The Managed Heart

The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Russell Hochschild9780520239333

publication date: 1983
pages: 307 (including back matter)
ISBN: 0-520-04800-8

This book coined a term that recently came back into vogue: “emotional labor.” Emotional labor is the emotion work that most people do every day. It is schooling our face and body language to reflect only the emotion we want to reflect or, perhaps, even changing what we feel on the inside to better fit into or accept a situation. It is also the things we do to invoke or change emotions in others. The author, Arlie Hochschild, discussed emotional labor in broad terms, but the bulk of her discussion was focused on emotional labor as it is required or encouraged by our employers.

As Western society shifted from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy and now to a service-related economy, the amount of people who deal with other people at their job has increased. And anyone who deals with people at their job has probably been expected to perform emotional labor. To smile at customers and seem friendly and deferential. To inspire a sense of gratitude and understanding from a customer. These aren’t always things that we want to do for a customer and they are rarely discussed using precise terms like “emotional labor.” Instead, they are either not discussed at all or are couched in terms like “professionalism” and “customer service.” An example that Hochschild used often was the work of flight attendants.

This book had a lot of great points and made me rethink my concept of what an employee is obligated to do on the job. As Hochschild worded it:

Where the customer is king, unequal exchanges are normal, and from the beginning customer and client assume different rights to feeling and display. The ledger is supposedly evened by a wage.

She further stated:

When a flight attendant feels angry at a passenger . . . what does her anger signal? According to the teacher in [Delta Airline’s] Training, it indicates that she is mislocating herself in the world, that she is seeing the man who demands a smile in the wrong sort of way – that she is too oversensitive, too touchy. It does not signal a perception about how emotional display maintains unequal power between women and men, and between employees and employers. It indicates something wrong with the worker, not something wrong with the assumptions of the customer or the company. In this way the company’s purposes insinuate themselves into the way workers are asked to interpret their own feelings.

Do those things seem right? Why should I act and feel differently just because I’m getting paid? I enjoyed most of Hochschild’s discussions and conclusions.

However, her writing could be quite dense and confusing. She would throw out concepts that I hadn’t heard of and pile them on top of each other. A lot of discussions seemed irrelevant; or maybe I just didn’t understand them. Also, some of her endnotes were weird and completely off topic. Or sometimes her conclusions wouldn’t follow logically from her statements or data.

There were also some points she made that I just didn’t buy. For example:

The code of chivalry is said to require protection of the weaker by the stronger. Yet a boss may bring flowers to his secretary or open the door for her only to make up for the fact that he gets openly angry at her more often than he does at a male equal or superior; and more often that she does at him. The flowers symbolize redress, even as they obscure the basic maldistribution of respect and psychic cost.

You can’t just throw out a statement like that without any data, evidence, or explanation.

Overall, though, this book was very enlightening. I would recommend it to anyone who feels like they put on a face at work or anyone who manages those who put on a face at work.

4/6: worth reading

I couldn’t find any reviews for this book online, but here are its Amazon and Powell’s pages:

Amazon
Powell’s

The Two-Income Trap

The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Parents Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi9780465090907

publication date: 2003
pages: 253 (including notes etc.)
ISBN: 10-0-465-09090-7

In The Two-Income Trap, written in 2003, Warren and Tyagi attempted to explain the financial problems facing the middle class. The main thrust of the book was that several factors came together to make middle-class families worse off financially than they were in previous generations.

In the first chapter, the authors demonstrated that families are currently worse off financially. At one point, they claimed that 13.5% of American families would declare bankruptcy between 2003 and 2010. This was also where they introduced their concept of the Two-Income Trap. The trap comes from the seeming security of a household that has two wage earners when, in actuality, a household with two wage earners is actually more financially vulnerable. Two-income families might have used both incomes to pay their fixed costs, so if a layoff or injury happened, then a two-income family would be less able to pay their bills. The two-income trap was further discussed in Chapter 3.

In the second chapter, the authors introduced the Over-Consumption Myth. According to Warren and Tyagi, middle-class financial problems are not caused by over-maxed credit cards, swiped for things like new TVs, vacation homes, and designer bags. Instead, the cost of housing, medical care, and childcare has increased exponentially, and it was those things that families accumulated debt for.

The authors introduced the Myth of the Immoral Debtor in Chapter 4, which stated that any idea we might have about a lack of honor or code among current American spenders and debtors is a misconception. Borrowers in 2003 were no less honorable than borrowers in the 50s, or the 30s, or the 1760s. This was probably the book’s most convincing chapter, with discussions on the lengths that banks, credit card companies, and other lenders will go to get people to borrow money. The authors continued this theme in Chapter 6, which contained their discussion of the de-regulation of the credit industry and the abuses that followed.

