A Typology of Book-Reading – Part II: Moods for Comprehension

In the second part of this article series, I identify twelve different subjects (including sub-types), which I classify by their ideal mood for comprehension; whilst also providing examples and photographic samples to support the description of each type and sub-type.

The major subjects of literature—but what are the ideal moods for reading them?

Introduction

Having long had a personal interest in seeking and reading the most substantial literature available, I have in the process acquired an experience of book-reading that covers all of the major subjects in literature. As a part of this experience, my mind naturally formed classifications of the qualities and uses of each subject; as well as the particular ‘moods’ I found to be best suited for engaging with their different characteristics. The aim of this article, then, is to clarify and share this experience by making these classifications—hopefully to the interest, if not to the benefit, of fellow book-readers.

The twelve categorized subjects are as follows: Philosophy, History, Sociology (inc. Anthropology), Psychology, Communication & Media, Science, Exposé, Fiction, Literary Study, Entertainments Study, Personal Development, Reference.

Two-Fold Classification

Subjects & Sub-Types

Firstly, this classification of books forms a categorization of the most common subjects of literature, for which I have written concise descriptions summarising the character and value of each one. The categorization also includes distinguishable sub-types, for the purpose of more fully displaying what a subject has to offer.

Moods for Subjects

Secondly, each description is followed by a concise evaluation of the subject, which is intended to suggest the optimal purpose and mindset for reading works relating to that particular field: these evaluations I have termed as the mood of the subject, meaning to suggest the conditions most suitable for reading works of that field.

Purpose

In the characterization and evaluation of the most significant subjects for book-readers to explore, this classification is intended to provide a perspective on the various spheres of literary thought available; which I imagine appealing mostly to the individual who is accustomed to, or interested in, reading books of substance with regularity.

Although most of the subject categories are conventionally named, I have actually termed them to best suit the meaning that each subject has to my mind—which is not necessarily the conventional meaning: This will become evident in the descriptions for each subject, which are concise and are to be taken as a generalization. The sub-types I have identified are also unconventional, in that I have termed most of them myself; and they are limited, in that they could be expanded much further.

Essentially, then, the typology here represents a survey of the prime locations for intellectual stimulation—be it via knowledge, theory, or creativity; and offers guidance for the effective navigation within and between the essential spheres of thought.

Examples and Samples

In support of the classification, I have included examples of books that represent the twelve subjects and their sub-types, including photos and descriptions for each book. The sample pages were selected to display the nature of the book’s contents, i.e. to show as broadly as possible what that book has to offer in terms of its specific matters of discussion (although this was easier to achieve with some books than others, depending on the structure of the Contents pages and details within the synopsis).

As with the Part I of the Typology, the examples and sample pages are not necessarily the best ones—but on the whole, I think they represent the classifications well enough to afford the reader a more useful reading of this typology.


Categorization of Subjects

Philosophy

The subject of Philosophy can best be described as a pool of wisdom, in that it essentially represents the form in which thoughtful and intelligent people directly express their understanding of Life and Nature; and who generally accompany with it the principles of righteousness they have discerned from such an understanding.

The spirit with which philosophers deliver their wisdom ranges from the humble sharing of it, to the absolute assertion of it. However, the quality and thus usefulness of a work is independent from the spirit with which it is expressed—by which I mean that works of authors at both ends of the spectrum equally have their uses: indeed, they may even be said to complement each other.

Ancient (Philosophy Sub-Type)

Ancient Philosophy Books are those written by philosophers in the pre-Christian era.

The Book of Chuang Tzu
 (circa 300BC)

The ancient (Eastern) philosophy of Chuang Tzu.

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (1979)

If Whitehead’s statement is an exaggeration, it is not a large one. By this I mean to suggest that for one who is interested in the subject of Philosophy, the writings of the ancient philosophers cannot be overlooked—and should really be the place to start, as all that followed them is essentially derivative variations of their knowledge and hypotheses.

Furthermore, the ancient philosophies also tend to be parabolic in form; and this characteristic is a beneficial one, in that it provides a contrast to the direct form* conventional to Modern Philosophy, thereby exercising one’s mind in a distinctly different manner.

*The Ancient Philosophy that founded the Western style of directly expressed assertions is The Basic Works of Aristotle, as shown in Part I of this series.

Thus does Ancient Philosophy offer immense value in both its philosophies and in its forms—both of which are exemplified well by The Book of Chuang Tzu.

Modern (Philosophy Sub-Type)

Modern Philosophy Books are those written by philosophers since the Renaissance.

The Philosophical Works of Descartes, Volume 1
(1628-)

“I think; therefore I am.”—Descartes, The Rules for the Direction of the Mind

The Rules for the Direction of the Mind (Descartes most famous work) serves as a good representative of Philosophy, in that it is directly concerned with the process by which one comes to acquire knowledge and wisdom.

In terms of style, Descartes writes in a spirit of the humble sharing of wisdom*—which can be contrasted with, for example, the unapologetically assertive spirit exemplified in the writings of Nietzsche (which is not to say that one style is better than the other).

*Mind you, Volume 2 is composed entirely of Descartes’ responses to philosophers’ criticisms of the works in Volume 1!

On Living and Dying
from the works of J. Krishnamurti (circa 20th Century)

Krishnamurti was a unique philosopher, speaker and writer from India.

Krishnamurti is quite a unique modern philosopher, in that he was not really an author but a speaker, travelling the word to give talks on the most basic (i.e. essential) aspects of modern life. Thus his books mostly take the form collected transcripts of his talks, sometimes categorized by topic or theme; and offer a distinctly personal experience of philosophical stimulation, in which a supremely ‘down to earth’ man invites the reader to inquire along with him: into the things in life that truly matter.

Intellectual Exercise and Contemplation of Life (Mood for Philosophy)

The realm of philosophical literature is best considered, primarily, as a gymnasium for the intellect; and secondarily, as a resource from which to assist the development of one’s understanding of Life. As with physical workout, the intellectual workout offered by Philosophy can at times be laborious and tedious;—but as with physical workout, it is ultimately invigorating and strengthening.


History

The field of History is mainly represented by scholars who research and study available literature and artefacts to form a cohesive and revealing perspective of the past. Thus, the essence of History is a perspective made possible by hindsight (i.e. by way of the records, artefacts, and documents collected).

The field of History is also represented by historical works, i.e. those written by authors contemporary to the events depicted by their work;—most notably, those of ancient and medieval origin, for their societies are far more removed from present day society than those of more recent history.

Thematic (History Sub-Type)

Thematic History Books form an account (usually linear) of the continuity or development of an idea, behaviour, or technique.

Ideological (Sub-Type of Thematic History)

Apocalypses – Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Throughout the Ages
by Eugen Weber (1999)

Apocalypse as the history of an idea.

Published in 1999 – i.e. at the peak of the Y2K ‘apocalypse’ fears – this historical survey of Apocalypse as a societal and ideological theme serves (and intends) to reveal that the theme of apocalypse still has significance to our millennial modernity*.

*Indeed, the major themes of the movies and series produced since the millennium have more than supported Weber’s claim—and more importantly – i.e. worryinglythe news is catching up with them!
“…when I woke up this mornin’, could’ve sworn it was judgment day,
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere,
Tryin’ to run from the destruction, you know I didn’t even care,
Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time…” –Prince, 1999 (…released in 1982!)

Behavioural (Sub-Type of Thematic History)

Sex in History – Society’s Changing Attitudes to Sex Throughout the Ages
by G. Rattray Taylor (1954)

Sex as the history of a behaviour (Torture would be another eternal one—although far less agreeably, of course).

