Ask Vinni

Longer, well researched posts primarily focused on philosophy, psychology and self improvement. Topics I've mulled over for weeks. Irregularly updated.

 

Essays and other writings

Shorter, weekly articles on principles and thoughts that have been in my mind for a couple of days. Contradictory and rough, evolving as I do.

Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther

“Live while you live, then die and be done with.”
— John Gunther Jr.

206864It should come as no surprise that I’m partial to books about death.

While there’s a lot of negative things, a lot of fear surrounding the word and topic, I often found a certain peace, a certain ultimate good behind it.

What attracts me so much to it is that I’ve always seen death as a big motivator. Because of death, we live. We need death because we need the urgency. We need life to be as short as it is because we need to make the most of it.

Often when hearing stories of people who got terminal diseases, we hear stories of people who gave up and died shortly thereafter.

But for every one of those stories, there are ones of triumph, like in Death Be Not Proud. A memoire of the last 15 months of a (at the time of death) 17 year old boy who fought to the very end. The book had all to become a statement of grief, but instead, John Gunther beautifully writes about his son’s struggle; a boy so special that I couldn’t help but cheer for him to the very end, although what would happen was clear from the start.

It’s often by reading about death that we find an urge to live, and this was no different. The boy made a bigger impact in his 17 years than most people will in a lifetime.

That is, unless we get off our asses and start moving.

The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille

44846After months trying to get into a (reading) routine, this is the book that might have gotten me there.

 Simply put, Clotaire Rapaille puts out some fascinating theories about how people, countries and cultures work. So fascinating in fact, that I don’t care if it’s wrong.

What is the book anyway? In its essential, barebones form, the author takes a concept (love, food, work, alcohol) and explains how a culture (mostly the American, where he’s based) sees it. So the code for health might be movement, while doctors might be heroes and nurses moms. He argues that the culture as a whole sees the concept through those glasses, and anyone trying to market any product would be silly to go against the codes.

Now, I’m not American. My experience with America has been limited to the internet and the countless Americans I’ve met abroad. But in many ways, the codes he suggests seemed to ring a bell. Not only that, but it got me to think much more about how I myself see each of those things, how they were imparted by my culture and how much I’ve been influenced by the places I’ve lived in over the years.

What I found particularly fascinating is the small section he dedicated to telling his background in moving to the USA from France. He had his “American” ideals and went against much of the French culture codes. When arriving in the US, he met more French people and couldn’t help but ask himself if they were really French; they were seeing things through American glasses.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

27036528It’s not hard to be a fan of Ryan Holiday. His books are accessible and often about topics that I already care about. He has a lot of knowledge and is always searching for more, that’s obvious to everyone who’s heard of him.

It’s also not hard to recognize that humility is a good and important thing and that ego is bad; that we should always seek improvement and hold ourselves to high standards, rise above any setbacks and most importantly, not get full of ourselves when we succeed on something.

Still, it is oftentimes necessary to restate the obvious, lest we forget it. We need to illustrate common knowledge with stories if we are to grasp it and live it.

Having someone like Ryan write a book like this ensures we have enough examples, both good and bad. His focus, much like mine, is on practical knowledge and applying the learning to our lives.

The struggle against the ego is just about the most practical and important obstacle we all face at one point or another, and revisiting this book will be part of my fight.

Essays in Love by Alain de Botton

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I definitely did not expect this book to be what it was. When you come across a title saying “essays in love,” you don’t expect to find the biography of a romance, which is what it was.

I read on and on, knowing that Alain de Botton is against romanticism and believes that love should be seen as a skill rather than something that “just happens” and we should “leave to chance.” He supports a more pragmatic view that sets the individual on the spotlight, being the sole responsible for his love life. Love won’t simply strike us sooner or later.

The book had none of that, though. I read page after page of his story with Chloe, a girl he met on a flight and loved for an entire year. He tells us about their relationship from the very start until the very end.

And yet, I didn’t hate the book. It’s written in a way that manages to throw in a few insights and talks about love with a certain disconnectedness we can learn from. He analyzes his romance objectively and fairly, but still fails to make any convincing points.

I should reread The Symposium…

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan

13838If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s taking a mundane task and idealizing it to something borderline magical.

It should come as no surprise that I absolutely loved this book. Granted, I’m into woodworking, DIY, architecture and philosophy, all things this book is based on, but I feel that this book will be appreciated even by people who only like one or two of those things.

Pollan takes upon himself to build a writing house, a place he can retreat to and work. With no carpentry skills whatsoever–he is after all a journalist–he hires a contractor to help him through it and tells the story of the building in the book.

It’s a perfect mix of “first X then Y” and philosophy. It’s not a handbook on how to build a cabin, but rather I’d consider it a type of “essay” on what a cabin like that means. What the construction means, what hard work means.

It’s incredibly motivational, and if I first came across this book when doing research on how to build furniture, it incentivized me to go beyond that and someday in the future build my own cabin.

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