Tag Archive | non-fiction

Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Ponzer

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Reality Bites Back is a very thick book. There are millions and millions of hours of reality TV and different types of reality TV, and so this book needs to be thick to accomplish its goal. In part, I think it does, but in other aspects, it doesn’t.

If I had titled this book, it would’ve been Unscripted Women Bite Back: Age Old Views in Reality TV or something of the sort. Most of the book focuses on women, which is probably the author’s strong point, but I think that made this book weak. Gender does not exist in a vacuum, and we know that more than one gender exists. Degrading women doesn’t just hurt women. It also hurts men, and reality TV shows men in a negative light. The book only contains a few paragraphs about men, but I feel like it would’ve been a stronger argument if a whole chapter or more was dedicated to how men are falsely represented on TV.

The themes go in between women, minorities, and LGBTQ (I’m sorry if I missed a group). It’s great that the author has lots of material, but all of it gets mashed into a big jumble and it’s hard to dissect apart. I think the author had good intentions of separating topics by chapters, but then topics blended into each, and women issues ended up in chapters about LGBTQ. Those issues are probably connected, but it would’ve been nice if she created a few borders between them so that the topics were more understandable. I thought that maybe the author could’ve divided it by TV shows, but then lots of TV shows share similar themes, so that wouldn’t have worked either. Honestly, there are just too many themes and topics to discuss about reality TV, and not all of them can fit into a book. It might’ve been better if she wrote multiple books on reality TV, each focusing on a different theme or different type of reality TV.

The chapter at the end of the book is fun and thought provoking. She encourages you to keep watching your favorite reality TV shows, but to speak up, make fun of, or analyze what’s going on as you watch the show. I wanted to try her ideas and attempted to watch The Kardashian Show…but I failed miserable. That show really bored me, so maybe I’ll try another one later.

I feel like this book just scraps the top of reality TV, like taking the sugar off the top of homemade jelly. If you really want to experience the jelly, you have to take some of the sugar with the jelly underneath, bit by bit at a time. That’s not something this book does. The book’s argument just goes on and on, which can leave you mentally exhausted. While reading this, I wanted to take a step back and just think about a point Pozner made and digest it. I also wanted to find out more information and read more sources about the topic before moving on.

Basically, if you’re interested in TV and cultural views, then I’d recommend this book, but I’d also recommend you read something else. It’s a good book to have in your repertoire to get an idea of reality TV, but I don’t think it should be the one-all and be-all book that you read. Another way to put it is if you were writing an essay on Reality TV, I’d suggest you read this book to get an idea of what to write about and basic knowledge, but don’t quote it as a source when you get into the deeper details of your paper (unless you’re actually using it to make your point, of course).

As a side note, I don’t watch reality TV unless my mom is watching. Every time she watches it, I don’t see what’s so great or attractive about watching other people’s lives. That’s just weird to me and makes me feel like an awkward peeper…

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I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

6818019Overview: Forced by her father to marry a man three times her age, young Nujood Ali was sent away from her parents and beloved sisters and made to live with her husband and his family in an isolated village in rural Yemen. There she suffered daily from physical and emotional abuse by her mother-in-law and nightly at the rough hands of her spouse. Flouting his oath to wait to have sexual relations with Nujood until she was no longer a child, he took her virginity on their wedding night. She was only ten years old.

Unable to endure the pain and distress any longer, Nujood fled—not for home, but to the courthouse of the capital, paying for a taxi ride with a few precious coins of bread money. When a renowned Yemeni lawyer heard about the young victim, she took on Nujood’s case and fought the archaic system in a country where almost half the girls are married while still under the legal age. Since their unprecedented victory in April 2008, Nujood’s courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family has attracted a storm of international attention. Her story even incited change in Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, where underage marriage laws are being increasingly enforced and other child brides have been granted divorces.

My thoughts: Nujood’s family is plagued by problems, and some of those problems are poverty and the fear of adultery. To counter these issues, Nujood’s Aba decides to marry her to a 30-year-old man, whom promises to wait until she hits puberty to consummate the union. That man doesn’t keep his promises, and Nujood is left with nightmares, bruises, and anguish.

This book delves further than just Nujood’s terrifying marriage, it also follows up with her siblings’ struggles. It’s interesting how the book gives you an idea of other problems Yemen has, like trafficking, poverty, lack of education, early marriages, and so on. I know now more about Yemen than I did before.

I think the book is very good at depicting some of the problems, like poverty, but it doesn’t fully explain village customs or why those themes matter. As a non-Muslim reading this book, I don’t understand how honor works in Islam, and this book fails to put Islamic practices into perspective for others.

The book does provide notes at the end of the story, and so some things are explained further. I think it’s cool how links are provided in the text to the notes at the back of the kindle edition, but then you can’t get back to the section you were reading in the story unless you scroll back or jump there by entering the page or location number.

