Maggot Moon

This book is for kids? I beg to differ. This book is for adults. Yes, kids may read it. Will kids “get” it? I am not so sure. Yes, the language is easy to read and easy to grasp. Yes, the font is so huge, you’d think a blind person would be able to read the book. But this book is not just for kids. It’s meant to be read by adults too.

An alternate-reality science-fiction, this book is set in the time of the space race and nations trying to get to the moon. The book was so eerie, I thought it was set on the moon {also thanks to the title that deceived me into thinking so}. It was firmly set on earth but oh, what a dystopian future! The book was writ from the point-of-view of a 15-year-old, who can’t read or write too well but who’s intelligence is to be rivalled. He shows us his world, where ethnic cleansing is the norm, specially with the killing of those “flawed” in some ways. He told us of how people “disappeared” in the middle of the night, including his parents; where food was sparce, television was a banned commodity, a luxury not allowed; and where spies ran underfoot telling on each other, having “detectives” show up and take people away to be “re-educated” or to just become “maggot-meat”. The country was ruled by the likes of a regime analogous to the Nazis (there was no mention of a name except that the country had a black and red flag – very telling of the ideology in power) and whose morality and values, rife with oppression and authorotarian policing.

The book, however, told the story of this kid, who was bullied at school because he had heterochromatia (one blue eye and one brown), who had trouble breathing and who wore short-pants instead of the long-pants, that were a sign of esteem in his school. It was a story of an underdog, who in his own way, stood up and single-handedly brought around a hopeful revolution, bringing down the entire regime. The hero, who was the only solution and the only hope to a desperate people. And he did it not for himself, but to save his friend or his love. It was a heart-wrenching story and the message is as clear as day. You have to be a special kind of stupid, to take this story just at face-value.

Your Brain at Work – David Rock

Here’s a paper I wrote for my English class, where I was supposed to talk about how this book helped us improve some aspect of ourselves. Here it goes:

Having been an avid reader over the years has made me come to a realization: you are what you read. Reading is capable of changing not only the information in our brains about facts and the world, but it can also fundamentally change who you are and how you think.

Some books are capable of changing us more than others; books we pick up with the intention of reading so we can improve ourselves. A lot of the times we unconsciously absorb information from books, other times we are nudged into consciously learning something about ourselves. “Your Brain At Work” by David Rock is one of these books.

Aimed at people who want to improve themselves and the way they manage their life, I personally found that a lot of routes this book pushes readers to take and improve themselves come naturally to me already. As quoted by Rock in his book, Kevin Oschsner, the head of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Columbia University says,

Self-awareness is the capacity to step outside your own skin and look at yourself with as close to an objective eye as you possibly can. In many cases it means having a third-person perspective on yourself: imagine seeing yourself through the eyes of another individual (Rock, ).

These are words similar to those I use to explain the very idea to friends during our serious philosophical late-night conversations. Unlike the book, however, I feel that I usually achieve this when I am alone and reflecting over my day instead of in real-time. This detachment from my situation has helped me put my life in perspective, as I take my morality, and my objectivity out with me while leaving my feelings behind and watching my interactions with the world.

This ability to analyze myself, just the way I do others, allows me to see things in third-person and judge myself just the way I would judge others: impartially. And I can be brutal about it too. I don’t shy away from analyzing my most embarrassing moments or some of the most humiliating situations I have managed to get myself into. I learn from my mistakes and I do not mind going back to these moments in retrospect and seeing what I could have done better to salvage some situations. I feel like it has allowed me to change myself and become a better person in a lot of respects and in a lot of ways I have course corrected. I felt like it gave me a new form of control. After all, knowledge is power. If a person knows something about themselves, it makes it easier for them to change whatever aspect of their life they feel is damaging them. It has made me a more mature person too because I realize that this neutrality will allow my moral compass to always point in the direction of fairness; regardless of whether I myself am involved in the situation or someone else is. I feel like I am more forgiving of myself and of others as I realize that everyone is as flawed as I am.

A lot of the times as I read the book, I paused and noticed the things that I was doing that were distracting me; something I should really be paying attention to. I stopped and noticed if I really was losing focus every 3 minutes as I stopped to check my Instagram. Did I really close the book and look out my living room window and daydream? Was it because it was so much easier to check out rather than pay attention to something that required so much effort to decipher and understand? I caught myself multiple times as I sat staring into space at nothing, my mind having wandered far away from the book. I learnt a number of ways I could bring order to the chaos in my mind; by consciously paying attention, prioritizing and doing the difficult tasks first.