Chapter 5 discussed the problems facing the single-income family. The book concluded in Chapter 7 with the Financial Fire Drill, a set of questions and suggestions designed to protect a family from financial collapse. The Fire Drill didn’t contain anything revelatory: basically, try to decrease your expenses and investigate buying certain insurance policies.

The book was very prescient in some ways. It predicted the sub-prime mortgage collapse and the problems that would come from rampant lending. I am no expert on the American financial system, but there might be some things about the book that are no longer relevant, because the bankruptcy, banking, and credit industries look somewhat different now than they did in 2003.

There were some problems I had with the book. First of all, the authors never defined what made a family “middle class.” And why would I only care about this “middle class”? Why wouldn’t I be interested in the undue financial misfortunes of every type of family, especially the lower class? Using the undefined phrase “middle class” seemed to me like a move to endear themselves to people who think they are middle class – which is everyone!

Also, although the end notes were generally thorough and clear, sometimes the data did not support the authors’ conclusions or their numbers didn’t make any sense.

Overall, this was a better book than I was expecting, especially because one of the authors is in politics. Generally, political authors use more rants than facts. Although Warren and Tyagi peppered the book with hyperbolic language, they usually backed it up with data and some logic.

4/6: worth reading (I was close to giving this a 3/6, but it did contain some interesting points and facts)

other reviews:

The Finance Buff
Publishers Weekly
Mother Jones

The Center Cannot Hold

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks 9781401301385

publication date: 2007
pages: 346
ISBN: 978-1-4013-0138-5

Elyn Saks is a very intelligent, driven woman. She graduated from Oxford in England and Yale Law School in Connecticut. She is also a tenured legal professor at USC and a psychoanalyst. She has also championed for the rights of those declared incompetent or incapacitated personally and by writing books on the subject and appearing on television. But perhaps most impressively, she accomplished all this while living with the mental illness of schizophrenia.

In her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold, Saks details her struggle with her mental illness. Starting with her night terrors as a young child, her first experience with delusional thoughts and voices as a teenager, her hospitalization while at Oxford in England, her much more confining and destructive hospitalization while at Yale in America, and, finally, her diagnosis.

Throughout all this, Saks gives very thorough descriptions of what was happening inside her head. For example, her description of her first experience with delusional thoughts:

I began to realize that the houses I was passing were sending message to me: Look closely. You are special. You are especially bad. Look closely and ye shall find. There are many things you must see. See. See.

I didn’t hear these words as literal sounds, as though the houses were talking and I were hearing them; instead, the words just came into my head – they were ideas I was having. Yet I instinctively knew they were not my ideas. They belonged to the houses, and the houses had put them in my head.

The book also contains several thought-provoking passages on questions concerning identity, body, and mind. For example:

Intelligence, combined with discipline, could overcome any challenge. And mostly, that belief had served me well. The problem was, it assumed that the intelligence at hand was fully functional, fully capable – but I’d been told by experts that my brain had serious problems. Was my brain the same thing as my mind? Could I hang onto the one while conceding that there was a big flaw in the other?

Clearly, Saks is a smart, reflective, admirable woman; but, she is not necessarily an author. The book is sometimes dry and boring and is riddled with pacing issues. She would focus on one moment or experience for paragraphs and then skip over entire parts of her life. However, her willingness to delve into the uncommon and often bleak aspects of her mind and illness made the book generally engaging.

The illness of schizophrenia is still often met with fear and misunderstanding. Therefore, this book is important and meaningful simply as an example of a successful product of a schizophrenic mind. Saks adds further meaning by conveying her illness, and her life, with such honesty and contemplation.

4/6: worth reading

Other reviews of The Center Cannot Hold:

SFGate
Psy Blog
Lit And Life

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell97812500495512

publication date: 2015
pages: 517
ISBN: 978-1-250-04955-1

Carry On was another entrant in the “Chosen One” category, a la Harry Potter, Frodo, and countless other (usually YA) novels wherein a main character is given Herculean tasks and, after many trials and tribulations, completes them. However, our hero Simon Snow wasn’t necessarily the wizard any of us would have chosen for the job. He’s a self-proclaimed “thug” who thought more about food than magic. In fact, Rainbow Rowell precisely and perfectly constructed characters that broke the mold of the genre. A girlfriend who was enamored with the bad guy. A mentor who was never around to counsel because he was off raiding people’s houses in a costume and a funny mustache. A wizarding world with cars, and laptops, and smart phones.

