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What I’ve been reading this month

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz was a series of case histories collected by a psychoanalyst, with an interwoven theme of coping with loss. While I’ve doubts about the psychoanalytical methods described (and some of the connections between thoughts and experiences were outlandishly fanciful), I was drawn in to reflecting on the conclusions and perspectives Grosz presented. I enjoyed this collection despite myself.
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The same can’t be said for The Road to Character, David Brooks’s best-selling work which argued that the modern world prizes “CV virtues” (essentially listable achievements) above “eulogy virtues” (those people are remembered for). The logical flaw was that Brooks illustrated the apparent importance of “eulogy virtues” by presenting mini-biographies of historical figures remembered for “CV virtues”, demonstrating that CV virtues have, contrary to his central assertion, long been prized. Coupled with a very confused position on religion and a tediously loquacious writing style, this was a slog to get through.
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The Big Short by Michael Lewis is now a major motion picture that I haven’t seen – I’ve mentioned before that I’m rubbish on films. I liked the insight this book gave into the causes of the subprime mortgage crisis, which was rendered understandable even to a fellow like me, with no knowledge of markets or financial instruments. However, I was disappointed that Lewis didn’t delve more into the underlying psychology of the problem. Lewis’s repeatedly expressed view that the people involved acted immorally clouded the more interesting question of what drove the immorality. But that’s a slightly unfair criticism, as I don’t think he ever intended to answer that question, and the book is great nonetheless.
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Sarah Hall’s The Beautiful Indifference was a collection of short stories featuring female protagonists, each of whom had an initially hidden ‘dark side’. I rarely enjoy short stories, and these were no exception. I don’t know why I keep buying short story collections. But the most irritating thing about this collection – and I write this in full acceptance of how pretentious it sounds – was Hall’s punctuation choices, and most particularly of all, the decision not to correctly punctuate direct speech. Combined with her sparing use of any punctuation beyond full stops and commas, the text became leaden and borderline uninterpretable. Rather than finding myself transported by the narrative, I found myself frustrated by having to figure out the literary puzzle of words scattered on a page.
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