The Spook Who Sat by the Door

by Sam Greenlee

In all his career as a professional Negro, Summerfeld had never before encountered a white liberal who actually wanted an original opinion from a Negro concerning civil rights, for they all considered themselves experts on the subject.

p. 3

I love clever writers, and Sam Greenlee is a very clever writer. The wry smile he wears as he puts down words is crystal clear on each page. As is his rage.

We been on our ass, but never on our knees and that’s what the white man don’t understand. He thinks it’s the same thing.

p. 81

It’s a spy thriller that manages to have some interesting things to say about race relations in America. It can feel heavy-handed at times, but maybe a more subtle approach wouldn’t work. Or maybe I’m just a white liberal considering myself an expert on Greenlee’s subject.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. It fed my radical soul, and I think it’s worth a read.

Elder Epoch

by Zamil Akhtar

After reading Conqueror’s Blood I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading the Gunmetal Gods Saga. But I picked up Elder Epoch anyway and I’m glad I did. It puts the characters back in the center of the cosmos horror action where they belong.

The story was already complex, and in this book it grows even more so, reshuffling the powers of the world and adding threats from beyond the veil.

Akhtar calls it cosmic horror. I’d say it’s potion brewed from the Crusades, the Book of Revelation, and Lovecraft, with a fair few other influence seasoning the cauldron.

I guess I’ll keep reading.

ADHD 2.0

by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. & John J. Ratey, M.D.

A person with ADHD has the power of a Ferrari engine but with bicycle strength brakes.

p. xvii

ADHD 2.0 is an book about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder from the authors of the popular Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder—from Childhood through Adulthood. It purports to give up-to-date recommendations for recognizing and coping with ADHD.

I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, so I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can. Someone recommended this book to me when we were discussing my diagnosis.

I like the analogy I quoted above. It’s helpful. And of course I like thinking about my brain as a Ferrari. But overall I have some issues with this book.

Everything seemed OK until page 40, when out of nowhere the authors cited a chiropractor, Robert Melillo, who now says he can cure ADHD and other disorder with balance training.1 Seeing a chiropractor cited for curing mental disorders sent my antennae right up. It wasn’t hard to find this 2018 investigative report by NPR, which concluded there was no evidence for his claims.

On the very next page Hallowell and Ratey recommend another company, Zing Performance. Like Melillo’s business there is some foundation for the theory behind the treatment, but the treatment itself is unproven and controversial.

It would be one thing if Hallowell and Ratey had written something like “The underlying theory is sound and this treatment seems to address it, so we think it could be worth a try. But no promises.”

Instead, this is what they said about Melillo’s Brain Balance Achievement Centers:

[I]n our opinion, they do provide a valuable and usually successful treatment for selected children with more severe ADHD or autism.

p. 40

And this is what they said about Zing Performance:

[T]he gain is clear. These exercises, if done faithfully, do indeed work the vestibular system hard, and many report subsequent improvements in the symptoms of ADHD.

p. 41

There isn’t much disclaiming in those endorsements, even though it seems like there should be quite a lot of it. So after Chapter 3 I stopped trusting Ratey and Hallowell.

The pseudoscientific trend continued. In chapter 5 they recommended the Kolbe Index, a personality test that claims to measure your “innate abilities.” And like other personality tests—Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, etc.—it’s about as scientific as astrology. In chapter 6 they recommended the Feingold diet, which is not supported by good evidence of effectiveness. And OmegaBrite, an expensive omega-3 supplement. (I took this for a while and found it highly effective for upsetting my digestive system.) And CBD, of course, the snake oil du jour. And the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, a cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) device billed as a “superdevice for depression” (not ADHD, notably). I mean, come on.

I’m no scientist, but I am skeptical. Something’s off, here.

I didn’t learn anything about ADHD from this book, and given all the apparent pseudoscience I don’t think I would trust anything in it, anyway. If there is any redeeming quality in the book it is the authors’ appeal to reason in the next-to-last chapter, on medication, which anyone who gobbled up the bunk in the previous pages may especially need to hear.

Confidential to the person who recommended this book to me: Even though I did not like this book you have been extremely helpful to me as I learn about ADHD and how to live with it. Thank you and I’m grateful for you.

