Review: Your Medical Mind

Best of Groopman’s books, IMO

I’ve read Groopman’s other books, and while it’s useful to know about how my doctors make up their minds, it’s much more important to me to understand the factors going on in my conscious and unconscious mind. This also applies to the people-as-patients who are close to me as they make decisions about medical treatment.

Some people are unhappy because Groopman & Hartzband fail to make the case for how to convince patients to follow the statistically best course of treatment, while missing the point that for most of our medical decisions, there may not be a “best” treatment. OK, colonoscopy is the gold standard for intestinal cancer screening. Fine. But there simply aren’t all that many “best” options, and almost any medical intervention varies hugely according to patient expectations, willingness, acceptance, income, etc. etc. and so forth.

The statistics about how many “best” treatments changed every year were the most interesting to me. HRT, no HRT; vitamins or not, drugs that work and then get yanked; surgeries that are found to be less than ideal. It rather strikes me that the act of believing in a “best” is possibly as irrational as any factor patients bring into the examining room.

Perhaps, if all patients truly understood statistics, we would make different decisions. Perhaps, if more doctors understood the reality of a patient’s experience with a treatment protocol and how it fits into a life, they would make different recommendations. Hard to say.

My best friend is evaluating a serious, expensive, and necessary but not urgent surgery. Her family medical “story” is vastly different from mine. Reading about other people’s backstories helps me get a handle on why she processes information one way, and I take similar data and go a different direction. This surgery is too new for there to be any useful “best” statistics, not unlike the chapter about making transplant decisions. Her processing is simply her way of thinking, not necessarily “full of cognitive errors.” This surgery could involve input from four different specialists, at least two of whom will need to be in the OR at the same time. They make a plausible case for why each is the better expert for her problem. They have stats. However, statistics fail in an N = 1 decision, when every 1 who faces this situation is significantly different from every other 1.

Your Medical Mind is NOT a checklist, or step-by-step, or even a deliberate guide to making the “right” medical decision, primarily because there is no such thing as the “right” decision, most of the time. It’s all a series of trade-offs, bartering an expected but unknown future outcome against a very present-day option. The best any of us can really do is understand what we bring to the table. I happen to think reading other people’s stories as examples of their decision-making process is a pretty good way to help me think about mine.

The book is also useful for directing conversation with the people in your life for whom you may be asked to make medical decisions, such as parents, partners, and children. I had not recognized how nearly completely useless my own medical directive documents are in the event of a near-death experience, and I’m (statistically) ahead of most in that I have the documents at all.

Every time I step into a medical practice, I sign a paper that says I will be, in the end, responsible for the charges if/when my insurance company is done. In the long run, I am also responsible for the outcome. Should it turn out “wrong,” I may have recourse and get money, but it’s still my body that’s broken, and my life to rebuild after. As such, understanding my side of the decision is totally my responsibility. IMO, Groopman and Hartzband could have gone a bit farther down this path.

Your Medical Mind

Review: Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

I found this book in the store and read it right there in the aisle. All the way through. Put it back on the shelf thinking, “OK, I know that…” Walked away. Came back. Put the book in my shopping cart (nice bookstore, that, with a cart so you don’t have to lug your books all over).

Ten little rules, LOTS of white space, instant comprehension, and a LIFETIME to learn. “leave out the parts the readers tend to skip.” If only I could do that on the first pass! OR the 23rd!! (and there are my three exclamation points, so I’m all used up for the next 99,800+- words…)

I have Stephen King On Writing. I have Robert Bly. All my books on how to be a better writer serve their purpose. 10 Rules for Writing will go on the shelf next to the others, and I’ll bet it comes down a whole lot more often. When I need to remember that beautiful books and great book design matter. When I need to be reminded that it really is pretty simple. I spend a whole lot more on a whole lot less. Three fancy coffees will leave only weight gain; this little book might actually make a difference in my life.

By the way, the Limited Edition, hardback version, is a delight to experience. Wonderful paper, great printing, fab design. Splurge on this.

Review: First Hundred Million: How To Sky Rocket Your Book Sales With Slam Dunk Titles

The First Hundred Million is a charming book, almost scary in its faith and innocence, written in 1927 with no idea that the financial end of the era was looming. You won’t skyrocket your own book’s sales using the titling information in this book–in that much, the one-star reviewer and I are in agreement. However: if you read Ogilvie on Advertising, or The Science of Advertising, or anybody on split testing, or if you think split testing was something Google forced us to invent for AdWords–read E. Haldeman Julius.

