Reflections on Themes from Top 10 Book Lists
Brandon Sun, February 12, 2018 – David McConkeyLast week, I wrote about my Top 10 list of recent books that had led me to a better understanding of the world. I also did a list five years ago. While looking over the two lists and reflecting on issues arising, several themes occurred to me.
The first theme is simply the wonder of books! They have been around for hundreds of years, and show no sign of slowing down. Open a newspaper, go online, listen to a podcast – often the content is generated by a book. Consider the characters, settings and plots of fiction; the facts, ideas and observations of non-fiction; interviews with authors and news about their lives; and adaptations for film, TV and online.
There are great new books every year. Plus, we still have the existing ones: to be purchased or borrowed from the library, as well as for buying in used condition at such venues as book stores, online, and the Rotary book sale.
And books are resonating as a vital alternative to the digital world. We are increasingly recognizing that our attachment to the internet and to our electronic devices can become soul-draining addictions. One book on the list five years ago introduced this subject, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
Two books this year continue this theme: The End of Absence and The Revenge of Analog.
I sense a surge in the zeitgeist of big questions. More people are wondering about how to live more meaningful lives. Conventional assumptions are under scrutiny. One example is the upending of workplace and social relationships with the #MeToo movement.
There is anxiety because of problems like addiction. There is the mismatch between many traditional ideas and the 21st century. There is also a growing realization that our minds have trouble dealing with the complexities of the modern world.
And, looming just ahead are disruptive technologies – like artificial intelligence, genetics, automation, robots and virtual and augmented reality – that will change everything we know.
And then there is the really big picture. The Doomsday Clock is at two minutes to midnight. This is the closest since 1953 to the possibility of human-caused global catastrophe.
Quandaries range from the worrying to the hopeful. Reflecting some of the big questions are these books: The Atheist Muslim, Being Mortal, Doing Good Better, Firewater and The Undoing Project.
A perfect example of a big question that we have trouble comprehending is climate change. Somehow this topic seems too big, too difficult and too scary. And the decades-long campaigning to grab our attention has failed miserably. This is the gist of the book, Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.
How can we shake ourselves out of climate complacency? One way could be something beyond dry facts and statistics. So, I am delighted that a friend and local author, Craig Russell, has penned an intriguing novel about global warming, Fragment.
Then there is the elephant in not only the room, but also the entire world: Donald Trump. How could the most affluent, educated and sophisticated population in the history of the world elect such a leader?
Only one book, On Tyranny, is about this new era. But a flood of books are coming, and they could well dominate future lists!
We come back to books. Timothy Snyder, the author of On Tyranny, notes the relationship between the reading of books and the critical thinking of the citizenry.
“The classic novels of totalitarianism,” Snyder writes, “warned of the domination of screens, the suppression of books, the narrowing of vocabularies, and the associated difficulties of thought.” He reminds us of novels like George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In those stories, the populace is immersed in TV; books are banned and burned.
We are in great danger today. We are often lost online in our mind-numbing devices. The leader of the free world is a “clown genius” who doesn’t read books, but is a social media “master persuader.”
Challenge ourselves and enhance our well-being? Create a resilient civil society?
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