When by Daniel H Pink – Book Review

Before I started this book, I had kept reminding myself, “Suspend your disbelief.” The reason I did this was that I have been very cynical of behavioural/psychological/anthropological books that spout studies selectively and creates an artificial narrative. Specifically an example is the spate of books that attribute certain behaviours of the modern human to that of his ancestors when they roamed the savannah. I’ve said it before as well that my brain does not process kindly such attributions. And in keeping with the times, this book too has this attribution somewhere in its pages (economic rationality is no match for a biological clock forged during a few million years of evolution).

“When” starts off quite well. The author structures the book into three parts – The Beginning, the Middle and the End. Each part deals with a specific time of any project/activity/task and it discusses how that particular part fits into the bigger picture. The author quotes multitudes of studies to bring home the point.

Mercifully the book is not too long and rambling. And that is where the good things about the book end. Although the author mentions in the introduction that this book can be used as a practical guide, by the time I reach the end, I’m left wondering for what. Other than a Malcolm Gladwellish analysis of social, mental and psychological phenomena, I didn’t finding anything much to take away from this book. To put it even more plainly I couldn’t discern the purpose of the book.

There are a few commonsensical tips scattered in the book. If you’re a morning person do your heavy work in the mornings. If you’re an owl, do it later in the day. Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up to rehydrate yourself.

Interestingly the useful content of the book follows the much repeated peak, trough and recovery graph that the author introduces at the beginning. The chapter on Midpoints seemed much devoid of actual useful information mirroring the trough that people face somewhere during the midpoint of a project.

The author proposes many changes in the daily schedule for a person for him to take the maximum benefit of the “when” concept. However, a typical working professional is highly constrained by the office timings and rules for him to gain any significant benefit out of these. A twenty minutes mid-day nap? Good luck convincing your boss to implement this idea.

Some of the most supposedly most actionable parts were the Time Hacker’s Handbook chapters. I assume this was the practical steps part that the author talk about. But in the end, these seem like simple (and repeated) life hacks. The Zeigarnik effect has been discussed in much detail in other books that I have read. Atul Gawande has better explained the importance of checklists in his excellent book. Yes, the Seinfeld chain recommendation is well known to most familiar with the self-help genre.

Getting the timing right in any aspect of life is quite important, and quite difficult. If done right, any material on this can definitely help improve the quality of one’s life. But as far as this book goes, I would not recommend this book more than a quick and light read, compiling many of the experiments done earlier as well as a miscellaneous collection of productive tips.

Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.—MILES DAVIS

Thankfully this book didn’t take much of my time.

New Erotica for Feminists Book Review

The title of the book itself screams that this book is not going to be like any other book published before. Erotica? We got millions of books on that. Feminism? Yes that is a hot and burning topic today. But erotica for feminists? Librarians are going to have a hard time deciding which shelf this book goes on. At first the witty title piques my curiosity but then the blurb takes over,

He calls me into his office and closes the door . . . to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.

When you’re chuckling even before you open a book, that book surely deserves a read. And this book did deserve the same.

I picked this book up for a lighter read while I attempt to plow through a mammoth book that I have taken up as my first 2019 read. That other book is Daniel Yergin’s Pulitzer prize winning history of oil, The Prize. It is such a detailed and lengthy book that I have to take regular breaks in order to keep my sanity. The scope of the book and the number of characters, if not protagonists, is overwhelming. But I’ll complete it in a few weeks.

So back to the topic of erotica. The last I remember reading erotica is a teenager, with raging hormones and an utter need to pick up anything related to sex. Much water has flown under the bridge since then. The hormones have mellowed and the genre is no longer a surreptitious pleasure for me anymore. But the reason I picked up this book is that it belongs to a newly invented genre. As they say, invention is simply taking existing things and combining them in different ways to create something new. Take erotica, of which there is enough literature (most of it bad), take feminism, which is quite relevant in today’s times, and combine the two, and poof. You have a brand new genre that is completely unique and if tackled correctly, can be quite enjoyable and instructive as well.

Four authors have attempted the same in this book. The founders of the comedy/satire website, Belladonna  are the authors of this quirky book. The idea came out of a series of group chats that the authors developed and structured into a book. The authors were particularly frustrated by the lack of reach of feminism in many spheres of life even today. The outcome is a series of short montages of erotica that completely overturn the story and its ending. It’s like having an M Night Shyamalan twist in every montage.

I was initially confused as I was expecting a few stories that ran across pages. Instead when each page started with a new setting, I was left turning pages back and forth at first. A few episodes down the line I realized (and appreciated) that the goal of the authors was to cover many situations as possible, and so crisp and terse montages were the way to go. And they do work. Just when the reader expects a certain punchline or the mini-plot to go one way, the feminist twist to the story takes it off to an unexpected direction. I would not be honest if I said that I could predict the punch-line in every story. A part of me was disappointed by the sudden break in the sensuous build-up, but a part of me smiled as well. Yes, women do face discrimination in this world, and this book showcases that in a subtle, yet thoughtful manner.

I never thought that one day I would analyze erotica (and it is difficult to call this erotica, because nothing erotic happens in the end). But nevertheless this book is a fresh and unique way to tackle a sensitive subject. It is designed to bring out the “oh, I didn’t know men did that”, and I’m sure there will be certain montages where the male readers of this book may realize that, “hmm, maybe this is how it feels”. If this book evokes such realizations from the reading public, I’m sure it will have achieved its purpose to a very large extent. The authors pretty much say the same thing at the end of the book,

“We just used an entire book of comedy to point out some ways in which women are expected to lived up to society’s impossible and often conflicting standards.”

Satire is meant to bring out the inadequacies, the flaws, of a certain topic without making it into a rant. If done correctly, it is a brilliant tool and an enduring one. If not, it falls flat on its face and loses its purpose. This book uses satire to take on a very important concept of gender equality and does a pretty good job of it. Pick this book up if you’re curious about how women face sexism in day to day situations, and how they wish the world would instead behave.