My stars, he’s verbose! Never use one word where five will do. But he’s linear, and clear, and the words aren’t that out of date even if we don’t write like that anymore. We don’t need to buy a dollar’s worth of nickel books to hide what we wanted to know about sex. We don’t read for quite the same reasons, maybe. Hard to say–I saw some of those titles and wondered if I should write an info product on the topics to sell today. If they needed to know the material in 1927, they sure aren’t getting taught it today.

Seriously–if you study advertising that works, this is a book you should have at hand. I don’t read a lot in history, so I don’t know what it’s like to read the original sources in the original. This particular edition is well produced and easy to read, totally affordable, and entertaining in its own way. I got my money’s worth.

Review: Oster BLSTPB-WOR My Blend 250-Watt Blender, Orange

Note: this is my most controversial review; the one that generated the most comments, and the most animated comments, of any I have written. Linking here so I can easily find the review when I talk about it in social media classes about writing product reviews.

I am a bad cook. I am one of those people who can tell hilarious kitchen disaster stories after the fact, stories that hide how dangerous the situation actually was. I understand this about myself, and I shop accordingly, and I am careful not to bring clearly dangerous equipment into my home.

When I told my boyfriend that this blender didn’t have an “on/off” switch, that “on” happened right away, as I twisted the container into the base, he immediately said, “Not for you!”

Right-o.

I don’t like appliances that scare me. I don’t see this relationship working out well. I want an on-off switch, so that I can settle the container into the base and then decide to set the blades to whirling. I don’t like leaving small appliances plugged in. What happens if the cat steps on this when the container isn’t inserted? George the cat nearly lost a tail to a badly designed switch once when he stepped on the shredder. (That shredder doesn’t live here anymore.)

Is this appliance an energy-sucking vampire when it’s plugged in? I don’t know.

I gave the blender a second chance, paying careful attention to the “twist-on-go-automatically” “feature,” and I can see that for people with better appliance skills & kitchen consciousness, it might work. If you’d use it every day and it therefore earns its counter real estate, I guess it’d work out OK. I suspect I won’t, and will therefore want to put it away, and will therefore forget about the whacked auto-on feature, and find myself scared by an appliance, again.

A substantial %age of the people who read this review will have no clue what I’m talking about. If you’re among the kitchen-literate, the people who don’t have two left arms at the stove, ignore this. For the others–the ones who understand just how easy it is to get the Endust and Pam cans wrong, who know through first-hand experience what happens when the eggs boil dry, who’ve set fire to the deck with a red hot cast iron skillet–take heed. This blender is one more straw on that camel’s back.

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Oh Lord, I loved this book. Full disclosure: lifetime INFP; which I’ve known since 1987. Happy with it; no plans to change or “develop the other half of myself.” (A psychologist friend tells me Jung intended the system to help you know what you needed to work on. After reading Quiet, the thought flashed across my mind: Jung’s dead. Maybe he would have changed his thinking about needing to work on my weak side if he’d lived long enough.)

I was encouraged to open a bio of Dale Carnegie after reading Quiet, and I think Cain does him a bit of a disservice. Yes, he’s the key to the cult of personality. OTOH, he’s also the reason we learned how to teach public speaking in a way that worked. I’m a fluent and skilled public speaker as a result of that course. Carnegie’s system works. There’s no contradiction between introversion and acquisition of a skill like public speaking.

Funny, but while I’ll defend Dale, I loved the rip on Harvard Business School.
A few other quibbles from a note I made while reading:

  • the habit of referring to content addressed in future chapters quickly became irritating.
  • In the Collaboration / Creativity chapter, Cain dismisses those musicians training to be music teachers at the “elite Music Academy in West Berlin” as “the worst group.” Huh? Perhaps these people are the least skilled at musical performance. But by the time you’ve been accepted into the eMAinWB, you’re hardly the “worst” in any musical comparison. p. 80, my copy) Sloppy choice of words.

I think I will read Quiet again, and that is a rare behavior for me. I was encouraged by the chapter on creativity as a solo experience, having just struggled through Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, which says creative people love collaboration. I couldn’t finish that book. My creativity is a solo thing. I am encouraged to be reminded of “remote” and highly successful introverts; if “remote” and “introverted” aren’t redundant (they are at least side-by-side).

I can’t find more to say that the other reviewers haven’t already covered. A large % of the highly ranked reviews have been written by people who review a lot of books.

