everything I read in April
Another month, another reading round-up. This month's reading included quite a few short story collections and books about the relationship between humans and nature. Here are the books I got through:
The Camp of the Dog - Algernon Blackwood. My Jack London kick has run its course and I have moved onto Algernon Blackwood for my dose of stories about dogs and 'the wild.' In this 1908 book, a group of travelers camp on an uninhabited Baltic island. After a short time enjoying exploring the location, a spectral dog begins to haunt the camp at night. It's spooky and the (slightly word) descriptions of the landscape are haunting. Blackwood also delves into human nature and how it is impacted by time spent away from civilization (in a manner reminiscent of Conrad's Heart of Darkness.)
The Daily Stoic - Ryan Holiday. Whilst this book is intended to be read over the course of a year, I completed it in a month. I tend to prefer Stoic source texts rather than explorations of the topic, I was interested in the newer translations which are included. The extracts from Stoic texts are consistently interesting, especially those from more obscure authors which are harder to find copies of.
Don't Look Now - Daphne Maurier. I don't read many short story collections, but by coincidence ended up getting through five this month. I bought this in Venice and it displays Maurier's knack for creating a rich narrative in just a few page per story. They are, for the most part, a little eerie and filled with complex characters. The title story, about a couple seeing the ghost of their daughter in Venice is particularly haunting.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck - Mark Manson. As always, I love it when bloggers I follow publish a book and this one is a lot of fun. Manson rejects the focus on positive thinking in most self-help books and discusses realistic guidelines for finding happiness. As a chronic over-thinker and perfectionist, I found the approach very refreshing. There is also a liberal sprinkling of references to Stoicism and historical anecdotes. The middle chapters are a bit befuddled, but I adored the last couple.
Greek Myths - Assorted authors. It felt like time for a refresher course in Greek myths, my childhood favorites. The bizarre logic and hilarious behavior of the gods are brilliant.
England, My England - DH Lawrence. Another short story collection and perhaps the best one I had read. The stories mostly revolve around the impact of World War 2, and various fractured, intense relationships.
The Wendigo - Algernon Blackwood. A group of hunters and their guides are accosted by a wendigo (a mythical creature, usually described as having once been a person.) Like much of Blackwood's writing, it deals more with the impact of nature on the human psyche. In the midst of a tangled mass of unexplored forest, it is hard to behave in a normal way. As in The Camp of the Dog, the question of how exactly we should behave lingers.
On the Silence of Animals - John Grey. A collection of essays exploring the intangible concept of human progress. Grey draws from a mixture of texts (memoirs, poetry, fiction etc) as springboards for his ideas. These also look at how we behave in extreme situations. Who are we in times of war, moral panic or deprivation? What happens when a society collapses? Why do we keep repeating history? Most poignantly, Grey ponders our stubborn desire to differentiate ourselves from animals. The whole book is somewhat bleak, devoid of optimism or hopeful suggestions. My favorite part, however, was the bibliography. I have already ordered many of the texts Grey references.
The First 20 Hours - Josh Kaufman. This was a rare case of me reading the whole of a disappointing book. I expected it to be a look at the science of learning, and techniques for accelerating the process. Instead, it was a mess of obvious statements and anecdotes. I don't like criticizing books, but this one warrants it. Seriously. I'm not even going to link it.
59 Seconds - Richard Wiseman. I read a lot of psychology books, so many of the studies cited here seemed a bit hackneyed. However, the premise -what can we do to improve our lives in a minute a day?- was fascinating. Rather than focusing on long-term self-improvement, Wiseman looks at techniques we can use to feel better straight away and to kickstart long-term change. As an anxious introvert, I found the chapter on social skills to be practical and have begun using some of the techniques.
Anything You Want - Derek Sivers. Concise, thought-provoking and full of paradigm altering ideas. Sivers condenses years of experience running his business down to a few simple lessons. It is very different to the average business book, discussing emotions and relationships rather than numbers and tactics. A good strategy book is one with applications far beyond its specific topic (e.g. The Art of War) and this is not just relevant for business owners. I liked Sivers' honesty about his mistakes too.
The Italians - John Hooper. A tender portrait of Italian culture, looking at politics, sport, family life, the way people work, manners and more. The chapter about politics made me laugh every few paragraphs which is probably a first. I fell in love with Italy when I visited last month and this book cemented my appreciation for the place. Hooper manages to encapsulate the feel of the place, without stereotyping or making generalizations. If you want a grasp of the place better than any guidebook can provide, read this.
The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson. Less a study of psychopathy, more a tale of Ronson's time spent researching them. Beginning with his attempts to solve an odd riddle, he meets psychopaths, learns how to spot them, hangs out with Scientologists, delves into the history of the DSM manual and offers psychopathy up as an explanation for much of the human evil in the world. Some people have criticized Ronson's handling of the topic due to his lack of expertise, although I like the naive perspective he brings to the table. I have read a few technical books by experts on the same topic and found that this one nicely rounded off my understanding.
Furiously Happy- Jenny Lawson. I am always up for a mental illness memoir which does not finish with some syrupy, fake happy ending. Especially if the author manages not to glorify. The part which stood out to me was Lawson's admission that, despite her regular forays into crazy activities, she is most content under a duvet with her cats. It is sort of embarrassing how happy I was to read that. Her explanation of how it is possible to be both furiously happy and depressed is also valuable. Regardless of whether you have mental health problems yourself, or want to better understand those you know who do, I recommend this book. It has the added benefit of being somewhat funny and full of cat stories and taxidermy.
Yosemite - John Muir. Conor Oberst (my favorite human) referred to this book in a song so I knew I had to read it. Visiting Yosemite is one of my dreams, yet this book is so evocative that I feel I know every inch of it already. Muir describes Yosemite with touching passion and love, worshipping the beauty of the place. This book was written as part of his efforts to save the park from destruction and it's hard to imagine anyone could read this and not want to protect it.