Pompous and Ponderous yet Pretty Persuasive: When Nietzsche Wept

In the dark days of my youth, I trained to be a lawyer. As far as I’m concerned my brain is naturally inclined to be, and then was further pummelled into being linear, logical and only marginally creative.  For these reasons, when I have to contemplate the universe (by, for instance, trying to understand the relative size of the earth compared to the observable universe or the gravitational force of black holes) or when I have to ponder existential and philosophical conundrums, my brain really hurts. Give me the legal complexities of a snail at the bottom of a ginger beer bottle any day*.

So it was with some anxiety that I began reading When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.  In addition to the intellectual title and the sombre bookcover, the author photo on the back of the book suggests a man not to be meddled with. He is clearly VERY SMART. Look at this:

Positioned alongside this imposing photo, the blurb tells us that Irvin D. Yalom M.D. is no less than a Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

Consequently, as I turned to chapter one I was fearful for my lawyerly brain.  How much existential grappling would this book demand? Would I survive the plunge into the (for me) unchartered realms of philosophy? Who was Nietzsche anyway?

Happily I can report that my brain and I survived When Nietzsche Wept. Although I didn’t necessarily enjoy this book I am glad I read it.

My Five Favourite Book Covers Right Now

We all know we shouldn’t, and yet we all do. You know what I’m talking about. (No, not that). Yes, that’s right…. Buy a book because of its cover.

As ebooks sales decline and physical books recover some lost ground, some commentators have put this down to the power of the book cover. You only need to go on Instagram for a micro-second to comprehend the appreciation (festishisation?) for the beauty of books –  books being playful with fairy lights, books relaxing on beaches, books lying seductively on beds. You can’t create that kind of reverential ambience with your Kindle Fire or Kobi, no matter what.

As a consequence of this renaissance of the beautiful book cover, when I walk into a bookshop these days, more than ever I think, I’m confronted with a visual feast. This makes it oh so much harder for me to resist – not that I’m complaining too much, mind.

Here are five books I bought recently simply because I love their covers.

Audiobook Nook: The Dalai Lama’s Cat

I’ve developed a tendency to choose audiobooks that have silly titles, like my most recent pick The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie. It’s precisely because it has a silly title that I singled this out one. I’d never heard of David Michie, although he seems quite famous, and I’d never heard of the book either.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat serves as a gentle introduction into Buddhism, as delivered by ‘Snow Lion’, the Dalai Lama’s Cat. If you like the idea of being talked to by a cat about the philosophical underpinnings of happiness, then this book is definitely for you.  If you think this sounds either pompous or ludicrous (or both), you’re right, it is.  But don’t completely write it off.

Her name is Elizabeth Strout: Anything Is Possible

You know that thing where you go your whole life not hearing a name, and then suddenly, you hear it everywhere. ‘Elizabeth Strout‘ did that to me.  I don’t know where I was in 2009 when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, or a couple of years ago when HBO made it into a miniseries.  I think her name may have seeped into my consciousness with last year’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, but not properly.  Now, she is everywhere for me; being interviewed in the Saturday paper, in bookshop window displays and most recently, on my e-reader with Anything Is Possible.

Anything Is Possible is a remarkable book – it’s collection of nine stories but I wouldn’t say it’s a short story collection.

We’re going on a book hunt: Clunes Book Festival in pictures

One weekend a year, Clunes – a small, old gold mining town in regional Victoria, Australia – is host to a book festival. The main street of this international book town is closed off and there are literally thousands of (mostly) second hand books for sale, spread across makeshift marques, stacked in unused shop fronts, shelved in established book shops and crammed into mobile book vans. Some of the book tents smell like moth balls, some are a bit dank, but all of them have that wonderful smell of pre-loved books.

It’s a lovely event, full of old hippies, middle-aged book worms, twenty-something book nerds and even younger booksters. It’s unpretentious, relaxed, rustic bordering on eccentric, and usually a bit cold.

Can you imagine the delight of being surrounded by books, authors, bookworms and cafes for two whole days? In case you can’t, here are my photos to help.  Enjoy – vicariously!