dchaikin is reading WHAT in 2012?

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dchaikin is reading WHAT in 2012?

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Edited: Jan 5, 2012, 11:29pm

Yes, I'm planning to read the Bible in 2012. I can't predict how far I will actually go, maybe I'll toss the book across the room on Jan 1 and be done with it (that book would be Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary). Anyway, this is literary, not religious. (Recently a neighbor mentioned they found God. Well, I guess I found atheism, but that's nothing new.)

The down side is that this keeps me away from whatever is new in books. I will read other books during the bible-a-thon thing, but Le Salon of the constantly changing name has a nice 2012 list and I will try to follow several of the books there. January is Moby Dick, which I should start soonish (not promising to finish that one either).

Goodness, it's Dec 7, and I've already planned 2012...and I'm pretty sure December won't even go as planned.

old threads:
2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2.

Edited: Jun 17, 2012, 11:34am

Books finished in 2012: - links will go to relevant post at some point.


1. Cimarron Review : January 1997 (read Dec 11 - Jan 6)
2. Poetry : September 1996 (Volume CLXVIII, Number 6) (read Jan 8-14)
3. Genesis - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Jan 1-20)
4. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible by Karel van der Toorn (read Dec 25 - Jan 28)
5. Celebrate the Sun by James J. Kavanaugh (read Jan 28-29)


6. The Penderwicks : A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (read Jan 15-Feb 10, with my daughter)
7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Dec 8 - Feb 12...took my time)
8. To Be Read in 500 Years : Poems by Albert Goldbarth (Jan 15 - Feb 17)
9. Exodus - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Jan 25 - Feb 20)
10. Oil on Water by Helon Habila (read Feb 14-26)


11. Cain by Jose Saramago (Feb 25 - Mar 2)
12. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (Feb 11 - Mar 3)
13. The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris (Mar 1-12)
14. Leviticus - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Feb 27 - Mar 16)
15. Black Warrior Review : Volume XXIII, Number 1 - Fall/Winter 1996 (Feb 17 - Mar 26)
16. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (re-read. Chapters 1-30 Feb 4-15, the rest Mar 20-29)


17. Imperfect : An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott with Tim Brown (April 6-15)
18. This Close to the Earth by Enid Shomer (Mar 27 - Apr 18)
19. Overcoming ADHD Without Medication : A Parent and Educator's Guidebook by Children and Natural Psychology Association for Youth (April 19-22)
20. Numbers - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read April 1-25)
21. ADHD by Trudi Strain Trueit (juvenile book, read April 27)
22. ADHD by Barbara Sheen (juvenile book, read April 27-28)


23. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (read May 4-9)
24. Cobb : A Biography by Al Stump (April 15 - May 14)
25. Deuteronomy - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Apr 30 - May 16)
--- this completes The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (Read Dec 3 - May 16)
26. Wolves by Larry D. Thomas, with woodcuts by Clarence Wolfshohl (read May 19)


27. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (read May 17 - June 1)
28. When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant (read June 4 - 10)
29. Joshua - from the Authorized King James Holy Bible (read June 4 - 14)
30. The Missouri Review : Volume 27, Number 1, 2004 (read April 19 - June 14)
31. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden (June 14-16)

Currently Reading
- The Missouri Review : Volume XX, Number 2, 1997 - Rituals (started June 16)
- The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (started Jun 11)
- Authorized King James Holy Bible (read Joshua June 4-14)
- Radioactive : Marie & Pierre Curie : A Tale of Love & Fallout by Lauren Redniss (started May 19)
- Surpassing wonder : the invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald H. Akenson (reading a bit here and there - started roughly May 11)
- Wyrd Sisters (Discworld Book 6) by Terry Pratchett (started ?? April 1 - reading a bit here and there)
- Mythologies by Roland Barthes (started Mar 21, but haven't touched since about Mar 28)
- The Tree of Man by Patrick White (started Mar 14, reading irregularly, set aside mid-April)
- The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (read a bit Mar 5-12, April 4-20)
- The Literary Guide to the Bible by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode (Editors) (started Jan 21, reading along with the Bible)
- How to Read the Bible : A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel (Read intro Nov 28-Dec 2. Started the rest while reading Alter on Jan 3.)

Dec 7, 2011, 4:48pm

Onwards and upwards, Dan

Dec 7, 2011, 7:35pm

Can't wait to hear what you think of the Bible as literature. Have you read it before? I did many times early in life and, like you, have found atheism, but the King James still makes me feel good. Somehow it also feels like the only authentic voice - not that that makes it authentic, but it is beautiful.

Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 10:01pm

#3 - or something...

#4 Margaret - Robert Alter argues that the KJV is the best translation existent, despite its flaws and errors, because of its literary feel. Most try for literal translations and/or, not surprisingly, interpretation by translation, but very few make much effort to capture the literary feel of the language. When I run out of Alter, I'm thinking I may go there.

Dec 7, 2011, 10:49pm

Dan, I didn't know there was another atheist in Texas. It's nice to have some company.

I've been reading the KJV over the last couple of years just by keeping on my iPhone and reading it when I get stuck in waiting rooms or while my wife is shopping. It's not an ideal way to read anything, but if there's one work that does lend itself to such fragmentation it's the Bible with all the repetitions. I'm now about 2/3 through the O.T. It's powerful and often beautiful stuff.

Dec 7, 2011, 11:03pm

Well, there's also my wife, so there's three of us. Of course, we're not native.

Nice to know about your reading of the KJV. Maybe I can catch up ;)

Dec 8, 2011, 7:06pm

I'm interested to follow your reading of the Bible. I read it between ages 10 and 15 while I was bored with what was going on in church. (For the record, I'm agnostic).

Dec 9, 2011, 11:27am

I'm interested, too. A complete read-through of the Bible (regarding it as an important piece of literature, mythology, and history) is something I keep meaning to do, too. I even have a copy of Asimov's Guide to the Bible to read along with it. But as with so many things, I never do quite manage to get around to it.

Dec 9, 2011, 5:27pm

Which version of the Bible? (I am just curious - might keep you company at some point) :)

Edited: Dec 9, 2011, 11:25pm

Joyce, I've tried that with the English translations in prayer books in temple, but it hasn't helped. Usually I find I wish I didn't understand the Hebrew.

Bragan, I'm interested in Azimov's guide. I'm using Kugel's How to Read the Bible.

Annie - welcome to club read. I'm starting with Robert Alter's translation, linked in my first post above. Then, if I'm still reading, I don't Know. Probably a non-updated KJV.

Dec 9, 2011, 11:34pm

Note to self: do not disregard half of people's comments. And not see one sentence and ask a question.

Sorry - should have seen the link. :) The Bible can be an interesting read - if you are not tied with believing (no disrespect to people that believe) and read it as the book of myths that it is.

