Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5
In contrast to The Last Wish, this second book in the Witcher Saga felt more like an average, run-of-the-mill adult fantasy than an inspired re-interpretation of classic fairytales and mythical archetypes. The “adult” passages were numerous and, frankly, cringe-worthy. If not for the first book’s merit, I would probably avoid reading more in the series.
The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, 5/5
It took an effort to get past the cringe-worthy cover and subtitle, but this book is well-written and explores concepts that can apply to a variety of relationships besides marriage (such as between friends, family members, or people who are dating). Using common sense and many examples from his years of experience as a marriage counselor, Gary Chapman proposes that, while everyone needs to feel loved, each individual tends to recognize and express love in primarily one of five ways: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Two people with loving intentions who speak different “languages” can be left each feeling uncared for and confused as to why their expressions of love aren’t accepted as such. Chapman encourages people in relationships to notice which of the five categories their partner might belong to and adjust their own behavior accordingly. It seems to me that this could be a bit forced and awkward in some cases, especially if the other person knows you very well and notices that you start acting out of character. I think it makes more sense for everyone to learn each other’s love languages, not so that they can necessarily speak them, but so that they can appreciate love in its different forms. For example, if someone prefers to hear affirming words, they should learn to appreciate the love of a person who makes time for them or quietly does helpful things. Or if a person wants their partner to show they care by giving them gifts, they should also realize that a kind word or touch can be equally meaningful and heartfelt expressions of love.
Why I read it: One of my sisters said it was interesting and it is important to me that the people I care about feel loved.
Comparing this book to Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad series, it soon becomes clear that the concept of financial independence means different things to different people. To some, such as Kiyosaki, it seems to mean being able to live a luxurious lifestyle, supported by more money than they could possibly spend. Unfortunately, this seems to coincide with dedicating your life to the all-engrossing pursuit of ever-increasing income, which at the end doesn’t really look like independence to me. To those who see financial independence more as freedom from obsessive worry over money, Your Money or Your Life asks a question that Kiyosaki would find completely nonsensical: How much money is enough? It turns out that, thanks to some inexplicable vagary of the human condition, more and more money does not necessarily equal more and more happiness. The authors argue convincingly that peak fulfillment occurs when we have enough money for the things we need and a little bit more. By this metric, financial independence is achieved when one’s passive income covers these basic expenses and little luxuries.
Given the mindless consumerism endemic to the average American, it is no surprise that the authors would choose to focus on the low-hanging fruit of lowering expenses rather than the more complicated issue of creating passive income. Similar to keeping a food diary in order to lose weight, the mere act of tracking expenses, realizing the expended life-energy they represent and assessing the resulting feelings of fulfillment or lack thereof could be a relatively painless way to increase savings, lower debt and create a healthier relationship with money. However, my personal saving rate is already so high and my expenses so low (my three main hobbies–reading, exercising and surfing the internet–cost less than most people’s coffee habit) that I don’t think any life-changing revelations would come out of applying the book’s method for tracking finances.
I am much more interested in developing sources of passive income, which is a topic that is not addressed very well in this book. This was very disappointing and surprising, since passive income plays such a huge part in the book’s own description of financial independence. The authors’ main (basically, only) advice is simply to buy U.S. treasury bonds. As far as I can understand, you’d have to tie up about $350k in 30-year treasury bonds in order to make just $10k a year at the current 2.87% yield. I don’t see how this could be a viable path to financial independence for most people, but I guess I need to do more research.
[Why I read it: It was mentioned in a book review of Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Trent Hamm on The Simple Dollar blog.]
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
Overall rating: 5/5
Very rarely do I stop what I’m doing and think Do you know what would be great right now? A soundtrack of someone reading out loud much too slowly for hours and hours, completely oblivious to whether I’ve become distracted or have just woken up from an impromptu nap with no idea how much story I’ve missed. You see, audiobooks are a form of entertainment that require a strangely specific level of participation on the part of the listener. You must be doing something while you listen, not just staring at a blank wall, but it mustn’t be anything too interesting or you will get distracted and lose track of the story. There simply aren’t many activities in my life that fit this criteria. If I want to experience a certain book, I’ll read it quickly and efficiently in my spare time; if I’m doing an activity that leaves a little brain space free, I’ll listen to music. Even if I were a truck driver, window washer or commuter who relied on audiobooks to stay sane, I’d still consider listening to a book to be an inferior experience to reading a book.
At least, that was my opinion until I heard about five minutes of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe while driving to school with my sister. The first thing that struck me was not Douglas Adams’ bone-achingly funny writing, but Martin Freeman’s extraordinary narration skills. He doesn’t just read, he acts. And, with his plaintive, everyman, English accent, he is perfectly cast. The second thing that struck me was how much funnier and more enjoyable Adams’ humour-packed writing is when delivered at normal speaking speed instead of my usual voracious reading tempo, which barely leaves time to absorb one joke before the next is past. In fact, I felt the series was strangely well-suited to the audiobook format, not realising until much later that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in fact started as a BBC radio comedy series! So in a sense, the audiobooks are more in tune with the original concept than the books, which could almost be considered spin-offs.
With regard to the quality of Douglas Adams’ writing, I have few complaints besides the dreariness with which the series ends. Sure, there are ups and downs, parts that are brilliant and parts that lag, inventive jokes and cliched ones, but the overall effect is one of astounding genius and imagination.
[Why I listened to it: My sister’s friend listened to the series repeatedly while working as a window washer, so she decided to give it a try and I heard excerpts when we happened to drive to school together. I actually bought the entire book series (in one volume) last year, but had not gotten around to reading it before encountering the audiobooks.]