the Birth Order Book

I've started attending a book club with ladies from my church.  The song's familiar for many book of the clubs out there: it's not officially church-y, that's just how it spread.  I figured that it would be good to know folks outside of the church-context, especially since a lot of them seem like really interesting and fun people and also that I've been really busy wrangling the little ones on Sundays so I don't have much time to get to know anyone.

November's meeting was the first one I attended, and I decided to drop in last minute since I had already read the book (Ender's Game).  And then we just met for December (Sarah's Key).  The meetings tend to be a good mix of philosophy and social chat, and I'm enjoying the personalities present.  Up next for January is The Birth Order Book.  Breaks the "possessive-noun object" trend, such a shame.

Frankly, I'm hesitant.  Most of my leisure reading is fiction, and when it's not, I stick to science, history, religion, philosophy, and how-to books, keeping my distance (for the most part) from self-help, opinion, politics, or relationship-type books.  Anything where the author feels the need to publish with "Dr." in front of his or her name sends off a red flag.  Also, anything with the author's picture on the cover, unless it's an autobiography.  Red flags, I tell you.

As humans, we already compartmentalize the world.  We put people in gender boxes, race boxes, religion boxes, political affiliation boxes, etc..  Boxes help us organize the world and determine how to act.  If I'm explaining my work to someone, I'll say different things depending on if I'm talking to an academic peer or if I'm talking to a family member; they'll have different prior knowledge and levels of interest.  But if I stack up all of the boxes for one person, it's still a rough approximation of who they are.

The biggest danger in boxifying things is framing it in terms of causality.  So-and-so is this way because of this box.  That's not true.  If it were, all people in that box would have that characteristic.  That's the definition of causality.  Boxifying things is all about correlation, or rough approximations.  It's useful because it gives us a rough approximation of a person or situation and we can hash out the details from there.  Stopping at the box level is shallow because the boxes never get all the details. (The Birth Order Book's subtitle is "Why You Are the Way You Are." That's causal language.  It makes me grumpy.)

So...right...back to birth order.  I think I'm hesitant in part because I don't generally know things about people's birth order.  That's not something you can get just by looking at a person, nor is it something that comes up early on in conversation.  The people for whom I know their birth order I already know fairly well.  Adding a birth order box to my approximation of them would do absolutely nothing.  It's a lossy representation.

A more practical problem I have with this book is that it's hard to get my hands on.  Neither the university nor the huge public library have it.  I'm not going to buy it.  I might just read some studies on birth order instead, since the psychology literature is more appealing to me than mass-marketed pseudo-psychology books.  Yes, I'm a snob.  Maybe it's because I'm the eldest child.

If anyone from book club reads this, don't kill me.  Write a comment instead.  I'd love to hear why I'm wrong.


Gwen said...

I don't think you're wrong!

If you aren't interested in reading the book then you should read something maybe related to the topic that interests you - even if it is some study saying your birth order doesn't explain "why you are the way you are." After all, there will be plenty of people there who read the book who can fill in the details. You should bring up the point about the boxes, I think that's interesting.

Book clubs are fun when you get a group of people together who like each other and won't get offended, but aren't afraid to disagree and say something fresh. When everyone agrees and thinks the same way there isn't much interesting conversation to be had!

Like you, if it isn't available at the library and I can't get my hands on someone else's copy I probably won't read it. Once you fall in love with a library you just can't fathom paying $24.95 for a book you know you'll only read once.

ajbc said...

I ambivalent about reading the actual book, but I'm excited for the discussion. I'll try not to be too surly, but my bet is that I'll play the role of devil's advocate, which is always fun.

If you do find a copy, let me know!