Monthly book roundup – 2019 April

Books finished in April:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Exit West: A Novel (2017) by Mohsin Hamid. We follow the conventional Saeed and the rebellious Nadia as they become a couple, experience civil war break out in their country and eventually flee abroad through “magical doors”. Their country is never named and is probably intended to function as any country with these experiences, but it is easy to think of Syria. I was sceptical of the magical aspects, but the magical doors seem just to be a metaphor for escaping and getting refugee status in a rich country, which Nadia and Saeed are able to obtain. In London, and later in California, they try to make a new life for themselves, not without challenges. There is no high politics in the book, only the everyday experiences of Nadia and Saeed. This works well and gives a (short) impression of the lives of the thousands of refugees in the Western world today. Recommended.

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance (2014) by Jack Waitzkin. Josh Waitzkin is something as unusual as a (former) elite chess player and a world champion in a (no-bullshit) martial art. In this book, he tells about his strategies for learning and dealing with challenges in these endeavors. Waitzkin’s story is interesting in itself and many will probably take away some things they can use for themselves. He thinks focusing on chess openings in an early learning stage leads to an unhealthy focus on simply winning as opposed to learning and mastering the game and that it is better to learn the endgame first. At one stage, he was distracted by noise, etc, but then learnt to play with them and practiced with loud music. Interval training good to improve recovery from exertions and release tension. Has a fairly detailed exposition of how he worked with a guy, “Dennis”, working in finance to develop a “hot button” for focus: First, combine a cue with good feelings with something one has been in the desired state when doing, combine several times to strengthen, then use as trigger for focus at work or in other arenas. First long routine, then shorten gradually. Learnt to ignore emotions, then to use them. Use temporary setback, e.g. injury, to develop other, perhaps surprising areas. Many of Waitzkin’s strategies are nothing new, but he also does not present them as revolutionary, what is interesting is how he has applied them to perform at high levels. And, as mentioned, his story is interesting in itself. At the end, I learnt that he is also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, further strengthening his credibility. Recommended.

Ratings and previous books are in the library.

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