Trader Horn: Being the Life and Works of Alfred Aloysius Horn, the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience taken down here and edited by Ethelreda Lewis, 3/5
It’s safe to assume that everyone has a story to tell by the age of seventy-three, but not everyone was a trader who explored central Africa in the late 1800s. As such, “Trader Horn” fully deserves to have his life adventures immortalized in print and lovers of tall tales will have no quibble with his fantastical stories and idiosyncratic writing style. However, readers, like me, who prefer a clear separation between fact and fiction, will struggle to distinguish between the two in this book. At first, I wrongly suspected the author was not even a real person, but further research did not necessarily inspire confidence in the historical accuracy of someone who, for example, embellished even their own age in the book’s subtitle (he was sixty-seven at the time of publication, according to Ian Cutler’s excellent and very detailed article). The fact that editor Ethelreda Lewis was a novelist, not a historian or biographer, and that Horn aspired to be a novelist as well, further muddies the waters. While this sort of factual ambiguity does not make for a very enjoyable reading experience in my opinion, I’m glad that Horn’s life story was preserved instead of being lost forever.
Why I read it: Making progress in my efforts to ensure my collection of old books is more than purely decorative.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, 3/5
I have never read a more enjoyable book about a less likeable person. In fact, I could not put it down and finished it in one day; the story had all the fascination and horror of a slow-motion train wreck. I’m generally a big fan of people doing their own thing, and if your thing is starving to death in an abandoned bus 30 miles from a major highway in a poorly-planned attempt to commune with the essence of Existence or whatever, that’s fine. But what is not fine is being a melodramatic, inconsistent, ignorant, self-righteous douchebag who hurts the people who care for you. Or renaming yourself in all seriousness “Alexander Supertramp.” That is also not fine.
Big shout-out to author Jon Krakauer, who is not only a fantastic writer, but, despite obviously feeling sympathetic towards his ill-fated protagonist, did not refrain from revealing unflattering facts and details about him. I hope Krakauer made a ton of money off the movie (which I will not be watching).
Why I read it: Found it in my boyfriend’s old high school stuff.
Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon, 3/5
This is a helpful little book for anyone who struggles with the culture of self-obsession and inauthenticity that the Instagram era seems to encourage. Social networking can be a great tool for creating opportunities and growing business, but for some people, their internet persona easily takes on a faux life of its own that stifles real, personal growth.
Kleon addresses this issue in part by shifting the focus from product (ultimately, your ideal version of self) to process (your life experiences). Instead of just showing your artwork, you show your art work (33): the real-life, behind-the-scenes depiction of what you learn about what you love, in the spirit of true sharing not self-aggrandisement. His approach is genuine, carefree, messy, organic and much more likely to stimulate personal and professional growth, as well as lasting and meaningful connections with others, than any contrived attempt to impress could achieve.
While the book’s organization is a bit all over the place, it loosely expands on the following 10 rules:
- You don’t have to be a genius.
- Think process, not product.
- Share something small every day.
- Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
- Tell good stories.
- Teach what you know.
- Don’t turn into human spam.
- Learn to take a punch.
- Sell out.
- Stick around.
Why I read it: My library was discarding it and I remembered liking Kleon’s previous book.
A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting by Sam Sheridan, 3/5
Sheridan put a lot of blood and sweat into this appropriately self-deprecating foray into the world of martial arts, which sees him train Muay Thai at the Fairtex camp, MMA with Pat Miletich of UFC fame, BJJ with Brazilian Top Team, tai chi, and boxing with Virgil Hunter and Andre Ward, before veering off-topic for a unsettlingly positive take on the sport of dog fighting and finally ending a bit lamely on a Hollywood set. While Sheridan is a thoughtful and competent writer, he is by no means an insightful one. I found it frustrating that he rarely achieved more depth than a men’s magazine article would, despite being surrounded by legends and, as a paid writer, enjoying opportunities beyond the reach of the average amateur fighter. Still, it was an entertaining read and could have been unimaginably worse if written by a less enthusiastic personality.
