The Last Reads of the Summer
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The end of the summer is worth savoring. Sleeping in too late (my body’s still mad at me for all that I put it through this summer), spending time with the family, soaking up the sunshine while I can. The weather won’t vary too much in Lexington, but I miss constant, blaring sun.

I’m fully planning on building in time to read during the school year, since I’m taking my time back. (I’m so excited to curl up on my gorgeous porch — such a porch girl — at night with the string lights and some music and tea. Such a happy atmosphere.) But I still definitely feel the pressure to pick the “right” books to read before I lose my sense of having time. I let myself relax so much more in the summers, although my days probably look pretty similar.

There are some topics during the school year that I’ve made a commitment to reading about monthly, just because they’re helpful to brush up on and actively remember.

TOPICS I’VE LOVED

  1. Cognitive biases & unconscious influences — Some of my most rewarding reads this summer were about the flaws in our decision-making and perception of reality. All the psychology books in the world won’t get me to stop thinking about ways I can improve, but reading scientific overviews of why we physically can’t control a lot of the situations we find ourselves in gave me a lot of peace this summer! Additionally, they’re really good for developing empathy and understanding other people, which I think is always helpful to keep in mind. It’s just helpful to be humbled by all that we don’t know at a given time.

  2. Place and spatiality — I’m a huge location girl. My environment influences so much of my mood at a given time. There are places where I thrive, and places that I don’t. Especially as an entering senior (terrifying!), I place a lot of importance on where I’ll end up and which factors lead me to that decision. I’m also interested, on an aesthetic level, in spatiality, physical awareness, how we move, all of that.

  3. Character and kindness — One of the most important speeches I’ve ever read is George Saunders’s comments on failures of kindness. It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of life and forget how we should treat other people, but it’s always refreshing and grounding to be reassured that kindness should always be our #1 priority! The books and stories I read about its development are always hopeful and important to me.

  4. Digital minimalismAs I talked about in a post earlier this week, I took a break from my phone this summer and loved it. I had so much more time, and appreciated my complete presence at any given moment. Phones aren’t evil, and screens don’t ruin you, but I enjoy having a consistent reminder of the way they can provoke unhealthy habits.

Some of these reads reflect those themes while other branch out into other topics I wanted to cover before the home stretch. Without further ado, here are some of my final picks!

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I'm excited to read about social networks and how we all influence each other, especially going into my final year with a tight-knit community at school.


I’m in the thick of this read right now and have already underlined at least on every page. It’s a smart, concise overview of the decision-making errors we most often fall prey to.


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So many people have told me they loved this read. I’m partway through, and enjoying it so much. I loved surfing this summer, and reading about others’ reverence for water.


What are y’all reading?

You'll spend eleven years of your life on your phone.
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Novel: Irresistible by Adam Alter | Goodreads
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Penguin Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library

Buy it here.

Welcome to the age of behavioral addiction—an age in which half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.

In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today's products are irresistible. Though these miraculous products melt the miles that separate people across the globe, their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. The companies that design these products tweak them over time until they become almost impossible to resist.

By reverse engineering behavioral addiction, Alter explains how we can harness addictive products for the good—to improve how we communicate with each other, spend and save our money, and set boundaries between work and play—and how we can mitigate their most damaging effects on our well-being, and the health and happiness of our children.

Buy

I got rather obsessed with Adam Alter over the summer, because I devoured his nonfiction. His topics were engaging, and his content pinpointed human behaviors that permeate every aspect of our daily lives. What could be more relevant?

The book itself was delightful and alarming. Alter discusses behavior addiction with such dexterity, and the digital sphere in such depth. It’s not patronizing at all, but rather just curious and illuminating. He does a thorough job cramming in studies and information, while the book itself is fluid and fun to read.

Some of the statistics were absolutely staggering to me, like this one: we’ll spend eleven years of our lives on our phones. Eleven years. (On average, this computes to about three times an hour.)

For students below those of us graduating now, it’s even more.

I don’t demonize technology. For me, it’s connected me to a world of people and interests that I never would have discovered elsewhere — but I also don’t use it socially as much. It’s always felt connected to the curatorial qualities of running my blog, and I’m also enormously picky about photos of myself and others that I put up.

