This fall's non-fiction : In the school of thinking

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Non-fiction in Indian summer Bild: AP

How do we use our mind to get our life in shape? An overview in English on this fall's non-fiction for the international guests of the Frankfurt Book Fair. By Christian Geyer.

          A book about the history of parking garages has just been published under the title of „Übersehene Räume“ (Overlooked Rooms, transcript Verlag). In it, Jürgen Hasse describes the parking garage as a typical place of modernity, where everything has its own place and direction - only to suddenly emerge as a symbol of rootlessness. A book season in which a book about parking garages appears, and particularly such a compelling one, has to be a good season.

          Why? Because such a book touches the nerve that runs through the feeling about life in 2007, a feeling of realizing that finding a home is something that you can no longer take for granted. Today, we can no longer expect to find a place where our beds are already made (economically or metaphysically). Today, we have to draw on our own resources more than ever, on our abilities to think for ourselves in order to erect a dwelling place for our lives and to protect it from being undermined by the lengthening tentacles of facelessness. The attitude that we need in such times is detailed in a little volume written by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt: „Sich selbst ernst nehmen“ (Taking yourself seriously, Suhrkamp). Taking yourself seriously is hardly something to take for granted. Sure, everyone goes on and on about self-determination. But the foundation underlying self-determination, if we understand Harry Frankfurt correctly, is something that frequently is left unstated: the willingness to change yourself.

          The composed art of reflection

          It has less to do with so-called brain jogging - motto: fresh air and maintenance tips for the mind!- that the swarm of brain joggers emerging from the forest of books want to tell us all about, like the volume of mental teasers called „Gehirnjogging für kluge Köpfe“ (Brain Jogging for Sharp Minds, Moewig). No, the ability to take yourself seriously has less to do with the art of puzzles and IQ-training and more to do with the composed art of reflection, with something that you could label in an old-fashioned sort of way as the school of thinking. The approach that you need to concentrate on thinking is the hollow core around which the brain joggers run their linguistic laps. In fact, there are two reactions preventing us from changing this condition of rootlessness: the defeatist (pessimism) and the phobic (fear). If you try to put the books of this autumn into one of these two categories, be it diagnostic or therapeutic, you will make some striking discoveries.

          As a therapy to beat defeatism, Jörg Blech suggests „Bewegung“ (Exercise, S. Fischer). His plea to get more exercise is a statement aimed at today's times of contemplation overload and shapelessness. Getting into shape - that starts with the body. As long as you are not sitting in an upright position yourself, you have no business telling others anything about posture or lecturing them on the principle of „Jeder ist anders“ (Everyone is different, DVA), as Judith Rich Harris so intelligently does. Why not start off with a workout in the fitness studio with Jörg Blech before your back gives out because your spine is not packed into a thick blanket of muscle? The fact that Germany's health insurance funds will not cover fitness-studio workouts as part of preventive medical care (and save a chunk of change in the process) is one of the absurdities associated with disease-spreading political policies.

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