Review: Ish­mael

Ishmael
Ish­mael by Daniel Quinn
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Any sto­ry that explains the mean­ing of the world, the inten­tions of the gods, and the des­tiny of man is bound to be mythol­o­gy. You think of mythol­o­gy as a set of fan­ci­ful tales. The Greeks did­n’t think of their mythol­o­gy this way. Sure­ly you must real­ize that. I’m talk­ing about liv­ing mythol­o­gy. Not record­ed in any book — record­ed in the minds of the peo­ple of your cul­ture, and being enact­ed all over the world even as we sit here and speak of it. So you see that your agri­cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion is not an event like the Tro­jan War, iso­lat­ed in the dis­tant past and with­out direct rel­e­vance to your lives today.

As we, the Tak­ers, see it, the gods gave man the same choice they gave Achilles: a brief life of glo­ry or a long, unevent­ful life in obscu­ri­ty. And the Tak­ers chose a brief life of glo­ry, bring­ing the whole thing to the point of col­lapse in only five hun­dred gen­er­a­tions. Man is the trail­blaz­er, the pathfind­er. His des­tiny is to be the first to learn that crea­tures like man have a choice: They can try to thwart the gods and per­ish in the attempt — or they can stand aside and make some room for all the rest.

I had to face it: I did­n’t just want a teacher — I want­ed a teacher for life. Over the next decade, he taught me all he knew of the world and the uni­verse and human his­to­ry, and when my ques­tions went beyond his knowl­edge, we stud­ied side by side. Some­one has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire. Is it real­ly so impos­si­ble in an age when a stand-up com­ic on tele­vi­sion reach­es more peo­ple in ten min­utes than Paul did in his entire life­time? In my expe­ri­ence, you nev­er real­ly know how you’re going to han­dle a prob­lem until you actu­al­ly have it. —Daniel Quinn

A hum­bling account of the extant homo species’ extent of mythol­o­gy in its every­day lives and it’s blind­ing unaware­ness of it. The sto­ry we tell our­selves about us, maybe dif­fer­ent than we pre­sumed and may be coloured by hubris. A sense of con­trol is always what we desired, but in there lies a big assump­tion; that we can sim­ply keep on tun­ing things with­out let­ting the inter­play of sys­tems set­tle in their bal­anced states. Like Icarus, the man that should not fly too high in the sky because of the heat of the sun, nor too low near the sea, because of the damp­ness that clogs his feath­ers. The sun’s heat in the atmos­phere gets ever warmer, slow­ly melt­ing our wax. So too, is the damp­ness of the sea reach­ing greater heights with ris­ing water lev­els and more evap­o­ra­tion. All that makes the zone where Icarus can still fly with­out per­ish­ing to com­pla­cen­cy or hubris speed­i­ly small­er, until both he and we meet one of those lim­its. A good exam­ple of how fic­tion­al­iz­ing sto­ries can help us exam­ine our naive nar­ra­tive, to see where it will leads us and lets us choose whether we want to take cor­rec­tive action or that we rather enjoy our the brief moment of glory.

I give “Ish­mael” five stars.

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Review: Why We Swim

Why We Swim
Why We Swim by Bon­nie Tsui
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

At the time of Lord Byron’s Helle­spont swim, he had pub­lished some poet­ry but had not yet estab­lished him­self as one of the great Roman­tic poets. His suc­cess­ful cross­ing, though, got his muse talk­ing, and he pro­duced “Writ­ten after Swim­ming from Ses­tos to Aby­dos,” a satir­ic poem in homage to the swim and to the Greek myth of Hero and Lean­der. Lean­der, a young man from Aby­dos, falls in love with Hero, a priest­ess of Aphrodite who lives in a tow­er in Ses­tos. Every night, Lean­der swims the four miles of the Helle­spont to vis­it Hero, guid­ed by her lamp. One night the lamp blows out, and he drowns, over­come by the waves and cur­rents. She throws her­self from her tow­er to join him in death.