History Books that trace the ‘evolution’ of a particular activity – such as sex – are valuable in providing some perspective on the essence of a human behaviour—without which one’s conception of it would exist only through the invisibly distorting prism of his own culture*.

*Although in recent culture, the distortions are kaleidoscopically visible!

Technical (Sub-Type of Thematic History)

From Crossbow to H-Bomb – The Evolution of the Weapons and Tactics of Warfare
by Bernard and Fawn M. Brodie (1973)

From Crossbow to H-Bomb… which is fifty years out of datei.e. you should see the things they’re cooking up now!

Histories tracing the development of anything based on technique tend to be implicitly based on the story of Progress, in that the ‘progression’ is typically evident even in the layout of the Contents.

In any case, Technical Thematic-History Books will generally have appeal only should one have an interest in a technical theme; although some themes also contain sociological significance, such that of From Crossbow to H-Bomb: as the subject of Warfare is highly associated with the political and economical spheres of Society.*

*See the discussion of the article The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation in my Transhumanism series.

Specialized (History Sub-Type)

Specialized History Books are based on theme, but are set on a particular time, place, and/or people.

Technology and the Ancient World
by Henry Hodges (1970)

A specialized historical perspective on the theme of Technology (and the theme of the Ancient World too, for that matter).

In contrast to the Progress-oriented form general to Thematic History, Specialized History Books focus their theme on a particular time, place, or people; thus enabling one to gain deeper insight on a theme by way of a highly particularised examination of it. Alternatively (or additionally), Specialized History offers a variety of especially distinct topics to be explored in their historical context, thereby enlarging the scope of subjects and themes available for historical study.

Thus a history of Technology would be well complimented by the book Technology and the Ancient World, which depicts the nature and significance of the eternally present – and increasingly pervasive invasive* – phenomenon of Technology.

*Black Mirror anyone?

Analytical (History Sub-Type)

Analytical History Books are specifically designed towards an interpretation of History or a particular history.

A Study of History
by Arnold J. Toynbee (1946-1957, Abridged)

A Study of History: arguably the greatest work of analytical history ever made.

Analytical History – i.e. the analysis of History, rather than the presentation of it – is a crucial sub-type of this subject, in that it is focused on deriving the meanings of historical events. Essentially, then, Analytical History seeks to reveal the lessons of history—which is (or should be) precisely the point of reading history in the first place.

For someone who reads history books with an interest in understanding – i.e. not merely an interest in reality-based stories – I know of no work superior to that of Toynbee’s A Study of History—the calibre of which is indicated by its Contents pages* alone.

*Of this volume, that is, being one of two volumes—which together are a mere abridgement of 12 volumes!

Broad (History Sub-Type)

Broad History Books are large in scope, either being a history of the world; or of a contemporary nation from its origin*.

*See the book A History of India in Part I of this series.

The New and Revised Outline of History – Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind
by H.G. Wells (1920/1931)


Being exemplary of conventional History – i.e. a narrative account of past events (—which is in itself a historical convention) – it is no coincidence that Wells, the prominent writer of fiction, has equally excelled in writing his educational Outline of History: as both History and Fiction are based on narrative—that is, storytelling.*

*Thus H.G. Wells has become historical himself!

Stories and Illustrations of the Cycles of Life (Mood for History)

Above all, the reading of History serves to broaden one’s awareness of the various scenarios that arise in Society; thereby enhancing one’s ability to put his life’s experience of society – including his immediate society – into an increasingly sharpened perspective.


Sociology

Being concerned with collective human behaviour, works in field of Sociology – with which I here include works not officially in that field, but from which I nevertheless derive sociological insights – have a general accessibility, in that they involve the discussion of relatable phenomena, i.e. that one can mostly relate to from experience. This inherent relatability affords the reader the opportunity to evaluate or estimate the accuracy of the portrayals and theories presented by the author, with more immediacy and to a greater degree than with subjects of a more technical nature.

Furthermore, the subject matter of sociological writings often directly addresses fundamental aspects of life, which it seeks to explain. In these combined characteristics – fundamental significance that is commonly accessible – Sociology offers the most valuable ratio of effort to reward, in that comprehension is not dependent; evaluation is intuitive; and explanations serve to reveal the context of Life (thus Sociology frequently draws on other subjects – most notably History – to demonstrate or illustrate its points).

Thematic Sociology (Sub-Type)

Thematic Sociology Books examine an aspect of Society; and in some cases, also have application to primitive or ancient society (i.e. as well as civilized or modern society).

The Nature of Prejudice
by Gordon W. Allport (Abridged Edition, 1958)

Prejudice: an exemplary sociological theme to study.

The Nature of Prejudice is an excellent representation of Thematic Sociology: for everyone knows the meaning of prejudice; and that it is a significant sociological phenomenon;—but this merely amounts to knowing that prejudice is bad and pointing the finger when detecting its presence*.

*Strictly in other people, of course (“Me, prejudice? Inconceivable!”)

Hence the study of socially significant themes – i.e. behavioural phenomena that has universal and eternal social significance – can be incredibly stimulating to one’s own understanding of social phenomena: by way of the (often revealing) information and the discussion around it*, one’s subconscious (and thus unformed) thoughts about particular social phenomena are awakened to consciousness and invited to develop further by engaging with freshly relevant ideas.

*Judging purely by all those Parts, Chapters, and subheadings, Allport has left no stone unturned in his quest to discover the nature of prejudice.

Specialized Sociology (Sub-Type)

Specialized Sociology Books are based on a theme, but are set in a particular time, place, and/or social strata.

The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character
Abridged by the Authors David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney (1955)

The Lonely Crowd: A work of sociology based on a substantial theme, focused on a particular nation—and, given the globally cultural influence of the nation in question, the theme is one of worldwide significance.

Although The Lonely Crowd is based on the study of pre-60s America – and is thus ‘Specialized’ Sociology – the theme is highly significant in the understanding of the Western culture that followed it, i.e. Postmodernism*.

*Which at this point (and actually long before it) must be deemed as having ‘progressed’ into Postmillennial Postmodernism (or Postmodernism 2.0, perhaps).

Basically, I regard theme of The Lonely Crowd (or at least the implications of it) as being ‘the infantilism of the West’; or even ‘the wussification of the West’*. This book thus serves as a good example of how Specialized Sociology can focus on a specific time and place; and can yet still have profound relevance to contemporary society (i.e. despite its apparently distant setting).

*Made-up both terms—couldn’t decide which is better!

Desire to Understand Life (Mood for Sociology)

For one whose book-reading endeavours are oriented primarily by a desire to understand Life, works in the field of Sociology will tend to appeal to him more often than other subjects—especially if he is aware of the range of topics and themes that have been studied in this field: Indeed, practically anyone presented with a broad list of such topics and themes – even in the form of book titles* – can be sure to find at least one that resonates with him (and perhaps which he didn’t even know existed) to the extent that he will find it enjoyable to read.

*See the Sociology books list in my Bibliography.

Anthropology (Sub-Category of Sociology)

As a sub-category of Sociology, the field of Anthropology is an important one in that it consists of a more direct study of human societies and cultures; which thus serves to broaden one’s awareness of the structures and functioning of Society in its different manifestations.

Patterns of Culture
by Ruth Benedict (1935)

Anthropologists intensively and directly study the ways of human life—in this case, so as to reveal the patterns of culture.

As I think the Contents pages of Patterns of Culture indicates, the work of Anthropology is to essentially anatomise cultures;—and collectively, works of Anthropology serve to anatomise Society, i.e. in revealing its constituent elements by way of extensive classification in the study of cultural and social phenomena.

Thus although Anthropology generally uses Primitive Society as its subject and object of study, such studies may complement the more familiar objects of Sociology towards a deeper understanding of one’s contemporary society*.

