I listening to a The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel as an audiobook. I’ve sped it up because, at this point, I’m just trying to get through it. The narrator sounds like a chipmunk. But I’m still able to be slightly annoyed by it. I know why I thought a book about willpower would interest me: I’m always searching for ways to be more disciplined and creative. But having someone lecture me about it for hundreds of pages brings out my rebel.
Here are the things I don’t like about the book:
He talks a lot about men in power “falling for” the young intern. He likes to do this one paragraph down from talking about cakes and cookies (and marshmallows). Women are not treats.
He references Bill Clinton specifically, but never mentions Monica Lewinsky’s name. He only calls her “intern.” Same for General Petraeus. I really dislike when people don’t bother to name women, even if infamous. It also makes it seem like the women were tempting them and that the women had no agency or willpower of their own.
He sometimes calls people with low self control “lazy.” Seems different to me.
I don’t like being told what to do.
I could guess most of his conclusions without reading the book.
I know he’s trying to make the point that you can teach good self control, but it kind of comes across as if the only thing to be gained out of impulsiveness is survival (ie running from a predator). Impulse can lead to beautiful moments. Like when S. used a floral sheet to build a fort and we snuggled underneath and watched The Help. Our building had turned the heat off for the night, and rather than hook up the space heater the super had left outside, we make hot chocolate and pulled the comforter off the bed. Logical thinking based on delayed gratification never allowed two adults to dismantle their apartment to build a pillow fort.
Here’s what I like from the book:
He writes that, based on studies, pain relievers can help with heartbreak. (But he doesn’t specify whether to use aspirin or ibuprofen). I plan to give that as advice.
He summarizes a quite powerful image when talking about the power of DNA to determine destiny, specifically in the nature vs. nurture debate. He writes that DNA are the letters and words that make up all the books in the library that is your body. But isn’t just the arrangement of the words and sentences in the books the determines who you are, it’s how the library is arranged, how many floors, how many shelves. Beyond that, the experience of the library depends on the time of day you visit and who is there with you. Sneaking into a library in the middle of the night under an invisibility cloak to steal a forbidden book is quite a different expression of genes than attending the Scholastic book fair with your 2nd grade class (okay, he didn’t write about that, but I just expanded on it). I love thinking of my body as a library.
If I could pick any library for my body to be, it would be the public library in Chelsea, VT. We lived next door briefly, and it was magic. The old brick building was build when the town was worth something, and it was the closet thing I’d ever seen to a castle when I was little. They had an enormous kids section with bean bag chairs. They also had curved window seats along the giant windows overlooking the town green. I can’t remember any specific book I loaned as a kid—I’m sure it was like The Pony Pals or some other book that Mom wouldn’t buy me because I’d only read it once—but I loved the smell and light of that place.
Don’t recommend this book. But I do recommend libraries.