Category Archives: Favourites

4- and 5-star books that had a lasting impact on me, but which I don’t necessarily assume others would enjoy as much.

REVIEW: MORT

Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I’d like to mention that this particular edition of the book is pure, distilled class. I found it in Гринуич (Greenwich, written “green witch”), one of Sofia’s largest bookstores. Happily, there’s also “Guards! Guards!” from the same line of beautiful 2014 hardcover editions of the Discworld series on that rotating shelf waiting for me to get my hands on it… All I have to do is swallow shelling out another seemingly-cheap-but-it’s-what-I-should-be-paying-for-my-nourishment-with 20 лв so soon after I did it for Mort with this particular expression on my face.

Anyway, I wanted to include quotes from Mort in my review to yet again share just how witty, pertinent and, well, funny Pratchett’s writing has proved itself to be, but I decided to just put links to lists becase this would grow out of any sort of proportion and my reviews in general need more words like my back needs more hair. The lists of quotes: [1] [2].

Many discheads count Mort as one of the best books in the whole series, and I remember my friend Garret pestering me to read this book in particular for years. My time did come, now that my disc is spinning – you may interpret that analogy at will, by the way. I would say that, compared to Small Gods, the Discworld entry I read before this one, Mort was funnier but lacked part of the punch; Small Gods made me think “hey, Pratchett’s onto something here”, but no such internal exclamations were had with Mort, and rather missed they were. However, I did have to think (relatively) long and hard to decide whether or not I should give Mort 5 stars all the same as a reward for it managing to crack me up so systematically. The end result of that painful procedure you can see before you; nevertheless, let it be known that Mort is funny and that you should read it, even if you’ve never read a Discworld novel before.

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REVIEW: THE SCIENCE DELUSION

The Science Delusion: Feeling the Spirit of EnquiryThe Science Delusion: Feeling the Spirit of Enquiry by Rupert Sheldrake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have the rational intelligence to be a scientist, but it’s not in my personality to fill in cracks in established mental models. I seek anomalies that open cracks.

~Ran Prieur

Quickly becoming one of my favourite quotes.


Jimmy Wales tells “energy workers” that Wikipedia won’t publish woo, “the work of lunatic charlatans isn’t the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse'” [link]

Jimmy Wales’ statement is as revolting as the discussion under it. I would suggest that you read it, but only if you have the stomach for tens of “skeptics” parrotting the mainstream opinions about woo, parapsychology etc, claiming the truth and the high ground of knowledge as they usually do. Even the article itself is taking clear sides without shame.

Do these people know anything about the subject? Does Jimmy Wales know anything about the subject, he who with one broad swath pigeonholes so many people as lunatic charlatanes? I don’t know whether this technique in particular has had successes, explicable or inexplicable, in doing what it says it does, I haven’t looked into it to be honest, but I’ve seen the same discussion surrounding “pseudoscience” too many times to count.

Why this hate? Why this elitism? Why this aversion to exploration of the fringes? When did science become all about defending what’s already known? I thought the opposite was the main idea. Is materialist science, peer-reviewd journals, wikipedia, Richard Dawkins and the rest, parts of a bulletproof world theory anyway?

No, they’re not. Far from it. And if you want to know why, you should absolutely read The Science Delusion (title insisted upon by publisher) by Rupert Sheldrake. His main idea is that science and the scientific method are generally good at giving answers about our world, but, just like organised religion 500 years ago did, it has become too inflexible, too bulky, too dogmatic, too rid of assumptions, too sure of itself and too dismissive to be of any real use today. Meanwhile, it’s hindering research that could further our understanding of the world in unimaginable ways.

What’s interesting is that Sheldrake in this book provides us with -what’s normally considered as- hard evidence for a world that cannot be explained materialistically. That includes results of real peer-reviewed experiments that point to the reality of things like brainless memories, statistically significant telepathy and many more chin-stroke-worthy phenomena that truly test mainstream science’s beliefs of what should or shouldn’t be possible.

