The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

I often find myself raging (somewhat pointlessly) against titles like this. I feel it should have been titled ’33 strategies of War’. Prefixing the title with ‘The’ adds an element of finality and egotism into the mix that I don’t like. There are only thirty three strategies. And they’re all in this book. Which is clearly a misnomer.

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I know. I’m nitpicking. It might because I’m currently experiencing an un-caffeinated state of being. Also my backspace is occasionally sticking, which is super annoying because I use my backspace almost as much as my spacebar. It’s not sperm. In case you’re wondering. More likely from overuse and general wear and tear. My MacBook Air is getting on in years.

I both really like and really dislike Robert Greene. Let me qualify that antithetical statement. I think his books are amazing. (except for the titles and the boring cover theme that runs through his books) All his books are phenomenally well researched and written. In fact I’m struggling to think of another author that rivals his meticulousness and scale. The amount of reading he must do is staggering. (I’m a little jealous) This book is packed with historical examples of the concepts outlined in each chapter and the volume of quotes and anecdotes is truly mind boggling. I eventually stopped underlining stuff because… well… basically I’d have to underline the entire book. It’s that sort of tome.

HOWEVER…

I also dislike Robert Greene because of the way me makes me feel about the world. I realize this isn’t really his fault. Ha ha. But his personal ideology is heavily imprinted in his content. I am not an optimist by any stretch of the imagination. But Jesus H Christ, Robert Greene just strips the whimsy out of life.

It’s taken me almost forever to get through War for this reason. I found if I didn’t limit myself to bite-size chunks I’d start feeling very…  (whats’ the word I’m looking) bleak about the world. That might not be everyone’s reaction. Some might just see it as an interesting treatise on certain ‘type’ of operating system. I found War starting to influence my interactions with people, insofar as I started viewing every single interchange in very stark game theory-esque terms with a winner and a loser.

About half way through War I bought the audio version of the book. (which is a 27 hour 29 minute leviathan) I thought narration might soften the impact for me, but it actually made it worse. It’s very good production though and I highly recommend it. (The only ‘longer’ audiobook I have is Strategy, A history by Lawrence Freedman weighing in at 32 hours, 4 minutes)

I love strategy. But I’ve realised that I like it as a thought exercise. Something academic meant to be mulled over will I sip my Rooibos. Something I might haul out, dust off and bandy about in a boardgame. But beyond that, actually living with strategic intent, is a bit beyond me. I don’t have the presence of mind. Or indeed the discipline to live like this.

I think this means that my life will largely be unsuccessful. You know, like how some kids aren’t good at sports…

Oh well.

The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

Oh em gee. I have new favorite people. Forward slash book. I realize this changes from week to week… and that I flip flop between positions of eminence like some sort of Havaiana. (its the best I could come up with)*

*as opening paragraphs go… not the greatest… but I’m typing at pace and feel retraction is admitting defeat (something I’m clearly loathed to do this early on)

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Enter, The elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson. A duo, that added together, equals awesomeness. Yes, I realize I overuse the solution in this equation, but this time, its totally justified.

Two things almost stopped me experiencing this exceptional piece of work. I tend to see-saw between audio books and podcasts. Usually dependent on when my Audible credit becomes available…. so I almost missed Sam Harris (The waking up podcast) talking to Robin Hanson. I read the show notes for the podcast (which I often use to gauge my opportunity cost, ie what do I think will add more value, Sam Harris… or killing whatever high frequency hearing I have left with Five Finger Death Punch)

The show notes read like this…

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robin Hanson about our hidden motives in everyday life. They discuss selfishness, hypocrisy, norms and meta-norms, cheating, deception, self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling and counter-signaling, common knowledge, AI, and many other topics.

