What are you reading this Summer, Stoa-readers? What, if anything, do you recommend? Tell me about books (though preferably not about Harry Potter books, unless you’ve got something especially interesting to say about them).
This entry was posted on Monday, July 30th, 2007 @ 4:39 pm on the category books.
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I’m reading a rather fusty old copy of “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell that I managed to persuade Derby library to dig out of some dusty hole. I just finished Francis Wheen’s “How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World” too; it’s mumbo jumbo season here.
The last book I read was Anthony McGann The Logic of Democracy: Reconciling Equality, Deliberation and Minority Protection, which was generally very good although perhaps a bit complacent in endorsing majority rule and I skimmed the empirical stuff towards the end. It’s also recommended by Iain McLean on the back cover. Last novel, Philip K. Dick The World Jones Made the week before last, after putting my back out.
I’m reading and enjoying Boswell’s Life of Johnson, with a slight sense of shame at not having done so before; also Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason, which is getting increasingly sour (I’m on to the Communists; she finds more that needs understanding in William Joyce) but seems worth persevering with for the prose and the occasional insight.
Last week, my first of actual time off this summer:
- Paul Gallico’s The Adventures of Hiram Holliday, recommended to me because the hero is a newspaper sub-editor (like me) who (unlike me) saves his New York paper half a million dollars with a comma and is sent off to have fun things happen to him in Europe. I was expecting comedy, and got it, but it morphs into a deeply odd propaganda thriller demonstrating why the US must go to war against Nazi Germany. (The key reason is European decadence, created in part by centuries of miscegenation.) It came out in 1939, apparently some time before September, and is set just after the Munich agreement. Still fun, partly because of the exact datedness, without quite being still good.
- Karel Capek’s Letters from England, which I’ve enthused about and will probably quote from again elsewhere. Very interesting on London, particularly suburban London. Oxbridge chapter is a bit bland, on account of him liking them, but has drawings of an elderly Cambridge don and (by the looks of it) Parson’s Pleasure.
- That About Which Not Much Interesting Can Be Said, on the day of publication, because it may have been my only chance to be reading exactly the same work of fiction, at the same time, as that many people; at least, unless I get religion. Not much interesting to say about it, though.
Ramsay:The the Lives of an English Fenland Town 1200-1600, By Edwin and Anne Dewindt,is a remarkable study of a small town during the middle ages and the early modern period. The Dewindts blow up a great many myths about Medieval life,and provide insight into the economic, political, religiousa,and personal lives of ordinary men and women.
Immortal Longings: Versions of Transcending Humanity,By Fergus Kerr. The editor of New Blackfriars analyzes the thought of Nussbaum, Heidegger,Cavell, and others, revealing the theological motifs hidden in the thought of supposedly “secular” thinkers
The Doors of the Sea:Where was God in the Tsunami?By David Bentley Hart.The best theologian of our generation,and maybe the best of the twenty-first century, writes a poewerful, short meditation on the problem of evil. An excellent antidote for certain fashionable nonsense (Hitchens, Dawkins, et.al.)
Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics ,By Andrew Sabl.Since Im supposedly a political scentist( Iteach it a Communty college to students who often spell “ruthless”, “roofless”),I should include one book in my discipline.I first read this book a few years ago, devouring it at a single sitting. IIt is one of the most interesting and subtle treatments of the relationship between rethics and politics I have ever read.
For fun, and Knowing that youre a Johnny Cash fan, I unreservedly reccomend John Carter Cash’s memoir of his parents, Anchored In Love. Loretta Lynn thanked young Cash for “writin” this book. I can only second
the Coal Miners Daughter.
Currently reading Saul Bellow’s “Dangling Man”. Not bad. More for interesting insights at moments than as a whole, I think. Done as a journal of someone who’s signed up for the army in WW2 but not yet been called up, so documenting the waiting period of life. Felt appropriate.
I recently read and enjoyed Jeffrey Eugenides’ book “Middlesex”. Lots of pretentious moments, but nowhere near so bad as “The Virgin Suicides”, and gripping overall. Also “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer. More good fiction. Once the irritation of a 9 year old narrator passes, it’s very good.