After reading the book, I checked Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia entry just to see reactions to his work from the scientific communituy. Not surprisingly, the discussion was not much more sophisticated than what I witnessed in the link at the top of this review: accusations of pseudoscience, charlatanism etc pervaded the articles, indications that the skeptics hadn’t really comprehended the criticism aimed at their methodology and worldview, didn’t follow up on the bibliography, plainly assuming that there must have been something wrong with it (confirmation bias), or that they simply didn’t even read the book. Richard Dawkins has said, after all, that he doesn’t want to discuss evidence when it comes to inexplicable phenomena, raising questions about whether he’s really interested in the truth or not – in my personal experience, most skeptics do not have furthering their understanding of our world at the top of their priorities.

In any case, I find the accusations against Sheldrake, and this book in particular, hollow: The Science Delusion has close to 40 pages of notes and bibliography of actual experiments to back it up and Sheldrake’s style and prose themselves are lucid as well as restrained. Even in the parts in which he discusses the inability of science to interpret the phenomena, where he proposes his own theory of morphing resonance as a possible explanation -the parts I enjoyed the least because I cannot exactly grasp the concept of morphic resonance-, he does so without conviction, but rather with the spirit of the curious researcher. A true scientist in my book. The skeptics’ reaction to his work seems to disregard all of this completely; they treat him like they would any old fraud.

But I understand: scientists are also people. What would it have been normal for them to do in the face of rejection of their entire lives’ work plus a few hundred years of tradition? Accept their failure? Accept their dogmatism? Just as scientists are people, science is also a human activity, and as most of human activities do, it also suffers from the same problems human beings generally have, only in a larger, more chaotic scale.

Finally, one more reason I appreciated this book so much was that it was… tender. At the other side of the raging skeptics and this blind rejection there is investigation, there is respect, there is a belief in a state of things that resonated deeply with me. Maybe it’s because Sheldrake’s main field of research has been biology that he shows such love for plants, animals and life in general. For whatever reason, it warmed my heart and made me think that if I ever was a real scientist, Sheldrake would be my rold model: a fighter for truth against the faux fighters for truth, the romantic gardener who everybody calls a hippie but he alone sees what everybody else is too blind to see.

Third five-star review in a row after Μίλα μου για γλώσσα and
Small Gods
(lol). Am I becoming softer or just more grateful?

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REVIEW: ΜΙΛΑ ΜΟΥ ΓΙΑ ΓΛΩΣΣΑ

Μίλα μου για γλώσσα: Μικρή εισαγωγή στη γλωσσολογίαΜίλα μου για γλώσσα: Μικρή εισαγωγή στη γλωσσολογία by Φοίβος Παναγιωτίδης

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Σημαντικό βιβλίο, ακόμα κι αν το μόνο που καταφέρνει είναι αυτό που ο Φοίβος Παναγιωτίδης υπόσχεται στην αρχή: να παρουσιάσει μια απλουστευμένη, «εκλαϊκευμένη» (δεν μου αρέσει καθόλου αυτή η λέξη ως απόδοση του pop) εισαγωγή στην γλωσσολογία, χωρισμένη σε κεφαλαιάκια-μπουκίτσες.

Πώς μαθαίνουμε να μιλάμε; Από τι είναι φτιαγμένη η γλώσσα; Ποια είναι η παλιότερη γλώσσα του κόσμου; Ποια η διαφορά γλώσσας και διαλέκτου; Τι σημαίνει μιλάω σωστά (ελληνικά); Γιατί μαθαίνουμε αρχαία; Θα μιλάμε όλοι αγγλικά σε 50 χρόνια; Πάσχουν οι νέοι μας από αφασία; Κινδυνεύουν τα παιδιά που μεγαλώνουν σε δίγλωσσο περιβάλλον; Είναι η πολυγλωσσία τεκμήριο ευφυΐας; Γιατί μας δυσκολεύουν οι ξένες γλώσσες; Πού βρίσκεται η Λατβία; Σε τι χρησιμεύει η γλωσσολογία;