I grimaced. It sounded dry. And cerebral. Definitely NOT something I was in the mood for… But I listened to the fist couple of minutes anyway, the housekeeping section (more because I was wondering if Sam was going to say anything about Lawrence Krauss*). He doesn’t, but Sam does allude to the poor sound quality in this podcast. ‘Well now I’m definitely NOT going to listen to it…’

*(wordy aside) I don’t have a massive hard-on for Lawrence. BUT… I’m not into Crucifixion by media (if you can call Buzzfeed media) either. If he’s found guilty in a court by his peers let him suffer the barbs of derision… but until then… fuck you all. 

Generally speaking, the only movements I’m into are my bowel movements. I did read Lawrence Krauss… (damn… I’m not sure whether to put an s’ or es onto the end of that… its one of those grammatical rules I never bothered to learn and now its coming back to haunt me) I did read the nine page treatise/response to these allegations by Lawrence Krauss (that’s better) and his explanations seem very reasonable (although they would, wouldn’t they?) I think the only acceptable behavior these days is to NEVER flirt with anyone. Ever. That way the species will die out… and things can just go back to before all this (totally bullshit) evolution happened. To quote Douglas Adams (RIP)

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In any event at the moment, guilty or innocent, it sucks to be Lawrence Krauss. (Unless all this media attention has actually helped him in getting his thing wet, which as far as I can tell, is all he ever wanted to do in the first place)

We now return to our regular programming. I ended up listening to the whole podcast and I’m really glad I did. Its really good. Highly recommended. And the sound while not I-max is actually, mostly fine. Robin Hanson comes across as supremely likable. And an interesting foil to a much more dour Sam Harris. (sorry Sam)

This whole endeavor lead me to consumerism.

I must be honest, I stared at the cover for quite a while before I purchased this book. It just doesn’t speak to me at all. I know, I know, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover…’ But I really hated the Rorschach effect and I hated the ‘Hidden motives in everyday life’ tagline even more.

I finished it in one night.

Which doesn’t often happen anymore because I really love sleeping. (Definitely in my top five things to do with my time now that I’m tiptoeing towards the mid point of my life expectancy)

So… what is this book about? The short answer is everything…  I briefly considered doing a synopsis… but I don’t think I can do it justice. Besides that’s what Goodreads is for. I’m just here to ramble nonsensically and pitch the book from left field.

I can however attest to wanting to read this book again. (also something that almost never happens anymore) I blew through it so fast on my first read I didn’t stop to underline any passages or take any notes… and this is definitely the sort of work that requires some some form of rumination. (the deep considered version of rumination and not the bovine chewing the cud kind)

Otherwise this book is really well written, in a prose that’s very easy going and engaging. I didn’t have to spell out any of the big words and the punctuation all seemed pretty reasonable. A lot of authors (especially academics), while supremely knowledgeable… can be frustratingly obtuse. It makes reading their work more akin to cognitive coal mining,  but maybe you’re into that sort of thing. I, on the other hand prefer my reading to be a slothful (preferably supine) event and if I’m going to receive a mental enema, I prefer to be lubed up. And maybe encouraged with some kind and thoughtful words first.

Its a great book. You guys rock. You managed to succinctly convey your thoughts and ideas and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. More than that, you’ve given me lots of think about. Thank you.

Ready Player one by Ernest Cline (Audiobook)

I’m trying to decide whether this is a good book or not. I know that might sound strange, considering I was absolutely enthralled from start to finish. But now that its over and I’ve blown my load (so to speak) I find myself reaching over for the metaphorical cigarette, taking a deep drag and exhaling towards the ceiling. I now have time to ponder… and potentially make a quick getaway. Assuming I can find my pants.

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Let me start by saying Wil Wheaton as the voice artist is superb. I feel this needs to be said. Right up there with RC Bray and Nick Podehl. I’m starting to appreciate Wil as a bit of a Polymath. Even if I don’t agree with his politics.

This is a very niche book. And I think can only appeal to (and be appreciated by) a very narrow stratosphere of people of a certain age and… what are the words I’m looking for, cultural proclivity. I couldn’t for example recommend this book to my wife, whose comment after a hundred pages would be, ‘seriously, what the fuck?’