Rowell’s characters were superb and maybe the best thing about a very good book. I loved how realistic they were. Her characters went through shoplifting phases at 14. Some cursed, some drank, some fell in love and lust. And some just wanted out of the game entirely. This book reflected real people who just happened to be magic, and Rowell did a great job of crafting and describing her characters. For example, Simon’s girlfriend wasn’t interested in waiting around for him to complete his destiny:

‘I want to be someone’s right now, Simon, not their happily ever after. I don’t want to be the prize at the end. The thing you get if you beat all the bosses.’

And, as mentioned above, Simon was kind of a lovable doof. Here’s a description of Simon through the eyes of his roommate:

[Simon] likes to be the first person down to breakfast, Chomsky knows why. It’s 6 A.M., and he’s already banging around our room like a cow who accidentally wandered up here.

Beyond creating wonderful characters, Rowell created, as she always does, a wonderful love story. I won’t get too much into the identity of the characters, but Rowell created two young men whose relationship seemed like a remarkable inevitability. Rowell had a talent of focusing on the minute details of the people in love, without being overly descriptive or maudlin. For example, here’s a description of Simon from the guy who had a crush on him:

[Simon] swallows. [He] has the longest neck and the showiest swallow I’ve ever seen. His chin juts out and his Adam’s apple catches – it’s a whole scene.

Beyond the adorable love story with its delightful minutiae, the plot itself was actually quite good. There were twists and turns and several times where I was in suspense. Rowell crafted a story with sensible internal rules, solvable mysteries, and several believable villains. However, the few flaws in the book came from the plot. There were scenes that were muddled and character motivations that relied on suspension of disbelief to make any sense.

Overall, Rowell created an affectionate parody that perfectly satirized this beloved genre, while still creating characters and a story that will probably be a beloved part of the genre canon.

5/6: seek this book out

Other reviews:

Npr
Slate
Girl!Reporter 

An Intimation of Things Distant

An Intimation of Things Distant: The Collected Fiction of Nella Larsen by Nella Larsen 

publication date: 1992
pages: 278
ISBN: 0-385-42149-4

Nella Larsen was a lesser known participant in the Harlem Renaissance. She published several stories in the 1920s and then abruptly disappeared after she was accused of plagiarism. The plagiarism accusation was never substantiated or proven, but it seemingly had such a negative effect on Larsen that she escaped from the scene. What she left the literary world with were three short stories and two novellas, all of which were collected in this volume.

Four of the works, The Wrong Man, Freedom, Quicksand, and Passing concentrated on middle-class urban black life. The fifth work, Sanctuary, revolved around a desolate spot somewhere on the “Southern coast.” This also was the work she was accused of plagiarizing.

Sanctuary was probably my favorite work, even though it included the most-dreaded of stylistic devices: dialect. It had a terseness and directness the other works were lacking. For example, this passage describing a man who was hiding from people who were after him:

For a second fear clutched so tightly at him that he almost leaped from the suffocating shelter of the bed in order to make some active attempt to escape the horror that his capture meant. There was a spasm at his heart, a pain so sharp, so slashing, that he had to suppress an impulse to cry out. He felt himself falling. Down, down, down . . . Everything grew dim and very distant in his memory. . . . Vanished . . . Came rushing back.

The two novellas, Quicksand and Passing, focused on women and their options at that time (namely: marriage). Both of these works started off very slow, almost to the point of dullness. Larsen attempted to use description to create a sense of mood and atmosphere and instead only created bloated and skimmable paragraphs:

A slight girl of twenty-two years, with narrow, sloping shoulders and delicate but well-turned arms and legs, she had, none the less, an air of radiant, careless health. In vivid green and gold negligee and glistening brocaded mules, deep sunk in the big high-backed chair, against whose dark tapestry her sharply cut face, with skin like yellow satin, was distinctly outlined, she was – to use a hackneyed word – attractive.

However, as the plot and characters developed, the stories became more interesting and tense. One of my favorite passages from the book came in the middle of Quicksand, while the main character was at a dance club:

Helga sat looking curiously about her as the buzz of conversation ceased, strangled by the savage strains of music, and the crowd became a swirling mass. For the hundredth time she marveled at the gradations within this oppressed race of hers. A dozen shades slid by. There was sooty black, shiny black, taupe, mahogany, bronze, copper, gold, orange, yellow, peach, ivory, pinky white, pastry white. . . . Africa, Europe, perhaps with a pinch of Asia, in a fantastic motley of ugliness and beauty, semibarbaric, sophisticated, exotic, were here. But she was blind to its charm, purposely aloof and a little contemptuous, and soon her interest in the moving mosaic waned.

Larsen’s writing did not have the drama and humanity of other, more famous, authors of that time, such as Zora Neale Hurston or Edith Wharton. To someone who vigorously enjoys writing from that time, I would recommend this book. For a more casual reader who is looking to read the best that period has to offer, there are better pieces to read.