Ίσως να μην καταφέρνει να δώσει εκτενείς απαντήσεις σε όλα αυτά τα ερωτήματα, όμως αυτός δεν είναι και ο στόχος του και θα έχανε πολλα αν προσπαθούσε να είναι πιο «επιστημονικό» ή διεξοδικό: πιστεύω πολύ σε έργα όπως αυτό τα οποία προσπαθούν να παρουσιάσουν μια πιο σφαιρική άποψη του θέματος τους και δεν χάνονται στις λεπτομέρειες, όπως τα αγαπημένα μου βιβλία του είδους What on Earth Happened και A Short History of Nearly Everything. Σίγουρα δεν ξέρω άλλα βιβλία παρόμοιου εύρους για το συγκεκριμένο θέμα, και ακόμα πιο σίγουρα όχι στα ελληνικά. Μου άνοιξε φυσικά την όρεξη για περισσότερη γλωσσολογία αλλά και για να εστιάσω περισσότερο στις γλώσσες μου…

Γενικά, ήταν απολαυστικό και θα το πρότεινα σε οποιονδήποτε, όχι μόνο σε φίλους των γλωσσών και της γλωσσολογίας. Μάλλον όσοι δεν έχουν ιδέα από γλωσσολογία πρέπει να το διαβάσουν περισσότερο!

Ευχαριστώ Δάφνη που μου το δάνισες. 🙂

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REVIEW: SMALL GODS

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A quick note before the review: my friend Garret got this book for me as a gift for my last nameday, and he was also the guy who first introduced me to Terry Pratchett years ago, so here’s a double “thank you” for him.

Now, the review.

I definitely should be paying more attention to Terry Pratchett. All four books of his I’ve read I have greatly enjoyed, and this one not only had as much Pratchettesque humour as I could ask for, it had a very serious and significant message to share as well. That’s probably the reason why my mentor here in Bulgaria, Boris, who I yesterday learned has read ALL of the books in the series, some of them twice, called it “one of the heavier books” set in the Discworld universe. It’s an opinion which I understand but can’t completely agree with. To clarify: it’s not that it wasn’t heavy compared to the other Discworld novels I’ve read, but to me this contrast just made the whole thing tastier. What can I say, I suppose that, myself being a man of contrasts, it feels more… balanced? Natural? Complete in a paradoxical way that makes perfect sense?

It just feels right.

So, what’s next? I will continue to crawl my way through the series like a turtle, of course, but now, with renewed motivation from Boris, maybe I can do it with less of Om’s slugishness and more of The Great A’Tuin’s grace(?).

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REVIEW: THE DISASTER ARTIST: MY LIFE INSIDE THE ROOM, THE GREATEST BAD MOVIE EVER MADE

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever MadeThe Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now would be a perfect time for anyone who hasn’t watched The Room (2003) by Tommy Wiseau to watch it. Guys, this movie has been called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”. There’s a game made based on the story, the following for this cult classic has been going strong for years -it’s still not very famous in Greece but I’m working to change that- and, obviously, a book about it just came out.

A book written by Mark (Greg Sestero) of “Oh, hi Mark!” fame and co-written by Tom Bissell, a person for whom my respect increases by the day. A book I could hardly put down and kept reading it standing up in the metro and in the bus and which I finished in just 3 days. I usually take long with books – sometimes because I force myself to read them rather than enjoying them. This one was different.

The Room is a special case of “WTF, how does this thing exist?!” and a lot of its charm lies on precisely that inexplicability. Who is Tommy Wiseau? Where did he find the film’s $6m budget? Why did he become the unique, strange character he is? Greg Sestero divulges a lot on how he met Tommy Wiseau, what made their relationship special, disastrous and in a way admirable, all the way up to the making of The Room, but those fundamental questions on the very essence The Room are never answered directly. He gave away enough to make me even more interested in Tommy Wiseau as a personality and what he and his ways might have to teach me (I didn’t believe there was anything I could learn from him before I read this book) but not too much, which would ruin everything. At the same time, The Disaster Artist has a certain kind of flow and style that it, as is correctly advertised on the cover, reads more like a novel – and you have to remind yourself that not only is it real life you’re reading about, but also it’s about The Room. The freakin’ ROOM!

Another reason I connected very well with the book was that Greg Sestero’s way of thinking, his reaction to some things, his relationship with Tommy and his whole demeanour reminded me of myself. I could almost imagine myself in a parallel universe in all the situations retold in the book, and that helped a great deal with my immersion in this tragicomic story.

