How real is real?

I've just finished reading Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, and now I'm turned upside down. Are the decisions I make based on real analysis, or do they bubble up from a biased subconscious? Do I dream of being a writer because I'm any good, or just because I want to be one? Are any of the judgments I make about myself worthwhile, or are they all just a product of inner desires?

Ah, but then he points out that none of us would persist without our subconscious prodding and praising us. Great writers would never work long or hard enough to be great. So I guess there's still hope.

Meanwhile there are some truly fascinating experiments and results described in the book (some pretty depressing ones too). It's a smooth easy read, even if, like me, you're not sure you agree that every experiment was correctly analysed - don't ask me to choose which jam I prefer when two are offered me; I might like them both. Enjoy with some smooth easy-drinking three-star coffee.

Memoirs, of course, also invite the reader to question how decisions are made, and how circumstances form the unconscious self behind mistakes. In Stories from the Handbasket by Sean Gorman the reader is invited into the lives of small-town social exiles, working-class teens with half-imagined dreams, hopes and fears. It's a smoothly told memoir, set in a world that's more hand- than bread-basket, and spanning the time from coming of age to adult realization of age. In between there's another memoir referenced, where the self-conscious young man creates his alter ego. But now alter ego and self are the same, and a sibling's different approach to the same background leads on a very different path. It's a truly haunting story, smooth and easy to read, and oddly inspiring. Enjoy with some more smooth easy-drinking three-star coffee.

Historical fiction does the same sometimes, asking readers to imagine living in a different time, where different situations and ideas informed their subconscious minds. Perhaps they help us realize how much is real and how much of what we perceive is distorted by culture. I like to think they might, and Yael Politis' Olivia novels certainly seem to achieve some sense of that. Summer of 1848 is the fourth in the series, but stands alone perfectly. It tells the tale of a sympathetic white woman looking for love and a career, together with a black man looking for his heritage. They walked a ways together but now they head on separate paths, switching chapters, learning and growing as the reader walks beside them. It's a truly compelling read, an elegant tale to enjoy with an elegant four-star coffee.

Novels set in our own time can make us think about reasons and reason too. Connie Dial's latest Josie Corsino novel, Warning Shots, is set in LA, as police captain Josie Corsino struggles to catch a potential cop killer or serial killer or both, while those she trusts fire their warning shots of hope or betrayal around her. It's compelling, intriguing, and a seriously good read even when you've guessed the outcome. Enjoy with a cup of dark five-star coffee and some elegant four-star on the side.

Then ponder, how well founded are any of my opinions, or yours, and how much comes out of our subconscious. I want to believe that reading can be a way to educate that subconscious. I hope you might agree.


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