Books Digest – How to be you, the bewitching and the price of time
Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should and shouldn’t read. This week How to Be You: Simone de Beauvoir and the authentic art of living by Skye Cleary, The Bewitching by Jill Dawson and The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest by Edward Chancellor.
For more books, take a look at our Books Digest archive
How to Be You: Simone de Beauvoir and the Authentic Art of Living by Skye Cleary (Ebury Publishing, £13.09)
The quest for authenticity in an age characterized by self-exhibition is arduous. In all aspects of life – and especially in social situations – we are told to waltz around a room and just “be ourselves”, but what does that mean? really means, and how shall we invoke our the truest self?
When we seek to clarify how to be bona fide, author and philosopher Skye Cleary says we should turn to the French existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, who saw authenticity as fundamental to the meaning of life. In his book How to Be You: Simone de Beauvoir and the authentic art of living, Cleary introduces the reader to the stepping stones of Beauvoir’s philosophy of existentialism and offers a guide to how we can apply his ruminations to modern trials and tribulations.
Cleary is inspired by the format of the Beauvoir era The second sex to address the facts and myths about being a three part woman. In the triptych, Cleary first discusses existential perspectives on what we can and cannot control and how femininity is configured. The second part explores the tension between us and the world regarding marriage, parenthood and death. And the last focuses on choosing projects and how to assess which projects will support us in our creative endeavors and which ones are likely to mislead us.
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how to be you stands at the intersection of biography, philosophy and self-help. After reading it as a whole, the book’s greatest strength is Cleary’s deft ability to fuse philosophical analysis that applies to contemporary struggles with his own personal insight — and commendable honesty. Additionally, Cleary is not shy about addressing the pitfalls of de Beauvoir’s white-centric and middle-class feminism. But instead of just finding flaws, Cleary fills in those gaps and offers a nuanced analysis of racism and intersectionality to reveal the power dynamics that continue to shape society.
So how can we conjure up our “authentic” self? Cleary posits that de Beauvoir would say about striving to be creative rebels and freedom from oppression so that we can mold ourselves into responsible beings capable of transforming the world for the better. Thus, to be “authentic” is to live in the constant pursuit of self-creation. In writing How to be you Cleary came up with a short to do just that.
The Bewitching by Jill Dawson (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.79)
Grazie Sophia Christie
In The Bewitching, accusations of witchcraft are an outlet for women bewitched by a completely different force: silence. They are silenced about their bodies, the very basics of life and what men have done to them. It’s a silence in which they toil and fend, inarticulate, unprepared and vulnerable – until they learn to only harm each other.
Jill Dawson romanizes the 16the The case of the Warboys witches of the last century from the perspective of Alice Samuel, the accused, and Martha, the symbolically “deaf and mute” servant of the Throckmorton girls, Alice’s accusers. Dawson treats the witch trials not as an otherworldly anachronism fueled by religion, but as a step on the specter of sexual violence. Alice’s story is intertwined with familiar tales, where powerful men hurt women with impunity and go to great lengths to hide it. “The creature that bears the contempt of all men,” suggests Dawson, is not the witch, but the woman.
The Price of Time: The True Story of Interest by Edward Chancellor (Penguin Books, £16.69)
Whether charging interest is a form of theft or essential to the proper functioning of capitalism has been debated since time immemorial, or at least since the use of coinage by the ancient Babylonians in Mesopotamia in the 8th century BCE. JC.
Some historians date the use of interest even further back, to the payment of blood money, to compensate for murder or other injuries. Others claim it was used to return gifts between prehistoric tribes. For many – like the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – interest is usury and a parasite and, if abolished, it would mean that there would be no more debts or bankruptcies and that the income of workers would increase. In contrast, his training mate, Frédéric Bastiat, a free trader, argued that if interest were abolished, only the wealthy would benefit.
Of course, charging interest is much more complex than the two Frenchmen would have us believe. Yet the debate has taken on a new thrill after more than a decade of historically low interest rates, with some countries embracing negative rates. Indeed, financial historian Edward Chancellor argues that low rates have undermined Western capitalism, leading to the weakest period of growth since the Industrial Revolution and that for him it is unclear whether capitalism can thrive or survive in these conditions.
For Chancellor, interest is the price assigned to the use of our time: we cannot value houses, stocks or any other asset without this pricing mechanism. Without interest, we cannot take risks.
Moreover, Chancellor asserts in his fascinating new book, The Price of Time: The True Story of Interest, that low interest rates not only create asset price inflation, but are also responsible for rising inequality, rising debt and the pension crisis over the past decade.
As always, the Chancellor – who foresaw the great financial crash of 2008 – entered the debate with impeccable timing, just as central bankers are forced to raise rates to contain the surge in inflation that bankers have contributed to be created by loading the markets with cheap money. Never mind.