Category Archives: Recommendations

Books I have recommended to other people IRL at some point and/or believe that different kinds of readers would probably enjoy and benefit from

REVIEW: THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED

The Book of the DamnedThe Book of the Damned by Charles Fort

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 


(It’s already been almost three months since I finished this one… just for you to get an idea of how slowly things are making the passover from my life to the ‘mension these days.)

Reading the Book of the Damned on the book-damning device.

Below you will find an assortment of highlights from The Book of the Damned pulled from the clipping file of my Kindle. Convenient, that. You can find the same super-version of the book as the one I read for free on Amazon. I’m still not sure if it’s a best-of, Charles Fort’s collected works, or what… There seems to be at least some content which doesn’t match up with the text found on his four books as found separately.

Anyway, back to the quotes:

The data of the damned. I have gone into the outer darkness of scientific and philosophical transactions and proceedings, ultra-respectable, but covered with the dust of disregard. I have descended into journalism. I have come back with the quasi-souls of lost data. They will march.

The power that has said to all these things that they are damned, is Dogmatic Science.

All sciences begin with attempts to define. Nothing ever has been defined. Because there is nothing to define. Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. He was never able to tell what he meant by a “species.” It is not possible to define. Nothing has ever been finally found out. Because there is nothing final to find out. It’s like looking for a needle that no one ever lost in a haystack that never was—

The novel is a challenge to vulgarization: write something that looks new to you: someone will point out that the thrice-accursed Greeks said it long ago.

It may be that in the whole nineteenth century no event more important than this occurred. In La Nature, 1887, and in L’Année Scientifique, 1887, this occurrence is noted. It is mentioned in one of the summer numbers of Nature, 1887. Fassig lists a paper upon it in the Annuaire de Soc. Met., 1887. Not a word of discussion. Not a subsequent mention can I find. Our own expression: What matters it how we, the French Academy, or the Salvation Army may explain? A disk of worked stone fell from the sky, at Tarbes, France, June 20, 1887.

My notion of astronomic accuracy: Who could not be a prize marksman, if only his hits be recorded?

But what would a deep-sea fish learn even if a steel plate of a wrecked vessel above him should drop and bump him on the nose? Our submergence in a sea of conventionality of almost impenetrable density. Sometimes I’m a savage who has found something on the beach of his island. Sometimes I’m a deep-sea fish with a sore nose.

Charles Fort was a trailblazer. What we call today paranormal or occult, together with all the relevant scientific investigations, in a few words what we’d expect from Mulder and Scully, to a large extent we owe to him. Here’s a guy who lived in the ’20s and researched old copies of Scientific American, Nature and other such periodicals and magazines, looking for the damned, the unexplainable, the excluded. For what good is science, if it only chooses to include to its dogma what it can explain, sweeping under the carpet all that can be used to challenge its grand theories?

Giant, village-sized wheels submerged in the middle of the ocean; periodic rains of fish, frogs in various states of decay and of a gelatinous mass of unknown origin; falling stone discs, as in the quote above; meteors; lights in the sky moving in formation (reported in the 19th century); footprints of impossible creatures; giant hailstones; cannonballs entombed in solid rock, and that’s just a sample.

Reading about these mysterious exclusions was a delight. I love everything that challenges my way of seeing the world and allows me to contemplate alternative explanations for life, the universe and everything. To be fair, some of Fort’s favourite theories were down-right bizarre, such as his insistence on imagining a realm above our own from which all the falling creatures and materials originated – what our own surface world would be, conceptually, for the “deep-sea fish with the sore nose”, as in the last extract I quoted above. The existence of such a place sounds no less ridiculous now than it did in the 1920s, but I think Fort’s point was that his arbitrary explanations were just as good as the official ones offered by the scientific dogma of the time, which our present, widely-accepted, matter-of-fact world theories of today mirror. To be sure, a part – I don’t know how significant – of the excluded, would be possible to include today, but I’m sure that many of the phenomena Fort goes through in his Book of the Damned would be just as inexplicable today as they were in the centuries past.

There are two reasons this book isn’t getting five stars from me. The first one is that it’s twice as long as I think it should have been. I felt that Fort at certain points was simply repeating himself. It’s also possible he was just saying the same thing in a different, more difficult to understand way, and this is precisely the second reason this isn’t getting five stars. Fort’s language and style was very hit or miss. To give you an idea, the quotes I’ve included in this review are some of the easiest parts to understand from the whole book. Others love it. Myself, I can’t say I hate it, but I’m not sure it’s as successful a writing technique as Fort must have hoped for it to be.

