Some Kind of Fairy Tale

132344081-195x300If you must analyze unlikely effects for a realistic cause, and cannot allow yourself to escape into adult fantasy, Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale may offer you an antidote. This story of a young girl who returns on Christmas Day, after being missing for twenty years, can be read as a miraculous recovery from abduction or a fantastic tale of fairies and magic – depending on the reader.

Tara, who has been missing for twenty years, suddenly knocks on her parents’ door on Christmas day, explaining her absence and her youthful looks on her time-warped excursion to another dimension. While she appears no more than eighteen years old – the age of her teeth confirmed by dental examinations – her parents, brother, and teenage lover have all matured into their thirties. As Tara relates her tale to a psychiatrist hired by her brother, Joyce cleverly inserts descriptions of other-worldly experiences and Tara’s new-found skills to counter the doctor’s clinical analysis and explanations for the sexual references. Each chapter also begins with a reference to the credibility of fairies or a quote promoting the value of fantasy…

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.” Albert Einstein

Is Tara mentally unstable or has she had an experience in another dimension? Joyce cleverly inserts credible foils for both – the truth may depend on what others believed happened to her as well as what she believes herself. A subplot about a missing cat provides the clue to Joyce’s well disguised theme – how people change over the years, and not always for the best.

Knowing Joyce has won four British Fantasy Awards is a clue to reading the story. I had the feeling the author was subtly smirking through the fabrications, but the distraction did not keep me from reading to discover Tara’s final outcome.

Moonwalking with Einstein

How’s your memory?  Remembering where you put those keys, or the plot of the last novel you read would be nice, but, if you are like most people, some things you would rather forget. In Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer, a science journalist,  becomes obsessed with improving his own memory so that he can compete in the U.S. Memory Championship.

Foer is entertaining and informative as he provides historical background for memory training from the Greeks to Mark Twain.   The cases he cites to demonstrate the experimental studies on the subject are easy to follow and sometimes humorous, and  Foer always includes psychological principles for authenticity.  As he interviews two famous “savants,” he concludes that one is real and the other is actually just an intelligent person who has used memory techniques to focus on details – something anyone could achieve – but few try.

To be competitive with other memory champions, Foer learns to memorize with “memory palaces” and the PAO system.   Think wild mnemonic devices (Einstein dancing like Michael Jackson; Dom deLuise hula hooping), and recognizing patterns, but, more importantly, undivided attention and persistence.  As Foer practices his memory retention skills, he asks you to replicate the experience.  This can be fun, and it works.

“Try imagining a bottle of pickled garlic at the foot of your own driveway…”

In the last exciting chapter, you are at the championship match.  Foer wins a round of speed cards in which he memorizes and replicates the order of a deck of cards in under two minutes; he survives several more tests of memory and makes it to the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship – memorizing two decks of cards.  He wins, but his biggest challenge is to pass the entrance test for KL7, the international secret memory fraternity – drink two beers, memorize 49 digits, and kiss three women in five minutes.

Memorizing often has little to do with understanding.  Remember all those babies who were taught to sound out C-A-T, but never connected it to the animal? Foer concludes that

“How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember.”

Moonwalking with Einstein might have you seeing the world differently. You may learn how to memorize a poem, and even pick up some visuals you can use to help you remember where you parked the car.  Foer’s advice:

Remembering can only happen if you decide to take notice.”