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Interesting book, but not quite as described
on March 16, 2014
I assume that this author wanted to write a popular book about his area of academic expertise, pitched it to a publisher, and then the publisher decided to cash in on the popularity of "Flow" and related trends -- without a whole lot of regard to how much this book is actually likely to appeal to fans of "Flow".
Certainly "Trying Not to Try" deals with a related topic, and he offers some critiques of "Flow" (I'm unwilling to try to spell that guy's name), but really, at its heart and for most of its pages, this an overview of two and a half ancient Chinese religions, and it relates to spontaneity only in that both Confucianism and Taoism believe that truly moral behavior must arise spontaneously within the doer, and so strove to cultivate (or not cultivate) spontaneity for that end. Of course there's a paradox here, and that's what fascinates the author, and what provides the line of thought that makes this -- in the author's mind -- relevant to conversations about flow, etc. It boils down to, "Why can't we be relaxed and charming on a first date?"
Slingerland does incorporate some modern science, and it helps elucidate the Chinese religious stuff, but in no way does this book offer any real pointers on how to live your life so that you can relax on a first date. The book is fundamentally an examination of paradox, not a resolution of any sort.
All that said, although it took me a while to get through it, I enjoyed "Trying Not to Try". I told my husband about interesting points, and I have continued to think about different ways some of the concepts play out in my life.
I ordered this book because I have a slightly-more-than-passing interest in Taoism, and because when I found myself spontaneously interested in a book about the virtues of spontaneity it seemed like I should probably go with that impulse. But I'd recommend this book only to someone interested in ancient Chinese views of The Good Life, not to someone looking for a follow-up to "Flow" or who has a casual interest in spontaneity.