Book Talk: 29 June 2022

I’m Katja and today’s book talk starts with the sci-fi novel Contact by Carl Sagan I read this back in May as part of the read-along hosted by Summer over at Cosy Reading with Quaker Cats.

The author, Carl Sagan was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and astronomer. The book follows a team of researchers who have stumbled across what seems to be an extraterrestrial radio signal from far beyond the nearest stars. There follows a race to translate the signal and to reach out to those possibly out there. 

I loved this book; I had watched the film years ago, so a few points came back to me as I was reading it, but on the whole, it felt so fresh and kept my attention The plot sounds like it would be complicated. Still, the story structure is straightforward to follow, even if there is a lot of bureaucracy faced by the researchers and some astronomy-type language that I wasn’t familiar which didn’t bother me. Still, I imagine it might pull some other readers out of the story.  

There was a part of the book discussing black holes, and weirdly that was soon after I heard Nasa’s recording of what a black hole sounds like. I’ll link the sound in the video description if you’d like to experience that too. It’s pretty special.

I think Carl Sagan also did a good job creating a female lead, Dr Ellie Arroway, who succeeds despite misogyny in her field. She is flawed and has human weaknesses, but her strength comes from her ability to hold her own when battling for her place in psychological, intellectual, or bureaucratic forums. She doesn’t know how to play the diplomatic games others are adept at, making her character feel all the more real. She certainly didn’t make life any easier for herself by choosing to look for extraterrestrial life, a field that doesn’t get the most respect.

Contact’s rated 4.13 on Goodreads, and I give it 4.5 stars.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty discusses corruption so profitable that most don’t want to see it. 

The Sacklers are one of the wealthiest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing OxyContin, 

I had to read it at pace as I was reading to a deadline as part of judging non-fiction for the booktube prize. I’m sorry I didn’t start reading it sooner as it’s the sort of book that’s better savoured than binged. It is well researched, and the delivery is engaging. 

Rated 4.56 on Goodreads, and I give it a full 5 stars.

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

This book took me by surprise, it’s one that we voted on for my local book club, and I just voted yes because I haven’t been reading many thrillers recently. When I started reading, I was hooked! This is a wonderfully suspenseful espionage novel populated by flawed underdogs and has a perfect mix of thrills and humour. The plot is so well thought out but what got me invested were the characters that populate a place called Slough House.  

Slough House is a dumping ground for intelligence service members who’ve screwed up: left a service file on a train, say, blown surveillance, or become drunkenly unreliable. The days of the latter are spent transcribing mobile phone conversations and sifting through garbage. They’re the service’s poor relations — the slow horses — and most bitter among them is River Cartwright. But when a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to behead him live on the internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself.

What’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? Who can be trusted? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone involved has their agenda.

The bullshit that happens here makes it close to a satire. Still, it’s all too easy to imagine that the relationships between spies and bureaucrats can be that messed up and that there likely – sadly for the world – is no exaggeration. 

You have every type of character in here, the one with a dark history that’s hinted at, the one who feels wronged, hmm, actually, two people feel wronged. River is one of them, and the other person is the just-so dislikeable. The least irritating thing the guy thoughts was when he hacked someone and said of their medical history, something along the lines of nothing in the medication history, just the usual female issues. It’s so dismissive, and that was the least irritating thing about him. As someone who has endometriosis which wasn’t diagnosed for over a decade because it’s just a ‘female issue,’ I thought, wow, Mick Herron can write a smug git so well. 

This has also been adapted for the screen and is now a TV series. It has a Goodreads rating of 3.89, and I rate it 4 stars. I also picked up the rest of the books in the Slough House series, so I’m looking forward to the sequel Dead Lions and think I’ll do a series wrap-up when I’ve finished reading them all.

If you decide to read the series, thanks to Outlaw Bookseller, I heard of another book that isn’t published directly as part of this series but can be considered the actual book 3 sequentially. The book is called Nobody Walks. It’s darker than the Slough House books and features a different set of agents that are, however, linked to Slough House.

