Tag Archives: biography

As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto

As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto: In the late 1960s, the Reimers give birth to identical twin boys. When one is mutilated in a botched circumcision, they follow the advice of psychologist John Money to have the boy surgically castrated and raised as a girl. Money believes that people are sexually neutral at birth, that gender identity is entirely the product of environment, not biology. Identical twin boys give him the perfect opportunity to prove this theory. The “girl” rebels from the start, knowing something is wrong, but still the experiment continues, growing more disturbing over time. The psychologist even has the twins engaging in pretend sex play, nude, while he takes pictures.

This is not a novel. This actually happened. The whole thing is both highly disturbing and undeniably compelling. I was absolutely appalled at much of what went on under the guise of medicine, and at what lengths Money went to in order to confirm his cherished theories. The good news is that much of this led to changes in the field of sexual psychology, but that doesn’t make it less infuriating to read about. Definitely recommended if you’re at all interested in gender identity, but it’s a bit hard to take at times.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar: This is another book I picked up because I liked the movie. I liked the book, too, but was a little disappointed to learn how little resemblance there is between the two. For example, neither Nash’s college roommate nor his tendency to draw on windows were mentioned in the book, while Nash’s homosexuality and illegitimate son were left out of the movie. Once I realized that there was such a huge disparity, however, I was able to appreciate them as separate works. This biography of mathematician John Nash, Nobel Laureate and recovered schizophrenic, was simply fascinating. It manages a balance between the mathematics and the insanity without becoming either too dry or too sensationalist. I kind of wish there had been a cast of characters listing somewhere to keep all the names straight, but by and large I had no trouble following it. In short, I enjoyed it. However, if you’re just looking for a glimpse inside the mind of a schizophrenic, give this one a pass. Nash’s specific delusions are not described in depth, and most of the information is secondhand anyway. That said, I would recommend it to people who love a good biography, especially one that reads almost like a novel.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Booking Through Thursday

Today’s Booking Through Thursday is fairly straightforward:

Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?

I don’t read many biographies, auto- or otherwise, though my favorites have been primarily memoirs, such as If Chins Could Kill and Cancer Vixen, and of course pretty much anything David Sedaris or Laurie Notaro put out. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a straight-up biography, come to think of it; the closest was probably Silverstein and Me, which wasn’t really so much a life story as it was memories of a good friend in reasonably chronological order. Books about single people have never really interested me.

So I guess that’s my long way of saying that I prefer autobiography. Which is interesting, since before this meme I would have thought I had no preference either way.

Assorted Book Reviews

I am totally behind on my book reviews, so here are a whole bunch at once.

The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan: A little like a lighter version of The Joy Luck Club, except with Indian women instead of Chinese, this is the story of three women who immigrated to America from India and their relationships with their American-born daughters. Nothing too heavy here, but I liked the characters, there was quite a bit of Indian history I’d never learned before, and the pace was nice and quick. At the end of each chapter there are recipes for Indian dishes, both traditional and Americanized. I did not prepare any of them, but it’s a clever way of drawing the reader further into the story. Good beach read.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (unabridged audiobook read by Firdous Bamji): Usually I can’t bring myself to be interested in others’ quests for enlightenment, but this is surprisingly good. The excellent reader is of course a big part of that, but the story itself left me with quite a bit of food for thought. While Siddhartha himself finds the Right Path eventually, the reader is left to find his own way. After all, without trying many paths in life, Siddhartha would not have reached his goal. I can imagine one getting different things out of this book depending on where in life they are. I may have to pick it up again in a decade or two.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (unabridged audiobook read by Flo Gibson): I had a lot of trouble with this one. The language was difficult, Gibson read way too quickly, and for most of it I had no idea what was going on. Perhaps if I’d read a paper copy I’d have enjoyed it more.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer: A beautifully tragic account of young Chris McCandless’s journey (and subsequent death) in the wilds of Alaska. Using diary entries, interviews with people who knew McCandless, and some similar historical endeavors, Krakauer attempts to uncover the motivations and thought processes behind the urge to experience nature in unbelievably dangerous situations. I have never had such an urge in my life, so the description of such an alien frame of mind enthralled me. I have mixed feelings about McCandless himself; I think he mistreated a lot of people who cared about him, but it sounded like he was on the brink of turning his life around there at the end. This story would not have worked as a novel – the premise is just too unbelievable and the timeline far too jumpy – but knowing it was true kept me turning pages until the very end. I agree with the review in the Washington Post, printed on the back cover: “Anyone who ever fancied wandering off to face nature on its own harsh terms should give a look.”

Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner (unabridged audiobook read by Johanna Parker): Kate Klein is a bored housewife in a boring suburb full of SuperMommy neighbors who look down their noses at her. When the least despicable of them is murdered and the police have no suspects, Kate starts investigating on her own. However, this isn’t really a mystery novel. Like Weiner’s other novels, it’s more about relationships and motherhood – two subjects she tackles expertly and very humorously. The ending is surprisingly satisfying, though not especially tidy. Parker, who also read Little Earthquakes, was a great choice for this story as well. One of these days I’ll stop feeling embarrassed for liking Weiner novels. They really are very enjoyable.

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