The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Straight forward approach, sure, but is the information anything all that revolutionary? And should we be taking advice from someone who has clearly had a pretty charmed life?

2/5 stars.
Paperback,  212 pages.
Read from December 19, 2017 to December 26, 2017.

I decided to give this book a go after reading and enjoying a few of Manson’s articles. However, after enjoying the first few pages the book soon started to unravel and instead of feeling enlightened, I just felt annoyed.

This book has been very successful after having been hailed the anti-self-help novel with Manson’s direct approach and insights intermingled with swearing and a dose of poop jokes, it seems like a self-help book has finally hit the mark in reaching out and understanding the millennial generation. Right? Not exactly. Manson really seemed to enjoy talking about how many girls he use to bang, that he grew up fairly wealthy and about all the great places he has lived abroad. While Manson did put in a ton of work into his writing to be successful, it can’t be denied that he lived a charmed life that does not compare to the average-joe which, is hilarious because while he advocates for people to learn to deal with the trials of life instead of the mantra of “think positively” that many other self-help books advise. It isn’t bad advice in and of itself it’s just entertaining in a way coming from someone who writes about all the great things he has done.

Manson also talks about how social media has changed the meaning of extraordinary to be the new normal, which ends up defeating the purpose of something being extraordinary if everyone can do it. That, I can agree on. I think social media has created a lot of problems for the millennial generation in terms of their self-worth and where they feel they should stack up with others. Issues, that previous generations did not have to face full-blown numerous times a day with no end in sight.

“Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.”

However, Manson then goes on to explain how we should accept our normalcy and that we would be a lot happier if we accepted that we are not going to achieve everything that we dream about. Again, hilarious coming from the guy who has achieved massive success with his writing and in his personal life. Even though the real point he is trying to make is that we should focus our energy on the things that matter and that will bring us more success and happiness. Again, good advice.

“Not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.”

The advice in this book is solid. I can’t deny that, but I would go from agreeing with Manson’s blunt sentiments and thinking about how I could apply to my own life, to rolling my eyes when he alluded to his own life again. I just could not get over feeling annoyed that he was the one giving me this advice. His smug attitude and humour were only amusing for the first twenty pages and there is only so much swearing and joking around that can cover it up.

The book makes reference to some interesting stories and academics and I particularly enjoyed the details Manson included on Willam James, the father of modern psychology. I mean, that is a guy who I would comfortably take life advice from!

Now the irritation that plagued me through this book, is it valid or is it just validating Manson’s points and perspectives on life and is only reflective of my own failures? I am going to say both. It natural to be envious of someone’s success and that can lead to feeling inspired and motivated but the tone of the book is too smug and did nothing but inspired disdain by the time I finished it.

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”

Additionally, Manson made a terrible choice in alluding to false rape accusations in his section on false memories and beliefs. Yeah, seriously… It’s really distasteful and invalidating to rape victims as so many of them do not report their abuse out of fear or not being believed.

If you can separate the man and the ego away from the advice that he is giving than this book won’t be a complete loss to you if you end up reading it. I do think you could find the poignant advice from someone else however if the tone of the book doesn’t sit well with you.

“You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.”

Overall, I am glad that Manson has been successful in his life to the point that he feels the need to share it. Good for him. Truly. But he is far from wise and still has a lot to learn, like the rest of us.

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Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung

“The General will now enter the room.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Read from December 12, 2017 to December 15, 2017.

Who isn’t curious about North Korea? It is a strange and secretive country with an eccentric, peculiar, and potentially very dangerous leader that shuts out the world. How much of the North Korean propaganda is true? Are the people there truly sheltered and do they suffer? If you believe this defector and author of this memoir it will only make you hungry for more information on this fascinating country.

Jang Jin-Sung, a pseudonym for a North Korean man who was a famous and well-respected poet and government official. His life was much easier than many of his other friends and family due to his high ranking status. He was special as he was allowed into the small inner circle of people who got to meet their “Dear Leader” in person due to how well received his poetry was. Jin-Sung worked within The United Front Department (UFD) which is “responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policy-making and diplomacy” and in Jin-Sung’s job he was responsible for writing poetry and praise for North Korea under the facade of the praise coming from other countries, like South Korea. In order to do that, he was allowed to read South Korean newspapers and writings in order to keep with the style and approach of the writers there. The work was dangerous and highly controlled as with new ideas comes the idea that the North Korean regime is lesser. However, Jin-Sung began to question his “Dear Leader” after meeting him in person and after following a trail of dangerous thoughts and actions it eventually made him realise that he needed to defect or risk his life and potentially his whole family’s.

“I was restless with yearning to write realist poetry based on what I saw, and not loyalist poetry based on what we were all told to see.”

