Book Review 2023

Turns out this is my most prolific year as a reader! ”How?”, you may ask. Simple: by listening to me books instead of reading them. I’ve leveled up to 2.75-3.0x speed for audiobooks (depending on content, narrator, etc). Books are far, far more fun to read at this speed than at slower ones. The pace feels ‘correct’ and allows the content to ‘naturally’ dance before one’s mind’s eye.

Indeed, most of the books were rather good and some were rather short (setting aside Casanova’s Memoirs). The highest rated on Goodreads was, lo and behold, only rated by yours truly. I do indeed recommend What the SUFIS SAY by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh if you’re interested in learning about the Sufi encoding of references to the divine in terms of (mostly) female body parts, which is likely to deepen one’s appreciation of Sufi poetry. 

I decided to begin with one of my favorite novels that I’ve now read 3-4 times: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which features odd psychedelics that might even bend the fabric of spacetime itself! 

This year I decided to add some diversity reads to expand my horizon (or personal Overton window). Manicure was pretty wretched as an (audio)book yet accomplished its mission of stretching my mind. As a public service announcement: “getting a (spa) manicure is one of the best things a woman or a man can do!” 

One big focus this year was exploring the capacity of (audio)books to “set the mood” for one. Does listening to some books leave me more angsty in a manner that spills over to the rest of life? Can encouraging self-help books leave me feeling gung-ho and motivated in like manner? The answer seems to be, YES! And you can do it, too!!!

Another focus was ‘graduating‘ dating-advice literature that focuses on “how to meet potential partners” to relationship-advice literature that focuses on “how to harmoniously, joyously, and constructively be with partners”. To this end, More Than Words‘ focus on connection as a baseline from which to communicate was a wonderful beginning.

I’ve also been lusting for paradisaical books where everything goes well, perhaps getting better throughout. The primary categories realizing this dream seem to be: erotic literature, romantic comedies, and slice of life. The creative challenge remains open to develop the genre of paradise porn. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is an example of paradise creation ‘porn’ where most conflicts result in a resolution where almost all of the forces on all sides become subsumed into the Slime’s country in an equitable, benevolent manner.

Just Listen remains a memorable litany to the power of empathetically connecting with people before negotiating win-win solutions.

Alan Roger Currie’s advice remains refreshingly succinct, resonating differently with my increased experience. Zig Ziglar’s tone is impressively motivating to start the day with 😎🔥.

Bertrand Russell remains my ‘favorite’ philosopher. A History of Western Philosophy provides a fabulously brief summary of Western philosophers, their social context, and Russell’s opinions on their theses. One theme this year is doing some background reading on (ethical) philosophy given that my current project of a formal ethics seed ontology is essentially philosophical of nature: it seems best to be able to respond in the affirmative when asked if I’ve read so-and-so (even if most of the time encyclopedia summaries suffice).

Special mention goes to The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde’s final book of poetry, expressing the terror that broke him (all for doing indecent acts with boys). This copy is from the library of my great grandparents, Mildred and Victor Goertzel.

I finally got around to wrapping up Constructing the World, 80% of which was read in 2022, and curiously both sucks and presents some ideas more clearly than one can easily find eslsewhere 🤔. Maybe one day I’ll write up the core interesting ideas sans the obfuscated mess that is the book.

Covering canon eutopian literature, island by Huxley is surprisingly cute and sincere, with many similarities to Brave New World ‘done right’: what would a society that emphasizes human flourishing over maximizing productive capacity look like?

A big discovery this year is Richard Dotts, a writer presenting the spiritual or meditative angle on ‘manifesting’ who was introduced to us by Jeffery Martin who ran this 45 Days to Awakening course I followed. Dotts’ books are around 70 pages apiece, and reading them is a meditation unto itself. With simplicity, he shows how the “manifestation lore” (“law of attraction” etc) aims to help one cultivate certain inner states such that one optimally balances thought as to what one wishes to experience with a relaxed openness to taking contextually appropriate inspired action.

The memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt also deserve special mention for they are ever so sweetly written — the man is a legend for the breadth of his adventures and his way with words more so than the raw count of women he courted. I was surprised at how much he is a hardcore romantic who will do anything within his power for his loves. I strongly recommend those interested in “pick up artistry” to read and consider the life of Casanova:

A philosopher is one who refuses no pleasures that do not beget greater sorrows.

To my surprise, Marie Kondo‘s life-changing magic of tidying up is a marvelously inspiring book when moving into a new flat. The essence is to cherish every single item, making sure it has a good resting place in one’s home.

Braiding Sweetgrass and Sand Talk synergize well together in focusing on indigenous wisdom and how to approach modern life from such a perspective.

Stan Tatkin’s Wired for Love was surprisingly helpful in providing ‘novel’ ways to think about attachment styles and relationships that help one to see how a healthy relationship can look.

And, finally, the time for Taoist Sexual Kung Fu has come into my life with Mantak Chia and the Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy; quite interesting it is to see a spiritual philosophy that embraces the full spectrum of human experience for both development and loving, interpersonal harmony in life. Is not the true master the one who maintains inner peace through the ecstasy of love-making? Quite refreshing and take note:

A power tongue is like a magic wand, sprinkling bliss wherever it touches.

Leil Lowndes blew me away with How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships: I thought the book may be corny and full of cheap advice yet the tips were generally quite sensible and practically oriented. Many follow from a stance of taking genuine interest in one’s fellow beings while maintaining social and circumstantial awareness — elementary.

Reading some books on Ho’oponopono by Luc Bodin and Joe Vitale, I noticed that the ‘cleaning’ process involves a very similar ’emotional cocktail’ to the morning exercises in the 45 Days of Awakening course and loosely to the Brahma-Vihara (the “abodes of Brahma”). The process is to say to whatever triggers one: “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “Please forgive me”, and “Thank you”. Brahma’s abodes are loving-kindness (‘metta’), compassion (‘karuna’), equanimity (‘upekkha’), and empathic joy (‘mudita’). The gratitude and empathic joy don’t really correspond, yet the general attitudinal spaces seem quite close!

Quite cool to see that Marci Shimoff stumbled upon a “happy 100” who seem to exhibit fundamental wellbeing and compiled the lessons she gained from their study. The ingredients are the usual suspects and staple goods in the pantry of wellbeing.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics impressively covers the virtues with lucidity that shines through the ages. Virtues are in-essence domain-specific optimums (‘means’). They had bromance on hard: “the essence of friendship is living together”. “The presence of friends, therefore, is desirable in all circumstances”. This is probably something we wish to bring back 😎.

Polysecure by Jessica Fern provides an excellent introduction to what a secure relationship looks like. Lifting the concept out of the monogamous scope where one relies on self-limiting vows to externally guarantee a superficial sense of security seems to help with understanding what it means to be securely attached with someone.

Last and not least, Heidi was really cutely adorable and actually focused on the same content as all these manifestation books a la the Christian virtue of faith 😜.