I set myself a pretty ambitious reading target for 2017 over at Goodreads: 60 books. This is part of the reason, I’ll admit, for picking Three Stories by JM Coetzee off the library bookshelf. 70-something pages long, I was able to read it over a train trip into the city. There are writers that are harder to grasp, to get, than others – and it can be frustrating when it seems you’re the only person who feels like this when others sing praises. Coetzee has long been one of those writers for me – but Three Stories has helped turn that around.
Though not before a bit of wonderment as I got underway. The stories were all previously published between 2000 – 2003. So why republish these three then in 2014? (And only three?) It became clearer when I finished the middle story, ‘Nietverloren’ Set in South Africa, it tells the story of a man’s remembering of his pastoral/agricultural roots and how the nature of the relationship to the land is changing in today’s world. I feel that it is a warning: humans are such an expansive – travelling, living – species that we risk losing important traditions. I experience that myself when I go home to my grandparent’s farm and see the abandoned chicken house; the rusted implements in the barn, whose purpose I used to recall easily and now cannot. It’s sad. I’m choking up as I type this, actually. So it was thought-provoking. A final bit of trivia: he delivered the last story when he received the Nobel Laureate in 2003.
Okay, confession time: I’ve not finished Talking to my Country by Stan Grant (I’m about halfway; I’m working on it) and had to abandon The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama because I ran out of possible renewals at the library. Although I’ve heard excellent things about it, I admit I struggled a bit with the political discussion due to my lack of knowledge on the subject. I’m also quite tired at the moment (Surprised? Not me.) and really want to do a re-attempt at some point.
Lucky Last: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. A fat, orange doorstop of a book that Ferriss himself in the introduction dissuades people from reading from front-to-back, but that’s exactly what I did. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, Ferriss is the “human guinea pig” with a long experience in ‘hacking’ successful business and fitness practices and then passes that knowledge along in his ‘4 Hour’ books, web videos etc.
This book is split up into three sections: healthy, wealthy and wise and is undoubtedly stronger in the first half. I had a handful of “ooh, that’s interesting, I should write that down” moments. I particularly enjoy the stories of ultra athletes overcoming bad health (as Ferriss has done, recovering from Lyme disease) and training slumps to achieve great feats again. That’s my jam.
But by the end, I was starting to feel… unsatisfied. Some of the advice was of a privileged nature, advocating for supplements and expensive cooling pads that many people can’t afford to buy. (That’s not atypical in books for entrepreneurs.) But that wasn’t what bothered me – it was when I realised that of the many titans interviewed/featured, only a smidge over 10% of that number were women.
Sometimes in the past when I’ve brought up the subject of the lack of parity of representation of women featured at entrepreneurial or corporate conferences (make no mistake: there is), the person I’m talking to has thrown back at me the word: meritocracy (or words to the effect).
‘If you’re really good enough, work hard enough, have the talent, anyone can be successful.’
It’s a dismissive backhand, and it angers me.
Yes, I know I’m conflating the two subjects in this post – the book and the wider issue. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book (I really did), but whenever I start to think more fully about this subject I get overwhelmed by the complexity of my own responses. Perhaps I should expand my thoughts in another post, maybe I will. But that’s enough for the moment.
That’s what I’m reading this month – what are you reading?