The same hit-or-miss-ness is applicable to the book as a whole. I thought it was tremendously interesting and a significant publication that should be studied further and give inspiration to present-day Charles Forts, but I don’t believe the style is for everyone. Why don’t you find out for yourself if it’s right for you, though? It’s free!

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REVIEW: FLUENT IN 3 MONTHS: TIPS AND TECHNIQUES TO HELP YOU LEARN ANY LANGUAGE

Fluent in 3 Months: Tips and Techniques to Help You Learn Any LanguageFluent in 3 Months: Tips and Techniques to Help You Learn Any Language by Benny Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As a person with the ambition to become a polyglot myself (some would even say that with my 5 languages spoken at different levels of mastery I could already call myself one), I can tell you that Benny Lewis is to a great degree what I would like to become one day. If there ever was a more encouraging person that anybody can do it, he would be it. He managed to learn so many languages – I don’t even remember how many – starting in his early ’20s with Spanish and never ever stopping since.

This book is a collection of his most useful techniques and methods and his unmatched motivational skills. While reading it I was feeling so pumped to learn all the languages I could get my hands on, and he really made it all look so easy! Motivating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

My main problem with his work is that he’s not very precise on what actually being fluent means when talking about becoming fluent in three months, something which other people on the web have commented on too. This is part of his own definition from the book itself:


He continues by saying that fluency in a language is difficult to measure (“there is no absolute, discernirble point you pass when can say, ‘Now I can speak the language fluently.'”) and suggests that for all intents and purposes a B2 level on the Common European Framework, by that standard, should be enough. That’s debatable of course and depends on the needs of every individual learner, and, as a holder of a B2 in German and Spanish myself, I still don’t consider myself fluent in either language; rather, I’d consider myself a competent speaker for everyday situations, but no more.

The book itself in general made me think about what my individual needs and goals about each language I’m learning are and gave me plenty ideas and methods on how to reach them. Its best point was the motivation it gave me and that it helped visualise what I’d really like to do with my language-speaking.

Also, Fluent in 3 Months is the first book I’ve seen as of yet that takes advantage of the possibilities granted by dynamic content – as opposed to traditional, static content found in books – made possible by the web: it has links to articles and resources kept updated by the author, which sort of act as mini-expansion packs for the book, e.g. links to useful services, such as Memrise, italki or Polyglot Club. Benny’s idea is that if you own the book, you should always have access to fresh content which in some cases might not be the same as what’s included in the book, as could be the case for example with the links to language-learning websites.


All this said, I don’t particularly like Benny’s tendency to whore himself out and his advice out behind paywalls on his site. Even if you buy his book as I did and subscribe for the extra content, there’s still a “premium membership” you’ve got to pay if you want to have full access to what he’s written over the past few years. I understand that he’s put a lot of work on all of this and that learning new languages full-time has been his main occupations for the better part of his springtime of youth, but I have to admit that it all rather leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Regardless of this, though, if you’re about to tackle a new language or would love to learn more about how effective language-learning works, Benny is one of the best people out there to turn to, or at least to his work. Again, if you can be skeptical about his method and his general aims in learning lots and lots of languages fluently in a sense, you can’t deny that the guy has a talent of being able to very straightforwardly pump you up and make you feel like even learning Mandarin or whatever else you might think a difficult language could be is a piece of cake and only a matter of dedication. And, in the end, if this book left me with anything very concrete, it’s that dedication and the willingness to forget about shyness and/or other bullshit excuse it’s the only thing that might be stopping us from becoming truly good at – or at least having just the right attitude for – speaking our favourite languages.


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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: TRICKS OF THE MIND

Tricks Of The MindTricks Of The Mind by Derren Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book, Derren Brown, famous British “illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic”, sets out to reveal the secrets of his work and actually tell people “I have no real powers, and I hope this settles it!”. We get to see all of the above sides of his: amazing breakdowns of his work and shows and spectacular analyses of what parts of human psychology and neurology he manipulates and why. Most of all, however, we see his sceptical side.

Derren Brown dedicates the majority of his book and prose on an excellent and thorough debunking of things like parapsychology, homeopathy and alternate medicine. He goes through them with an aura of “I would like these things to exist but they cannot, and here’s why”. The idea is that they’re all a mix of delusions, confirmation bias, psychological tricks and many other “flaws” of the human psyche he actually explains are the reason he can trick people.