All in an autobiography by Billie Jean King, the tennis star who transformed the tennis establishment during her career. I read this when I judged the booktube prize non-fiction round in the quarterfinals and went with the audiobook narrated by Billie Jean King.

King describes the myriad challenges she hurdled, including entrenched sexism, an eating disorder, near financial ruin after being outed, and accepting her sexual identity. She shows how living honestly and openly has had a transformative effect on her relationships and happiness. She offers insights and advice on leadership, business, activism, sports, politics, marriage equality, parenting, sexuality and love. 

The audiobook experience made this a wonderful experience for me. It felt like I was in a room having a conversation. Billie Jean shares many personal stories where you can hear how recalling something will bring her joy or cause a slight catch in her voice while narrating. She doesn’t hold back in criticising herself when it comes to any outbursts or where she thinks she could have done things differently. One of my favourite scenes is her sharing how she defeated Bobby Riggs in the famous Battle of the Sexes match. 

King poignantly recalls the cultural backdrop of her career – playing matches in apartheid South Africa for example – and the profound impact on her worldview from the women’s movement, the assassinations and anti-war protests of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and eventually, the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

The book is deeply personal, but by setting the scene for each passing decade, we also get a real sense of time and place. In your mind’s eye, you see her changing, sometimes with ease but sometimes as a result of traumatic experiences.

by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga

This is rated 4.08 stars on Goodreads, but I wasn’t as into this read as I thought I’d be. It’s not nuanced enough for my liking. I rate it 2.5.

The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness

The blurb says The Courage to be Disliked you how to unlock the power within yourself to become your best and most authentic self, change your future and find lasting happiness. Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of 19th-century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, the authors explain how we are all free to determine our future free of the shackles of past experiences, doubts and the expectations of others. It’s a profoundly liberating philosophy, allowing us to develop the courage to change and ignore the limitations that we and those around us can place on ourselves.

It’s good the book says it focuses on just one of the three giants of 19th-century psychology. Freud’s theory is referred to as psycho-analysis, Jung’s is analytical psychology, and Adler’s is individual psychology. They had some differing takes on human nature, problem formation, change and techniques as it relates to personality theories. 

If the fictional student in this story had brought their problems to a teacher who was more into Jung/ Freud, then this would be an entirely different book – an obvious statement – but therein is where I have a problem with the book. It feels a bit faddy purposely ignoring other viewpoints to strengthen one philosophy. If the student had been more complex, they could have come up with some more challenging problems or could have unraveled some of the solutions from the teacher -figure.

Clearly an unpopular opinion, not only does it have a high rating on Goodreads, but I see it popping up on various productivity channels. So it’s a hit for most people, but it’s a middling book for me hence the 2.5 stars. I far prefer the next philosophical fiction novel I’ll share with you.

How do you live by Genzaburo Yoshino. Despite being written in the 1930s, I think this book has aged well, and I’m looking forward to watching the Studio Ghibli anime.

Currently rated 4.07 on Goodreads, and I give it 4.5 stars.

It’s a heartwarming collection of stories and essays that switch between Copper’s stories about his daily life and letters or notes from his uncle reflecting on what Copper shares with him. It was translated into English last year. I think the translation is excellent; I enjoyed the story once I got used to the structure.

The uncle-nephew interactions begin when one day Copper observes all the people below him swarming about on the streets of Tokyo. Struck by the thought of the infinite people whose lives play out alongside his own, he wonders, how do you live?

Considering life’s biggest questions for the first time, Copper turns to his dear uncle for heart-warming wisdom. As the older man guides the boy on a journey of philosophical discovery, a timeless tale unfolds, offering a poignant reflection on what it means to be human.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these books and if you had a similar opinion about them or if you disliked something I loved or loved something I didn’t. If you enjoyed this discussion, remember to like and subscribe.

Thanks for joining me

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