*Consider, for example, the warning of Avatar: that a techno-wielding civilization got its ass kicked by a bunch of ‘primitives’!

Particular Interest in Societal/Cultural Case Study (Mood for Anthropology)

In relation to its parent field of Sociology, works of Anthropology typically involve a more study-like reading experience in that one is essentially invited into the world of the anthropologist, being a society considerably foreign to the reader; and which the author thus strives to depict and dissect, often in a highly methodological manner.

This essential difference makes writings of Anthropology generally less accessible than those of Sociology—but only in the sense that it is concerned with less relatable – if not unrelatable – aspects of Society, or particularities of social behaviour: Indeed, Anthropology seeks to reveal the essence of man’s individual and collective behaviour within Society; and which it generally does in a scientific manner that is quite distinct from that typically found in Sociology.


Psychology

As with Sociology, writings in the field of Psychology have a general accessibility, in the sense that they are ultimately concerned with the processes of thought; and are hence something any individual can relate to from experience and investigate for himself.

Aside from the various mechanisms of the mind, works of Psychology also reveal the various types of personality to be found within society; and in some cases, take the form of a close examination of a particular personality type.

Thematic (Psychology Sub-Type)

Thematic Psychology Books examine an aspect of the mind that has a general if not essential relevance to people.

Functional (Sub-Type of Thematic Psychology)

The Psychology of Perception
by M.D. Vernon (1962)

Perception: the very basis of human functioning.

Functional Psychology is concerned with the fundamental functions and capacities of human consciousness, i.e. perception and thought in the context of basic human functioning.

Thus by reading a study on perception, one can raise to awareness* the largely unconscious processes that influence if not determine his judgements about the surrounding world.

*Not to mention the illusoriness of appearances, such as in the example shown here: I could still swear that that second line is longer than the first!

Conditional (Sub-Type of Thematic Psychology)

The Anatomy of Dependence
by Takeo Doi, M.D. (1981)

Behaviours of dependence: important to the Japanese—but relevant to all.

As opposed to Functional Psychology, which is concerned with the fundamental operations of the mind and which therefore relates to humans in general; Conditional Psychology is concerned with aspects and conditions of the mind in particular cases, environments, or contexts.

In this book, a Japanese psychologist discusses a sociological phenomenon – the concept of amae – which he believes to be of great significance in the society of his homeland. He also believes that this concept has a parallel in Western society—and yet, it “has been strangely neglected by Western psychologists and psychiatrists”: Thus does the field of psychology offer insights with significance and relevance to all.

Specialized (Psychology Sub-Type)

Specialized Psychology Books examine a theme concerning the mind, but within a particular context.

The Self – Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation
by Robert Jay Lifton (1993)

Protean – from Proteus, the ancient Greek sea-god – means versatile, mutable, or capable of assuming many forms; and carries (positive) connotations of flexibility, versatility, and adaptability.*

*Hence in today’s fragmented age (as Lifton essentially suggests): ya betta proteanize yo self!

Given that Western culture and civilization has become increasingly fluid and unstable over the last century; and particularly, from the 1970s onwards;—it is unsurprising that innumerable books in the field of Psychology have been and continue to be written specifically in order to address the resulting variety of novel problems, so as to help alleviate the various (and perhaps unprecedented) psychological pressures they produce.

The Protean Self is thus an excellent example of Specialized Psychology: for it identifies and describes the nature of the modern age in terms of its effects on the psyches of individuals; so as to directly address* the psychological side effects that commonly go unnoticed, let alone untreated.

*i.e. To correctly identify the effects, their cause(s), and the appropriate treatment of them towards a genuine solution.

Understanding the Factors and Variations of Individuality (Mood for Psychology)

Primarily, reading works of or relating to Psychology serves to create perspective on one’s conscious and subconscious faculties and tendencies, by examination of the mental processes involved. Secondarily, Psychology serves one’s endeavours in trying to understand other people, particularly or generally; which in turn, also supports one’s understanding of social processes.


Communication & Media

The subject of Communication & Media relates here to anything that conveys meaning (which is why I consider Architecture to be one of its sub-fields); and is understood as essentially serving to reveal the hidden mechanisms by which we absorb and form meaning.

This comprises of the study of Language and Speech, Symbolism and Visual Perception; and effectively, these studies support one’s investigations into the fields of Psychology and Sociology: for the perception and thoughts of individuals, groups, communities and nations are mediated by – i.e. conditioned bylanguage, speech, and symbolism.

Symbolical (Communication & Media Sub-Type)

Symbolical Communication & Media Books concern the study of symbols in their various forms (including language).

The Labyrinth – Symbol of Fear, Rebirth, and Liberation
by Helmut Jaskolski (1994)

While books that study symbols in general are more important to read, those that study a particular symbol can be highly rewarding too—in large part because such studies are usually concerned with a symbol of seemingly eternal significance.

One never suspects the incredible degree to which people are surrounded by symbols—which is precisely why the study of symbolism can be an eye-opening (and perhaps, an all-seeing eye-opening) endeavour.

In order to best acquaint oneself with the symbolic form of communication, books that form a survey of symbolism* offer an excellent way to do so, broadening one’s awareness of the various types of symbols in the process. Additionally, books that thoroughly investigate and reveal the history, multiplicity, and interpretations of a particular symbol can also be fascinating to read—such as Jaskolski’s book on the symbol of the labyrinth.

*See the book The Lost Language of Symbolism in Part I of this series.

Not to mention the fact that symbolism is used heavily in fiction; and therefore the study of symbols can enhance one’s ability to interpret such fictions—as for example, those puzzling labyrinth-themed movies, most notably: Inception, The Shining, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Name of the Rose, Cube, and of course, Labyrinth, starring David Bowie—but not the TV series Westworld, the plot of which seems to have been lost in a scriptwriters labyrinth…

…and come to think of it, Pac-Man; who perhaps represents the Capitalist consumer (i.e. Cap-Man) trapped in a labyrinth of endless consumption; whilst being chased by ghosts (i.e. Communists) who are hell-bent on putting an end to his insatiable existence.

Pac-Man: a labyrinthine critique of Capitalists (—and thus, created during the Cold War by ‘Namco’, i.e. Com-Man!)

Sociological (Communication & Media Sub-Type)

Sociological Communication & Media Books examine communication and/or media in its relation to society and/or individual perception.

Understanding Media
by Marshall McLuhan (1964)

Understanding Media—which ultimately means: the psycho-sociological implications of media.

Communication & Media examined in the context of Sociology is really an essential sub-field of study to at least familiarise oneself with: for it seeks to reveal the myriad ways that individuals – and society in general – are utterly conditioned (i.e. subconsciously) by the techniques of communication via media.

Further still, it is not merely the techniques and content of media that conditions one’s mind, but the nature of a medium itself that does so. This is the message that Marshall McLuhan – a.k.a. Mr. “The Medium is the Message” – has addressed so thoroughly in his numerous books—and I know of no better text on this theme than his book Understanding Media, which enables the reader to do just that.

Artistic (Communication & Media Sub-Type)

Artistic Communication & Media Books examine the social and/or psychological significance of art.

Ways of Seeing
by John Berger (1972)

Art: far from merely being “in the eye of the beholder”.

With the dominance of electronic forms of media as conveyors of (the now digitized) arts, traditional art has all but lost its social significance and power of influence. However, it is important to remember that the digital arts are simply an embellishment of the techniques of the traditional arts—right down to the pre-historic cave painting.

Thus while studies of traditional art will of course be appreciated by the art connoisseur, they can (and perhaps should) also be of benefit to one who has taken an interest in understanding the modern forms of art—for in both cases, the same essential techniques are employed to encode meaning into an aesthetically seductive form.

The book Ways of Seeing testifies to the ever-present significance of traditional forms and works of art: as although I was not familiar with, or particularly interested in, the works of art featured in its illustrations; I was interested in the author’s use of those pieces of art to illustrate the principles of communication employed in their creation—from which, it could be said, one can broaden his ways of seeing.

Decoding the Conveyance of Meaning (Mood for Communication & Media)

In a way, the field of Communication & Media speaks to the predicament of the individual who – like Neo in The Matrix – senses that there is much more to appearances than meets the eye: for once he begins to investigate, he will find that appearances generally contain substantially different meanings than are commonly attributed to them.

Essentially, then, studies relating to communication or media can be thought of as revealing the duplicity inherent in social mediation* (to one degree or another)—be it via a visual, aural, or audio/visual medium.

*“Welcome to the real world.”—Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)


Science

Offering the methodical study of Nature, Man, and Technology, works in or related to the field of Science provide one the opportunity to explore the elements and technicalities of his world. Furthermore, the theses of such works often carry implications – indirectly if not directly – on the future of society and civilization: for the field of Science is most explicitly representative of the idea of Progress; which is essentially propelled by the innovation of techniques. Thus, the explanation and speculation of techniques is thereby a major constituent of scientific works.

Biological (Science Sub-Type)

Biological Science Books relate to the nature or modification of the body.

The Living Brain
by W. Grey Walter (1953)

The human brain: undoubtedly the most significant organ known to man; and thus the most important area for biological study*.

*…and modification? (Be careful what you wish for!)

While works of Biological Science may not be the most exciting sub-field of Science, they are certainly the most significant: for they reveal the nature and workings of the aspects vital to human life and functioning*;—and within this sub-field, the study of the human brain is, I think, the most interesting.

*See the book The Nervous System in Part I of this series.
Ergo I am!

Technological (Science Sub-Type)

Technological Science Books are studies of technologies or scientific techniques.

Turing’s Man – Western Culture in the Computer Age
by J. David Bolter (1984)

Turing’s Man—i.e. me and you*.

*And probably your parents too!

Technological Science is probably the most fascinating and exciting sub-field of Science to explore—largely because Western civilization is obsessed with technology to the extent that it practically dictates its culture and social forms;—and, whilst continuously transforming both with increasing rapidity.

Thus does this semi-technical book on the continuing influence of Turing (i.e. in the form of ubiquitous computerization) remain substantially relevant, in that it allows one to place his increasingly computerized environment into both its historical and technical context.

Geological (Science Sub-Type)

Geological Science Books concern the study of the planet(s).

Biography of the Earth – It’s Past, Present, and Future
by George Gamow (1962)

Appropriately titled a “Biography” of the Earth – particularly since Global Environmentalism has ordained the Earth into a living entity, i.e. a goddess; or Gaia –George Gamow’s* book is thus not quite as dull as its cover suggests.

*Appropriately named author too!

Although it can be interesting, I find Geological Science to be less rewarding than Biological or Technological Science, for the reason that it is concerned with objects too massive and too distant for one to have any direct relation with. However, it is still very worthwhile to at least familiarize oneself with the nature of the Earth and the Solar System, including theories concerning their history.

Technical Elucidation and Futuristic Speculation (Mood for Science)

Works belonging to one or more categories of the various sciences thus serve best towards establishing a basic understanding of Life’s fundamentals; which are commonly taken for granted. The significance of this lack of understanding is represented above all by common ignorance concerning the nature and functioning of the human body: for it is the vessel through which one experiences life.

Tending to be technical in nature, or at least including a substantial amount of technicality, the reading of a scientific book generally creates an academic atmosphere, in that it necessitates studious attention and comprehension. However, provided that one selects a topic of sufficient interest to him, he will ultimately appreciate the unique effectiveness of the methodological and technical nature of the content.

Additionally, books within the sub-field of Technological Science tend to be more fascinating, if not exciting: for they are concerned with the rapidly advancing field of Technology; and often include thought-provoking and wondrous projections as to the forms of future technologies—not to mention their potential implications in the transformation of society.


Exposé

By the word Exposé is (here) meant a work that presents an alternative perspective on anything considered to be common knowledge, or that could be deemed as being official ideology, i.e. it is a perspective that conflicts with, if not directly refutes either common knowledge or official ideology. Such works commonly involve the revelation of unmentioned or suppressed information; and/or the re-interpretation of unquestioned information.

For the individual who can withstand the indirect social pressures to conformity of thought on matters of significance, the Exposé can serve to stimulate one’s own thoughts regarding socially accepted ‘facts’ for which he has perceived substantial discrepancies—albeit that it is often a provocative stimulation; and given that it will almost certainly contain its own discrepancies.

By the use of discernment – in the evaluation of ‘fact’ and ‘counter-fact’, ‘explanation’ and ‘counter-explanation’ – one can utilize Exposé for its ultimate value: that it often sheds light on underlying social mechanisms—usually by way of – i.e. under the guise of – presenting the events in question as being exceptional to the norm. In other words, Exposé can serve as a kind of occultic sociology, in that it generally exposes covert practices that operate beneath the veil of common society—and yet which operate in manner no less organized than the regular and institutionalized social activities beneath which they are cloaked.

Historified (Exposé Sub-Type)

Historified Exposé Books concern the revelation of details and events that preceded the 20th century.

The Elixir and the Stone – Unlocking the Ancient Mysteries of the Occult
by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (1997)

Historified Exposé: revealing details and events that occurred long ago.

Essentially a work of history, this book is nevertheless more appropriately classified as Exposé—not because it reveals previously hidden information (which I don’t recall it doing), but because it presents its information in the context of correcting society’s false modern paradigm, i.e. that Science – let alone Modern Science – is not really what it claims to be…*

*Ooooh, how mysterious!

Modern (Exposé Sub-Type)

Modern Exposé Books concern the revelation of details and events of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Earth Rising: The Revolution – Towards a Thousand Years of Peace
by Dr. Nick Begich & James Roderick (2000)

Earth Rising: cool cover—disturbing contents

Earth Rising represents a supreme example of a Dissonant Book, which is a book-type often found in the genre of Exposé. Unsurprisingly, Modern Exposé is often concerned with worrying technological trends*—this literary trend itself becoming increasingly evident with each successive era since modernity began (which here I consider as being the start of the 20th century).

*Have I mentioned Black Mirror?—Hang-the-DJ on, I’ll Be Right Back… [ctrl+f…] Oh Bandersnatch: what a Metalhead I am.—Although on second Playtest, it’s definitely worthy of deeper reflection—so just Shut Up and Dance!
To which I would add: the more recent the publication, the more reason you will have to avoid be worried by what is says!

Sociological (Exposé Sub-Type)

Sociological Exposé Books concern the revelation of events and/or techniques with an emphasis on societal repercussions; and which generally involves the distinct social influences of particular groups on recent or contemporary society.

The Hidden Persuaders
by Vance Packard (1957)

‘Advertising’: practically a euphemism for ‘manipulation’*, as this book essentially reveals.

*Thus why ‘commercials’, i.e. commerce, became ‘adverts’, i.e. adverse:—turn on your TV right now and tell me it ain’t so!

Invariably, the Sociological Exposé amounts to, in a word, mass-manipulation*—a characteristic I think is well indicated by the title of this book: The Hidden Persuaders, which is considered a sociological classic in this sub-field of Exposé.

