I read more non-fiction than fiction this year, I think, and a lot of the non-fiction I read was excellent. It’s been difficult to pare it down to a few that I liked the most, but here they are.
Note that not all of these were published this year; that was just when I read them. Reviews are either abridged with a link, or republished here in full. Blurbs come from the back of the books, or from Amazon.
Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action by Tim Bond
This year I started an MA in Psychotherapy & Counselling, which means I’ve been reading even more psychology books than usual. I read Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action on the Foundation part of the course, and it provides a useful look into various issues surrounding ethics in the therapeutic relationship. Each chapter deals with a different concept and I liked how practical the advice was, particularly when it got into the murky legal stuff. I also enjoyed how much emphasis it placed on the counsellor’s responsibility to remain ethical, and constantly to update their own understanding of their personal moral systems and how these could fit in with their therapeutic practice.
On Writing by Stephen King
On Writing is a brilliant book: an excellent mixture of biography, CV and advisory text. Two things that particularly stood out for me:
- King doesn’t distinguish between life experience and writing experience; both are seen as important for the life of a writer, and I fully agree.
- At the end is a list of books that influenced the writing of this one, and I liked how King listed all the books he’d recently read that had stayed with him; I am firmly of the belief that it’s not just the strictly relevant books that make a new piece of writing, but also the ones the writer has read for entertainment.
And the passage in which he finds out he’s sold Carrie made me cry in the middle of a restaurant.
Definitely recommended if you’re looking for inspiration and a guiding hand.
Integration and Self-Healing: Affect, Trauma, Alexithymia by Henry Krystal
At the end of term one of the MA, we had to write an essay about one of the concepts we’d learned. I wrote about hysteria: how it has changed and manifested itself over the ages, from Freud’s “neurotic” patients to the borderline diagnoses of modern psychiatry. I also wrote about how contemporary advances in neuroscience are giving us a window into how therapy helps people, but also helping us to see some of the symptoms that have traditionally invoked less empathy in a different light.
Henry Krystal was a survivor of the Holocaust, and he worked with thousands of concentration camp survivors during his time as a psychoanalyst. Integration and Self-Healing provides a fascinating look into the power of humans to survive almost anything, and what it takes to help yourself to heal from severe trauma.
It’s fascinating from an academic standpoint, and moving from a human one: the best of both worlds.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
I’m just going to quote directly from the review I wrote when I’d just finished reading this book.
Finally I have found another writer who speaks to me as deeply and truthfully as Søren Kierkegaard, with whom I’ve been obsessed since I read The Sickness Unto Death at seventeen.
I made so many notes on this book that I could easily fill several posts about it, which perhaps I’ll do one day, but today is just about writing a round-up so I can keep track of all the books I’ve read this year.
Man’s Search for Meaning was so good I wanted to scream. When I turned the last page I immediately ordered several copies (I’d taken it out of my university’s library) so that I could give it to as many people as possible. It is utterly brilliant. It speaks to me on several levels; in fact, while I was reading it the same thought kept running through my head:
Some books speak to the mind; some books speak to the soul. The best books do both.
This one does both. Frankl demonstrates a perfect balance between the personal and the professional. He uses his unimaginably traumatic experiences in WWII concentration camps to inform his psychotherapeutic practice, but doesn’t get so swept up in subjectivity as to forget how to apply his theory to other people’s experience.
Psychotherapy and Existentialism by Viktor Frankl
Oh look, more Frankl.
I read this immediately after reading Man’s Search for Meaning and predictably, I adored it. However it probably would have made sense to have left more of a gap between the two: there was a lot of overlap and if I’d read it, say, a year later it probably would have served as a useful revision of logotherapeutic concepts rather than backing up knowledge I’d only just acquired.
Despite the overlap I thoroughly enjoyed it. It also deepened my understanding of certain elements of Kierkegaard’s philosophy (at one point Frankl quoted Kierkegaard and my brain nearly exploded in joy), specifically the subjective-objective relationship with which I’ve been obsessed since I read Fear and Trembling as a teenager.
Once again the book had a great balance between the personal and the professional, as well as being useful both for people in therapy and for those struggling more generally with existential crises.
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
One of my favourite things about Cal Newport is that he’s not an anti-tech curmudgeon; he’s just someone who believes you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing (sometimes, admittedly, he’s a bit excessive with this).
Despite posting a lot on social media, I don’t actually spend much time with my phone: I average 26 minutes per day, which is about 1/8 of what the average user… um… averages. However, those 26 minutes could still be cut down, and some days I do still find myself mindlessly scrolling, so it was good to read something that backed up my own philosophy re. trying not to do that so much.
If you find yourself tethered to your phone at all times, there are some handy tips for cutting down. Some of them may sound a bit extreme, but Newport’s overarching idea is that you start by working out your “deep values” and then work backwards from that, so that your technology choices are informed by your values, rather than the other way around.
It was a good book: I enjoyed it. I’d recommend it if you’re not sure how to get started on spending less time with your phone. I’d also recommend reading it alongside Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, like I did, because it was fascinating to read two books on the same topic, coming from such different angles.
Speaking of which…
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
A joyous celebration of the collaborative nature of the internet, it takes a rigorous yet amusing look at the ultimate linguistic question, ‘wat r werds’.
With chapters on emoji as gesture; internet history; the subtypes of Internet People; and linguistic gems aplenty, this book will make you happy the internet was invented. And in the current political climate, sometimes it’s nice to remember that the internet isn’t just a trashfire of arguing polarities.
The Worlds of Existentialism by Maurice Friedman (ed.)
The Worlds of Existentialism is an anthology of titles by various existentialist authors. As such, it’s hard to review; but if you’re just getting started in existential philosophy, psychology or psychotherapy, I would definitely recommend it.
I wrote a brief Twitter thread review of it, which you can find here.
Silence In The Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
A lovely book in which a Norwegian explorer discusses his relationship with silence during a 50-day journey across Antarctica in absolute solitude, Silence is a balm in an era where everything is everywhere all the time.
I read this sitting outside an isolated cottage in Wales, with only the sheep and the birds (and, in the evenings, the bats) for company. It was a perfectly quiet setting for a perfectly quiet book.
What were your favourite non-fiction books from this year?