Tuesday, 31 July 2012

97/111 - What I Do by Jon Ronson

I have enjoyed Jon Ronson's books so much that I finally bought the last one that I hadn't read to take on holiday with me to Barcelona. Again, it was hilarious. I can't believe I didn't know about him sooner, I enjoyed it so so much. I was reading by a swimming pool and giggling to myself madly.

It's quite similar in format to the last book in that the first half contains a series of Jon's columns outlining the blunders of his daily life. He is absolutely amazing at articulating that annoying and maddeningly neurotic little voice in your head that chatters non-stop. The voice that thinks things that you would never speak out loud to anyone. I really feel like the way he sees himself is quite similar to the way I see myself, I'm constantly looking back on incidents of my life and feeling like a fool, in a good-natured sort of way.

The second part of the book is a series of short essays/explorations of different institutions, some of which include the gameshow 'Deal or No Deal' and the superstitions that surround it. I also really enjoyed reading the chapter about the banking industry and they way they calculate who they will bombard with adverts for new credit cards. Very creepy and sinister stuff.

That's all for now. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me very happy. I hope he writes more books soon.

Next: The Humorist by Russell Kane

96/111 - Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman

I bought this book also very recently, as it was new and on offer, and I have wanted to read some of Richard Wiseman's stuff for a while now, but have never gotten around to buying any of it. I was also quite interested in some of the ideas that it explored.

This book is part self-help and part pop-psychology, and it was really interesting and also quite difficult for me to grasp because it turns quite a lot of ideas about our behaviour and the way we feel on its head. Ordinarily, most people will go about their lives thinking that the way they think influences the way they behave and the way they feel. For example, if you want to feel happy, think happy thoughts, imagine yourself as a happy person and visualise yourself as happy, and then it will follow that you become a happy person. However, what Richard Wiseman is suggesting is that the opposite is true. If you want to be a happy person, then behave like one. If you act happy, with a spring in your step, and smiling to yourself (even if you don't feel happy) then it will follow that you feel happy and become happy.

For me, this was quite difficult to get my head around because it seems quite unnatural and even a little false. I'm not sure that I could go around smiling even though I'm not happy in order to feel happy. However, the experiments that Richard Wiseman references all show that this can be acheived. He calls if the 'as if' principle. As in, if you behave 'as if' you're happy/confident/sexy/in love/powerful, THEN you will feel that way. So you have to ACT in that way. As an example, he says that if you want to feel more confident and powerful, then act as if you are already that way. Stand up straight, clench your fist for resolve, keep your chin up and look people directly in the eye. If you behave in this way (or in a way to would think a confident person behaves) you will then feel more confident as a result. He also uses the example of actors in films who have to act as though they are in love, and then end up getting together/having affairs in real life.

I found this idea really interesting, and in the book there is a series of exercises you can use to apply this principle to your own life. I'd like to try some of them to see if it does have an effect, because if so, then it's really fucking simple and you can create whatever personality/mood for yourself that you desire. However it also seems that it could be quite difficult. At one point, he talks about how we almost have two people within us. We have one which interprets the signs around us, and we have another person which makes up a narrative about those signs. For example, am I cold because I'm shivering, or am I shivering because I'm cold? It's really difficult to understand, however it's very tempting to take on board and try.

We'll see how it goes.

I found the historical parts more interesting than the self-help-y parts, mostly because I enjoyed reading about these ideas in practice and how they turned out for the people involved. Fascinating and confusing stuff.

Next: What I Do by Jon Ronson

95/111 - Them by Jon Ronson

I bought this recently because I've recently really been enjoying Jon Ronson's writing, and this was also delightful. The tagline of the book is 'adventures with extremists' and the premise of the book is Jon's investigation into a bunch of groups that are widely regarded as extremists of one form or another - right-wing nuts, religious extremists and followers of David Icke are among those featured in the book - all of whom believe that the world is controlled by a secret group of people who are in the background pulling all the strings.

For some of these groups, when they say 'the elite' what they really mean is 'Jews', and there is a lot of racism here, some of it coming from the mouths of people who don't consider themselves to be racist. Jon spends time with different members of these groups, sometimes getting along with them, and other times not - but all the while he tries to evaluate whether or not there is any truth to their claims. And in classic neurotic Jon Ronson style, he starts to wonder whether he is also becoming sucked into their world.

I really liked the chapters about Omar Bakri, the friendly terrorist who enlists Jon's help to help with his image, and Dr. Ian Paisley, a grumpy Presbyterian minister. However by far the creepiest part of the book was the overall theme of Jon trying to establish if there really is a 'new world' order' and actually coming fairly close to finding something.