*That’s right, the hyphen makes it one word.
In the sub-field I had to designate myself, that is, as the closest I have seen to such a classification is “The Hidden Persuaders was the first book to expose the hidden world of ‘motivation research’”…

Generally speaking, an exploration into the sub-field of Sociological Exposé will reveal the disturbing extent (and prevalence) of such manipulations.*

*Indeed, they are often of such sheer blatancy and skulduggery, it is sometimes difficult to not find a sense of amusement in their ridiculous machinations and our blissful ignorance of them…

Heretical Information and Occult Sociology (Mood for Exposé)

If one has an uncommon interest in any topic – meaning he feels a need to investigate something that society has effectively deemed unquestionable or unworthy of acknowledgment at all – the Exposé presents the inquirer with a realm of clues, if not answers, to matters about which he has perceived a significant lack of satisfactory explanation within society.

Being generally concerned with revealing information and ideas that conflict with official ideology, a work of Exposé is hence commonly considered to be abhorrent—a reaction that relates to the psychological term ‘cognitive dissonance’.

The significance of this is in the form of a two-pronged psychological discomfort: Primarily, the commonly intolerable sense that being associated with this information in any way will result in, at the least, being perceived as a characteristically foolish person; and at the most, being treated as a reprehensible or even a hazardous person. Secondarily, the Exposé invariably presents an undesirable perspective; or is at least based on considerably undesirable notions. Hence are such writings suitable only to the individual who values truth above comfort, evidenced by his basic willingness to resist any emotional reaction that averts his mind from genuine investigation.

Further still is the consideration that even for such an individual, it is best to engage with Exposé – such works being provocative, dissonant, and often depressing in nature – when his mind is prepared for the information and his mood is suitable for the experience.


Fiction

Primarily in the form of novels, Fiction not only offers a means to pleasantly exercise one’s mind in richly creative language and imagination, but it also serves as a vehicle (for the author, that is) to express ideas: indeed, Fiction is actually inseparable from the expression of ideas—and is therefore inherently ideological.

Fiction thus provides a realm within which one can engage his intellect in multiple dimensions:  intellectual enjoyment, in the exercise of comprehending the language and following the story; aesthetic appreciation, in the observation of creative techniques and artistic skills employed; and critical analysis, in the interpreting if not deciphering of embedded ideas and meanings.

Classic Novel (Fiction Sub-Type)

Classic Novels are works of fiction written prior to the 20th century.

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
by Victor Hugo (1831)

In The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the architecture of medieval Paris is itself a major player in the dramatis personae.

As a supreme example of the value of Fiction, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is a novel that fully deserves its status as a classic: featuring sophisticated language used for aesthetic excellence; and a richness of meaning beneath its attractive surface—this popular classic is one that truly fulfils the potential of the genre of Fiction*.

*And then some: the author even takes a chapter-long digression to explain the significance of architecture—and it’s as good as the work of top scholars in that field!

 The enticing synopsis of a true classic work of Fiction.

Modern Novel (Fiction Sub-Type)

Modern Novels are works of fiction written in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
by Agatha Christie (1926)

As a sub-genre of the Crime novel – which may be the most popular genre in modern times – the Detective novel was most famously popularized by Agatha Christie, who has written 66 such novels*.

*15 of which include the word ‘murder’ in the title!(—not that the other 51 don’t have murder in the story, of course.)

Modern novels have lost much of the sense of romance and honour found in the classics: indeed, novels since the modern age show an increasing interest – which in contemporary times, borders on obsession – for portrayal both in and of a more explicit nature.

Who hasn’t seen, or heard of Hercule Poirot? Ah, but have you read a novel featuring the curly-moustached, hyper-punctual Belgian?

The sub-genre of Murder Novels – or Detective Fiction: a euphemism amounting to the same thing – seems to be the most popular in modern times*; and whilst novels of this genre don’t really appeal to me, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd did, after having seen it referenced based on a substantial particularity of its plot

*Particularly with women, for some reason (—it can’t be because of anything we’ve done, can it men?)
Not gonna say what it is though

Science Fiction (Sub-Type of Modern Novel)

Science Fiction Novels essentially involve stories generated from the ideas and concerns of the Science contemporary to the author; and are often set in the future.

The Caves of Steel
by Isaac Asimov (1954)

Perhaps the second most popular genre of Modern Novel (i.e. after the Crime novel), the Science Fiction novel may be the most significant in modern times, for it is inherently concerned with prophesizing the nature and impact of Progress.

As a sub-genre of the Modern Novel, the Science Fiction Novel tends to be relatively impoverished in the literary sense—in large part due to the fact that teenagers have always been its primary target for a reading audience. That aside, the value of Science Fiction is clearly in the ideas it introduces—and practically invents: it is no exaggeration to say that Science Fiction has not only prophesized most if not all the developments in Science, the technological ones above all; but it has also influenced these developments into Science directly*.

*See the discussion of the article What Inspires Them: Science Fiction‘s Impact on Science Reality in my Transhumanism series.

Perhaps the most popular writer in the history of Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov pioneered (in the 1940’s) the Robot sub-genre—which is significant not as a prophesy of human-like robots gradually taking over society, but as a prophesy of society’s belief in Artificial Intelligence, followed by its acceptance of A.I. gradually taking over society.

As it happens, The Caves of Steel – Asimov’s first robot novel – is also a Murder/Detective Novel, thus dovetailing the two most popular genres of modern times—to which I would add, it does very well on both scores, making for a suspenseful yet thought-provoking reading experience.

In this way, Science Fiction writers like Isaac Asimov* basically give society a heads-up on the technological march of Progress, including its transformational effects on society’s forms and norms.

*The Three Cause of Mr. Robotics:
1. isAAc = Mr. Robot has a “double AA” in his name (—I’m guessing they’re rechargeables)
2. a-sim-ov = a sim(ulation) of (—how strangely appropriate)
3. I.A. = A.I. (—spookily allusional)
—How’s that for prophetic?!

Graphic Novel (Sub-Type of Modern Novel)

Graphic Novels are works of fiction in the form of compilations of Comic Book stories, essentially if not actually (i.e. some are extended comic books created specifically for this format).

V For Vendetta
by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1988)

You’ve seen this face before, i.e. in real life ‘hacktivism’—but have you read the story it got hijacked from, i.e. this Graphic Novel?

Being essentially a long comic book, the Graphic Novel is the least literary form of Fiction in that the images are the main attraction and the text is simplified to that end. More specifically, its form being designed to appeal to teenagers makes for stories and language that tend to be shallow; and mature only in an essentially infantile way (similar to the average action movie).

Crafted with sterling clarity and intelligence, V for Vendetta brings an unequaled depth of characterization and verisimilitude to its unflinching account of oppression and resistance.”—Now that’s a Graphic Novel worth reading.

However, there are some interesting Graphic Novels that deal with substantial themes in a more mature way—V For Vendetta easily being the best one I have “read”* in this respect.

*i.e. Even with a Graphic Novel as good as this one, I can only barely consider it to be “reading”.

Epic Poem (Fiction Sub-Type)

Epic Poems can be considered as the poetic equivalent of a novel, being a (relatively) long narrative; and they can be either verse (rhyming or blank) or prose in form*.

*Indeed, most classic narrative poems are available in both rhyme and prose, due to the preference of different translators.

The Divine Comedy
by Dante Alighieri (1308—1320)

Epic Poems are far from being novels, generally having been written in times preceding that form of literature. However, they are, in essence, stories—and not short ones, either.

Since the Epic Poem has long gone out of use as a form of storytelling, they remain only in the works created in the pre-modern eras: therefore, they are written in and/or set in times and places that are highly foreign to a reader of today. Hence, it is best to find a version of the poem that includes a critical introduction and annotations, particularly since these poems tend to be allegorical and include references and allusions to things that are obscure in today’s world— The Divine Comedy being one of the most revered examples of this.

