Non-Fiction November

I’m usually really bad at following themed months but this year I have happily found that I’ve unknowingly read a fair few non-fiction books this November. Let’s take a closer look!

• • •


18521The first book I tackled in November (or rather ‘finished’ since I started it way back in September!) was a re-read of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which I reviewed last week. Although I didn’t love this one, I’m still glad I re-attempted and actually finished it. It feels a little like a feminist rite of passage in a lot of ways I suppose. Like reading one’s first Plath or Atwood? I don’t know.


• • •

25733921It took a sombre turn towards death at that point (a topic I never seem that far from for some reason… I was thinking about doing a post on the books I’ve read and want to read about death, but maybe it’s just me who would be interested in something like that? haha). The second non-fiction book I read this month was Terry Pratchett’s Shaking Hands with Death, which was the transcript of a talk he’d given about assisted death (often called “assisted suicide”) and the right to a good death. This, of course, was inspired by his own battle with a very early diagnosis for a rare and unusual form of Alzheimer’s. It was a sobering read and it made me think about how I feel about those closing chapters and the rights we have in choosing what that end looks like and how I feel about the laws society has in place and whether they are protecting or punishing the vulnerable. Thinking about death isn’t really that depressing to me so much as fascinating. It’s an interesting thought exercise (maybe because I am bothered more by my loved ones dying than by my own death which I’m pretty indifferent about on the whole); so this was an interesting, short read.

Also, being a non-Brit (and mabe because I’m also not deeply into fantasy), I had never really heard of Terry Pratchett until coming to the UK and this is the only book I’ve ever read by him. As I understand it, his books are quite humorous and whimsical and that wry humour was also evident even in this book about such a ‘serious’, ‘dark’ topic. That’s something I appreciated considering how much anger I understand there to have been (at life, at the lack of resources to turn to, etc) when he was first diagnosed and I think that humour probably makes it more palatable for those who might otherwise be a little uncomfortable with picking this one up. It’s only a short book and I (the slowpoke reader that I am) read it one evening in one sitting.


• • •

31857949Next I picked up Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl which was very informative and thought-provoking. Although I didn’t necessarily agree with everything presented, I really appreciated Serano’s well crafted arguments infused (but not overloaded) with her personal experience. She directly or inadvertently raises a lot of interesting questions about what gender is or isn’t or could be, and about how we design it. Different gender privileges are often discussed and there is occasionally some (justifiable) anger present when discussing cis-people’s view of (or ability to be completely ignorant of) gender which I think could be off-putting for many cis-gender folks, but it’s worth getting over the ego and the hurt (and the guilt) to listen to Serano’s point of view. Obviously it would be ridiculous to expect the account and assessments of one (white, middle-class) trans woman to be the definitive book on all trans discussion, so I will certainly be reading more accounts of other people from the less mainstream(?) parts within (and without) the gender spectrum in future. Although I have been aware of many of these gender issues before, it’s been a while since a book hasn’t just informed me of new things, but challenged me too (not just as it relates to gender, but in general).

I actually got this one on audiobook from my library and it took time to adjust to Serano’s strong, awkwardly dramatic American twang so, for that reason and because you’ll probably want to underline, re-read passages and/or make notes, I would probably recommend picking up the print version.


• • •

15798883And lastly, this month I read Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom (which, I found out later, also happens to be Emma Watson’s book club pick at the moment). I actually found this very lovely and entertaining despite my initial doubts when picking it up. I wasn’t that bothered about Angelou’s more famous work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and this collection of memories includes or alludes, in part or in whole, to stories told in that book, but I got on with this book better. The focus on stories about her mother, the way she makes her mum out to be such a charismatic and inspiring (but still very human) woman and the lessons learned from her in particular are probably part of my slightly different feelings about the two memoirs. I’m really glad I picked up the audiobook for this one (read by Angelou herself). It felt comfortingly like being told life stories by a grandparent.


• • •

This was a really great month for me in terms of reading books that both interested and challenged me (non-fiction and otherwise). I’m going to really try to make an effort to take part again next year, as well as continuing to incorporate non-fiction into my general reading throughout the year.

Whether you set out to take part in non-fiction November or if, like me, you just happened to have read a lot of non-fiction this month by chance, what’s are some of your favourite non-fiction recommendations?