Dec 10, 2011, 12:00am

Annie - lol, no worries.

Edited: Dec 12, 2011, 10:53pm

A test...books I plan to read in 2012

From my list:
The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter
The rest of the bible from somewhere
How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James Kugel
Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible by Karel van der Toorn Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2007.
Something by Patrick White

Maybe's include
The Literary Guide to the Bible by Robert Alter
Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald Harman Akenson
The invention of the Jewish people by Shlomo Sand (and/or something else on the history of Judaism)
Something fictional about Israel. Possibilities include Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan, or When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant

Books from Le Salon's 2012 list that I actually plan to read
January- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
February - Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (reread)
March - Mythologies by Roland Barthes
May - A Dark Stranger by Julien Gracq
June - something by Bertolt Brecht

note: I don't know anything about Barthes, Gracq or Brecht, so no clue whether I will actually find them readable or not.

Maybe's from Le Salon's 2012 list
April - Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
June - Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing
July - Metamorphoses by Ovid
September - Cantos by Ezra Pound (I really hope I'm up for this one, just not sure)

Dec 15, 2011, 7:17am

>1 dchaikin: Impressed with your goal. I read the bible from cover to cover in the early 70s. Counts as 66 books, you know :-)

Dec 15, 2011, 8:58am

Thanks Lois, nice to see you survived your snowball. 66 books...I can be motivated by numbers.

Dec 15, 2011, 8:10pm

Pound's Cantos is vast and dense and allusive. I have a copy and read parts of it in a graduate seminar -- but I'm not sure I'd take on the whole thing.

Dec 16, 2011, 5:44pm

The alter good is a good read, Dan. Hope you enjoy.

Edited: Dec 16, 2011, 10:04pm

Jane - I don't know anything about except it that it's big and that it's highly regarded despite it's author. I'll keep your note in mind, it might be worth reading parts here and there.

Fannyprice, good to know. I've read the main intro and he's convinced me he's trying to do something special. I'm trying to hold off page one until Jan 1.

Dec 28, 2011, 4:08pm

Dan - did you see this recent article in the New York Times? The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible, by the esteemed Marilynne Robinson.

Dec 31, 2011, 10:27am

Joyce - Rebecca posted the same link in my 2011 thread. :) ...although I failed to pick on the author, Robinson is esteemed by me too. The Sound and the Fury is around my house somewhere, in one of those piles of books I've been deathly afraid to pick-up. If I can make it through this bible thing, than maybe I'll go there too. (Coincidentally, I'll be Reading Moby Dick and the OT together.)

Jan 2, 2012, 1:01am

Dan, hope to keep up with your thread this year. Will be lurking as you make your way through the Bible. I have Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative and The Literary Guide to the Bible. I should dig those out and follow along more closely.

Jan 2, 2012, 1:09am

Good to see you here Suzanne. Those are two books I may look into this year.

Jan 2, 2012, 10:14am

...the KJV is the best translation existent, despite its flaws and errors, because of its literary feel. Most try for literal translations and/or, not surprisingly, interpretation by translation, but very few make much effort to capture the literary feel of the language

Thank you. I'm Catholic, where they've recently tweaked the translation of several lines in several prayers to be "more accurate." I'm also a writer, and stood gobsmacked at the literary clumsiness of some of it.

Look forward to your reading this year, Dan.

Jan 2, 2012, 11:09am

Dan, I won't manage to join you in your Alter read, but I will definitely follow the threads and add it to the TBR. It really sounds fascinating.

Jan 3, 2012, 11:40pm

oye, I'm overwhelmed with my own reading and now back at work, the optimism teeters. And wow, Club Read 2012 is kicking.

MJ & Thea, glad you stopped by. MJ, very entertained by your post...and that your Catholic. I sensed an atheism in you. ;)

Jan 4, 2012, 5:38am

I think you/we/I might want to regard the Cantos as a long slow dip-in-occasionally project. that's how I'm going to approach it.

Happy new year Dan!

Jan 4, 2012, 6:05pm

Ha! I thought I was being ambitious by tackling Moby Dick and Gormenghast at the same time. You totally win, though. And I'm finding Moby Dick to be a lot more readable than I had thought it would be.

Club Read is rocking! I'm surprised any of us are able to read books with all these new, shiny threads to follow.

Jan 4, 2012, 7:32pm

>28 RidgewayGirl: You are so right! Here I sit and I could be reading an actual book! ;-)

Jan 5, 2012, 9:31am

>26 dchaikin: lol! probably the science aspect. And I'm more faith/spirituality than religion.
My dad had an Asimov book on science and religion, wish I knew what it was -- might take a look at what bragan mentions in #9.

Edited: Jan 8, 2012, 1:13am

#55 (from 2011). Shadows on the Gulf : A Journey Through Our Last Great Wetland by Rowan Jacobsen (2011, 223 pages, read Dec 16-24)

Jacobsen had just finished a book on oysters, a major gulf coast food, when Macondo exploded. This put him in a strong position to pursue the environmental fall out of Macondo and, more importantly, to put it in perspective. Here he covers the cause of the blow-out in some detail and looks into the environmental after affects, as far as seems to be known. But then he goes on the make the point that spill is not the worst thing to happen to the Gulf of Mexico, possibly not even all that significant. What is much more serious is the massive and rapid loss of Louisiana wetlands to open sea water, this being the key nursery for the base of the Gulf food chain. The affects of this are complex, but the causes point largely (but not wholly) toward the oil industry.

The book develops into a look at what the oil and gas industry means to the US specifically. What have we compromised and what have we lost for this fuel. Also, how and why we haven’t put in the slightest effort to do anything about it. And what stands out is how well Jacobsen presents this.

Of the five books I’ve read (plus one I quit reading) about the Macondo oil spill, Jacobsen’s is only one that doesn’t reveal its rushed writing. All the other books are flawed on some level in writing quality, structure, completeness, or some other kind of roughness…things necessary for those authors to get their books out while the information was still relevant. Unique to Jacobsen is the clean structure and completeness. Jacobsen spent time thinking things out and presents his information, observations and ideas coherently. The result is very thought-provoking.

Jan 8, 2012, 12:41am

That was my last book for 2011.

Jan 8, 2012, 5:58am

Excellent review of Shadows on the Gulf Dan.

Jan 8, 2012, 9:04am

I think of all the books you've read on the oil Spill, Shadows on the Gulf is the one I want the most now, great review. Also, I haven't wished you luck on your bibical reading yet. I've never managed to make it out of Genesis before, so good luck.

Jan 8, 2012, 10:42am

I may have to pick up Shadows on the Gulf -- sounds like a latter-day companion to Marjory Stoneman Douglas's River of Grass.

Jan 8, 2012, 1:12pm

Not at all, jane. Different animal. I'll elaborate later.

