Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for May 14th, 2015

Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality

Posted by nliakos on May 14, 2015

by Jared Diamond (Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 1997; ISBN 0-465-03126-9)

In this very short (less than 200 pages) book in only seven chapters with titles like “The Animal with the Weirdest Sex Life,” “Why Don’t Men Breast-feed Their Babies? The Non-Evolution of Male Lactation,” and “What Are Men Good For? The Evolution of Men’s Roles”, Jared Diamond considers why human sexual behavior is so different from that of most (but not all!) other animal species, in that ovulation is concealed, intercourse is not limited to fertile periods, females experience menopause, and men’s penises are larger than they need to be. He considers where humans fit on the spectrum of promiscuity, monogamy, and harems. He discusses different strategies for fertilization in use throughout the animal world. He postulates that perhaps the reason for menopause is that it allows women some years unencumbered by childcare during which they can finish raising their own children and help raising their grandchildren, and function as knowledgeable elders in their family or tribe. Like a book that describes a reader’s native culture, allowing him or her to really notice it for the first time, this book helps readers to view human sexuality from a more objective vantage point and to wonder about how it came to be as it is. Diamond is just speculating, but he leads the reader to speculate with him; it’s interesting.

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Still Alice

Posted by nliakos on May 14, 2015

by Lisa Genova (Gallery Books, 2007, 2009; ISBN 978-105011-0642-2)

I have not seen the movie, but I would venture to guess that the book, better than the movie, helps the reader to understand the gut-wrenching journey of Dr. Alice Howland, a linguist and professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard, as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease cripples her ability to remember, think, speak, understand, earn a living and generally function in the world. After all, when you watch a movie, you watch how someone behaves and listen to them speak, but you cannot enter their mind. Even though the novel is written in the third person, a reader understands Alice’s frustration and terror as if s/he were experiencing it first hand; at least I did. Rarely have I identified so quickly and completely with a character. During the three days that I was reading the book, I attributed every memory lapse I experienced to my Alzheimer’s, as if I and not Alice had received that diagnosis, or as if I were Alice. It was unsettling, to say the least.

As Alice’s condition deteriorates, her thoughts reflect her inability to realize that she has already said something (through repetition of the same utterance) and to identify the names of people with her (she refers to them as the man, the mother, the actress) or everyday things, like cream cheese (white butter). It’s very effective.

The novel also describes state-of-the-art treatments for Alzheimer’s disease as they were when Genova wrote it. It’s a good resource for caregivers and family members. Actual Alzheimer’s patients, especially those whose disease manifests itself early (in their 40s or 50s–Alice is 50 when she receives her diagnosis), will also find a hero in Alice as she feels her way down the dark corridor of Alzheimer’s.

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