I was born in 1979, just shy of the sweet-spot target audience for this book. My arcade experience was more Golden Axe, Street Fighter and Shinobi. I was more into Nirvana and Soundgarden than eighties hair metal. By the time I watched Wargames it was already quite dated. Although I (still) love some of the movies from that era. Willow, Ladyhawke, Dark Crystal, Never ending story. But those were… generally more fantasy titles and aged a bit better. (I can probably quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail verbatim). African or European?

Still, all the cultural references in this book made sense to me. Lets be honest, it is largely a homage to a certain era, with a story tacked on. Still… I REALLY liked it. Is that because I played D&D. Programmed text games in basic, spent hundreds over hours playing arcade and video games? Reading comics and absorbing Greyhawk supplements to the point where I have better understanding of the economics and penal code of Flanaess than the real world?

Probably.

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The Spielberg movie is coming out in two weeks. I’m glad I’ve read the book first. I’ve watched the movie trailer… and… well… the stacked trailer park looks like how I imagined it. And there’s a battle scene at the end of the movie with… the iron giant. Who DEFINITELY doesn’t feature in the game at all. Actually, from what I can tell… its going to only follow the book very, very loosely.

At the moment I’m true neutral (see what I did there) about the movie. Mostly because I understand that if you have a fight scene with Mecha-godzilla, Ultraman and Leopardon (a Spiderman robot) most people just won’t get it. So you have to tweak it/change the entire story for broad based appeal. (I’m one of those people who get REALLY upset when the X-men movies deviate from the canon) In fact the only super hero movies I’ve actually liked in recent history have been Deadpool. And to lesser degree Ragnarok (because it was actually quite funny in parts). I’ve adopted a wait and see attitude towards Ready Player one. Its Spielberg. He occasionally does okay. You know… Indiana Jones (only the first three)… The Goonies… *thinks* Gremlins…

Reading or listening to Ready Player One if you’re not ‘that way’ inclined, I can imagine, quickly would become like reading a treatise on the nuances of subway transport. (something I tried to do recently) Being completely out of my depth I got bored and frustrated really quickly.

So in answer to my original question. Is this a good book. I have no idea. Maybe. Only you can decide in the end. I had a great time. Good luck with your quest.

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GO!

Masters of Doom by David Kushner (Audiobook)

My audible library is, for the most part, bent towards dry and heavy. There is a teeny, tiny bit of whimsy in there in the form of some science fiction (The Bobiverse series) and some fantasy (Kings Dark tidings) for when I’m feeling burnt out and brain dead. But for the most part my audiobooks lean towards the autodidactic. Is that even a real word? It’s not underlined in red so I’m assuming it might be. Even if it doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it should. I think it’s more or less correct, books that help you learn new stuff and expand your points of reference? Maybe not.

In any event…

I tend forget that there’s other stuff out there. Books that won’t necessarily teach you anything… but are REALLY good all the same…

Enter

I freely admit, initially, I was super hesitant and this book sat in the cloud for quite sometime after I’d bought it.

Foremost, I am not really a fan of Wil ‘Ban the Nazis’ Wheaton. For me, at least, he embodies everything that is wrong with the left. Sure I think Nazis are motherfuckers. But banning an organization based on ideology? Where do we draw the line. Maybe we should ban Islam and Christianity while we’re at it? They believe some pretty kooky stuff too. And while you may argue degrees of hateful ideology… abrahamic religions are plenty dark (and have a lot to answer for).

Still, I like Wil’s gaming (D&D and board game) advocacy and he a massive fan of ice hockey* (pretty much the only sport I will watch on tv)

*although he supports the Kings (that must be tough)

Despite all my misgivings, Wil reading Masters of Doom is brilliant. I mean right up there with the best.

Masters of Doom follows the lives of the two Johns. John Ramero and John Carmack creators of Doom. Their friendship created one of the most groundbreaking games in history. It also, eventually tore their friendship apart.

This is where I have to stop myself and pause, lest the next ten paragraphs are just fanboy gush. I’m not even entirely sure I can objectively review something that for me at least was a deeply nostalgic journey.

