Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Happiness is...

Here we go again, a book review: #12
[Click the icon for more book review blogs @Barrie Summy]
Happiness is the privilege of sharing a book with my readers. But first, I must preface my comments.
I was reading in SciAm mag and I just happened on this article. Michael Shermer ( wrote an article called 'Kool-Aid Psychology'. He was writing about the current trends in psychology. Specifically, Martin Seligman, who has deconstructed the current key to happiness.

Seligman says,  H = S + C + V
(Happiness = your Set range + the Circumstances of your life + the factors under your Voluntary control)
Wouldn't that be lovely?As Shermer writes, it cannot be simply a sum of variables, but more complex, with secondary variables being products of this too simple math equation.(Yes, I loved math, too!)

Who are you? is, similarly, a complex question. You are not your job, your car, your age, your weight or height, your home, or your role in life. As an adoptee, this is a deep question for me. You are both your backstory and your forestory. I am a product of my genes, as well as my adoptive parent's nurturing.
It occurred to me, as I was reading this month's book club review, that Nevada Barr's book, 13 1/2, is a fair example of the complexity of the formula of mystery writers. With layers, temporal setting, plot and character changes, and critical reflections of past behaviour by characters, a novel need not be linear.

I have read all of her Anna Pigeon books, which revolve around the US National Parks. Brillliant novels, a successful formula, necessarily read in the order of publication. They demonstrate her development as an author: the character, plot, structure and layers over time. She has extended her range of character and darkened her rainbow colours to that of red-blooded horror over time. Anna's conflict with God - or her perception (see the bottom video for Barr's reading!) is an interesting one. When hubby brought home Barr's latest book I was most excited.

Yes, rules and patterns are made to be broken. This book stands alone. I can perceive the development of Barr as a writer. The layers she refined in previous novels have led her down a very dark, and horrific path.  I was intrigued by her evolution as a mystery writer. I read this book within 24 hours. I do not want to deconstruct it, nor to give any of it away. It is a dense, coarse book. Not one for the faint of heart. I found it perfect in this season of snow and white tundra! I prefer horror stories that can be limited by my imagination, and controlled by my mental images of gore. (You can, you know!)

I will say this...
I would predict it might be a great movie somewhere down the line. It examines one theme of happiness, and taking responsibility for it. So often my more difficult students, in 25 years of teaching, have given away their power to others: peers who bullied them, parents who abused them, and all those other excuses for being who we want to be.

My favourite quote from the book:
"They were tricked out in the unfortunate fashion that decreed female children dress as prostitutes in a world full of predators." (Nevada Barr, 13 1/2, p. 168)


*Kool-Aid Psychology: Realism versus Optimism: Scientific American
How optimism trumped realism in the positive-psychology movement.


Sarah Laurence said...

The National Parks sound like a fun and original setting for a mystery series. Thanks for the recommendation!

Rose said...

Hi, Jenn! I think I've commented here before on an earlier review of a Nevada Barr book. I have read just one of hers and wasn't that impressed with it. But obviously, she has many fans, and perhaps I should try again. Would you recommend I begin with the first one or with this book, which does sound very intriguing. I love to find an author I enjoy (mostly mysteries) and then read all their works; you're right that the reader can see them evolve and develop in each book.

Interesting that you should start with the equation about happiness--the book I reviewed this time is about the search for happiness. It's not a self-help book, though; I agree that pop psychology over-simplifies happiness as if the same "equation" is true of everyone.

Linda McLaughlin said...

The books sounds too dark for my present tastes, but I'm glad you enjoyed it. That's a great quote about children dressed as prostitutes, and alas, so very true.

Beth Yarnall said...

I like what you said about being able to perceive Nevada Barr's jouney as an author. I have also had that experience with other writers. Thanks for a great review!

Scott Parker said...

My mother loves all the Anna Pidgeon books and loaned me Borderlands since it takes place in Big Bend, Texas. Will definitely put this novel on my radar.

Keri Mikulski said...

Mystery writers are amazing. Thanks for the review!

Staci said...

I have yet to read one of her books....I hang my head in shame...I do believe I need to remedy this!

Martha Z said...

Thanks for posting these interviews with Nevada Barr, there very interesting.
I have read most of her books and identify in some ways with her character Anna Pigeon. When she talks of wanting to run from social encouters back to her wilderness, I'm with her.

Barrie said...

I did not realize this was a stand alone. And, I have to admit, I've never met a Nevada Barr I didn't like! And I didn't realize you were adopted. As is my child #4. Lots of food for thought. Thanks so much for joining in, Jenn!

Sarahlynn said...

I keep meaning to pick up a Nevada Barr novel and I think you've convinced me to start with this one. I was sold when you started your review with a SciAm article and math. I love math!