Do you have any non-fiction reads high on your wishlist? At the moment, (other than the ones I’m currently reading) here are some of mine:

(Can you guess why? …hah…)

Posted in Bitchin' Rundown, Book Reviews, NonFiction, Reading Challenges, Uncategorized | Tagged | 3 Comments

Review :: A Room of One’s Own

A review of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

SUMMARY

18521

A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf. First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled “Women and Fiction”, and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.

• • •

I’ve mentioned before that I’m more likely to reread a book that I didn’t get on too well with than one I loved and that is precisely what inspired this second attempt at reading A Room of One’s Own.

So I first attempted this one two years ago and had this to say about it:

23 April 2014
I didn’t finish this book. I read the sample (first 13 pages out of 111) via the Kindle App and I don’t think it’s bad, but I’m going to have to put it down. It’s just not for me. The poetic language and apparent pointlessness bored me; I never really got on well with this kind of writing style – similar to Heart of Darkness, but less intensity and purpose, more aimlessness. But that’s completely down to tastes. It’s short enough that I probably could continue it… but I can’t really be bothered. And I’m sure it’ll come to a point, but I just can’t right now. Maybe some other time I’ll pick it up again and give it another go. If I do I’ll reassess.

This was a kind version of what I felt about it. I wanted to be fair when really my initial reaction was that it was written in such a flowery style that got in the way of any points making or getting towards making. And this apparent “all set-up leading to nowhere” style felt like a waste of my time and it frustrated me. I didn’t care for it.

Now, two years later, I did re-read it (via the Kobo app) and I have reassessed. I went in prepared for flowery description and diary-like wonderings. It definitely got better once I pushed through the fluffy, meandering beginning, but it wasn’t as impressive to me as I was hoping even accounting for the time it was written. I mean, I enjoyed Herland* (written 13 years prior to this) for the reasons I was hoping to enjoy this book.
*But I suppose Virginia Woolf would have criticised Herland for being too bitter/gendered..

I liked some parts and disagreed with others (sometimes because her ideas are just outdated now and other times because we just see the world differently perhaps). But, if I’m honest, a lot of the time, I was a little bored. And the boredom has nothing to do with this being a classic either. I love classics and am well accustomed to their humble, less flashy, sometimes “dry”-seeming style. I didn’t hate this by any means…but I was sometimes less than enamoured with her way of getting her points across. The style was the main problem for me. Some people love it though. Read a sample (even a few pages) and you’ll be able to assess if it will be a turn off for you or not.

So, yeah. I guess I’m glad I read it after all…but maybe just for the fact that I can say I have an informed opinion about it. Was it worth my time? Hmm…I’m not totally convinced. And I wouldn’t call it a must-read.. It’s a two stars for me with the occasional three (or even four) star quotes here or there.

rating: ★★☆☆☆
genre: non-fiction, feminism
publisher: Penguin Books Limited
source: Kobobooks
date read: 2 November 2016
recommend for: anyone interested in feminist classics, feminist history or Virginia Woolf
pros: a few good points, feminist history
cons: a little outdated, flowery and meandering style, somewhat boring


Nikki

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Unhaul

I get rid of stuff pretty regularly (clothes, books, appliances, etc) and it has definitely come time to unhaul a few more books. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been at least a little encouraged by having recently finished Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. So, without any further ado, here’s what I’m unhauling:

books

The following is a list of the books in case you can’t read some of the titles (…since I screencapped the image from a Facebook post I made to see if any of my friends want to claim my books before I take them to the charity shop! haha)

THE DHAMMAPADA by Anonymous (non-fiction)
THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang (fiction)
THE WOMAN WARRIOR by Maxine Hong-Kingston (highly(!) fictionalised/narrative(?) non-fiction)
THE ICARUS GIRL by Helen Oyeyemi (fiction)
*THE REDEEMER by Jo Nesbo (fiction)
THE SECRET ADVERSARY by Agatha Christie (fiction)
BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (non-fiction)
CORALINE by Neil Gaiman (fiction)
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER by Jamaica Kincaid (fiction)
THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS by Albert Camus (non-fiction)
KITCHEN by Banana Yoshimoto (fiction)
*SNOOP by Sam Gosling (non-fiction)
THE HOBBIT by JRR Tolkien (fiction)
THE GUEST CAT by Takashi Hiraide (fiction)
*AN ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE TO LIFE ON EARTH by Chris Hadfield (non-fiction)

*Asterisk means I haven’t read it but the main reason I get rid of books I haven’t read is because I acquired them on a whim and still haven’t read them a year or so later and have no strong desire to change that situation.

