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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Rhenals

Blog Post #115: Book Report, Part 1!

Updated: Jun 10

In April 2020, I ordered a copy of the book, Solitude: A Return to the Self, by Anthony Storr; an appropriate selection given the dramatic lifestyle upheaval brought on by this odious and ongoing pandemic. However, instead of finishing the book and calling it a day, I was inspired to honor this stronger-than-usual reading kick and order another book related to another interest of mine. Well over a year later, I've continued to leap from one book to another in an unbroken chain of habit and I don't plan on letting up anytime soon! Mostly non-fiction selections, the topics for my reading journey have spanned writing, film, art, philosophy, history and psychology but I'm always looking to expand the scope whenever possible.

Here now, I present the first ten entries of my reading series along with a brief review prepared for each book at the time of completion:

10. Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Janaway

Pain, misery and suffering is the rule of existence but in the exceptions of genius, saintliness, beauty and essences beyond the veneer of individuality there may yet be positive value, according to Arthur Schopenhauer. Having delved into other 19th-century luminaries like Freud and Nietzsche, knocking on Schopenhauer's door was a foregone conclusion. This mostly accessible guide to his writings kept me intrigued and helped me tighten my grasp of certain recurring philosophical questions and themes. Overall, a delightful read!

09. Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola

A testament to what author Pearl S. Buck described as "some strange, unknown, inward urgency" in those burdened with the need and drive to create. This book explores the habits, influences and distinctive biographical details behind some of the most famous 20th-century and contemporary authors - 18 in all. Despite the difference in medium, I found some of the creative processes described here relatable and even uncannily familiar to my own. In sum, one of the most encouraging books I've ever read and firmly recommended to anyone interested in the lives of accomplished writers.

08. Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Tanner

A brief, serviceable read intended to help grease the wheels for further exploration into the writings of and about Nietzsche, a figure to whom I owe a great deal for providing some invaluable anchoring throughout the whirlwind of my adolescence and beyond.

07. The Odyssey by Homer

Face-to-face with one of the oldest epic poems in the Western canon! Although I was somewhat familiar with the story of weary but mighty Odysseus, I was unprepared for the sheer majesty of the actual text's language and imagery. I also found the pagan beliefs, values and customs of the ancient Greek world eminently fascinating! And talk about violence! The bouts of carnage throughout this tale give Quentin Tarantino a run for his money! In all, a great read!

06. Jung: A Very Short Introduction by Anthony Stevens

Another enjoyable read! Despite some degree of familiarity, I found Jung's ideas deeply life-affirming and the man himself quite fascinating in this overview of his life and work. His pioneering and widely influential notions about the unconscious, archetypes, dreams, individuation and so much more greatly whet the appetite for a richer understanding of ourselves and the greater mysteries of our existence.

And once again, the A Very Short Introduction series proved a worthwhile investment of time. Highly recommended!

05. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

What more can be said? A piledriver of a book! I regret that I waited as long as I did to plum its depths. Highly recommended to anyone in any sphere of life!

P.S. The title may sound like the author deals in deceit and manipulation (Mr. Carnegie was a salesman so who can blame him?) but that couldn't be farther from the truth. The book is predicated upon strong, ageless values.

04. Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson

An exhaustively researched and entertainingly written account of the intense, passion-fueled journey behind a seismic work of cinema! Loads of fresh insight! Highly recommended to fellow film lovers and filmmakers alike!

03. Freud: A Very Short Introduction by Anthony Storr

"The unexamined life is not worth living." -Socrates

My latest reading excursion finds me appreciating one of the most original thinkers of the 20th century, whose contribution to understanding human motivation and behavior is arguably unmatched in both the field of psychology and the public imagination. While many of Freud's ideas and methods are outmoded by today's science, much is still relevant and one must admire such a rapt, life-long devotion to making sense of our fundamental and often enigmatic human condition.

Also, the A Very Short Introduction series is notable for pairing their topics with acclaimed scholars in the respective field. Highly recommended!

02. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Recommended to me by my dad (one of his favorites). A highly enjoyable read about a rich and productive life, overflowing with sagacity!

01. Solitude: A Return to the Self by Anthony Storr

Psychoanalyst Anthony Storr makes the most compelling argument against the frankly prosaic view of interpersonal relationships as "the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness." Highly recommended, particularly if creative pursuits are your bread and butter. One of the best books I've ever read!

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