Generally, one needs to put their study hat on when reading an Epic Poem: for it is typically laden with references and meanings that will be obscure to the modern reader. Hence it is highly advised to select a good edition, i.e. one that features a critical introduction, as well as explanatory notes—which together will allow one to understand and appreciate the poem, where he may otherwise have not been able to do so at all.

Reading an epic poem is thus best approached as a studious activity, in the sense that one must make the effort to properly contextualize the poem in order to appreciate its style, themes, and meanings.

Play (Fiction Sub-Type)

Plays are works of dramatic composition (i.e. stories) – written by playwrights – consisting mostly of dialogue between characters and intended for theatrical performance (i.e. rather than just for reading).

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
by William Shakespeare (1599-1602)

Shakespeare: not only is he the world’s most famous playwright, but he is also responsible for much of the English language still in use today*.

*And with this RSC edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, you can get all his plays in “one fell swoop”(—Macbeth)!

As the Play represents the Novel and the Film in their original form, the reading of a play is not unlike reading a novel or a movie script. However, as plays are written to be performed, i.e. in a theatre, the reading of them makes for an interesting variation of storytelling literature.

Compared to the Novel, the characters in the Play are listed in dramatis personae and identified whenever they speak or act: these features effectively make the story easier to follow—particularly when compared to novels that are vast, complex, or poorly written. Furthermore, the movements and gestures of the characters are often indicated, as opposed to being elaborately described, which makes the Play more focused on the pure speech and actions of the characters (i.e. there is no narrator to embellish or create the story, which is instead formed essentially from the words of the characters themselves).

Relaxing and Enjoyable Intellectual Exercise (Mood for Fiction)

Provided one has knowledge of substantial works – passively, by being attentive to references; if not actively, by seeking good references – books of Fiction thus serve best as a more relaxing and enjoyable method of exploring a particular theme: I doubt that there is a any substantial aspect of life, or truth of contemporary society, that is not represented if not depicted in at least one work of fiction: By way of symbolic and allegorical meanings, Novels represent very important social phenomena, albeit with varying degrees of aesthetic skill.

Intrinsically, however, Novels in fact serve as vehicles for ideological expression, in that the author constructs dramatis personae through which to (i.e. by way of a story) dialectically deliver ideological expressions. In other words, a particular ideology is intended to be subconsciously accepted by the reader; whilst a competing ideology (or ideologies) is set-up to be discredited*;—and often, with the characters who enact these ideologies also serving to be representative of them, i.e. in the form of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ role models.

*A most prominent (i.e. obvious) example of this is the report (perhaps a myth—but nevertheless an applicable one) of Abraham Lincoln’s comment “Is this the little woman who made this great war?” upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin—for the publication of that novel was undoubtedly one of several events in the 1850s that led to the Civil War.

Finally, Fiction is sometimes used to serve as a vehicle for the revelation of truths that would be problematic to reveal through any other means: as Albert Camus – Nobel Prize winning philosopher and author of both fiction and non-fiction – once said of authors: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”


Literary Study

The field of Literary Study is concerned with the analysis and critique of Fiction. Varieties of approaches to Literary Study include the analysis of technique, e.g. narrative; the analysis of form, e.g. poetry; and the analysis of genre, e.g. science fiction;—as well as the analysis of a particular book or franchise; or the historification of a type of literature.

Analytical (Literary Study Sub-Type)

Analytical Literary Study Books examine the structure and/or function of literary forms and/or genres.

Narrative Fiction
by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan (2002)

Most lovers of Fiction, I would guess, read it without examining – or even questioning – what it is.

For one who enjoys reading substantial works of Fiction, a book like Narrative Fiction can offer a kind of revelatory experience, as it essentially lays bare the structure of Fiction as a mode of communication. Such anatomization thereby allows the reader to become conscious of the various elements and techniques involved in Fiction, as well as to perceive the unconscious processes they activate.

Historified (Literary Study Sub-Type)

Historified Literary Study Books form an account of (or a guide to) the literature particular to a time, place, or genre.

Trillion Year Spree – The History of Science Fiction
by Brian Aldiss with David Wingrove (1986)

Science Fiction: an especially relevant genre to read a literary history on.

Books that trace the development of literature are essentially works of History, thereby offering value in that sense, i.e. primarily in depicting the social contexts of particular literary styles and works.

However, I have found Historified Literary Study to be particularly useful for broadening one’s awareness of various forms, styles, and works of literature: thus from such books – such as Trillion Year Spree – I have often discovered many substantial and interesting works to read, each for particular reasons.

Effort towards the Enhancement of Fiction (Mood for Literary Study)

Essentially, Literary Study offers to reward the reader’s efforts by enhancing one’s understanding, appreciation, enjoyment, and ultimately, utilization of Fiction; which it does primarily by its revealing analysis—both in the artistic and psychological/sociological sense. Such analysis enriches one’s capability to intellectually profit from both the form and content of Fiction’s unique method of conveying meaning.


Entertainments Study

The study of subjects relating to Entertainment covers the entertaining arts; that is: Film, Television, Music; and also including Sports and Theatre.

Just as Literary Study serves to enhance one’s understanding and enjoyment of Fiction, Entertainments Study serves to enhance one’s engagement with works of entertainment in their various forms.

Analytical Film & TV (Entertainments Study Sub-Type)

Analytical Film & TV Books examine the form of either medium; or of a particular genre; or of a specific film or TV show.

Form (Analytical Film & TV)

Visible Fictions – Cinema, Television, Video
by John Ellis (1992)

Notice how the title is printed three times on the cover, with the letters of each title being filled with a pattern that symbolizes each of the three forms of “visible fiction”: film reel for Cinema; three coloured dots for Television; and horizontal lines for Video—thus is this cover designed to indicate that the book consist of an analysis of form.

Similar to Communications & Media, works studying the form of Film and TV reveal how these mediums are designed to deliver particular types of content, including the techniques involved and how they affect the viewer.

Being published in 1992, Visible Fictions explains and contrasts the forms and effects of Cinema and Television during the era preceding the proliferation of TV channels, let alone that of the Internet and streaming video services. Nevertheless, the formal, psychological, and cultural analysis within the book is still largely applicable to understanding the “visible fictions” of today.

Seeing as TV and Film have overwhelmingly become the predominant means by which people absorb information and consume entertainment, the analysis of these forms of media should really precede the discussion – let alone the analysis – of any particular film and television programme.

Genre (Analytical Film & TV)

Alien Zone – Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema
Edited by Annette Kuhn (1990)

Analysis of a particular Film or TV genre can be highly enjoyable and rewarding for one who has a personal interest in that genre. Alternatively – or additionally – analysis of a genre can be equally enjoyable when purely based on its social significance—which in this case, is Science Fiction*.

*Indeed, this book was written at a time when Sci-Fi was still considered to be a nerdy sub-culture. Now, however, the cinematic landscape can itself be called the “Alien Zone”—as evidenced by the top grossing movies of the last decade: explicitly or implicitly, almost every single one of them are Sci-Fi!

There may be no more important genre of film to analyse than Science Fiction, in the sense that it is essentially the representative of Progress—and Progress is essentially the implicit religion of this now thoroughly ‘secularized’ civilization.

Thus Sci-Fi films tend to have more going on in them than most: in terms of form—primarily in special effects; but more significantly, in terms of ideas—which are essentially antagonistic to the traditional – even logical – ways and understandings of anything*.

*Which, no doubt, is why they are often so fascinatingly strange!

Science Fiction, then, is a genre specifically designed to seduce the viewer with anti-traditional – anti-normal – possibilities of life;—and more importantly, these ‘ideas’ have historically shown a tendency to become reality sooner or later: in fact, it may be more accurate to say that Science Fiction is the agent of Progress…

Specific (Analytical Film & TV)

Seven (BFI Modern Classics)
by Richard Dyer (1999)

The analysis of a favourite film, or a sophisticated film*, serves as an enjoyable way to intellectually engage with the medium of Film—Se7en certainly being a sophisticated film, is also an excellent film and a favourite of mine*.

