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

Friday, May 18, 2018

“A$$holes: A theory” by Aaron James

This book was less fun than I expected. It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek but mostly serious philosophical work (or as serious a philosophical work as I'm ever likely to read, considering that I graduated from college during the previous century . . . not that graduating from college in the previous century precludes me from reading philosophy--I'm just saying I would probably only read philosophy if I had to for a class, and that's not going to happen). I think the majority of its light-hearted feeling stemmed only from its repeated and frequent use of words like "asshole" which (I assume) are not likely to appear in most serious philosophical works. I had the feeling that the author was reveling in this fact, maybe even giggling about it at times. 
As for the actual content beyond the giggles, it was interesting to watch James polish his definition: what exactly is an asshole? Not just a jerk or a bastard, but an actual, honest-to-goodness asshole? James gives a fairly specific and limiting definition. Apparently the state of being an asshole is a constant state, based on entitlement. An asshole systematically allows himself special advantages over others and is immune to any resulting negative reactions. (Notice how I said "himself"? James covers that in the book too.) And if you're worried that you might be an asshole . . . well, no need to worry. True assholes would have no such worries. 
I suppose I gave some extra thought to the distinction that an asshole is always an asshole, whereas others might just act like an asshole sometimes. When the asshole (or not) is someone you have a brief encounter with, how can you determine whether that individual is, in fact, an asshole and not just acting like one in that moment? In fact, what difference does it make to the "victim" in that moment? 

Anyway . . . I'm not sure I retained much about what you can actually do about the assholes in your life. Did the book say "avoid them as much as possible, because you can't change them," or is that just my own philosophy intermingling with my memory of the book? I guess I'll never know. I do know, however, that I don't like using the word asshole on my blog. It's unprofessional. So, you know, if you're offended, my apologies. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

“The Hand That First Held Mine” by Maggie O’Farrell

I’ve been impressed with Maggie O’Farrell ever since I read After You’d Gone and haven’t been disappointed by anything of hers that I’ve read . . . until now. Ok, maybe that’s a bit more harsh than necessary, because I still ended up enjoying the reading experience. It just wasn’t up to the standard that I’ve come to expect.

I think the problem was the characters. They just didn’t seem real to me. The more developed characters floated just outside the realm of believability, and the rest seemed amorphous and faceless. (Except for the babies! I could vividly picture their movements and behavior.) This had the unfortunate consequence of failing to make me care about any of the characters in the book, which means the occasional tragedy seemed like little more than a blip. 

This is one of those parallel stories (half of the plot is in the past, half in present day) with two completely different sets of characters (well, for the most part; the whole point of the book is the slow reveal of how the two stories are interlinked.) Plot A centers on Lexie Sinclair and begins on the cusp of her escape from her mundane post-war life in the English countryside. She shocks her family and moves to London and then has jobs and is slightly immoral and blah blah blah. Plot B is about Ted and Elina and their new baby and how difficult parenthood is, mostly for Elina at first, but then moreso for Ted. I won’t tell you how the two plots are linked because that would  just be mean, but I will say... if you read a more detailed blurb about the book and then have a guess, you’ll be right.