16th book of 2021 – “Jog On” by Bella Mackie
Neither brilliant prose, nor glorious storytelling. This book reads like a chat with the author about how exercise – or, rather, running – has helped her and many others to manage anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health problems. And maybe that’s the right tone to get this simple but important message across! It’s not hugely entertaining (in my view, the book should go from chapter 1 straight to chapter 5, with the content of chapters 2-4 weaved with the contou the others). But I did find it educational, as Mackie mixes personal stories (her and others) with extensive research references. I do admire Mackie’s openness and self-awareness (e.g., of her own privilege), and the book increased my empathy for others I cross paths with (e.g., poor mental health among Univeristy students). This book also reminded me of how much running helped me during a dark time in my life. It inspired me to focus on how well running makes me feel, rather than how slow I am, and that is definitely a good thing.
17th book of 2021 – “The Great Swindle” by Pierre Lemaitre
Another book that I wouldn’t have read were it not for the book club. It starts a few weeks before the end of WWI, when Lieutenant Pradelle launches an attack on the German side. We learn that this was an unprovoked attack, with the aim of earning him a few more distinctions before the war ends, at the expense of various lives – not just of those that died, but also of those that survived with tremendous physical (e.g. Pericourt) and psychological (Maillard) trauma.
I actually saw some parallels between this story and the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, the opportunism (the attack on Hill 113), the corruption in awarding contracts (to Pradelle and his partners), the delivery of faulty equipment (the coffins), or the large scale fraud (the reburials).
The start is a bit slow. It could do with fewer characters. But it’s a really poignant story of greed, deception, survival and grief.
18th book of 2021 – “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr
I have finally caught up wit this book, which was first published 10 years ago. Here, Carr draws on neuroscience, philosophy and communication theory to argue that the Internet is changing the actual structure of our brains and, with it, it is hindering our ability to focus. He says that the online environment, with its hyperlinks and notifications, promotes cursory rather than deep reading, distracted rather than focused thinking, and superficial rather than in-depth learning. Look, I am not going to say that his argument doesn’t have value. For instance, he is right that hyperlinks lure us away from a webpage, and may result in us loosing our thread rather than grappling with an idea. But, in my view, Carr goes too far, and plays into the hysteria surrounding the internet. For a counter-point, I suggest listening to episode 46 of the Build for Tomorrow podcast.
Which books have caught your attention, lately?