Jan 8, 2012, 9:29pm

Jane - Not exactly sure how to compare those two, actually they aren't comparable. River of Grass is very much an effort to capture the soul of the Everglades and then make a heartfelt call to action. It has, I think, a sort of iconic existence. Shadows on the Gulf is in line with many other non-fiction books today that try to summarize, in short and interesting form, some kind of topic. It's primarily informative. There's a call to action, but it's in the sense of an author who realizes he can only reach a few. After River of Grass, MSD continued to commit her life to S. FL and the Everglades (and other things too.). After Shadows on the Gulf, Jacobsen is probably looking for a new project to work on.

Jan 9, 2012, 8:25am

Very nice review of Shadows on the Gulf, Dan.

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 9:33am

1. Cimarron Review : January 1997 (Number One Hundred Eighteen) (130 pages, read Dec 11 – Jan 6)

Another old literary journal picked up at random from the piles I sort of inherited. I count these as books because it encourages me to actually read them. What is interesting to me about this one is that I read half of this several years ago and remember some of the stories really well (notable Olé and Leisure World). The summaries below are for me and are not intended as a coherent review.

– Four different entries from Wera Saether (translated from Norse by Susan Schwarz)
–– Notes for an Autobiography: Beginnings – Fascinating autobiography
–– Five Poems – forgotten, translated poetry never seems to work well with me.
–– In Light of Death – About dealing with a dying mother. Did not stick
–– Chapter F – forgotten
The History Teacher by W. D. Wetherell – Creates an alternate and dystopian post-WWII America told from a teachers perspective with stereotypical broken rebellion and whatnot. Teacher’s perspective focuses on educational aspects of propaganda.
Olé by Vicky Anderson — I remember loving this story years ago. A woman is cooking dinner for her husband and his mother-in-law right after she found out he was cheating on her. Her mother-in-law tries using a story about her husband to chill the anger. Can you feel the collective chill of anyone just reading this description? The mother-in-law pulls it off, brilliantly done.
The Good World by Kristen Fikkan – A dad ponders his son’s leaving home for a summer job, and then sits with his wife at home as they figure out all the things he stole from them on the way out. Atmospheric and sad.
Leisure World by Harvey Grossinger – I remember this one clearly and hated it years ago. This time I was impressed. A man in a Jewish elderly community in Broward County Florida is convinced his wife is cheating on him. The man spirals down in comedic tragic fashion, but story has wonderful insights into these retirement/elderly communities and has an optimism and touch of charm that I missed the first pass through
– Two poems by Scott C. Withiam:
–– The Rain Falling, Falling Short of Falling on Me – lovely memorable Florida reference
–– Two Basic Kinds of Plants – Interesting. From the rocks of Jerusalem to the roots of trees. These roots imply cultural roots, I think.
The Erie Canal, a poem by Sherry Fairchok
A New Paradigm in the Prairie Office Matrix, a poem by William Heyen –– About how Buffalo once stomped in what is now office space
Meditations on Thanksgiving Presented in Three Parts, a triptych of poems by Donald R. Whittington — These are wonderful and playful religious takes: The Fish have a tabernacle, Cat does a Crucifixion passion play and the Dog joins the Eucharist.
– Two poems by Robert P. Cooke: Monarch at the Weld Shop & Asphalt Loader — Both play on metal work, the first one about a monarch butterfly landing in the wrong place
– Three poems by Cesare Pavese, translated from Italian by Scott Davidson: Two – Man and woman in bed, Treachery, Landscape — I Might call these sensory, or interesting imagery. But, still, again, I have trouble with translated poetry.
Following Eurydice, a poem by Meg Hill Fitz-Randolph. It has what I think is a moving line about loss: “You are only what you are—all that I grasp when I grasp air.
Whose Story, a poem by Alexandra Thurman
Spring Nights by Robert Newman — an intriguing short, compact poem that was opaque to me
– Two poems by W.E. Butts
Chloe’s Epistemology — To his five year old, “Still,/isn’t it true enough/we are here now/at the edge of this small,/deathless flowering
The Ways of Guilt — A look at parental guilt and how to pass it on to your children.
The Follow, a poem by Patty Seyburn — opening line “Suppose that his mother, Gertrude, taught him to dance
Naming the Unnamed, a poem by Joyce James — the unnamed are miscarriages.
This is a test. This is only a test, a poem by William Reichard — about testing for AIDS, and painting
White Kimono, a poem by Mark Doty — almost-Haiku stanzas about a kimono store
Bob’s Blues by Joe Bonomo — This is an essay on strip joints. The author excoriates the falseness of them, quoting Roldand Barthes about the desexualizing of the stripper and how “eroticism here went no further than a sort of delicious terror”—all while attending strip bar after strip bar. What’s strange is it works.
Malicious Pitty by David Wojahn — Complementary reviews of new-at-the-time books of poetry by Juanita Brunk, Lucia Perillo & Cynthia Huntington

Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 10:08pm

2. Poetry : January 1996 (Volume CLXVIII, Number 6) (45 pages, read Jan 8-14)
Editors: Joseph Parisi (Editor); Helen Lothrop Klaviter (Managing Editor); Stephen Young (Associate Editor); William D. Falloon (Editorial Assistant); Davis McCombs (Editorial Assistant)

My second try with Poetry Magazine. In the previous one the poetry was opaque to me. Here I found it accessible and enjoyable. Below is a list of contributors with a few excerpts and asterisks for favorites. This is not intended as a review, although I’m still hoping the formatting below won’t be too ugly.

Randy Blasing: Wishful Thinking
Joe-Anne McLaughlin: A Brood of Critics; A Mischief of Poets
Richard Foerster: The Book Cover
Lianne Spidel: My Twenty-Eighth Grade Book
Jeanne Murray Walker: Driving to My Son’s Concert
*Jill Gonet: Daughters and Sons

An excerpt
History has shown that you will probably
find our tools and methods improbably
quaint, though certain of our arts
may go extinct with us, their secrets lost

Then we’ll be obscure and ancient curiosities,
A partly conscious animal the earth sloughed off
As a different point of view took hold

Existentail Good Humor
*Cathryn Essinger: The Philosophy Professor Discusses the Nature of the Self-Conscious Mind
Not To Reply

An excerpt
I step out hoping not to see
the bird that stumbled against
the glass. It’s dull on top,

but underneath a peachy cream.
It struggles with wings thrown back,
mouth open, tiny claws
hooking at the air.

It makes all of the moves
that out to set a bird upright,
while others stand about,
curious at such distress.

We offer no advice. Winter is coming.
Small things are learning how to die.

