Man’s Search For Meaning: A Little Book With A Big Impact

“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake”

man's search for meaning

Confession: about two years ago, I finished university and was feeling a little lost. I picked up this highly recommended book and found myself feeling a little less out-of-place in the world when I was done. To say that it was helpful to me would be a massive understatement. I decided recently that I could do with that kind of boost again, so returned to it and felt like it had even more to offer.

“Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

Though this is an impossible book to review, I thought it might be a valuable experience to share some of the lessons I learnt while reading it. For a little background, this book is split into two halves- the first being Frankl’s experience in the Holocaust and the second half being how to utilise his practice of Logotherapy to find meaning in life. But do not let that quick synopsis mislead you- this is not a despairing work- there is no book more uplifting on the planet. So without further ado, here are some of the things that struck me this time round:

“Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire”

  • You must have a future or you will not have a present. There is a lot about the importance of hope in this book. Frankl talks on more than one occasion about how the loss of life in the camps frequently came down to people losing hope. One of Frankl’s most vivid messages is to hold onto the idea of love- not just the person, but the emotion. Love is integral to his message of hope for the future. For what is love if it is not the embodiment of hope?

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

  • Meaning comes from struggle. Frankl speaks of the existential vacuum that arises from having too easy a life. For me, this speaks of how boredom is bad for the soul. While people may desire a constant state of rest, it’s like wood wanting a lower energy state- if you burn it to ash it loses all potential. There is no real value in having nothing to strive for.

“if pain and suffering is avoidable, then avoid it!”

  • But for goodness sake- don’t go looking for trouble! To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic not heroic.

“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

  • Life cannot be meaningful without responsibility. It is very tempting to lay responsibility elsewhere and a lot of people when faced with a struggle cannot take responsibility for their own suffering or refuse to try and fix it themselves. This is a mistake. If personal growth is found in struggling, then to pass the responsibility off somewhere else will make one’s life very meaningless indeed. Therefore, everyone is “responsible to society or his own conscience”.

“Man has potential to be swine or saint, monster or martyr”

  • Resentment won’t get you anywhere. There is an incredible part of the book when Frankl rejects the idea of collective guilt. It shows how important it is not to hold people accountable for crimes they did not commit. And if a holocaust survivor can reject the idea of “guilt by association”, it proves that there is never any justice in it. I also felt like there was a really clear illustration of the deep-seated resentment that drove the Nazis in a story Frankl tells about how a guard beat him when Frankl says he had been a therapist for poor people before the war- when confronted with someone who had done such fulfilling work with their life, an Auschwitz guard has no other options but to beat the prisoner, because how else can he be reconciled with himself? (incidentally proving Dr Jordan Peterson’s theory about resentment of being lying at the root of much of the world’s evil) Someone filled with so much darkness can only try to snuff out what remains of the light

“saying yes to life in spite of everything”

  • And lastly… don’t take yourself too seriously! Frankl describes how one cure for neurosis is for the patient to learn to laugh at themselves. But this can be applied more broadly- especially since he talks about how people relied on humour to get through Auschwitz. And what is a better target for humour than ourselves?

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Alright, this post was a little different, but I hoped you liked it.

Of course, it goes without saying that this book gets 5/5 bananas:

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Have you read this book? Do you feel inspired to give it a go? Let me know in the comments!

Holy Moly- Red Sister was Divine!

*I received this on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

red sisterEvery so often a book comes along that reminds you why you fell in love with your favourite genre. This was one of those books for me. If you are in any way a fantasy lover, then this book will be right up your street!

Utterly absorbing and wonderfully crafted, the world building in this was outstanding. I really admired the dystopic, end of the world feel, combined with high fantasy elements. It was both unique and reminiscent of the best of the genre.

I also loved the writing style. The sumptuous storytelling was nothing short of gorgeous- the kind that is like warm, thick blankets you can wrap around yourself and get totally lost in. Tucked up with such a story, there’s no doubt I felt like I had come home.