  1. From his book, Disconnected Kids: “ADHD, dyslexia, and even autism, among others, can become a thing of the past.” ↩︎

Translation State

by Ann Leckie

An exploration of the limits of identity, plus legal and political intrigue and a bit of space magic.

I read Leckie’s Imperial Radtch series a few years ago and loved it. I enjoyed the story, but also the way she omitted gender signifiers and used she/her pronouns for nearly all the characters. In Translation State she introduces some new pronouns, like e/er and xie/xir. This time I found it distracting and tiresome.

Perhaps for that reason I found this book hard to get into. It had a long, slow start for me. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it does have me very curious to read more about the aliens in Lecki’s universe.

Jenny Trapdoor

by Neal Asher

Jenny is a war drone in the shape of a trapdoor spider, created by an insane AI. At the edge of the Graveyard she feeds on prador, the enemies of the Polity, until she is nearly destroyed. When she awakens hundreds of years later she finds a changed world and a strange new friend.

This novella is definitely meant for existing fans of Asher’s Polity Universe. It is another chapter from the backstory of Penny Royal, the strange AI from Dark Intelligence. I wouldn’t start with this book, but if you are a fan I wouldn’t skip it.

Peter Pan

by J. M. Barrie

I love to be reminded that some books are classics because they are full of magic and surprise and delight so that they are still enjoyable even after 100+ years. (Unlike many other classics which are a slog and only enjoyable on reflection after the fact, largely because most other readers gave up before the end so you’ve got one over on them.)

Peter Pan (originally Peter and Wendy) is such a classic. I’ve read it many times and in between readings I always forget it isn’t a stuffy book. Then a few years later I pick it up again and before I have finished the first page I’m delighted and smiling all over again.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

by Scott Lynch

A caper set in Renaissance Venice if it were controlled as much by the Mafia as the merchants, where magic is real but very expensive, and someone is hunting down gang leaders one by one.

I found this caper pretty predictable most of the way through. For the first half of the book or so, this is deliberate. We get the conclusion first, then a flashback with the story leading up to it. I didn’t enjoy that style of storytelling. If I already know how a story ends, the story itself had better be full of surprising twists and turns. Not in this book. Even after the flashbacks end the story keeps spoiling its own plot. The reader is a little too in on the caper.

It was just OK. There are more books in the series but I don’t plan to read them.

The Saint of Bright Doors

This boy without a shadow is definitely not Peter Pan. His mother trains him to kill her, then his father, and then he leaves her and moves to the city to escape his fate. It finds him anyway, of course, this being a novel and all.

On the way to a kind of oh-by-the-way conclusion this book has some pretty awesome moments. It even manages to work in some good stuff about colonialism, patriarchy, messiahs, and productivity gurus.

It was OK. Three stars, I think.

The Last Days of Night

by Graham Moore

A patent-law procedural turned legal caper. Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and Paul Cravath walk into J.P. Morgan’s bar, where Agnes Huntington is singing.

I usually stay away from books featuring lawyers. I’ve had all the legal drama I can take from existing in that world for the last twenty-odd years. Despite this, I mostly enjoyed this book—especially part 3, where the legal procedural turns into a legal caper.

Mom’s House, Dad’s House

by Isolina Ricci

This book feels dated, and not just because it still emphasizes the importance of land lines, beepers, and snail mail for communication and doesn’t know anything about websites, cell phones, text messaging, video calls, or social media.

It feels like it was written for traditional suburban families with a dad who works full time, a mom who stays at home, and both of them can’t wait to get remarried because only a mom and a dad make a real family. (This book doesn’t know same-sex couples exist, either.) It doesn’t give examples of any custody arrangements where each parent has the kids for an equal amount of time.

I didn’t recognize myself or my own divorce in any of the examples.

In fairness, it was published in 1980 and last updated in 1997. But it still claims to be the “definitive” guide for divorcing parents. Which seems a little ambitious given all the above.

I admit I skimmed quite a lot of it.

Still, I found some useful information in this book. The road map from separation to separate healthy homes helped me locate my own divorce in the process. And the explanation of “negative intimacy” and why it is important to strive for a businesslike relationship with a former spouse resonated strongly with me.

All the same, there must be better, more up-to-date books for divorcing parents. Since that’s now me, I’d be grateful for recommendations.