Series: Object Lessons

Review – Spacecraft

Posted April 4, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Spacecraft

Spacecraft

by Timothy Morton

Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 144
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

Science fiction is filled with spacecraft. On Earth, actual rockets explode over Texas while others make their way to Mars. But what are spacecraft, and just what can they teach us about imagination, ecology, democracy, and the nature of objects? Why do certain spacecraft stand out in popular culture?

If ever there were a spacecraft that could be detached from its context, sold as toys, turned into Disney rides, parodied, and flit around in everyone's head-the Millennium Falcon would be it. Springing from this infamous Star Wars vehicle, Spacecraft takes readers on an intergalactic journey through science fiction and speculative philosophy, revealing real-world political and ecological lessons along the way. In this book Timothy Morton shows how spacecraft are never mere flights of fancy.

I really like the concept of the Object Lessons books — and it’s true that they don’t promise each book will be factual, just saying that each book is about the hidden life of an everyday thing. Nonetheless, the ones that aren’t really histories are often disappointing to me, and that’s so with Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft.

See, I’m not a big Star Wars fan. I saw the originals, and I saw the prequels, and I enjoyed them well enough, but I’ve not seen any of the more recent stuff, because I don’t watch many movies or TV shows at all and Star Wars just doesn’t draw enough enthusiasm from me. If it took me months to watch Good Omens (both the original series and then, after it came out, the second series), Star Wars has a “no hope” (see what I did there?).

This book is not about spacecraft. It’s about the Millenium Falcon, mostly, and a little bit about hyperspace, and a lot about object-orientated ontology (in which I have vanishingly little interest). I hoped I could get into it all the same, but… nope. To me, this is a waste of an option to write about what we understand about real spaceships, how they’ve impacted on our real lives.

Besides which, Morton’s narration just… went places. So many places. At seeming random. One topic would flow into another and I just couldn’t keep hold of the point.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Pill

Posted March 29, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Pill

Pill

by Robert Bennett

Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 176
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

"You are what you eat." Never is this truer than when we use medications, from beta blockers and aspirin to Viagra and epidurals-and especially psychotropic pills that transform our minds as well as our bodies.

Meditating on how modern medicine increasingly measures out human identity not in T. S. Eliot's proverbial coffee spoons but in 1mg-, 5mg-, or 300mg-doses, Pill traces the uncanny presence of psychiatric pills through science, medicine, autobiography, television, cinema, literature, and popular music. Robert Bennett reveals modern psychopharmacology to be a brave new world in which human identities- thoughts, emotions, personalities, and selves themselves-are increasingly determined by the extraordinary powers of seemingly ordinary pills.

I usually enjoy the Object Lessons series, but they’re pretty varied in what they contain — the best (in my views) as the ones that act as microhistories, looking at the development of a thing, what it means to people, etc. Pill doesn’t really do so, though: it does try to explore what a particular type of pill (psychiatric medication) has meant to people, without much of the scientific/medical side of things. Largely, Bennett spends the time recounting the events of TV shows, books, etc, with a minimum of actual commentary. The character did this, then that; another character said this about it; this is how things ended.

It’s really boring to read, and it doesn’t help — for me — that Bennett’s obviously deeply ambivalent about the use of psychiatric drugs, but uses these fictional examples as if they’re truths. They aren’t. Fiction is fiction. And yes, sometimes it reflects reality and comments on reality (and medication in real life can have side effects, or not work, etc), but Bennett seems in danger of forgetting that the characters aren’t real, and their struggles aren’t real.

He reveals in the last chapter that he has bipolar disorder himself, describing some of his manic episodes, but clearly yearning for them as well. Psychiatric medication, he believes, changes his personality, mutes his creativity, etc. You can tell by reading that he’s within an ace of unprescribing himself from his own medication — and by his own admission, chaos will undoubtedly ensue if he does.

All in all, the book is more of a summary of various movies involving psychiatric conditions, followed by a confession of instability and uncertainty on the part of the author. The final chapter alone feels a lot more worthwhile than the regurgitated plots, though it’s inconclusive and perhaps not quite coherent.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Doctor

Posted March 15, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Doctor

Doctor

by Andrew Bomback

Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 176
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

A 3-year-old asks her physician father about his job, and his inability to provide a succinct and accurate answer inspires a critical look at the profession of modern medicine.