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REVIEW: THE ARTIST’S WAY: A SPIRITUAL PATH TO HIGHER CREATIVITY

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher CreativityThe Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Artist’s Way is one of those books that change you – one of those that are made to change you, and you buy them because you yourself want to change. It’s a course in self-discovery, acceptance and creative birth.

These are the basics: for every morning of every week for the 12-week duration of the course -one chapter for each week-, the blocked artists choosing to follow the Way have to:

1)Do three pages of free writing every morning, a daily ceremony known as the Morning Pages. This acts as a mind-clearing meditation routine, a brainstorming machine and a way of spotting trends: weeks after writing the pages the artist on the Way may analyse his or her morning pages and notice trends in his or her daily writings: unfulfilled artistic urges, changes that need to be made for the person to reach harmony and happiness, sudden ideas and other great things.

2) Take themselves out to at least one Artist’s date per week, in which they have to indulge in whatever it is they love doing but would not normally allow themselves to be lost in (remember, this book is meant for blocked artists -read: most of us-).

3) Complete tasks in personal archaeology and self-discovery, wherein they have to dig up favourite creative childhood pass-times they gave up because of humiliation, “growing up” or other creativity-killing reasons.

I completed my 12(+1 lazy one) weeks a few days ago. I can safely say that it had great effects on me. Doing morning pages has now become more of a good habit of mine, and even if I didn’t do all of the tasks, it’s one of the books you have to go through at some point again for inspiration. It says so in the end, too.

If you’re a blocked artist, believe you can’t do art because you think you’re too old to start or “can’t draw” (or are “tonedeaf” or “terrible at writing” or “have no ideas” ad nauseam), think whatever you do needs to be perfect from the beginning or don’t bother because what you would create wouldn’t appeal to the masses, you should really try following The Artist’s Way.

The only thing I would add to the course itself would be a special NoSurf task or, even better, a complete revisit to the book that takes what the world looks like in 2013 into account; I strongly feel the internet is becoming, at the same time, the most important invention and the single strongest creativity and motivation killer mankind has ever known. I mean, in the 1993 edition that I have, there’s already a no-reading week included in the course for eliminating distractions and for focusing time and energy on the creative juices within, but the internet is proving to be a distraction magnitudes greater than reading the paper or a book could ever be. We come in contact with the works of the world’s most talented and creative on a basis of addiction, almost.

What I really mean is that I’ve grown tired of and alarmed at the great artists I personally know who keep getting demotivated by seeing someone else’s graphic, photo or drawing on Tumblr or listening to that fantastic song or watching that clever video on Youtube, instead of getting inspired, as they claim they should be. It’s more “look how much others have progressed instead of me” and much less “this is possible and I could do it too.”

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REVIEW: THE ETYMOLOGICON: A CIRCULAR STROLL THROUGH THE HIDDEN CONNECTIONS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English LanguageThe Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could quote almost any page of this book to demonstrate its awesomeness and healthy doses of “aha!” it can induce on the reader but that wouldn’t do The Etymologicon justice; Mark Forsyth does such an awesome job of linking one word to the next with such -delighfully British- humorous descriptions and eloquence that simply picking and choosing doesn’t feel right.

This book is an ode to the history and connectedness of languages, one delicious word -or group of words- after the other. You can get a taste of Forsyth’s etymology- and origin-of-language-related work in his blog Inky Fool, which worked as his groundwork for The Etymologicon. If you find any of it interesting at all, chances are you’ll fall in love with this book just like Daphne and I both did.

On an unrelated note, I think it’d be interesting to share with you that the previous owner of my copy felt the need to correct grammar and syntax mistakes, such as having “But” and “And” at the beginning of sentences, with her (I’m assuming it’s a bitchy, uptight, female 60 -year-old-virgin English teacher) black marker; at other places she noted “Daft!” or underlined mistakes obviously intended for humour. To give you a little example at some point the book reads: “What the proofreader gets is a proof copy, which he pores over trying to fnid misspellings and unnecessary apostrophe’s.” She went ahead and deleted that last apostrophe. She really did. “…they who are so exact for the letter shall be dealty with by the Lexicon, and the Etymologicon too if they please…” The book begins with this quote by the apparently very prolific John Milton; the lady would have done well to have taken this piece of advice to heart.

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REVIEW: THE ART OF LOOKING SIDEWAYS

The Art of Looking SidewaysThe Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Above: a photograph of my own copy of The Art of Looking Sideways.