Byron, how­ev­er, escaped with a bout of fever and chills, but for all his jaun­ty tone, he felt that swim­ming coaxed him out of melan­choly, opened up his cre­ative stores, and gave him access to his best self. In truth, the Helle­spont became a touch­stone for him and the stre­nous swim was what loosed his imag­i­na­tion. In time, “Byron­ic” would be a label for our most pas­sion­ate seek­ers, swim­mers, and artists. Byron came to rep­re­sent a “con­cen­trat­ed mind,” as well as “high spir­its, wit, day­light good sense, and a pas­sion for truth—in short a unique dis­charge of intel­lec­tu­al vital­i­ty.” — Bon­nie Tsui

This well-trav­elled sto­ry men­tions the myr­i­ad moti­va­tions peo­ple have to jump in the water. Togeth­er these tales make a good case for swim­ming in the open water and why, see quote above, it makes for a more reward­ing dive. Rang­ing from the Ice­landic hero, Guðlau­gur Friðþórs­son to the Greek Hero, and from the Japan­ese Samu­rais to the Oceans Sev­en Swim­mers. Each bring their own inspir­ing aspect to the table and the total sum makes swim­ming out­doors an admirable and worth­while endeav­our. The key is to not be afraid of the water’s depths, its dark­ness and its poten­tial to draw you down. Ulti­mate­ly, you’ll arise from the water anew; that’s what John would do with you.

I give “Why We Swim” four miles stars.

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Review: Tur­tles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
Tur­tles All the Way Down by John Green
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

“There’s an expres­sion in clas­si­cal music. It goes, ‘We went out to the mead­ow.’ It’s for those evenings that can only be described in that way: There were no walls, there were no music stands, there weren’t even any instru­ments. There was no ceil­ing, there was no floor, we all went out to the mead­ow. It describes a feeling.”
— TOM WAITS

I know she’s read­ing this right now. (HI.) I felt like we went out to the mead­ow tonight, only we weren’t play­ing music. In the best con­ver­sa­tions, you don’t even remem­ber what you talked about, only how it felt. It felt like we were in some place your body can’t vis­it, some place with no ceil­ing and no walls and no floor and no instru­ments. — John Green, TATWD

After fol­low­ing John Green’s work for many years, I had nev­er got around actu­al­ly read­ing one of his books.
For me it was a feast of recog­ni­tion, due to many of its real life coin­ci­den­tal coun­ter­parts! Know­ing how he is as a per­son, and see­ing how you show your own char­ac­ter­is­tics and traits in your own work was a big eye-open­er for me. I guess, since I pre­ferred non-fic­tion for its objec­tive­ness, this book showed and taught me and what good fic­tion can do, what it can make me feel — me as a reader.

I give “Tur­tles All the Way Down” five stars.

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Review: The Philoso­pher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness
The Philoso­pher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Hap­pi­ness by Mark Row­lands
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

After read­ing the book Run­ning with the Pack, I was delight­ed to find that there was a book that dived even deep­er in the bond between wolf and man. For me this is the best type of phi­los­o­phy book, one that is inter­spersed with more light-heart­ed moments from the author’s life, con­trast­ed with con­struc­tive and deep­er mus­ings on the events in his or her life. I noticed that it took me a lot longer to get through the book, just because it took a while for the mes­sages to sink in and under­stand them. There­fore, this is def­i­nite­ly a book that would not be bet­ter as an audio­book, because I think I would miss things because there’s no time to mull them over. One thing that hap­pened dur­ing the read­ing of this book, is that all the notes and high­lights I took on my e‑reader got delet­ed, due to me shuf­fling around some set­tings. This felt like a set­back, one that tem­porar­i­ly makes you not want to be remind­ed of your mis­take and dis­con­tin­ue read­ing the book. How­ev­er, because I was so close to fin­ish­ing it, it would have been sil­ly not to. It made me think that the mem­o­ries and lessons we gain from read­ing a book, if they are for­got­ten and we can no longer rely on our (dig­i­tal) mem­o­ry. Of course that is not the case, but it showed me how eas­i­ly your brain del­e­gates the task of remem­ber­ing to a third par­ty. Not sure if this top­ic is men­tioned in the oth­er book from this author about exter­nal mem­o­ry, but it made me look for­ward to read that one as well!

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Review: Ik drink niet meer

Ik drink niet meer
Ik drink niet meer by Loïs Biss­chop
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

A per­son­al and relat­able account what it means to give up alco­hol in your life and how it impacts ones rela­tion­ship with oth­ers. The sub­tle humor in this book was great and made the whole book a page­turn­er for me. The most impor­tant les­son in this book was the impact of a relapse after a pro­longed peri­od of absten­tion. Real­iz­ing the impact it can have, makes it so that you do not need to make this mis­take your­self to learn from it. Anoth­er great les­son was that of just bluff­ing, even though you have not fin­ished writ­ing the book, men­tion­ing that you want to pub­lish one can help you make it hap­pen, even if you don’t expect it. All in all, I would rec­om­mend this book to every young per­son read­ing and doubt­ing their own intake of emo­tion-sur­press­ing drugs. 

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Review: Caf­feine: How Caf­feine Cre­at­ed the Mod­ern World

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World
Caf­feine: How Caf­feine Cre­at­ed the Mod­ern World by Michael Pol­lan
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

The pac­ing of this sto­ry was quick and kept the atten­tion eas­i­ly, even if one’s recent­ly abstain­ing from caf­feine. Talk­ing about the his­to­ry and impact of soci­ety’s most accept­ed and wide­spread drug. Michael Pol­lan did a great job in relay­ing his expe­ri­ence with tem­porar­i­ly abstain­ing of cof­fee and lat­er on using it as a tool, but insin­u­ates it will creep back to an every­day ordeal. For the com­ing weeks I would like to fol­low his plan and just drink cof­fee on Sun­day morn­ings and only then. Per­haps Sat­ur­days could work as well, but I usu­al­ly tend to do my long run on Sun­days, so it would ben­e­fi­cial for that too. I appre­ci­at­ed the appear­ance of Matthew Walk­er and his view on caf­feine’s effect on the sleep qual­i­ty. I do notice, that even when I drink cof­fee in the morn­ing that my sleep is impact­ed, so that would be a good moti­va­tion. One of the more insight­ful bits was about the dif­fer­ence in spot-focus and can­vas focus, the lat­ter would enhance cre­ativ­i­ty by loose asso­ci­a­tion. Caf­feine enhances the spot-focus and there­fore lin­ear think­ing and might thus reduce one’s cre­ativ­i­ty. Know­ing what it can and can­not do, might help one use it for the right use cas­es. With­out cof­fee, there would­n’t be this cat­a­lyst for the age of rea­son. The fact that it was a replace­ment for alco­hol in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry was new to me and that the cof­fee-hous­es played a big role in the enlight­en­ment by exchang­ing ideas, so much so that the first mod­ern ency­clo­pe­dia found its ori­gin in one of the cof­fee-hous­es in France. 

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Review: Dit was mijn laat­ste marathon .…., toch?

Dit was mijn laatste marathon ....., toch?
Dit was mijn laat­ste marathon .…., toch? by Ger­ard Legerstee
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

As allud­ed to in my pre­vi­ous review, I fig­ured out a way to copy my notes of the book to my com­put­er. Which will make the process of writ­ing reviews of ebooks a lit­tle eas­i­er in the long run. Talk­ing about long runs, this book was a great sum­ma­ry of the jour­ney into run­ning not all that dis­sim­i­lar to mine. Let me list some of the things in the book that I liked; First, there was the term ‘wild run­ner’, used for a run­ning not affil­i­at­ed with any ath­let­ics club, which amused me quite a lot. Sec­ond­ly, the fact that you can run with any weath­er, except when the road is cov­ered in black ice. Which is very true, because I have ran in all weath­er times and the most dan­ger­ous one was while it was slip­pery as hell. Let me add though that run­ning in the mid­dle of a field with thun­der­ing clouds above is some­thing that also needs to be avoid­ed. Third­ly, the les­son that if your per­sist long enough, even­tu­al­ly you’ll gain the strength and the skill that is required. Fourth­ly, that noth­ing is as frus­trat­ing as see­ing some­one run while you are injured your­self, that is a weird kind of jeal­ousy, that makes me feel super sor­ry for the peo­ple that are per­ma­nent­ly dis­abled. Last­ly, the fact that you need to warm up cold water in your mouth to pre­vent diges­tive issues. I do know that cold wind can play a role in how the bow­els feel, but I nev­er made the con­nec­tion with tem­per­a­ture of the water I con­sume. Luck­i­ly, my run­ning back­pack has a water blad­der that warms up through the heat of my back, so even to the water in the drink­ing tube might cool down out in the cold, it will always be fol­lowed by warmer water. In the end, the book describes the life of an aver­age run­ner and is there­fore maybe more relat­able than the sto­ries of the accom­plished run­ners. The fact the book was writ­ten in Dutch, the exam­ples used were rather famil­iar so that must have helped as well. All in all, an enjoy­able quick read!

