Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Personality: What makes you the way you are" by Daniel Nettle

What determines your personality? Which is the best personality to have? Are you stuck with your personality, or can you change it?

Daniel Nettle looks at the science of human personality, exploring the rich variety of our natures, how they might have evolved, and how all personalities can be defined remarkably accurately against five simples measures. This book will make you look afresh at yourself and at those around you, and give you new insights into your own personality. It won't tell you how you should live, but it might just help you life life to your strengths.

What I thought would be an interesting book turned out to be far more clinical than I had anticipated. I think it took me nearly a month or more to finish this, and it's really only about 250 pages long (once you skip the notes and bibliography). In fact, I think the best part of this book is the personality test that the reader is encouraged to take before really getting into the meat of the book.

Here's what I learned after taking the test: my score of 8 on the Extroversion scale is considered medium-high. Not overly surprising to me, especially when I read that extroverts have a lot of "positive emotions" - something I already knew about myself. I scored a 3 on the Neuroticism scale, which is low; in this case, neuroticism isn't so much what we normally think of but rather an abundance of negative emotions. Again, not a surprise for me. And I scored a nice high 9 on the Conscientiousness scale, which would come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

What did surprise me was my score of 13 on the Agreeableness scale. It seems pretty high, right? But according to Nettle, it's not, since I'm female. It's a low-medium score. If I was a guy, it would be a medium-high score. Well, that just seems weird (and unfair) to me, as the chapter that discusses this trait is called "empathizers" - something that I definitely think I am. I'm still not entirely sure I understand why my score isn't considered better; again, think it's due to the dryness of the bulk of this work.

Finally, I scored a 9 on Openness, which is a low-medium. What, exactly, is the trait of openness? That's a great question, one I'm still pondering. The chapter is titled "Poets", and talks about what I consider to be artistic people. I'm not one of those people, even on my best day. I would have thought I would rate much lower on this scale, as I don't paint, write, sing, or do anything that I would consider to be "creative". I do read a lot, which might account for my score, as some people equate the "openness" trait with intellectuality. Nettle argues that your intellectual level is something that's more a physical thing, not an emotional thing. I don't really know.

Overall, I found this book boring. And I think what surprised me most was that, if I understood the author correctly, he believes that your personality is pretty much set at birth. I beg to differ. I know I am not the same person as I was 10, even 20 years ago; in my high school days, I was extremely shy and would never volunteer to talk to strangers on a daily basis, which is what I do now in library work. I was also a lot more of a pessimist, and today I'm very much an optimist. Also, I look at my husband, whose personality is almost completely different than it was just a few years ago. He had a near-death experience (or as he puts it, circling the drain with intent); he's certainly much different now than he was before his illness, much calmer. Before he got sick, I affectionately referred to him as "my curmudgeon"; now he's the one telling me to keep my chin up, that things aren't as bad as they seem. Talk about a 180! In my humble opinion, a person can change his/her personality. And therefore, I think that's why I didn't get much from this book.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"The Ritual" by Adam Nevill

When four old university friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect with one another. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise. With limited experience between them, a shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millenia, Luke figures things couldn't possibly get any worse. But then they stumble across a derelict building. Ancient artifacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the dry floors. The residue of old rites and pagan sacrifice for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. As the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn't come easy among these ancient trees...

It's taken me a long time to get around to reviewing this book. The basic reason is that I'm still trying to decide if I would recommend it. I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with it: loved the first part, not so crazy about the second part.

OK, if you think you want to read this book, I would stop here. Seriously.
SPOILER ALERT!! Turn back now, foolish mortal. Wait. Stop. Don't.

Still here? Alrighty then, let's get into the meat and potatoes of this novel.

The first part is your standard camping-group-in-mortal-danger work. Four friends that went to university together have decided to take go on a hiking trip in the forests of Sweden. They used to be best pals, but of course, time has caused them to go their separate ways, drift apart, etc. Hutch, the experienced hiker and leader of the pack, has a nice life leading such expeditions. Dom and Phil have both gone on to get married, have children, and build careers in business. Only Luke seems to be living the same sort of life he lived in university: bouncing from job to job, girl to girl, drug to drug. When the gang gets together, it becomes obvious that Phil and Dom are thick as thieves - and thick around the middle. Neither man has prepared himself for this sort of physical journey, even though Hutch had been urging them to. And you know what that means...

Yep, as soon as the book opens, we've got an injured player. Dom has done something to his knee, something that has swollen the joint and is slowing them down. Hutch makes the fateful decision to take what appears to be a shortcut. Yes, it's the infamous "let's take this trail that isn't very well-marked so that we can get there faster" plot. Cliche? Trite? Been there, done that? Sure. But in Nevill's hands, it works. As soon as the group gets on said trail, you know they're done for. The woods are suddenly darker and thicker; progress is all but impossible. Dom's knee is getting worse by the minute, Phil is whining all the time, Hutch feels responsible for his friends, and Luke feels disconnected from all of them.

