Posts Tagged 'books'

Fight Club – Splinter Cell

After 7 years of unrelenting non-fiction, several brave pugilists have rebelled and created a Splinter Cell where we can finally read and discuss fiction without being heckled about some subjective, and rather limited, definition of “truth” or “reality.”
This weekend Dave hosted Fight Club at his family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, and while the nominal Fight Club selection was “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, the main attraction was “Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov. And, while the discussion of “Born to Run” degenerated into actually throwing the book (Matt) and spilling a glass of perfectly good Irish whiskey, the discussion of “Caves of Steel” was a civilized discussion of science fiction (particularly in the 1950s), the role of technology and automation in our lives, gender roles in the 1950s, and the dystopian nature of science fiction today.
As if to underscore how great “Caves of Steel” and Isaac Asimov are for Fight Club, rather Fight Club – Splinter Cell, Dan found this great interview with Asimov and Bill Moyers. In one part of the interview Asimov articulates what could be the manifesto for Fight Club, rather Fight Club – Splinter Cell:
MOYERS: Learning really excites you, doesn’t it?

ASIMOV: Just yesterday I read about the invention of hay in Freeman Dyson’s new book. The thought that occurred to me was, “Why is it I never thought of this? How is it I never knew about this? What made me think that hay existed from the first day of creation?”

MOYERS: What is exciting about that?

ASIMOV: I think it’s the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.

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Failure as a tool to understand who we are?

Can we for a second go back to one of my favorite topics… Failure?  J.K. Rowling delivered her commencement address to Harvard last Thursday, entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.  (See Video)

In her address, J.K comments that “What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.”  She goes on to state that:

“However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

Kudos to J.K. Rowling… and to my hypothesis… in the absence of life or death circumstances, we NEED to celebrate failure… personal failure, work failure, and community failure… because it is only after peering into the abyss that we truly understand who we are.

The Essential Man’s Library

While we hope the books we read and their subsequent reviews and discussions serve as valuable filter for interesting readings, the reality is we barely scratch the surface when it comes to important writings. In addition, our parameters of non-fiction and 300 pp or less restrict even further the range of potential books. Thankfully, a few guys over at The Art of Manliness have compiled their list of the 100 must-read books for men.

Granted, about 80% of the recommendations are fiction, but I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that for our Fight Club we have read exactly zero of these…


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