Something the book talks about in an indirect manner is procrastination. As I read, I felt that I used to be the person who avoided difficult tasks, but I caught on early that it would just be easier to manage my life if I got things done as and when they entered my problem queue. I found that not only did it make stress-management so much easier, it has in some way really made it easier to solve the problems or tasks. I understand this now because the idea now has a name to it; using your energy in the very beginning allows me to problem-solve efficiently. I automatically prioritize my problems starting with the most difficult, or the most interesting, or according to the closest deadline, and then give my best to it. I also feel like it really does help to mix things up and allow my mind some variety. I do this with my semester courses so I have tasks which differ in content; some are programming problems, that require logic; while some call for creativity, such as writing or designing something; and others need understanding, that just require me to read a text-book.

Another thing I learnt was that it really helped me if I thought about the problem I was meant to solve when I was doing other routine tasks that did not require a lot of attention. A lot of problem solving tasks I am given in class; I discover the solutions to in the shower or in my dreams. My mind churns out the answer to my problems and all I have to do is think about them without the pressure of looking for an answer right then and there.

A lot of what the book did for me was raise awareness about things I felt already existed or came naturally to me. However, there is one aspect of life that I feel this book really will help me “fix”; gaining some form of emotional control in my life. Managing emotions is key to making or breaking relationships and I have ruined quite a few by saying and doing things because I was riled up in an emotional storm. I feel like I really need to become self-aware when I am in an emotional state where I have no control over myself. I need to take a minute and reassess my emotional state before I make rash decisions that eventually make me feel like I have dug a deeper hole for myself.

One other thing I realized I had learnt the hard way, was handling stress; fairness; and status related issues by using reappraisal techniques and applying them at work. I realized that there was a time when I used this technique to change my attitude to a more positive one and deal with nasty situations that could arise at work where I felt my supervisor was being unfair. This severe stress-causing issue made my personal and work life miserable and I realized that I could not let this situation prolong because it would break me mentally. I could either run or I could fix the situation to work in my favor in some way. I activated my “director” (Rock, ) and decided that the best way for me to deal with this issue would be to not cry about fairness, but to make myself indispensable and let my work speak for itself. This would then allow me to feel better about my own situation, increase my status, give me an emotional boost and at the same time I would be in a better position to stand-up for myself.

I believe that the older you grow the more your director starts making appearances and it is all a part of growing up. You become aware of your own motivations and start to control your basic instincts. It is great to read books like these as they reveal to you the nature of our mind and the way it works, giving us more power to control it. At the end of the day, I feel like the director, mindfulness and self-awareness come hand-in-hand with another quality: self-control. This is the ability to stop and pause and just ask yourself this: “Is this really what I want to do?”

You – Caroline Kepnes

This was one creepy messed up book but it was totally in keeping with the new-age twisted storytelling techniques that today’s authors are employing to shake things up and make them interesting. This book was from the point of view of a stalker and how he went about life obsessed with one seemingly normal girl. It was fascinating and I think this study in the mind of someone off-the-rocker was pretty apt. Specially since, in all honesty, we all have the tendencies to be kind of mental, and are all prone to stalking and sometimes manipulating and needling our way into the lives of those we think we love. We all have the tendency to construct these fantasies in our mind around our world that are just blatant lies but somehow we convince ourselves that they are true. Or maybe that is just me…

Back on topic: the book was creepy. The antagonist was fascinating and the object of his interest was annoying enough to make a person root for the stalker. If that was the feeling the author was trying to evoke: job well done Miss. It was a little long-winded and I found myself getting mightily annoyed at the whole situation (and in all honesty I wanted the woman he was stalking dead already) and was getting really mad at how the stalker was so blind as to the flaws of this woman he was stalking. Kind of how I feel when my friends are usually the ones making the same stupid and very real life-changing decisions. By the end of it all, I was starting to think of the stalker as a long-lost friend; reminiscent of a very real friend I have had for a while now. Overall the book was a job well-done, even if it drag for a tad longer than I would have liked.