BOOK REVIEW: Nothing To Envy By Barbara Demick

Amidst a time of revolutions and political reforms, one country is unaltered by its counterparts, North Korea. It seems as if time has stopped and its people isolated from the rest of the world like a hidden book forgotten behind a bookshelf, in dust and darkness it awaits to be unraveled and rediscovered.

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2.1.16 Happy new year!! Feels weird to be in 2016. So this is my desk and my bookshelf! I thought I’d take a shelfie so that at the end of the year I can take another one and see how it’s changed. My reading goal for 2016 is 40 books so I’d better get cracking!
My old work is at the top with design books, the classics and notebooks are below, then cds and harry potter and graphic novels, then fiction at the bottom! 📚📖

MUST READ: The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison 

Extraordinary… . she calls to mind writers as disparate as Joan Didion and John Jeremiah Sullivan as she interrogates the palpitations of not just her own trippy heart but of all of ours… . Her cerebral, witty, multichambered essays tend to swing around to one topic in particular: what we mean when we say we feel someone else’s pain… . I’m not sure I’m capable of recommending a book because it might make you a better person. But watching the philosopher in Ms. Jamison grapple with empathy is a heart-expanding exercise.“ —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

After receiving an overwhelming amount of stellar reviews, we decided to delve into the obscure and excavate the wildness of the human heart. Although, we finished reading The Empathy Exams a week ago, we still feel incompetent to deliver the feelings Leslie Jamison inspired in an intellectual text, hence this review; yet we are not fearful. Leslie Jamison began her study in empathy as a medical actress, who was hired to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. With an unorthodox perspective to physical pain, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams poses challenging, introspective questions, which we avoid to investigate as a whole. As humanity, what is the best way to take care of one another? Should one person’s level of empathy be examined as a device to evaluate a person’s character? How can we experience compassion of another individual’s pain, when we doubt it? 

Using a cultural and personal perspective, Jamison deciphers the paradox of the human heart and shield. Every day we desensitize more on a global scale, yet personally, we demand to feel and be understood. Tackling various categories of pain, such as wounds, illnesses, injuries, phantom diseases, grief and violence, Jamison is seeking a return to modesty. To accept that we know nothing and cannot glamorize, undermine or distort others’ experience. Overall Jamison’s most impressive approach was her deviation from narcissism. Very few moments in nonfiction literature does an author take the opportunity to enlighten the public in a selfless approach, particularly about transforming the way one thinks and processes their environment. Without a doubt, reading Jamison’s essays take a jab at the heart. Part psychology, half philosophy, Jamison has an uncanny talent to actualize the paler thoughts, which get 

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Some people ask: ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.
—  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie A. Helgoe

An incredibly compassionate and empathetic account on introversion, Doctor Laurie A. Helgoe’s Introvert Power is empowering. Helgoe educates her reader on the most important fact: you are not alone. Introverts compose more than half of the population, which is a fact kept in the dark due to the glorification of the extrovert in contemporary society. 

Unlike other book approaches and psychology, Helgoe’s Introvert Power is not a a conventional “self-help” book. She does not treat introversion as a disease one must be cured from; instead she thrives on the importance of acceptance. She does not ask introverts to adapt or deviate from their true self. Helgoe offers solace for disliking parties, large crowds, and meaningless chit chat among many other points. 

Most importantly, Helgoe highlights the introverts desire for meaningful connections and solitude to recharge. Helgoe breaks the stigma and the feelings of guilt introverts have been conditioned to feel since childhood. Introvert Power gives one the opportunity to better comprehend oneself and abolish all feelings of shame. 

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Art Forms in Nature – Eye-popping art prints from an eccentric scientist

Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel
by Ernst Haeckel
Drawn and Quarterly
Prestel, 140 pages, 12.6 x 9.5 x 0.5 inches
$15 Buy a copy on Amazon

Zoologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834 - 1919) had some odd ideas about the origins and evolution of life forms. That’s understandable, because at the time, scientists were just beginning to accept Darwinism. Haeckel himself was a champion of Darwinism, but he added Lamarckism and some unpleasant conjectures about race into his philosophical worldview. I’m not much interested in his religio-scientific ideas, though. It’s his drawings that fascinate me.