Charlie Smith: Visitation
*Jay Parini: The Lake House in Autumn
Sandra M. Gilbert: Autumn/Como/Essay
*Billy Collins: Driving Through the Light
*Jack Myers: It’s Not My Cup of Tea

An excerpt – To place this, up to now the narrator’s has complained that his favorite tea cup is dirty and is defending his (undescribed) feelings

But there are so few things
that fit me in this life
I can count them on one hand,
things the spirit can sleep in
because whoever made them
put the things of this world—
vanity, greed, a sentimental wish
to be small again—aside.

I know, I could’ve found my cup
and washed it
and then I’d have my cup.

But it’s not my cup I want

*Henry Taylor: Another Postponement of Destruction — about a day rescued when a glass baking dish doesn’t break.
Irving Feldman: You Know What I’m Saying?
Maria M. Benet: Recursion
Elizabeth Seydel Morgan: At Epidaurus

Paul Breslin: Heaney’s Redress—An excellent overview of Seamus Heaney at that time. The focus is on three books: The Spirit Level, The Redress of Poetry and Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Laureate Lecture. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

Jan 18, 2012, 9:26am

Dan, I enjoyed your excerpts from the Poetry Magazine

Jan 18, 2012, 9:42am

I agree with Barry. Very interesting. On a side note, it must be difficult to get published if you're called "Joyce James" (from the Cimmaron Review)

Jan 18, 2012, 9:42am

Bas - Oh good and thanks for commenting. I'm experimenting. I'm glad you got something of value from it...actually, I'm relieved more than glad. :)

Jan 18, 2012, 9:43am

Dewald - I had the same thought. You better make a statement with that name! Also, thanks for the comment.

Jan 20, 2012, 5:09pm

Dan, I like the excerpts and the sort-of journal-like aspect of your comments. I often find formal "reviews" to be less than helpful as any personal connection to the work or emotional impression is secondary, if included at all.

Jan 22, 2012, 2:15am

Katie - Thanks. I do try to make the reviews personal, as I think it makes them both more interesting and more honest... not that it applies my comments in 39/40, which are largely there for helping my memory.

Jan 26, 2012, 4:55pm

>40 dchaikin: thanks for the comments on Poetry. I see you liked Jay Parini, who is also a biographer of Frost and Faulkner (now there's a interesting twosome!). And I've always thought Billy Collins a very accessible poet. He puts a lot of jazz allusions in his work, most of which I didn't get until Michael (dukedom) played the songs for me. I have Gilbert's most recent collection, and read through it last year. I didn't feel I connected much with it, but perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind.

Jan 26, 2012, 7:35pm

Lois - Thanks for the info, esp. on Parini. I'll have read more Billy Collins. I read a new book he released last year, and didn't find it very rewarding, felt thin to a this neophyte. Reading Albert Goldbarth at the moment, also accessible and yet also feels a little thin, but what do I know.

Edited: Jan 26, 2012, 8:16pm

>48 dchaikin: Don't know if you ever saw this. PBS visited Goldbarth in his home and had him read one of his poems. Found it on the website: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec09/poetry_08-17.html

eta: I think I am being at least two Billy Collins collections. I have a CD called "The Last Cigarette" that is him reading many of his poems to an audience.

Jan 26, 2012, 8:25pm

I have read his Sailing alone around the room and loved it, but that was a long time ago...LT tells me it was 2004.

Funny typo there (being/reading ??). I do wonder what the biblical interpreters would make of this kind of scribal error...although the scribes didn't have autocorrect.

Jan 28, 2012, 5:30pm

Dan, I've been so wrapped up in Moby-Dick that I've fallen hopelessly behind. Just a note to say I particularly enjoyed the excerpt you posted of Jack Myers' It’s Not My Cup of Tea.

Jan 29, 2012, 2:15am

Suzanne - oh, surely there's hope (although, for me, fulfillment would cost quite a time commitment). Thanks for stopping by. And, I do love the Myers' poem.

Edited: Jan 30, 2012, 11:11pm

3. Genesis (from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter) (346 pages, read Jan 1-20)

The main question I keep asking myself is why I am reading the bible. I have a ready answer: I’m reading this as literature, focusing on it as a foundation of Western literature. But that is not exactly true. It is true that I'm not treating this as a divine document, or one that is related to any variation of a god, nor am I able to really conceive of it in that way. I can only see this in human terms, as an odd synthesis of contradictory myths whose original purposes aren't necessarily understood (although sometimes they are). Is there a religious component to my reading, do I see it as holy in some way, do I hold it in some kind of reverence? For me this is uncomfortable territory. Being Jewish, I identify my culture with the Old Testament and I went through some education around it and memorized at one time or another, in Hebrew, various prayers and blessing and whatnot. And I still identify myself with this Jewishness, even if belief is not part of it. But, once I do this, once I view it this way, the darn book becomes more than a darn book. The history inside, whether direct, implied, or only discovered through an immense amount of research and scholarship, becomes relevant. I've linked myself to the authors, which gives the book more reverence than I'm comfortable admitting to, but that also draws me to it with strong, if conflicting, emotions.

So, what do I make of this book, Genesis…the Judaic creation stories and Jewish patriarchic myths, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob...and Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah...and Bilhah & Zilpah...and Lot and Esau and Laban...and eventually the twelve tribes and their tangled messes. Looking at the book as a whole I am, first, mystified by and very attached to what are considered the oldest parts of the text, sometimes so removed from their original context that we don’t even know what they mean. I see these as windows into a dark unknown. Second I'm satisfied. This is an enjoyable and complex work, full of multiple meanings, or some very precise ones. For stories that are generally stripped to the bones, bare essentials only, there is a definite literary quality. It’s a rich re-readable text filled numerous things to think about. And third I'm a bit surprised at how much is in there to think about strictly from a historical point of view. These stories passed, first orally, from their origins into in later generations where they synthesized, or stitched, or redacted, into something completely different. Then they were interpreted in different ways at each age, whether Persian, Post-Alexandrian, Roman, medieval or later, and then finally in the modern biblical scholarship. Each interpreter adds something to the text and this gets passed along, and, with a culture that revered this stuff for over 2000 years, these influences go a long way. That is to say the text is loaded, not just within itself, but within context of the long history of response.

A note about the image:
From: http://thewhistlinggirl.blogspot.com/2011/05/from-so-simple-beginningendless-for...

The Hebrew word Beresheet, which means "in the beginning", opens the Book of Genesis. This decorated initial word is from the first volume of a planned multi-volume edition of the Hebrew Bible. The volume was published by the Society of Jewish Bibliophiles, the Soncino Gesellschaft, in Germany in 1933. Hitler's rise to power prevented the Society from completing what would have been the first bibliophilic edition of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jan 31, 2012, 4:07am

Very interesting take on Genesis, Dan. I plan to read the Bible completely sometime in the future, and your comments intrigue me. In the past, I have always I enjoyed reading Genesis, but the last four books of Moses leave me high and dry. They are, as you say, interesting from a historical point of view, but the lack of narrative makes for very turgid reading. Is it really necessary to go in to such detail on how to set up the tabernacle, for instance? I know why it is included, but I don't find it particularly interesting to read. I look forward to your comments on these later books!

