Monday, August 30, 2010

Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

The Art of Choosing

By the time I finished this book I found I wanted to start it all over again. Sometimes I think I may have missed my calling, by not pursuing the field of investigating choice. I am so bad at it, and yet I recognize that it is the key to navigating the modern world in the West, where the simplest decisions are rendered ridiculously complex by the plethora of choice.

Iyengar covers the waterfront with her examination of choice, from birth to death, and addresses many of the major life choices most of us face in the course of our lives. She recognizes the difficulties each of us face in choosing colleges, spouses, jobs, houses, and discusses the irrationality many of us bring to our own choices. Several times I felt my heart beating a little faster when she began to describe a difficult choice that was facing me now, or one that I had made in the past, but which has left me unhappy.

Iyengar suggests that decision-making can be improved by setting constraints on our options, and sticking with them. She describes conversations with artists and jazz musicians in which they claim great invention can be achieved when one sets limits on type of creation one seeks to achieve, and operating within a framework. It is too easy to flail about in a sea of options, but if we set limits for ourselves, we narrow our range, and can be satisfied and happy with choices we have made. As art is created by using objects at hand, so good, even great decisions that make us happy can be achieved within our own limited circumstances. After all, isn't it all really about being as happy and satisfied as possible, rather than miserable in the midst of plenty?

A good and thoughtful book that moves me forward with hope. The audio was beautifully read by Orlagh Cassidy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris

City of Veils: A Novel (Nayir al-Sharqi, #2)

Complicated. A good mystery in an unusual environment. Ferraris appears to have learned a great deal while in Saudi for several years. I especially liked the description of the sand storm near the Empty Quarter. But Ferraris also threads needles in describing the fine distinctions between deeply religious Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims. Her main male characters are thoughtful, questioning, fair, conflicted, and not always religious, though some are. Ferraris' descriptions of their logic and thinking processes are intelligent and nuanced. It was an interesting and enlightening mystery for me, whose lack of experience in Middle Eastern culture sometimes leaves me frustrated, suspicious, and unclear about people's motives. Considering traditional Muslim culture is just about as far from modern American culture as it is possible to be, bridging some of the misunderstandings that can occur and showing the modesty and sincerity and goodness of intention that Muslim society treasures, Ferraris actually does a service at the same time as she spins the mystery.

The form of the mystery itself appears to be the familiar model of lead investigator (male) and a sidekick (female). Though there were times when it seemed positively ludicrous that a woman could be on a forensic team in Saudi considering the contraints, just the effort of imagining it made it interesting. And then we are forced to speculate how could it be otherwise? I had a look at the earlier book in the series, called Finding Nouf and I must admit I found it as frustrating and annoying as beginning City of Veils. Something about the contraints people operate under in the Middle East seem artificial and absurd. I find myself getting impatient. In the end, however, whatever I didn't like about City of Veils Was outweighed by what I learned and what I liked. As a Western woman, it is so easy to slam conservative Muslim men as neanderthal throwbacks. But understanding aids comprehension and Ferraris makes some attempt to show Muslim men as reasonable, both those that are religious and those that are not. It is no mean feat and she deserves kudos.