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What books are you reading now?

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Posted (edited)

Taking some time with Lucretius and Epicurus. - Cyril Bailey and WHD Rouse translations of On the Nature of Things; Norman DeWitt's Epicurus and His Philosophy; David West's The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius

David West takes issue with translators who paraphrase: "Popular though it is among writers on classical literature, paraphrase kills poetry, and in Lucretius (where so much depends upon the acuity of the detail), it mutilates the corpse." :)

Edited by AllBlue

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Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future

A couple of months ago I finished reading “Under a Green Sky” by Peter Ward. For me, it started off a little slow. I think that’s because the author uses the first few chapters to rehash several events that I had already read in “On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions” – a book I really enjoyed.

But once I got through that, it began to pick up quite nicely. The author went on to make the case for human instigated global warming by contrasting past warming epochs caused by natural processes (volcanism.) I think the author did a good job explaining the science behind it – even for rubes like me. Descriptions of Earth’s oceans becoming anoxic and stagnant particularly impressed me as I’ve seen the effect firsthand on large bodies of water here at home due to the drought. The book left little hope of Earth evading what seems to be inevitable. But I found some solace from the book, in the same way one comes to terms with the death of a loved one.

All in all, the book could have been considerably shorter, as the author takes numerous literary excursions that really aren’t necessary. But I’m sure there was pressure from the publisher to have a certain number of pages to make the book attractive to consumers.

Then: I picked up “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't,” but can’t get into it. And I picked up “The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior,” and it’s not doing it for me either. I kicked around a couple of scifi novels – been there, done that.

Edited by chad3006
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After finishing off all 10 of Malazan Book of the Fallen series, I've fallen in a rut, so I reread a few books: Snow Crash and The Great Gatsby. Also finished Bonfire of the Vanities and The Possibility of an Island.

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Brilliant, Null. :clap2:

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I recently read Le Guin's delightful little work A Wizard of Earthsea. Pushing thirty, I read Lord of the Flies for the first time. I reread John Gardner's kick ass short novel Grendel. Now, it's time to get back in gear. I await Nick Land's Fanged Noumena in the mail, and just ordered Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency.

Edited by DeadCanDance

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Leviathan (Hobbes). Typically of famous C-17th pieces, it's heavy on long, parenthetical sentences. It would be much easier to read and engage with if it were much more concise. As an atheist republican, I can't say I agree with many of the conclusions made, and a lot of the time I'm getting the impression that Hobbes is asserting, then claiming to have demonstrated.

The Road (McCarthy). Recently finished this one. Brilliant. As the character at the end suggests, though, father and son seem to have survived as long as they did on the luck that comes with being the central characters in a work of fiction.

Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews (Hart). Just started this one. As you might guess, it's about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Describes Binyamin Netanyahu as a modern-day Jewish Hitler - a description with which I find it difficult to disagree.

Also pulled The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hugo) off my shelf. I expect it to be interesting, engaging, exciting, and emotional, with a significant moral socio-political message, but all rather long-winded at times, and I suspect if large chunks of the text were erased, it wouldn't hurt the story one bit.

Edited by DaveT

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Just on a whim I borrowed The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo from the library. It's a bloated mess in the typical true crime style, although the subject itself is interesting: the Vidocq Society, a social club of investigators and forensic experts who meet monthly to attempt to solve cold cases following a gourmet lunch. The thing that is driving me crazy is the subliteracy of the writer. He uses the word "penultimate" when he means extreme, he's used "atonal" for monotone, and he just described an investigator's office as "pie-shaped". Now, pie are round, as the joke goes, and a circular office would be very unusual, so I can only assume he meant like a slice of pie or, properly called, "wedge-shaped". Finally, at one point he says that Aeschylus' Oresteia was written 700 years ago.

I'll carry through reading this, but only because of the interest of the subject, and because I already pushed through the most boring part of the book, which was the first fifth. Nevertheless, I'm going to give it no higher than a three-star rating, perhaps even two stars.

Edited by Nullifidian

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Finally, at one point he says that Aeschylus' Oresteia was written 700 years ago.

Obviously the initial draft of The Murder Room was written c.200 CE.

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I'm switching between two treeware books and an audiobook. First, I'm reading Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, but I can only take so much of it at a time. Aside from the fact that it's a distilled version of everything that pissed me off about Obama in the first three years of his administration (the book was published in May 2012), it's also implicitly reminding me of everything that Obama has been doing—and not been doing, like closing the prisons at Gitmo or dismantling the Bush-era surveillance state—since then. And since he's currently rattling sabers over Syria, it's timely but depressing reading, so I need something else to read when I can't face this book.