Unfortunately, no designer credit is given in the pre-release copy of this book. It is a joy to hold and read the paper edition.

Review: One for the Road

Drunk Driving since 1900

Some months ago, I was tripping along through a different book, Everything is Obvious, thinking it a great read and highly informative, until I got to the chapter about Fairness and Justice, in which the author discusses the case of a police officer who was sentenced to 15 years incarceration for accidentally killing 4 people while driving drunk. The author of Everything is Obvious argues that this is not a fair sentence because not everyone who drives drunk is a criminal. In his words, “it seems grossly disproportionate to treat every otherwise decent, honest person who has ever had a few too many drinks and driven home as a criminal and a killer.” I’ll take up this argument further in my review of EiO.)

Please note: problems with parentheses have been raised with Amazon. This reviewer gets them right but Amazon keeps losing them.

I was stopped in my tracks. I could not read any farther. I could not begin to think how I could review that book. Now that I’ve read One for the Road, I understand both my own reaction, and the supposed logic behind Watts’ argument, although I most definitely don’t agree with it.

Within some wiggle room, I have cut my driving teeth, so to speak, alongside MADD. When I first started driving, it wasn’t at all hard for people to get off drunk driving charges. Along the way, it became habit in any wreck to breathalyze all drivers. It’s simply not that big a deal anymore. My circle has adapted. I remember the stories about Larry Mahoney because I drove that stretch of I-71 back then. More recently, the story that sticks is Melissa Marvin, who just couldn’t grasp that it was a bad idea to drive drunk after drinking. Now she’s doing four life sentences at NCCIW.

One for the Road explains “the rest of the story,” why some people have adapted to not driving drunk and others may not ever learn, at least in this culture. If you have any interest in the arguments surrounding impaired driving, you’ll find it a useful read. The math is complicated–how many people really die / are injured as a result? Which are the most effective interventions? Which population causes the most trouble–so called “social drinkers” (a group with a murky boundary, to be sure) or “real” alcoholics? Are you at a higher risk on New Year’s Eve, when the amateur drunks drive, or during the rest of the year, when only the practiced alcoholics are on the road after closing time?

One for the Road is history first, story second, and is a bit dry to read as a result.

I had a few quibbles:

  • I had to look up the rest of the lyrics to “Wasn’t that a Party” (quoted in the introduction) to find that it is, indeed, a drunk driving song; the part quoted does not directly reference driving.
  • I would have liked a bit more discussion of the distinction between the fabled “social drinker” and “alcoholic,” which is a very fuzzy line. The rooms of Al-anon and ACOA are full of people whose relative or friend would call him or herself a “social drinker.”
  • Lerner says that a minivan-driving mother “inexplicably got drunk and high with seven children in the car.” (p. 13) My experience suggests that “inexplicable” is the wrong word to use when a grown person has a daytime BAC of 0.19%.

Johns Hopkins Press gives credit to the cover designer but not to the designer of the pages. The paper copy was daunting, with long line lengths and small margins. My eyes struggled in 1.75 reading glasses that can easily handle many other books.

That said, One for the Road is worth the effort.

Review: Good Advice from Bad People

Selected Wisdom from Murderers, Stock Swindlers, and Lance Armstrong

Some of the time, cute little “nugget” books can be irritating; not enough meat, trivial, superficial. Even when I flipped through the pages of Good Advice from Bad People, I caught myself thinking, “reading enough of this to review it is going to be a drag.” It simply looked like a lot of stop-and-start chugging through.

Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

Really.

Even more, sometimes when you read “nugget” books straight through, they get draining because they are meant to be consumed like single-serving yogurt, not single-serving-big-bag-from-Sam’s-Club size.

Not so here.

I simply kept turning pages, eager to see what train wreck was coming next. And Bissonnette supplied one after another after another.

It’s not surprising to me that much of the “good advice” is somewhat trivial; in reality, most advice is trivial (the really good stuff is simply hard), and these are, after all, bad people. Lots of people received advice about being ethical and trustworthy from Bernie Maddoff…

From a longer point of view, the book also has a take-away effect. I didn’t know that the Men are From Mars guy was a walking relationship disaster, for example. Confirmation and affirmation that if I have any suspicions at all about advice books, I will do well to listen to my instincts.

