Books Read in March

Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome, by E. M. Berens

After reading Stephen Fry’s take on this genre, it was refreshing to read a more classic take. Highly recommended. I was fascinated by this kind of stuff when I was young. Is adulthood mostly us trying to recapture those days?

Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov

I wrote about it here.

Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov

(Drawing by me)

I reread this book this month. Nabokov’s protagonists are always fascinating. The one is Despair, Hermann, is almost tragic in how desperately he hides from reality. In this he is like that other great unreliable narrator, Charles Kinbote from Pale Fire. And when people in the real world laugh and point a finger at this naked emperor, he chooses to recede into a reality where his garments are the finest, his wit awes his friends, and his intellect outwits the police.

You are never really certain if perhaps, deep down, he knows but continues to pretend. The monster gets his comeuppance and descends into despair. His fine plots are tangled. For all the world he is a bumbling crook but in his mind he is inches away from the perfect crime, bested only by bad luck.

Highly recommended to read and re-read.

Books Read in February

I signed up for Scribd this month and the selection is such a nice change from Kindle Unlimited. The number of books I read this month shot up as a result. I had a similar experience the last time I used it too. Reading on the small phone screen is the only drawback.

I also went to my favourite book store (Blossoms) after nearly a year. So a great month overall.

The Enchanter: An Adventure in the Land of Nabokov, by Lila Azam Zanganeh

An exquisite love letter to Nabokov’s works. Emulates his luminous, mad style very well.

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

Our great depression is our lives.

Reread this. Immensely quotable book.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli

A light overview of physics. Does not go too deep so might be good for folks who are dipping their toes in this genre.

Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living, by Fumio Sasaki

A light look at the minimalist movement from a Japanese blogger.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made, by Jason Schreier

Somehow this was more forgiving than I expected, of the grind and hell folks in the videogame industry go through. The author hand waves it away as something people do out of sheer passion. I can understand that from the small indies working away for years on a tight budget, but I wonder if that holds true for the entire industry. Nevertheless this was an interesting peek behind the curtains of game companies small and large.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein

Well this was preaching to the choir as I consider myself a bit of a generalist. Most of the book quotes success stories, which makes for nice reading but I guess if you look for something you’ll always find examples supporting your cause.

The larger point is that we don’t know what we want to do unless we try it, so the general recommendation is to sample widely and not be afraid to be a late bloomer.

The Tangled Lands, by Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias S. Buckell

Four short stories by the two authors, all centered around a world troubled by poisonous brambles that grow and spread whenever its people use magic.

I’ve read and liked Baciagalupi’s dystopian science fiction before.

Books read in January

Anabasis, by Xenophon

“Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta!” — Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s Ulysses.

“Warriors, come out to play-i-ay.” — From the movie The Warriors.

Well I didn’t read it in the original Greek but I finally read this book. It’s nice when you finally read something that has such a rich cultural history and you see all the influences it has had.

Books read in December

Here is what I read this month:

The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

Reviewed here. I liked this book quite a bit.

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

I have fond memories of this book: I won an abridged copy as an award in school, way back in IInd standard. So I was not ready for how BIG the original version is. So most of this month went in reading this enjoyable revenge tale.

The Happiness Hypothesis

This book is written by Jonathan Haidt. I’d read his other book, The Righteous Mind, and enjoyed it. I liked this one as well. What follows is not really a review. These are just notes I took from the book that I found interesting.

Not a metaphor: there’s literally a  Gut brain , connected by vagus nerve with main one. Runs independently to manage the intestine. Huge lining of neurons in the lining. Triggers anxiety when infections are present.

Confabulation – seen in people with split brain problems. When something is observed by 1 half of the brain and it’s trying to rationalize it with a narrative.

Key to understanding many later parts of the book. Why we obey certain impulses but not others.

Marshmallow experiment: the crucial piece was emotional intelligence and strategy: knowing how to beat your emotions by distracting yourself, focus on other things etc. basically stimulus control.

How to change your mind:

  • Meditation
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Prozac

Signs of a cooked-up hysteria (e.g. communism)

  • Invisible
  • Contagious (young can be influenced)
  • Can only be defeated by all of us getting together

Evil doesn’t just come from the outside. There’s rounds of escalation before it gets violent. And a richer context than what you see on TV. Two things that we encourage as positive that actually lead to evil:

  • High self esteem (when unrealistic or narcissistic, problems arise). Rather than directly raising self esteem you should be teaching skills.
  • Moral idealism – people who believed that they were using violence for a larger cause. Ends justify the means. Outcome rather than path.

Conspicuous consumption is a zero sum game i.e. A Rolex is good only if other people have Casios. So focus on inconspicuous consumption like holiday trips.

Apparently experiences > material possessions

Especially if those experiences are with other people

Whereas early Greek philosophers focused on what makes a person virtuous e.g. should I return a wallet full of money, modern philosophy focuses more on actions and quandaries, e.g. do you kill one person to save dozens.

Some stuff on divinity and disgust that lines up pretty well with his work on Moral Foundations and his other book, the Righteous Mind.

On religion and how Group Selection incites violence only against apostates and outsiders. i.e. shifts the problem one level up, from individuals caring for self to individuals caring for their own group.

So for a Meaningful life: we as a species are social (so we need people), and industrious (we need vital engagement and flow in our work/hobbies).

So get the connections and conditions right in work, love etc. And happiness will come.