May 2020 Reading Roundup

May 2020 Reading Roundup

May 2020 was my first month on NetGalley.

I also read my favourite book of the year so far!

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist is about the shaping of a man named Stephen Dedalus from a meek child into a confident writer and thinker – shaking off the shackles of Irish politics and religion.

The detail is in the name, Dedalus. Mirroring, the story of Icarus and his father Daedalus, Stephen’s journey is one of soaring optimism, occasionally clipped by crippling setbacks, before he eventually leaves Ireland.

May 2020 Reading Roundup Joyce

There’s an element of autobiography here.  Joyce himself, much like Stephen Dedalus, eventually left Ireland for Europe in order to forge his own future.

The academic who wrote the introduction to my edition makes an interesting point. Whilst a Bildungsroman is a ‘coming of age’ novel (Pip in Great Expectations, for example), A Portrait of the Artist is more than that. It’s the ‘coming of age’ of an artist – the growth of a young man into an artist.

To borrow again from Greek mythology; it’s the story of Stephen’s ongoing attempts to spread his wings. Because of this, A Portrait of the Artist feels quite therapeutic at times; it’s a view into one’s past, before eventually disposing of it and moving forward.

 I think we all go through this in one way or another.

Joyce is notoriously difficult to read but these days, as a more experienced reader than when I first encountered Joyce, I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Stephen Dedalus.

The Walking Dead (Vols. 1&2), Robert Kirkman

Until I read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, graphic novels didn’t really appeal to me.

May 2020 Reading Roundup The Walking Dead
Coral memes are best memes…

Certainly no snobbery on my part – I just wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the format as much as prose.

Well, fast-forward seven years, and I finally got around to trying The Walking Dead. The first 10 volumes are available as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so – as an on-and-off fan of the TV show – I thought I’d give them a try!

In May, I read volumes 1 and 2 and in short, I liked them a lot.

The illustrations are excellent and the pacing is a lot better than the TV show – there’s very little filler, for example.

Interestingly, I also read both volumes on my mobile phone. This sounds awful, but it just works!

The Kindle app allows you to read comics and graphic novels in a ‘panel view’ (for non-comic fans, pages are usually divided up into square windows, denoting each scene). With this panel view, you view the entirety of each individual graphic on your screen (with zoom features included!) and simply swipe your finger to move to the next panel.

May 2020 Reading Roundup The Walking Dead Rick

I genuinely think that technology, such as the panel view, will convert non-comic book fans. It’s accessible, a wonderful way to tell a story, and I couldn’t get enough of experiencing it this way.

On the other hand, the graphic novel falls into a similar trap to that the TV show.

It think it’s far smarter than it actually is. Robert Kirkman’s intro smacks you in the face, presenting The Walking Dead as a powerful, unique exercise in the evaluating the human psyche.

I think that the reader/viewer can make their own mind up.

Nonetheless, it’s still a fantastic comic and I plan on reading further volumes!

The Playmaker Project, Daniel Peterson

What do you get if you cross sci-fi, soccer, and geopolitics?

The Playmaker Project, apparently!

With a wholly original story, Daniel Peterson’s debut fiction novel manages to fuse these seemingly separate topics with great success.

In brief, a billionaire tycoon signs two US youth players for an upstart Finnish soccer club. Awash with money, the club is secretly running a cognitive training programme, hoping to reach the next level of performance through neuroscience.

If it sounds a little abstract, I suppose it probably is. However, it’s an engrossing adventure with likeable characters, and is written with great clarity. All the signifiers of a good book!

You can read the full write-up in my review of The Playmaker Project.

A copy of The Playmaker Project was provided for free via NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Pub date: OUT NOW.

The Girl from the Attic, Marie Prins

The Girl from the Attic is a magic realism novel.

And on the face of it, that’s quite exciting. I love magic realism.

But whilst I liked it, I didn’t love this one. It should have been a lot more charming than it actually was. It’s a decent, if unspectacular, read.

Anyhow – after moving into a quirky octagonal cottage, intrepid youngster Maddy realises that there’s a hatch in the attic that leads to another world.

Well, not quite another world. It’s the same house in fact, but over a hundred years in the past.

Struggling to adjust to her new life and isolated from her friends in the city, Maddy spends more and more time in the past, neglecting her own family.

The house itself is fascinating, but the characters themselves just aren’t that memorable. And, for a 250 page book, there isn’t a whole lot of plot.

