Book Review

Barbarian Days- William Finnegan

I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.

 

The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli

A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.

 

Submission- Michel Houellebecq

I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.

Mantra

I’ve hit upon a mantra which I think will be here to stay, rather than the kind that gets me excited but then is quickly forgotten. It’s ‘What am I doing right now that’s stupid?’It sounds comical but it’s been proving useful. I’m prone to repetitive thought patterns and ocd-ish behaviour and it’s really helpful with that kind of thing in particular: ‘Oh yeah, this leads nowhere good, why don’t I do something more fun’. Same deal with other hangups and insecurities. So, I can make my life a little more pleasurable using it, which is good, but another part of its power is to do with keeping-up. Being ineffective and making poor choices isn’t cute or lovable at 30, it’s humiliating. Like having a small dick or something. So there’s a grrr feeling I have when I’m on top of things and feeling good, but call on the mantra anyway. It’s a culture of achievement thing. It would be nice if ‘What am I doing right now that’s immoral?’ was as motivating, but it isn’t.

Resolution

From today I’m going to try to write something every day because it makes me feel good to do so. ‘Lets see how long this lasts’ says the bastard voice in my head, parroting the real life bastard who came out with that when I tried to step up a gear in a, true enough, failed attempt to be a TV runner several years ago. But enough doom and gloom. Mind over matter time! Please God let me not do just today and then stop. At least that Lord.

A ‘competency-based’ interview this morning for another better-than-nothing type job. ‘When have you faced a challenge and how did you deal with it’ type bullshit. I was relieved to hear Stephen Fry say that when someone talks about ‘motivating a team’ he want to stick a knife in their gut and swish it back and forth. It’s trite to even complain about it now though. I’ve gotten quite used to them. Before today the last question to catch me off-guard was ‘When have you demonstrated integrity?’ That’s quite heavy, like something two teenage friends would discuss or what someone highly-strung might ask you in the street. I would like to have approached it in that spirit: ‘Shit man, I dunno…’. Is that what they wanted? If not that then what? Something less sincere? Could be I’m underestimating HR people and the other candidates. Maybe they’re leading very switched-on moral lives where they’re thinking like that quite a bit and it’s me who’s the dick. It’s possible.

What got my goat today however was ‘When have you exceeded customer expectations’? Actually they said ‘When have you done more than what the customer required?’ but it was the same offensive idea. Being asked to talk as if the concept of The Customer is of great importance to me when that isn’t and really couldn’t be the case. That’s coercion and is decidedly shady and possibly something I should have nothing to do with.