Jan 31, 2012, 5:12am

Dan, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Genesis.

Jan 31, 2012, 9:57am

Thank you for sharing such personal and thoughtful commentary on Genesis. I have read it several times and one of the things that strikes me is all the family stories: sibling rivalry, playing favorites as a parent (or God), marrying the wrong person, the sorrow of infertility, the heartbreak of losing a child. An epic family saga.

Jan 31, 2012, 12:35pm

Dan I so enjoyed your comments on Genesis and look forward to the next books. Between your project and my having just read Alan Lightman's playful Mr g, God's memoir of creation, I feel pulled to read Genesis myself.

btw I thought of your reading when I saw this Slate article on the only-very-recent appearance of much biblical humor in The New Yorker.

Jan 31, 2012, 9:16pm

Dewald, Bas, Lisa & MJ - thanks for all the comments

Dewald - I'm reading early parts of Exodus and have mixed feelings. Where Genesis always seemed to have a link to something historical and real, Exodus is just plainly made up and contrived. At some point I started picturing it as a puppet show, and it's made more sense now.

Lisa - an epic dysfunctional family saga...

MJ - A three part response...(1) Looking at that link, I'm thinking the New Yorker was very slow to pick up on Monty Python. (and 2) I look forward to any comment you have about Mr g. (and 3) you might be interested in our group read that started here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/129966

Feb 1, 2012, 8:06am

>49 avaland:, 50 Correction: the CD is "The Best Cigarette" and I have discovered when I searched to see if it was still in print, that it is now available for downloading for freeHERE.

re: typo I seem to do that fairly frequently. I think there is a disconnect between my head and my fingers. I'm thinking that I should someday channel this 'disconnection' and discover what my subconscious is really trying to say!

Feb 1, 2012, 8:11am

#59 I'm constantly amazed at what I've typed. Something comes out and I can read it again and again without seeing the difference between what I intend and what's actually there on the screen.

Edited: Feb 1, 2012, 8:30am

>60 dchaikin: It's more or less only a problem when I'm touch typing. Doesn't seem to happen on the iphone (for example), but then there are the dangers of 'autofill' :-)

Feb 1, 2012, 8:51am

For me it happens even with a pen. :)

Feb 1, 2012, 10:24am

>60 dchaikin:. l have that exact same problem, it's like an autocorrect feature that doesn't correct anything. It is why I have developed the theory to be a good geologist you must forsake good spelling and grammar. At least it makes me feel better that most geologist l know are terrible spellers.

Feb 1, 2012, 10:43am

#63 :) This has come up lately as my daughter has begun asking me how to spell more difficult words.

Feb 1, 2012, 5:22pm

Dan I can only envy you, it would be great to be constantly amazed at what I've typed

Feb 1, 2012, 11:44pm

it was meant in a negative way, a disturbed variety of amazed... :/

Feb 4, 2012, 5:37pm

I fell way behind here, Dan, but I really enjoyed your comments on Genesis. Very thoughtful. I wish I were reading along with you, but . . . too many books, too little time!

Feb 5, 2012, 9:18am

Too many books and finite time... thanks for stopping by, Suzanne.

Feb 7, 2012, 10:37am

Just catching up and, in the spirit of your bible read, can only say amen to 67 and 68, too many books, too little time.

Feb 7, 2012, 2:33pm

Rebecca - thanks for stopping by.

Seeing lots of posts on movies. I saw my first one in awhile - The Tree of Life (2011, directed by Terrence Malick). My wife was watching it for the sound, for a class project (in graphic design). Slow, art heavy, very enjoyable to my movie-starved self. It's somewhat subtle, but most of the locations are around different parts of Texas, including Waco, downtown Dallas, what I thought was downtown Houston (not sure though), and what looked like it could have been the Brazos River.

Feb 9, 2012, 1:47pm

>65 baswood:, 69 LOL bas and rebecca!

>58 dchaikin: dan thanks for the link, I've starred the thread. Of course after Mr g I need to read at least the creation part of Genesis ... you might have inspired me to read it through.

Feb 11, 2012, 10:19pm

#71 - the scary things I do...

Feb 21, 2012, 1:00am

4. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible by Karel van der Toorn (2007, 366 pages, read Dec 25 – Jan 28)

The biblical world was an illiterate one. The original written biblical stories were merely there to assist in oral presentations. They were an archive of sorts. Within this world was a small group of literate professional scribes who wrote down these archives and copied and preserved them. Over time the written reference became authoritative; and an accidental power shift occurred within the religious order. Those who controlled the text, and who could find a way to change the text as they saw fit, became, for time, the powerful voice in the religious development. This was a strange era of powerful scribes.

That is an overly simplified summary of van der Toorn’s book, which tries to work out the world and method the biblical scribes. He looks in every possible way he can, including the scribal evidence around the regions, and covering ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian records. Along the way he accumulates an extensive list of sources. Citations commonly are found five or six per paragraph, for paragraph after paragraph; and if you look these up the languages of these sources all over the place, as are the dates, which can be anywhere in the last 200 years. I guess it’s possible that all biblical research is like this, but this book does not read like a jargon-stuffed research text, it actually feels geared toward a wider audience.

If this interests you there are endless fascinating details inside. Deuteronomy can be divided into four different editions. There is an original core that apparently dates to Judean King Josiah’s reforms in 622 b.c.e. Then two different beginnings and ends are added, each with their own very different intent, and each representing a fundamental change in the nature of the religion. A fourth editor added a few key chapters. At the same time, and preserved in the same bible, in the book of Jeremiah, is a denunciation of Deuteronomy (identified as the “book of the Torah”) as a fraud. Of course, as van der Toorn makes an effort to prove, Jeremiah had very little to do with his book. A scribe, possibly self identified as Baruch, simply wrote what he thought Jeremiah said, probably long after it was said…and, of course, that was edited too. The culmination of scribal power and influence was when a scribe named Ezra was mandated by the Persian authorities, in 450 b.c.e, to come up with a Judean constitution of sorts. He presented the Torah, or the Pentatuech, today the first five books of the bible, and called it the law. This was his own creation. Empowered by the Persians, he had the authority to select what texts to collect, to stitch them together how he saw fit and to freely edit in any way he was willing and felt necessary. We’ll never know what his sources were, but the resulting text is in our bible.

I read this as a prep for my bible read. But, it was slow going, especially since I was so fascinated with his sources that I keep looking up each citation in the endnotes. So, it dragged on longer than expected. But there is fascinating stuff here.

