Book Reviews: The Constitution, The Past, and Brain Stuff

While ordering at the restaurant, she smirked, “You are a man of simple pleasures.”
“Are you a simple pleasure?”
“No comment.” But you could tell her face was saying Oh shit!

Shuttered Life
A woman returns to the ancestral home to confront the family she broke from when her father died. One of her cousins, uncles, or aunt wants her gone, or dead, possible because she looks like her mother.
Beside the protagonist in first person, there’s a different first person narrative in italics, and this mystery is what the reader had to figure out. There’s lots of flashbacks, mostly to give motive to the bunch of suspects; every so often I would change my mind as to who I thought was the bad guy. At one point it’s seemed pretty clear it was a woman, but I didn’t figure it out until one page before the big reveal.
This doesn’t read like a typical mystery, but that’s not a criticism; it feels a lot more like a slice of this woman’s life as we get to know her through her memories and her reactions to how her long-lost family treats her. There isn’t that much plot, but the writing is good enough to keep it from getting boring.

The Constitution of the United States
The blurb says this important document has been updated and simplified so that everyone can understand it. The main differences are that the amendments had been integrated into where they would go if they’d been included in the original, and that obsolete parts have been taken out and tossed into the heap at the end. There’s also modern terminology at the end of each section, like you see in Shakespeare’s modern versions.
To someone who hasn’t read the constitution in a very long time—maybe since college—I don’t feel like this changes much. I assume for a scholar like the author his changes, particularly putting the amendments in contextual order, would seem like a big step that clarifies a lot, but I simply didn’t feel that way. Definitely nothing wrong with it, but not sure how much of an improvement it is.

Dying to Remember
Like in several movies, the protagonist here has lost his short-term memory; he can remember almost everything before the bad seafood that put him in a coma, but he’s unable to make new long-term memories. Oddly enough, this book is set in the past, and I kept waiting for it to tie into the present, but it never did.
Chapter 8 starts with a huge wham line about his wife, and the dog too. There’s plenty of suspects and motives, which I liked, because it lets my imagination run wild, trying to figure out who the bad guy is.
As one might expect, there’s a lot of repetition here; every few chapters, especially when it’s the next day, the guy has to read his notes and realize once again what happened, which is rather disheartening. If there’s a good thing about what happened to him, it’s that the disease has made him a much better person, or at least less of an asshole. In the end I was a little underwhelmed by who the bad guy turned out to be, but before that I was definitely happy with the plotting and especially the psychology behind his disease and his attempts to overcome it.

Activate Your Brain
At first glance it seems this is going to be yet another motivational tome, and in a way it is, but it wanders to a lot of places I would not have expected. For example, there’s a bit on neurology near the beginning, as if to show that this is not your average self-help book. Another thing it tells you at the start is that this book is most focused on the brains of businesspeople.
But for the most part it is like others I’ve read in this genre. Each chapter covers something specific, such as sleep, rest, food; there’s even a piece on ego, which as it turns out is not completely bad for you. Also typical are all the personal stories, some better than others. One I clearly remember is about a friend of the author’s learning to ski. The man makes it clear that gathering the courage to go down the same run as his friends wasn’t about comparing himself to anyone, but simply telling himself he could do it. I find this to be a bad example for the simple reason that most wrong choices won’t get you killed, and a beginner skier going down an expert slope is definitely a wrong choice.
Every chapter has activations, small suggestions for the reader to do which will reinforce the lessons of the chapter. But some of these feel too much like homework, while others are rather obvious, common sense. There’s even a paragraph about yawning (which of course made me yawn). There’s some good stuff here, but of course it all depends on how much the reader is willing to do.



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