Honestly? Put this book in a waiting room and it will get stolen. It’s simply too engaging to leave around where it can be slipped into a pocket.
Good Advice from Bad People

Review: Ignore Everybody, and 39 Other Keys to Creativity

I don’t normally pile on when a book has more than 20 reviews already, but the distribution of reaction here is a bit unusual so I thought I’d add one more five-star vote. I love this book. I’ve looked at it a dozen times in the bookstore and never carried it out; kept thinking I could get it all for free. I follow Hugh’s blog. I am a professional artist. I know this stuff.

And I can’t be reminded enough. I read the book straight through, then reread Orbiting the Giant Hairball, which covers some of the same material in a corporate setting, and then back to Ignore Everybody, pretty much in one evening. I wanted to see how the two books covered the territory. They’re similar, and if you hated Hairball, stay away from MacLeod. I’m juiced. I’m supported, encouraged, permissioned, understood.

There are, I suppose, creative people who are surrounded by encouraging, supportive communities, people who have adequate sales from their creative output (and sometimes that’s a regular paycheck) to never worry if they’re doing the right work (or partners with good benefit programs), who live free of the fear of having their ideas knocked off on another continent. There must be such people. I’ve never met them, but they must exist.

For the rest of us, there are books. Ignore Everybody is the latest. Art and Fear is my favorite, the one I carry when I fly because it’s small and can be finished in the amount of time it takes to fly anywhere. Ignore Everybody will sit right next to it on the shelf. Hairball is there, although I’m not in corporate anymore. Jessica Hagy sits on the same shelf, and If you only knew how much I smell you, and George Leonard’s Mastery, and Brian Andreas.

It’s not clear to me why this book was shelved, and perhaps sold, as a business creativity book. I would have expected to find it closer to The Artist’s Way. On one hand, creativity is creativity, but on the other, there’s a difference between making art and making business. Ignore Everybody is more about the personal elements of creativity–getting your head and your behavior out of the way.

Michael Pollan sums his own work up in seven words–eat food, mostly plants, not too much–and doesn’t let that stop him selling yet another book. What does it matter that MacLeod can do the same thing?

Now go to your studio and make stuff.

Ignore Everybody

Review: Planner Books

I love these books. I use them as planners, by gluing a paper copy of my Outlook calendar into a two-page spread, and leaving blank pages for notes in between each week (and another pair of pages in between each month). I get about 9 months to a book which helps to break the “only starting new stuff in January” problem. I like the color, I like the size, I like the binding, I like the numbered pages. The books would, perhaps, be more perfect if the pages were unlined but they are a product for the accounting market and that may be too much to ask.

My life improved when I finally accepted that no commercial calendar or planner did everything I needed to do. For today (and for the past several years), this book and system works for me.

I use these books, and have for the past 8 years, to make my own custom planner. I couldn’t find any commercial planner that allowed me the right combination of schedule, notes, view-ahead, and flexibility that worked for my life. Every week, I print an Outlook 7-day calendar and glue it into a 2-page spread. My planner runs for 9 months / volume, which helps to break the sense that life starts anew in January. When a future week’s calendar gets cluttered with hand-written changes, I just print a fresh copy (post-a-note gluesticks!).

Numbered pages let me add a TOC (table of contents).

The size is convenient to carry and large enough to take good notes.

I simply can’t “see” enough of my life on any of the electronic calendars to plan readily. A paper-based system works all the time, charged-or-not, lets me think and plan the non-committed time, and lets me see the shape of time bigger than any one week. YMMV.

I love these books.

Review: The View From The Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way In An Uncertain World

I’m just another artist with a day job, and while I may know, at some level, many of the ideas in this book, it is completely worth the time it took to read and the money it cost to buy. I read it twice right away, actually, and it will join Art & Fear in my flight carry-on because they’re good books for times when you can’t make your own art.

I particularly relish the way Ted speaks to artists in all media; there’s far too much “truth for every artist” that turns out to be for painters only.

I come away strengthened, encouraged, set back on my path. I am doing the right thing and I don’t have to know where this path leads. It did used to be different for artists but it’s not that way now and make your art anyway.

Heck, a therapist or a creativity coach will charge a lot more and take a lot longer to get you to the same place!

If I were writing the book, I would devote much less space to art students, but perhaps my distaste for that chapter has its roots in major-envy, in that I want to believe life would be different if only I’d recognized a path earlier. And yet probably my life would have been much the same if I had, only with no insurance.

Own the book. It’s doesn’t cost much, and it’s worth it. Someone over in the Art & Fear reviews noted that all the used copies are completely covered in highlighting and margin notes. My copy of View is well on its way to the same end.

The View from the Studio Door