Book Reviews V
Been a while since I’ve done one of these. But every once in a while I review some books I’ve read recently as well as old favorites of mine. You can read previous book reviews here, here, here, and here.
Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzneggar
The best bodybuilder of all-time, one of the highest paid Hollywood actors of all-time, successful entrepreneur and investor (something I didn’t know), two-time California governor, adulterer and tabloid fodder, Arnold is the walking American Dream if there ever was one. Born in a two-room cabin with no electricity in rural post-War Austria, Arnold knew even as a child what he wanted to do: be a bodybuilder and then leverage it to move to America and become a movie star. This was an absolutely insane idea for the time, or any time really. But he did it.
It’s interesting. You can see some of the factors of Arnold’s success within the writing of the book itself. He’s a bit delusional about himself. Everything that happens is described as “amazing” or “fantastic” all the time, even when it’s pretty normal or mundane. His failures are glossed over, if not completely ignored at times. And although it’s obvious that this totally narcissistic level of confidence is what made him the iconic individual he eventually became, it doesn’t make for a clean biographical experience.
To my surprise, I enjoyed the bodybuilding and political portions of the book far more than the Hollywood section. In fact, the Hollywood section was boring and felt, ironically, the least authentic as it was told. This may be because he’s since returned to Hollywood and didn’t want to burn any bridges there, but it came off as pretty vanilla and emotionless compared to his other experiences.
What blew me away — and sealed this book as an awesome biography — was that he dedicated a chapter to his adultery and the scandal he had a few years ago when it became public that he had an illegitimate child with his housekeeper. You can tell this chapter was excruciating for him to write, but he did it anyway. It came out heartfelt and was the most honest and self-reflective of the entire book. I loved it when Arnold admitted, “people look at me as a role model, but what they don’t realize is that some of the personality traits that made me so successful also make me do some stupid things, things they always don’t see or hear about.” I’m such a sucker for honesty and vulnerability.
I hate this term, but Arnold is a true winner at everything he does. For anyone who wants a look into the mindset of an insanely successful person, then this is an excellent book. Arnold’s the real deal. Just reading the book inspired me to start doing more reps in the gym and working longer hours on my sites.
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
The best book on the psychology of relationships that I’ve ever come across (trust me, there’s a lot of crap out there). A fair amount of this post was actually inspired by reading this book.
Harville and his wife are certified psychiatrists and marriage counselors. They’ve worked with couples young and old for decades. In Getting the Love You Want Harville breaks down how our emotional needs are created and how they drive us to choose the partners we do. He explains that these deep, unconscious, psychological needs manifest themselves consciously as deep attraction. What most of us refer to as “chemistry” or that “spark” between two people is really them each meeting the person who fills the archetype their unconscious constructed to fulfill their unsatisfied needs.
A bit heady for a single guy looking for dating advice. But for anyone who’s either in a long-term relationship, or has been in one that ended spectacularly, this is a must-read. I’m a nerd about this stuff and have read a LOT of relationship books over the years, and this one is probably my all-time favorite.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The novel that inspired a death sentence from a head of state and pushed the author into hiding for over a decade. The Satanic Verses is infamous for causing an international political crisis as well as being allegedly completely unreadable.
Well, it isn’t easy to read, at least not to the average Anglo-Saxon reader. Rushdie is an Anglo-Indian and this book, among his others, is heavily influenced by Indian, Pakistani and Muslim culture. Having at least some knowledge about these things is beneficial, but not necessary if you have some patience.
That aside, the prose is beautiful, and the story brilliant. Two characters, one an Indian immigrant to England, and the other a Bollywood movie star, find themselves in the middle of a mid-air terrorist attack together. As the lone survivors, their fate takes a magic-realism twist and the two doppelgängers swerve in and out of reality as their personal lives disintegrate. Breaking up the narrative are “visions” of the Prophet Mohammed and the history surrounding the beginnings of Islam. Rushdie decided to interpret Islam’s founding by including the story of the controversial “satanic verses”, original verses from the Qur’an, which were actually pagan and then later ordered removed by Mohammed. Rushdie, in a sort of historical-fiction manner, writes of how Mohammed uses these verses for political gains and then later excises them from his holy book to consolidate his following. Through this, Mohammed is portrayed as self-serving and kind of a prick. Hence the assassination attempts on Rushdie.
While the book’s story itself is fascinating and lovely, the story of Mohammed and the actual satanic verses steal the show. No matter how ludicrous the circumstances get for the present-day heros, I found myself unable to wait for the next interlude about the prophet. I guess that makes me an infidel. Oh well. Not the easiest beach-reading material, but I loved it.
Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw
I always try to end these reviews with a book I wasn’t too crazy about. Healing the Shame that Binds You was a smash success back in the 1980′s, kind of like that decade’s Power of Now. Bradshaw is where the term “inner child” originates and he’s famous for bringing emotional issues within family relationships into the mainstream public consciousness back then.
Bradshaw is a former priest, former academic, recovered alcoholic, now self help guru. His most popular work is on family, and I’m actually curious to read his other books about family dynamics, but this one left me a little hot/cold. There were some parts that I thought were great and others that were cheesy or I just skipped over. I’ll start by stating basically what the point of the book is and then level my complaints against him in a separate paragraph at the end.
In Healing the Shame that Binds You, Bradshaw argues that the root of all compulsive and neurotic behaviors — codependence, addiction, anxiety, depression — is what he calls “toxic shame”. He states that there are two types of shame: a healthy shame that acts to keep us in line with social norms — i.e., don’t steal, don’t kick the dog, don’t cheat on your taxes — and toxic shame, a shame that creates irrational beliefs or emotional needs that lead to unhealthy behaviors. When we’re growing up, our parents are supposed to teach us to conform to strong values by shaming us into them. But if our parents are screwed up, then they will shame us for the wrong things or in the wrong ways, often passing their own toxic shame down to us, which then leads to us developing the same unhealthy characteristics in our adulthood.
I like Bradshaw’s model. I actually like the basic model a lot. But then he tries to get into the inner child stuff and prayer and in my opinion that’s where the wheels come off. I do believe that some spiritual practices can have psychological benefits, but he prescribes straight-up Christian theology to fix deep-seated issues, and my experience tells me that that is a dangerous combination.
When it comes to the inner child stuff, it’s more of the same pedantic self help woo woo nonsense. Visualize yourself as a child. Now hug yourself as a child. Tell yourself how much you love you. Now write down everything you’re feeling. Crap like this has been shown to be completely ineffective and a waste of time. It just pumps one’s emotional state. It’s thinly-veiled narcissism.
So are there good things to glean for this book? I think so. There were some sections I highlighted furiously. But for every page I loved, there were probably 3-5 I loathed or just skipped over. If you’re super Christian and live a pretty conventional lifestyle, this may be a great self help book for you. But my guess is if you’re like that, then you’re probably not reading this site on a regular basis.