Monday, January 19, 2009


I can add two more books to the pile.

I finished Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut and Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by GerdGigerenzer.

Slapstick, I'd say, isn't one of my favorites by Vonnegut. It's even more loosely plotted than usual, with Vonnegut spinning off into the weird and never really coming back. The story follows a pair of apelike twins who, together, have vast, supernatural intelligence. Naturally, for years, they hide this fact from their wealthy parents and the rest of the world. Eventually, there's incest, drug addiction, tiny Chinese men and a bizarre malfunction with the world's gravity, possibly the fault of the Chinese government.

It is a very, very strange book, which usually works for me. In this case, it just became too distracting with one bizarre thing piled on another, with it really not adding much to the overall story. It was fun, but not exceptionally stimulating.

Gut Feelings was something else. As part of my attempt to read 100 books in 2009, I'm trying to read things outside my usual genres. Gut Feelings is sticking my big toe in that particular river to test the water. It's part of the science of decision making. It was pretty accessible and gave me some interesting thoughts about how people make decisions. It also confirmed, or at least supported, some of my own ideas dealing with the familiar and unfamiliar.

It also sort of explained why I get confused for other people on a regular basis and why this isn't usually a bad thing.

The gist of the book is we often operate using almost subconscious rules of thumb. These are often pretty simple statements that help define who we are to ourselves. It's kind of a code of behavior.

What the book explains is we often make decisions against the obvious data at hand, using facts we know, but don't know we know. These represent hunches, instinct, whatever... The funny thing is these rules of thumb work more often than they don't (particularly in cases when it would seem they shouldn't work at all), but they can be manipulated. They can be changed when new data is accepted. Often this is for the good, but it's possible to force different internal rules to conflict and essentially trick them into making a decision that goes against their core beliefs.

Fascinating stuff.


Paige said...

That sounds really interesting. I might have to check it out, even though it would not be my general genre either.

primalscreamx said...

Suggestions are welcome. The only books beyond me are heavy science (I just don't have the brain or the background to keep up with organic chemistry equations and physics), mainstream pop Christian fiction (They're too heavy-handed with the religious message and usually weak on the story) and mass market romance (They make me giggle).

I like virtually everything else, particularly subject matter most people (including me) find uncomfortable. Some of my favorite books have been about lepers, cannibals, people in jail or surviving truly remarkable circumstances either by sheer luck or determination. With fiction, I'll read everything from westerns to science fiction to thrillers to slightly pervy books by known drug addicts.

If anybody has authors or titles I should check out. Send them along. It saves me time.

Hoyt said...

Hi, Bill, you might enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which offers anecdotes about the "gut" decisions we make. It's a light, quick read.

primalscreamx said...

Blink I did a couple of years ago, along with The Tipping Point. I guess Gut Feelings is not exactly out of the ballpark for me. As a former radio ad writer, the process of making decisions and persuasion has always interested me.
It has just been a while.
In the meantime, to celebrate the inauguration, I picked up a book by the Obama campaign about his policy plans.
Should be a fun read and might get me invited to more parties.