Books read in November

All books this month were on my kindle, which has really made it convenient for me to read. My time is usually early in the morning for about an hour, and late in the evening after dinner. The backlight helps.

Most importantly, I’ve started Joyce’s Ulysses, which is like my white whale. I’ve made several attempts to read it in the past few years but never finished a chapter. But this attempt has been the best so far. I’m at chapter 3 right now and intend to finish this book in December.

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Lovely book from the author of The Song of Achilles. This one’s about, as you’d expect, Circe, who features in the Odyssey.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob), by Dennis E. Taylor

Pretty decent. Reads a bit like Star Trek fanfic at times so I don’t know if I’ll continue the series.

Nabokov: The Mystery of Literary Structures, by Leona Toker

A detailed look at several of Nabokov’s books. A few weren’t fresh in my memory but this is always a fruitful area to get lost in.

The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

Comfort reading. I got this and several other books from gutenberg. I like classics that have stood the test of time any way.

We think therefore I am

I’m listening to The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt and it is interesting to see how the Self is derived from a cacophony of minor selves. Every one has felt a will that overrides another within themselves, to consciously wake up early when you’re tired (or not), to take that last bite of a chocolate (or not), and so on.

Pixar’s Inside Out

First there are metaphors, like the Chariot Allegory. In this the soul is a charioteer driving two horses: one, rational and calm; the other, irrational and out-of-control. And of course, Pixar’s Inside Out where emotions are represented as little homunculi inside each person.

Then in a literal sense, there is actually a second brain in our gut. Called the Enteric Nervous System (wiki), it is a massive lining of neurons in our gut that is made of the same neural network as our brains. It can run independently and does not need need instructions from the main brain. More interestingly it has some ties to our emotions as well. For example it can apparently trigger anxiety when there’s a stomach infection. So emotions have chemical and neurological causes outside of just the metaphorical ‘heart’.

A chilling scene from Alan Moore’s From Hell

Another book, We are our brains, also drove that last point home quite level. That author leans heavily on the nurture side of things, and showed how a large part of a person’s personality is shaped by the brain and hormones. How hormones like oxytocin, prolactin and vasopressin tune how you bond, how you behave with strangers and children. How an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex leads to greater risk taking behaviour. And so on.

While I’m not an expert in any of these areas, it is fascinating to see how far we’ve come in understanding the interplay of physical, chemical and neurological phenomena in creating the I in all of us.

Books read in October (and a new Kindle!)

My new Kindle

After a spot of reader’s block in the first half of this year, I’m almost back to my old reading frequency these days. After rearranging my bookshelves recently, I realized I didn’t have much space to stock new books.

To try something different I invested in a 10th Gen Kindle. It is really nice! It is very light and also comes with a backlight so I can read pretty much anywhere / anytime. The display is really something.

So this month was a good mix of exploring Kindle Unlimited, buying some ebooks, and clearing some of the backlog from my dead tree collection. The /r/suggestmeabook subreddit was a nice place to get recommendations. Here is what I read:

The Dead, James Joyce

A short and bitter-sweet story.

Mythos, by Stephen Fry

Has his trademark light-hearted air which is really nice sometimes and a bit annoying some other times. Not sure if I’ll continue the series.

I am going through a Greek history/mythology phase right now after having put 80+ hours in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. So Madeline Miller’s Circe is next in my list.

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanidhi

An exquisite book. Not an easy read (emotionally), but so lyrical. Sticks with you long after you read it.