Even if you can’t identify with the D&D, arcade, heavy metal, gaming culture of the 80s and 90s this book is fascinating, expertly researched and expertly read. It is never boring and I was thoroughly entertained throughout.

There are not a lot of books that afterwards I think ‘damn that was truly excellent’. This is definitely one of them.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him, by Sheldon B. Kopp

One of the best books I have ever read is ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him’, by Sheldon B. Kopp, although I’m very weary of recommending it to people. I think you need to be at a very specific intersection in your life journey to appreciate it. I’ve resisted reviewing it because I think the takeaway from reading it depends very much on your personal life experience (so far) and that my interpretation of this book will be very different to somebody elses.

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For me at least this book blew my mind. In fact after a couple of chapters I had to put it down for a couple of days while my brain masticated and digested this (perceived) Damascusian experience. I’m still not completely done thinking, which is definitely the sign of something happening under the hood. Either this book has had a profound effect on me… or its indicative that I’m not really used to this level of cognition and that the machinery is starting to seize.

I recently read Jordan B. Peterson’s, 12 rules for life. Our Lego didn’t really click, to use a William Gibson-ism, but I’ve noticed myself burning on simmer since reading it, which has led to some big, weird feelings of resentment. (which is strange, since I agree with him on almost everything) I decided I needed to unpack these feelings.

I’ve realized I’ve reached some sort of a tipping point with lifestyle advice, I’m pretty much done.

I’m done with books and podcasts that tell me (often quite sanctimoniously) how to hack my life, how to improve, what rules I need to follow to lead an efficient, happy, fuck-free minimalist life. I’m done with morning rituals, done with 4 hour work weeks, done being so good I can’t be ignored, done with not giving a fuck, done with discipline equaling freedom and done with twelve rules to live my life by, done with all of it.  Thank you very much and fuck you all.

My life is actually fine.

Contrary to what everyone has been telling me.

There is fortunately or unfortunately no Buddha and no Zen wisdom that comes with him. There is only me and I am the Buddha. (In your case, you). I think maybe I needed to wade through all this drivel first in order to come to this conclusion, an answer that is the sum of all my previous experiences, something where you can’t skip to the end or hack your way to the conclusion. I think that is true, so I don’t regret the time I’ve spent on this exercise.

I also think that I’ve gotten through to the other side. And if the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel turns out to be a train, I think I’m okay with that. I quite like trains.

12 Rules for life by Jordan B. Peterson

I read this book mostly covered in vomit. (As one might be inclined to do) My daughter threw up in her bed. While my wife stripped the sheets I cradled the neophyte girl, who briefly stared into my eyes… and then painted me with peas, carrots and milk (origin both boob and bovine).

Sufficed to say with more upchuck likely in my foreseeable future I settled back down in my chair with my single shot grande and only a perfunctory effort to clean myself. Thirty minutes later I was back in there dealing with more bile. (And then ten minutes after that) (and then an hour after that) ad infinitum.

During episodes where we scrounged for sheets and cleans pajamas I read 12 rules. (Shit title, I blame Tim Ferriss for this slew of lazy literary designations)

Let me start off by saying up until today I didn’t know anything about Jordan B. Peterson. (Kinda sad I know) I don’t really follow the news (other than in a very general sense) and for me identity politics is a serious non sequitur, that interests me about as much as fairies and crystals do. I’m constantly shocked and amazed that this has become a ‘thing’.

I also, up until today, didn’t know anything about the infamous Cathy Newman interview. And the meme storm that followed…

(This one is my favorite)

All I can say is ‘Jesus that escalated quickly’ (having now watched it). Kudos to Jordan for his supreme stoicism in the face of unrelenting awfulness. I doubt I would have remained so composed.

In any event after having listened to Jordan during my commute and then later on my run I decided that I really liked him. (Well… enough to blow $25 on his book) ouch!