He starts to find out more and more about a so-called 'Bilderberg Group', made up of influential people from across the world, which includes CEOs of large corporations and politicians and ex-world leaders. Supposedly, they get together each year in a different location across the globe, and make decisions about what course the world should take. In some form or another, all the people that Jon encounters throughout his journey believe that a group of this sort exists and is making decisions about the world that are detrimental to their particular cause. Jon goes to Portugal with a member of such a group who claims that there is a meeting about to take place in one of the hotels. I assumed that it would be some sort of flim-flam, and that Jon would end up sort of shrugging his shoulders, however to my surprise, people start showing up. Lots of people, of the very influential sort.

I really enjoyed this book, and I don't really know enough about the 'new world order' to judge whether such a thing exists. I certainly believe that there are certain institutions out there which are acting in their own interests, however on the whole I think most humans are too stupid and lazy to maintain a conspiracy on a global level. Who can find the time to cover up so many lies? However I hope it goes without saying that I definitely do not believe in a global conspiracy of Jews....

Next: Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman

Sunday, 1 July 2012

94/111 - The Guardians by Sarah Manguso

I bought this book yesterday and I have already finished it. It's only about 100 pages long, so it's not too drastic to have read the whole thing in one day, but this was easy.

I had read about this book on the Granta website, and I was expecting it to be in the fiction section for some reason. I spent ages in Waterstones looking for it in fiction, the new books, the hardbacks, with no luck. Then it occurred to me that it must be in the biography section, as the book seemed to be based on the author's life. It was there.

The book is about Sarah and her relationship with her friend Harris, and about the grieving process she goes through after he escapes from a locked mental health ward and throws himself in front of a train. She reflects back on the time they spent together as friends, on the year following his death and the year just before his death, as well as the first year of her marriage with her husband.

In pretty heavy contrast to Neverland, this is a book which used seemingly disparate passages and vignettes really well, and the result was moving and emotional. Very bare and sparse, and brave.

I guess I'm pretty fortunate at this stage in my life that no one really close to me has died, and definitely not under such tragic circumstances. For now, the most important people in my life are untouched by disease and disaster. All the same, I was stunned by the grief that she expresses in the loss of her friend. I was even jealous of it, a little. Is there anyone who would feel that way if I died? Do I have a link as strong as that with anyone on this earth?

Of course, the answer is yes, but the way she expresses it is so crisp and startling, like biting into a lemon. That sounds stupid but that's how it made me feel. I loved the way she talks about the hole left in her life, and her speculations of what he must have been thinking for during the last ten unaccounted-for hours of his life.

One of the things she touches on periodically throughout the book is the possibility that Harris was suffering from a side effect of some anti-psychotic medication which caused him to finally commit suicide. Akathisia is described as an unbearable restlessness and inner tension, described by some as a sort of inner torture resulting from the medication. One of the haunting images that she keeps going back to is this image of Harris being administered this medication in order to alleviate his psychosis and subsequently becoming overwhelmed by the need to move around, which caused him to elope from the hospital and walk around for ten hours until he can't bear it anymore, and he throws himself in front of a train.

Really haunting, and really enjoyable.

Next: Them by Jon Ronson

93/111 - Neverland by Simon Crump

This is another one of the books I started reading on holiday, however I hadn't really enjoyed it that much while I was out there so I decided I'd try to give it another go before giving up. I still didn't like it, and ultimately couldn't be bothered to finish it.

The book's tagline is 'the unreal Michael Jackson story', and so I had assumed it would be some sort of satirical take on his life, or maybe even at least have some sort of narrative structure. Unfortunately not. The book seems to consist of a patchwork of fragments, and I've no idea whether they are supposed to be linked in any way. Some of them do appear to be linked, for example a series of snippets between Michael Jackson and Uri Geller (who I take it were friends while MJ was still alive).

They weren't unenjoyable as such, there was just absolutely nothing which compelled me to carry on reading them. The book and the writing stirred up a sort of feeling in me which I can remember a little from reading something like Light Boxes by Shane Jones, or Sarah by JT Leroy. Only less good. This was fairly dull and didn't evoke any feeling in me whatsoever, and ultimately I gave up reading because if the author can't be bothered to engage me with the writing, then I can't be bothered to use my time reading it. Done!

I feel like recently I have been quite cavalier with books and I have given up on quite a few of them. Maybe I'm just not very good at picking out books at the moment?

Next: I'm putting aside J-Pod for the moment, as I've had enough of Douglas Coupland for the time being, and I'm going to read The Guardians by Sarah Manguso.