Action. Packed. That’s what 2018 was. So much so that my reading list was left devastated from a previous 21 in 2017, to just 5 this year. Honestly, when I saw that contrast for the first time, my heart broke a little. But it is a testament to how busy I’ve been. Rather than bore you with the personal details, accomplishments, tragedies, blah, blah, let us look back on 2018 through the books I have read.
Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley
I said in 2017 after reading The Doors of Perception that I wanted more Huxley in my life. So I went and got more Huxley in my life with this post-apocalyptic, grim, relatively short story. Ape and Essence tells the tale that follows nuclear war—WWIII, to be precise—and details the lives of its survivors. Humanity, realizing that theirs is a sorry existence, accepts that no one but the Devil must rule their earthly realm, since who else could be responsible for such utter destruction. Well, humans, of course, but humans under the sway of Belial’s cunning tongue and insidious persuasions. They accept Belial’s rule and form a society where his worship is their aim.
Here’s a passage: “For in the end fear casts out even a man’s humanity. And fear, my good friends, fear is the basis and foundation of modern life. Fear of the much touted technology which, while it raises our standard of living, increases the probability of our violently dying. Fear of the science which takes away with one hand even more than what it so profusely gives with the other. Fear of the demonstrably fatal institutions for which, in our suicidal loyalty, we are ready to kill and die. Fear of the Great Men whom we have raised, by popular acclaim, to a power which they use, inevitably, to murder and enslave us. Fear of the War we don’t want and yet do everything we can to bring about.”
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Historical fiction, I think is what this is. What I know is that, like Ape and Essence before it, the story is relatively bleak, and yet hopeful in its own unfortunate way. You follow the lives of Dragan, Arrow, Kenan, and The Cellist, all individuals who are doing what they can to live in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Those activities involve mundanities such us crossing bridges, crossing streets, and going to the market. What makes these events captivating is the constant tension the characters feel, as a sniper could take any one of them out upon every traversal of road.
Here’s a passage: “The men on the hills, the men in the city, herself, none of them had the right to do the things they’d done. It had never happened. It could not have happened. But she knew these notes. They had become a part of her. They told her that everything had happened exactly as she knew it had, and that nothing could be done about it. No grief or rage or noble act could be done about it. But it could have all been stopped…The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness. The notes were proof of that.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
For this one, I’ll stick with what I wrote in Instagram. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson is the self-help book that could also have been titled “Basically Buddhism.” Manson advocates not the escape and denial of problems, but the embrace of truly important problems conducive to personal growth and development. Forget celebrity news, forget life’s little inconveniences and trivialities; instead, devote that time and attention to important personal pursuits, not on petty bullsh*t. Keep in mind that you will die one day. Were your values, at the end of it all, really the right ones to maintain for a lifetime? Let Mr. Manson help you decide!
Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers by Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky
I don’t know whether this book came out of a university press, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. Despite its length, it was quite dense in its ideas and analysis—and took me forever to read.
Here’s a passage: “In the past, the designation ‘sect’ has usually been modified by ‘powerless,’ as established forces suppressed it or it rejected the larger society. This is no longer so in America. A distinguishing feature of our time is that sectarian groups can use government to impose restrictive regulations on their enemies instead of the other way around. This explains the extraordinary combination of bureaucracy (enforcing regulations on opponents) without authority. For sectarian themselves, while invoking government, are not inclined to respect it. The weakening of all integrative institutions designed to mediate between the citizen and the state–political parties, trade unions, churches–on a broad basis across a spectrum of issues, and the strengthening of single-issue issue interest groups, is attributable, we suggest, to the rise of sectarianism.” (1982)
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
You know, looking back at the few books I read this year, their overall tone is on the negative side. Yes, all are ultimately hopeful, but damn do you have to go through muck to eventually start swimming in clear water. It’s fitting, then, that Dr. Peterson’s book should be the last one to round out my list. Though it’s in the same self-motivational strain as The Subtle Art, Dr. Peterson’s advice isn’t cliched and his observations are original. It’s the psychology, philosophy, religion as self-help, self-help book. Life sucks and terrible things happen to everyone–some people absolutely have it worse than others, and you might be that person–but that’s no reason to be nihilistic, feel helpless, and revel in self-pity. A failure to recognize goodness when you’re mired in muck is a failure to recognize your potential, your worth, your ability to withstand, and ultimately succeed.
Here’s a passage: “It is our responsibility to see what is before our eyes, courageously, and to learn from it, even if it seems horrible–even if the horror of seeing it damages our consciousness, and half-blinds us…You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know, if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have–and certainly not when you have already caught a glimpse, an undeniable glimpse, of something beyond.”
And here’s another! I really liked this book: “To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).”
And with that, 2018 is over! Let’s get started with the reading in 2019.
- Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley
- The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
- Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers, Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson