📚 My Book Recommendations | Part 2

Elina Kapanen
10 min readNov 5, 2020

Hi lovely people! With a delay, here’s the second batch of books that I enjoyed in 2019 the most, and I think you might too. Even though we’re already in the second half of 2020 — I am sure that book recommendations don’t really stagnate that fast. If you’re interested in part 1 — find it here.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World

Peter Wohlleben • AmazonGoodreads

This book caught my eye on Goodreads by its mysterious title and relevance to humans. “Wouldn’t it be exciting to know about the life of something that we either love to be surrounded by or even just are surrounded by daily?” I wondered.

“Hidden Life of Trees” is literally a book about trees. It touches on topics such as: How do trees sense and communicate danger? How do they help each other in need? Which trees are having certain difficulties and why? How do trees exchange nutrients and water? and much more. The writing in this book flows beautifully and the content is full of exciting facts, without feeling too heavy.

What I felt the most during this reading was fascination — fascination especially about the lengths that trees go in order to help each other during hard times. Peter Wohlleben summed it up well:

“…a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

Now, when I’m walking outside, I notice more, which also brings me into the present moment more. Isn’t that something a lot of us want to get a bit better at?

Depth Typology: C. G. Jung, Isabel Myers, John Beebe and The Guide Map to Becoming Who We Are

Mark Hunziker • AmazonGoodreads

Since psychology and patterns in human behavior have been an intriguing topic for me for a long time, I had a natural gravitation towards this book. C. G. Jung has said “Understanding the dynamics of personality is a valuable tool for self-awareness” and I really do believe so. It’s a valuable tool for examining our own biases and the assumption that “like me” is the baseline for normal.

The book gives an extensive overview of how well-known psychotherapists have defined consciousness, unconsciousness, system, identity, Self, and the Ego. In addition, it educates the reader about the origins of the Myers-Briggs personality type theory and explains the idea of one particularly thought-provoking concept — shadow-type: the side of personality that one is unconscious of, but others see.

This book doesn’t have light content. Surprisingly though — it was still quite easy to comprehend. I think that the most complex concepts were distributed over the book in such a way that it didn’t feel too much to take in at once.

I really admired that the author pointed out the following:

“The Myers-Briggs model does not assert that something is so, but its goal is to illustrate a particular mode of observation.”

Jung, the initial creator of the theory, was interested in finding patterns in human behavior. At that time — something like this hadn’t been done on such a scale. Jung has always emphasized that his model is just the beginning of understanding personality, and one should take it with a grain of salt. He stresses that it should be used as a basis to build on top of in order to evolve the theory. I think that it is an extremely important thing to consider when learning about typology, or even in forming an opinion about it.

Even though I wish to quote the whole book, I tried my best to pick out some things that stuck with me the most:

“Life organizes around identity. Every living thing acts to develop and preserve itself. Identity is the filter that every organism or system uses to make sense of the world. New information, new relationships, changing environments — all are interpreted through a sense of self. This tendency toward self-creation is so strong that it creates a paradox. An organism will change to maintain identity. (p. 14)”

“The part of our psyche that knows “the rest of the story” — that knows of the reality of our environment and our Selves and remembers the time-tested wisdom accrued by our ancestors — is mostly unconscious.”

“Bruce Lipton (2005/ 2008) takes it a step further: “The conscious mind offers us free will, meaning we are not just victims of our programming” (p. 138).”

“As Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers (1996/ 1999) point out, “sameness is not stability. It is individual freedom that creates stable systems. It is differentness that enables us to thrive” (p. 41).”

“As noted earlier, Jung also entertained the possibility that the source material and nature of the collective unconscious may extend beyond humankind, to the basic laws of nature, the repeating patterns of the universe itself, to what quantum physicists often refer to as the “source field” and philosophers call the “universal substrate.””

“After all, we are our own ultimate frame of reference.”

“What stays in balance is correct, what disturbs balance is incorrect. But if balance has been attained, then that which preserves it is incorrect and that which disturbs it is correct. Balance is at once life and death. — C. G. JUNG”

“Candace Pert (1997/ 1999) quoted a friend’s apt summation of the contrasting new paradigm of wellness/ dysfunction revealed by cutting edge biomedical research: I’m no longer a machine made up of a body being pushed around by a brain, at the mercy of an electrical charge to keep my heart beating and my synapses crackling. Instead, I can now see myself as an intelligent system, one that involves a massive and rapid simultaneous exchange of information between mind and body. My cells are literally talking to each other, and my brain is in on the conversation. … Now that I know my body has wisdom, this calls for a new kind of responsibility on my part. I can no longer act like a dumb machine and wait to be fixed by the mechanic — otherwise known as the doctor. Now I have the potential to consciously intervene in the system myself, to take an active role in my own healing. I’m both more powerful and more responsible in creating the health I experience than the dumb machine I used to think I was. (p. 262)”

This book is definitely not for everyone, but if you’re interested in these concepts I think you’d like it because it goes a bit deeper into them.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi • AmazonGoodreads

It’s a book that I initially took up with the intention to learn about human engagement, in order to design better for a certain digital product. What I actually got out of it was something different.

Once again — it is a book that talks about the idea of bringing order into chaos, the mental chaos, similar to Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”. However, this one approaches the subject in more of a focused, practical, and tangible — or should I say less-philosophical — way, backing the theory up with extensive studies on the topic. “When do people feel the most content and happy? What kind of characteristics does an activity need to have in order for a person to feel in the flow?” are the main questions explored in this book. The beginning of the book feels a bit generic but I assure you — if you push through that part, it will draw you in.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

“Preoccupation with the self consumes psychic energy because in everyday life we often feel threatened. Whenever we are threatened we need to bring the image we have of ourselves back into awareness, so we can find out whether or not the threat is serious, and how we should meet it. For instance, if walking down the street I notice some people turning back and looking at me with grins on their faces, the normal thing to do is immediately to start worrying: “Is there something wrong? Do I look funny? Is it the way I walk, or is my face smudged?” Hundreds of times every day we are reminded of the vulnerability of our self. And every time this happens psychic energy is lost trying to restore order to consciousness.”

“What slips below the threshold of awareness is the concept of self, the information we use to represent to ourselves who we are. And being able to forget temporarily who we are seems to be very enjoyable. When not preoccupied with our selves, we actually have a chance to expand the concept of who we are. Loss of self-consciousness can lead to self-transcendence, to a feeling that the boundaries of our being have been pushed forward.”

“However, enjoyment, as we have seen, does not depend on what you do, but rather on how you do it.”

“A person who can remember stories, poems, lyrics of songs, baseball statistics, chemical formulas, mathematical operations, historical dates, biblical passages, and wise quotations has many advantages over one who has not cultivated such a skill. The consciousness of such a person is independent of the order that may or may not be provided by the environment. She can always amuse herself, and find meaning in the contents of her mind. While others need external stimulation — television, reading, conversation, or drugs — to keep their minds from drifting into chaos, the person whose memory is stocked with patterns of information is autonomous and self-contained.”

“As these findings suggest, the apathy of many of the people around us is not due to their being physically or mentally exhausted. The problem seems to lie more in the modern worker’s relation to his job, with the way he perceives his goals in relation to it. Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.”

Even though it’s not a self-help book, I think this reading can help one to understand better what to do to become more engaged and focused.

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa

Haruki Murakami, Seiji Ozawa • AmazonGoodreads

It’s again a book by one of my favorite authors, but this time with himself inside the book: in an interviewer role — interviewer of a conductor! If you know me and my love for music, I don’t need to explain more why I dedicated my time to this one.

“Absolutely on Music” is a book-length conversation between Murakami and Japanese conductor Seji Ozawa. Through stories from Ozawa, one can get a glimpse of what it means to be a conductor and how life looks like one. Throughout the interview, Ozawa and Murakami take moments to listen to classical music pieces played by different orchestras and conductors, while discussing how each has given the music its own character.

Here are a few short conversations from the book:

“OZAWA: You know how people say that the sound of an orchestra changes with the conductor? That tends to be truer of American orchestras. MURAKAMI: You mean, European orchestras don’t change that much? OZAWA: You can put a different conductor in front of the Berlin or the Vienna, and the musicians hardly let go of their own special coloration.”

“OZAWA: Oh, really? That makes sense. When I brought the Boston Symphony there thirty years ago, you could hear the subway rumbling underground. It passes right underneath. You’d get the subway going by four or five times in the space of one symphony. [Laughter.]”

“MURAKAMI: At the same time, he said that Smetana has expressions that “speak” Czech, and Ravel has expressions that “speak” French, and the musicians ought to keep such things in mind.”

Want an easy read that feels like a journey through music, together with a lovely company? Then this might be something for you.

How to find hidden gems?

As promised in the first post, here’s my secret to finding “hidden gem” books. “Hidden gem” book is a book that challenges the reader’s thoughts about a particular topic through insights from a remotely connected topic.

Let me explain by giving a real-life example of mine. I was interested in reading about designing for engagement. I did not look for literature that talks purely about engagement, but ones that might have something related to engagement.

After looking through my reading list, I ended up picking a book called “Design For Kids: Digital Products for Playing and Learning”.

Am I interested in designing for kids? Not particularly, but I think we have a lot to learn from them. Could this book include aspects of engagement? Definitely, but probably in different contexts. I do think there is always a context overlap and that most knowledge tends to be universal anyway.

I’ve read books about engagement before, but this one included useful insights that I didn’t encounter in those most popular engagement books. I think that an approach like this might help one to be even a bit more innovative in their life or work projects.

It is not a new idea, but perhaps a good reminder to someone?

Thank you for reading ❤

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Elina Kapanen

Creating through different mediums and being curious about the world and humans • Lead Product Designer @ Speakly