Well, I finished. This is not a problem with the book--it was marvelous, even the sad parts. It's more that I was supposed to have a baby two days ago and I'm GETTING IMPATIENT.
But that's a separate blog. I'm here now to say that I loved loved loved In the Company of the Courtesan and I'm so glad to have gotten such a good, interesting read in under the wire. The historical detail was so interesting, the story was simple but intriguing, the characters were complex and likable. I'm especially impressed with how well the author used the first person narrator--his closeness to the different characters and how well he knew them, and how they could all still surprise him. The idea of intimacy and loneliness comes through in very subtle ways.
I'm also reading The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz. It's very interesting, though a lot of the content in middle overlaps with things I read recently in Stumbling on Happiness. The sneaky tricks our minds play in the decision-making process are all outlined here again, and the studies listed are even the same. Also, while I agree that freedom of choice can be a psychological burden, he really ignores the fact that life in a world without choices can suck. When he's talking about products, it makes more sense--advertisers, trick pricing structures, is one product really better than another--these are all great points. But when he talks about the burden of making decisions like whether you want to live together before getting married or whether you want to have kids, he really doesn't acknowledge how trapped people were when they didn't have choices there.
He talks about how employers used to make important screening decisions regarding things like health insurance and retirement investments, and how the employees were better off when the experts were doing it--um, what makes you think the employer was interested in getting you the best health care, rather than the best deal for themselves? He places a lot of trust in institutional oversight, and I don't necessarily buy that.
I'm hoping that his section on what we can do about it ends up being more useful. I'm also hoping that he gets further into the issue, so far touched on only briefly, that if you want the default, or are dealing with a subject that you don't know a lot about, choice is a burden, but if you need something unusual, or have enough information or investment to make the decision easier, it can be really necessary. Yeah, I wish I could just choose from three or four computers when I need to buy something to do my email and play solitaire. But my husband wants to play video games, write programs, and organize his music, and he knows how to get that. Should he not be able to? Again, hopefully I'll find out more as the book goes on.
But hopefully, it'll take me weeks to finish, because I will be interrupted tomorrow by the arrival of the tardy, tardy baby.