Feb 21, 2012, 1:06am

Very interesting review, Dan. I may have to add this to my wishlist. Similar problems of provenance, if I can call it that, beset certain of the New Testament texts as well. I'm glad you made it through! ;-)

Feb 21, 2012, 7:20am

Excellent review of Scribal culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. The difficulties involved in trying to find out where the sources come from and how they were changed will never be solved. At the end of the day though; Does it matter?

Feb 21, 2012, 9:54am

Suzanne - thanks, I would be very interested in your thoughts.

Barry - Does is matter? Well, there are different perspectives to take, and to someone who reads this book for personal spiritual reasons, all this info may just be clutter better left alone or not even acknowledged. But my answer to your question is: Does history matter?

Feb 21, 2012, 9:56am

oh, and, for you, Barry, I should have added, respectfully, a few more, unnecessary, and purely aesthetic, or un-aesthetic, commas to my response. ;)

Feb 21, 2012, 10:50am

>73 dchaikin: dan, very interesting post.

This was a strange era of powerful scribes.
I think their power endures, consider media clips where producers = scribes. Per Tom Stoppard: "If you get the right {words}, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little."

Feb 21, 2012, 2:41pm

'Cause when they own the information, oh They can bend it all they want '

Feb 21, 2012, 5:47pm

#76 Does History matter? - a different question to the one I posed about source material, but a similar qustion was asked over at the Medieval Europe group http://www.librarything.com/topic/118682

Feb 22, 2012, 11:55am

>73 dchaikin: - Interesting review, Dan, and informative, too. I have a friend whose very interested in the history of the Bible (not only the history related in the Bible, but also how it was written) so I'll recommend this book to him.

Feb 22, 2012, 1:02pm

I think it's fascinating that so much is known about the making of the bible, and all the known changes, yet there are still people who believe that "their" edition is the absolute truth.

Edited: Feb 22, 2012, 1:24pm

#80 Bas - couldn't take that link in yesterday, got through 8 posts today...it is a very well presented question and the answers I read were quite interesting. Somehow I got out it that we can view history of one large science experiment; and that, if we get the data, history can be studied empirically, and then used to make future predictions and decisions...which is a fancy way of saying experience, but a cultural or who-humanity level instead of a personal level.

My view is that history is more myth than then truth and with the bible it's almost all myth. When I learn about the bible's construction, I feel like I'm beginning to penetrate under the myth and beginning to touch on some actual truth. Somehow this is important to me. It grounds the whole thing and also places it in a context that I feel comfortable approaching it.

Further, it's important to be aware that this book—which many of my neighbors and so many others (especially here in the US) take so seriously as the word of God—is human construction. Whatever other people may believe, it's mentally fortifying to me to have some of the details at hand to give me a chance to make my own judgment, regardless of my cultural setting.


you know, tomorrow I might give you a third and completely different answer

Feb 22, 2012, 1:23pm

#81 - Dewald - good know. I would recommend it as well. (I found it here on LT from forgotten comment by PimPhilipse)

#82 - Hi Bonnie - after what I just wrote in #83, I better not even get started on that one...to me it's not fascinating, it's a disturbing revelation of the human condition. (ok, so I started anyway, stopping now...)

Feb 22, 2012, 1:30pm

#83 Good response Dan

Feb 22, 2012, 6:09pm

Very interesting review and subsequent conversation, which I may come back to when I am not quite so busy in Real Life.

Feb 25, 2012, 7:01pm

Great review of Scribal Culture, Dan -- looks like something I should read for my World Lit and HUM classes where I talk about the construction of the OT.

Feb 25, 2012, 9:55pm

Jane - I'm fascinated that you teach something related to Scribal History. Maybe....if you want to recommend anything related (or if you have an incredible websites like your one on Florida Literature ???), please do post. Also, thanks.

Edited: Feb 26, 2012, 6:21pm

5. Celebrate the Sun by James J. Kavanaugh (1973, 88 pages, read Jan 28-29)

Apparently written somehow in response to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I recently read but have already forgotten the significance of, here Harry Langendorf Pelican drives himself onwards and upwards becoming an inspiration for his flock of pelicans, until he has a change of heart. Oversimplified and heavily moralistic in all the worst ways, I should have hated this…only sometimes I find myself thinking about its ideas of just enjoying life and actually feel some fondness for it. So, instead of bashing it, I’ll call it curious, short and not a complete waste of time.

Read this for the Club Read challenge to read “a book either written or published or involving the year when you are born”.

Feb 26, 2012, 8:29pm

Oh, Dan -- it's a really brief survey -- mostly based on Alter -- just to make students aware that real people did write the texts of the Bible in real historical time. I'll pm you the link to a PPT I use if you're interested.

Feb 27, 2012, 11:34am

Jane - I'm very interested. Thanks for the offer.

Mar 2, 2012, 8:56am

6. The Penderwicks : A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (2005, 262 pages, read Jan 15 – Feb 11)

The Penderwicks are four motherless girls and their Latin-exclaiming botany-obsessed professor father in fictional Cameron, MA. There are plots, but the books strength seems to be in atmosphere Birdsall creates by mixing all the distinct personalities. The girls are ages 4, 10, 11 & 12 and there is a sense of their being in their wonder years, or just on the cusp of growing out them. Nothing terrible happens, but adventures and mishaps abound.

In book one they somehow end up vacationing on a rural Massachusetts mansion with a huge garden. The mansion's matron is appropriately cruel and happens to have a friendly son the girls age. Along with the boy, the girls explore the garden, upset the matron and deal with the boy's big problem—that he dreads going the elite military boarding school his mother has selected for him.

What I like about it is first that it's a well developed, well written story that clearly had a lot of care put into the details. And second that it's relevant to my daughter’s time period. The girls aren't prissy. They're tough, they play soccer, start brawls (well, that's book two), explore, fight and deal with various problems.

Mar 2, 2012, 9:36pm

That's a fun book. Did you read it with your daughters?

You're probably aware that there are sequels. Another series that seems to appeal to the same group of readers is the Melendy family quartet, starting with The Saturdays.

Mar 3, 2012, 10:55pm

Nathan - yes, read it with my daughter, and it was huge hit with her (she's seven). For once she kept asking for me to read to her at night, instead of Mom. We just finished book 2 and book 3 is waiting for me at the library (which is closed tomorrow...). I'm going to take a peak at The Saturdays. Thanks for the suggestion.

Mar 4, 2012, 12:21am

7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851, 533 pages, read Dec 8 – Feb 12)

Having never read this before, and having some strange kind of fear/curiosity about it, I started this kind of experimentally to get a sense of whether I would really want to read it. Then, although I found myself getting quite attached to it, I was putting all my focus on my bible read. So, I sort of stumbled through this without giving it its proper focus.