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Review: Drink meer koffie

Drink meer koffie
Drink meer koffie by Bertil Mark­lund
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

The title of the book was what trig­gered my curios­i­ty and as the title of the Eng­lish trans­la­tion, it is clear that this book had a good mar­ket­ing team. The book was­n’t bad, the infor­ma­tion about the title’s top­ic was very kept to a min­i­mum. Some blog posts have writ­ten a more con­cise and exten­sive overview on the top­ic. How­ev­er, a lit­tle rep­e­ti­tion nev­er hurts and there were a lot of things I had changed over last two years that made me feel good about my choic­es and the path I am on. Fur­ther­more, the biggest les­son for me was that being opti­mistic has a sig­nif­i­cant impact on one’s life expectan­cy — extend it up to sev­en years — com­pared to more pes­simistic peo­ple. Being aware that cor­re­la­tion is not cau­sa­tion, there is still a lot of mer­it to this obser­va­tion and some­thing I would want to work on the com­ing years if not decades. As a side­note, this was the first book in which I exten­sive­ly used the note-tak­ing fea­ture on my e‑reader to help me improve my vocab­u­lary and high­light the sen­tences that res­onate with me and that I would like to use in the sum­ma­ry. How­ev­er, I find that many of these are in Dutch and not all of them would work well after trans­la­tion. So for now, I’ll leave it at this and in the future I hope to extend this review with those lessons, after I fig­ure out how to export them to a more man­age­able for­mat instead of hav­ing to type it word for word. Even though the lat­ter seems bet­ter for reten­tion of the infor­ma­tion, I think I would be less like­ly to do it for most of the books I read.

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Review: Goed volk

Goed volk
Goed volk by Teun van de Keuken
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

Know­ing more about a per­son­’s upbring­ing helps you bet­ter under­stand their per­son­al­i­ties and traits. As an avid watch­er of the pro­grams that the author presents on Dutch tele­vi­sion; ‘Keur­ings­di­enst van Waarde’ and ‘De mon­i­tor’, I would like to know more about the pre­sen­ter’s per­son­al views. in the for­mer pro­gram the goal is most­ly to dis­cov­er the truth behind all the promis­es that the food pack­ages make, while in the lat­ter, a more broad­er and ide­al­is­tic goal is pur­sued, with the help of the sto­ries from every­day peo­ple that write in. All in all, I was sur­prised at how well it was writ­ten, from a lin­guis­tic per­spec­tive, which makes sense know­ing that he read a lot when he grew up, you pick up on a thing or two while you do so, I like to believe. The main top­ic of the book was the rela­tion­ship with his ambi­tious and artis­tic father, which dif­fers huge­ly from my own upbring­ing, as are the time and place of course. I found it to be a worth­while read, with plen­ty of fun­ny and rec­og­niz­able exam­ples. The only thing that was miss­ing for me, was a bridge between his ear­ly past at pri­ma­ry school and how this affect­ed his bond with his dad. For exam­ple, when he became a father him­self and how this might have changed his rela­tion­ship with his own dad. I doubt there will be a sequel.

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Review: The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles by Made­line Miller
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

The myth of Achilles is a sto­ry that has fas­ci­nat­ed me ever since I was younger, so it was time for a deep-dive. With­out spoil­ing too much of the sto­ry, I was a bit dis­ap­point­ed that the expec­ta­tion with regards to his heel were not met. I have come to learn that this was added to the sto­ry at a lat­er moment in time and hence might be imag­ined, but so were many oth­er parts of the sto­ry. Appar­ent­ly, hearsay is dif­fi­cult to cor­rect, once it has spread among the pop­u­lous, almost like a (corona)virus of the mind. Hon­est­ly, I liked the well-known end­ing bet­ter, but I appre­ci­ate this more real­is­tic ver­sion of the death of a half-god. For me there was def­i­nite­ly a part in the mid­dle of the book with which I strug­gled and luck­i­ly the pace picked up lat­er on. The fact that the pro­tag­o­nist was such a wuss from the start out might be the cause. All in all, after this, I am look­ing for­ward to read more sto­ries of mythol­o­gy, both Greek and Norse. 

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