Storytime with the Loud Librarian: Book Reviews

Please share your own reading picks and pans in the comments. Click on the book titles and enter your zip code to find the book in your local library.

I’ve been on a humorous nonfiction jag for the past few years, partly because I’ve always loved trivia, but mostly, I think, because my life has gotten so crazy that it’s hard for me to find the time I need to get sucked into a novel (although I miss that). I find nonfiction books easy to pick up and put down. I can really only absorb so much information at a time anyway. So I’ve been happy to have found a number of hilarious, yet brilliant authors in that genre, especially Mary Roach, A.J. Jacobs, and, most recently, this author:

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Riverhead)

Do psychopaths rule the world? That’s the question that haunted Jon Ronson (author of Men Who Stare at Goats and Them), who began to wonder if this disturbing group of people, which comprises maybe one percent of the population, wields an enormous amount of influence in the world.

He interviews the people who study psychopaths, learning that, among other things, they have no physical stress response to the threat of receiving a painful electric shock, and are intrigued, rather than repulsed, by images of extreme gore. He enrolls in a course on how to spot psychopaths, based on a checklist created by the instructor, Bob Hare (a man who seems to regret that he’s no longer allowed to use painful electric shocks in his research). And then he becomes an amateur psychopath-spotter, even going so far as to confront people he suspects might fit the profile, and asking them if they think they might be psychopaths.

For most of this book, I found myself trying my hand at being a psychopath-spotter too, and wondering about various people I knew or had read about. Ronson explains that psychopaths gravitate towards powerful positions, and that current researchers suspect that three percent or more of the world’s CEO’s might fit the profile. He interviews Al Dunlap, who as the former CEO of Sunbeam, delighted in firing 13,000 people. Ronson asks him point-blank if he might be a psychopath, and reads him the checklist. And Dunlap proudly admits to having most of the attributes, reframing each of them as good business tactics.

This creates a frightening picture of the world, and yet one that makes a certain amount of sense: psychopaths seek out power, and are not afraid to make the ruthless choices and take the big risks that make most people squeamish. Is it any wonder that they would be at the top of the corporate food chain? (Ronson points out though, that Sunbeam’s stock skyrocketed every time Dunlap closed a factory, raising the question of who, really, are the psychopaths? Dunlap, or the investors who gleefully supported him).

The book doesn’t stop there though. Ronson is a funny, thoughtful writer, who is always questioning everything, even himself. So he begins to wonder about the business of diagnosing people with psychological checklists, and decides to investigate the psychiatrists themselves. He finds that the psychiatric profession seems to have gone checklist-mad, labeling people (especially children) with all kinds of newly-minted psychiatric disorders, usually with the encouragement of the pharmaceutical industry.

I really enjoyed reading this book, partly because I love to play amateur psychiatrist myself, but mostly because it was such an entertaining read. Ronson has a knack for ferreting out bizarre stories and people, and has neurotic personality quirks of his own, which lead him to constantly turn the psychopath checklist back on himself. Instead of writing a serious treatise on how to identify psychopaths, who may or may not be running the world, Ronson takes you on a wild ride through the “madness industry,” where everything he learns raises new questions.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin; Art by James Dean (Harper Collins Childrens)

If I’m honest about what I’ve been reading lately, it is this book over and over and over and over and over… My two-year-old NEVER gets tired of it.

It’s a simple story. Pete the Cat is walking in his white shoes, which he loves so much that he sings this song: “I love my white shoes… I love my white shoes…I love my white shoes.” But then a tragedy occurs! Pete steps in a pile of strawberries (this happens to me all the time). Now his shoes are, horror of horrors, RED! Does Pete cry? Goodness no. (I have to admit that I never get tired of reading this book, because I love hearing my daughter say, “Gooneh no.” He just keeps walking along, this time singing, “I love my red shoes… I love my red shoes.”

I won’t give away the rest of the plot, although there’s a surprising twist involving a bucket of water. But the book ends with the phrase, “It’s all good,” which my daughter also loves. I’ve read this book at several storytimes, and the kids all fight over who’s going to get to check it out, and then ask for it again the next week, so I’m calling it a hit. There’s a new sequel out called “Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes,” which isn’t quite as memorable, but was probably inevitable.


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