self-help books

I have read my fair share of self-help books. Two shelves, three shelves, maybe more. I don’t know because, in the end, I tend to throw them away. These days, I avoid that corner of the bookshop. Been there, done that, read that. But at Armani Libri in Milan, amidst the books on fashion, architecture, and design, this “The Monocle Compendium. Fifty ideas to improve your life.” lured me. Bought a copy for myself and one to give away.

This book is different. Self-help is not about getting out of that disastrous state. Or about how to cope with someone in such a state.  It’s about “ageing disgracefully”, “the scent of the season”, “how water shapes a city”, “wine for any occasion”, “why keep a diary”, … In other words, about the good life. This compendium is inspiring. It’s witty, diverse, and global. The perfect summer read to be accompanied by a Negroni, or Milano-Torino, near your local swimming pool, or ‘badi’ as Monocle founder, editorial director and chairman Tyler Brûlé describes it so beautifully in tip number 49.

In my online but private Day One diary I have a section “Beautiful Words” where I copy book fragments that I want to reread from time to time. Have pasted them for you here.

on photography

But today there might be darker pressures at work on our psyches than mere curiosity. Aside from photographing our food, drinks, holidays and partners, we’ve also turned the lens on ourselves. The selfie seems like a symptom of modern narcissism. Combine that with social media – somewhere to publish these images and judge those of others – and something more toxic is happening. Taking photos has become part of a craving for attention and validation from the outside world, often strangers behind other screens. In turn, the curiosity of what something will look like when snapped has started to feel like it’s being replaced by a requirement to photograph things to reaffirm our very existence.

about love

We live in the age of excess. Excessive consumption, excitement and narcissism decline social media. When we fall in love it feels as though we lose our free will. But better that than being the charioteer who trots sensibly through life with his well-behaved horse, never experiencing love. For love needs the stubborn pony that “violently and in wild leaps” races towards the beloved.

on writing postcards versus instant messaging

Postcards are falling out of favour. Social media and digital messaging have taken their toll. How can the clunky, laborious process of selecting a postcard, writing it by hand, finding a stamp and somewhere to post it compete with the immediacy of a picture crossing continents from device to device in milliseconds? I’m not here to mourn the decline of postcard use. Mass media evolves over time and, as individuals, there’s not a great deal we can do about it. From our current perspective, it is easy to see postcards as a quaint, semi-redundant technology – spidery handwriting on one side and, on the other, their peculiar iconography of one-eared donkeys, thatched cottages, flamenco girls and sunsets, red-sweltered schoolboys on clifftops, cathedral car parks and caravan sites, all beneath impossible blue skies

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