And you have to love the characters!! True to form with what I’ve experienced so far of Mark Lawrence’s characters, the whole cast is richly drawn and intriguingly complex. I mean they’re killer nuns for goodness sakes- need I say more? Most importantly of all though, the protagonist, Nona Grey is as sharp as a knife’s edge and one serious badass!

Now while the pacing does change tempo in a lot in places, the ending is so exhilarating that all you are left with is a feeling of “I want more!!”

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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This is out in two weeks on 4th April- so be sure to snag a copy!!

Will you be reading this? What book reaffirmed your love of your favourite genre? Let me know in the comments!

In the Beginning…

in the beginningI had my doubts about this book, but it turned out to be pretty good.

What struck me first about this book was how it showed the psyche of the Jewish people. David, the main character, is often viewed as a literal reincarnation. His beginning is marred by the ending of others. Through this symbolism, Potok shows how David has inherited the trauma of thousands of years of persecution. It in part marks the long memory of a culture and in other ways serves as a reminder of the psychological scarring that can haunt people for an eternity.

Above all, what I loved most was how empathetic David is as a character. Not only is he smart, but his constant entreaties of “I don’t understand” and questioning the world around him is very telling. In part this reminds us that we shouldn’t have to understand, because man’s inhumanity to man does not always make sense. But more than that the character allows recognises from a very young age that there is more to humanity than his own culture.

Seeing this through a child’s viewpoint is especially eye-opening. Much like other Potok characters, David is keen to step outside his culture and seek truth. But what I found particularly admirable in him- and what made me feel an especial kinship with him as I have not always found in Potok’s characters- was that it was his compassion that ultimately drove him to explore the world beyond his own.

In the end, I would rate this:

4/5 bananas

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Have you read any Potok books? And what character did you find to be particularly relatable lately? Let me know in the comments!

3 For 3- Mini Reviews- A New Feature!

Hello everyone- it’s been a few days since I posted- which feels super strange! Every so often I just need a day or two off.

taking a day off

Now about this new feature… I realised that I read a helluva lot of books that I don’t review- which is a real shame, cos I feel like you only get a snapshot of my reading that way. So I came up with a new feature that every month of the year, I will do mini reviews for some of the books I’ve read to catch us all up to speed. And as I find there’s more of a backlog as the year goes on, I thought it would be a good idea for the number of books I include in the post to correspond to the month number- aka this month will be three cos it’s the third month! And the reason I decided to do it this way is cos my backlog of unreviewed books gets worse every month! (and let’s face it, a lot of us know that feeling in December when there are still 20 books left to review before the end of the year!)

And after that *really long* introduction- here are three mini reviews for the books I’ve read so far this year:

flora banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks– personally I found this a very trippy reading experience, but enjoyable nonetheless! It didn’t go in the direction I expected- however it did get better as the story went along. Definitely worth a go in my opinion.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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watcher in the shadows

The Watcher in the Shadows– this was a wonderful modern fairy tale. If you’ve been following my blog a while, you’ll know how much I love Carlos Ruiz Zafon- particularly his writing style (I swear he writes like a dream!). His books are so clearly designed by someone who simply loves stories. I feel like his work is the kind that will live forever- and this book is no exception.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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and the mountains echoed

And the Mountains Echoed– There were some moments of absolute beauty in this and the fairytale at the beginning was perfect. But the flicking back and forth between narratives and characters that were of little relevance jarred and this ultimately messed with my overall enjoyment of the story. A decent read- but in no way his best work.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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So have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? And let me know what you think of this new feature in general- do you also struggle to get through all your reviews.

