Thursday, February 2, 2012

Brothers and sisters

Book: The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us

Author: Jeffrey Kluger

Published: 2011 (Riverhead Books)

Pages: 295

At a business dinner the other week, the girl next to me kept saying, “You look really familiar…” until I found out where she works and blurted out, “OH if you work there, you probably know This Guy! I dated his brother for awhile.” (I still can’t hold my wine, okay?) She said she’d always wanted to meet This Guy’s brother because she’d heard they were completely different from each other.

And they WERE. I got a front seat to that shiznit, how even their hair grew in as opposite textures. Being a nosy only kid, I mentally recorded it all with a fascination that possibly prevented me from defending This Guy’s brother as much as I should’ve.

Turns out most of the sibling-ism people talk about have some sort of scientific, statistical basis, although whether or not the results come about because of actual biology or social conventions depends on which trait you’re looking at and when it becomes apparent in the kid’s development stages. First kids and only kids usually ARE worried about, doted on, and expected to make more of themselves because of simple resource allotment; they get first crack at Mom and Dad’s energy and sense of novelty and chance at putting away money for college. This usually DOES create type-A firsties, although this can jump to the girl in an otherwise all-boy family because she usually ends up shouldering the traditional gender role of caretaking unless she’s like ten years younger than everyone else. Behavior influences slide up AND down the line if the sibs are close enough in age.

Just all this cool stuff treated with the proper social science skepticism, sprinkled liberally with personal anecdotes of the author’s life growing up with three brothers and then a couple stepsisters on both sides. Holy shit, do the personal details get better exponentially. Kluger doesn’t bash you over the head with all of his problems at once; he slides them into perfect contexts that took me a beat to realize oh wait, those actually happened TO HIM. He’s so calm about it, but not unemotional.

It’s great! I got enough science to convince me I learned a bunch, with enough personal narration to satisfy the part of my brain that needs visible human figures at all times. A really excellent read. 

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