The biggest problem I have with this story is that there seems to be two narrators, and their voices don’t converge even though Nujood is the only one telling the story. On one hand, there’s ten-year-old Nujood, and then there seems to be a more mature educated Nujood. Maybe it’s a translation issue, but for a 10-year-old girl who’s barely literate, there are too many larger words and too many complex sentences. Maybe Nujood really does speak that way, but it doesn’t logically make sense to me. I think the journalist had more to do with the writing than Nujood did. The journalist tries to see things from Nujood’s 10-year-old girls, but then switches back to her older eyes. It causes the writing to seem jagged in some areas.

I borrowed this book from the library and read it on my kindle.

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How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Overview: The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions

Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.

Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting-edge research as well as the real-world experiences of a wide range of “deciders”—from airplane pilots and hedge fund investors to serial killers and poker players.

Lehrer shows how people are taking advantage of the new science to make better television shows, win more football games, and improve military intelligence. His goal is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about anyone, from CEOs to firefighters: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better?

My thoughts: This book was very taxing to read since it took me forever to get through and my brain kept shouting, “NO!” at every scientific inconsistency.

Writing style wise, the book is captivating. Lehrer uses lots of stories to connect the psychological ideas with real-life. He’s a great storyteller. It’s easy to read, and very entertaining. I would’ve rated this book higher if it wasn’t for his bad science. If you’re not a big science person and would just like to enlighten yourself about decision-making, this may be a good book for you.

Now, to explain the taxing of the book and my brain’s reaction. I’m a psychology major, so I know many of the concepts that Lehrer is talking about. My brain just wants to facepalm itself every time he introduces a new idea. He takes an idea and then stretches it beyond its max, such that the idea is no longer valid. Let’s take the missile example. The man chose to signal an alert even though the enemy missile looked the same as an ally ship. Why? Lehrer claims it’s his emotions. The truth is, it’s the connections in his brain that has formed overtime from practice-and not emotions-that allow the man to make the right decision. Yes, it’s mostly unconscious, but the fact is it’s not an emotional decision. We don’t have the technology to probe the unconscious to know if it’s an emotion or not, but we do know neural connections influence unconscious decisions.

Let’s take another example: chapter 7 “The Brain is an Argument.” In this, Lehrer basically describes what social psychologists call the Confirmation Bias, but he never calls it that. It’s a phenomenon due to the way the brain is structured and not an emotional response. Emotions may be a symptom of Confirmation Bias, but it’s not the reason why people always support what they think is right. Many psychologists think that people use Confirmation Bias to increase their confidence and increase their confidence of their level of survival since theoretically you’re more likely to survive if you’re not experiencing a threat.

What’s funnier is that Lehrer says what every good scientist says, “Correlation does not equal causation,” yet he takes correlations and makes them into causation to support his ideas. He’s using the Confirmation Bias, not emotional reasoning.

I’m not sure what his definition of emotion is. It’s not clearly defined. He quotes it as physiological symptoms (sweating, heartrate), as neurotransmitters (dopamine), and as neural structures in the brain (amygdala), as intuition or just some “feeling?” He doesn’t fully explain how all of these aspects are connected, basically just claiming that we’re unconscious of it all. However, we can explain a good bit of our emotions (we know failing a task will make us feel miserable), so I don’t think all of his claims are valid. The biggest problem with this book is that most of the research he quotes is still under investigation. We don’t know enough about the unconscious and intuition to be able to say, “Yes, this is how emotions work.” There are so many variables in humans that science hasn’t been able to clearly classify emotions with strict definitions. To say that we can decide with “feelings” is preposterous because that word could mean so many different things. Sometimes, these “feelings” aren’t just feelings, but our brain making connections that we aren’t thinking about because we’re not practicing meta-cognition (thinking about our thinking).

To sum up his book in a more scientific way, we make decisions using experience from past events (connections between neurons formed due to learning and practice), meta-cognition, and neurotransmitters activating certain regions in our brains. None of these things fully explain emotions unless you think emotions are all biological and have no other components. However, emotions and decisions are more complex than what he claims.

I found this book in my college library.

The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

Overview:ThImagee author of “Across the Wire” offers brilliant investigative reporting of what went wrong when, in May 2001, a group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona. Only 12 men came back out. “Superb . . . Nothing less than a saga on the scale of the Exodus and an ordeal as heartbreaking as the Passion . . . The book comes vividly alive with a richness of language and a mastery of narrative detail that only the most gifted of writers are able to achieve.–“Los Angeles Times Book Review.”

My thoughts: LSU Honors College selected this book for Summer Reading in 2012, hence, I read the book. I would love to rate this book as a three or four due to its subject content, but I simply cannot.

My biggest problem is the way the book is structure. The author admits upfront that he could only collect so much data, and so his knowledge is based on the sources he could find. Basically, he retells the story of the Welton  26/Yuma 14 in many different perspectives to the point where the story becomes confusing.

