Books Digest – I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki, The Book of Minds and The Hong Kong Diaries

Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should and shouldn’t read. This week features I Want to Die but I want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Se-hee, The Book of Minds: How to Understand Ourselves and Other Beings, from Animals to Aliens by Philip Ball and The Hong Kong Diaries by Chris Patten.

For more books, take a look at our Books Digest archive.

I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki by Baek Se-hee (Bloomsbury Publishing, £10.35)

saffron thread

A young and brilliant social media director at a publishing house in South Korea, Baek Sehee, has the world at her feet. But scratch beneath the shiny exterior, and you discover that the author is “rotting inside,” struggling with self-doubt and can’t help but pass very strong judgments on others. In the prologue, we learn that Sehee suffers from dysthymia, a persistent depressive disorder (a state of constant, mild depression).

I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki is a South Korean bestseller which is a recording of the therapy Sehee receives for dysthymia; the reader learns about her anxieties, her relationships and her decisions through a two-way dialogue between her and her physiatrist. Translated into English by Anton Hur, Sehee recorded conversations with this physiatrist over twelve weeks for the book, then expands each session with a series of reflective micro-essays. Through this, Sehee begins to unravel all of her harmful behaviors, inner critics, and knee jerk reactions that have kept her locked in a cycle of abuse.

While this part memoir, part self-help book contains many references to the pressures of South Korean culture, I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki contains many truths about mental health that also transcend borders. By holding a microscope to her anxieties and depression, Sehee opens a window into the mind of someone with dysthymia and, in doing so, lends a helping hand to anyone suffering from the same symptoms. I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki is an emphatic exploration of mental illness and given the worldwide prevalence of anxiety and depression, what better antidote than this?

The Spirit Book: How to Understand Ourselves and Other Beings, From Animals to Aliens by Philip Ball (Pan Macmillan, £14.79)

Gerald Malone

Lily The Book of Spirits by popular science writer, Philip Ball, and you’ll never trust a geranium again. Because, according to Ball, he can be witty and intriguing God knows what. Immediately, we’re sent back to famed neurologist Oliver Sacks’ encounter with an orangutan when, behind a glass screen, he mimicked his hand movements, thereby convincing him that he had a “mind” similar to his own.

The argument is that because the orangutan beckoned back, maybe a sunflower following the arc of our star in the sky has some kind of spirit too. Geraniums must be unsung geniuses. And what about everything else in the material world? Who are we to say that those rulers and pencils on our desk don’t communicate with each other, perhaps telling stories outside of school? Artificial intelligence is also invading us.

The problem with Ball’s well-written and meticulously researched 458 pages is that most of the assertions in this ten-chapter book are irrefutable assertions. Descartes’ solipsism: how to be sure of something other than oneself? – is mentioned at the beginning, page 3, as a timely disclaimer.

Thus, the reader embarks on the next 455 pages aware that the author may be pursuing a philosophical impasse. And knows it himself. But, although the destination is out of reach, Ball takes us on a fascinating journey, asking questions about how our minds work that are, well, challenging and often entertaining.

The Hong Kong Diaries by Chris Patten (Penguin, £20.99)

Marc Fox

by Chris Patten Hong Kong Newspapers tells the inside story of Britain’s last governor. The stories are sometimes interesting and often moving, his love and respect for his wife and three daughters is deep and often expressed. Just like his commitment and his joy in his Christian faith: he loves his church. The stories are funny too, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not; he is dry-witted, but as an MP and minister, Patten was well known for his prosaic commentary and was a top-notch political flamethrower. So when he thinks he’s bewildered as to why he frequently causes trouble and presents himself as a well-meaning old liberal, the reader can be forgiven with a smile.

Patten is also well known for barely being able to utter a sentence without mentioning Balliol, his former college, or the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. From this point of view, the newspapers do not disappoint. There are many references here to British politics and newspaper commentary. Too many in fact to believe he didn’t care much for either, despite frequent protestations that being governor of Hong Kong was a big and important job.

Patten is obsessed with British politics and media coverage. Indeed, at one point he notes that in the UK, Hong Kong barely registers in the political or media debate. This is probably the most telling idea in the book. There is good reason to believe that if Patten himself had not become governor, virtually no significant media attention would have been given to the last five years of British rule. It was essentially him, not the place, that caught the attention of Britons outside the Foreign Office.

The point is, being the last governor was no big political job except for the people of Hong Kong, whose future and destiny was always to return to the land they had been seized with over a hundred years before. . It is clear that Patten tried hard to do the right thing and came to care passionately about people, but as subsequent events over the past 25 years have shown, for Britain, Hong Kong was a jewel in a vanished empire, for China the city was one. a lot in a huge and growing economy. Patten’s efforts were decent (a word he uses a lot) and worthwhile, but China was always going to get what it wanted.

What is unfortunate is not his futile efforts in Hong Kong, but his inability to return and once again play a full role in frontline British politics. It was too easy to take interesting but secondary jobs at the EU, the BBC and all the rest. Frontline politics needed him and at the key moment he was missing. It is a readable and interesting book about events that belong to a bygone era. More than anything else, the book has an underlying sense of sadness and perhaps a missed opportunity.

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