Paris.  James really gets into the fantasy of “living in Paris” with detailed descriptions of museums, fashion, cooking, eating, and shopping.  The fantasy is balanced out though with the realities of life, such as her children struggling with their new school and her struggles with gaining—and then trying to lose— weight, due to all her enjoyment of French food.  I listened to this audiobook over the course of a week and felt like I was visiting with an entertaining adventurous friend each day.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Adult

Genre: Memoir

Audiobook Version:  Yes. Enjoyable and read by the author— though her voice takes a little getting used to at first.

Mindy Kaling’s Book

I listened to Mindy Kaling’s audiobook, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).  That was a fun audiobook because she reads it herself so it’s a lot like listening to a cool friend chat to you about her life. It made doing the dishes and cleaning the house seem way more exciting.  My favorite parts were hearing about her early working days before she became a staff writer for The Office, how she became a staff writer for the Office, and her childhood. 

Fantasy Baseball and Rihanna

Title: Fantasy Baseball
Author: Alan Gratz
Published: March 2011
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Ages: 8 and up
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid Phone

Alex Metcalf doesn't know how he ended up on a bus full of almost forgotten storybook characters who have formed a baseball team.  Here in storybook world, characters whose stories are no longer read vanish forever.  Dorothy, the girl from The Wizard of Oz, is the team's captain.  She's desperate for her team to win the championship because the prize is a wish granted to everyone on the winning team.  Dorothy wants to wish that all her teammates will be remembered by children so that they continue to live.

Alex is delighted to find that he's fantastic at playing baseball, even though he's just a kid.  Then his team informs him that he's probably not a really boy, but instead he's a  lark– the daydream of some kid who dreams of being a fabulous player.  Alex is determined to show the team that he's a real boy, not a lark.  Like Dorothy, he wants to bring the team to victory.  Then if he turns out to be a lark, he can wish he's real. Unfortunately, he insults the Big Bad Wolf at the first game, and now he's not sure he's even going to make it to the end of the tournament.

Fantasy Baseball is a unique story with lots of action.  It would make a fun read for kids who like both baseball and creating their own imaginary world.  The story would also make a good classroom or family read aloud.  It's not necessary to know the older storybook characters to enjoy the story.  Though reading about the other characters did make me interested in checking out some of the older children's classics.

Rihanna, Talk That Talk, [2011] (4 stars) – I first heard Rihanna's new album, Talk That Talk, when I danced to, "Where Have You Been", in Jazz dance class. Her new album is more fun than her last, though it's pretty explicit, not the kind of album you can play while you're carpooling kids around.  The fun danceable songs about sex and pretty ballads on love make Talk That Talk another excellent guilty-pleasure Rihanna album. Favorite songs: Where Have You Been, Drunk on Love, Roc Me Out, Farewell, and Cockiness.

Tuesdays at the Castle, Misfits, and Florence & the Machine

Title: Tuesdays at the Castle
Author: Jessica Day George
Date Published: October 2011
Rating: 4 out 5
Ages: 8 years and up
Format: Read eBook on Nook for Droid Phone

Every Tuesday Castle Glower adds new rooms to itself. For generations the castle has behaved like a living person, making life easier or harder for the inhabitants based on how much it liked them. It has even picked each new ruler. Eleven-year-old  Princess Celie — the youngest daughter of the current king– is one of the castle's favorites. She understands the castle best.  It's her connection to Castle Glower, and her detailed atlas, that helps her family survive the castle's big crisis.