There’s something really nice about getting rid of things in general and I definitely feel that when I make room on my bookshelves. I know there’s a quote about not really loving a book if you’ve only read it once, but that’s bullshit…IMHO. The book has served a great purpose by serendipitously coming to you at the right time to give you just what you need. That’s enough. That’s all one can hope from it. If it is able to do more upon further re-readings, then great! And that should be treasured too. But the love is no less real if you don’t feel any desire to challenge your previous wonderful experience of the book. Life is too short to be bullied by aggressive re-readers who want you to read the same way they do before permitting you to  be able to say you love something or call it your favourite.

As someone who doesn’t reread often, when I’m honest with myself about whether it’s worth keeping a book on my shelf, it’s not really that hard to let things go even if it’s a book I loved. Those are the books I often gift to friends to share the love. Ironically, I sometimes find it more difficult to unhaul a book I didn’t love because I want to give it a second chance to impress me or to at least give me something before I get rid of it. In fact, I’d say I’ve re-read more books that I first hated(!) than ones I’ve loved. And that has been really interesting for me. Which isn’t to say I’ll re-read all the books I’ve ever disliked… But some of them have definitely benefited from the second chance.

Clearing out my shelves is often also a great opportunity to think about what things I want to keep and discard in my life generally. I find it really healthy for my mental well-being and it’s interesting to learn new tiny things about myself through this process of decision-making and discarding.

How about you?

If you unhaul books too, how often and what’s your criteria for letting a book go?

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Hanging In There

I am overwhelmed with books right now! I’m not stranger to reading several books at once–I’m usually reading about 5 at any given time–but at the moment I’m reading ten and it’s starting to feel a little oppressive. But I don’t feel like I can or want to necessarily give any of them up. These books include gifts I got for my birthday, the book club book, a book a friend lent me, books I started years ago and am still soldiering through (not unhappily), books I’m reading for personal goals (that I’m really enjoying), and many others. I’m starting to feel just as guilty when I’m reading (paying attention to one book and not all the others??) as when I’m not reading… But I think I’d feel worse to let them go even if I promised myself it would be just a temporary parting (because my “temporary” can tend to stretch on for years).

But what’s my point? Hmm… I guess all this has been interesting, making me think about the books I choose to stick with to the end no matter what.

When/why do you choose to give up on a book?

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2016 Quarterly Check-In #3

I know we (every post-high-school human being) always say this, but the year sure does zoom by! I think it’s especially so when you make goals for yourself. I think school is filled with such an abundance of little goals–every day there are several class deadlines–but the older you get, the more those deadlines become much more important and much more anticlimactic and somehow that equates (for me) to a year that whizzes by. Anyway, on to the check-in (my last of this year before my yearly review)!

Goodreads challenge: 75 books

I’m slightly (2 books) ahead of my goal at 57 books, but I’ve already decided I’m not doing this goal again next year. My highest book goal in future is going to be 50 books. I like having a goal that challenges me, but I’m not going to pretend that my own arbitrary book goal isn’t making me constantly feel like I should always be consuming more knowledge hahaha

My resolutions:

  1. Read at least 75 books on track
  2. Read at least 15 books from my TBR on track
  3. Read at least 50% women authors on track
  4. Read at least 35% authors of colour on track
  5. Read at least 25% translated works on track
  6. Read at least 15 non-fiction works 8/15
  7. Read at least 1 book by a South American author [done: The Alchemist]
    • ADDENDUM: 15 books from around the world [done: 15/15]
  8. Read at least 3 books by or about someone with a difference (physical or mental) !?!
    • I guess I actually have actually completed this if you include boosk like The Vegetarian, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House whose protagonists have all been mentally unstable, but I want to be even stricter with myself in this area…(possibly leaning towards non-fiction more? We’ll see…)
  9. Read at least 3 books by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ [done: 4/3]
  10. Finish a series for the first time ever in my life!!! (What will it be? Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings? The Raven Cycle? A Series of Unfortunate Events??) [done: Harry Potter & Miss Pas Touche (en français!)]
  11. Read at least 1 book over 500 pages???? (maybe?) ! I’ve started East of Eden (203/714 pages in)

