Vanderbilt doesn’t try to gloss the hard facts about learning and ageing—babies learn best of all—but he offers some cautious reasons for hope, and shows that learning at any age is good for you ... He also passes on plenty of good technical advice ... Even if you’re not a singer, this is all fascinating ... There is a certain bittiness to this book, with each section on a particular skill feeling self-contained. This is partly because, as Vanderbilt concedes, skill learning is specific. Nothing about trying to stand up on a wobbly surfboard will help you learn to draw. Even skills like surfing and cycling, which both require good balance and body strength, have little crossover ... Gradually, though, an overall argument emerges, even if Vanderbilt is overfond of supporting it with the standard formulae 'according to research' and 'studies have found' ... is itself a pleasure to read.
There’s a certain poignancy to reading Beginners at the end of 2020, when merely going to the grocery store qualifies as an 'exposure event,' and the spirit of adventure has been largely eclipsed by the matter of survival ... The tone is modest and reassuring.
Following a standard trope, Vanderbilt dedicates a chapter or so to each pursuit, using his personal narrative, rich in obligatory self-deprecation and infectious excitement, to introduce relevant scientific studies ... Though this style of structuring a book may be standard, Vanderbilt deploys it effectively, relying on a keen instinct for interesting characters and a willingness to let stories unfold at their own pace. The result is an entertaining read that avoids the trap of forced anecdotes and excessive contrarianism that plague lesser titles in the genre ... When read against the backdrop of the current pandemic, however, Beginners attains a deeper level of meaning ... As we spent most of 2020 increasingly cut off from the outside world, turning more and more to the easy diversion of the digital to compensate for the persistent sting of loss, Beginners which documents a time before the pandemic arrived, unintentionally provides a primer of sorts for re-engaging with life. When society reopens, we could do worse than to find new pursuits to embrace with the open-minded zeal of a child; to rediscover the intrinsic wonders of the world through the eyes of a beginner.