Autodidact: self-taught


Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

by V. L. Craven


Marcus Aurelius (born Marcus Annius Catilus Severus) was co-emperor of Rome and a Stoic philosopher. He wrote Meditations in Greek whilst on campaign between 170 and 180. Originally titled To Myself, it was meant to be a source for his own guidance and self-improvement and was not intended for public consumption. We are fortunate it has been made available because it’s incredible and still applicable today.

It’s difficult to say what Meditations is ‘about’, as it’s rather about everything. Stoics were primarily concerned with finding contentment in life by not becoming too attached to anything, similar to Zen Buddhism. It’s about minimising desires and being rational. It’s fine to love and have material possessions and such, but if those desires and emotions threaten to overwhelm one’s natural, rational state, thereby bringing about unhappiness they should be avoided.

There’s overlap between some Buddhist belief and Existentialism and Stoicism in the idea that everything we know and see will soon fade away, as will all the people and things that come after that, as did all the things that came before. So there’s no reason to get worked up about anything, really, because how important is anything at all in that context?

Aurelius was quite civic-minded, though, and viewed all people as brothers and felt that people should be allowed to do whatever they pleased as long as they were not hurting other humans–no one else’s thoughts about you had any actual effect on you. There’s excellent advice on how to deal with the purely bloody-minded (those he calls the ones who know nothing about the difference between good and evil).

There’s just general excellent advice all round. It’s a call to find your chief aim in life and devote what short time you have on earth to it, eschewing trivialities like gossip and fads. It’s a call to be your best self and to try to improve the lot of your fellow humans. It’s a call to be true to yourself, to know yourself and be honest with yourself about your own motives and desires.

I have two editions of Meditations. The Penguin Great Ideas series is the one I’m reviewing, which was translated by Maxwell Staniforth. They are smaller books–they can fit in a pocket.  The Harvard Classics edition, which is translated by George Long is the other one in my library. The Penguin edition is much more accessible, though being that the Harvard Classics was from 1909 this is hardly surprising. Staniforth’s translation was highly readable. There were a few times I had to re-reading passages due to incomprehension rather than having had my mind-blown (though those moments occurred, as well) but that was entirely down to my own intellectual shortcomings.

This makes an excellent graduation gift. Everyone should read it. Everyone. 5/5


Death Note

by V. L. Craven

Title and author of book? Complete Death Note Black Edition written by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata

Genre? Manga. This is my first manga and I quite enjoyed it.

What led you to pick up this book? It’s about a person who can kill criminals without being caught and decides to make the world a better place in this way and how that person is considered a criminal. And it has a goth look to it.

Summarize the plot, but don’t give away the ending. It’s about a notebook that falls from the world of the gods of death. A human picks it up and learns that when he writes a name in it, the person dies. The notebook is accompanied by the god of death who owns it, a Shinigami, named Ryuk. (pronounced ryooku) who only the person who picked up the death notebook, Light Yagami, can see. Say hello, Ryuk.


Light knows that criminals dying left and right will provoke suspicions, including that of his father, a top police detective. Light is extremely intelligent and goes to great measures to avoid being caught, which involves pitting his considerable wits against several other geniuses.

What did you like most about the book? The speculation on the way the world would respond to someone topping all of the criminals read as realistic and was interesting. The quirks of the geniuses was fun.

What did you dislike about the book? We can see the thoughts of all of the characters and they think a lot . All of the thinking about their very complicated plans and what they think the others are thinking and planning can get confusing. Some of the rules of the book also seemed contrived rather than organic.

What did you think of the main character? He was extremely intelligent but completely heartless. He had absolutely no compunction about killing both his sister and father. In a way, it makes sense, as God doesn’t have a problem killing people, either, and Light wants to be Kira/God.

Share a favourite scene from the book.  The end had me at the edge of my seat, wondering who’s side everyone would take. The beginning also had several tense scenes where we’re learning how the book works and getting an idea of Light’s intelligence.

What about the ending? It made sense in terms of the narrative of the story but I was disappointed that the ‘good’ guys won, as I wanted . The very end, where Kira has become a god and has worshippers, as well as how it’s revealed by Ryuk that there is no heaven or hell and that when people die they’re just dead was great.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Other Thoughts?  Thoughts on the philosophies in the series. Kira’s principle’s are quite Satanic, in that he believes that people are allowed to pursue their own happiness as long as they don’t impinge on others’ rights to do so as well. He says, ‘It all boils down to those who interfere with people’s pursuit of happiness and those who do not….The right to be happy, that is something that everybody has equal claim to. But that is not something you get by harming, deceiving or even killing other people. To pursue your happiness without getting in the way of others, while respecting the rights of others; that is the way humans should lead their lives.’

This is an excellent example of Satanic philosophy, stated succinctly. Towards the end, when Light explains his philosophy, Near says ‘Nobody can tell what is right and what is wrong, what is righteous and what is evil. Even if there is a god and I had his teachings before me, I would think it through and decide if that was right or wrong myself…’ though Near is pitted against Kira, his feeling is also quite Satanic, as Satanists believe in knowing oneself and one’s personal philosophy rather than what others tell you.  This is also one of the overlaps with Buddhism, as the Buddha said, ‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.’ I’m still with Kira, obviously.

Bonus factoid: A friend of mine who speaks Japanese says the translation of the word ‘Note’ in ‘Death Note’ is actually the word for ‘notebook’, so it should be called ‘Death Notebook’.

This clip is from the live action film. Shinigamis need apples in the way smokers need cigarettes.

Some bonus wallpapers:



Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

by V. L. Craven

Meg Carpenter is trying to write a literary novel, rather than the genre fiction she’s been churning out in order to pay the rent, but she can’t figure out where to start or what it’s about. On her creative journey she has philosophical conversations with her friends and tries to sort out her relationship with her longtime beau. Our Tragic Universe is about everything and nothing and our place in the everything-nothingness and is compelling meta-fiction. Fans of I Heart Huckabees will love this. It nearly melted my brain, but it was worth it!


F*ck It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way

by V. L. Craven

The tag for this book could be: Taoism Made Easy or Eastern Philosophy for the Cynic. John C. Parkin lays down some ‘Attachments are excess baggage’ for those of us who probably use the F word too much. Parkin covers energy fields and breathing, as well as a healthy dose of Buddhism, and makes it accessible and entertaining. Spend an afternoon with this book and it will change the way you view and react to your world for the better.

It gets a little New Agey for my tastes, but it still offers great advice on how to decompress from our hectic go-go-go lives.

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