Now, my personal opinion still is that the scientific method is far from perfect and that a lot of what we see that works in these fields but shouldn’t, based on what we can know and understand about the world, is not necessarily less real than what can be proven; conversely, the scientific dogma is trying to concvince us that if it can’t be proven, it shouldn’t work. However, anecdotal evidence from countless sources (which Mr. Brown rejects based on the fact that they cannot be integrated into a greater theory, but how could they ever be?) tells us a different story.

Repeatabiliy, correlations between cause and effect and the need for evidence are concepts inseparable from the scientific method, but the scientific method is only one way of looking at things. You might say it is the one that works more reliably, but that doesn’t mean that it always works or even that reliability should be our end-all-be-all criterion when creating our world theories. For example, how does reliability and repeatability fit in with the double slit experiment? Or how about the decline effect (excellent article by the New Yorker), which questions the whole idea that once something is proven, it should be able to be repeatedly proven anew? What if it fails to? Is it a problem of the experiment or an incompatibility of the nature of things with the idea that, given the same known and unknown conditions, A should always lead to B? Maybe Douglas Adams had it right all along:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

In short: if Derren Brown is an open-minded sceptic, I choose to be the unorthodox researcher, the explorer of the fringes, the one who looks for the truth that slips between the seams, what gets misunderstood by the scientists of its time, ridiculed, rejected by the dominant paradigm, including the rhetoric of this book of course. “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 (there’s more from him coming up)

I believe that the author’s bias towards positivism is a resulf of him, as discussed in the book, being religious at a young age and at some point changing sides completely. Since then he seems to have kept insisting that the paranormal or parapsychology must have the same psychological root as religious belief. This is a bias which can also be seen in the studies he chooses to cite to prove his points, as well as the books he recommends at the end of the book for further reading; most of them are, predictably, reinforcing what he already talked about in the book – more scepticism in line with The God Delusion (which I’m curious to read). Is he making the same mistake of maintaining reverse cognitive and confirmation biases, the very same thing he set out to point out to us that everyone is doing?

All that said, even if I disagree with his scope and can see the limitations of his argument (which could be a cognitive bias of my own, mind you), I did enjoy his argumentation and have to commend his style. He didn’t insult people who fall into the cognitive mistakes he outlines and who believe in these irrational behaviours he has taken advantage of to become who he is now; he didn’t try to hold the scepticist view just to prove a point or win the argument, as too many people to count are used to doing, themselves becoming the very zealots they swore to destroy; he was gentle and careful with his explanations and approached the topics with an genuinely, not just a supposedly, open mind; his whole style gave off the impression that he is actually interested in the truth, that he has the real spirit of a researcher and isn’t just the pretention of one. If we disagree in scope and -naturally- look at things from different perspectives… So be it. All I know is that I gained something from his healthy scepticism and his book is now serving as a platform for further investigation of mine in all directions.

An excellent example: from the books section of Ran Prieur’s website:

Charles Fort was the first paranormal investigator, and he’s my favorite natural philosopher. He spent 27 years in libraries collecting notices of physical phenomena unexplainable by science, and put them together into four books in the 1920’s. You don’t have to be into weird stuff to appreciate his style of thinking: that all our attempts to make sense of the world only seem true by excluding stuff at the edges that doesn’t fit, and we can keep updating and revolutionizing our models to fit new observations, but there is no end to this process. This should not make us feel troubled, but awe-struck and amused. The Book of the Damned is Fort’s first and best book, and his one-volume Complete Books are still in print. Here’s another source of Fort online.

[…]

I’ve been into paranormal and new age writing for most of my life. My advice is not to exclude it completely or your mind will become cramped and inflexible. It’s safe to dip your toes into it, but if you go into it deeply, you have to commit to going all the way through. Because you’ll reach a point where your mind cracks open and you’ll think you suddenly Know the Truth, and you’ll be tempted to stop and set up camp. You must not stop, but keep looking at different perspectives. Then you’ll think, wait, now this is the Truth, and now this… Hold on here! It’s looking like reality itself is so packed and multifaceted that it’s easy to make any nutty system of thought seem like the Truth — including the dominant paradigm itself. Now you’re getting it!