I took a digital detox for mostly personal reasons, but it was helpful. My world felt too small; it was a fear I’d had in the fall that was ultimately confirmed by the winter. Social media can be great in expanding my worldview but at times, it just intensifies it instead. Feeling that, I took a step back for the summer, wanting to just turn my phone off and disappear. 

Later in the summer, there were unexpected benefits, like freshly evaluating my online presence before trying to get a job, and just getting a break from the small town bubble that exists during most of my year. When I’m physically away from school, I prefer to be mentally away as well.

It was the summer of being a terrible communicator, and it was glorious. I had so much time. I was so untethered to any aspects of my identity, because nothing was codified. I got to be much more serendipitous and relaxed without feeling pressured to keep up with anyone or convey any of my experiences to anyone else.

The phone issue isn’t a new one — I read How to Break Up with Your Phone in January and enjoyed the dissection of how addictive technology is — but I always like to check myself. I wouldn’t say I’m any better or worse than anyone my age in how long I spend on my devices in a given day, but I do prioritize nature and get frustrated if I spend too long cooped up, so I try and keep afloat. Stay aware, even if I can’t always act on it as effectively as I’d like.

According to Tristan Harris, a “design ethicist,” the problem isn’t that people lack willpower; it’s that “there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.”

One of the reasons this piqued my interest is because of watching people interact with others, especially the middle school girls I mentor, who struggle a bit more to have real world interactions that they can’t quantify in terms of likes. They refer to texts, absent of gestures and intonations that convey nuance. One of the studies discussed in the book talks about how young students will refer to conversations to others as if they occurred face-to-face, not recognizing that virtual interactions lack many of the visual and unconscious cues we use to interpret others, meaning that we’re more likely than ever to misinterpret everything. (A fact made more intense by a recent read I loved about our failures of memory.)

Online interactions aren’t just different from real-world interactions; they’re measurably worse. Humans learn empathy and understanding by watching how their actions affect other people. Empathy can’t flourish without immediate feedback, and it’s a very slow-developing skill. One analysis of seventy-two studies found that empathy has declined among college students between 1979 and 2009.

Most of us dislike being so dependent on our phones, but refer to them out of habit. Irresistible stresses habit formation and behavioral addiction throughout the book.

Human behavior is driven in part by a succession of reflexive cost-benefit calculations that determine whether an act will be performed once, twice, a hundred times, or not at all. When the benefits overwhelm the costs, it’s hard not to perform the act over and over again, particularly when it strikes just the right neurological notes. A like on Facebook and Instagram strikes one of those notes.

I’ve always been a poster rather than a scroller, although I — like most my age — do participate in it a lot. This summer, I loved being completely offline. I only checked my phone to pay rent or update my parents on my (changing) locations. While I wouldn’t say I was exclusively in the moment — still listening and reading often, which has a similar effect of taking me outside of myself — I had a lot more free time and a lot of time to reflect.

Almost everyone — according to Irresistible — guesses their screen use in a given day to be about 50% too low. And young adulthood is when behavioral addictions are most likely to form, because of their soothing effects on our psychological needs.

In many respects, substance addictions and behavioral addictions are very similar. They activate the same brain regions, and they’re fueled by some of the same basic human needs: social engagement and social support, mental stimulation, and a sense of effectiveness. Strip people of these needs and they’re more likely to develop addictions to both substances and behaviors.

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I’m almost finished reading The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World, which focuses on the sort of alternative reality generated by your virtual world — the landscape you enter when you open an app, the mental picture in your mind when you’re texting someone. I’ve always been interested in spatial awareness, as I’m a person heavily influenced by my environment and physical surroundings. Reading philosophy about digital spatiality was fascinating and accurate. Whenever you pick up your phone in the middle of a conversation with someone, you’re essentially leaving your body and existing in that fourth dimension. (It gets a little trippy, but bear with me.)

That concept was shown in a study Alter references in which pairs are studied. Couples, friends, strangers. Even the presence of a phone was disruptive and distracting to how well people connected to each other.

