scoopgirl (scoopgirl) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 11 and 12 - both fantastic

11. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

This fabulous Pulitzer winner, about a “ghetto nerd” named Oscar, his bright and lovely sister, Lola and their cruel and (literally) tortured mother, Beli is one of the best I’ve ever read.

The title is a bit misleading (though the life of flabby lovesick Oscar, with his penchant for Tolkien and inherent dorkiness is key), though. The sad, Spanglish tale herein is about the fuku, or curse, running through the de Leon family, from Beli’s days in Santo Domingo to her children’s lives as heirs to the Dominican diaspora in New Jersey.

Honestly, I can see where folks who don’t speak Spanish could have trouble understanding some central moments and feelings, so much does Diaz love to throw in a Spanglish word at critical plot points.

But, that’s the only real complaint I would have about a story that challenges stereotypes, draws characters and scenes that leap off the page, offers a compact history of a little-known country – all while telling the small story of one boy’s heartbreak at desperately wanting to fit in, to be loved without compromise.

12. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error – Kathryn Schulz

It sure does feel good to be right.

But as Schulz describes in this essay book that spans history, philosophy, psychology and a bit of pop culture, there is actual more value in getting it wrong.

That is, errors can be useful in developing scientific theories, creating art, building comic moments . Basically, they make our lives richer and fuller than would an ideal existence.

That proposal has its detractors, not the least of which would be many of Schulz’s fellow journalists. No reporter wants to get it wrong, ever. Even a minor mistake can throw an entire concept into doubt.

Think, too, of the model rational thinker, arriving at a decision only after cooling weighing factual information. This, western philosophy believes, will give us the right conclusion.

And we also fear being wrong so much that we often opt for denial, even in the face of overwhelming contradiction (think Holocaust deniers, or climate change refusers).

Yet, we often know better on some level. Sarte suggests we can only live in denial when we know the truth well enough to hide it from ourselves.

Schulz turns that idea on its head, suggesting better uses for our energy in trying to trick ourselves. Why realize instead that our ability to err is uniquely human and gives us the creativity to accomplish great things?

My favorite part is when she delves into what the refusal of error can create. That is, we go through three stages when we encounter people whose beliefs we find wrong. First stage: They are ignorant, for if they knew what we are so certain about, they would surely agree with us. Second, we find them idiots, for now they have been shown our rightness but still reject us. Finally, we conclude they must be evil. How else to reject the One and Only Way?

Sound like any political fights you have ever had? Or maybe a fun family diversion about religion over Thanksgiving turkey?

Indeed, one of Schulz’s main points is that rigid certainty and the plan to erase error were behind some of our darkest moments in history. Why? Looking back, we can see that being wrong often feels so much like being right, and sure does feel good.

Better, then, to learn to enjoy being wrong. Research, Einstein said, is named because we don’t know what we’re doing. There is joy in that, too.


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