Some recent books I’ve read and enjoyed that haven’t been grimdark.
Full show notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2021/01/15/301-2102-recent-reading/
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As is tradition, every season gets a new theme, some of you noticed last week and dropped me a line. Thanks for that. We’ve come a long way from the cheery days of chirpy upbeat chiptune in Season 1 that’s for sure. Sounds O the times.
For the last 2 years I’ve been in a reading hole. A singular focus on reading Warhammer 40,000 books. Since Jan of 2019 I think I might have read in excess of 100? How Michael at www.trackofwords.com manages to read all the books AND review, them I don’t know.
You would have thought that I’d have been burnt out on Space Marines, Boltguns, and Grimdark after 5 or 10 books. But I’ve loved the world since I was a kid. It’s all so pulpy I’ve kept going with it. Every now and again a human character you’ve spent half a book with will get turned into meat cubes. Squished through 1 inch metal grating by a daemon. It’s in moments like that you remember just how absurd Warhammer is as a parody of pulp space opera. All the amps are on 11 all the time, and all the guns are blasting over the din.
I’m only just starting to get burnt out on it all to be honest. So I decided over the Christmas break I should read something else. Rather than alternating between dense academic books and grimdark scifi for 2021.
With that in mind, I’ve just finished reading American poet Jane Hirshfield’s 2020 collection: Ledger.
I read some poetry last year, written by acquaintances and/or friends. But Hirshfield’s Ledger is the first book of contemporary poetry I’ve read for a while.
Ledger was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize last year which is partly the reason I picked it up. I may explore the rest of the short list this year.
Hirshfield’s collection of poems orbit Grief, or rather Death and climate change. As a long time buddest zen practitioner her poems express a very welcome calmness.
The opening of the poem Homs early in the collection is particular great.
Whilst I did not grow up with Pelican’s, I did grow up with seabirds and the sea. Describing their flight as a single sentence is one hell of a living image conjured with words.
It’s a lovely book. 100% Recommend.
I’d also like to recommend Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games by Jon Peterson. The book is a huge tome, and may not be that interesting to non TTRPG nerds. But i’ve had it on my desk for ages and keep coming back to the most fascinating sections.
Peterson has a new book out called The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity. I haven’t received it yet, but I’m looking forward to when it does.
I’ve also recently finished. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
The book is part memoir and of course an exploration of disability in fairytales. It’s a little Disney heavy with discussion of The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast etc.
It examines how fairy tales have shaped our expectations of disability. At times it gestures toward a new world, where disability is no longer a punishment or impediment in Fairy Tales. Instead it wonders allowed about the potential for these tales to re-center the minds of the audience. In a way that allows them to find their own place in a story, and from there, the world.
The last book I’d like to mention is Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. It is without a doubt one of the best books I read in 2020. It’s so good that when I finished it I went back to the beginning.
My review and blurb of the book is also its main recommendation.
“Shut your mouth and Breathe through your nose”
Breath is very much a pop-sci book. Recounting Nestor’s personal journey looking at the physiological effects of breathing. How it impacts health. etc. It’s also a travelogue in form. Using the scientists, yogi’s and colourful characters he meets along the way as springboards into other topics. There’s histories of people doing remarkable things with the breath. Including the story of New York choral teacher Carl Stough who developed breathing techniques to help singers sing with more resonance.
His therapies, it turned out, were even more effective for emphysemics. Stough cured 1000’s of people during his association with hospitals on the east coast. Because it was a personal and tailored to each patient, it was never continued after he left.
Looking at reviews for the book today. It comes under a lot of fire for being to anecdotal. For not presenting double blind studies and meta analysis to prove its case. One review reads “Over-promising, potentially dangerous, pseudo-science book that uses limited to no data to substantiate its claims.”.
If you think that science explains the world, rather than describes it. Then this book isn’t the book for you.
But if you are the sort of person who has an open mind, and has done pranayama or similar in other contexts and found it beneficial. Then definitely check this book it out.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.