3/6: more good than bad

Another review of the book:

L.A. Times

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

publication date: 1985
pages: 857
ISBN: 978-0-684-87122-6

It is rare to find a book that makes you race along reading it because the plot is so spirited, while also pressing you to stop and ponder humanity and mortality because of its scope and language. A book that introduces you to characters so complex and whole that it doesn’t matter if you find them “likable” or “relatable;” instead, they just exist. A book that makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you question, worry, wonder, remember, approve. Lonesome Dove is that book.

In Lonesome Dove, McMurtry crafted an epic Western that was sweeping, but never pretentious; long, but perfectly paced. The book followed the Hat Creek Cattle Company as it moved cattle from newly-settled Texas to the unsettled territory of Montana in the late 1800s. The Company consisted of two former Texas Rangers, Gus McCrae and Captain Call; young Newt; Bolivar the Mexican cook; unthinking Pea Eye; and steadfast Deets.

As these characters rode through the American West, McMurtry used description so expertly that a sense of atmosphere was evoked in almost every scene. Here was an example:

Jake looked off across the scrubby pastures. There were tufts of grass here and there, but mostly the ground looked hard as flint. Heat waves were rising off it like fumes off kerosene. Something moved in his line of vision, and for a moment he thought he saw some strange brown animal under a chaparral bush.

As mentioned above, McMurtry was also deft at crafting characters. Because of the encompassing nature of the book, McMurtry introduced dozens of characters. However, I can picture almost all of them distinctly. One of my favorites was Lorena, a tough prostitute who showed little affection but was the unrequited Manic Pixie Dream Girl of almost every man who met her. Here’s a cowboy’s description of her:

Looking at her, though, was like looking at the hills. The hills stayed as they were. You could go to them, if you had the means, but they extended no greeting.

One of my favorite things about the book was how the characters were so realistic that they were not merely reflections of the author’s message or plot. Instead, all the narratives were slightly biased toward that particular narrator and were subtly false. It was nothing blunt or confusing, but the dialogues and the narratives wove together to create a picture of the character, not necessarily a picture of the world in the book.

As I was reading the book, I was struck by how alien these characters’ lives were. No electricity, no refrigerators, riding on horseback all day – usually voluntarily. However, much was the same. Some people sought adventure, some just wished to stay at home. Some people were lazy, some would work until you stopped them. Some people would do almost anything to get laid or have any kind of companionship, others would be content to see another person once every few years. Although the setting was foreign, the book itself never stopped being understandable.

6/6: instant classic

other reviews of the book:

New York Times
World’s Strongest Librarian
Wendy Reads Books

Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

publication date: 2003
pages: 320
ISBN: 0-385-50759-3

What would the US look like if it was completely privatized? In Jennifer Government, Max Barry answers that question and creates a world that seems fantastical but is actually not too different from our own. Schools are run by corporations, the NRA and Police are just guns for hire, and everyone takes as their last name the organization they currently work for.

In an absurd and even wacky plot, the book follows Jennifer Government, an agent for the government, as she attempts to solve a murder probably perpetrated by Nike to sell more shoes. There is a supporting cast of characters, including unsteady Hack Nike and unintelligent Billy NRA.

Two of the characters – suits who work for Nike – are especially vivid, and funny. Max Barry does a great job at making me really, really hate them, with their corporate-speak and concern only for profits. Here’s their introduction to Hack Nike:

The suits looked at each other. . . . Then they stuck out their hands. “I’m John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Operative, New Products.”

“And I’m John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Vice-President, New Products,” the other suit said.

John and John Nike – don’t you hate them just a little bit already?

After the two Johns order Hack to do something illegal and instead he tells the Police, here is the response they give to Hack when he admitted what he did:

“Shh,” Vice-President John said. “It’s okay, Hack. Now we’re getting somewhere. I mean obviously none of this is good, from a big-picture point of view. Overall, it’s very fucked, a commercial-in-confidence arrangement getting spread all over the place. But on the individual level, as far as our relationship goes, Hack, I’m very pleased you’re being straight with me. . . . Everyone wants to outsource these days. No one has any respect for core competencies.”

“Big-picture,” “core competencies,” now don’t you hate them a lot?

Max Barry certainly makes John and John Nike, and the corporate world they live in, very dynamic and intense. However, most of the book is clunky and even tiresome. The writing is rushed but the plot was repetitive. The ending is especially unsatisfying. Only a few characters even had an ending, and the dystopian world that Barry creates is never addressed or dealt with.

Although the setting and plot of extreme privatization and stockholder greed is topical, and perhaps even inevitable, what I noticed and remember most from the book is the blunt writing and uninspired characters.

3/6: more good than bad

Other reviews:

New York Times
The Guardian
SF Signal