This book is a valuable collection of experiences, quotes, designer-gasms, observations and insights into life, the aesthetic, artistic and general human experience, by late master graphic designer Alan Fletcher.

I got it more than a year ago like new (yes, it took me this long to go through its 1000+ pages reading/enjoying on and off) for around €30. Most of that must have been the shipping costs: when it arrived I really couldn’t believe the sheer mass of it. I tried to scan some of it, once; the results: my current profile picture, and a scanner which since then has been occassionally malfunctioning, the book’s weight having left a permanent scar in its life of digitisation. This is actually the only reason I haven’t been lugging it around more often, showing it to each and every one of my friends — artistically inclined or no.

This book is so thick with inspiration it’s almost impossible to deal with: you can’t open it randomly to catch the creative spark (supposedly Alan Fletcher’s point in making it) without wanting to read it all. Though I suppose this mindless and distracted consumption is a personal demon I have to deal with!

Anyway. I’ll make this short and to the point: this treasure chest of a book is one of my most prized and proud possessions — and believe you me, as a rule I don’t take particular pride anymore in owning things.

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REVIEW: APOCALYPSOPOLIS

ApocalypsopolisApocalypsopolis by Ran Prieur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve asked the question before, but can we really consider this a book? If the writer says it’s one, it is one; we’re taking it from there.

I’ve been reading the blog of this crazy person Ran Prieur for the past few weeks and every day I love him more and more. His writing, his style, his way of life is another inspiration for me. He’s quickly finding his way to this exclusive mental resort where all my top favourite people (Douglas Adams, Dan Carlin, Maria Efthimiou, Kyle Cease, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Raymond Smullyan, Steven Wilson, Alan Watts, Edgar Wright and the list goes on) are having the longest cocktail party/cozy discussion in altered states of their (after)lives.

Apocalypsopolis is a post-apocalyptic novela – or should I say while-apocalyptic? It shows what would happen during the apocalypse. Ran Prieur’s version of it isn’t any old end of the world, however. Through his work he clearly shows all of the things that mattered to him 9 years ago and still, to a certain extent, do today: man’s alienation from nature, his interest in “conspiracy theories” and metaphysics, the simplicity, complexity and -at the same time- trivialty of existence, the future of humanity.

You like post-apocalyptic fantasy? Read it. You like (political) philosophy? Read it. You like hippie fiction? Read it. Intrigued by the deconstruction of metaphysics? Read it. Survivalism strike your fancy? You know the drill.

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REVIEW: WHATEVER YOU THINK, THINK THE OPPOSITE

Whatever You Think, Think the OppositeWhatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is so short you can throw in a re-read every time you’re about to lend it out and it gets better every time because every time you’re just a bit older and different parts stay with you in new ways. I think I’ve already read it 4 times in random the years I’ve owned it just by picking it up and putting it down 30 minutes later having read it all and thinking about it anew. I like thinking outside the box in extreme ways, if not practically in my life at least in theory (figures: why else would I enjoy books such as this?) and Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite encourages that side of my character. It mostly comprises stories of bad decisions that in the long run proved to be good; of people finding out that the secret is letting yourself risk and tread new water no matter the (illusory) danger, ultimately reaping all the rewards. In the end, being different from others also means deciding irrationally, for everyone else tries to be rational and make decisions like that too.

Of course I should say that the ultimate capitalist dream is to be a unique, bleeding-edge entepreneur and Paul Arden seems to be preaching to precisely that choir in particular. His work has a “live and let die” vibe and the fact that a lot of his stories of success, creativity and “bad” decisions have to do with advertising, “making it” and getting rich, turns me off a bit. At the very least, it’s a different kind of inspiration from what would really get me going, what would really speak to my core. Still, it’s advice you can presumably use in many different aspects of life.

Amidst all this you can certainly be forgiven if you don’t really notice the top-notch graphic design that makes Arden’s words even sparklier and more alluring. The less is being said and the better its presentation, the more mysteriously seductive what’s being said is. It’s not just the power of the words alone, there are other forces at play here… Scary thought if you’re not willing to admit that humans are mainly weak, malleabe and inconsistent beings.

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