• • •

Stats

I’ve read 58% female authors with 35% male and 7% “other” (either both male and female creators or unknown, but authors who identify as neither would fit in this category too). This has, disappointingly, taken a big down turn (from 71% at halfway through the year), but, without any difficulty or feeling of restrictiveness at all, this is still higher than I would have expected it’d be when I first set this goal. I have read 40% authors of colour which is still above my goal of 35%. I’m hoping to at least keep it there, if not get that even higher by the end of the year.

25% of my reading has been translated works. I generally don’t make any effort in this area, but I like to keep track of it anyway. If my reading starts getting kind of stale, it sometimes coincides with the number of translated works stagnating. It can be really refreshing and captivating to read some non-anglophone perspectives.
*An interesting situation was presented to me when I started trying to read books in French as well. They’re not translated because I’m reading them in their original French, but I kind of want to keep track of the books I read in the original language too. Maybe next year I will include a category for that.

The amount of books I read from my TBR makes up 35% of my reading so far or 15 books. My goal for the year is to read 15 books from my TBR so I guess I’m doing well, but so few of them have been books from my physical shelf so I might make an attempt to start prioritising those.

54% of my reading (31 books) has been free either from the library (primarily) or friends or eARCs.

• • •

I actually quite liked the “10-10-10-10” challenge I did last year, but have just pulled these two sections from it. I like taking note of where I’m reading from and noting my non-fiction reads just remind me to plumb some books for facts instead of just organisations’ websites and random articles.

FIFTEEN Works of Fiction from Around the World*:

  1. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly: A Novel by Sun-mi Hwang [South Korea]
  2. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor [Nigeria]
  3. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor [Nigeria]
  4. The Moomins and the Great Flood(The Moomins, #1) by Tove Jansson [Finland]
  5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho [Brazil]
  6. The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung [China]
  7. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto [Japan]
  8. At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid [Antigua]
  9. The Art of War by Sun Tzu [China]
  10. The Vegetarian by Han Kang [South Korea]
  11. What Is Obscenity? By Rokudenashiko [Japan]
  12. Miss Pas Touche (tome 1-4) by Hubert & Kerascoët [France]
  13. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami [Japan]
  14. Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra [Chile]
  15. Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo [Italy]

*Excludes: UK & Republic of Ireland, North America (unless Native), Australia & New Zealand (unless Native), as well as ancient Greece and Rome…you get the picture.

FIFTEEN Non-Fiction Books:

  1. Take It as a Compliment by Maria Stoian
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou’s Autobiography, #1) by Maya Angelou
  3. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  4. Suffragette: My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst
  5. How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing (Little Black Classics, #29) by Michel de Montaigne
  6. What is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy by Rokudenashiko
  7. Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda McRobbie Rodriguez
  8. Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Béa Johnson

Not doing terribly well with my non-fiction reading this year…Maybe it’ll pick up in the last quarter? hah We’ll see..!

• • •

My favourite books this quarter have been…

Have you made any reading goals (casual or official)?

What have been your bookish highlights so far?

Posted in Bitchin' Rundown, Reading Challenges, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ebook Inventory

After watching Jean’s video about the books on her Kindle, I thought it might be fun to explore what ebooks I have on the various ebook apps on my phone (not including previews). Let’s just jump right in!

