Laughter comes from many places and takes many forms. That passenger on the bus is chuckling at a well-written quip in a good novel. The giggling fit from the other room is your family reacting to the hero of an action-comedy making a pratfall. Raucous laughter reverberates through the house at 3 am as you watch yet another YouTube video starring a funny animal. We all enjoy a good laugh*, and sometimes we’re okay with brainless cat videos*2; other times, we want our laughter to come with a side of enlightenment, or at least a new factoid we can use to impress our friends.
Before I get into the funny books*3, I’d like to draw attention toHa! the Science of When We Laugh and Why by Scott Weems, which examines exactly what it promises with that title. It isn’t a funny book in and of itself; sure, there are jokes scattered throughout, but they’re there to support the book’s scientific approach to humour. Besides exploring what makes us laugh, Weems also examines what laughter does to our brains. Did you know that “getting” a joke fires the parts of our brain that deal with conflict resolution? Or that laughter therapy is a legitimate treatment in hospitals*4? It also lightly touches on how humour changes across cultures around the world. While it’s a pop-sci style book, don’t go into this one expecting a light and breezy read, as Weems doesn’t shy away from getting technical. This book won’t make you funnier or draw out a hearty guffaw, but it will help you understand why you’re laughing at the next couple of books.
Publishing a book in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic on the topic of cleanliness and how we’re overdoing the clearing off of our skin microbiome, and too often, is… bold. The author, James Hamblin, addresses this in the introduction, as you’ll find no mention of COVID-19 in the pages of Clean(also available on Overdrive as an e-book and an e-audiobook), since this was written before the pandemic hit. Its message, however, makes for even queasier reflection once we start thinking about how much 2020 has seen an uptick in the use of hand sanitizer and soap – and a necessary one, of course! I’m not even suggesting for a moment that we should reconsider how much we’re washing our hands in the midst of a pandemic where washing our hands properly might literally save lives. But similar messages have been raised about how we’re destroying our skin microbiome on a much more frequent basis than might be healthy: Beyond Soap by Sandy Skotnicki, was published back in 2018, for example, along with Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser (2014), which talks about antibiotic overuse and how that is changing our relationship with the microbes around us.
I’ve been making my way through some of the TED series books on my breaks (they’re a good size for a 15-minute slot – not that you can finish it in 15 minutes, but each chapter is short enough), and they’re quite a nice little series based on the corresponding talks. I haven’t chanced upon one that’s been life-changing yet, but they’re definitely charming little bites of information. I’ll have a list of all the current TED books, linked to the titles we have in our catalogue, below the cut.
The one I started with was How to Fix a Broken Heart, which surprised me by addressing the overarching problem in dealing with a broken heart (when it falls outside of socially sanctioned heartbreak, i.e. when your significant other breaks up with you (outside of divorce or death), or when a pet dies): the structures simply aren’t in place to provide as much support for those who are undergoing heartbreak of this sort in comparison to the bereavement leave and understanding you get from coworkers & friends alike for more socially acceptable forms of heartbreak (e.g. death of immediate family or spouse, divorce). As a result, the brokenhearted are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it – without a support system, oftentimes facing exasperation or contempt from what would otherwise be their support system because why can’t they just get over it already??, while they’re already on low emotional resources.
Winch doesn’t just address the systemic issue. He provides solutions the heartbroken individual can use to heal better, following up with references to studies that support those solutions – because while time is a factor, what you do during that time also makes a difference. At the end of the book, you’ll feel a lot less guilty about how much it affects your functioning when your heart gets broken, especially because now you’ll know that people who are undergoing heartbreak have the same part of their brain activated in like fashion to people who are undergoing intense, almost unbearable, physical pain. So why do we expect people who are feeling intense, almost unbearable physical pain to function just as well as they do normally, just because we can’t see their pain or don’t file the circumstances under a socially acceptable folder for grieving?