His opening chapter drives me insane. Each section has a different part of the story, usually with a different perspective. I understand that opening with a sporadic chapter adds to the chaos of the story, but it jolts my brain so much and just leaves me confused. I think it would’ve been better if the first chapter was more coherent.

The sporadic changing point-of-view continues through the entire book although the rest of the book isn’t as bad as the first chapter. However, it’s a lot to keep up with. Again, I understand why he does it since he probably doesn’t have all of the story from one person’s perspective, but switching perspectives so many times doesn’t work for me.

From a literary stand point, Urrea does what my teachers have told me not to do. He writes in incomplete sentences, switches point-of-view often, and goes between past tense and present tense. Sometimes, the story flows so well that these “forbidden techniques” work. Other times, I seriously scoff at them. If you’re looking for a well written literary piece, this is not the one for you. If you just want a story about Mexican immigration, this’ll probably be a good one.

Besides structure, I also had a problem with some of the information. More towards the beginning of the book, I wasn’t sure of most of the things I read. It seems like Urrea writes about specific situations that laymen wouldn’t know about unless they had previous knowledge of illegal immigration. I had never read anything about that subject matter until this book, so it was hard to keep up with it sometimes. Urrea does use some Spanish, and I could read most of it due to studying the language for about four years, but if there is no explanation for the Spanish, I don’t see the point in including it.

Urrea also tries to include metaphors, but they seem overdramatic and out of place, especially towards the end. I know he’s trying to include Mexican beliefs with the metaphors and make the Yuma 14 event seem horrific at the same time. However, sometimes the metaphors seem like a good thing and at others, they seem like a bad thing, so I just feel conflicted and I have no idea what to think about the ending.

This book isn’t a bad one, but it doesn’t work for me. If I had read about illegal immigration before this book, then I think it would have been enjoyable. Also, I think it would have been much better if he had written it from one person’s perspective and then explained everything that happened after the desert episode in another section of the book.
I borrowed this book from my library through the interlibrary loans system.

Sex and the City Uncovered

Overview: Sex and the City, the popular television series and motion picture franchise, glorifies the lifestyles of four fashionable New York women who hang out in bars and talk bluntly about their broad range of sexual experiences. 

The awards lavished upon the show would imply it holds some redeeming value. However, despite claims that Sex and the City is ultimately about the longing for a committed relationship, the glamorization of casual sex and always looking fabulous can take a toll on impressionable young women.

Just ask Marian Jordan. In Sex and the City Uncovered she admits, “A painful existence of ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’ is hidden behind images of couture fashion, witty dialogue, and beautiful people. I know this to be true because I’ve lived it.”

A former party girl with her own stories of hookups, hangovers, and heartbreak, Marian now speaks about the unfailing love she has found in Jesus and helps struggling women fill their hearts with this same joy.

Marian Jordan is founder of Redeemed Girl Ministries, showing girls of all ages how to apply God’s truth and promises to their unique circumstances. She speaks to students across the nation, lives in Houston, and holds her master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

My thoughts:I found out about this book by reading the advertisements on the back of the toilet stall walls in a hall at my university. It really pulled me in solely because it exposed the media. The author actually came to speak at my university, but for some reason or another, I didn’t go.

I honestly thought that the book would have been a bit different, but it’s a bit simple minded. When I first read it, all I could think of was the Condescending Willie meme saying, “Tell me more.” Many times my brain responded to the writing with “Well, no, duuuuh!” I don’t mean to disrespect the author, but my thoughts were quite mean because I’m not her targeted audience. It’s more geared towards college-aged women who actually keep up with today’s media. The language is very casual, and it sounds like it’s written by someone for someone who’s very active in the social world.

The author approached the topic of media affecting people through a religious point of view. More specifically, she details her struggle and points out how the show Sex and the City can mislead some people into thinking it’s a great lifestyle without problems. I honestly thought it would have more scientific facts, but it focuses more on a woman’s relationship with God. Sometimes the examples she uses are a bit extreme, and she doesn’t address the middle ground. Let’s just say sometimes social drinking doesn’t always lead to out of control hooking up and drug abuse and may not lead to emptiness. I also think that the author makes too many generalizations about women wanting to feel needed or desired by men to have worth. It’s true that society, especially the media, places a lot of emphasis on women’s beauty, but personally, I’ve never felt that being wanted by men makes me a woman. Sometimes it was hard for me to place myself in the shoes of her audience and actually accept her advice.

Overall, the book in itself is pretty complete, and the best part is that the author reminds every woman that she is worth something. I’d recommend it to young Christian women who want relationships, intimacy, friendships, and a place to belong. It’s great that it warns women about the dangers of believing the media, but I think it sort of sells itself short solely relying on God. It’d be a lot more convincing if she cited more studies about the damaging effects of media and then mentioned how a pathway to God can help heal the damage. Either way, it made me consider my distant relationship with God and made me question if I was walking the right path although I’m not a party girl or an empty girl. The book does have some value, especially if it’s read by the right audience.

I borrowed this book from my college library through a inter-library loan.