Humble Book Review: Letters from a Stoic

I knew very little of Seneca and of Stoicism before picking up this book, but after further recommendations via Tim Ferriss’s podcast (which you all should definitely be listening to), I jumped right in. What I discovered in Letters from a Stoic was a way of life that I already half-understood and followed even less. But it certainly made me reassess what is truly important.

This ~2000 year old long-form essay, hidden in the guise of a collection of letters to Seneca’s friend Lucilius, forms the basis of the Stoicism movement first introduced by Zeno, some 400 years earlier. Seneca was the first to adequately formulate the central ideas to this movement, which are still quite relevant even in modern times.

Perhaps Stoicism’s main function is the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will that is in accordance with nature, and to avoid destructive emotions. In these letters Seneca speaks of endurance, and the power to expect pain and misfortune, to not be as rocked by it when it comes; of freedom from material wealth, and how to not be a slave to money or possessions; and of doing worthy acts, as opposed to merely studying and quoting others, without yourself contributing anything further.

There are some fantastic lessons to be drawn from here, particularly on resistance to setbacks. Seneca advises that everyone should “set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?'”. If you practice poverty every now and then, if it ever should arise in reality, you will not find it too jarring, and will be able to cope much easier. Tim Ferriss actually does commit to this for a week every 3 or 4 months, and I’d like to do the same.

In the end, Seneca provides something quite apart from the usual philosopher fare, that being a set of useful guidelines and advice for daily life, instead of critical analyses of the world and cryptic turns of logic. Even 2000 years on, people who search internally for meaning or load up at the self-help aisle of the library will find much to like about Letters from a Stoic

“It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers for more.”

Humble Book Review – Night Shift

I find it difficult to review collections of short stories, because there’s quite a mixture of quality. Some stories leave a heavy impact, making you pause and reflect a while before stepping into the next one. Other stories just feel like you’re wading through cloudy waters, rushing to get to the other side to simply shake yourself off. Night Shift, with it’s good late 70’s horror theme, had more good tales than bad.
There is a great mix of themes in all of the 20 stories. Half of them centre around facing the paranormal in unsettling circumstances. An industrial laundry press machine with a demonic possession in “The Mangler”. A boy loses his brother to homicidal bullies as a child, only to see them appear in his class looking the same age and wanting to finish the job in “Sometimes They Come Back”. A astronaut comes back from Mars with a parasite growing inside him, that starts to perceive and hate the Earth in “I am the Doorway”. These largely supernatural tales allow King to flex his creativity and also our mind’s eye, imagining things never-before seen, like eyes growing under the skin of our fingertips. It doesn’t matter if the situations can feel absurd and unreal, you can suspend your disbelief enough to fall into these stories pretty easily.

The other stories focused on the more realistic side of horror and drama, the interactions between desperate characters, and the lengths some people will go. A man considers euthanasia for his dying mother in “The Woman in the Room”. An effective yet traumatising method of quitting smoking in “Quitters, Inc.”. A deadly wager placed on a man caught cheating with a wealthy man’s wife in “The Ledge”. I felt these kind of stories held a more lasting impact, due to the fact that these scenarios, although very unlikely, felt more real. It’s the eternal struggle of human vs. human, instead of human vs. unseen or unknown entity. Character development plays a much more important role here, which helps bring the story to life.

Another great surprise for this story collection, is that in true King fashion, some of the tales revisit known places. “Night Surf” follows a separate group of survivors in a world where Captain Trips has decimated the population, as in The Stand. “Jerusalem’s Lot” takes place over a century before¬†Salem’s Lot, with a collection of letters from Boone’s ancestors, and “One for the Road” takes place two years after the events of the novel, from the perspective of a neighbouring town. One of the major draws to King’s writings is his usually subtle allusions to other works, which really builds upon the entire ‘Multiverse’ he has concocted with The Dark Tower as the centrepiece (Tessie Girl created the best ever representation of most of the connections¬†here).

Overall, the stories are wonderfully varied and offer some great concepts and scenarios. Sometimes the characters felt flat while taking a backseat to the big bad horror in the shadows, but mostly they were good clear windows into worlds we would rather not visit, for our own safety.