Reviews: factual e-books and audiobooks: sex, language, and volunteering
by John Marshall
The first few chapters will have you wishing the Marshall family would just get on with it and start the adventure they’ve been preparing for: working around the world as volunteers. But the front of the book makes sense when you hear what happens to the American family after their sixmonth “voluntourism” odyssey. John Marshall, his then wife, Traca, and their two teenage children start their experience in Costa Rica, where they work at the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. They then move to New Zealand, where they are willing workers on organic farms (or WWOOFers); to Thailand, where they become English teachers; and later to the Siddhartha School in Ladakh, India. Although the experiences are interesting, most moving is how the work transforms 16-year-old Logan, who lacks confidence, and his sister, Jackson, 14, who suffers social media withdrawal symptoms. Marshall, who unfortunately is an unnatural narrator, also reveals how taking the time out affected his marriage, underscoring the fact that life cannot be planned.
The Wild Oats Project
by Robin Rinaldi
Sarah Crichton Books
Robin Rinaldi isn't the first middle-aged woman to publicise her lusty adventures. But her memoir, The Wild Oats Project, will resonate more with readers who, like her, are "part old school, part new age". She also knows how much to tell and what to leave out. A journalist from San Francisco, she tells her husband of 17 years that she wants an open marriage: five days a week she will live in a separate apartment, and on weekends they will be a monogamous couple. The catalyst is her husband's decision to have a vasectomy despite her desire for a child with him. They were not to sleep with mutual friends, and safe sex was not negotiable. But rules are made to be broken, and Rinaldi's year of free love has unintended consequences: not surprisingly, she is unable to stay with her husband for long after they reconcile, largely because of what she learned from the 10 men and two women she bedded. Some were followers of sex guru David Deida. Others she met through OneTaste, whose members practise orgasmic meditation. For many, "OM" will take on new meaning.
The Language Hoax
by John McWhorter
Oxford University Press
The Onion might have the headline: "Legless Tribe Incapable of Walking Because They Have No Word for Walk". In dreaming up a hypothetical issue of the satirical magazine, John McWhorter is arguing against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, which posits that language shapes the way we think. Those who have read about tribes with no concept of time (the Hopi in the US) or numbers (Brazil's Piraha), or who delighted in Guy Deutscher's Through the Language Glass, will be attracted to McWhorter, who unpicks Whorfianism rather than rips it to shreds. While acknowledging a small connection between language and thought, he rails against the type of linguistic relativism that has some of us believing that language is behind different world views and a deterministic phenomenon when really it is "primarily a shambolically magnificent accretion of random habits". McWhorter, who points out that Whorfianism is applied only to exotic cultures, cautions against fetishising diversity, which, he says, can be elitist rather than progressive.