In sorting through how patients, insurance companies, advertising agencies, filmmakers, and comedians misconstrue a doctor's role, Andrew Bomback, M.D., realizes that even doctors struggle to define their profession. As the author attempts to unravel how much of doctoring is role-playing, artifice, and bluffing, he examines the career of his father, a legendary pediatrician on the verge of retirement, and the health of his infant son, who is suffering from a vague assortment of gastrointestinal symptoms.

At turns serious, comedic, analytical, and confessional, Doctor offers an unflinching look at what it means to be a physician today.

Some of the Object Lessons books are histories of the object under discussion, peeking into history through a very specific lens. Andrew Bomback’s Doctor instead looks at being a doctor right now, with only a little historical context in the form of his musings about his idolised father. There’s some contrast between being a doctor now and how it used to be, and some discussion of how doctors navigate the world — all alongside his experiences as a father, how his profession impacts his children, etc. It’s more of a memoir than anything: how enjoyable you find it will depend on how you find Bomback as a person, to some extent.

Bomback Jr isn’t one of those doctors perpetually driven by “making things better”, and his frustration with some patients — his contempt, even — drips off some of the pages. Without thought, he lists the patients he dislikes, ending with: “healthy, never sick, never really needed to see me, but convinced there is something wrong that I am yet to find”. He hates those patients more than the patients who refuse to comply with his treatment plans.

It’s fashionable and easy to hate on those with health anxiety (“hypochondriacs”, “attention seekers”), but consider: there is something wrong with us. That fear that we can never quiet is ultimately the problem we need help with — and it’s a doctor’s job to get to the root of the problems we present to them, and to help us, because they have the expertise to see what we do not. There are options: addressing underlying trauma, providing lifestyle advice, and yes, medication too.

If you don’t know that, if you can’t see that, if you just casually dismiss those people as not needing help, well… you’re a shit doctor, and you should feel a deep shame. And sure, he’s mostly concerned with patients’ kidneys rather than general practice, and maybe he himself can’t help with health anxiety (though I notice he was happy to prescribe Xanax if his patient’s wife said he needed it), but he can at least have some damn humanity and recognise that fear, rather than complain about them because their fear makes them question his vaunted expertise.

So needless to say, I did not end this book thinking “ah, Dr Bomback sure is a nice guy”, which I’m sure is what he’d like people to think. I know what he’d think of me, and I am profoundly relieved he’s unlikely to ever have to treat me. I’d hate to get on his nerves by so rudely having medical trauma.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Glitter

Posted February 13, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Glitter

Glitter

by Nicole Seymour

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 184
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

Glitter reveals the complexity of an object often dismissed as frivolous. Nicole Seymour describes how glitter's consumption and status have shifted across centuries-from ancient cosmetic to queer activist tool, environmental pollutant to biodegradable accessory-along with its composition, which has variously included insects, glass, rocks, salt, sugar, plastic, and cellulose. Through a variety of examples, from glitterbombing to glitter beer, Seymour shows how this substance reflects the entanglements of consumerism, emotion, environmentalism, and gender/sexual identity.

Broadly speaking, I really liked Nicole Seymour’s Glitter. Love it or hate it, glitter is everywhere — and some of the hatred of glitter sometimes seems more like an “ew, I’m not gay!” or a performative “ugh, I’m like those other girls”, “I’m not a child”, etc. Seymour makes this clear, regularly referencing how important glitter is to members of the queer community, for various reasons.

I’d have liked a little more detail on one or two points — there are lots of references to what glitter is made of, the effort to make it biodegradable, etc, but I’d have loved a little more detail on the options, what people are using, etc — but overall I found it pretty good.

It did also make me think. I must admit to not being a great fan of glitter myself, but I couldn’t honestly say why. It’s relatively harmless (Seymour points out that the impact on the environment of the plastic variety is fairly tiny, and of course not all glitter is made from plastic), and a little bit of sparkle does people no harm. I suppose I find it a little bit cringe when people attribute absolutely magical things to it, which at times I think Seymour’s at risk of doing.

Rating: 4/5

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