walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Recent reads

Susan Anderson's _Just for Kicks_ is the second of her La Stravaganza show-girl nearing the end of her career hooks up with hunky guy books. As I have been noticing while rereading other Anderson novels, she does a remarkably good job depicting the inner workings of people who are emotionally pretty flawed but getting better, and showing the family history that created them, and the current relationships (not _just_ the romance, either! usually some older friends and/or children) which are helping them heal.

Lori Foster's _Murphy's Law_ follows _Jude's Law_, which I have not yet read. Jude is/was a cage fighter (!). Murphy is a suit who has a hobby of mixed martial arts, largely off screen. The heroine of Murphy's Law is a nursing student pulling herself up from a poor white trash background. A little eerie when she got pregnant and that smacked up against her overscheduled life; all too reminiscent of another nursing student I know.

A cage fighter! In a romance novel! Omigod. I think Newsweek had an article about the business of mixed martial arts. This is right up there when Hollywood started dubbing Miyazaki movies. Suddenly middle America is all gaga for my dorky hobby. Again.

_The Baby Business_ by Debora Spar (review on my website in the annotated sources)

I'm in the middle of two books: Principles of Population and Development (isbn: 0198774885). Well, almost done with it, actually. Riveting! Seems to be a textbook, despite its thinness. It's an intro to population studies. Really, really good. I am _not_ being sarcastic. I particularly like the stuff about the components of cohort replacement: time of first marriage, length of birth interval, time of termination of childbearing. He explicitly notes that just reducing the number of children does not necessarily cut the number of people walking around the fastest. Delaying cohort replacement is what's really useful. I distinctly remember arguing with B. about this and completely failing to get across to him this exact idea. So nice to see it put together with the math to support it. Also a lot of stuff about the demographic transition in different regions/countries (from high fertility/high mortality to low fertility/low mortality -- and how high/high was _not_ consistently true going backwards in time and some specific discussion of how to try to figure out why it wasn't when it wasn't. The stuff about detecting infanticide by gender ratio, for example.). Lots of clear thinking, interesting examples. No exercises, but sections showing how to do the calculations.

The other one is _Sleep and Society_ (isbn: 0415354196), which is what I bought the first time I went digging around on Amazon for good books about cross cultural/historical/anthropological approaches to sleep. This is actually sociological, because at the time I went looking, all the ones I was finding were really expensive (yes, I just broke down and bought them anyway, and several more as well). This has some good material, but a lot of problems. I think I just don't much care for the way sociologists write. Which is sad, because the _idea_ of sociology is completely appealing to me. I have had this problem, I should mention, for about twenty years now, so it is unlikely to change. At least this author has a sense of humor.

Most demoralizing of all, I own or have already read, a couple of his major souces (okay, the Dement from 2000 -- hadn't realized Dement was that key to sleep research. Hadn't realized sleep research hadn't really progressed any further than that; and chunks of Elias' manners history, _which I loathe_, despite finding a lot to agree with in him). He also quotes Ekirch, however, so I am optimistic that that book will be worth while when it arrives (and at least Ekirch's book is cheap).

Most upsetting about Williams: he asserts that we have better sleep "quality" (whatever the fuck that could possibly mean) than pre-19th century people (never, ever, ever compare anything to the 19th century. Those people lived hideous lives unlike any before or after). Before wide availability of lighting, once the sun went down, a lot of activity had to stop (but not all activity), and so a lot of people slept. But the sun is down a long, long time, especially in not-summer in northern areas -- a lot more time than we physiologically can use with "efficient" sleep. What happens (now, too! Recent research has confirmed) is people sleep in two blocks: first sleep, then some awake time in the middle of the night, and then second sleep. The middle awake time is when people get up, go pee, get a snack, have sex, tell each other stories, make sure the fire hasn't gone out, etc. Williams has this idea that the consolidated, deep sleep which eight-hours-in-a-row leads to is somehow "higher quality".

Look, I know when it's the way we do it, it must just inherently be better, but come on. This is sociology. Let's try to rise above that kind of knee jerk crap. Why would deep sleep be inherently better than dozing lightly? I can tell you from recent experience that there's a lot to be said for dozing. All kinds of interesting things happen in my head (and I get to remember them!) while dozing; when I'm sound asleep, it's like I closed my eyes, opened them and a couple hours disappeared in the middle. _Much_ less fun.

To be fair, Williams recognizes that ignoring sleep and sleeping life and the social aspects of sleeping and the social role of being asleep (sounds a little nutty at first, then you realize that's straight prejudice) has been a woeful lapse on the part of sociology and he's trying to correct it. I just can't believe he keeps blowing this. Deep sleep is sleep in the service of the waking world. Light sleep for extended periods of time is a sleeping world which is valued for what it does that does _not_ happen (much/well) while awake. When we only value deep sleep, and pathologize dozing, napping and "recreational" sleeping (or demonize it as a sign of laziness or poor character), we blind ourselves to an entire other world. One which, I might add, is darned cheap. Which is perhaps the problem. If they could sell us beer and chips in our sleep, people'd be all over valuing it, hunh?
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