Why I read it: Jake from the gym recommended and lent it to me.
Sugar and Salt–Foods or Poison? by Axel Emil Gibson, 3/5
As a sugar addict in a state of near-constant relapse, I have first-hand experience with the bizarre, drug-like power of sugar and the rarely-acknowledged withdrawal symptoms that accompany any serious attempt to resist it. Over-dramatic as this may sound, it’s positively restrained compared to Dr. Axel Emil Gibson’s opinion on the topic:
The dominating ingredient in most of our dishes, sugar perverts our taste, blinds our instincts, bewilders our gastric consciousness, and leaves us guidelessly and aimlessly adrift in the rapids and breakers of morbid and despotic cravings, not infrequently decoying the individual into body-and-mind-destroying excesses (13).
Though a proponent of naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables, Dr. Gibson fervently denounces “free sweets” (extracted or concentrated sugar) and has no qualm about addressing the metaphysical and moral implications of one’s nutritional choices. Written in 1913, this eyebrow-raising rhetoric, accompanied by old-fashioned science, makes it tempting to dismiss the book as outdated and of historic rather than practical value. After all, if current, more-enlightened times see numerous fad diets fueling a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry, what crazier, more ignorant, unscientific advice might this doctor from over 100 years ago recommend? The answer is extremely embarrassing. Gibson’s dietary recommendations are simple, commonsense, and inarguable: he preaches moderation and “[nature’s] own faultless cuisine, where the sun does the cooking and the earth the seasoning” (26). And yet, it is just in recent years that science and popular culture have started to catch up with this hundred-year-old wisdom, after spending decades hardheadedly demonizing fat. To me, this supports the “sugar conspiracy,” which is a rabbit hole well-worth traveling down since the “evidence” against it actually seems to argue for it instead. Just read a summary of Science magazine’s article claiming to prove there is no “sugar conspiracy,” or this Verge article on the topic. Both focus on salvaging the scientific community’s credibility and denying the conspiracy, while at the same time verifying and attempting to excuse the sugar industry’s underhanded dealings.
Why I read it: The title caught my eye in an antique store and for $5, I couldn’t resist discovering 100-year-old opinions on a still-controversial topic.
Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, 3/5
I really wanted to like this book (given to me by a friend to whom it means a lot) and for about two-thirds of it, I succeeded more or less. I’ve never been a fan of the hippy aesthetic, but Robbins’ writing style is humorously bizarre, featuring inventive descriptions and colorful characters, set in familiar Pacific Northwest locations. I found the non-linear narrative style to be stressful at first, but ultimately rewarding, and was interested in the unique plot and development of the theme–how best should human spirituality express itself in a post-Christian world?
However, I eventually became irked by the novel’s increasing preachiness. What starts as a quirky, raunchy story gradually turns into a hippy manifesto that preaches a muddled pop-paganism full of weed-infused platitudes while tearing apart a weak version of Christianity created by the author only to be destroyed. I dislike being preached at, especially by philosophical novels, where practically any point can be “proven” in the highly-controlled universe of an author’s creation. The temptation to commit the straw man fallacy generally proves too strong to resist in these cases and the level of intellectual integrity required for useful discussion of philosophical matters is difficult to attain amidst distractions of story and style. Perhaps someone from a less religious background than I could easily get past these concerns, but I found them distracting enough in this case to mar my enjoyment of the book.
Why I read it: A thoughtful Christmas present from a friend.
Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room, by Jen Rudin, 3/5
This book provides an interesting perspective into the more prosaic side of glamorous showbiz. I really enjoyed the variety of personal anecdotes, not just from the author, but from a variety of people associated with the entertainment industry. The whole audition circuit sounds intense and I’m amazed how much rejection aspiring actors can endure while still maintaining the will to live. I guess it helps that the focus seems more on finding “the one” for each role than on weeding out bad actors. So even if you’re not “the one,” it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. The author’s attitude is very positive and encouraging overall, giving all-purpose advice that emphasizes the importance of professionalism and self-confidence.
Why I read it: thought it looked interesting while wandering around the library.