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Review #41: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Not so much of an art as common sense

This one is straight off the Amazon best sellers list. Otherwise, I can’t imagine searching for the book by its name. In fact, even Amazon search can’t deal with the asterisk censorship and so the best you can get is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck”. However, those disappointed by the censorship would be glad to know that the 4-letter word (and its extensions) appears in full glory throughout the book. I often question myself about the creative impact of using expletives but in this case, it is just a literary device, so you might as well replace it with whatever word stirs up your guts.

The theme of the book is pretty much summed up by its title. It is about focus, choosing what you care about, just doing it and not giving a damn about things that do little more than drain away life’s sap. To that end, the message in the book is repetitive and contains tidbit of knowledge that I find myself sharing with acquaintances. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite make me a life guru for I admittedly fail to put my money where my mouth is, dissemination being much easier than treading the path by yourself. The book also doesn’t consistently hit the witticism gong but its forthrightness is bound to strike a chord.

Inevitably, preaching is true of any self-help book since it is all about self-realization and how one chooses to act up on it. To that effect, the book gets in to the stride right away with the story of Bukowski and his epitaph “don’t try”. The final part about immortality projects, conceptual self and the need to leave a legacy is particularly poignant but then that would be a recommendation for another book than this one. Such anecdotes littered throughout the book add substance to what may otherwise be construed as preaching. Also, most of the words of wisdom are borne out of experience and hence easy to appreciate for their relevance.

I would recommend this book to a lot of people whom I feel are far too obsessed with life’s vagaries. However, it is only out of the altruistic (certainly not buying the book for them) hope that it will help them take a much more positive outlook towards life. At the same time, I wouldn’t say that the book has flipped a switch in my mind for I see much of what is mentioned in this book as common knowledge but for the fact that application of the same is an altogether different beast. Ultimately, the book is of utility to those who want to find some use of it.

At the end of the day, one should understand that the book isn’t a gospel and simply a person’s take on life based on his experiences. It leaves a lot to disagree with since it seems a lot of the metaphors were shoehorned in this book to fill up the pages. For instance, a section of the book can be equated to the oft-used phrase “money doesn’t bring happiness”. This is easy to appreciate but at the same time a bit difficult to fathom when the entire world revolves around it and is undoubtedly a driving force behind the author’s choice of career. Another instance is about failure bringing you back to where you started which is as true as you wish it to be for life doesn’t remain in stasis while you fail. Similarly, despite the author’s life struggles, his experiences are built up on his journey across countries which has been feasible on the strength of him being in the United States and having access to “cheaper” countries. Would these perspectives be true for someone struggling through life in a developing country and having lesser forms of escapism? Again, I believe not. The author chooses to harp on transient moments in life to put through a message. I often have thoughts running through my mind as I stare at the setting sun on the beach with the wind running through my hair and the waves receding after gracing my feet. While these picturesque moments fit well in to books and movies, the accompanying narrative doesn’t translate much in to changing the humdrum of life. Of course, I could be as wrong about my take on life as much as the author is right, but such pessimism wouldn’t find its way in to a book.

This is not to say that there isn’t much to take away from this book and derive some positivity from it to apply to your life. The self-help industry wouldn’t have been such a lucrative one if everyone knew what’s best for them. At the same time, unless you have been living under a rock, you would have your own experiences and lessons from life that ought to have taught you a lot more, only if you chose to pay attention.

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