(Apps listed in alphabetical order)


Bluefire

TBR

  • Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Read

 


iBooks

Currently Reading

  • Le Horla / The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

TBR

  • Candide, ou l’Optimisme by Voltaire
  • Heart of Darkness (audiobook) by Joseph Conrad

Read

 


Kobo

Currently Reading

  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

TBR (…several of these may just be deleted without getting read)

  • Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
  • Bacchae by Euripides
  • The Imaginary Invalid by Molière
  • Tartuffe by Molière
  • Quicksand (and Passing) by Nella Larsen
  • Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare
  • Utopia by Thomas More
  • The Dead by James Joyce
  • The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli
  • Chrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
  • The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
  • Aeropagitica by John Milton

Read

 


Kindle

So, years ago when I still used Amazon, I accumulated a few ebooks on the free Kindle app. While most of the books I got were free, I did buy one or two of them (though likely nothing over 99p). Because there are still books on there, I do still have the Kindle app and, ideally, I’d like to finish them all… But, I must confess, I haven’t used this app for years (the most recent of these books was acquired for free almost 3 years ago)… I guess I don’t want to read any of them that badly. ^^;;

‘Currently’ Reading

  • Furies by Eve Lacey

TBR (…several of these may just be deleted without getting read)

  • The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons by Henry Steel Olcott
  • Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton (with bonus material from The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper)
  • The Vampyre; a Tale by John WIlliam Polidori
  • Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker
  • Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc
  • The Hollow Needle: Further Adventures of Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc
  • Myths of the Norsemen: From the Edda and Sagas by Hélène A Guerber
  • Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by Thomas William Roileston
  • Viking Tales by Jennie Hall
  • The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read

 


Nook (now Sainsbury’s Entertainment)

Currently Reading (or trying…it seems there’s been a massive screw up with the company transferring books so who knows…)

TBR (I’m making plans to drop this unstable platform, so only one for the TBR)

Read

 


Overdrive

This is mainly used to borrow digital library books (I don’t have any borrowed at the moment, but I did once buy an audiobook from Waterstones and used Overdrive to listen to it. And what was that audiobook?

  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

 


 

Kobo, Kindle and Nook are/were my most used eReader apps but now, all things considered, I think my favourite is probably Kobo! It would be great to have all my ebooks in one place, but I don’t. Maybe I will slowly whittle down the books across all my apps and just use Kobo for new acquisitions. I’m not sure. (I don’t think I’m anal enough to actually follow through on that, but we’ll see.)

What books do you have on your eReader(s)/apps?

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Review :: Princesses Behaving Badly

A review of Linda McRobbie Rodriguez’s Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings

SUMMARY
princessesbehavingbadly

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating listen for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

• • •

Let me start by saying, this turned out to be much better than I expected and I would definitely recommend it.

This is another book I picked up from my library’s audiobook collection pretty much at random. I thought it might be just a bit silly with a stupid title like that, but I was pleasantly surprised. (It’s always nice to be wrong in situations like that.) And, really, it’s frustrating that the idea of a book about princesses seems, on the surface of it, so…frivolous, isn’t it?

This is a great introduction to some very interesting women throughout history who, through knowing about their lives, really add dimension to the “princess” label. While each princess definitely gets more than a cursory look (some going much further in depth than others), it’s more of a detailed overview than an in-depth princess encyclopaedia. They don’t all get a happy ending (very few do actually), but they are far from all being victims. Most are feisty and rebellious and unconventional. And, being human, all are flawed (some far more than others) despite what high society might have the public believe. Some are arrogant and selfish, some are gross, some are clinically insane, some are tragic, some were pirates for a time, some renounced the crown, some were controlled by relatives, some spent few nights alone or even with the same lover.

It was also great to have a few contemporary ones that can now be put into context in my mind. (It would probably be even better for people who are likely to have actually heard of them before whereas my general princess knowledge is sorely lacking.) I will say, though, I actually liked that she avoided mentioning certain of the most famous contemporary princesses who might come to mind when we hear the term “real life princess”. Though they are mentioned in passing in the intro/foreword, Princess Diana and Kate Middleton are nowhere to be found in the book. And, although her sister Margaret is mentioned, Queen Elizabeth II’s time as a princess is not cited here either.

This book shows a bit of the very real lives lived behind those gilded doors and tries to break the label free of the silly, Disney image of lace and frills and talking animals surrounding a beautiful, delicate, pale woman with no agency who is to be seen but not heard.