That other book is Medieval Age, part of the Laurel Masterpieces of World Literature series and the best one-volume anthology of Medieval Literature I've yet seen. It's broad both in scope and style, encompassing both the prose and poetry of much of Europe from c. 600 CE to 1450. Whenever things are turning to shit in the present time, I always read more about the past, and the more unlike our own era the better. I cut a large swathe through Classical history and literature in 2003, 2006, 2008, etc. I don't think it's an accident that I've also got Michael Grant's The World of Rome, Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to Present, and Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I in my reading list too, plus Katharine Beutner's Alcestis, a riff on the eponymous Euripides play.

In audiobook form, I'm listening to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. After I finish it I plan to watch the entire 1979 miniseries with Alec Guinness (in fact the reading challenge category is about books that have been adapted for TV series, miniseries, or TV movies).

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Reading the swag Null sent me, including Bakunin's God and the State, which I recall reading years ago at City Lights bookstore in SF, along with works by Kropotkin and others, but that was a long time ago. This is a wonderful book. "If God really existed it would be necessary to abolish him." :heh:

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Posted (edited)

For the record, the swag I sent :davidm1: contained six books, half-fiction and half-nonfiction.

The Death of the Gods, a historical novel by Dmitri Merezhkovsky based on the life of Julian the Apostate. DavidM's edition is translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney, but there's a freely available translation by Herbert Trench here.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, which needs no introduction.

Drift: Stories from Newport Beach, a series of interlocking short stories by Southern California writer Victoria Patterson. Newport Beach is a ritzy coastal town in Orange County, but Patterson's book focuses primarily on the poor service sector workers who run everything, but live on the fringes of this affluent community.

God and the State by Mikhail Bakunin. This is a work that was intended to be expanded into a longer theoretical work akin to those of Marx called The Knouto-Germanic Empire, but Bakunin was much more an active revolutionary than a theorist, so it was never completed. All we have left is a fragmentary (the work ends in mid-sentence), pamphlet-sized work which is nevertheless original and very entertaining. <ahttp://www.galilean-library.org/site/uploads/emoticons/default_nullifidian.gif' alt=':nullifidian:'> There's a downloadable text version here and a well-narrated audiobook here.

Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman. This is the memoir Berkman wrote of his attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick, the industrialist who called out the Pinkertons on striking workers in his steel mills, leading to a battle in which nine workers and three Pinkerton men were killed. This attempted violent suppression of the Homestead Strike so infuriated Alexander Berkman that he decided to travel to Pittsburgh to assassinate Frick as an "attentat" or "propaganda of the deed". Berkman only succeeded in wounding Frick, which is why instead of hanging he was sentenced to 22 years in prison, and released after 14. This is an account of how his 14 years in prison changed him, making him in many ways a better and more compassionate and thoughtful defender of the oppressed, and is one of the best-written and most moving works of prison literature I've read. Again, there's a etext version here, although sadly not yet an audiobook.

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro. This last book is a popular-level treatment of the authorship controversy, focusing primarily on the history of the movement and the way in which "Bardolatry" and Romantic-era notions of the life of the writer combined to create a belief that no glover's son could have possibly written the plays of Shakespeare. It's entertaining, and when Shapiro finally lets loose and rebuts the claims of the anti-Stratfordians, he does it with solid arguments and intellectual authority.

Edited by Nullifidian
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Posted (edited)

I finished The Reverse of the Medal and it was so brilliant that I craved more Aubrey-Maturin, so I played around with the reading challenge until I found categories for The Letter of Marque, The Thirteen-Gun Salute, and The Nutmeg of Consolation (books #12-14 in the series). I don't know what I'm going to do when I finally finish the whole series. Maybe just start from the beginning again.

Now I'm reading Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters.

It's a fascinating book so far. I finished the introduction and the chapter on "The Rise of Anorexia in Hong Kong". Each of the four major chapters of the book deals with one region and one illness. The next one is "The Wave That Brought PTSD to Sri Lanka", followed by "The Shifting Mask of Schizophrenia in Zanzibar", and "The Mega-Marketing of Depression in Japan". Then there's a final reflection on "The Global Economic Crisis and the Future of Mental Illness".

Watters' thesis is that the disease model of mental illness, with its diagnostic manuals and presumed independence from cultural cues, is seriously distorting not just the diagnosis of mental illnesses in non-Western countries, but also the way they're experienced. Patients in a state of mental distress that they find difficult to articulate latch on unconsciously to a "pool" of symptoms that is presented to them as the legitimate way of articulating their anguish. This also happens in Western nations, as he documents with the illness of hysteria, showing how certain symptoms came to the fore, including anorexia nervosa, which is now experienced as an independent illness, but emerged from the broad spectrum of hysterical symptoms in the mid-to-late 19th century.