Been reading a lot of Holocaust stuff recently, fiction, memoirs and studies. “The Pianist”, the book from which the film was made, is very interesting and horrifying stuff. “Schindler’s Ark” was decent and worthwhile, but not so affecting. I’ve not finished “The Reader” yet, but that’s meant to be very good as well. Also looking at a book about the Yiddish community in Europe, which looks to be shaping up as something interesting.
Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” was, I thought, very good (though others have disagreed), but I’ve worked my way through a few others of his recently and found them rather thematically repetitive and dull, so maybe I was wrong about that too.
So… read stuff about Jews, Americans, atrocities and the gender-confused and you’ll probably be fine.
I have finally! finally! got hold of the first two Quintilian Dalrymple books by Paul Johnston (Body Politic and The Bone Yard). Quick summary: dystopian detective fiction, set in ‘Enlightenment’ Edinburgh in the 2020s after the breakdown of the United Kingdom (and most of Western civilization). They are bloody fantastic.
Next, I plan to finally get round to reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
I might pick up that Harry Potter Book at some point to find out how it ends, although I’m inclined to wait for the paperback.
Well, I have finished Harry Potter. But I’ve also been mostly reading teen crossover-appeal stuff that’s better. I’m a big fan of teen fiction, when it’s done well. It’s often a lot more inventive than adult fiction, with no shortage of sex ‘n’ violence. Teenagers are a tougher audience, I think, so the good teen writers really make an effort to grab and hold their attention.
Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother and Spirit Walker – similar to Harry Potter in many ways (special orphan kid, talking to animals, destined to fight an earlier generation’s Big Bad, etc) but much more inventive and frankly a lot better. And her worldbuilding’s excellent, with a really fascinating religious system that fits very well with the plot. I’m gonna be recommending it to kids at the library this summer, particularly the ones who’re all “There is no more Harry Potter I will never look at the written word again”. They’re actually shelved as children’s storybooks in the library where I work, which I wouldn’t dispute, but damn, they’re good. She tells the story and creates the world in this really simple, straightforward way, and it works.
Just finished re-reading Lian Hearn’s Harsh Cry of the Heron, the fourth book in her Tales of the Otori series, set sixteen years after the first three. In which she basically says “happy ending? Were you not paying attention to the first three? Your favourite characters didn’t make it out of the first book alive! This is based on feudal Japan. There is honor and betrayal and duty and shifting alliances and lots of ritual suicide. I rip out your heart and stomp on it now. For six hundred pages.” Tales of the Otori is another series I push at kids in the library. And hopefully none of their parents will go “Oi, you recommended my kid a book with shagging and assassination and warfare and hara-kiri, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?!?!?!” Hearn needs to bring out the promised prequel before my head explodes.
I’ve also been re-reading Ryan Gattis’ Kung-Fu High School, and my partner enjoyed it, even though she really doesn’t like much violence. It’s a kung-fu movie, in the form of a Robert-Cormier-style teen novel. The enormous multi-person Big Boss showdown at the end takes over a hundred pages. You wouldn’t think that’d work, but it does, wonderfully. I think it helps if you a) like kung-fu movies (my housemate got me hooked) and b) would’ve quite liked to have just sorted out secondary-school misery with cathartic violence. But it is good. The sheer quality of writing… I’ve quoted a bit of it here.
Um, sorry. Turns out I can ramble on about books for ages. And this isn’t the geekiest I can get, either.
I’m halfway through something called Special Topics In Calamity Physics, which is a murder mystery… sort of. It’s heavily reminiscent of The Secret History, with the same heavy use of references and the sense of being grounded in mythology rather than real life. I’d recommend it, reservedly, because I haven’t finished it.
I’ve just finished re-reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie – I think it might be his only book for children), which I read a lot when I was little; of course, the re-read shows up the political subtext that went over my head the first time around.
And I have, indeed, just finished Harry Potter, and am quietly annoyed (but sadly unsurprised) that ten years of reassuring queer subtext have all concluded with the Epilogue of Depressing Heteronormativity.
Herodotus in the new Everyman edition, a lovely thing in itself, translated by Rawlinson. It is bringing back memories of gobbets served up for translation at O grade some 42 years ago. Ideal bedside reading.