I finally have my brain fully back! It’s been switching on and off over the past year based on the number and strength of pills I’ve been on at any given time. So more like a dimmer switch than a straight on/off affair. However, as of yesterday I am off aaaaallll the meds. Let’s see how this goes.
The most exciting thing about this, of course, is that I can read books again. And not just novels and things that require zero brain power, but real books. Big books. Thick philosophical books. (I know novels can be all those things too, but boy have I missed philosophy.)
Here’s what I read this week.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
This one was especially good, so it’ll be getting its own review.
Update: here it is.
The Infidel Stain by M.J. Carter
Alright, fine, I’ll admit it: I bought this book because it has a pretty cover. It didn’t sound like the kind of book I’d really be into, and unsurprisingly it’s not. But I think if you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might enjoy it.
The story centres around two mysterious killings that occur in a down-and-out area of London in the 1840s. Two friends, recently back from the war in India, are hired by an aristocrat to investigate them. The further they look into the murders, the more the crimes seem to be interlinked with other aspects of life in London at the time, including some quite powerful people.
I didn’t finish it – I used to force myself to finish books even if I didn’t particularly like them, before deciding life’s too short for that – but I got about halfway through. The characters are well formed and the storyline could be compelling if you can get past the fact that it’s… in the past. I don’t really know what my beef is with historical fiction, but my brain just can’t seem to lose myself in books that are written now but set many years ago. If you don’t have that problem, you’ll probably enjoy this.
The Handbook of Project Management by Trevor L. Young
See, told you I was getting back to more interesting books.
This has been on my business shelf for ages and I finally decided to see what it’s like.
It’s really good, but only if you’re managing a project that also involves managing a team. If, like me, most of your projects involve simply managing yourself, then you probably won’t find it to be so effective. That said, there are still some good points to be gleaned even if you’re a solo worker; you’ll just have to wade through all the bits of the book that are very focused on managing others.
If you do manage projects that involve managing other people, then this will be a really useful guide. It takes you through a step-by-step process that will help you to identify the key points of each task, and also to anticipate potential challenges and address them before they work to the detriment of your project.
I think this would work really well as an online course too, which doesn’t seem to be available (though I’m aware there are loads of others out there). I doubt Mr. Young wants any unsolicited advice from a random blogger, but on the offchance he’s reading: I think that would be a great idea and a good little money-spinner sideline.
Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung (ed.)
Disclaimer: I love Jung. I wouldn’t call myself a Jungian exactly, since I don’t agree with all of his ideas, and also since ‘Jungian’ has been adopted by woo types in the same way ‘Marxist’ has been adopted by people with whom Marx himself probably wouldn’t have agreed. However, I respect Jung’s ideas and thought processes, and I invariably find him interesting.
Man and His Symbols includes some of Jung’s own writing, but also chapters from others – students, fellow psychologists and so on – who expand upon his ideas. It gives a fascinating glimpse into the landscape of semiotics and is a good place to start in that area.
Alongside its more salient psychological and sociological observations are pithier comments:
The meaning of life is not exhaustively explained by one’s business life, nor is the deep desire of the human heart answered by a bank account.
It is, in summary, a good book and one I’d recommend for students of psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy of mind, or semiotics.
Little Face by Sophie Hannah
Little Face is what Gone Girl would have been if Gone Girl had been good.
I can’t work out how to summarise the storyline without spoiling it, so I will quote the blurb:
She’s only been gone two hours.
Her husband David was meant to be looking after their two-week-old daughter. But when Alice Fancourt walks into the nursery, her terrifying ordeal begins, for Alice insists the baby in the cot is a stranger she’s never seen before.
With an increasingly hostile and menacing David swearing she must be either mad or lying, how can Alice make the police believe her before it’s too late?
Sophie Hannah is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors of psychological thrillers.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
I picked this book up because I enjoyed Room and I was looking for something lightish but still interesting to read after surgery.
Unfortunately, I neglected to realise that it’s set in the past and, like we’ve already discussed, I have some kind of deep-seated irrational dislike of historical fiction. However, Donoghue’s writing style is good enough that I managed to look beyond its time period and enjoy it anyway. I didn’t love it, but I liked it more than I enjoy most historical novels.
The story centres around a young girl, Anna, who allegedly hasn’t eaten for several months. Two nurses are dispatched to find out whether she’s telling the truth or secretly consuming food, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly obvious that there are several things at play here, not least of which is the local religious community in which Anna lives.
It’s an interesting take on a genuine phenomenon – anyone who wants to know more about the history surrounding it should check out Fasting Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Holy Anorexia by Rudolph M. Bell, and Holy Feast and Holy Fast by Caroline Walker Bynum.
The Fever by Megan Abbott
In a school in America, girls are getting mysteriously ill. It all starts when pretty, popular Lise Daniels collapses in class, but it only grows from there. Before long the whole town is in a state of high alert: what is happening to the girls? Could a new vaccine have something to do with it? Or the water in the spooky lake nearby? Or something even more sinister than that?
As the residents struggle to understand what’s going on, Lise’s friend Deenie finds herself at the centre of an epidemic – but why hasn’t she succumbed?
I could have taken or left this book: I didn’t particularly empathise with any of the characters, and I wasn’t especially drawn in by the storyline. However, I didn’t dislike it and was happy enough to read through to the end.
The Trespasser by Tana French
I’ve been meaning to read more of Tana French’s books since I read In The Woods and The Likeness years ago and loved them. The Trespasser didn’t grip me as much as either of those, but it was still quite a fun read.
Antoinette Conway feels out of place in her squad. Having recently moved from Missing Persons to Murder, she’s now dealing with different victims, different perpetrators… and different detectives. Not all of them like her, and some seem to be out to make her life as miserable as possible.
Still, at least she has her partner Steve on her side. When they’re assigned a new case at the tail end of a night shift, it looks like it’s going to be another run-of-the-mill domestic violence investigation – until Antoinette realises she’s seen the victim somewhere before. Gradually the case begins to unravel into a nightmarish tapestry that threatens the foundation not only of Antoinette’s career, but the whole force.
My main problem with the book was that the main character was someone I just couldn’t empathise with. I get that she’s a bit of an antiheroine, but there’s a fine line between that and just being a dick, and unfortunately I think she crosses that line a bit too much to be sympathetic. And I say this as someone who adores Lisbeth Salander, who isn’t exactly averse to acting like an arsehole at times.
Setting that aside, however, The Trespasser is pretty good. The storyline is interesting and keeps you happily plodding along until the end; there’s just enough thrill to maintain the interest but not enough to set off any heart monitoring equipment.
What have you read this week? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!