As I highlighted in my Goodreads review*, I felt that The Girl from the Attic probably should have been a short story, rather than a full novel. There’s a lot of filler. If the author had edited it down further, I may have enjoyed it more than I did.

Regardless, The Girl from the Attic has some touching moments and a very unique setting. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

A copy of The Girl from the Attic was provided for free via NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Pub date: Oct. 2020.

The Sound Mirror, Heidi James

I’ve saved the best till last with this one.

May 2020 Reading Roundup The Sound Mirror

The Sound Mirror is a multi-generational examination of the female experience in Britain. Through the lens of 3 central characters – Tamara, Claire, and Ada – Heidi James’ novel addresses race, class, and gender.

These three perspectives are interwoven by absolutely stunning prose. It’s a tessellation of the fall of the Indian Raj, the social politics of post-WW2 Britain, and, lastly, a glimpse into the contemporary world.

What I really loved about The Sound Mirror was its authenticity. Each woman has a distinct tone of voice. You’re never ‘reading’ these characters as characters; you’re experiencing them as living, breathing people with complex histories. Having this sort of insight is a very unusual feeling as a male reader.

In short, The Sound Mirror is easily the best book I’ve read all year.

Please strongly consider buying it direct from Bluemoose Books when it releases on 20th August, 2020.

* A copy of The Sound Mirror was provided for free by the author, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

What have you read this month? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!

The Playmaker Project Review

The Playmaker Project book review
The Playmaker Project book review
Who’d have thought that the worlds of sci-fi and soccer could collide? Well, author Daniel Peterson has done a remarkable job in bringing these two seemingly disparate topics together with The Playmaker Project.

And whilst the ending does feel a little rushed, The Playmaker Project is mostly a great success.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Absurdism

A Beginner's Guide to Absurdism

“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

The Beginner’s Guide to Absurdism is designed to provide a surface-level understanding of the Absurd – a philosophical concept on human existence.

What is the Absurd? Is it any different to Nihilism? And where does Donkey Kong fit into all of this?!

My Beginner’s Guide to Absurdism addresses all these questions – and more!

What is Absurdism?

Absurdism is a philosophical theory on the meaning of life.

Well, okay, it’s a bit more complex than that. Rather, Absurdism is the conflict that arises between our expectations and reality.

Scientists know the how of human existence (i.e. the big bang), but we don’t know the why.

What exactly is our existential purpose?

Humans are pattern-seeking mammals, and we like to find reasoning where possible. The frustration to find this singular meaning is the Absurd.

To quote Camus, it’s ‘the divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints’.

But, to be clear – life itself is not Absurd. Nor are people.

The Absurd is that single moment, the tear in reality one suffers upon realising that there is no objective meaning to our lives. This means that there is no pre-ordained purpose, or explicit reason, as to why we’re here.

Isn’t this just Nihilism?

No.

Nihilism is the negation of all principles, both moral and existential.

Nihilists and Absurdists both agree that there is no objective meaning of life. However, there is a clear difference between the two.

Nihilism: “Life has no meaning, therefore nothing really matters”

Absurdism: “Life has no meaning, but how do we move beyond this realisation?”

For a Nihilist, lack of meaning is the end. On the other hand, the Absurdist looks beyond this lack of meaning.

Upon realising this lack of purpose or meaning, the Absurdist asks the question, ‘well, what now?’

Awareness of the Absurd is simply the beginning point for the Absurdist.

Living an Absurd Life

Albert Camus, the writer and philosopher most closely identifiable with Absurdism, argues that there are three responses to the Absurd – only one of which is correct.

1) Suicide ❌

Upon the realisation that life has no meaning, you could kill yourself.

However, this isn’t desirable.

Socially, suicide is a terrible thing. But on a philosophical level, it doesn’t resolve the Absurd. It simply severs the tie between oneself and the Absurd.

This, Camus argues, is not the answer.

2) Philosophical Suicide ❌

Alternatively, you could turn away from the Absurd through what Camus describes as ‘philosophical suicide’.

In short, this is when a person takes a ‘leap of faith’.

Often associated with religion, this leap of faith solves one part of the equation, insofar as the person is now comforted by their own constructed meaning.

However, philosophical suicide is denial.

It’s a confession that one is unwilling to confront the Absurd. And therefore, the Absurd remains unresolved.