Among the things that struck me was the amount of story set up. Melville breaks this into short chapters, but one chapter doesn’t lead to the next. Instead each tends to take on a new topic. This goes on for awhile, chapter after chapter and meanwhile we haven’t seen our whale. In a sense this entire book it set up for a few pages of action at the end. There is action in other places, but they are also color, filling in the world surrounding the main plot.

So, why all this set-up? I’m not the literary expert to ask, but I certainly am left with the sense that Melville liked his details. In this case, it’s not just plot details and it’s not extra useless information. All these details serve a purpose.

This story is typically read as a search for symbolism for the meaning outside or beyond the whaling story itself. I’ve come across comments that say something like “Moby Dick is about technology verses nature, but Melville didn’t realize this when he wrote it.” There is a clear push for us readers to look deeper.

Two responses to that.

First I’m left with the impression that Melville knew exactly what he was doing; that every detail has a purpose. The meaning, the ambivalence, the points we are left to think about, they are all there by construction.

Second, this book is a tale first. It is about whaling and Ahab’s obsessive need to find and avenge himself on his whale. There is enough here on the surface to keep a reader interested and thinking without worry about the various other meanings – things that can wait until we put the book down, or until we read it through the next time.

My overall impression was to be pleasantly surprised at how readable this is, about how rich the text is with so much put into each sentence, about how enjoyable even the difficult parts are and about how much there is here. A book to read again, but patiently and slowly.

Mar 4, 2012, 12:48am

I like your comments about Moby-Dick. It is great to read about your reactions. Sometimes I think a book like this suffers from being too famous and so much is imputed that may or may not be useful to all readers. Like you, I read it not looking for too much of that and tried to take it at face value insofar as I was able. Of course, one cannot help reading things into it that may or may not have been intended by Melville, but despite all this, it is a truly great reading experience. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Mar 4, 2012, 1:19am

Every time I hear a critic saying "but the author did not know that", I feel like screaming. If the author does not know what the book is about, who knows? A book can be interpreted in a lot of ways but it is a book by this author.... So his "knowing what it is about" should be more important....

Mar 4, 2012, 10:01am

Your comments about Moby-Dick are building the momentum for me to re-read it.

Melville's contemporary readers grew up using the end products of whaling, but in most cases knowing nothing about whaling itself or life at sea. For them each chapter must have been an exciting yet highly relevant glimpse into a new world. It didn't need any higher meaning to be an important book.

Dan, I know that last year you were doing a lot of reading about offshore drilling. It strikes me that whaling was very much the 19th century equivalent--in both cases going out to sea for oil. Do you see any cultural or symbolic linkages between the two? Is BP Ahab?

Mar 4, 2012, 12:13pm

95 - I've put off reading MD for years, honestly largely because the repressed girly-girl in me goes 'ick' at the thought of reading about boats for that long. Your review has finally broken through that barrier, though I don't think I'll get to it this year.

98 - Interesting though Steven. I look forward to the answer.

Mar 4, 2012, 5:34pm

Based on all the recent great reviews of Moby-Dick on LT, I bought a copy and hope to get to it soon. Your comments make the book seem very accessible - "this book is a tale first". A nice way to start.

Mar 4, 2012, 7:55pm

Dan, You didn't mention in your thoughts the many references to the Bible in Moby Dick. You must have been very aware of these with your current project.

Mar 4, 2012, 9:20pm

96 - 101 - Suzanne, Annie, Steven, Jane, Linda & Bas - Thanks for the comments.

#96 Suzanne - ah, but you go so much out of it, of interesting complexity. I learned a great deal on your thread. Next time I read this I'll put more into reading about it too.

#97 Annie - It's curious what a writer can add to a book without realizing it. I think it does happen. But, it's bewildering here, where Melville's precision is so apparent.

#98 Steven - I can almost write an essay on this. The parallels are striking. More later

Edited: Mar 4, 2012, 9:39pm

#99 Jane - repressed girly-girl? You post is a nice complement. I tend to think we should read it because it's a classic, likely the best early American story, and far ahead of its time in its approach...but, personally, I don't find any of that as motivation. Whatever inspired you in my comments, terrific. Hope you do crack it open.

PS - Jane, nice to see you here. I'm just caught on your thread, yesterday, even though I haven't commented yet.

#100 - Good luck Linda. Be patient with it. I don't think it's a book to knock you over, instead it needs time to grow on you.

#101- Bas - that's just beyond me. I've covered Ishmael, but Job, Ahab and Isaiah are a long way off. Sam's commentaries were much more enlightening than anything I can add. I did find it interesting, from Sam I think, that Melville really digs deep into the Old Testament, and yet avoids easy opportunities to bring in the New Testament.

Edited: Mar 5, 2012, 9:59am

Steven - The parallels with modern oil are striking on many levels and was constantly on my mind while reading. The materials, whale oil and rock oil, are of course very similar. The morality behind the whole ventures have several parallels. In both the acquisition is physically dangerous, expensive, risky on many levels, driven by wild personalities - even in the crews where those whaling sailors and today's roughnecks have a lot in common. Ultimately, both types of acquisition require destruction. And the justification is the same - cultural need, not just demand, but economically inflexible need. The perception in both cases is that we need to do all this horrible stuff because the end product justifies the method. It's worth it to maintain and improve our way of life. In both whale and rock oil there is satanic parallel, that we are playing with the devil, selling our soul for a product that does nice stuff.

And we could parallel Moby Dick's take of the Pequod with Macondo's take down of the rig.

The big oil company, however, has no parallel Moby Dick. Maybe 1852 is too early, in the US, for the industrial robber barons. Ahab is merely a ship captain. He doesn't even own the boat. He's a contractor, if you like. Maybe we could call him Macondo's Transocean.

Mar 4, 2012, 11:58pm

>102 dchaikin:

Oh, I know -- authors do add layers they do not see. But they are exactly this - layers - even with the symbolists later on (although with them at least anyone can read whatever they want and not to feel that they are misreading). Not full-blown meaning. Looking at a book with the knowledge of 20-30+ years later does add a layer. And this is what happened here if you ask me -- people are reading what they want to read into such books. I like Moby Dick a lot, I need to reread it. But sometimes it almost feel as if people tend to forget what the book was written for - it is a tale of obsession written in the narrative style of yesterday :) And from your comment above it sounds like you are on the same page on that.

Mar 5, 2012, 8:37am

A very interesting discussion here! A quick search on the Internet shows that there are ample points of connection, and there are even reviewers who make explicit references to Moby Dick and the character Ahab, in reviews of Upton Sinclair's Oil!, which was the first book I thought of, while reading the discussion above.

Not having read Oil!, but following comments on the Internet, there may be a number of interesting similarities, both thematically and stylistically, including the use of intercalary chapters focusing on tools and drilling techniques.