*And a favourite of yours: for to not love Se7en is to commit the eighth sin!

A particularly easy and enjoyable way to exercise one’s intellect in the realm of Entertainment Study is by reading an analysis of a favourite “visible fiction”—a book for which to do so generally being available for most popular films and series.

By reading such a book and then re-watching the film afterwards, one can learn so much more not only about the hidden depths and subtle aspects of that particular film, but also about the techniques of filmmaking and the principles of audio/visual entertainment.

Further still, there are films and series that have such immense sophistication in various aspects that they are actually worth watching and studying for this reason alone, i.e. regardless of whether or not they appeal to one’s tastes as entertainment.

Socio-Historified Film & TV (Entertainments Study Sub-Type)

Socio-Historified Film & TV Books chronicle the development of the art or industry; and/or its relation to society.

Life: The Movie – How Entertainment Conquered Reality
by Neal Gabler (1998)

Seeing that now, in the third decade of the millennium, it is practically impossible to deny that “entertainment conquered reality”, Gabler’s account of how this happened is just as relevant today as it was upon publication (i.e. over three decades ago).

History on an aspect of entertainment – including the sociological aspects of that history – is yet another excellent way to gain a perspective on the forms and products of entertainment that have come to dominate the attention of society, i.e. how they came to do so; and in what ways they are doing so.

Additionally, by reading Socio-Historified Film & TV Books such as Life: The Movie, one tends to discover old films and TV shows that seem particularly interesting—which is noteworthy especially in the online age, in that today it is generally easy to purchase or stream older films and shows.

Analytical Music (Entertainments Study Sub-Type)

Analytical Music Books examine the nature and effect of Music.

Music and the Mind
by Anthony Storr (1992)

Music: perhaps the art form most seductive in its influence of the mind.

I would say that of all the arts, Music is the one that universally and historically has the most influence on Society. This is partly because Music is invisible, in the sense that the listener is powerfully affected—yet without being able to see what it is that is creating this and that effect.

As the Contents page indicates, Music and the Mind is a concise but insightful overview of the nature of music and its effects on the mind—and ultimately, “The Significance of Music”.

The study of Music is thus a highly significant subject with a general relevance. However, its essentially opaque nature quickly becomes evident to anyone not familiar with its language, as studies generally require the reading of musical notations, not to mention the understanding of the terminology and concepts involved. Therefore, Music is a less accessible form of entertainment to be studied (compared to Film, for example) because it is the only one that is invisible;—and thus, Music necessitates the learning of its language and technical concepts before one can really engage with its analysis.

However, there are books that discuss the subject of Music aimed at those unfamiliar with its language—Music and the Mind being the perfect example of such a book: for it seeks to explain the nature and significance of Music in a way that can be comprehended by all.

Insightful Music (Entertainments Study Sub-Type)

Insightful Music Books form a story of a musician or an aspect of the music industry.

Prince – A Pop Life
by Dave Hill (1989)

Prince: regardless of how one feels about his music, its themes, or his persona, there is probably no better musician to investigate the history and nature of, i.e. if only as a means to gain an insight into Music and its industry.

Books that take the reader behind the scenes (usually by way of extensive research) of a musician, or of the music industry more generally, can serve as an indirect form of analysing the nature and effects of Music; which provides a more accessible and entertaining means to engage with the world of Music (i.e. relative to Analytical Music Books, which are often of a technical and scholarly composition).

Dave Hill’s Preface for his book Prince – A Pop Life serves as an excellent representative of what one should look for in an Insightful* Music Book: for he explains his interest not only in writing a music biography of Prince – whose work and character are both highly significant in the music world – but also his interest in conducting “real journalistic investigation”, so as to produce a musician biography of true substance, i.e. one that reveals the personal, social, and cultural contexts of the main themes of Prince’s music, as well as that of his notoriously enigmatic stage persona.

*As Hill points out, the book-stalls are packed with sanitized biographies – both authorized and unauthorized – and he had no interest whatsoever in merely adding one of his own: Thus to his credit, Prince – A Pop Life exemplifies everything an Insightful Music Book should be.

Sociological Sport (Entertainments Study Sub-Type)

Sociological Sport Books examine Sport or a particular sport in its relation to society.

War Without Weapons – The Rise of Mass Sport in the Twentieth Century, and its Effect on Men and Nations
by Philip Goodhart M.P. & Christopher Chataway (1968)

Did Sport become the ultimate pacifier? And if so, how much longer will it pacify?—Thus does the Sociological Sport Book investigate and reveal the social significance of Sport.

As Sport clearly plays a major role in Civilization, the study of Sport should have appeal not only for those who have a deep interest in sports; but also, for anyone seeking to understand the workings of Civilized Society.

War Without Weapons is a good example of such a study—which takes its title from George Orwell’s observation (in his 1945 article The Sporting Spirit) that “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

Insightful Sport (Entertainments Study Sub-Type)

Insightful Sport Books consist of critical storytelling about a sport; which generally features degrees of technical information.

Burning Rubber – The Extraordinary Story of Formula One
by Charles Jennings (2010)

Being one of the most popular and technically significant sports in the world, it is well worth taking a ride with the (extraordinary) story of Formula One.

By reading a well-researched (or insider-authored) chronicle of a particular sport, one can go behind the scenes in a way that enriches his perspective of the nature of that sport—often in terms of the psychological factors for the sportsmen; the sociological influences of and upon the sport; and the technical factors typically under-appreciated by the average viewer.

The Insightful Sports Book can thus serve to enjoyably enlarge one’s perspective of a sport, thereby enhancing his appreciation of it; which can also serve to further one’s understanding of the human, social, and technical aspects involved in Sports.

Intellectual Engagement with the Entertaining Arts (Mood for Entertainments Study)

In the discussion of inherently enjoyable things, books offering insight into the mediums and content of entertainment serve best as a refreshing break from the study of more academic or serious matters. Ultimately, the value to be found in acquiring such insight stems from a desire in the individual to no longer be a passive spectator and thus mere consumer of entertainment, but to engage intellectually with the products of entertainment.

By utilizing expert analysis and discussion, one stimulates his awareness of the form and content of various entertainments, which serves to enhance one’s appreciation and enjoyment of entertainment—particularly by the study of its most substantial products (i.e. the most artistically and socially significant films and filmmakers; music and musicians; sports and sportsmen—rather than merely the most popular).


Personal Development

Personal Development is here broadened from its official category to include any book read with a personal intent, i.e. over and above any academic, intellectual, or professional motives. Thus instead of the meaning associated with its genre, Personal Development here signifies a mode of practical investigation: the reading of any book specifically for practical purposes towards personal ends (i.e. even if it is not officially categorized as Personal Development)—the value being to acquire ideas from which to adjust one’s behaviour or attitude in a particular aspect of life, or in life generally.

General (Personal Development Sub-Type)

General Personal Development Books consist of information for the improvement of personal or interpersonal behaviour.

Unleash the Warrior Within – Develop the Focus, Discipline, Confidence, and Courage You Need to Achieve Unlimited Goals
by Richard “Mack” Machowicz (2008)

General Personal Development Books, like this one, are aimed at guiding one to develop the qualities that will enable him to achieve his life goals (i.e. as opposed to specific goals).

Unleash the Warrior Within is a good example of a conventional Personal Development Book, in that the form and style is clearly that of an author who has developed a philosophy for success in Life; and who explains it in a manner designed to teach and encourage any type of person and reader—or in the other words, the book is instructive in an accessible and motivating manner.

