The Oh Nine Book Club: Part II

The Oh Nine Book Club: Part II

Part One gave us love, poetry and the end of the world - and here is Part Two of Book Club - with some more of our favourite people and the books they’ve recently devoured, with Alain de Botton, yet again, coming out on top.

 

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Matt:

Status Anxiety, by Alain de Botton

An inquiry into why people constantly seek to create a social hierarchy in every area of their lives, the consequences of their tendency to do that, and the possible solutions to it. The book’s a really interesting combination of history, philosophy and critical analysis, and it makes you think pretty hard about whether the things you desire for yourself are actually any good for you.

What did it teach you?

That our desire for status and material goods is actually motivated by our desire to be loved. That the quest to fulfil the so-called ‘American Dream’ - to make something from nothing - is making us miserable. That the things we deem valuable are only really valuable because they’re valuable to everyone around us. That I’m materialistic and often motivated by other people’s perception. It’s an enlightening, but terrifying read.

Who should read this?

Anyone who wants to understand themselves a little better - particularly those who find themselves staying awake at night replaying memories, worrying about how they’ve been perceived by others. It’ll reassure you that everyone cares about what others think, and help you reduce its effect on your life.

Do you have a favourite part?

“There is something at once sobering and absurd in the extent to which we are lifted by the attentions of others and sunk by their disregard. Our mood may blacken because a colleague greets us distractedly or our telephone calls go unreturned. And we are capable of thinking life worth living because someone remembers our name or sends us a fruit basket.”

 

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Phillippa:

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich


I spent a few days immersed in Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel ‘Idaho’ and the story has stayed with me since.

If you were to sum it up (without any spoilers!)

Set in the hostile wilderness of Idaho, the novel opens with a sudden and inconceivable act of family violence. As the story shifts between multiple perspectives and dates we gradually learn more about what led to those few brutal seconds, and of their enduring impact. It’s a beautifully written book on memory, loss and the mystery of others.

Who should read this?

Anyone looking to get lost in an atmospheric and deeply moving, nuanced novel. I was gripped by Ruskovich's poetic and eerie storytelling.

 

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Laura:

The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton


This summer I got into love literature in a big way and Alain de Botton was a staple on my kindle. He has an absolute gift for illustrating the intricacies of the human experience in such a poignant way, and I found this book particularly engaging. It narrates the journey of two people as they navigate the course of their love story, exploring each life stage and the inevitable disenchantments that follow, and leaves you believing more than ever that “love is in essence a skill we need to learn rather than an enthusiasm we simply experience”.

What did it teach you?

My main takeaway from this book was that we place far too much emphasis on the start of a relationship and that a far too little on what comes after. The book begins by describing the whirlwind of love at first sight, and how quickly and dramatically the protagonist falls. Then just as you begin to attach to the idea of these two as soulmates, the author moves on to tell you that over the coming years the couple will face an affair, sickness, death, two children, a breakdown and a near divorce. It is bracingly realistic and a reminder that the real happy-ever-after means wading through hardships, together.

Who should read this?

Both hopeless romantics, and those who need a bit of hope.

Do you have a favourite part?

“Our understanding of love has been hijacked and beguiled by its first distractingly moving moments. We have allowed our love stories to end way too early. We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it may continue.

We will all, by definition, end up with the character of our nightmares - the ‘wrong person’. This needn’t be a disaster, enlightened romantic pessimism simply assumes that one person can’t be everything to another. The partner truly best suited to us, is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace, It is the capacity to tolerate dissimilarity that is the true marker of the ‘right’ person”.

 

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Sam:

No Boundary, by Ken Wilbur

This book attempts (pretty successfully I think) to combine Eastern and Western spirituality in conversation with psychology to basically encourage you to have pretty brutal conversations with yourself about your ego and self-deception. Wilbur explores the different ways we separate these versions of ourselves; our persona and shadow, our ego and body, and then the separations we make beyond ourselves. The aim of the book is to encourage you to see the unity of all things, between yourself, others and the world. To see that there really is no boundary and that love is the only real response to life.

What did it teach you?

It was a painful reminder to me that I basically take myself much, much too seriously. That I’m very much in love with the idea of myself that I’ve constructed, and that I will defend this “acceptable” version of myself, this persona at all costs. It challenged me to actually confront this again and to start living in more truth. Which is annoying. It’s definitely addictive lot easier to just keep building a personal brand and to give your energy to becoming someone that everyone respects. But that creates its own suffering, because you have to keep the person alive, you have to keep feeding the illusion - at the cost of really being seen, known and loved for who you are.

Having said that, I’m still pretty skeptical about the end game of the book. Are all distinctions and separations really just illusions? Are individual selves really just particulars of the universe? Is the truest thing about us that our consciousness is just the universe looking at itself? I’m not totally convinced. But integration is good, and that’s why I liked the read.

Who should read this?

People who, like me, spend too much energy on making sure everyone thinks they’re awesome. If you want a good book on the trajectory of most spirituality and how to see the movement out of self obsession, then this is a really good book to start with. He’s quoted a lot amongst heaps of different spiritual traditions and widely respected, so it’s not going to be a waste of time for anyone, regardless of the way you make sense of the world.

Favourite excerpt from it?

“A person who is beginning to sense the suffering of life is, at the same time, beginning to awaken to deeper realities, truer realities. For suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense - to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and the world in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace. In a special sense, suffering is almost a time of rejoicing, for it marks the birth of creative insight.”

 

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Kim

How to Fall in Love with Anyone, by Mandy Len Catron
 

Written by the author of a well-known New York Times article similarly titled ‘To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This’, this book “expands” on the successful article on falling for a stranger using a scientific method. I use quotation marks as I didn’t find it to really have much to do with the article, nor Arthur Aron’s 36 Questions To Fall in Love that the article was based on. Rather, it is an insight into the author's history with romantic relationships – from her grandparents, to her parents, to her friends, to her own stories. I found it interesting to hear intimate details about other people’s relationships – both the good and the bad – which probably points to a slightly noisy aspect of my character.

What did it teach you?

I think the author was aiming for the book to be quite an academic, objective take on love, but I found it was much more of a journal-style look at her personal experiences. As such, I learnt more about her love, than love in general. Overall, I just enjoyed seeing the intimacies and private aspects of how someone else’s relationship functions. As close as we are with our friends, it can sometimes be difficult to open up about the hardships and disappointments of our relationships – sometimes out of embarrassment, sometimes out of respect for our partners. Either way, hearing the deeply personal moments about how a relationship slowly breaks down over time is not something we often get invited into, so that was probably my favourite aspect of the book. Ultimately, I learnt that all relationships function so uniquely and we all bring prior narrative to them based on our upbringing – which I don’t believe was the author’s intention, but was what I learnt from watching her stories unfold as an outsider.

Who should read this?

People like me who love to hear other people’s stories, but can also take things with a grain of salt – I didn’t agree with everything she said, and had to realise that she was merely sharing her own ideas on love, which prompted me to muse on mine while reading, despite our differences. If you recognise this as a memoir rather than a non-fiction, you’ll be able to enjoy it for its personality and honesty. I think the title set me up for the wrong kind of book and I had to recalculate part way through.

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If you have any more book suggestions, please send them through! x

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