The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Mark Manson

It is a very smart title to begin with. This title has made it seem okay for people to read this book who are otherwise worried about their image if ever caught reading a self-help book. This book, at the end of the day is just that, a self-help book just like any other good self-help book that in its time has been a bestseller. There is a pattern to be uncovered here: every few years a book will come by that will tell you how to live by the exact same priniciples as the last one, only making it sound cooler this time. Full marks to Mark Manson for having exploited that market. I am not saying that it is bad book, all I am saying is that it wouldn’t be what it is without the “F” word.

The principles of decluttering your brain, being committed and enjoying it, saying no at the right time, having values that are unique to your personality and essentially being a good human being have all been written about successfully before. You could slam the ones that have spoken about it in an optimistic manner because apparently that’s not cool anymore. Let me tell you that it’s a retelling of the same tale from the other end of the tunnel, with naysay being the hero carrying an F word weapon. One of these books must read in a lifetime and the more it is palatable to the young, the better. I , thus, recommend it.

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Sputnik Sweetheart

Haruki Murakami

SS is a tale of unrequited love. Sumire loves Miu, a girl much older than her. K, the narrator loves Sumire. K is a bibliophile like Sumire but Sumire is also an emotionally distraught wannabe writer. Their telephonic conversations are the best thing about this book. Miu is a sophisticated enterpreneur and eventually a travel companion to Sumire who had her hair turn pure white overnight. This is where magical realism kicks in. Murakami’s descriptions of urban life are graphic. His western obsessions and the glorification of otherwise mundane details are at play again.

Murakami’s prose is lucid and easy going but I have a feeling that something important is lost in translation here. His heart seems to be in a soft space in the way he weaves in pure emotions in problematic realtionships. The love and heartbreak are not intense but are dealt with, with a casual this-too-shall-pass attitude. I wish for more intensity at crucial times but the subtely works in most situations, sample this:

”Who can really distinguish between the sea and what’s reflected in it? Or tell the difference between the falling rain and loneliness?”

I am yet to read more Murakami but I know it in my bones that this is not his best.

 

 

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl

Something inside my head has permanently changed after reading this book. A switch that I always knew existed has been turned on. My only regret is that I should have read it sooner. No book is small enough for me, I took a week to imbibe it. A fruitful week it was.

Viktor Frankl is a psychiatrist, a neurologist, the founder of logotherapy and a holocaust survivor. His description of the four concentration camps that he has been to and survived is nothing short of nightmarish. His descriptions are detached and objective. You doubt if you would’ve given up instead of finding meaning to life in that situation. Human behaviour is hard to predict in such extreme situations and Frankl divides human beings ultimately into only two races, decent and indecent.

The part two of the book is about logotherapy and his idea of meaning. He describes several case studies to elucidate how it works. The takeaway is a very basic and important one, it is that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. An abiding quote from the book that should be engraved into every public instituion is :

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.”

Pinball,1973

Haruki Murakami

Pinball is a sequel to Hear the Wind Sing. There is “you” who lives with identical twins this time, who finally return to a place they know as mysteriously as they came in. You works as a translator in his office which he co-owns with a friend. He falls in love with a Three-flipper Spaceship version of Pinball machine on which he once scored a 165,000. The machine suddenly goes missing when the gaming arcade is replaced by a doughnut shop with bad coffee. “You” traces the machine to a chilly warehouse with a lot of help and bids the pinball machine an emtional farewell.

Rat has a girl and then he loses her. There is J the bartender from China who is doing his thing again but he is more vulnerable this time. Rat decides to leave the town and finds it hard to inform J of his decision, he finally does. Rat drives away in the end, to a smaller town. Beer,cigarette and coffee flow throughtout the book.

There is nothing remarkable about this book. The feelings of loneliness and the mundane are prevalent despite more characters this time. There is some good writing in an  inimitable style. Sample this:

“If I stuck gardenias in my ears and flippers on my hands some people might stop and turn around. But that would be it. Three steps more and they would already have forgotten me. Their eyes saw nothing, not a damn thing. And mine were no different. I felt empty. Maybe I had nothing left to give.”

 

Hear the Wind Sing

Haruki Murakami

After One Hundred Years of Solitude, I craved a “Hear the wind Sing”. This book was read between reading a collection of essays based on a religious philosophy. I needed to remind myself that reading can be breezy and fun again.

There is I, the Rat, the girl with nine fingers, J the bartender and some fathers and uncles in the book. These are the characters in their present time doing what they do, drinking a lot of beer and slowly becoming the people they will. I was wondering how many beers is too many. Relationships and ambitions are taken casually here and conversations are always fun and interesting. There is a lot of reference to popular music of that era. I find the fictional American author Derek Hartfield terribly intersting to read about, he jumped from the Empire State building and killed himself. The book is young in every sense, in the way that its written, lived and thought of.

This is Haruki Murakami’s first book, a novella. It lacks any serious plot but he makes up for it by the writing that is uniquely original, it never seems manufactured. It is written in a simple, clean prose that doesn’t have any literary hangups. Haruki Murakami is already what he is and I am yet to read his famous works but this feels like a good place to start, at the beginning of his career.

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel José García Márquez

There are some books that must be read irrespective of your natural affiliation to the genré. Magical realism isn’t my literary genré of choice but I somehow got convinced that every effort made to read this book will be worth it. It took me almost 2 months to finish reading it. The time it took is in proportion to the effort it took.

OHYOS is the story of time itself from the creation of a utopian town of Macondo to its destruction shown through seven generations of one family. The characters have similar names and one starts fretting about not remebering the characters as one moves ahead in the book but I realised that that is the least of the problems that I would encounter in this journey. I got very uncomfortable with the incestous themes and the misogyny in this book but I moved on remembering the Game of Thrones experience and the soft (almost sympathetic) treatment of Ursula, the matriarch who lives well over 100 years to see nearly seven generations of her clan.

I tend to analyse a book by what I learn from it, factually or emotionally. This kaleidoscopic experience that takes a macroscopic look at time gave me a sense of time that changes constantly and that there is wisdom in adapting to it.

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

When you have lived your life with a meditative focus to pursue biological philosophy, how do you explain mortality to yourself? He didn’t think literature, his first love, had the answers for much of man’s sufferings. He decided to become a neurosurgeon.

In his own words “Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer this question : What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”

He chased his goals with passion and had a promising career ahead of him as a neuroscientist and a neurosurgeon. Now he has been diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer.

There is a fighter in him, there is a pragmatic man who understands the science of his own ailment and there is a writer. He looks at his disease in the eye and makes practical decisions on this journey, all the while looking at it from the prism of mortality. The result is this beautiful book. It has no answers that are instantly comfortable to read but what it does have is a sane voice that will confirm the fragility of life once again, it will make you want to live to the fullest and it will urge you to accept the hurdles that lie ahead on your journey to that eternal silence. This book about death is an optimistic one.