Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review of Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott is a talented writer of fiction and nonfiction. I had not read a book by her in awhile, so I was looking forward to her newly published novel, Imperfect Birds. She explained the title in an interview in the May/June issue of Writer's Digest: "It's a line from a poem by Rumi. The line is, 'Each must enter the nest made by the other imperfect birds,' and it's really about how these kind of scraggly, raggedy nests that are our lives are the sanctuary for other people to step into . . ."

She returns to characters from her previous books Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. Seventeen-year-old Rosie has lost control. Defiant of her mother Elizabeth and stepfather James, she takes a variety of drugs and gets caught up with a guy who encourages the drug use. Elizabeth is reluctant to alienate her daughter through disciplinary actions and thereby her relationship with James suffers as she keeps secrets from him. James is the only character I consistently cared about in this book, despite him not having center stage like Rosie and Elizabeth.

One thing that bothered me about Elizabeth: why doesn't she have a job? Because she is depressed and is a recovering alcoholic? The author's point of view about this issue is unclear. Since Elizabeth and James do not have enough money at hand to send Rosie to rehab, they have to dip into money from her college fund. At one point, Rosie thinks how annoying it is that all her mother does is lounge around the house and putter in the garden when everyone else has to work.

Lamott's sensual descriptions (particularly of food) in the book remind me of one of my favorite authors, Francesca Lia Block, who does that well and also sets her novels in California. There were quite a few lines and passages that were so insightful or well-written that I wrote them down in my journal. This is an uneven novel with some beautiful writing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Female & Male Brains

I recently came across this quote from actress Kim Cattrall: "I'm dating again, but I know nothing about men. They remain a mystery to me, other than that they are predictable."

The differences between the female and male brains make for fascinating stuff. Louann Brizendine, M.D. wrote books on each one. She notes: "Much of the conflict that exists between men and women is fueled by unrealistic expectations that stem from failing to grasp each other's innate differences."

We know the stereotypes: women are emotional and men are not; women are more empathetic; men always have sex on the brain; women can't read maps; women are more verbal and men are more visual. But what kind of biological basis is there for these widespread perceptions?

The books follow an identical format, first laying out the parts of the brain that are different between women and men and then the hormones that affect each. Taking readers through the successive stages of life, the books also include chapters on emotions, sex, and love.

Here are just a few juicy bits of information from the books:
  • "Sexual thoughts float through a man's brain every 52 seconds on average, and through a woman's only once a day." It's even worse than we thought!
  • "Men use about 7,000 words per day. Women use about 20,000." More verbal indeed.
  • "An innate skill in observation . . . comes with a brain that is more mature at birth than a boy's brain and develops faster, by 1-2 years."
  • Men often do not register that a woman is upset until she bursts into tears: ". . . tears nearly always come as a complete surprise--and extreme discomfort--to a man . . . Tears in a woman may evoke brain pain in men. The male brain registers helplessness in the face of pain, and such a moment can be extremely difficult for them to tolerate."
  • "Men are used to avoiding contact with others when they themselves are going through an emotionally rough time. They process their troubles alone and think women would want to do the same."

I thought I would learn more from The Male Brain, but I learned a lot from The Female Brain. The books have extensive notes and references, yet are fully accessible to the average person. Some of the author's cited research findings in The Female Brain have come under fire, but not being in that field, I couldn't say. I recently read a review of an upcoming book, the author of which is critical of Brizendine's findings on the female brain. That could lead to an interesting ongoing dialogue.