This book starts with a forward. Which immediately gets my hackles up. For some reason I get the feeling that the publishers thought this was a good idea. Its long and wordy and I found myself skipping sections (my internet addled brain). It reads like a character witness. Jordan B. Peterson is not the motherfucker he’s been made out to be.

Blah, blah, blah. I thought it was superfluous. Let the work speak for itself, it doesn’t need an anteambulo.

Eventually (with a machete) I got to the first rule. Which involves Lobsters.

Wait…

I have to quote this line. Because it’s so bad. (It’s even worse when taken out of context)

Lobsters have more in common with you than you might think (particularly when you are feeling crabby – ha ha).’

It’s like a dad joke.

I don’t know why, but sitting there in the gloom, hunched over my kindle app and smelling like curdled milk this line really irritated me. (More than it should have)

In all honesty I struggled to read this book. Although it took me a while to figure out why. Jordan’s sentence structure doesn’t agree with me. I know that’s a weird criticism but I often found myself having to re-read his sentences. I imagined them too long and disjointed somehow (personal preference I guess, but it also might be because I’m relatively stupid) He also uses the Oxford comma. Which… while grammatically sound… I’m not used to it. It freaks me out. (I know, derailed by a comma)

I’m finding it harder and harder to find books in this genre that I like. This isn’t Jordan’s fault. I think I may have reached some level of saturation. Maybe I need a break. Or maybe a Shakabuku*

*a swift spiritual kick to the head (I think it’s from Grosse pointe blank)

Jordan in a spoken word format resonated quite deeply with me. That didn’t translate into text (for me at least). I think this is a case of different strokes for different folks. I do however plan on seeking out more podcasts with Jordan as a speaker, he’s very clever, eloquent and comes highly recommended.

Way of the warrior kid by Jocko Willink

Let me say right near the beginning that I really liked this book. I imagine that once I get about half way into my tirade it might not seem like it.

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You know that saying, ‘You should never meet your heroes’. In keeping with modernity perhaps it should be updated. ‘Never follow your heroes on twitter’. Or on YouTube for that matter.

I tend to build up the authors that I like as infallible seers or ubermenschen. Impressed with what they’ve committed to text I seek them out on other media platforms hoping glean new knowledge. Inevitably I am disappointed. We are after all just humans, with our blemishes and flaws, niche expertise and subjective opinions.

 

Except me obviously. (I’m perfect)

Ha ha.

I mention this because I need to balance my crush on Jocko Willink with some moderation.

If I reduced and distill my gripe its probably with the word ‘warrior’. I worry about people that use that word. And I worry about people that want to be ‘this’ word. Don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate that human existence on this planet is less than idyllic and that one group of humans needs from time to time to assert dominance over another group to achieve some sort of goal through violence of action. And that this is usually done through the warrior caste. I get that.

My concern is that people consider this particular noun first when they describe themselves. Interestingly I have no issue with someone describing themselves as a philosopher who also happens to be a warrior. But a warrior who is also a philosopher makes me hesitate. Maybe I’m just arguing potato semantics, but I find the distinction important. I think a world full of warriors would be a poorer place. Sun Tzu famous mused that war needs to be a highly considered enterprise and that warriors have a very specific task of tearing civilization down. Not so easy to build it back up again. I think as a society we have become far too flippant about war and the warriors that perpetrate this course of action.

On the reverse side, kids don’t get that. And this is a kids book. All I wanted to be growing up was a warrior. (Although I wanted to go to Ranger school) We are primal, savage mammals who want to (pretend) rend and maim our enemies. Its only later in life that we get some perspective.

Then there’s the author, whose jingoism and ethical ambiguity on Fox and friends recently made me feel super uncomfortable. This is why I hate social media. All of a sudden you’re exposed to everyone’s thoughts be they inane and banal or just contrary to your own. The amusing impressionist reality you’ve crafted yourself lies in tatters at your feet.

