No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies

No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life
Heather Menzies
(Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver: 2005)

READ: December 2005 (incomplete)

I'm going to save us all some time and excerpt from my Thursday, December 29, 2005 blog entry titled "Books I Have Known and Hated" (with an obligatory shoutout to Pierre Berton):

That advice ["Why read a book you don't enjoy?"] was exactly what I heeded about two hours ago when I decided, about 112 pages in (with another 170 or so to go), that I was not going to continue reading No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies. Please note - and rejoice in! - its removal from my "Currently Reading" list. I have decided that I, in fact, have no time to read No Time. You know there's a problem with a book about the need to destress and uncomplicate life when every second sentence is roundabout, confusing and just plain perplexing. The introduction to the book caused me to have a minor panic attack. The sentence that caused me to quit? "The nanosecond speed with which symbols can move, morph and be recombined into new patterns of daunting complexity leaves no pause in which these largely anonymous abstractions can be checked out for their relevance to us personally, or as professional teams or institutions." 'Nuff said.

The book was stressing me out. I found it poorly written, as if the author had run out of time and couldn't edit it properly. And I decided, if there really wasn't enough time to do what I need to do in "modern life", I wasn't going to waste any more of it on this book.

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese art of impermanence by Andrew Juniper

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese art of impermanence
Andrew Juniper
(Tuttle Pub., Boston: 2003)

READ: December 2005

For most people, what jumps to mind when they think of the Japanese aesthetic is "all things Zen". Well, Andrew Juniper has gone beyond Zen and provided an introduction to wabi sabi. From the back of the book:

Wabi sabi describes a traditional Japanese aesthetic sensibility based on an appreciation of the transient beauty of the physical world. It embodies the melancholic appeal of the impermanence of all things - especially the modest, the rustic, the imperfect, and even the decayed. With its focus on the delicate subtleties, objects, effects, and environments of the natural world, wabi sabi promotes an alternative approach to the appreciation of both beauty and life itself.

I'm a librarian so probably not even supposed to admit to thoughts like this, but if there was ever a book I didn't want to return to the library and wanted to keep for myself, this book is it. (But I'll be good and bring it back!) I will just have to find my own copy to have and to hold. There are beautiful images, philosophies and ideas that combine to make this a great book. I don't think I can review it any better than that.

Art, Life, and Nature in Japan by Masaharu Anesaki

   cover image not available  

Art, Life, and Nature in Japan
Masaharu Anesaki
(Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn.: 1971)

Originally published by Marshall Jones Company, Boston: 1933

READ: December 2005

This is a slightly weird book, only put into its proper context once you remember it was originally written in 1933. When I started reading it, I found it had a strange "the War never happened at all" tone (and I know, as a general comment, that the Japanese can be all too quick to forget history sometimes), then I remembered its original publication date!

The book is based on a series of lectures given at Harvard University (even earlier than 1933, as a matter of fact) by Masaharu Anesaki, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University. It is a wonderful description of Japanese art of all kinds, though largely focused on architectural forms in Japan. This, of course, tied in closely with my Art History essay topic on the importance of nature in Japanese religious architecture; Anesaki focusing on exactly that for the bulk of the book. It is well-written and easy-to-read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in traditional Japanese culture and/or architecture.

How to Look at Japanese Art by Stephen Addiss

How to Look at Japanese Art
Stephen Addiss
(Harry N. Abrams: New York, 1996)

With a chapter on gardens by Audrey Yoshiko Seo

READ: December 2005

I wrote a paper on the importance of nature in Japanese religious architecture last semester for my Art History class, and this was one of the books I consulted. It was fascinating, and while it didn't offer much towards my essay topic, it provided invaluable context for the larger issue of Japanese art, of which I must admit to being a fan. Stephen Addiss writes in his introduction: What is it about the artistic culture of Japan that can so transform a life? Words alone cannot answer this question; only looking, seeing, and understanding can. But how shall we look at Japanese art in order to truly see it?

This book is both a brief history of Japanese art and a critical exploration of Japanese art styles. Each of the six chapters takes an art-form - ceramics, sculpture and traditional Buddhist art, secular and Zen painting, calligraphy, woodblock prints, and gardens - and looks at the development of this art along with the concepts (mythology, technique, etc.) key to a better appreciation of the art. At under 150 pages, it is a short read and a necessary read for anyone who wants to better understand Japanese art and culture.

The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen by Audrey Yoshiko Seo

The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen
Audrey Yoshiko Seo
with Stephen Addiss
(Shambhala Publications, Boston: 1998)

Paintings and calligraphy by Japanese masters; with a chapter by Matthew Welch

READ: September-December 2005 (incomplete)

I love Japanese art, and Zen art and calligraphy is no exception. But I know very little about it. This is a great book that profiles the key Zen artists, with gorgeous large illustrations. The detail on each artist can be a little preponderous to work your way through, and I never made it through the whole book but have read here and there on the various artists at random, learning more about Zen Buddhism and its fairly unique, recognizable style of artistic expression along the way. If you're interested in this area of art at all, I highly recommend this book.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Malcolm Gladwell
(Little, Brown & Co., New York: 2005)

READ: November-December 2005

I haven't read The Tipping Point, Gladwell's earlier book that was a huge bestseller, but this book, Blink, is quite a quick and interesting read. It basically is about the gut reaction, the instinct - how people often think without actually thinking, and make choices that are much more complicated than they seemed. Of course, the real story is why this works for some people, in some cases, and not for others. Some very bad outcomes have occurred as a result of quick decisions. But likewise, so too does not every well-thought-out plan turn out to be a good idea. This book aims to explore the why of this - the background to how our brains really work and why, in some cases, those patterns mesh well with other attributes or circumstances: "Blink reveals that great decision makers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of 'thin-slicing' - filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables." A little basic for someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology (at least, that was Randal's initial reaction when I told him the premise of Gladwell's argument), but for those of us who haven't, it's a fascinating read. And short. That's a good point in a book's favour, at least sometimes!