Tag Archives: Social Animal

Book: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun
South of the Border, West of the Sun

Boy grows up, explores love and sex but never really ‘gets it’. Poor guy.
213 pages, ★★★★

Protagonist Hajime starts as a 12-year-old boy who’s never kissed or dated anyone. He explores dating, kissing, sex and marriage throughout this book. By the end, he’s in his mid-30s, and married with two daughters.

After finishing school, Hajime spends 12 years wandering around aimlessly in life. He eats alone, relaxes alone, and doesn’t think about marriage. He dates girls, but none of the relationships are long-lasting or meaningful. David Brooks defined this relatively new period of life, the “decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood”, as “odyssey” in his book, The Social Animal. Luckily, this period of my life was very short—just a few months—and I can testify that life’s much better once you’re out of it.

But poor Hajime never really gets out of it. Even when married with two daughters, he’s still driving out of town to see his lover, his ex-lover and her cousin… at 30 years of age, his romantic life is a shambles! Everyone’s romantic life is a shambles is at some point, but we’re all supposed to grow out of it. And again, life’s much better when you do.

The ending is a classic Murakami one. Two (then three) characters meet in a miracle of coincidences, seeing each other in separate vehicles at the traffic lights. This also happened at the end of After Dark.

We can learn two things from this novel. First, everyone starts life understanding almost nothing about sex, dating and romantic love. Second, unlike Hajime, we should learn these things and get better with time. Don’t do what Hajime did and waste over a decade, not learning. Poor guy. ★★★★

Book: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement

China is awash with photocopied books. Check out any university and you'll be hard-pressed to find one student with an original book.

The happiest story you’ve ever read.
The closest you’ll get to a book about YOU.

423 pages, ★★★★★

The Social Animal is about as close to fiction as I ever get: a life-like story of two fictitious (but very ordinary) people. This book follows the lives of Harold and Erica through the proposed “six stages of life”, the most interesting of which being my stage: “odyssey”.

“Odyssey” is defined as the “ten years of wandering that follow adolescence but preclude a settled adulthood”. It’s a modern phenomenon that arises both from globalisation, and from lack of pressure in Western societies to settle down early. Twenty-somethings spend up to ten years travelling and trying on new personalities (like new clothes); and The Social Animal explains why we do this.

David Brooks makes dozens of references to research mentioned in MIT’s excellent Introductory Psychology lecture series (available for free on iTunes U). He also makes many reassuring references to studies outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

The most comforting aspect of this book is that the author knows the characters better than they know themselves. David Brooks explains all the characters’ feelings, actions and reasoning before they act. He cites psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in science who has an aversion to reading fiction for fear of “not learning anything”. We learn about ourselves by reading fiction. I now aspire to having read enough literature that I, too, could understand myself on a similar level to this book. ★★★★★