Fortunately The way of the Warrior kid is not about moral philosophy. Its about a kid called Marc and his quest for self improvement (something I can definitely get behind)

 

 

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Marc sucks at pull-ups, can’t do maths, eats a lot of crap, can’t swim and gets bullied at school. (don’t worry Marc I suck at pull-ups and maths too). Marc’s mom’s brother Jake comes to stay with them for a bit. Jake is a Navy Seal. Jake turns Marc’s life around.

(the above represents an over simplified synopsis)

I must be honest, the whole time it took me to read this book (about an hour) I kept thinking, where is Marc’s dead-beat dad? And why is your mom letting you eat all this crappy food? (I get all judgmental about fictional parenting faux-pas as I see them)

After reading this book, I went and stood at the pull-up bar at gym. Unfortunately in my gym that’s right in the center with everything else arrayed around this focal point of embarrassment. I imagine this is done on purpose so that everyone can see how pathetic you are. I had, up until this point never in my whole life done a pull-up. But how hard can it be right?

I jumped up and hung there for a moment.

‘Oh my god’, I thought as my shoulders and arms protested this strange new form of abuse. (Looking back, I think its because I masturbate less now, so my forearms have gotten weak from lack of use) Maybe I could just hang here for a bit. You know, pretend I’m just… stretching out my spine. Or something. The guy across from me is squatting like a gazzillion pounds. I never venture into this part of the gym (other than to use the heavy bag), mostly because nothing I own comes without sleeves nor do I possess any really short, shorts. (this seems to be a prerequisite)

I grit my teeth and ignore the noise that sounds like tearing fabric coming from the large muscle groups in my back. Okay, one pull up. Just one, I think to myself. I grit my teeth and… do this weird kicking thing with my legs like a dying bug.

I’d like to say I got about half way before failing. But… the reality is probably less kind than that.

Okay, so doing a pull-up is quite hard. (its on my to-do list for this year)

The thing about this book is that I agree with almost everything in it. I think all kids should jump of bridges and swim in rivers. And do martial arts. My personal proclivity is boxing and Jujitsu. but really any style is OK when you’re a kid.

Kids should be outside and active, not domiciled in front of their tablets.

If nothing else this book inspired me to try and do some pull-ups. There are few books out there that will make you get up and take come concrete actions. So for that I need to give Jocko some serious credit. I might not agree with his personal ideology, but I think this book is a good thing.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

‘Jesus, what an a-hole’ – Goodreads reviewer

(I’m inclined to agree)

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My cousin and her ten year old kid came to visit. He’d brought an actual book along, which I thought was commendable. Tiring of the adult conversation (and probably with less subtlety than I imagine) I extracted myself to a sofa on the periphery and picked up his book and started reading through it*. It was the Diary of a Wimpy kid.

*I have limited capacity for grown up stuff. Unless topics wander into my limited Venn which is a fairly rare occurrence.

A couple of weeks later the box set became available as a post Christmas special. So I whimsically bought it. I generally like box sets having recently acquired the Roald Dahl,  Beatrix Potter and the Paddington Bear box sets in similar offerings. (in anticipation of the girl-progeny, in several years starting to read)

I think this series has quite a lot of hype about it. Its a genre (pre-teen) I have limited experience with, but I gather there is some degree of polarization of parents whose children have read this series. Apparently you love it, or you hate it. I have a suspicion that the parents that love it, haven’t actually read it, and are potentially just happy their kids aren’t binge watching cartoon network (this that still a thing?) or surfing Pornhub.

While hate is a relatively strong emotion this series did make me feel uncomfortable.

  1. The protagonist, Gregory Heffley, is a serious a-hole. He treats his best friend REALLY badly and bullies kids of a lesser social standing than himself. Diary of a douche-bag, seems like a less disingenuous title.
  2. This book celebrates mediocrity and makes it seem almost aspirational. Greg lies, cheats, is lazy, has zero-ambition and is kinda pathetic. Why you would want this character as role-model for your child is beyond me. Greg is the kid you hope your child doesn’t become friends with.
  3. Greg’s parents are also a-holes that need to take responsibility for stuffing up their kids. They see-saw between neglect and doing their school projects for them, but don’t actually teach them any values or instill a sense of responsibility in them.

