Shame: A Brief History by Peter N. Stearns

Shame, we have all felt it. However, the majority of people undermine how much it has shaped the world that we interact with everyday.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 182 pages.
Read from July 11, 2017 to July 20, 2017.

Shame, as an emotion, has a core meaning, in relating individuals to wider social groups and norms — real or imagined

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Shame, we have all felt it. However, the majority of people undermine how much it has shaped the world that we interact with everyday.  From our sexual behaviour, politics, self-worth, and even our upbringing.  What is shame and what makes it different from guilt? For many scholars, this has been a broad and difficult definition to tackle and an even harder topic to discuss in terms of history and its impact on modern society.  Peter N. Stearns attempts to address these grey areas with his new book which, is set to be published in September 2017.

Guilty people apologize and also take steps to avoid repetition. Shame, in contrast, is a more global emotion, which can emerge in response to the same kind of wrong act and violation of standards. It may develop earlier in life than guilt– guilt requires more cognitive sorting capacity– but above all it emphasizes self-abasement. It is the self that is at fault, not the commission of the act. This creates greater pain and intensity than guilt. A shamed person feels very bad indeed– but also makes it more difficult to escape.”

The novel opens with the widely debated matter of shame versus guilt and whether or not shame is a primal human emotion. In order to address the history of shame, the author breaks down the novel into four more additional chapters to address each stage in history and how shame is built and progresses through time.

The author draws from a wide-variety of knowledge and cultures to provide excellent examples of shame from across the globe.  The most impressionable chapter of the book was by far the last chapter which addressed shame in modern-day USA. The reason I felt this chapter was successful was that it was channelled and concise where as the previous chapters, while interesting and insightful, covered a globally large scope on shame.  As a result, I also felt that the author missed out on key topics of shame, specifically with women’s sexuality and minorities, both historically and for our present day. While it was mentioned and discussed to a point, surely a large portion of how shame is structured and how it has created our current social and cultural society was built and carried on the backs of shamed women and minorities? Perhaps it is too presumptuous for me to suggest that, however, this book would have benefited from discussing the effects of shame within one country or continent, rather than that of the whole world.

In the last chapter, the author also discusses how technology and social media has given rise to a revival of shame in the modern-day. I also appreciated the references and discussions that the author made in relation to other current researchers on shame, such as Brené Brown.

Overall, this novel is an intriguing look into how shame has shaped our world over the years and how it is currently effecting our everyday lives. The majority of this book is historical in nature but there are also some good sociological and psychological insights as well. I would recommend this book for those looking for an academic read on a topic that is worthy of more exploration.

A big thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My first Agatha Christie novel.

The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 274 pages.
Read from April 10, 2017, to April 26, 2017.

I’ll admit, I always thought that Agatha Christie novels were meant for little old ladies and the biggest reason I picked up one of her novels is that there are 2 books of hers that consistently show up on some of the best to-read book lists.  Having learned a little bit about this interesting woman, I can see however, that she was a complete badass.

Did you know that he first husband was cheating on her and that when she found out she disappeared for 11 days? As a best-selling novelist her disappearance made a lot of waves and sparked a massive manhunt. The police obviously had to interrogate her husband, meaning he would have to spill the beans on his affair, making it so that he was the one who was disgraced, not her. Well, that is just speculation. No one really knows what happened as she showed up completely fine at a hotel after her 11 day stint with no clues to as to her disappearance.

Also, did you know that Agatha Christie has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all-time? The Bible and Shakespeare are the only other publications to out do her. Her works have sold over 2 billion copies and has been reportedly translated into 103 different languages.  Agatha Christie is the original in “who done it” stories and her legacy is a testament to her skill.

Hercule Poirot is a famous detective who is on a train for business. While he was expecting a quiet trip the train ends up being shockingly full with a mismatch of interesting characters. Unfortunately for all of the passengers and snow storm has stranded the train from reaching its destination. During the stall one of the passengers is murdered in their bed, a seemingly impossible feat if the passengers are being truthful. Hercule must solve the diabolical situation before the train moves and reaches its destination.

While admittedly I thought I had solved aspects of the mystery I could not have imagined the depth of the truth of the real crime. The ending was admirable and satisfying as well.
I did find this book intriguing but it was too methodical for my liking. Most of the story was a just a recounting of the passengers whereabouts during the murder and then how Hercule would use this information to move to the next step. As in it was literally, if A, then B, if B than C or if A and B than C etc.  However, the book did not put me off reading further books by Agatha and story was still a good mystery.

If you are a mystery buff and have not read this book yet make sure to throw it on your list. Agatha Christie inspired generations of mystery writers and this one is said to be one of her best. There is also a movie coming out soon starring a plethora of stars. Check out the trailer here.

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami

The first two books that Murakami ever had published. The start of his remarkable writing career.

There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 234 pages.
Read on February 15, 2017 to February 18, 2017.

I am going to review these two novels at the time same as they really are the same story. I imagine had these novels not been Murakami’s very first he would have put them together into one, though technically there are two more books in this loose series, though I have yet to read them.

In the first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, an unnamed male student is visiting home during the summer break. Like many youth, he spends his days at a local bar called J’s drinking and smoking. It is here that he likes to converse with his friend, the Rat, until the early hours of the morning. Rat appears tough and impermeable but there is a lingering tension about his latest love interest. The narrator becomes involved with a young woman who happens to be missing one of her fingers.

In the second novel, Pinball1973 the same unnamed protagonist, having finished school, has started up a successful translation company. His life is uneventful until he randomly meets a set of twins who abruptly move in with him, in which an intriguing affair begins. The protagonist has not seen the Rat in a long time and has not been to J’s bar as he becomes obsessed with tracking down a particular pinball machine that he use to play. Meanwhile, the Rat is spiraling into depression and on the brink of falling apart.

As with many Murakami novels, loneliness and isolation are the most prevalent themes. In Hear the Wind Sing, the two male character’s nightly chats are emphasizing their loneliness and search for love that alludes them with their sexual conquests. The nine fingered lover suffers from isolation after having an abortion. The narrator’s quest for the nostalgic pinball machine is a way for him to alleviate his loneliness and relive what he remembers of love, happiness and friendship. In Pinball, 1973, the narrator and the Rat do not meet, further stressing this theme.

It was clear that these were Murakami’s first books as his style is not yet fully developed, making both of the story’s less ubiquitous than his more popular novels. It was relieving to hear that even Murakami is not a fan of these first few novels. Murakami was actually opposed to having them translated into English even though he admits they played an important part in building his career as a writer.

As a Murakami fan, I am glad that I read these novels, as it has allowed me to see how his writing career and style developed. As a reader though, I did not take a lot of pleasure from either of them, especially Pinball, 1973Neither novel was very concise and while the themes were present the stories felt dull and lacking. The characters felt underdeveloped and I was left wanting to know more.

While I would still encourage Murakami fans to read these books, I would not however recommend either of these books for first time Murakami readers.  For first time Murakami readers I would recommend: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood