July 2020 Book Retrospective

Last year I discovered the joy of audiobooks, this year I discovered the uncertainty of a global pandemic, and as a result lost my daily walks to and from work, and thus most of my time for audiobooking. This month however I somewhat got back on the horse and discovered Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice, which allows me to listen to a book on my drives to and from my son’s school, and then pick up where I left off on my Kindle for the nights read. So this months ‘reads’ also includes a book I half read, half listened to.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also created a new reading habit I have really embraced this month. Waiting outside businesses, whether it be our vets, or takeaway venues, is now a part of how we do things. In the past if I was waiting somewhere for a short period of time, I did what most people in my generation do; stare at my phone. When it became apparent that sometimes I would be stuck waiting outside for over half an hour, I realised that mindlessly scrolling through feeds wasn’t the best use of my time.

Early last year I bought a copy of Haruki Murakami’s short memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. The edition I got was a small pocket-sized book, which actually fits snuggly in most of my regular pockets (think penguin pocket book size). So now when I am heading out I chuck this book in my pocket, and read a few pages here and there.

I definitely prefer using this time for something enlightening, rather than just falling down a screen hole. One of the books I read last month (Digital Minimalism) extolled the virtues of developing quality leisure time, and I feel this somewhat fits the bill. Plus I have now found a bunch of similarly sized books ready to fill the gap when this one is done:

Let me know which one I should start with

July’s Reads

So, all in all this month I managed to read six books, three physical, and two eBooks. Below is a quick ruin down of what I consumed:

Not pictured: digital books…

Zero Sum Game S. L. Huang

I always like to have a fiction book on the go so that if I want to read, but don’t want to be actively trying to learn something, I can delve into some make-believe world and just enjoy the ride (see below for why Murakami is so good for this).

And when I read a short interview with Huang on John Scalzi’s website, I knew I wanted to read this book. Huang is an awesome sounding person; she was the first woman to be a professional armourer in Hollywood, worked as a stunt-woman and firearms expert in films, and got a degree in Mathematics. And when i heard her novels were centred around a character who uses her supernaturally good maths skills to kick-ass and solve crimes, I was hooked.

And it pretty much delivered. While I may prefer more in depth science fiction, the harder stuff like Kim Stanley Robinson, I still really appreciated the world that Huang created, and the imaginative and fresh take on introducing a scientifically plausible physic/mind-reader.

I shall be reading more.

White Fragility Robin DiAngelo

I have written so man blog posts regarding Black Lives Matters, but have never managed to get my thoughts to a point where I was happy putting them out there. Even though realistically the ‘out there’ that I am talking about is this personal blog on a website visited by people numbering in the tens, rather than thousands. But even so, I haven’t felt qualified, or informed enough, to feel like i was making a worthwhile contribution.

So in order to get a bit more educated, did a quick bit of research on what boos might be able to provide me with the information and points of view I was lacking, and settled on starting with White Fragility, mainly because the concept was something that rang true with what I was seeing in the world.

It was a very interesting read, though I am now more interested in finding something more focused on Australia, and its racial issues, as I felt a lot of this was not only centred on American racism, but also acted as if everywhere else was just a reflection of this.

Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that Australia never had the racial problems that America did, I am just saying that we have a different history, that needs addressing specifically, rather than just applying one way of thinking, which doesn’t take into account the points of view of the people directly affected in Australia.

Any suggestions of what I might read next would be appreciated.

Humankind Rutger Bregman

This is my selection bias, or confirmation bias, in full effect. But considering the fact that we are living through a global pandemic which the media loves to sensationalise, I wanted to escape into something more positive, and this is exactly what I needed.

I have always maintained that humans are inherently good creatures. To me it seems obvious; if we were the selfish, depraved, immoral animals that we are so often are told we are, then society simply wouldn’t work. To me the law of average tells me that most people out there must be inherently good. And while people may think it naive, I want to be able to show that there is actually a bunch of evidence and theory backing up this view.

Its the same with COVID. Sure you can look at the non-mask wearers, the people who are willing to write off the elderly as collateral damage, or any other number of conspiracy theories or worst examples of people, and say that we are a lost cause. But always remember that the majority of people out there are not just looking out for number one. The majority are willing to do the right thing, to help out, and to try and make things better. Sure its hard when there is misinformation going on, and a lot of people are being misinformed about what they should be doing. But where the messaging is clear, and it is within their power, you see people banding together and being good.

This book looks at that flawed view of humans, and seeks to counter it with not only real life counter-examples, but also with the scientific theories which underpin a kinder view of humanity.

I highly reccomend it for those who want a better view of our species.

Additionally, one thing I like about this book is that the author is roughly my age, and discusses how his early thinking was guided by books that I myself read at a formative time in my life (e.g. Guns Germs and Steel). They go on to talk about how their thinking grew beyond these simple impressions, as new information entered the discussion, and older views had to be reassessed. It covers things like the Milligram Experiment, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the Murder of Kitty Genovese, and is able to show how tough many people are aware of the original narrative provided, we now have a clearer picture of what happened, why it happened, and why it might not mean what you think it means.

It is great to see people being open to change, and reassessment, rather than digging in and fighting every point till the bitter end.

A Wild Sheep Chase Haruki Murakami

I chucked my thoughts up here recently, so I wont delve too deep here. But to quickly sum up, I found this book gave me clarity on how I can read and enjoy books, even if I don’t understand why I enjoy them, or to be frank, even what the point of the whole story was. This book allowed me to just turn of my brain, and go along for the ride, and I loved it.

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue Ryan Holiday

I never used to read any Gawker articles, but I was aware of what it was. So when in 2014 I started seeing stories in the news of the Gawker media group being sued, and then effectively destroyed, by Hulk Hogan, it really caught me by surprise. I remember having a quick look at the news headlines, wondering what would happen to the likes of Gizmodo and io9, and then leaving it at that.

Later on I knew that they had linked Peter Thiel to the whole thing, and that people were wary of the interference of billionaires in media companies, but I never really paid much attention to the story.

Then when Ryan Holiday announced that this event would be the subject of his next book, I was puzzled. I had read The Obstacle is the Way, and Ego is the Enemy, and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I knew Ryan had written other books based around his former career as a marketeer, but for me he was all about stoic philosophy. So for a book seemingly based on celebrity scandal and so forth to be his next endeavour seemed strange.

So when it came on sale for my Kindle/Audible, I figured I would give it a go.

It was a fascinating read/listen.

I don’t know why, perhaps it is linked to my childhood love of comics and superheroes, but I have always had a soft spot for the idea of the super-intelligent person scheming in the background to get their way. The idea that you could achieve your goals through the simple application of intelligence appealed to me as while I coudlnt hoppe to achioeve any superpowers, in theory I could work hard enough to educate myself and prevail somehow that way.

While you may question a lot of Peter Theil’s actions (his support of Trump, briefly covered in this book, was hard for me to swallow), there is no doubt that in this instance he was able to set a goal for himself, and then go about achieving it in a methodical, and disciplined manner.

Ryan Holiday sprinkles enough philosophy and history throughout the book to keep you entertained, and does a great job of ruminating on the subject of conspiracies and how they form a part of our world, so that even if you don’t care about Hulk Hogan, or the sanctity of the medias role in society, you can still get a lot out of the book.

The Call of Cthulu – H. P. Lovecraft

I got this one from the Aussie Project Gutenberg, check it out here for free!

My son wanted to buy a collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s works last month, but as he hadn’t read any of his stories before, and it was quite a pricey book, we instead suggested he try a short story first. As the text of The Call of Cthulu is freely available on the internet, I was able to print off and bind (cf. gaffer tape) his very own copy of the short story.

I decided to give it a go myself, especially as the term ‘Lovecraftian’ is something I understand intellectually through its sheer impact on culture, but I have never really delved into it, beyond the occasional late night spelunking down the Wikipedia hole.

It was definitely a different kind of read; I have never read a horror book on purpose (yes I have accidentally, thats another story), but I did enjoy the imagery, and psychological nature of the terror that the story sought to impart.

Whats more it gave me an appreciation for the way a short story can flesh out a world.

In Progress

Some books I am currently reading, but didn’t get a chance to finish:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Chip Heath

Recommended by Wheezy Waiter as a way of making better decisions. I feel like I have lost the framework to make bigger decisions in my life, partly because I have hit a comfortable point in my life where I can just keep cruising along in my rut, and stay the course.

When decisions come my way, I often get stuck with the status quo, or overanalysing and not making a choice, or any number of things. Wheezy made a good case in a few of his videos that came from this book; things like not looking at decisions as an either/or kind of thing, or broadening your spotlight, etcetera, and they have all sounded good. So I hope to enact these kinds of things in the coming month (if I can finish this in August). After all we are living through what has to be the biggest ‘crisitunity’ of the past few decades, so being able to take advantage of this moment to reassess what I am doing sounds like a good idea.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Haruki Murakami

My current pocket book, I am really enjoying Murakami’s reflections on his life as a runner, and how this has influenced his writing. Or more how this has influenced his whole way of life. It makes me wish I had a central facet of my life that I could draw things from, and utilise to drive my own career and way of living.

Stillness is the Key Ryan Holiday

Finishing off the triptych of stoic style philosophical life improvement books, Ryan Holiday returns from Conspiracy to look at the various ways that thinkers and leaders from history have capitalise don the concept of ‘stillness’ to make the best of their lives.

I have just started listening/reading this, and while I enjoy it, I am still waiting to see how I can fit the goal of stillness into my current life. Ore indeed understanding exactly what stillness means…

Some books I hope to look at next month:

Why We Sleep Matthew Walker

I want to sleep better, but I also dont want to go to sleep. Ever since university, I have found that I function best at night, and stayed up accordingly. When I was doing my degree, this was easy. I scheduled my classes in the afternoon, and slept in until lunch. Then in a matter of months in 2006, I went from being a lazy uni student, to full-time working father. So my getting up time changed, but I never altered my going to bed time. My sleep schedule went from go to bed at 2a.m. and wake up at 11a.m to go to bed at 2a.m. and wake up at 6a.m. Four hours of sleep: not tenable.

So as with many problems in my life, I am starting my journey of solving it by reading a book. I have heard some of the science in this might be exaggerated, but that either way it is still a good read.

Deep Work Cal Newport

Following on from Digital Minimalism in June, I hope to get some tips from Newport’s work to aid my general worklife.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Alexander Solzhenitsyn

My next pocket book for the month. I have literally no idea what this book is about, but I know the author is a Nobel laureate, and that he wrote the gulag archipelago. Looking forward to going into this blind.

Wish me luck!

Book 26 for 2020: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s books were always of interest to me but in reading the blurbs I never really knew what I would be in for, so shied away from delving in. That changed in 2018 when I picked up a copy of 1Q84 on sale in the Kindle store.

I read the book, I enjoyed the book, but afterwards I wasn’t exactly sure why.

I feel the same with this book. It is hard to put a finger on it, but I think what I enjoy when I read these books is simply being in the moment. I enjoy the reading, the words, the experience. I enjoy the act of reading the book, less so the remembering, or the lasting things I get from it.

Maybe this is a new kind of purpose in books for me. In the past I read books and found enjoyment in them for more explicit reasons. I read Matthew Reilly when I want non-stop action. I like Kim Stanley Robinson’s books for the grounded, realistic hard science fiction worlds he crafts, and the believable utopian ideals he espouses.

Additionally I like reading non-fiction books because I love to learn. I want to know about Einstein’s life, or why sleep is important. I want to try and square the circle of my meat-eating, with my love of animals. I want to understand humanity’s place in the anthropocene. I have agendas behind a lot of my reading, but with Murakami’s books I feel like there is a different purpose in mind.

I like being able to throw this to the wind, and just lose myself in the strange worlds he creates.

For instance this book is ostensibly about a man’s search for a mysterious sheep, but as we delve deeper into the journey, and the character, the story turns into a more surreal tale where the chase for the sheep has existential bearing on reality. Or maybe it doesn’t.

I honestly don’t know, and can fully understand how academics can make a living analysing these kinds of fiction.

But for me I am starting to learn that I don’t need to ‘understand’ all fiction in this way. I can simply let the experience happen, and enjoy it for what it is.

Not that that has stopped me Googling theories, and explanations mind you….

#2020inBooks #Murakami #ReadingforReadingssake #AWildSheepChase