TBR List Declutter, Issue 40

Tangent: Friends and Flatterers

During lunch, my children and I have been listening to Stephen West’s “Philosophize This!” podcast. Recently we heard about Plutarch’s distinction between friends and flatterers. A friend, Plutarch (via Stephen West) says, is someone who will tell you the truth even if it’s not something you want to hear. They bank on the relationship being strong enough to stand up to the challenge of pissing you off because that’s what friendship is: a relationship that can withstand the challenge of honesty.

A flatterer, on the other hand, is someone who agrees with you no matter what to give the illusion of friendship. This is someone for whom the genuine strength of the relationship is less important than what they can get out of the relationship, be it emotional validation, financial gain, or just not being fired from the president’s Cabinet.

Plutarch suggests that you can tell if someone is a friend or a flatterer by testing the relationship. This rings true to me. All of the people I consider friends are people to whom I’ve made strident and/or boneheaded comments. They call me on it, we work through it, and our friendship is stronger for the challenge. At least it is from my side of things, but you’d have to ask them to know if they agree.

But isn’t there something between “friend” and “flatterer,” some stage of acquaintance that might or might not become either friendship or flattery? If so, how does one tell when a relationship has become a friendship or not?

Is brutal honesty from the outset a valid and efficient method of screening potential friends, or could it sabotage a nascent friendship that might have weathered the test after a foundation of mutual respect had been established? Not that it’s good to prevaricate, but maybe there’s a time in the development of a friendship when diplomacy is necessary just to get the relationship over the first hurdle. But then, how would you know you’ve gotten past that first hurdle without testing it?

Visual Interest:


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 511-530:

Title: How to Be Both
Author: Smith, Ali
Date Added: 9/9/2014

Verdict: Keep. I loved There But For The, and I’ve been looking forward to reading this one (it’s just somehow fallen through the cracks up to now).

Project List: none.

Title: The Lives of Others
Author: Mukherjee, Neel
Date Added: 9/9/2014

Verdict: Go. This is here because it was on the Man Booker Longlist, but I’m not feeling compelled to read another book about characters getting involved in extremist political activism.

Project List: n/a

Title: J
Author: Jacobson, Howard
Date Added: 9/9/2014

Verdict: Go. Looking at the synopsis, I’m not sure what attracted me to this novel in the first place (aside from the Man Booker nomination; I’m periodically on a kick to read all of the Man Booker and National Book Award nominees, but so far I’ve never actually gotten past adding them all to my TBR).

Project List: n/a

Title: The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Author: Flanagan, Richard
Date Added: 9/9/2014

Verdict: Go. The synopsis made me want to read it, the excerpts make me want to pan it. Excerpts win.

Project List: n/a

Title: Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
Author: Olen, Helaine
Date Added: 10/15/2014

Verdict: Go. I’m already convinced of the “dark side of the personal finance industry.”

Project List: n/a

Title: Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II
Author: Croke, Vicki
Date Added: 10/20/2014

Verdict: Keep. With a son who loves WWII and a daughter who loves animals, this book might just be fun for the whole family.

Project List: none.

Title: Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)
Author: Wein, Elizabeth
Date Added: 11/1/2014

Verdict: Keep, for two main reasons: 1) my daughter loved this book; and 2) “Verity” rhymes with “Charity,” and I like the sound of “Code Name Charity.”

Project List: none.

Title: Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love
Author: Sobel, Dava
Date Added: 11/2/2014

Verdict: Go. My daughter’s studying the history of science this year, so I was tempted to keep this on the list. In the end, though, the reviews suggest the book is less about Galileo’s daughter than it is about Galileo himself, which is fine, but we have other books about Galileo already on her reading list.

Project List: n/a

Title: The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
Author: Batuman, Elif
Date Added: 11/15/2014

Verdict: Go. Even the synopsis is meandering, and reviews describe the book itself as a sort of travel memoir masquerading as something deeper.

Project List: n/a

Title: Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers
Author: Hopper, Kate
Date Added: 11/24/2014

Verdict: Go. It’s not clear to me how the techniques for writing creative nonfiction about motherhood differ from those for writing creative nonfiction in general. I got my undergraduate degree in creative nonfiction, and I have a marginally interesting blog that’s sort of about my life as a mother. I’m not sure this book has anything more to offer me.

Project List: n/a

Title: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
Author: Wilder, Laura Ingalls
Date Added: 11/24/2014

Verdict: Keep. My mom bought this for us (me), and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve not read it yet.

Project List: none.

Title: Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition
Author: Berry, Wendell
Date Added: 11/26/2014

Verdict: Keep. I love Wendell Berry’s writing, and I’m tickled at the idea of reading him taking on E.O. Wilson, especially since I’ve been wrestling with the idea of the interconnectedness of various disciplines—how to appreciate where they intersect while appreciating them as distinct entities.

Project List: none.

Title: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
Author: Wilson, Edward O.
Date Added: 11/26/2014

Verdict: Keep. If I read Wendell Berry’s book refuting Consilience, it only seems fair that I read Consilience, too, even though I’ve never gotten into E.O. Wilson.

Project List: none.

Title: The UnAmericans: Stories
Author: Antopol, Molly
Date Added: 11/26/2014

Verdict: Keep. These stories look interesting, are reviewed positively, and are authored by a young author, all good reasons for me to read them.

Project List: short stories

Title: Greenglass House (Greenglass House, #1)
Author: Milford, Kate
Date Added: 11/26/2014

Verdict: Already read this one! TBR success story!

Project List: n/a

Title: Girls Like Us
Author: Giles, Gail *
Date Added: 11/26/2014

Verdict: Go. It’s an interesting concept, but I’m going to follow the advice of some reviewers and seek out #OwnVoices writings.

Project List: n/a

Title: The Trip to Echo Spring
Author: Laing, Olivia
Date Added: 12/1/2014

Verdict: Go. This sounds more like a travel memoir than a book about why authors drink, but even if it were about why authors drink, I’d probably cut this title. I’m not sure I have any interest in why authors drink. I have little interest in why famous people do anything they do. Fame, schmame, is what I say. Love the art, but why elevate the artist? And don’t even get me started on people who are famous just because they’re famous, not because they do anything of value (Kardashians, the British Royal Family, and anyone who’s ever appeared on reality television).

Project List: n/a

Title: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
Author: Miodownik, Mark
Date Added: 12/1/2014

Verdict: Go. An interesting idea that strangely doesn’t interest me.

Project List: n/a

Title: Wave
Author: Deraniyagala, Sonali
Date Added: 12/1/2014

Verdict: Already read this one! TBR success story!

Project List: n/a

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Atwood, Margaret
Date Added: 12/3/2014

Verdict: Keep. Just, keep.

Project List: none.

Twelve more titles off the list for a total of 201 of 530 (26.8% of the original 750).

Thank you to ireadthatinabook for the suggestion, in response to my lament in Issue 39 that this project has become somewhat tedious, to comment more prudently (i.e., not feel compelled to comment in detail about each title, just the ones that really elicit a strong feeling for me). I’m not sure how well I’m adhering to the suggestion so far, but the intention is there.

Any thoughts about which I kept and which I tossed?

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