This is a fun tale with lots of tension and excitement. It would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Florence & The Machine, Ceremonials (4 stars) – I like this album even better than the group's last popular album.  The songs are still filled with lots of dramatic over-the-top vocals, but this time I liked the lyrics better. Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, All This and Heaven Too

Misfits (3.5 stars) – The third season is now available each Monday on Hulu. Since actor Robert Sheehan decided to leave the show to pursue a movie career, the most charismatic of the young offenders, Nathan, is gone.  While Nathan was the funniest character, he was never that important to the plot. His replacement is just okay, but so far the episodes revolving the rest of the characters are quite good.  Their new powers help them explore interesting new aspects of themselves as they grow and change, plus there's a lot of fun entertainment in them. My favorite part is how one of the character's new power is playfully used as catch-phrase in each episode. There are eight episodes in season 3 and Hulu is currently on episode 5.  There's also a 10-minute clip on Hulu's Misfits Page called, "Vegas Baby!", that gives Nathan an amusing send off.

Glow and NY-LON

TV Quote (from The Big Bang Theory):
Stuart the comic store owner: Can I help you find anything?

Amy: A comic that depicts a woman whose bosom can't be used as a floatation device.

Title: Glow (Sky Chasers)
Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Year Published: 2011
Rating: ***
Ages: 12 and up
Format: Read in eBook format on Nook for Droid

Fifteen-year-old Waverly  Marshall and 16-year-old Kieran Alden are the oldest children of the survivors of a damaged Earth and have lived their entire happy lives on the Empyrean spaceship while it travels to their new planet. Though now Waverly is starting to feel a lot of pressure from the rest of the ship to marry young and start having children, even though she's not sure she's ready.  Then something terrible happens and Waverly and Kieran must fight for their lives.

I loved all the sci-fi details and the tense action.  Unfortunately, towards the end, the story shifted from sci-fi action-adventure to a story about religion.  The religious stuff is handled clumsily and is likely to offend both people of faith and Atheists alike.  That's too bad because when religion wasn't front and center, I enjoyed Glow.

[Parent Note: This book would make for a good discussion about reproductive issues and ethics since a large portion of the plot of Glow is about fertility and reproductive issues.

There are some ugly stereotypes about both religious people and Atheists in the book. People of faith are vilified as either power-hungry or sheep-like followers and Atheists are portrayed as having having no spirituality or moral clarity to keep them motivated in times of crisis. The tired old wives tale about there being no Atheists in foxholes is trotted out in this story as well. The link to the Military Association of Atheists in Foxholes will be happy to explain to everyone that, yes, there really are Atheists in foxholes.]

– (*** 1/2) This TV romance between a New York City bohemian and a London banker aired in 2004 and is now available on Hulu.  It stars Stephen Moyer (Bill Compton from True Blood, with his British accent) and Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation).  It's not a perfect show, but if you like romance stories about the bohemian world of  Lower East Side New York City or stories about London, you might enjoy this short 7 episode show during the holiday TV repeat season.  There is a lot of squabbling between the main characters and it's clear the show thought it would get a second season and didn't, so the end is a cliffhanger.  Still, I enjoyed the characters and all the fun New York and London details.  Available on Hulu with a free account (since the show is rated for mature audiences only).

Lola and The Boy Next Door and Once Upon a Time

TV Quote (from the Big Bang Theory):
Mary Cooper: You have any idea what's going on with those two? (Asking about Sheldon and Amy)

Leonard: It's kind of like the Loch Ness monster, maybe there's something there, maybe there isn't.  We'll probably never know.

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Year Published: 2011
Rating: *** 1/2
Ages: YA chick-lit for ages 14 and up
Format:  Read this YA novel n eBook form on Nook for Droid

Seventeen-year-old Lola Nolan wishes for three things.  She wants to go to her winter homecoming dance in an awesomely complicated  Marie Antoinette dress–that she plans on designing and making herself– with platform combat boots underneath, she wants her parents to like her boyfriend–even if he is 22-years old and plays in a rock band — and she wants to never see her former neighbors again. When her former neighbors move back next door, Lola finds out that what she thought happened the night her feelings were crushed is very different from what actually  happened. This revelation means Lola has some difficult choices to make. 

Stephanie Perkins is the same author who wrote Anna and the French Kiss.  The two books share the same charming tone and joyful optimism about life.  They also both take place in interesting cities that Perkins uses as almost another character in the book.  This time the story takes place in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Lola's situation is a bit more difficult than Anna's and Perkins does a good job of showing all the emotions and complications involved in choosing between two loves.  Anna and St. Clair from Anna and the French Kiss appear in this story as secondary characters.  It's fun to get a peak into how their lives are progressing.

Parent Note:  The character does have sex, but the scenes are brief and few, and are part of Lola's growth process as she sorts out who she wants to date and why. 

There's also a scene where Lola's parents tell her they don't want her to have sex in their house ever, even if she's with married and with her husband.  This attitude seems to view sex as something that sullies women, but not men, and also seems to imply a parent's wish to have their daughter never grow up.  I realize it's common view in the US, but it strikes me as harmfully sexist, kind of creepy, and a viewpoint that gives young women an unfortunate mixed message about being able to be married or in a relationship and still be viewed as a good person by their own family.

Once Upon A Time (*** 1/2) –  On her 28th birthday, Emma Swan, a lonely orphan and a bad-ass bounty hunter, is visited by the 10-year-old son she gave up for adoption.  He wants her to come back to his town, where he insists everyone is really a fairytale character being forced to live her in the modern world because of a curse put on them by the wicked witch.  The story of Emma's true parents and the fairytale world is told in flashback scenes throughout the story.  I didn't quite understand how the curse worked exactly but the concept is intriguing enough that I'll keep watching for now.

Suite Scarlett, Movits!, and My Dad

TV Quote:
"I never understood that relationship.  It was like oil and …  a Martian." Seymour Birkhoff on Nikita

Title: Suite Scarlett
Author: Maureen Johnson
Year: 2009
Rating: *** 1/2
Ages: Clean cut YA chick lit for ages 13 and up
Format: Read this YA novel in eBook form on Kindle for Droid

Suite Scarlett is a fun YA chick-lit novel about a 15-year-old girl whose family owns a struggling historical inn in New York City.  Each of the Martin children are given full responsibility for one of the suites in the inn on their 15th birthday,  Just days after Scarlett' Martin's 15th birthday, the dramatically quirky Mrs. Amberson moves into her suite for the summer. It's also the summer her older brother gets a part in an off-off-off Broadway Shakespearean play with a cute acting partner who seems to like Scarlett, and the summer Scarlett realizes just how bad the family's financial problems have become.  The novel is a fun mix of quirky characters, family issues, teen romance, and the struggling New York theater scene.

My Dad and The Art of Persuasion
My dad is one of these perpetually positive people with more energy than I can fathom.  When I was a kid he would coax me into doing things I had no interest in: like hiking for 8 hours or visiting 5 museums in one day.

My allergies have been bad this past week, so when I felt way too tired to go on my Tuesday bike ride, a little voice in the back of my brain– that sounded a lot like my dad — whispered to me: "You don't have to go on a bike ride, but why don't you just get dressed?"  

I got dressed and the little voice said, "Well, now that you're dressed, maybe you should go on a walk.  You certainly don't have to go on a bike ride, it's just a walk. Why don't you get ready?"

So I got ready and then heard, "Well, now that you're all ready, you might as well go on a bike ride.  Don't you think?"  😉 

Yep, that's pretty much how my whole childhood went.  This past week I went on 2 bike rides, did my writing, and cleaned the house all by coaxing myself step-by-step. I guess I should thank my dad.

Movits! Äppelknyckarjazz [2009] (***), Out of My Head [2011] (***) – The daughterling told me about this fun Swedish group.  They sing energetic swing Jazz/ hip-hop stuff.  It's all mostly in Swedish but it's infectious and fun to listen to.  Favorite songs: Sammy Davis Jr.. Fel Dev Av Gården

I've crossed off a lot of new shows off my watching list.  My favorite new shows to make the cut are Revenge and Up All Night.  I'm also still watching Ringer, Pan Am, and 2 Broke Girls, hoping they'll grow into good shows eventually.

