books

Why you should read Why We Sleep

I recently finished reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD, and, while I'm hesitant to use the term "life-changing" if only because I just finished it, it was certainly eye-opening. I'll go so far as to say it's the best non-fiction book I've read this decade. I'll also say that you should immediately buy it and read it. 

I've always prided myself on my ability to operated on minimal sleep when necessary. I remember staying up for 72 hours straight when working and moving to a new home at the same time. I've stayed out til near dawn and then made it to work on time more often than I can remember. 

It turns out that this was a very, very bad idea and I'm pretty mad at myself right now.

I'd always known that sleep was important, but important in a vague sense, without any clear idea of the benefits beyond "not feeling sleepy anymore". That's exactly what this book brings to the table: The benefits of sleep. And whoa, are there a lot of them. So many that Aetna pays it's employees bonuses to get enough sleep. An insurance company thinks it's important enough that they will save money by doing this. Let that one settle for a bit.

The bottom line is that you can't really be considered healthy if you aren't getting enough sleep. Your immune system is harmed, you're more susceptible to cancer (!), you don't work as well, either in terms of creativity or quantity, you're unsafe behind the wheel, you lose your memories, you can't control your emotions, and....well, it's an awfully long list. 

The most heartbreaking parts are the sections on the effect of sleep loss on development, both pre- and post-natal and through the teenage years. And, unfortunately, you never catch up on sleep. Miss sleep and the you never get back what you've lost.

This is an informative book rather than one of "hard" science. It's accessible, and, if it gets a little repetitive with the litany against the dangers of sleep loss, it's well-written and never gets dull.  There's not very much in the way of math and the charts are pretty simple, so I didn't get lost the way I do reading, say, Hawking.

You may already be familiar with all of the information contained in Why We Sleep. I wasn't, and I bet some of you aren't either. I strongly commend this book. It has the potential to make your life better in concrete ways, and how many books can you say that about?

-RK

Four updates in one post (warning: some updates my be really short)

I just finished reading Andy Weir's The Martian and, on the off chance you're in to hard science fiction and you haven't read it yet, I suggest you pick it up. It's breezy and funny and it moves along briskly and there are tons and tons of math! Don't worry, though, because Weir does a great job of keeping it at a level that I found easy to follow. I've no clue if the movie will be any good or not, but the book's a keeper.

Now isn't this interesting? New Orleans is making a bid to host Worldcon 2018? There are worse places to visit, and there are worse reasons for visiting a place. 2018 is far enough away I can't even think about making concrete plans, but wouldn't it be fun? Speaking of New Orleans, this arrived in the mail yesterday.  It's beautiful, it's raw, and it's special. 

I'm home alone this weekend. You'd think I'd be out doing wild, bachelor things and so forth. Well, you might think that if you didn't know me. I've done a lot of work (because hey, that's what you do on labor day weekend, right?) and some reading and a little, but not nearly enough, cleaning. The only bachelor thing I've done is restrict my meals to "things I can prepare easily and clean up afterwards easily." That name would look terrible on a label, wouldn't it? Someone smarter than me will probably come up with something better...

That last flash fiction story was a bear. It was a two-part prompt: The previous week, we created a character. Then, last week, we wrote a story using someone else's character. I selected a fellow who didn't say much other than a few prophetic in brief spasms. Then I got to work on the story. I had a setting, I had other characters moving around the main character, I had  a basic plot outline and even had it halfway finished when I noticed that I hadn't really done anything with the character himself. Uh oh. This was the point at which I noticed that it's tough to write essentially mute characters. In theory, I would have recognized this at the outset, but I'd somehow missed out on this vital realization. 

Four hours, a complete shift in POV, and an kind of a cop-out of an ending, I had it done. Not great, but a terrific exercise and that's what these prompts are all about. It did, however, lead me to ask myself a question. Let me put on my toga and you can pretend I'm speaking in the voice of some Greek philosopher:

"Is it better to tell a great story adequately, or to tell an adequate story skillfully?"

Ok, I'll take the toga off now.* Ideally, of course, you want to tell a great story skillfully. For the sake of practice, I feel as though I've been spending too much time and effort trying to come up with a great story and not working as hard at telling it well.  So, for the next prompt, my goal is to pay more attention to the technical side of things, the mechanics of it, even if that means I'm not particularly "inspired" by the story. Does that make sense? 

* Don't flinch; I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt underneath it.