And in other news, I’m reading my *very first* ARC and am so excited!!! I swear when it got sent to me I was like this….
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In A Nutshell…

NutshellMcEwanThis book was a total shitshow. Holy moly I’ve not read anything this bad in years. To be fair, I only have myself to blame, because if I’m perfectly honest, which is what this blog is for, I’m not a fan of McEwan’s. The biggest compliment I’ve ever heard him be given is that he’s “the master of chronology”. Given that the-order-things-are-put-together is not my main motivation for picking up a book and that I didn’t like much else about his work, I decided to quit at 5 books (all rated 1-2*). So why the hell did I pick up this book? A gimmicky retelling of Hamlet from the perspective of a foetus no less? Well quite simply because I had a free copy to hand and like a curious idiot, I decided to give it a go.

And oh man did curiosity kill the cat… Or more like chop it into little pieces and dissolve the evidence in acid. I cannot even give this book credit for chronology, because for the most part it’s never-ending ramblings. There are quite literally pages upon pages of moralising- I could fill a book… but then that’s exactly what McEwan did here. Cue lots of *groaning* aloud- cos you guys know how much I love that…

Just take a look at this: “Now that the Russian state was the political arm of organised crimes, another war in Europe was no longer inconceivable”- is this supposed to be profound? It’s like he’s always trying to give things gravitas: “A creature of the post English-as-well-as-Scottish-and-French-Enlightenment”- really??? Saying “Enlightenment” would have been too easy I suppose? Oh and the migrant crisis is used as a platform to discuss the fear of rejection and general characterisation (*spoiler alert* all of the beliefs held are equally retarded). And have a look at this- let me know at which point it pisses you off:

“Middle East, fast-breeder for a possible world war.  And foe-of-convenience, the United States, barely the hope of the world, guilty of torture, helpless before its sacred text conceived in an age of powdered wigs, a constitution as unchallengeable as the Koran.  Its nervous population obese, fearful, tormented by inarticulate anger, contemptuous of governance, murdering sleep with every new handgun…”

Of course that’s supposed to be a newsreel- of which he is partially making fun (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t just call all Americans fat). So don’t think I’m saying these are McEwan’s thoughts– they’re at this point about three levels removed, filtered through a (quite literally) undeveloped character, who makes them vague and contradictory. Yes, yes, I get that he is literally making the prenatal whining of an adolescent or youth– perhaps even poking fun at the current fashion of talking in circles. Yet this way of making “social commentary” falls flat- because this nauseating voice hardly reminds me of a baby and instead strikes the tone of a middle aged man (so the reader can be forgiven for thinking this is just McEwan’s voice).

And since we’re on the subject… I’m sorry but how the hell am I supposed to suspend my disbelief that it’s a foetus? What an absolute crock. Let’s ignore the fact that it sounds like someone in their late 50s for a second (if that’s even possible) and focus on some of the blatantly retarded elements of this idea… Like how the foetus somehow manages to know what its mother is thinking. Sorry but just for the record- foetuses are not mind readers!! I can’t believe I even have to write this.

Plus there are inconsistencies- we are told early on that the baby can’t see and has limited understanding:

“When I hear ‘blue’, which I’ve never seen, I imagine some kind of mental event that’s fairly close to ‘green’—which I’ve never seen. . . I am, or I was, despite what the geneticists are no saying, a blank slate. But a slippery, porous slate no schoolroom or cottage roof could find use for, a slate that writes upon itself as it grows by the day and becomes less blank.” 

But plenty of times they suddenly are able to visualise whole outfits:

“By nocturnal association I dress her in tight-fitting black leather jacket and jeans, let her be young, pale, pretty, her own woman.” 

Whilst of course having a highly developed level of consciousness- sorry but foetuses aren’t this advanced-especially not ones with alcoholic mothers. Oh have I not mentioned that yet? This book features a heavily pregnant woman “drinking for two”. Charming- but lifeless arseholes are what I’ve come to expect from McEwan at this point. That and the cliché of the hero being some kind of writer for good measure (he’s a poet here- so *ding ding ding*- we have a winner). But don’t worry- these characters are so colourless and one dimensional that you won’t care enough if they live or die.

