BOOK REVIEW: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

39203791Title: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by 

Author: Michael Pollan

Book Length (Audiobook): 13 hours 42 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Science, Psychology, Health, Philosophy

Read Start Date: March 27, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 6, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “A brilliant and brave investigation by Michael Pollan, author of five New York Times best sellers, into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs–and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences. When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these remarkable substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third. Thus began a singular adventure into the experience of various altered states of consciousness, along with a dive deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research. A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a triumph of participatory journalism. By turns dazzling and edifying, it is the gripping account of a journey to an exciting and unexpected new frontier in our understanding of the mind, the self, and our place in the world. The true subject of Pollan’s “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both struggle and beauty, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives”

My Review: This book was interesting, but not one of my favorites. Although I liked some of the anecdotal stories that Pollan tells about his own personal experiences with psychedelic drugs (from magic mushrooms to frog venom), I found the science aspects of the book to be rather dry — but I guess that is just the nature of very scientific subjects.

I had such high expectations of this book, based upon the raving review of my boyfriend, that I felt a bit disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm in reading it. I thought it was going to be some enlightening story, that drugs like LSD, etc., would suddenly make sense to me. That I would “see the light” so to speak. Maybe I am just skeptical that a drug which admittedly alters ones perception artificially can somehow treat mental illnesses. That could just be “the establishment” brainwashing me to be against drugs, but who knows.

But the book had its redeeming qualities as well. I found several stories very intriguing, especially those about Paul Stamets, a mycologist (a scientist specializing in mushrooms). Pollan described several interesting patents that Stamets held, including one for a mushroom which was used as a natural ant killer. How do you ask? You should read the book to find out.

Being somewhat of a Startrek fan, I also found it very interesting that the creators of Startrek Discovery decided to name a character Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, and that such character knows more than anyone in the world about space mushrooms. Coincidence? I think not.

Despite my failure to be blown away by the subject matter, I did find it interesting overall. If you are looking for a scientific read that pushes the boundaries of societal norms, then I would recommend to read this book.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

32148570Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours 34 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Read Start Date: March 5, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 27, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.”

My Review: Before I read this book, I had no idea that it was based upon a true story – the afterward gives a short summary of the real life events. Georgia Tann, was a real person in the early 1900s, who more or less stole children from poor people and gave them up for adoption to rich people. At the time she was heralded as the savior of children, but it eventually came out that these children where essentially kidnapped, and often were mistreated and abused (sometimes sexually) in the orphanages.

I was really surprised that something like that could happen in America, and at times I felt myself overwhelmed with emotion. It reminded me also of all those stories that recently came to light of the orphanages in the UK, where many children were mistreated, and sometimes died, only to be buried in mass graves. Children are supposed to be protected, not bought and sold like commodities.

Even though the book jumped back and forth between the past and the present (the two perspectives of Rill and Avery), it was done in a brilliant way, which made me yearn to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. The characters were great — I really liked the perseverance and strength of little Rill, and the dedication of Avery to find out the mystery behind her family. There was even a little romance thrown in to the story line, which supported, rather than detracted from, the story.

I read this book as an audiobook that I rented from the library. About 2/3 of the way through the book, my loan expired and I had to wait a few weeks to get it again. It.was.torture.

Don’t do this to yourself. If you read this book (which I totally think you should), make sure that you have enough consecutive time to do so because you will not want to put it down.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

32075671Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 44 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Read Start Date: March 24, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 26, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Review: I had no idea what this book was about before I started reading it — honestly, I do not remember how it ended up on my holds list at the library. I am struggling to write a review of this book, as it has raised many mixed emotions for me. I have mixed emotions because on the one hand, I understand that there are bad cops out there that give good cops (like my brother) a bad name — but I also know there are criminals out there who give non-criminals out there a bad name.

The theme running throughout the book, and the meaning behind the title, is from Tupac’s famous quote, that Thug Life means, “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody”. The plot of this book could be ripped straight out of today’s headlines, i.e., Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, African-American vs. Police, etc.

Living in Europe for the past two years, I have not really been following the recent movements, but I can understand that it is a very contentious issue. This book takes the view of an African-American teenage girl, and more or less paints the police in a bad light.

Starr is traumatized when her best friend Khalil is shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Starr takes a deep look at what being African-American means to her. Starr has many juxtapositions in her life. Her father, Maverick Carter, a formal gangbanger, enrolled Starr and her brothers in a mostly white school in a better neighborhood. During the school week, Starr has white friends, and even a white boyfriend. On the weekends in her African American neighborhood (Garden Heights) she leads a different, and separate, life.

This book (and the movie version that I watched afterward) really moved me – at some points to tears. I really felt bad for Starr and her community, especially Khalil, who was shot because the police officer was scared he was reaching for a gun. Khalil wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the police officer didn’t know that. This happens in real life, and it is very, very sad.

There is so much broken with American society, and this book poignantly shows that. Not all African-American men are gangbangers and thugs who sell drugs, and not all police officers are dirty, trigger happy cops who murder African-Americans without provocation – but it is these stereotypes which keeps everyone imprisoned behind walls of hate and suspicion, and forces our collective children to grow up with fear and a learned hatred.

This book may be fiction, but it might as well be nonfiction. Too many times in recent history there have been police shootings of African-American men. Sometimes it is justified, but I can only imagine that sometimes stereotypes and racism (whether conscience or not) have played a part in such a shooting. Sometimes the office responsible for the shooting is indicted, and sometimes he is not. Each time the media and the parties involved become incensed, and it only adds more fuel to an already out of control fire.

Even though this book is supposed to be for teenagers, I would also recommend it to any adult. I usually read only for entertainment, but sometimes it is good to read a book that provokes thought and introspection.