And then one of them is killed. Not only killed, but strung up high in the trees, gutted like the proverbial fish. The remaining three friends know there's no way this was an accident, and they're also fairly sure that it can't be the work of an animal. One by one they are picked off by this thing in the woods, until there's only one of them left. He's at death's door, fading fast...

And suddenly rescued by three goth teen/young adults, taken to a small cabin, and held there for the ritual. Yep, we go straight from one line of horror to another. Sadly, this is the section that had me struggling to finish the book. I wasn't crazy about the lone survivor in the first place, and then he's "saved" by three of the most repulsive characters I've read in a long time. This is also the section where things bog down as far as what the thing in the wood is, what the ritual is all about, etc. Nevill makes the mistake of trying to show/explain what the horror is, and when I read his version, I just sort of lost interest. As one of my all-time faves would say, I - the reader - can always come up with something way more horrific than what he - the author - can write. There's also a lot of philosophical questioning going on in the second half of the book, and I really didn't understand why.

So, sort of a thumbs up, thumbs down on this one. Also, some parting thoughts. Many of the reviews on Amazon said that they gang were crazy to go hiking without cell phones or a GPS unit. Perhaps, but the way Nevill wrote this, I have no doubt that if they had had those items, said devices would not have worked. These woods are ancient, and they are evil. Modern gadgetry wouldn't have saved anyone's hide in this story. What bothered me more was the condition of the lone survivor and how long he lasted, despite some traumatic head injuries and open wounds. The cottage he's taken to is not a sterile environment by any stretch of the means, and all I could think was "This guy's gonna die of a staph infection or worse" - and yet he doesn't. Having had someone in the hospital more than once, I just couldn't suspend disbelief on this count. The guy might not have made it even if he'd been taken to a hospital right away, but I'm supposed to believe that he's OK after lying in this filthy cottage for days, in a bed soaked with his own urine, not having bathed by any stretch of the imagination? Um, no. Just not working for me. Maybe I was supposed to believe that the evil thing in the woods wanted him to stay alive, but again, not buying it.

I wouldn't mind trying another one of Nevill's books at some point. Just hope I enjoy the next one more than I did this one.

"101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die" edited by Steven Jay Schneider

From the classics of George Melies and F. W. Murnau to the blood-fests of Tobe Hooper and the great David Cronenberg, [this book] explores the enduring popularity of the horror flick. Fascinating and disturbing, these films expose our most primal fears: our nightmares, our terrors, our vulnerability and revulsion, our terror of the unknown, and our fear of sex, death, or loss of identity. With insight from critics, film historians, and academics, [this book] applies knowledge and passion to over a century of vampires, zombies, killer clowns, invasions from space, homicidal preachers, vacationing Satanists, tongue-slurping cannibals, murderous children, disturbed Vietnam vets, and sentient machines. Will you ever sleep with the light off again?

A fun little book that I perused a while back and am just now getting around to reviewing. Considering that yesterday was Halloween, the timing seems appropriate.

There are several of the usual suspects here, such as the version of Dracula directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi. Also White Zombie, The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, the silent-movie version of Nosferatu, etc.

What surprised me was seeing Suspiria, The Descent, Re-Animator, Carnival of Souls (and I just do not understand why it's "groundbreaking"), Audition, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (LURVE Vincent Price!), Hellraiser, Candyman, and more. Also fabulous to see The Haunting in here, one of the most overlooked horror movies of our time, in my humble opinion. And I'm talking about the old black and white version with Julie Harris, not the cringe-inducing "remake" with Liam Neeson.

I must, however, ding this book for the editing. There are the usual little mistakes that I'm willing to let go. But in the review of Hellraiser, the contributor keeps referring to Frank's brother Larry's daughter "Kristy". Anyone who is familiar with that movie and has seen it many times, such as myself, knows that her name is "Kirsty". At first I thought it was just another typo, but no, it's spelled that way the whole review. ARGH! The contributor is listed as "JM" and the book lists that as "Jay McRoy" who has written his own book. I hope he got his facts right in that work.
Not included is my all-time fave, The Changeling, starring George C. Scott. This was released in 1980, a perfect mix of spooky/scary ghost story with mystery-thriller tied in. Scott's character is not only haunted but must solve the mystery to help the spirit rest, etc. Very atmospheric, very scary at times, and yet, very little blood/gore. Just a good old-fashioned scary flick that has stayed with me to this day.

And for those who are curious, I've seen approximately 57 of the movies listed. I didn't count some that I thought I might have seen but wasn't totally sure.