Cassandra Campbell did a fantastic job narrating, but I wonder if it might work best as coffee table book to dip into every so often rather than just a block of stories from history because I just listened to the whole thing as a stream of stories and, while I enjoyed it and learned a lot, I feel like it would be nice to be able to more easily flip through the princesses and re-read certain ones on a whim. (Which is not to say that’s not at all possible with the audiobook as it is very well marked in terms of chapters, but it would be so much easier with a hard copy.)
3.5 stars plus half a star for the desire it elicits in my to revisit some of the stories in future.

rating: ★★★★☆
genre: non-fiction, (women’s) history
publisher: Random House Audio
source: library
date read: 16 August 2016
recommend for: fairy tale fans, history buffs
pros: Lots of information about real princesses (and fakers) from different cultures all over the world
cons: A bit of information overload to tackle all at once as it flits from one princess’s story to the next


Nikki

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Review :: The Art of War

A review of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

As requested😉

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 12.23.57

SUMMARY
artofwar

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, according to this ancient Chinese classic of strategy, but everything necessary to deal with conflict wisely, honourably, victoriously, is already present within us. Compiled more than two thousand years ago by a mysterious warrior-philosopher, The Art of War is still perhaps the most prestigious and influential book of strategy in the world, as eagerly studied in Asia by modern politicians and executives as it has been by military leaders since ancient times. As a study of the anatomy of organisations in conflict, The Art of War applies to competition and conflict in general, on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aim is invincibility, victory without battle, and unassailable strength through understanding the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

(Original publication date was circa 500 BCE.)

• • •

I want to preface this by saying this is a super accessible book and absolutely no prior knowledge of war or history or strategy is needed to read, understand and get something out of this book. That said, I actually find this little book very difficult to review in any depth partly because it is so sort and it is so plain in its voice. Though it includes the (very) occasional historical anecdote to visualise its point, there’s not a lot of digging the reader has to do to work anything out when taking everything in its original intention: a guide to war.

However, when we try to apply the book to contemporary living, things get a little bit more interesting as we begin to create layers of metaphor that can perhaps help us in our daily lives…possibly. Now, much of it just common sense (especially when taken literally), but understandably all stuff one can imagine being forgotten in the heat of battle. But I thought I’d highlight a few points here and there to show the plain “how to” nature of the book and how I might interpret a modern day reading of the advice.

When speaking of generals/leaders, Sun Tzu (who, by the way, is a bit of a Homer in that we do not know who he was or if “he” was many people or if “he” was no one at all) says:

Your plans will fail if you are inflexible and don’t know how to use your resources:

5 Dangerous Faults:

  • Recklessness which leads to destruction
  • Cowardice which leads to capture
  • A hasty temper which can be provoked by insults
  • A delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame
  • Over-concern for his men which exposes him to worry or trouble

How can we apply this to a leadership role today?

  • Everyone drops the ball sometimes, but consistent recklessness/carelessness probably isn’t great general practice…especially not if you’re making more mistakes than the office intern.
  • However, cowardice, or not owning up to your mistakes, will get found out eventually and how embarrassed will you be when everyone finds out you’ve been skipping doing vital jobs because you’re not sure how to do them and now there’s a massive backlog of work for everyone to do just to clean up after you!?
  • A hasty temper isn’t great for a few reasons. You may think you’re giving tough love or keeping slackers in line, but your whole team thinks you’re just a bit of an asshole who can’t take a joke when they start nicknaming you The Dictator and they definitely don’t respect you.
  • “A delicacy of honour” is a nice way of saying that you’re way too prideful. You never say sorry when you’re in the wrong and you’re way too hard on yourself thinking you’ve botched up your whole life just because you forgot to refill the communal coffee machine and now you’re paranoid everyone thinks you’re a jerk when really you spend way more time sweating the small stuff than looking at the bigger picture.
  • Micro-managing is probably what Sun Tzu was getting at when he talked about “over-concern” for your team. But it’s more than that too, while you’re stressing out over your very capable team of grown-ass adults, you’re probably not focussing on your own jobs and a distracted leader is a compromised team.

Those are all very basic, “first thing in my head” daily office life expansions on Sun Tzu’s 5 dangerous faults for generals, but you get the picture. There are a lot of other ways this could be expanded and applied to other situations too.

Other advice like studying moods, retaining self-possession, conserving strength and studying circumstances are applicable to so many different things: office life, social situations, relationships, hiking, whatever!