Art Forms in Nature was originally published as a series of portfolios between 1899-1904. This book of the same name compiles 100 color plates of Haeckel’s meticulously composed, obsessively detailed drawings of plants and animals arranged to show the similarity of different species. Haeckel’s lifeforms radiate vitality from the page and the peculiar way they are drawn seems to stimulate the same part of the brain that’s affected by psychedelic drugs.

The plates were intended to illustrate Haeckle’s ideas about life and evolution, but they ended up being more important to artists than scientists. His blend of crystalline geometric patterns and swooping organic curves feels very Art Nouveau, and in fact many Art Nouveau artists were influenced by Haeckel’s drawings. His work continues to inspire and amaze people today.

See also: Art Forms from the Ocean, which Kevin reviewed in May 2014. – Mark Frauenfelder

January 13, 2015


The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

  • Amazon: 4.6
  • Goodreads: 4.15

The other works of C.S. Lewis that I have been reading recently, tackle more of the concept of Christianity. Lewis, arguing in those works concepts that I agree with. Namely that Christians aren’t any more moral than any other people, nor are they any more spiritual (after all there can be spiritual good and spiritual evil), but that Christianity is more about returning the natural to the supernatural. However, here in this work of non-fiction, he chooses to discuss the topic of love.

He discusses four particular types of love which connect to these two categories: storge, philia, eros and agape. Or in more modern terms: affection, friendship, romance and charity.

Affection (storge) is family love, the humble love. It is the love that you feel for people that you are close to, without it being erotic in nature. It is here that Lewis first explores and notes that like with any love if you turn it into a god it becomes a devil. Or, in other words, if you idolise aspects of this love, you turn it into something that curses you. If I constantly ‘give’ to others because of my affection, to the point where I am 'giving’ them things that they do not need I am smothering them. It is this aspect of affection that Lewis criticises as 'Need-Love’. Not to mention that affection is the type of love which many people take for granted, when, like any love it never is.

Friendship (philia) is the love between brothers or sisters. It, as Lewis, explores it, is the love which we turn into the idea of 'equality’ today and though writing decades ago, he even tackles this idea. Friendship’s goal is not to turn love into something that serves us - to make others bow to our values and so on - but is about finding the common ground between friends (and it is this issue I have with 'equality’ - that it trues to bend others to one side’s values and ideals rather than finding the common ground). The danger of friendship however, is that it can lead one to create separate 'friendship’ groups which ignore the point of friendship as love.

Romantic love (eros) is the sense of being in love. Lewis separates this from purely being about sex by stating that he considers sex to be the 'Venus’ of erotic love. This is interesting, because we have turned the word 'erotic’ into one which is laden with purely sexual undertones. As Lewis points out however, lusty desire - which is not love - is desire which can be satisfied by any person who are sexually attracted to. Eros on the other hand is the desire for ONE individual. It is quite clear to see how eros as a love has been distorted by modern society I believe, yet Lewis also notes that eros can be dangerous in that it can be abused in a fixative sense - that one can fixate themselves upon one person 'mindlessly’.

Finally we come to Charity, which is referenced in the Bible as agape (though not by Lewis himself) - the greatest form of love. This is spiritual love, the kind of love that God has towards us, and therefore is love in the sacrificial sense. It is love without demanding anything in return, giving without receiving, and is therefore the highest goal of all other loves. Together they are meant to work together towards, and with, charity in an individual’s life.

Though Lewis writes his book with a Christian worldview and with Christian audiences mainly in mind, this is one of the more applicable of all Lewis’ books to a broad audience. Within it, Lewis reveals the notion that love is not the single concept that we have turned it into. And therefore, such arguments and excuses as 'but I love them’ can be turned on their head in the face of this realisation. As said before, Lewis reveals that the aim of Christianity is to turn humanity towards becoming not naturally more moral (after all greed, gluttony and other vices are part of the natural order) but supernaturally perfect. To that end, this book serves to address how Christians should live with love and further what the aim of love should be.

by guest reviewer Jonathan

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“Then he made one last effort to search in his heart for the place where his affection had rotted away, and he could not find it.” ― Gabriel García Márquez