I guess the biggest problem is that I can’t relate to this book at all. My childhood wasn’t like this. In fact I feel a bit sorry for Greg. Even if he is a fictional character.

I think about the sort of books I read when I was ten. It was all pretty heroic stuff. Enid Blytons Famous Five, Secret Seven, Willard Price’s adventure series (I loved these), The Hardy boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the three investigators. Books that inspired me to go outside and build forts, inspired me to play in the pool, to catch bugs, to go camping, ride my bike. Diary of a Wimpy kid does none of these things.

I prefer Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink. Or The Gutsy Girl by Caroline Paul.

Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Kids don’t necessarily have the same take on the books they consume that adults do. Kids are reading and this a good thing right?

Honestly I don’t know. Society has evolved and with it values and norms. Being a kid in  the 80’s was awesome. (Stranger things makes me super nostalgic) Maybe I should get off my high horse and stop moralizing.

Now where did I put my Playstation controller…

Fighting Fire by Caroline Paul

Caroline Paul is a Nietzschesque Ubermensch. Basically a homo-sapien version two point oh. Normal peeps wither and die in her presence from the radiation of her awsomeness. She is also really measured, reasonable and supremely likable. Which is weird, considering she’s a vegetarian [1]

As a kid I never wanted to grow up to be a fireman or a policeman. I wanted to be a zoo keeper. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why that was. Possibly because of a Gerald Durrell type upbringing where I collected (and raced) dung beetles, kept tadpoles in terrariums and rescued hedgehogs. I got bitten catching lizards with my friend once. Which lead to my first tetanus shot. In fact… now that I think about it… I’ve been bitten by A LOT of creatures. Including the kindergarten hamster. (which ran up my chest and bit me on the lip)

Whatever strange enthusiasm for animals this was, it waned in middle school. And was likely replaced with (I’d like to say girls… but really it was) Dungeons and Dragons and computer games.

It’s only much later on in life that I decided I wanted to be fireman. (Like five years ago when I was having this big Ikigai-ian, Raison d’êtr existential type crisis) Ie. When I decided I wanted a job that actually meant something (and had a positive impact on the world). You know… that thing that motivates you to get up in the morning. Not that I’ve done anything about it… it was more a theoretical thought exercise…

If you want to read a book about someone else’s enviable life however, this might be it. Caroline is a pilot, white water rafting guide, firefighter, Golden Gate Bridge climber, diver, paraglider and Olympic luge(r)… published author, decent writer, TED speaker….

Writing that last paragraph makes me feel a little inadequate. I can flip pancakes. And… *Joey considers for a moment*

…can block a jab/cross with my face. But really, that’s where my talents ends.

Fighting Fire is a memoir of Caroline’s time with the San Francisco fire department.

I really enjoyed it. It’s a quick, easy, entertaining read. It’s also made me realize I am definitely not firefighter material.

Firefighters have to deal with a lot of seriously disgusting stuff. Some of her stories really gave me the heebie jeebies. A two month old body in the apartment whose face had collapsed inwards and was writhing in maggots for example…

Maggots freak me out. Not as much as sharks. Or getting eaten by a shark. But it’s definitely in my top 10.

And then there’s having to deal with the dark side of humanity. I think cops get this more than firefighters… but still… how they manage to compartmentalize and carry on really impresses me. I don’t have that sort of mental fortitude. I would get angry. And then depressed.

More than the book I really like Carolines personal philosophy and her girl child advocacy. I recommend her various appearances as a podcast guest and her TED talk. It’s because of Caroline that I’ve been really conscious of letting my daughter climb to the highest point on the jungle gym. I’ve also been really careful about demonizing spiders and snakes as something girls should be afraid of. Which of course has led to to snakes, spiders and all manner of insects now being her favorite animals.

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;;l;;;””uuu.lpp- kkoop[;;;,,///// /pp;//;l;l …  .,laq*

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As if on cue the female progeny discovers me, reclined on the sofa, Macbook balanced precariously on my midsection. She quickly adds her thoughts to his blogpost.