The harrowing description that Jin-Sung leaves an impoverished stifled and scared nation of people is hard to read. His escape is tragic and reads like a terrifying thriller that you are too afraid to look away from. I was completely engrossed in the story and was left hungry for more by the end. Books like this and others like them have come under scrutiny for their authenticity or have left many wondering how much was embellished for the sake of publications. It is almost easier to NOT believe that North Korea is a terrible as this book makes it sound as it is hard to fathom that so many people are living in such an oppressed and psychologically inhumane way. If this novel is as true as the author claims, it makes me thankful that my life is my own, that I have food in my belly, and that I express myself how I see fit.

“One reason why North Korea is unable to pursue reform and open itself more to the world is that this would risk exposing core dogmas of the state as mere fabrications.”

Whether you want to believe all, some or none of what is in this book you can’t deny the books high readability and enjoyability. In fact, this book made my top five favourite non-fiction reads of 2017 I enjoyed it so much. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, espionage, North Korea or memoirs. I can assure you that Jin-Sung’s story is not one you are likely to forget.

 

 

 

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

“Forgiveness is moving on. It is a daily act that looks forward. Forgiveness smiles.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 210 pages.
Read from February 20, 2018 to February 27, 2018.

This was the one book in the 2018 Canada Reads that I was most excited for. While the book started slow I was absolutely captivated by the brutal history of this family and was soon not able to put it down.

Sakamoto’s family has a rich, tragic and courageous history. His grandfather on his mother’s side, a white-Canadian from the east coast, joined the war efforts in WWII where he was captured in Hong Kong by the Japanese. He lived and suffered intensely for four years in POW camp. His grandmother, on his father’s side, is a Japanese-born Canadian. Sakamoto details the horrifying things that the Canadian government did to his grandmother’s family and the Japanese living in Canada during WWII, especially after the Pearl Harbour bombing. This is a part of history that most Canadians know little about or the brutality of what we did to our own people. I know I sure didn’t and it really opened my eyes. Canada is often viewed as an untainted and tolerant place to live but our own history is just as stained as others. Additionally, I imagine very few Canadians know of the regiments that served out in Hong Kong and the losing battle that they had to endure.

The book continues through Sakamoto’s family saga and the remarkable ability for his grandparents to forgive was a constant foundation in his life. Can you imagine when Sakamoto’s parents wanted to marry how that might have felt to their own parents? Each had suffered so much from each other’s different ethnicities and tet their powerful understanding, shared suffering, and ability to move forward is nothing short of courageous. Sakamoto also details the difficult upbringing he had with his alcoholic mother and how that shaped his future ambitions and responsibilities.

Mitsue Sakamoto, the author’s grandmother, Phyllis MacLean the author’s mother, Ralph MacLean, the author’s grandfather and Stan Sakamoto the author’s father in Medicine Hat Alberta in 1968. Source: The Daily Mail

Sakamoto’s story is highly emotional and I would be lying if I did not say I welled up in few parts.  The suffering and tenacity of his grandparents and even the death of his mother were hard to bear as a reader. Sakamoto really drew into some great emotional depth with his story-telling. The added pictures in the book were also a great touch as it really felt like you knew his family.

While I ended up loving this book, I did not start off feeling that way. The book had a slow start for me as I was initially unsure as to where this story or memoir was going. I found some of the initial story transitions to be a bit clunky, though once his grandfather set off for the war things smoothed out and the main theme of the story was starting to finally come together.  While I enjoyed the story of his upbringing and the suffering endured by him and his mother with her alcoholism it was a massive shift in the direction of the book. The book was now reading more like an autobiography. This disjointing and lack of connection from his grandparent’s story to his own story was not as successful as the rest of the emotionally enticing parts about his grandparents. While his own story is moving in its own right, the novel just did not feel like a complete whole on the theme of forgiveness.  Even with that,  I decided on a 4-star review instead of 3 for this book because of how the book made me feel and for how intently I could not stop reading certain portions.

As I currently live in Hong Kong, I found the parts of his grandfather’s time there especially interesting.  However, Sakamoto mentioned that Kowloon is part of the New Territories and part of mainland China, which isn’t correct. Kowloon is a part of Hong Kong and is its own district.  Since 1997, China has since reclaimed Hong Kong but it is technically still its own country and many locals would not be happy being referred to as mainland China! It was wonderful envisioning these areas that I know well and what they would have been like during the war.  As a Canadian, it was also intriguing to read about a battle that took place during WWII that I imagine many Canadians don’t know about. There are some historical museums and treks in Hong Kong that I am now anxious to partake in.

So far, I have read 3 out of the 5 books in the 2018 Canada Reads. Compared to The Marrow Thieves and Precious Cargo, this novel is definitely one to “open your eyes” as the horrors of the Canadian government during WWII and the part that those Canadian regiments played out in Hong Kong are remarkable and need to be known. The content of this novel is truly jaw-dropping and extremely relevant in the context of today’s racial issues and learning from our own past. As it stands, this novel best meets the criteria for the debate in my opinion but what will the final two books hold? We will soon find out…