BOOKCASE Ease Back – Summer books for the beach, bach or boat

In Praise of Slow: How Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed
By: Carl Honoré
Publisher: Orion Books
Price: $27.99

You could see Carl Honoré’s book as the antidote for the manic little chap in Telecom’s ad who moves, eats, sleeps and even blinks faster than anyone else. Perhaps he also gets lulled to sleep with the “one-minute bedtime story” – but the fact that Honoré even contemplated pausing in his rush through some airport to pick up what he describes as “Hans Christian Anderson meets the executive summary” became the epiphany that prompted his own exploration of the globally spreading “slow movement”.
From the Italian founder of “slow food” to Japan’s Sloth Club, the marvellously titled Europe’s Society for the Deceleration of Time and America’s Long Now Foundation which is building huge intricate clocks that tick once year and measure time over 10 millennia, it proves fascinating journey. And that’s not even counting the Tantric sex workshop in North London, “siesta salons” in Spain or the concert of John Cage composition scheduled to end in 2640 – sponsors willing.
The various slow movements (and New Zealand has its own self-declared “slow” communities such as Matakana) aren’t simply anti-speed – they’re after balance of slow and fast, whether in eating, learning, loving or working. For those weary of “turbo-capitalism” it’s matter of making space and finding the “tempo giusto” or “right time” for activities that can be so much more fulfilling when enjoyed at leisure – like bedtime stories or Christmas breaks. Health warning: this book could be life changing. VJ

The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently – And Why
By: Richard E Nisbett
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey
Price: $39.99

Don’t tell anyone, but my sister Lizzy and I might be part Chinese. Or Korean. Something well east of our supposed family bosom in central England, at any rate. Vying for attention in noisy family conversation the other weekend, I got everyone to test drive some of the quizzes in Richard Nisbett’s new book The Geography of Thought.
Shown pictures of chicken, grass and cow, and asked to name two that belong together, everyone else plumped for the two animals. Lizzy and I picked the cow and the grass, on the grounds that one eats the other. Presumably, too, we’d be more likely to couple monkey with banana (old eating habits die hard) than we would team together the monkey with panda (both animals).
There’s no right and wrong in all this. Just neat way of fleshing out Nisbett’s premise that, despite years of assumptions to the contrary, East Asians and westerners actually think – and even see – the world through different lenses.
Lumping animals together reflects the typical western preoccupation with categorising according to type. Seeing the link between animals and their food suggests more eastern focus on relationships.
Nisbett attributes this to the “differing ecologies, social structures, philosophies and educational systems that date back to ancient Greece and China and that have survived into the modern world”. As result, he says, “East Asians think ‘holistically’ – that the world is circle – while westerners think ‘analytically’ – that it is line”.
Citing numerous experiments and studies Nisbett teases out the differences and their implications. Modern Chinese, for example, pay greater attention to background details and relationships between events. They see the world as complex and highly changeable. Westerners, on the other hand, see the world in analytic, atomistic terms, “they see objects as discrete and separate from the environment; events moving in linear fashion; and people feel themselves to be personally in control of events even when they are not”.
As the world increasingly focuses on the east, this book is well worth the read. Nisbett does make the point that east/west classifications are not fixed in stone. Some Shanghainese naturally think like typical Cockneys and vice versa. Unless, of course, Lizzy and I really are part Chinese. In which case, Mum has some explaining to do. RLP

Hello Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn’t Pay
By: Corinne Maier
Publisher: Orion Books
Price: $29.99

From the land of “liberté, egalité” and the 35-hour week comes best-selling attempt to foment yet another revolution – this time against corporate slavery. But CEOs shouldn’t worry about losing their heads, the revolt that Corinne Maier is advocating in Bonjour Paresse or Hello Laziness is of the passive-aggressive rather than bloody and violent variety (though guillotining the MD did crop up as potential tactic for “re-engineering” the essentially unequal pact on which business is built).
An economist and author who was apparently in the firing line for demonstrating disloyalty to her then (and apparently still) employer Electricité de France by reading the newspaper at business meeting, Maier deliberately sets out to “de-moralize” middle managers. She does this by detailing how they can exploit rather than be exploited.
For starters, don’t buy into business jargon – it’s just there to confuse, deceive or otherwise obfuscate the reality that most employers are still pawns in power game that is, at heart, all about money. Despite the lip service paid to teamwork or people as assets, don’t get suckered into thinking you’re not dispensable or conned into taking on any more work than you absolutely have to, advises Maier.
Making no apologies for cynicism she sees “mobility” as the closest management gets to religious principle, describes “business culture” as an oxymoron and reckons that all the talk about ethics proves business can exploit anything for buck.
Obviously no fan of neo-economic creeds, Maier notes that the English word “manager” only entered the French language in the 1980s along with bunch of market jargon and penchant for endless business meetings. The manager or “homo economicus cretinus”, she says, is the most common and highly developed type of new business being.
While the sheer weight of cynicism makes her humour tad heavyhanded at times, Maier makes some valid points. Her comments on why the “average” chap fits in and why the grim situation of blacks, North Africans and first-generation immigrants is “systematically swept under the carpet” has particular poignance as Paris is caught up in more violent protest than Maier advocates. VJ

Beyond Right and Left: New Politics and the Culture Wars
By: David McKnight
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Price: $29.99

Having just written political and social history of 20th century New Zealand, I heartily agree with David McKnight’s view that the use of the terms ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ in contemporary politics is more confusing than helpful.
McKnight is writing about Australia, but the New Zealand experience is very similar. He says: “The Right is defined as conservative and the Left as radical in their attitudes to social change. But the radical economic changes in Australia over the last two decades have been driven by both major parties.”
In Beyond Right and Left, McKnight argues that the Right-Left confusion is symptom of broader historic shift in cultural, social and economic ideas. “This shift offers new opportunities for escaping the Right-Left bind and creating new ways of seeing the world. Quite unprecedented problems – above all in the global environment, but also in the family – require this. Untangling the Right-Left knot is the key to understanding the direction of new ideas, which take elements from both Right and Left.”
‘Right’ and ‘Left’ had their origins in the seating of members of the National Assembly after the French Revolution of 1789, with the deputies dedicated to the revolutionary goals of liberty, equality and fraternity sitting on the left of the chamber and those on the right opposed to radical experiments and valuing traditions. Subsequently, and until the last 20 years or so, t

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