Books

July Book Reviews | 7 books I’ve read

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” – Fran Lebowitz

I can’t believe that July just ended! Where has the year gone to?? How was the first half of your year? Did you have any highlights/accomplishments that you are proud of and would like to continue for the rest of the year?

I think for me it’s definitely reading. This year has allowed me to fall back in love with reading as means to expand my mind; to think deeply about ideas and expose myself to various topics. It’s not to say that I don’t listen to podcasts or read articles or watch informative videos, but there is just something to reading that allows you to expand on a thought, an idea and a concept. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know right? So, I really hope to keep this up for the foreseeable future.

If you want to keep up with my reads in real time, here’s my Goodreads account.

BOOK OF THE MONTH:

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Where do I even begin..I’ll begin by saying it’s an emotional but essential read. It’s a book about aging and dying, a subject, we as a society hates talking about – both from the perspective of medical professionals in providing care, to the elderly themselves. The book explores a range of topics under this umbrella- drawing from Gawande’s own experience with his patients and his loved ones, from the impact of how the elderly are cared for – from living with family, to nursing homes and assisted living to the difficult conversations we must have with our doctors and families regarding our end of life priorities.

The book has hit home for me so many times, having been a caregiver myself before, having sat in on conversations with the family about care for my grandparents. I used to know their point of views, but now I understand..

Simply said, there is a difference between being alive and living..for it’s not death that most fear, but the process of dying. The series of losses that will occur leading up to it. It’s a heavy topic for me to broach; I find myself feeling a loss for words even writing this review. For some parts of the audiobook, I found myself crying, as the weight of the words sink in. Since I can’t do justice to the book myself – I will share some of my favourite quotes here:

  • The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can’t, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end.
  • Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
  • Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.

Other books for the month:

Non-Fiction

Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have heard so many good things about this book, and I’m glad to say it lived up to its hype! The Psychology of Money explores how certain deep rooted beliefs and perceptions impact our behaviour towards money.

Most people have long viewed money as hard science, focusing more on mastering the technical side of investing or financial saving targets. It’s not surprising though since it’s all mostly numbers, and it’s easy to bucket Finance with other number driven fields like mathematics and physics, which are supposed logical, where there is a right answer for everything. But unfortunately, money is actually an emotional subject, filled with nuances and our attitude towards money plays a greater role in our financial success (or potential ruin) more than anything else. At the end of the book, Housel also included a high level overview of the development of the US economy, post World War II and how it shaped the behaviours of the consumers today. Very well written overview, to give you a bit more context.

There are also some overlap in points from Hans Rosling’s Factfulness – about why we are wrong about the world (straight line instinct, negativity instinct, fear instinct), which is not surprising because how we view the world, can be applied across all disciplines in life, money included. However Housel takes it a step further, to elaborate and tie it all back to our attitude towards Money, making it more relatable.

I wish more of these nuggets of wisdom were taught in school. It’s a must read for everyone, investor or not. It will make you reflect on your own narratives about money and hopefully make money work for you! 🙂

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The book explores the world of competitive memory championships and the science of memory from examining the lives of those with astounding memories, to the ones that has poor memories. I actually picked up this book thinking I’d learn tangible memory improving techniques for the everyday life, but instead I realised it’s more of a journalistic experiment to test if the memory – just like a muscle, with proper techniques, can be trained to compete at a professional level, so much of the focus was on the people involved in the championships and Foer’s experience along the way.

Despite Foer’s impressive feat and progress in enhancing his own memory, I wished the book deep dived more into the science and impact of memory on our everyday lives. Yes, he did touch on the memorisation approach in the education industry but it felt rather brief and superficial. There is one part of the book that I enjoyed the most where he elaborated on time as a mental construct. And without memory, how could there be such a thing as time?

You see, our lives are structured by our memories of events. Event A happened then Event B and so on. Novelty unfolds time while Monotony tends to collapses time; hence why in a pandemic it feels like ground hog day as days bleed into one another and we lose sense of time. That’s why life seems to speed up as we get older because we tend to fall into a routine and have less novel experiences as we age.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart advice for difficult times by Pema Chodron

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pema Chodron is a American Tibetan Buddhist and in this book, she poetically shares spiritual and grounding advice (much drawn from Buddhist teachings) on how we can navigate through difficult times.

