The weekend before last, I spent a wonderful weekend in London. The main reason was to go and see the musical Hamilton (which was excellent! If you’re interested I wrote a review) but as myself and my friend Alice are both bookworms; of course, we had to go book shopping. With over 200,000 different titles, it is no surprise that I came home with five of them.
Against Empathy: The case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom
Passed to me from a shelf in the Psychology section, this title immediately peaked my interest. It reminded me of the conversations I have with my sister about politics. I understand that being (she claims over) emotional and empathetic are different, but I am hoping that this shed more light on her side of the argument. It also looks really well balanced. I hope it’s going to be really thought-provoking and an accessible way of learning more about this topic; especially the ways in which our empathy is biased.
In a divided world, empathy is not the solution, it is the problem; a source of prejudice, not kindness. We think of empathy – the ability to feel the suffering of others for ourselves – as the ultimate source of all good behaviour. But while it inspires care and protection in personal relationships, it has the opposite effect in the wider world. As the latest research in psychology and neuroscience shows, we feel empathy most for those we find attractive and who seem similar to us and not at all for those who are different, distant or anonymous. Empathy, therefore, biases us in favour of individuals we know while numbing us to the plight of thousands. Guiding us expertly through the experiments, case studies and arguments on all sides, Paul Bloom ultimately shows that some of our worst decisions – in charity, child-raising, criminal justice, climate change and war – are motivated by this wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Sourdough has been mentioned by a few Booktubers I watch over the last few months. The premise seemed really interesting; believable and quirky. While the name of the author rang a few bells, I didn’t make the connection until I re-read the marvellous Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookshop – they share an author! After this realisation (and a quick shaking of the head over it having taken so long), the decision to make this eye-catching blue and yellow novel a new addition to my collection was unquestionable. I have a feeling this read is going to be a lot of fun.
Sourdough marks the triumphant return of a unique and beloved young writer. Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her – feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?
Hamilton: Founding Father by Marie Raphael and Ray Raphael
Going into any bookshop, let alone one as big as Foyles, without any sort of plan is always a little dangerous: I tend to become like a kid in a candy shop and get carried away, so I made sure I had some idea of what I was looking for. ‘Hamilton’ was written in giant letters. On a previous trip, and knowing that my next musical adventure would be to see ‘Hamilton’, I picked up a copy of Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefeild. It was wonderful (informative, accessible, not at all intimidating; the perfect introduction) and, along with the musical, has helped spark a rather large fascination with the man in question. I knew I wanted to read more, and the American History section did not disappoint. I am hoping that this beautifully illustrated book will provide a bit more information while keeping the pace and excitement of the Kanefeild biography.
An illegitimate child, born in the Caribbean, who arrived in America as a near-penniless teenager, Alexander Hamilton did not seem to have much in common with the rest of the Founding Fathers. However, after serving in the Revolution as an artillery officer and aide to George Washington, Hamilton became one of the foremost architects of the new United States of America. This book explores how his strong personality, quicksilver intellect and taste for combat played into the contentious arguments over what kind of country the young republic would become.
The Bees by Laline Paul
The Bees, a book that I have been somewhat aware of since it’s publication in 2015, was first recommended to me back in the summer and since then it has always been in the back of my mind as something I would really like to read. It sounded fascinating and, besides The Bee Movie (haha), I had never come across anything written from the perspective of a bee before. Why it took me so long to pick-up I don’t know, but I am very excited to read it, especially as I have only heard positive reviews.
Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. But Flora is not like other bees. Despite her ugliness, she has talents that are not typical of her kin. While mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is removed from sanitation duty and is allowed to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. But enemies are everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. And when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all her instinct to serve is overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will lead to the unthinkable …Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar.
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin
This is a book that, until I watched this video from Ariel Bisset, was completely unknown to me. Upon hearing about it though, I knew I needed to read it. I have always been a little sceptical of authors who seem to have a new book out almost before you can read the last (most, but not all), especially when all the works by a particular author follow a very similar plot (… Nicholas Sparks …). whilst, I do find them a little boring – after a reading a few of that person’s works, I tend to be able to predict the story for subsequent reads – I also have to wonder about their motivation. Thinking that it might be all about the money, leaves a bad taste in my mouth but why? After all, authors need money just like anybody. This book tackles that debate, and I am hoping will help me to answer my own scepticism.
A collection of essays from today’s most acclaimed authors-from Cheryl Strayed to Roxane Gay to Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Franzen-on the realities of making a living in the writing world.In the literary world, the debate around writing and commerce often begs us to take sides: either writers should be paid for everything they do or writers should just pay their dues and count themselves lucky to be published. You should never quit your day job, but your ultimate goal should be to quit your day job. It’s an endless, confusing, and often controversial conversation that, despite our bare-it-all culture, still remains taboo. In Scratch, Manjula Martin has gathered interviews and essays from established and rising authors to confront the age-old question: how do creative people make money? As contributors including Jonathan Franzen, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Nick Hornby, Susan Orlean, Alexander Chee, Daniel Jose Older, Jennifer Weiner, and Yiyun Li candidly and emotionally discuss money, MFA programs, teaching fellowships, finally getting published, and what success really means to them, Scratch honestly addresses the tensions between writing and money, work and life, literature and commerce. The result is an entertaining and inspiring book that helps readers and writers understand what it’s really like to make art in a world that runs on money-and why it matters.
Bonus book: Book shopping in the theatre.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Unlike the other Alexander Hamilton biographies I now own, this is definitely an intimidating read. At 818 pages it will also be the most comprehensive study of his life and I am – as had been said a lot in this post – very (very) excited to delve in! What better memento of a book-Hamilton focused weekend than the book that made it possible.
Alexander Hamilton was an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean who overcame all the odds to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. Few figures in American history are more controversial than Alexander Hamilton. In this masterful work, Chernow shows how the political and economic power of America today is the result of Hamilton’s willingness to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. He charts his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe and Burr; his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds; his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza; and the notorious duel with Aaron Burr that led to his death in July 1804.
Many thanks to my sister for taking these beautiful photos for me.
What books have you acquired lately? Have you read any of these, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.