What will illicit strong reactions, however, are the Oedipal sex scenes, where the interloper “Claude” (no points for guessing who he’s meant to be in a Hamlet retelling) has sex with the mother- while the “baby” bears witness… gross.

my-bed-tracey-emin-011Let’s face it though- there’s no beauty to this writing. It’s as crass and pointless as Tracy Emin’s unmade bed. In the first line, this is clear:

“So here I am, upside down in a woman.  Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for.”

Throughout the metaphors are clunky, literal and self-indulgent. With his little nods of “To be”, “She thinks I protest too much” and “No rest for the wicked”, the author bangs you over the head with “Shakespearean” imagery, meanwhile showing an inherent lack of understanding of the play. I will be blunt: there are fun, thoughtful, and bold reinterpretations of Shakespeare out there – this is none of those things. All the notes of domestic decay and the images of the interloper are overdone- especially since this is balanced in the play with the uncertainty of Claudius’ guilt. Plus, it goes on and on about Hamlet being a prisoner and how he literally “can’t say no” when his mother gets him drunk- but ultimately in the play Hamlet *does* have some agency. Worst of all is how it deals with existentialism in some of the worst lines I have ever read:

  • “I wish never to be born”– way to debase Shakespearian language, mate.
  • “I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be”– truly gag worthy
  • “not even born yesterday”– gah- this just reminds me how dumb this idea is- I could make a song out of how many times I’ve said dumb dumb dumb…

All the careful balance of dichotomies in the play is dumbed down for the sake of a gimmick, in a book that is as pointless as it is unexciting. And I wouldn’t say all that if this hadn’t piggybacked so needlessly on the back of one of the greatest plays of all time. Just go and read/watch Hamlet. It’s not comparable to this snivelling drivel.

This is right up there as one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And for only the second time in this blog’s history, I’m awarding this book a *banana peel*

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So today I have a fun question for you all- what is your *least favourite* book? What book do you think is an absolute stinker? Let me know in the comments!

V E Schwab is Masterful at Conjuring Light

a conjuring of lightI must have mentioned a million times on this blog how much I love Schwab’s work- and I am so happy to say that the master has done it again! Boy, did I have fun reading this book!

After the last book I have to say, I was excited about where this journey would take me next, and boy did this deliver. This full on adventure took us beyond the ever-changing colour of Schwab’s London, sailing to the high seas and beyond to the darker recesses of the character’s minds.

The characterisation was flawless as per the usual standard. Of course it was wonderful to see favourites from the last books- Kell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard- again, but what was so brilliant about this book was how much more fleshed out some of the other characters became. And even better was how villains and allies had moments of changing their allegiances as easily as Kell changes her coat.

Most of all, I have to give credit for the absolutely beautiful writing. Just like the tightly spun magic around the heroes in the book, her writing held A Conjuring of Light together and made for an absolutely incredible reading experience.

Undoubtedly, this was a near perfect conclusion to the series!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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Have you read this? Did you like it? And if you’re a Schwab fan- what’s your favourite of her books?

Also I know I’ve had *a lot* of positive reviews lately but I can promise that some of my ones that are coming are less glowing…

Prince of Thorns Dug Its Claws Into Me

prince-of-thorns

Well everyone has one of these once in a while- a chance to say “I was wrong”. And I am so happy to do that. Because this is one of those rare occasions when I gave a book another chance and ended up loving it. Despite having read the first chapter, though “nah this is not for me”, and given this up- thanks to Drew’s endless recommendations for this book and author, I decided to give it another go- and I am so glad I did!

I adored the tone of the book and the voice of the protagonist. In fact I especially liked the dark, twisted main character. Because if you like anti-heroes, then this is the perfect book for you- Jorg is definitely the mother of all anti-heroes.

Other than that, this book is fast paced and intense. The setting- a futuristic fantasy version of our world- is right up my street. I am so intrigued about where this series goes. And with such good plotting I feel very certain in the knowledge that the rest of this series is going to be one hell of a ride.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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Have you read this? Did you like it? And what book did you end up loving after giving it a second chance? Let me know in the comments?