3) Revolt through Acceptance ✔️

Once one has experienced the Absurd, it’s difficult to ‘unsee’ it.

Alone, at 2am in the morning, one reflects. In this heightened lucidity, one remembers the enormity of the Absurd – its dizzying, alienating truth.

The third solution is revolt.

How do we revolt? Well, one must first embrace the Absurd for what it is. Accept the inescapable truth that neither rationality nor religion will give you an objective meaning.

Create art that parodies the Absurd condition. Rage against the existential machine. Live life to its fullest, but without ever losing sight of the Absurd (or else you risk philosophical suicide!)

Live in permanent revolt against your condition, but humanely and maybe even ironically!

Examples of the Absurd

The Myth of Sisyphus

The title of Camus’ essay on the Absurd, Sisyphus was also a deceitful King in Greek mythology.

Twice, he cheated death before Zeus condemned him to the Underworld.

From here, Sisyphus was forced to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill for eternity. Every time Sisyphus almost reached the top, straining every muscle of his body, the boulder would roll back to the bottom, and he would be forced to begin again.

How does this relate to us?

Well, we’re asked to ‘image Sisyphus happy’ by Camus. Sisyphus embraces the boulder and his own condition. And in this way, he wins a victory against Zeus once again.

Christopher Hitchens on Fear, Life, and Free Will

I’m not quite sure that Hitchens intended his comments to be an Absurdist revolt (rather, he was speaking on free will).

However, in my view, Hitchens encapsulates the concept of an ‘absurd life’ succinctly – and humourously!

 “You’re expelled from your mother’s uterus – as if shot from a cannon – towards a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks.

It’s a matter of using up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way – and try not to do anything ghastly to your fellow creatures.” Source: youtube.com.

A rather crude analogy, but it demonstrates the alienation, and eventual emancipation an Absurdist gains from accepting, and subsequently embracing, the absurd.

Donkey Kong (1981)

Hear me out.

Wisecrack runs a YouTube series called 8-Bit Philosophy. It’s an approachable, if simplistic, view of philosophical ideas.

One of their episodes focuses on ‘Why Shouldn’t We Commit Suicide?’ addressing Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus through the lens of the 1981 videogame, Donkey Kong.

Mario must climb a series of ladders in order to rescue Pauline, a damsel in distress, from Donkey Kong – an ape who has taken her captive.

At the end of every level, Mario reaches the top, overcoming a variety of traps, barrels, and fire, only for Donkey Kong to carry Pauline off to another ‘level’.

If Mario, or in this case the player, embraces this reality, they consciously create an Absurd meaning and therefore live an Absurd life.

8-Bit Philosophy does a decent job of explaining complex ideas, and you can watch them all here!

The Beginner’s Guide to Absurdism Recommended Reading

Unsure of where to start with Absurdist literature? These are my top 5 books that either directly address, or contain Absurdist undertones.

1) Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

2) Albert Camus, The Plague

3) Franz Kafka, The Trial

4) Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

5) Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Absurdism in Brief

In brief, Absurdism is the divorce between our expectations of meaning and the reality that eludes us. Our innate desire to find patterns in meaning will ultimately be disappointed.

However, this isn’t the end. Absurdism is not Nihilism.

‘Even within the limits of nihilism, it is possible to find the means to proceed beyond nihilism,’ Camus writes in The Myth of Sisyphus.

Living ironically, the Absurdist parodies their own condition. They produce art, music, and literature that both celebrates and revolts against their situation.

The Absurdist embraces their Sisyphean struggle. They create their own boulder, and in the seemingly fruitless struggle, they remain content.

If you found The Beginner’s Guide to Absurdism insightful, please do feel free to share it.

And if you have any questions, leave me a comment below!

Hunger Games Prequel Launches Next Week

Hunger Games Prequel Banner

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a Hunger Games Prequel, is launching next week on 19th May, 2020.

I knew that Suzanne Collins had been working on a prequel to her trilogy.

In fact, I listened to the first 11 minutes of the The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes audiobook a short while ago.

However, I didn’t realise that it was out so soon!

Listen to the first 11 minutes here

So, what is it all about?

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April Reading Roundup

Reading Roundup April 2020

April was a busy month, reading-wise!

I delved into my first ever Dostoyevsky text, revisited a J.K. Rowling classic, and reviewed an intriguing Kindle Unlimited thriller.

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