He gets very snarky in the introduction about how Western models of mental illness are regarded as universal, but other regions' experiences are just quaint exotica. I knew I was going to love the book when I read this:

Similarly, illnesses found only in other cultures are often treated like carnival sideshows. Koro and amok and the like can be found far back in the American diagnostic manual (DSM-IV, pages 845-849) under the heading "Culture-Bound Syndromes." They might as well be labeled "Psychiatric Exotica: Two Bits a Gander."

:rofl:

It's compulsively readable. I may finish this book either today or early tomorrow.

Since I can't wait to see how Capt. Aubrey fares as a privateer, I'll be starting The Letter of Marque tonight. I'll be listening to the audiobook read by Simon Vance (who has recorded all of the Aubrey-Maturin series).

Edited by Nullifidian
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Going to read O Whistle, and I'll Come To You My Lad tonight. Spent the day reading bits and pieces of other works, including The Last Spin, an amusing short story by Evan Hunter.

Also nearing the end of Notre-Dame de Paris, and Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. I think David and Paul would enjoy the latter, even though it is terribly edited, with lots of typos and grammatical errors. :nono:

As well as that, I've been reading Thud by Terry Pratchett, and laughing out loud throughout.

Anyway, I plan to read the ghost story at around midnight, with the lights off, while listening to Kronos Quarter's Ghost Opera. :eek3:

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I finished the 600 page novel, Dead Stars in 3 days. 8 out of 10 stars. Review on goodreads.com forthcoming.

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Just posted this on goodreads.com about Dead Stars:

A very addictive read. I bought it on Wednesday from the Last Bookstore in LA, and finished it on Friday night.

The satirical critique of celebrity culture is only skin-deep - where most obtuse critics get stuck on - because Wagner portrays his characters with enough humanity that makes them more sympathetic than mere caricatures. Sometimes I felt the writer was also criticizing himself or a work he could have written in the past particularly in the bitter gall of the Hollywood writer, Bud, perhaps a self-portrait of sorts. The early section on the Honeyshots! is a classic in its own right. Plus the fantastic Helmut Newton rant is the very epitome of modern art as pure unadulterated cynicism.

Easily Wagner's best work.

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I read Thomas Ligotti's ephemeral, though imperishable in effect, "The Spectral Link" in one sitting last night. Upon completing these two stories, I reached over and turned off the lamp. The darkness had lost its charm. Any sense of will, of power, of life, any vestige of engagement- gone. And I felt a lightless stone, to be tossed to and fro by inscrutable, subterranean forces.

I curled up into the fetal position and stared blindly into the darkness.

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While browsing the foreign language section of a local library, I found the book Introduction to German Poetry and decided to see how far my rudimentary knowledge of German would take me. On an impulse, I also made a trip to the CD section and checked out half a dozen or so CDs of lieder as well. Why not? And because I wasn’t taking any classes, and didn’t have anything I particularly needed to be doing, I decided to start on the whole lot of them at once.

This lasted until I happened upon the following poem by Heinrich Heine:

“Ich wollte, meine lieder”

Ich wollte, meine Lieder

Das wären Blümelein:

Ich schickte sie zu riechen

Der Herzallerliebsten mein.

Ich wollte, meine Lieder

Das wären Küsse fein:

Ich schickt’ sie Heimlich alle

Nach Liebchens Wängelein.

Ich wollte, meine Lieder

Das wären Erbsen klein:

Ich kocht’ eine Erbensuppe,

Die sollte köstlich sein.

The poem’s literal translation, as given by my book:

“I wish that all my songs”

I wish that all my songs

Were little flowers:

I would send them to be smelled

By the darling of my heart.

I wish that all my songs

Were delicate kisses:

I secretly would send them all

To my sweetheart’s little cheek.

I wish that all my songs

Were little peas:

I would cook a pea soup

Which would really be delicious.

After over 24 straight hours of being immersed in depressing German poems and lieder—my volume was mostly romantic poetry, which mostly concerns death, longing for death, moonlight, nightingales, and unrequited love—this seemed unspeakably hilarious. :rofl: Perhaps you had to have been there. At any rate, I’m never going to be able to take a certain kind of poem seriously after this. I may never be able to take anything seriously ever again.

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Finishing America the Philosophical my Romano.

3/4th done with Ligotti's Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

Checked out the following:

Ancient Evenings by Mailer

Under the Skin by Faber

Passion of Michel Foucault by Miller

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I'll finish Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination this evening. William Gibson, the cyberpunk Messiah, identified it as his favorite work of the science fiction genre. It's easy to see why- it's a literary atom bomb. Having combed over the work, donning my literary critic hat, I have been unable to find any fault; it's as flawless as any diamond.