Every pair bonded to some extent, but those who grew acquainted in the presence of the smartphone struggled to connect. They described the relationships that formed as lower in quality, and their partners as less empathetic and trustworthy. Phones are disruptive by their mere existence, even when they aren’t in active use. They’re distracting because they remind us of the world beyond the immediate conversation, and the only solution, the researchers wrote, is to remove them completely.

The book doesn’t only talk about smartphones or laptops, however; it also discusses the implications of fitness tracking and addiction, the neurological feedback loops in video games, and other technologies. I also loved particularly how Irresistible didn’t only focus on technology, but behavioral addiction as a whole, creating a valuable foundation of information about why we like what we like. (I’ve gotten really into reading about taste and pleasure this summer since I’m so fascinated by aesthetic appeal.) The book distinguishes between passions and addictions, between positives and negatives, acknowledging the nuance of technology’s benefits and downfalls.

Irresistible contains a lot of staggering statistics, like:

  • 70 percent of office emails are read within six seconds of arriving.

  • 42% of Americans have struggled with a behavioral addiction in the last 12 months.

  • About 95% of people charge their phones by their beds (and sleep quality has drastically declined because of that.)

  • Up to 59 percent of people say they’re dependent on social media sites and that their reliance on these sites ultimately makes them unhappy. Of that group, half say they need to check those sites at least once an hour.

I love to read statistics, because they solidify concepts in my head so effectively. I love to read about our relationships with the digital sphere because it’s such a huge part of my daily life as a young adult, and Irresistible is the most capable and influential read I’ve devoured so far on the subject. It’s well-written and persuasive without being preachy, and captures the nuances of technology with empathy and grace. Even now, scrolling through quotes, I have dozens that I want to include that will likely crop up later on the blog in additional reads about digital minimalism. For now, I’m missing my unconnected summer, conscious of how long I’m spending writing this blog post and staring at the screen.


The Summer in Books!

Hey y’all!

I’m currently writing this on the floor of a dance studio — which, admittedly, is where I’ve spent a majority of my summer. It’s been an absolute dream. Although my prevailing sentiment is that of simply needing more time, there’s never a perfect time to start sharing again.

I love the amount of memory imprinted on each of these books from my travels, and how interconnected they all ended up being to the summer that I had.

As you might notice, it’s pretty devoid of fiction because I’m on a nonfiction kick — and don’t totally feel like reading about many of the conflicts present in most of the fiction that I read! I’ll be back to that soon enough.

I was lucky enough to indulge a lot of my interests this summer, but always ground myself in what I read (although that’s a little different this summer too.) I’m going to go in-depth on many of the reads I mention now as I review and process them, but for now, here’s the overview of the top fifty.

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It doesn’t feel like there’s a particular theme to my reads — other than meaningful or vaguely existential! I went down rabbit holes for particular subjects. Water, musical psychology, urban planning, design, philosophies on kindness, digital minimalism, habits, silence. More on those topics in my next post — as well as links to each of these reads.

What books have y’all read this summer?

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Grace, you look a little different.

Hey y’all!

If you’ve been around for awhile, the site looks VASTLY different from the blue-and-gray, watercolored, cutesy design it’s had for the past five or so years. I recently decided that I needed to elevate it.

If you’re new here, welcome! I’m happy to have you, in what’s a new era of the blog I’ve been running, and loving, since 2011.

The Overview

Words Like Silver is a literary blog with a little bit of lifestyle.

The new branding looks, and feels, a lot more like me. A bit older, a bit cleaner, and with more emphasis on what really matters — the words and content expressed by the reads that I love. It’s more versatile, so I can play around with it and try out different styles. The post editor is also much friendlier towards the types of projects and reflections I’ve been incorporating in my reviews recently. Mood boards will be easier, as well as embedding media like audiobook samples and sounds.

The Breakdown

I recently switched from Wordpress to Squarespace. While I’d never had any issues with Wordpress, I loved the responsiveness of Squarespace, which I got to know through my art blog. Building elements feels so natural, and the drag-and-drop formatting feels a lot like I’m constructing an art project. I’ve never done any more than light coding, but on Squarespace, I can work with CSS without feeling like I’ll derail some integral part of my site.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be cleaning up bits of the transition. Fixing formatting. For example, the import of my Wordpress content left out spaces between periods and the incoming sentence. There’s also an odd lack of a closing parenthesis, so currently I’m writing without parentheses! I’m adjusting images and graphics, and touching up some behind-the-scenes elements like keywords and categorization.

