Saturday, April 14, 2012

M: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) & Mirror Of Her Dreams

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Genre: nonfiction, psychology

Just looking at this book makes me want to read it again. The subtitle describes it better than any description I can come up with: "Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts".

Written by two psychologists, it delves into all sorts of reasons why people dig in and defend beliefs or opinions even when they're clearly wrong and everyone involved knows it (e.g. why law enforcement officials might continue to insist someone is guilty or innocent because they originally labeled them as such, or why politicians make excuses and tell lies even when the amount of attention being paid is so intense that it’s only a matter of time until the truth comes out). It has chapter names like "Knaves, Fools, Villains, and Hypocrites: How Do They Live with Themselves?", "Cognitive Dissonance: The Engine of Self-justification", and "Pride and Prejudice...and Other Blind Spots".

This is a book I can safely recommend to everyone. It's easy to read, it's fascinating, and you'll never approach disagreement (or your own memory) in quite the same manner again.

The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson
Genre: fantasy

Terisa Morgan lives in a fabulous New York apartment paid for by her neglectful-yet-overbearing father. When Geraden comes crashing through her wall-sized mirror looking for a champion to save his land, he insists she's the one he came to get.

This is one of my favorite books. It bucks the current (and I must say, IMO, very American) trend of super-active single-protagonist books. I know we like to read about people doing things and taking control of their own destiny...but there are other stories, too. Terisa spends most of the story being dragged into things she would never have done if given a choice, and it makes her story no less fascinating for me. I like books about cautious introverts. They're so rare in fiction now. Every time I hear that a recently-published book has an introvert for a protagonist, I know in a few pages that character will just turn out to be an extrovert who was having a quiet day and soon shakes it off.

This blog post is by Aliette de Bodard, winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer , nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula, etc etc. She states what I feel (perhaps more strongly than I feel it), but in short, there are lots of valid stories out there. I remember feeling such relief as I read her post, because for many years now I'd feared the world had moved on without me.

I'm happy reading stories about individuals who control their own destiny, people who save the day, people who lead. But I'm also happy reading group stories, stories of people who aren't immediately equipped to deal with what life throws at them, stories where violence has lasting consequences for everyone involved, stories where someone isn't becoming a larger-than-life superhero in order to deal with problems. There's room for all of it on my bookshelf!

Think of the movie Training Day. His first day on the job as a narcotics officer, Jake (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to accompany Alonzo (Denzel Washington), and what follows is the most horrifying day of Jake’s life. Despite the awards they won (Denzel won best actor, Ethan Hawke best supporting actor), from a storytelling point of view, it’s Jake’s story we’re invested in, his thoughts, fears, and decisions that are the focus of the story, which makes him the protagonist. He spends most of the movie being dragged into things by Alonzo. I'm not sure he makes a single active decision until near the end of the movie. And yet it's one of the most thrilling, edge-of-my-seat movies I've ever seen.

I want more stories like that. Because while I’m entertained by people who always rise to the occasion, say the wittiest possible thing and do the best possible thing to resolve the current situation, I identify better with someone who’s overwhelmed by situations they’re not equipped to deal with, and have to muddle through solving problems, sometimes with the help of other people. As long as it’s written well, I see no reason why every single action that moves the story forward has to be the protagonist’s.

And that's it for M!


  1. Making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process. As long as you DO learn from your mistakes.

    I love Training Day. It's so unusual to see heroes making mistakes in movies, and it's refreshing.

    1. That's very true. Unfortunately too many times it seems easier to explain away mistakes than learn from them (especially for public figures). The book explores the psychology behind that, and it's fascinating.

  2. Thanks for the intro to some new reads

    1. I've got plenty more recommendations where those came from. ;)

  3. The second book looks really interesting...I haven't heard of it before.

    1. It's kind of an older one (I read it in high school, and I'm 33 now). His other books (the Thomas Covenant ones, which I never read) are more famous.

  4. Wow! those sound so awesomely cool! I will have to check them out at the public library. Thank you so very much! Best regards to you, Ruby aka Grammy