She poignantly touches topics such as impermanence and labels – how we never truly know anything so when something happens to us and we label it as good or bad, truthfully we never truly know if it is indeed so (which I think it’s quite similar to Stoicism); or on fear – that the bravest are not without fear but intimate with fear or that pain and pleasure are inseparable in the course of life. There are many quotable passages in the book and for anyone facing tough times, I’m sure the quotes will hit home.

I listened to the audiobook version so I found the advice really soothing. However the reason I didn’t give it a higher score is cause I felt there is just a general lack of structure – just a collection of good advice and a good portion of it becomes a pitch for meditation. I think this book will be a good book for someone you know who needs some words of encouragement, someone seeking for peace within themselves.

The Obstacle is the Way: The timeless art of turning trials by triumph by Ryan Holiday

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I wanted to like this book; being interested in the philosophy of Stoicism myself. However, I found it to be filled with pretty generic good advice. It’s nothing truly groundbreaking. It had the typical self-help motivational tone – with rah-rah language and ‘if-you-set-your-mind-to-it-you-can-do-it’ kind of tone and then *inserts a success case study from someone famous to back up the claim. I usually struggle with this kind of books because I feel we can get easily swept up in the enthusiasm but it lacks actual tips to help you sustain the motivation. Also, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of toxic stoicism – of suppressing emotions and thinking how your life turns out is entirely on YOU. One line in the book literally says ‘Cheerfulness in all situation, especially bad ones’. Which I personally disagree with because life is a lot more nuanced than that. We have to acknowledge how much luck and environment plays a role.

Nevertheless, I think if you need some motivation then you might enjoy this book but if you are looking for something a bit more practical..in my opinion the book misses the mark.

Fiction

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m so glad I gave Fredrik Backman’s novels a second chance (I previously read Anxious People and didn’t really like it) but A Man Called Ove really got to me. It’s a story about Ove – a man who believes in order, principles and that action speaks louder than words but from the outside, he comes across isolated, rigid and grumpy. So when a young, overly-friendly family moved in next door, Ove finds himself caught in the neighbourhood affairs more than ever before.

As with every good story, there is more that meets the eye. Backman did a great job expanding on Ove’s backstory with philosophic wisdom -on how his upbringing and past led him to who he is today and tackling heavy topics such as love, loss, friendship, purpose and kindness with ease and raw-ness. It’s a book will make you empathize with a difficult person – ‘Be kind, for everyone is fighting their own battle’ has never rang more true. (I think I teared a couple of times too).

Would recommend checking it out 🙂

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I finally jumped on the Dan Brown wagon! (only about 20 years too late….). I have heard all about his books and how good the Da Vinci code is but I realised the general consensus is that you either like Dan Brown or you don’t. So I thought his books was kinda like Twilight – where those who love it stand by it, and the rest will trash it for crappy writing. This book tho, was a real page turner!

The book is set in Rome where the Catholic Church faces its biggest threat to its existence yet from the Illuminatis and Robert Langdon, a Harvard Symbologist will put his expertise to good use to try to decode the cryptic codes of this deadly organisation…before it’s too late. Because this is a fictional book – there is bound to be historical inaccuracies in some areas, but generally I loved how Brown tries to relate it with the existing Roman sculptures, and it’s exhilarating to try to solve the puzzle alongside Langdon as he race around the streets of Rome. In my mind, it brings me back to when I was Italy ahhhh.

Although some parts are pretty unrealistic – I know you must be thinking – yo some of the theories in the book borders on conspiracy theory, whatchu talking about – but still, in some areas, I simply can’t suspend all logic haha nevertheless it’s a great book with sharp twists and well thought out puzzles. I binged through like 300 pages in one sitting so would recommend!

Year-to-Date Book Count: 38

Book reviews from other months:

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