If you read any posts written before May 2019, beware! Tread lightly.

In all seriousness though, I’m excited for how much more I can now convey. I hope that y’all will be patient as I single-handedly pore through and curate all the details of Words Like Silver over the coming days. Hopefully I’ll have it all up to speed soon! I’m also still on a self-imposed digital detox until I go back to school, so my online presence has been minimal.

In the meantime…

Do you like it?

Grace
Spring Reads
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In the spring, I chase pure feelings: the sun on my back, the coolness of slipping into the water, the simple pleasures of being outside, being quiet, being golden.

While those are feelings I should always chase, the weather helps. I get definite spring fever. Since freshman year, I've always found a spot and camped out: on my favorite bench, or on a quilt on one of the commons. I'm my best self when I'm soaking up the good weather.

One of my favorite habits this year has just been going and sitting outside, no phone, no distractions unless I take a book. Forcing myself to have some much-needed mindfulness of just people-watching and absorbing my surroundings. When I do take a book, my preferences drift towards books that are sparse — evoking the pared-down, stripped qualities I love in a summer. Bare, simple, and fresh, while still having enough detail to sweep me away for a little while! I'm definitely going to post more of these as I hunger to read them — for a series — but for now, here are some picks to get you started if you're eager for the same feelings.


Novel: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby | Goodreads
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I've thought maybe my mother drowned in both. Anna's life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It's bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love — a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface. While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide means that nothing — not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna's mother's death — stays buried forever.

I read this book years ago -- when I first started blogging -- and it's one of the books I think about most often. The main character, Anna, is gentle but still vibrant. Her descriptions of the beach capture the sacred sensations of it, connecting it to family and her own coming-of-age, rather than the glorified bits of it that appear in so-called "beach reads." I read Moonglass for the feeling of being on the beach alone at night, or the cyclical nature of revisiting a place and realizing how much you've changed since you've been there last. It's lovely.


Novel: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson | Goodreads
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins

midnight at the electric by jodi lynn anderson

Divided by time. Ignited by a spark.

Kansas, 2065.
Adri has secured a slot as a Colonist—one of the lucky few handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house over a hundred years ago, and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate. While Adri knows she must focus on the mission ahead, she becomes captivated by a life that’s been lost in time…and how it might be inextricably tied to her own.

Oklahoma, 1934. Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine fantasizes about her family’s farmhand, and longs for the immortality promised by a professor at a traveling show called the Electric. But as her family’s situation becomes more dire—and the suffocating dust threatens her sister’s life—Catherine must find the courage to sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most.

England, 1919. In the recovery following the First World War, Lenore struggles with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America in pursuit of a childhood friend. But even if she makes it that far, will her friend be the person she remembers, and the one who can bring her back to herself?

While their stories spans thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri’s fates are entwined.

When I wrote my review of this book originally, I noted that it was difficult to go into after having read Tiger Lily-- a complex, aching, gorgeous book that's one of my favorites. They're different: Midnight at the Electric is odd and muted but still has the same haunting lines that remind me why Jodi Lynn Anderson will always own me with her words. Although historical fiction (and to a certain extent, science fiction) elements within this book can make it heavy, the quiet lines make it a stunning and relatively quick read that you could lose yourself in during a few hours tucked away on a quilt outside.


Novel: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour | Goodreads
Release Date: May 15, 2014
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author of Hold Still.A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

I'm relatively certain I've reread this book every spring term at W&L, because it's so perfect for it: a colorful, poignant read that focuses on a passionate girl and an unsolved Hollywood mystery. The main character, Emi, is thoughtful and balanced, but also endlessly romantic about all the beauty around her. It makes for a compelling read, and it has so much sensory detail that wraps you up and doesn't let go. It's soft, detailed, and sensitive while still feeling larger-than-life.

Which books are your spring go-tos?

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