The smartest and most thorough book on the “paranormal” is The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen. Even though his writing style is aggressively clear, it’s still hard to read because the ideas are so difficult. He covers anthropology, literary theory, shamanism, stage magic, UFO hoaxes, psychic research, and more, and the general idea is that it’s the very nature of these phenomena to only exist on the fringes. How can this work? The answer is simple but sounds so crazy that even Hansen only hints at it. Another big idea is that real unexplained phenomena and hoaxes are not opposites, but blend together.

I love the books of Fortean paranormal researcher John Keel. They’re all great, but my two favories are The Mothman Prophecies and The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings. Like Keel, I think UFO’s are an occult phenomenon (which means something very hard to explain), and an even smarter author who thinks like this is Jacques Vallee, whose most important book is Passport to Magonia.

A great source for all kinds of fringe books is Adventures Unlimited.

Some books that try to merge woo-woo stuff with hard science: The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, The Field by Lynne McTaggart, and The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami. And for a critique of the untested assumptions that underlie science as we know it, check out The End of Materialism by Charles Tart or The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake.

[…]

So when Wilhelm Reich developed physical tools to work with the esoteric energy he called “orgone”, or when Royal Rife cured serious diseases with precise frequency generators, or when Louis Kervran found biological creatures transmuting chemical elements (his book is Biological Transmutations), or for that matter, when ordinary people experience UFO abductions or miraculous healings, these are not hoaxes or delusions. They are honest and accurate observations that fail to be integrated into consensus reality… so far!

*deep breath* Okay. I’ve written this much already and I haven’t even mentioned any of the more practical things covered. Mr. Brown included tricks for improving one’s memory and memorising things (like the incredible Method of Loci), techniques for spotting lies and deception, and others shared with the foundation of NLP for disconnecting with bad memories and reinforcing positive visualisations. You can even find the fundamentals of hypnosis in there, but it’s a topic which, to be honest, he muddled through, unable to tell us precisely or convincingly what it is but very keen on telling us what it isn’t. Now all I’m left with is “what’s hypnosis finally?”

Yes. This review is too long. If you skipped to the end, let me tell you that this book is worth it. It will make you think and it will make you look into real techniques that are both impressive and useful, if only you can just sit down and practice them (which it’s doubtful I will, not because of lack of interest but because of lack of dedication – for now).

To think I haven’t even watched his shows…

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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: AWARENESS

AwarenessAwareness by Anthony de Mello

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Thinking you can change yourself by changing your situation or your surroundings is like thinking you can change your handwriting by using a different pen.” (paraphrased)

I want to be more aware in my life. That’s why I had been looking for books on the matter a few months ago when I found this one. I ordered it from World of Books and for the first time they disappointed me: the book never arrived at my doorstep. Thirsty for thought-provoking material and wisdom shared aplenty, I looked for the book online and lo and behold, there it was in audiobook form.

To be exact, I didn’t find it exactly in audiobook form. In fact, the recordings I found were from some seminar in which Anthony de Mello presumably delivered the contents of this book to a crowd of wisdom-thirsty individuals such as myself over a period of a few days. I don’t know whether or not me listening to the recording of that seminar could count as actually reading the book, but for now it’ll have to do. See? I’m cheating and probably no-one will read this far to actually notice!

All that cleared up and taken out of the way, I most certainly did enjoy listening to Anthony de Mello’s lectures and his style. Of course, most of his teachings about the uselessness of language, the subjectivity of reality, the difference between the “I” and the “me”, the inherent selfishness of what we commonly refer to as love or falling in love etc. wasn’t anything new to me. In fact a lot of what I heard are deeply held beliefs of mine. But a lot of other things he mentioned are matters I will want to revisit, for I think they are as timely and deep as ever and a single listen cannot possibly contain their gravity, moreso because, as with all the great teachers, De Mello’s teachings and the new mentality he proposes are intoxicating in their truthfullness, but alas, one cannot handle and take in this much truth all at once. At any rate I believe he was right in warning the listener about the dangers of substituting one brainwash for another: the point is to always be aware and to forget about existing concepts. What would the difference between “enlightenment” and dogma be otherwise?

I can easily see myself revisiting this countless of times at random intervals in my life. It does feel like a flow of precious advice and living the way De Mello suggests feels deep within me like a precious ideal one would do well to strive for – or not strive for, since there should be no effort involved! I’m giving it 4 stars instead of 5 because it wasn’t anything groundbreaking for me – “just” a collection of profound, valuable insight.

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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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