All the more stunning, it was written in the mid 50's! For a genre that, uniquely embedded in time, struggles with what emerges out of it with supplantation before the winds of change, this work is uncanny in its relevance. It could have well been written by a time traveler from the future.

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I've become a bit obsessed of late with the fall of the Roman Empire towards the end of the fifth century. Though the two are often erroneously conflated, it is highly necessary to demarcate the fall of the Empire from the collapse of Greco-Roman (classical) civilization, which occurred some two centuries later.

I've been surprised by how much controversy there is among historians about "Late Antiquity" as regards a rather large number of issues, but foremost looming over the various points of contention is roughly this:

What the hell caused the Middle Ages?

One thing I've found particularly interesting is that, in particular, Late Antiquity is associated with simply civilizationally devastating fertility rates- they pretty much 'checked out' of procreation; the exclusion, to what had otherwise become the norm, of abortion and infanticide, were the Christians, who had large families and shunned both abortion and were appalled at infanticide. Never mind Constantine, he merely saw what was going to happen anyways, ie the ascension of Christianity.

Demographics is war by other means, and the Christians were experts, procreating like mad while the old gods and old Greco-Roman metaphysics no longer inspired transgenerational affirmation.

Up until now, I had bought, if you will, the general historical 'meme' that the massive influx of the German barbarians ended classical civilization, and that the world of Islam was, for the times, a largely progressive force that saved the West from the Christian darkness of the Middle Ages...at minimum, this has been challenged- I verge on saying completely obliterated, but that'd be a little too premature.

In short, one man is almost single handedly responsible for all the controversy: Henri Pirenne (1862-1935), who claimed, in his meticulous and scholarly work, "Mohammed and Charlemagne," as against what was then contemporary European thought, (to be blunt) that what caused the Dark Age in Europe was Islam.

Edited by DeadCanDance
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DCD, check out two books on Julian:

Julian: A Novel by Gore Vidal, and The Death of the Gods by Merezhovsky.

Both excellent, and they fit your current obsession.

I'm reading The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil right now. :cheers:

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Thanks for the recommendations- Vidal is one of my more obvious literary voids. I've read almost nothing of his authorship.

Need to work on that. :doh:

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I've read a ton of stuff since I last posted here, which I won't bother to list.

ATM, I'm reading the following:

Lost Illusions

12 Years a Slave

A Tale of Two Cities

Side By Side (A history book about Israel and Palestinian wherein each chapter is the Israeli version on the left hand page, and the Palestinian version on the right hand page).

A book for teaching myself Hebrew.

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Over the past several months I've read several books that are in one way or another about seafaring. These include: Dove, Writing the Sea, In the Heart of the Sea, and The Ice Master.

Dove was about a 16 year old kid who sails around the world (mostly) by himself. He finds his future wife along the way and she joins him for parts of the voyage. While I was surely impressed with the kid's ability, courage, and such, I just couldn't get past the immaturity he showed at certain times. Of course he was just 16, and few things in this world are more irritating that a 16 year old boy, so I just had to keep reminding myself of that fact. Furthermore, he seemed to be carrying out his father's dream, not his own. The story reminded me a lot of Catcher in the Rye, another book I read too late in life to appreciate … I guess.

Writing the Sea was written by Newfoundland native Cassie Brown. The short little book was part memoir, part odds and ends. She shared some humorous stories of her childhood in Newfoundland, as well as some tragedies that took place in the area. It was an entertaining read.

In the Heart of the Sea was an extremely well written account of the sinking of the Essex, a whaling ship circa 1820. This was one of those books that really packed a lot of information in a relatively short space. The author not only tells a well researched account of the ship's sinking, but also gives the reader a good primer on the history of whaling in North America, the characteristics of starvation/dehydration, and some of the rationale behind the crew's ill fated decisions. All that and it flowed coherently too! It was really a top notch read – I think even for someone not particularly interested in seafaring tales.

Finally, The Ice Master was overall a well written book, but after reading In the Heart of the Sea anything else would wouldn't quite measure-up. Still it wasn't bad. This was the story of a Canadian government funded expedition to find new land to exploit in the Great White North. The man in charge was more snake oil salesman than scientist and soon abandoned the captain and the rest of the crew of the Karluk (a poorly outfitted ship) to the pack ice, under the auspice of going for help. Instead he continued his exploration, finds a new island or two, and winds up being something of a hero and has his picture printed on some Canadian stamps. The captain of the Karluk winds up trudging across ice flows, across the Bering Straight in order to find help for the remaining survivors stuck on inhospitable Wrangel Island. For his trouble, the captian was brought up on charges in maritime court – luckily for him, none of the charges stuck.

Edited by chad3006
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