Then she sneezes on me. Some of it goes into my mouth

 

Notes

[1] Caroline replies to my mail to tell me she is now in fact a vegan. She hopes this means I won’t cut her out of my life.

After thinking about it for a while I decide that I still like her.

Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa

Musashi is one of those books that’s comes super highly recommended by loads of people*. It’s also been a while since I’ve read any fiction. This book details the fictional life story of one Miyamoto Musashi, a real life figure in Feudal Japan (about whom not very much is known, so the author, Eiji Yoshikawa, made some stuff up)

*the ubiquitous ‘they’ who know ‘stuff’.

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It’s a super intimidating, hefty, tome of a book that could kill someone if you accidentally dropped it down a stairwell. Which has always put me off in the past…. for some reason I imagined a ‘Lord of the Rings’ type epic in both girth and complexity. Who has the time for that anymore? (which is why I read while on holiday)

Once you start however, you soon realize it’s super easy reading. Whoever translated it from the original Japanese either did a phenomenal job or really dumbed it down for the Gaijin.

Japanese names are also relatively sparse, so it’s not like reading the History of the Peloponnesian war (my go to book on complexity) where five pages in you’re thinking ‘who the fuck are all these people?’ (seriously you need a glossary and map to remember whose who and where’s where).

In Mushasi its easy to remember the main characters. Actually to be completely fair besides Musashi everyone else in this book feels relatively one dimensional. Musashi is the only character that’s really given any depth. Even though, trekking the length and breadth of Japan he keeps bumping into the same people. (Weird)

What I really like about this story is the progression. Miyamoto Musashi isn’t actually (re)born until about 100 pages in. Musashi actually starts out as Shinmen Takezō. Which I wish someone had told me… because initially I was super confused. (Wait… who the fuck is this Takezō fellow and why does the book seem to be about him?)

Anyways, Takezō is a jerk, albeit an injured, dying jerk, after taking part in the battle of Sekigahara. After healing up (and killing some dudes) he is lives as a ‘misunderstood wild man’ in the hills around his hometown (because everyone there hates him). Eventually he is ‘captured’ by a monk who strings him up in a cryptomeria* tree for several days.

*I googled what a cryptomeria tree was. Which is the reason it stuck with me.

While tied to this tree he has this cathartic experience where he decides he actually doesn’t want to die and if given the opportunity he will try to lead a better life.

He gets cut down by his (former) friends fiancé and then goes off to try rescue his sister, whom the local samurai were using as bait to lure him down from the mountains. Anyways. The local daimyo who is friends with the aforementioned monk ‘incarcerates’ Takezō for his crimes. He spends three years locked in a tower reading books. (I can think of worse)

On his release he decides that he going to study the way of the sword, and takes on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters that make up his name (I think that’s right) as a symbol of his rebirth. And so Miyamoto Musashi is born and the book begins.

So… probably nothing like the real story of Mushasi.

I read the book of five rings ages ago. Authored by the actual Miyamoto Musashi. It’s a book about… a personal philosophy, kinda. Although I can’t remember anything definitive about it. For some reason Sun Tzu resonated much more deeply with me. Likely because of its bite sized chunks of wisdom. (Also why Derek Sivers Anything you want and Rework by Jason Fried and David Hannson are some of my favorite books)

The book of five rings offers very little insight into Musashi’s actual life. But strangely I don’t begrudge Eiji Yoshikawa for making this story up to fill in a biographical blank. It’s really good. Boringly I now join the chorus of voices who recommend Musashi as one of those have to read books. It’s a good tale, of someone looking for meaning, while chopping up and disemboweling people along the way. What’s not to like…

In fact I’m feeling inspired to go outside and brush up on my twin-bokken style right now…. If I hadn’t torn the cuticle off my index finger I mean. Its debilitatingly sore. Also… I am currently bokken-less And also eating a pancake. So… not a good time for me.