Personal Development Books are often aimed at providing a formula for general success in Life, i.e. by explaining principles that can be applied to almost any aspect of Life. There are, however, a whole variety of contexts that such philosophies are presented in; such as religious, scientific, or (as in this case) militaristic; and it can thus be beneficial to consult the Personal Development philosophies of individuals who come from entirely different backgrounds: for while each may offer what may be similar wisdoms to share, each will have derived them from and explained them through experiences that are unique to their particular way of life (be it due to the place and time of living, or the activities of their profession).

Health (Personal Development Sub-Type)

Health Personal Development Books are based on information intended to correct or further one’s understanding of health and disease, towards the improvement of physical wellbeing.

A New IBS Solution: Bacteria – The Missing Link in Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
by Mark Pimentel, M.D. (2006)

Disease: something we’d all rather not think about or talk about*—perhaps to our own detriment.

*Let alone read a whole book about!

Whilst there are many sub-categories of the Personal Development genre – i.e. books formed to guide not Life in general, but a particular aspect of Life – those concerned specifically with Health have an obvious importance. This is especially so when considering the artificiality of modern food and the debilitating diseases this has caused—both of which have occurred to a degree unprecedented in the history of Civilization.

Although most people find it most convenient (and comfortable) to simply follow both the dietary and medicinal conventions, i.e. so as to deliberately avoid as much significant information as possible concerning both; there are others for whom this ignorance is not at all convenient (even though it may be comfortable), either principally or practically. For such individuals, the attempt to at least educate oneself of the possible factors involved in maintaining health in the modern world can be a difficult, uncomfortable, and even futile endeavour (depending on the nature and degree of any afflictions he may have).

However, reading such books can at the very least help one develop a more accurate understanding of the causes of modern ill health (i.e. as opposed to the official confusion regarding the causes and cures of diseases*, as it continues to become more labyrinthine): From this understanding, one can develop an informed and philosophical attitude to the seemingly intractable problem of modern ill health (i.e. rather than to simply adopt the officially designated cycle of Disease ↔ Medication → Surgery, whilst believing in the confounding principles it is based on).

*Indeed: it seems that “Everything We Eat Both Causes And Prevents Cancer”!

Spiritual (Personal Development Sub-Type)

Spiritual Personal Development Books are concerned with the nature of the spirit, including its afterlife.

Glimpses of the Beyond: The Extraordinary Experiences of People Who Crossed the Brink of Death and Returned
by Jean-Baptiste Delacour (1974)

Although not actually a book of Personal Development, both the nature and presentation of its subject matter can serve to enrich one’s thoughts concerning the spirit and its afterlife—and perhaps even the meaning of human life itself.

It must first be stated that Science has thoroughly expunged the concepts of Spirit and Afterlife from Western culture—whilst conveniently replacing them with commercial and digital equivalents in the process*. Hence for anyone who senses that Spirit and Afterlife are actually essential aspects of human existence; and who wants to properly explore these important concepts;—intelligent discussions and substantial works of research concerning these matters therefore must be sought-out.

*A recent and most illustrative example was broadcast in the BBC television drama Years and Years, in which a dying woman tries a new procedure to convert her consciousness into data so that it can be uploaded to the cloud, where she can continue to exist).
Furthermore, the subject of spirituality in this sense is essentially relegated to the domain of Religion; and it is therefore difficult to find the subject being discussed outside of the context of a particular religion (i.e. by a scientist or secular individual, as opposed to an advocate of a religion).

Glimpses of the Beyond is thus a rare book in that it takes a scientific attitude in a non-religious context, in order to genuinely question the nature and implications of the non-physical aspects of the human being.

Problem Solving and/or Inspiration Seeking (Mood for Personal Development)

Reading a book in the Personal Development genre; or reading any book specifically for a purpose which is personal in nature, is best suited to the periods in one’s life during which he has a strong desire to achieve a particular personal goal; and he has found a book that speaks directly to the nature of that goal.

The book may be inspirational, engendering motivation and confidence in tackling the challenge it concerns; but primarily it will be instructive, so as to reveal the nature of that challenge whilst providing ideas towards the accomplishment of its goal.

Reference

Books officially categorized as ‘reference’ are by design not intended to be ‘read’ as one would read through a textbook or novel, but are designed for looking-up concise definitions or short entries of explanations, as and when they are needed. However, it is in some cases profitable to read a Reference Book from cover to cover, perhaps skimming and skipping entries one finds to be of no (current) relevance to him.

Better suited for such use are Specialized Reference Books appealing to particular interests: for example, rather than reading the Dictionary, which would be laborious and perhaps pointless, one could read a dictionary of terms or an encyclopaedia of facts relating to a specific subject, genre, or theme.

The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought
edited by Alan Bullock, Oliver Stallybrass, and Stephen Trombley (1988)

At close to a thousand pages of double-column small-print text, The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought is as comprehensive a Reference Book as it can be.

The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought is an excellent example of a dictionary that has a general relevance and usefulness for anyone wanting to expand their awareness of important concepts. As with all dictionaries, an up-to-date edition is always preferable (and is in some cases necessary); however, it should be remembered that literature published nowadays is designed to suit the mentality of the Internet generation, which is substantially – maybe even essentially – different to that of the previous ones.

This excellent synopsis perfectly captures the potential value to be had in reading a Reference Book from cover-to-cover.

Therefore, one may find (as I do) that the older Reference Books have much to offer that the Internet does not, both in terms of their content and form: hence, I primarily use the best reference books I can find on all subjects, regardless of – and sometimes because of – how ‘out-of-date’ they are considered to be. Conversely, the Internet does of course have much to offer that a library of books does not; which is why I utilize it often for its unique advantages.

Reference Books and the Internet can thus be used in a complimentary way that gets the best out of both of them—one of these ways being to occasionally read a Reference Book from cover to cover, making the most of its cohesive form and often superior (‘outdated’) information (i.e. that online sources – most notably Wikipedia – have no interest in offering).

The Devil’s Dictionary
by Ambrose Bierce (1906/2003)

The Devil’s Dictionary: an excellent example of a Specialized Reference Book—which in this case, is in the form of satire.

As a highly readable variation of the Reference Book, The Devil’s Dictionary is a dictionary that can be appreciated by anyone: as the satirical manner in which the author re-defines the most important English words, so as to wittily make them conform to what they actually mean, is thought-provoking whilst being enjoyably humorous.

Intensified Expansion of Awareness (Mood for Reference)

The practice of reading a Reference Book can serve to broaden awareness of concepts and facts to a degree far greater than the reading of any other kind of book, as the Reference Book is designed for its scope of entries—be they definitions, descriptions, explanations, quotations, or even anecdotes. By the concentrated infusion of related concepts into awareness, one effectively broadens his familiarity with a particular realm of thought, thus investing in him the ability for detecting relevance to recalled facts and concepts (i.e. related to any immediate or recently received information), which can then be referred back to and followed-up on.

Given its nature and purpose, the reading of a Reference Book will be of practical value only on rare occasions; and is perhaps best done in a casual and opportunistic fashion, i.e. rather than sitting down to read it (as with a regular book) one could find opportunities in his daily routine to read a few pages at a time, perhaps marking the entries that are of interest to him whilst skipping the ones that are not.


In Part III of this Typology of Book-Reading, I conclude the series by sharing some Methods for Assimilation.

Author: Simon Kanzen

Born in London, England, 1979. My main personal interest has long been to discover and read the most substantial literature available, for the purpose of expanding my awareness and developing my understanding. I created Stepping Stones to serve as an extension of this interest, by expressing my understandings and sharing references to relevant media, which I hope others find useful.

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