I have to confess that this weeks’ book comes from an author for whom I have a bit of a soft spot. Why? Well you may remember from my early warblings in previous posts that I was new to Twitter up until a couple of months ago. There I was, all alone on the Twittersphere until one day my phone pinged. I had a notification: Joss Sheldon followed you. My heart soared. My first follower – my very first, own actual follower! Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suffer from any disillusions that the two of us would become bosom buddies, sharing tweets as we sipped at foamy caramel macchiato’s in different cafe’s across the country (even less so, on the caramel macchiato front, since reading his book.) I realised that I was being followed as part of a marketing drive and that Sheldon (I so badly want to call him Joss on account of our “followship” of each other) saw my interest in all things literary and thought I may be interested in his book. But still, he was my first follower and in my book that counts for something. That earns him a special place in my Twittering heart.
Joss Sheldon is the self published author of ‘The Little Voice.’ I have just started to dip my toe into the world of self-published writers and have been astounded at the quality of the writing on offer. Sheldon is a prime example. He has written a few other books, but ‘The Little Voice’ seems to be the one that has got him noticed. The book is a no holds barred run through Sheldon’s life and the experiences that have brought him to his current unusual way of life. A lot of the early part of the book focuses on his formative years. Sheldon’s thesis is that society forces us to behave in certain ways that don’t ultimately lead to our happiness. He talks a lot about Operant Conditioning: the fact that we are punished when we break rules and rewarded when we adhere to them. This, he says, makes us (by and large) rule following automatons that question little to nothing if it comes to us from an authority figure. Sheldon’s experiences have led him to reject Operant Conditioning.
The problem was that half way through the book, I become acutely aware that Operant Conditioning is exactly what I practice on my children. So if I didn’t give them stickers for using the potty and put them on the naughty step for hitting each other, then how would I teach them right from wrong? I can hear the followers of Attachment Parenting methodology screaming at their screens in frustration right now. Let me clarify that I’m not advocating my parenting style over any other. My point is a more general one, wouldn’t a society where there was a lack of punishment for rule breaking result in anarchy or is there some kind of Attachment Governing methology that can be applied? I wondered what Sheldon’s answer would be.
It was at this point, I must reluctantly admit, that I began to suspect him of subterfuge. You see, I came to the conclusion that the whole book was headed in a particular direction. I thought that Sheldon had a pre-determined plan to suck me in and then tell me the only way to get out of this conundrum and lead a more fulfilled life was to do X or Y or to, heaven forbid, Z (please no, not Z, anything but Z)! And herein for me lay an unexpected lesson. What I have started to learn from this 52 week challenge is that I am an extremely cynical reader, prone to jumping to premature conclusions (see my review of ‘Swing Time’) which have the nasty potential of curbing my enjoyment of a book while I am reading it.
So let me just state for the record that there was no hidden agenda. I had totally misinterpreted Sheldon and his motives. The guy isn’t playing preacher. Sheldon freely admits that he himself has not worked out the best way to live his life and also (bravely) that some days he even questions whether he is truly happy with his chosen path. This admission adhered him more to my heart than even our Twitter history. I am not a fan of black and white “answers”. Someone who is real enough to admit that they don’t know it all and are still working it out; well that’s just someone like the rest of us isn’t it?
Sheldon came to the conclusion that he had spent his life trying to achieve the goals that others had set for him, going to university, searching for a high-flying job, trying to get a promotion. None of these were things he wanted for himself. Just things that those around him expected him to do. Once he rejected this, he began a journey of trying to understand what it was he did want. A journey that continues to this day. Whether you, like Sheldon are a seeker of truths or not, this is a book that makes you stop and reassess why you do the things you do. How did you come to this juncture? What part did society play in getting you here? And where, if you were totally free to choose, would you want to go from here? ‘The Little Voice’ is a thought provoking book that offers a refreshing take on accepted social norms. A must read for anyone interested in what a different world could look like.
Next week I’m taking a long car journey accompanied by the audio-book of ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig. Come back on Monday to see my review!