Review for the book: Pink Brain, Blue Brain

TV Quote (from Parks and Recreation):
Tom: You gotta throw some cold water on this situation.  Start talking about nerd stuff.
Ben: You know, nerd culture is mainstream now, so when you use the word "nerd" derogatorily, it means you're the one that's out of the zeitgeist.
Tom: Yeah, that's perfect.

Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It
Author: Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
Year: 2009
Rating: *** 1/2
Format: Read this adult non-fiction book in eBook form on Kindle for Droid

Neurologist Lise Eliot carefully goes through the research on gender differences and explains what the results actually say. She then explains how the media and gender experts, like Michael Gurian, Louann Brizendine, and Simon Baron-Cohen, have interpreted these same studies.  Her conclusion?

"As a neurobiologist, I had high hopes for understanding sex differences by studying the brain.  Unfortunately, the data just do not add up to anything like the headlines that regularly crop up in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and various parenting magazines." 

  Eliot found that there are small differences between girls and boys at birth, but as children develop, the largest differences seem to be environmental. She found that many gender experts: misread studies, ignore when studies are proven flawed by the scientific community, and ignore the extensive body of research showing how environment is a large factor in gender differences. These gender experts also ignore the research that shows just how strongly stereotyping affects behavior and expectations.

This is a dense, methodical book.  Eliot goes though each stereotype touted by gender experts, examines all the biological differences that would affect each behavior, and then combs though the research and explains what it actually says and how that compares to what the gender experts say about it.  She methodically goes through gender research in infancy, preschool, reading lessons, math and science class, and teens' emotional development.

Her overview on the now debunked research about women's verbal advantage is interesting. She walks the reader though the famous Shaywitzes' study that gender experts taut as proof of women's verbal advantage.  She, then, goes through the many research articles that pointed out flaws in the Shaywitzes' study, like they didn't account for the fact that the women in the study were more educated than the men,  or the fact that no other study has been able to replicate their results.  Eliot also reviews the dozens of other studies on verbal ability and shows how the findings as to which gender has the verbal advantage is all across the board, depending on how the study is set up. Eliot points out that medical texts no longer use the Shaywitzes' study because of it flaws, though gender experts continue to use this study as proof of women's superior verbal skills.  In fact, you probably have read a current article using the study as proof of women's verbal advantage in a popular newspaper and magazine, with no mention that it's been debunked.

Her section on emotional development was equally interesting.  She reviews the body of work on adolescents and hormones and finds that hormones have not been shown to cause the emotional divide for men's reputation as stoic or women's higher depression level.  In fact, there are numerous studies that show boys and men are just as emotional as girls and women.  The difference, many studies conclude, is that boys and men are taught to repress their emotions and girls and women are not.  Eliot points out that this socialization causes men a lot of problems with their social relationships and gives women a disadvantage in their working life.  As she notes, boys would benefit from being taught to handle their emotions better in personal relationships and girls would benefit from learning to repress their emotions more in their professional life.

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the section on math and science. Eliot describes some fascinating studies on how stereotypes affect outcomes in math.  In the study, girls were randomly divided into groups to take a math test.  Before the test each girl was given reading material.  The group given material that said that girls had poor math skills, because of gender differences, did the worst on the math test.  The group given material to remind them they were a girl (a paragraph  about paintings and the arts) scored in the middle, and the girls that were given a paragraph about how research found girls were actually good at math did the best on the math test.

These stereotyping studies have been done in a number of areas.  For instance, white boys who read a paragraph about the superior athletic skills of African-American boys did worse on a strength tests than boys who read a neutral paragraph first.  White boys who read a paragraph about the superior math skills of Asians did worse on their math test than boys who read a neutral paragraph. Eliot then wonders what we are doing to boys when we go on and on about how boys can't read or write as well as girls. 

The moral of the story:  Stereotyping hurts everyone and we have the research to prove it.