The research for my recent book on apocalyptic beliefs spanned 15 years, and most of the fiction I read during that time period had something to do with the end of the world. I was in my early 20s when I started reading apocalyptic fiction, and doomsday books were on my nightstand throughout many of life’s happenings when I was a young adult.
I cannot imagine life without the magic of novels. At age four, I entered the world of Peter Rabbit. I loved the first line of The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, with its initial caution that “the effect of eating too much lettuce is soporific.” “Soporific” sounded so compelling, so strongly suggestive of a state of affairs not to be taken lightly. And the word was fun to say, to repeat for the sheer pleasure of the sounds. I found myself drawn into tales of adventurous but naughty rabbits and I was motivated to learn to read these tales for myself. The Peter Rabbit stories, with their charming illustrations, remain among the most loved books of my childhood. Continue Reading ›
An undergraduate student recently remarked to me, “I think I’m going to be coming to you for advisement, you’re a sociologist, and sociologists are people who can see glitches in the Matrix.” For those unacquainted with the cult classic science fiction film he was alluding to, a very brief explanation: the protagonist, a computer hacker named Neo, is awoken to the shocking realization that the world as he experiences it is nothing more than an artifice, a kind of virtual reality fabricated by a sentient computer program to enslave the minds and bodies of humanity. “The Matrix,” then, is the term for that all-encompassing mental construction.
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I grew up moving around. We moved at least once every few years, and I hated it. I was always the new kid at school and was thus forced to integrate into the social milieu over and over, try to convince teachers I was smart over and over, and find friends over and over. And, with each move, just when I found my footing in the school, had the attention of teachers, and had established a core group of good friends, we moved again. That describes my life growing up. I went to a total of eleven schools from Kindergarten through 12th grades, an average of almost one a year.
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The books that helped me become an environmentalist came along at key moments in my intellectual development. Looking back, they were equal parts timely and apart of the times. They often came to me from an important person in my life.
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In the past seven years, I lived an arduous life of being a researcher and a scholar, working diligently on my book project Networking China. In this intellectual journey, books have been the best companions. A couple of works stood out for helping me identify a dynamic phenomenon that I intend to describe and explain. They are books that created light-bulb moments, shaping my ideas about China as a so-called network nation. Particularly inspiring are media critic Herbert Schiller’s Information and the Crisis Economy and political scientist Edward Steinfeld’s Playing Our Game: Why China’s Rise Doesn’t Threat the West.
During a bout with insomnia that went the full 12 rounds a few years ago, I began to read about the science and havoc of stress in the hope of managing mine. I discovered the neuroendocrinology behind stress-triggered cortisol surges that sicken and age us, contributing to depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer, and I learned why our dear shriveling hippocampi, the bosses of memory and learning in our brains, need exercise to outrun the amygdala, where fear and negativity lurk. Brain research is hopeful: “Small positive actions every day will add up to large changes over time, as you gradually build new neural structures” (Hanson, Buddha’s Brain 19). Although we academics are as overwhelmed as other professions, it seems our deadlines coincide with preexisting conditions of stress, namely December holidays, and, for those of us with children, grading and conventions often dovetail nicely with Spring school concerts, sports tournaments, and graduations. Because the resources I discuss here helped slow my cortisol careen, I gratefully pass them along.