Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, December 29, 2019

"The Crown" by Robert Lacey

My sweet husband gave this book to me for Christmas after we binge-watched all three seasons of the Netflix series. He intended for me to take my time reading it in brief bursts, but instead I ended up binge-reading it. I'd been afraid it might be a bit dry, but it was quite engaging instead. I learned a few interesting tidbits ("Porchey" owned Highclere, where Downton Abbey was filmed! Helena Bonham Carter's grandmother was a politician who was friends with Winston Churchill!) and enjoyed it as I went.

My expectation of the book was a separation of fact and fiction (or at least a statement of fact that would allow me to do my own separation from the fiction in the show). I did often wonder as we watched the show: how much of this is real and how much is made up? The book helped me wade through some of that, but I still haven't come away with very specific knowledge about how much was reality; I just assume the broad strokes are historical and the details are imagined.

I hear they're planning seven more seasons of the show (and, as this book is marked Volume 1, each season will likely have its own Official Companion). Honestly, I only watched the entirety of season three out of a sense of duty and completism; it was partly the change of cast and partly the themes of the season, but I found every character much less sympathetic and much less interesting than they had seemed in the previous seasons. I suppose I'll probably watch future seasons as well, but only with a vague curiosity rather than any sort of real absorption.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

"Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age" by Sherry Turkle

 I came across this book in Modern General in Santa Fe, where I have found (in all two of my visits there) a very small but eclectic and thoughtfully chosen selection of books for sale. I was immediately drawn to this one in hopes that it would be a sort of guidebook or manual on becoming a great conversationalist. It turned out not to be that, but I enjoyed reading it anyway.

The basic premise of the book is that the rise of the smartphone has resulted in the decline of true human interaction. Turkle is kind and realistic in saying that we don't have to give up our phones completely, but she makes it clear that we need to use them more deliberately, and sometimes we need to take a break.

Turkle details what we can learn from conversation (of which the most important and oft-mentioned benefit is empathy) and what we learn from social media (lessons which, while not necessarily apocalyptic, are not especially enviable or helpful). Introspection and discussion allow you to measure your choices against a personal standard; social media drives you to gauge your worth by what your "followers" think of you, and whether you have what they have.

Some clear guidelines are suggested by the book: no phones at meals, pay attention to the people who are present instead of to your phone (because where you put your attention is how you show what you value), and be aware of good and bad phone habits and train yourself towards the good; make social media a jumping-off point for deeper conversations rather than allowing the contact to remain superficial. Turkle also discourages referring to one's connection with one's phone as an "addiction," which makes people feel helpless, as if they are facing something against which resistance is futile. Instead, we need to consciously and intentionally resist phone use for periods of productivity.

An interesting point raised in the book: the author recommends that we don't interrupt conversations to do online searches for information, even when we're searching for information directly related to the conversation. We think we are enriching the discussion, but it is perceived as turning away from the person you are conversing with.

I'm not sure how much I will actually change as a result of reading this book, although it has certainly made me more aware of my smartphone habits. The only problem is, it has also made me more aware of everyone else's smartphone habits . . .