Here are a few “battle” tactics:

  • Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy
  • Do not interfere with an army returning home. “A man whose heart is set on home will fight to the death against any attempt to bar his way.”
  • When you surround an enemy, leave an outlet free and do not press an enemy too hard. “The object is to make him believe there is a road to safety and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. After that, you may crush him.”

Perfect for any modern day argument if you ask me. The first point is basically “Don’t feed the trolls”!

There is a point in the book where two dudes are battling and the one who lost is like “But I read the art of war! I did *cites precept*” and the second one is like “Well I guess you didn’t study it well enough, because if you had, surely you wouldn’t not have forgotten *cites precept*” #sass! But I found this a bit of a sticking point since the first guy did follow the book… Like, he did what he was supposed to do. I’m not sure what he could have done differently in his situation just short of being psychic or a god, so I found little contradictory bits like that a little cheeky… But maybe I haven’t studied it well enough either yet😛 haha

The last part of the book is about spies and I found this part particularly interesting. And, although I think the use of spies is a little more underhanded-feeling than I’d like to apply to my life, I’m sure some things could be used less crookedly. Maybe the take-home of the spies section is just to keep your eyes and ears open, and know that not everyone has your best interests in mind…

“An army without spies is like a man without ears and eyes. They are the way to know the enemy.”

Spies come in lots of different types: gossips, backstabbers, quiet observers, ambitious Machiavellian plotters and more. But Sun Tzu splits them into 5 basic categories.

  1. LOCAL: People of the district (that you have entered/invaded)
  2. INWARD: Officials of the enemy. These are “worthy men who have been degraded of office, criminals who have undergone punishment, favoured concubines greedy for gold, men aggrieved at being in subordinate position or passed over for a post and fickle officials”.
  3. CONVERTED: Converted enemy spies via heavy bribes and liberal promises
  4. DOOMED: Your own spies who know and report to the enemy the things that you have purposefully done openly for them to see without them realising this.
  5. SURVIVING: Those who bring back word from the enemy camp. This is “a man of keen intelligence, but outwardly a fool of shabby exterior with iron will, physical strength and courage.” They are able to put up with shame and ignominy.

*Your enemy’s converted spies should be your doomed spies.

It is important to note that Sun Tzu says the best case situations in all conflict is not to have to go to war at all. If there is any way to avoid it, that is preferable to fighting. In fact, not fighting, winning and taking the enemy’s resources is ideal (and this can be done often through reconnaissance/intelligence, deals and/or intimidation I suppose). But in case you do get into a tight spot where there are no non-conflict options, Sun Tzu has some advice that you can apply to your situation.

Like I said before, much of it is stuff we’ve heard before (like don’t attack the higher ground or a fortress if at all possible because that is literally an uphill battle) or things that just make sense (like, if you see an enemy crossing a river, don’t meet him in the river to do battle, wait until his army is halfway out of the river and ambush them then so you’ll have the upper hand). And I’ve tried to explain how some of it could still be applied even today with some creativity.

I have actually listened to this audiobook twice now because it’s so short (only about 2 hours long I think). The second time I made some notes so I could write up some of the points in this review here, so I hope it gives you a peek at what this tiny war manual is like. (Sun Tzu is very fond of lists.) I can see how it could be nice to re-read as a way of giving a person some reassurance and stability. There are some people (I’m not one of them) who tend to see life as a bit of a battle and that’s really encouraging and empowering for them to think that if they gather up their strength and push through hardship or demotivation, they can get to the other side of the day/week/month/year and be victorious over that annoying situation! Almost like a sort of meditation for people who need to be pumped up to tackle life rather than calmed down. And I think this can do that…but in a very measured and calming way. It’s like the middle ground I guess? haha

It was a fun little read and I’d recommend it if you’re interested because it’s so short, but by no means a “must-read” for everyone in my opinion just because so many of the precepts are already floating around in the global cultural subconscious. I guess it’s interesting to see where these ideas came from though. And I’m definitely glad I read it.

° ° °

rating: ★★★☆☆
genre: non-fiction, philosophy, leadership, management
publisher: Tantor Media (audiobook)
source: library
date read: 31 May 2016
recommend for: philosophy fans, leadership self help
pros: accessible, short and direct
cons: unspecific, sometimes seemingly contradictory


Nikki

Posted in Audiobook, Book Reviews, NonFiction, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments