Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Arthur & George" by Julian Barnes

I picked this book up with absolutely no prior knowledge of its contents--just Sam's recommendation of the author. That turned out to be a really great way of coming to this book, so I almost feel bad giving you details that I really appreciated not knowing ahead of time. 
So I'll give you a choice. I'll start off by saying that I really enjoyed this book, it was well-written, and I highly recommend it. Then I'll start telling you why . . . but if you think you might like to read it and want to come to it blind, stop reading here. 

Last chance . . . 

OK, so here are the main things I didn't know about this book ahead of time:

1. It's historical fiction--a true story. I'm sure there was some embellishment going on, as is necessary in the genre, but the framework of the story is based on fact.
2. The titular Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

This book tells the story of the intersection between the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a half-Indian Englishman named George Edalji, who was accused and convicted of slashing a pony. George and his family steadfastly insisted on his innocence, and Doyle became George's champion, trying to clear his name. 

My only complaint about the book is with its ending. Unanswered questions and unexplained mysteries remained, and I wanted things neat and clear. It was too messy . . . but that's the way real life is. 

And I couldn't have had a nicer location to read it!!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck" by Mark Manson

I first heard of Mark Manson through a link to his blog shared by a facebook friend. Of course I can't remember exactly what that blog post was about, but I'm sure it was typically funny and thought-provoking, because on its basis I subscribed to his newsletter and have read a good double handful of his writing since then. A few months back when he started banging on about his book, I had no intention of buying it, but I guess he wore me down because here it is. 

When I was about two chapters in to this book I started wishing I'd been taking notes. Which of course I hadn't. I was tempted to start over at the beginning, pen in hand, but laziness won and I just kept reading. Only problem is, I still had that same exact feeling by the time I finished with the book. I felt sure it could be distilled into a few good sentences (or perhaps a paragraph) but, having taken no notes, the possible felt impossible. But, superhero reader/blogger that I am, I am going to attempt distillation on the fly. 

1. First of all, it's impossible to not give a f*ck about anything. Humans care about things. It's just what happens. But you don't have to give a f*ck about everything. You need to put some serious thought into determining a limited number of things that you actually care about. THOSE things are the only things you need to give a f*ck about. For everything else: let it go. For instance, do you ever get angry because you're angry, or get annoyed that you're annoyed, or feel sad because you're feeling sad? Don't. Focus on the first feeling and deal with that; don't give a f*ck about your feelings about your feelings. 

2. Our society rewards the exceptional. For a lot of people, this ends up one of two ways: there are those who think "I'm exceptional!" which leads to a sense of entitlement (give me special treatment, because I am special), and there are those who think "Everyone else is exceptional, but I suck" . . . which leads to a sense of entitlement (give me special treatment, because I am the victimized underdog). The solution? Accept the fact that you are average and ordinary, and focus on appreciating the things that really matter (see #1). 

3. Think about your dreams. Do you realize that you'll spend a greater portion of your life working towards your dreams than you will enjoying the fruits of your labor? Better make sure you enjoy the process of working towards your dreams as much as (or more than!) you think you'll enjoy the dreams themselves. If you're not willing to do the work it will take to reach your goal, maybe you need a different goal to focus on--something you actually want. In fact, you're better off focusing on goals you never really truly reach (meaning something internal, with no real endpoint, rather than ones that are unattainable), because working towards that sort of goal is more likely to bring you happiness than reaching an external, material goal.

4. "The Self-Awareness Onion." When you are feeling a feeling, first you need to define the feeling. (What is the feeling?) Then peel back a layer. Why are you feeling that feeling? (What is the cause of the feeling? This is not your opportunity to blame others.) Then peel back another layer. Why does this feeling matter to you? Why do you see this as a success or failure? "This level, which takes constant questioning and effort . . . is the most important, because our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives."  

Aaaaaand that's the first third of this book. I was wrong. Simple distillation is impossible. I am overcome with the odd (and possibly heretical) impulse to study this book like the Bible. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Nightwoods" by Charles Frazier

For a book that started off feeling a little less-than unique (why does it seem like I've read a half-dozen other books about a slightly odd young woman living in the backwoods, kind of hiding from society to protect herself and pretend she's not as vulnerable as she really is?) this one turned out to be really good. That's not completely surprising (I liked Cold Mountain, and Thirteen Moons is waiting in the wings) but I like how I enjoyed it in a backhanded way. 

Nightwoods is the story of hermit-like young Luce, unofficial caretaker of an abandoned lodge in the Appalachians, who has just been saddled with her murdered younger sister's twins, Frank and Dolores. This is an adjustment for all three, not least because the twins--though old enough to talk--are practically mute; and soon their situation is made worse by the man Luce suspects was her sister's murderer (as well as the cat who got the twins' tongues). Though the first half of the book is more of a rural North Carolina vignette, this is quickly superseded by high tension brought by Bud the Killer. 

This book was well-written and enjoyable but . . . is it too obvious that I'm in a hurry to get this post over with so I can move on to my next read?