I have a number of unread novels by Upton Sinclair, and it may be a good moment to pick one up.

Mar 5, 2012, 9:57am

#106 - I've seen the movie (There Will Be Blood), but that doesn't really help. :)

Mar 5, 2012, 4:01pm

>98 StevenTX: and following: The comparison to off shore oil had not struck me before but seems very apt. I too will have to take on Moby Dick again, given this discussion and other excellent ones in Club Read. I think one difference between whaling and drilling might be the respect that whaling captains were held in by their communities, versus the comparative anonymity of rig captains today.

>106 edwinbcn: This novel is new to me but as you say, it seems like a good time to pick it up.

Mar 8, 2012, 4:39am

Dan, it's high time I told you how much I'm enjoying your thread - I keep popping in but never get round to posting here. I admire your bible project, and in particular the honest way you're talking about it here, and I find your posts about it (and the subsequent discussions) fascinating, even if so far I haven't contributed.

I haven't read Moby Dick, and it's not something I ever expected to want to read, but all these comments on LT over the last couple of months are starting to tempt me. On the level of detail, I had a similar reaction when listening to Great Expectations just recently - Dickens gives us layer upon layer of detail, an intricate digression here, a precise description of something not obviously of direct relevant there, and with a lesser writer I'd have been wondering, "And your point is...?". Actually I confess to having done that with Dickens too at first, but it didn't take me long to realise that all that detail is there for a reason. In fact it's maybe what makes the novel, but I'll need to think about that a bit.

Mar 8, 2012, 9:25am

A morale boost! Thanks, your post put me in a good mood.

IIRC, Dickens wrote Great Expectations on the fly, staying about a chapter ahead of the chapter-by-chapter serial publication. If so, it's quite possible Dickens added details either as a "just in case I need these later" or even for something intended but later abandoned.

In any case, I'm wondering how different this kind of thing is today - these extensive, seemingly discursive details that are actually fully integrated into the text, very meaningful and really what make the book something special.

Edited: Mar 8, 2012, 10:47am

These extensive, seemingly discursive details that are actually fully integrated into the text, very meaningful and really what make the book something special.

Absolutely. I'm beginning to realise this what makes Moby Dick so hugely magnificent.

Great review dan, with lots to think about.

Mar 8, 2012, 1:58pm

Hi Murr! You're reminding me I need catch over on your thread. Thanks for the compliment.

Mar 13, 2012, 8:11am

>104 dchaikin: I've been kind of gliding over most of the Moby Dick conversations in Club Read, but your comparison to oil caught my attention. I think, prior to the industrial revolution in New England which was just having it's beginnings mid-19th century, the wealthy of New England made their money off the sea, in one way or the other, though I think sea captains generally were probably not at the top of the food chain (and the whaling ships and fishing boats were not coming into the same ports as the trade ships. I doubt they would have tolerated the smell). Certainly there would have been some "robber" merchants of the transAtlantic import/export trade (as I know there were for the earlier triangular trade), but I can't come up with an equivalent for the whaling trade...

Mar 13, 2012, 5:49pm

Lois - something to look into.


No mention of owners here:

A tiny bit here:
"In port* the most successful of the whaling merchants was Jonathan Bourne, who opened offices in New Bedford in 1848."
*New Bedford

The likely son of Jonathan Bourne, Jonathan Bourne, Jr. has a wikipedia entry here:

Mar 14, 2012, 8:06am

>114 dchaikin: Yeah, I've been less interested in the whaling trade than I have been with other New England economic subjects such as the "triangular trade" (rum, molasses, slaves) and the industrial revolution (perhaps if I lived a bit closer to the New Bedford area...). My last literary run-in with whale oil, was when Bronson Alcott and his nutty friends decided to forbid the use of whale oil in their Fruitlands commune (it exploits the whale), an addition to a very long list of no-nos. Abba, his wife, who with the four girls did all the grunt work for the men—often long after dark, refused.

But I might take a peek at these if I get a few minutes (and I'm sure there's stuff in my books here...)

Mar 14, 2012, 11:11am

Whale oil was an important commodity in Newfoundland (also a major participant in the Atlantic triangle trade of rum, molasses and salt cod) from the sixteenth century. Now offshore oil is a major industry. In the 19th and 20th centuries, merchants came from as far as Norway and Scotland to exploit the trade in whale products. The book Twentieth Century Shore-Station Whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador covers the period from 1896 to 1972, when the Canadian government introduced a moratorium on the whale hunt. Memorial University of Newfoundland has some excellent materials on this trade.

Mar 20, 2012, 11:00pm

8. To Be Read in 500 Years : Poems by Albert Goldbarth (2009, 185 pages, read Jan 15 – Feb 17)

A poem by Goldbarth in one of the old literary journals I’ve been reading through struck me strong enough that I was very happy to stumble across and pick up this collection last year. At some point I also learned that he is an interesting character who doesn’t use computers at all, and yet oddly has an extensive collection of sci-fi paraphernalia of various kinds. What does someone do with sci-fi stuff, if he or she is unwilling to even use a computer? Admire the pointless or vain wonder of it all?

In any case, about the book. It was OK. Goldbarth isn’t lyrical in any variation of the word, instead his writing is characterized by ellipses and dashes and incomplete sentences. One gets the feeling that he writes more like someone does on a computer than someone who actually writes on a computer. His poems have a feeling of what I like to think of as that gritty side of a college professor’s mind, if that makes sense. He loves jargon, even has a poem about it, one of my favorites in this collection. His poems also contain plenty of biblical references, and he’ll lay his hand heavily on death and emptiness. The reader is left with a sense of trying to find the holy in the very technological, indifferent, jaded yet strikingly intelligent present. And then he will throw in a shocking sexual image or concept, something jarring with everything else in poem.

He can take all this in fascinating directions that lead, or even drag you into uncomfortable depths. But I was little worn down by the collection, by one after another non-exactly-poetic poem doing a similar thing.

Mar 21, 2012, 9:10pm

You are one of a very elite group that has read this collection Dan.

Mar 21, 2012, 11:49pm

Seems SOP for me, lately.

Edited: Mar 23, 2012, 10:02am

I struggled with this a few days. But, I've had my coffee, and here's what came out this morning...

9. Exodus (from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter) (240 pages, read Jan 25 – Feb 20)

My trouble with reviewing Exodus is my confused reaction to the actual Exodus story with Moses and Pharaoh and the ten plagues. I don’t mean it put me in any kind of emotional spin, it’s just that I didn’t like it, and I can’t exactly explain why, or how it was different than anything in Genesis.

Once I get past that, the review is much easier. After the sea collapses on the Pharaoh’s army, the bible gives us the Song of the Sea, or Miriam’s Song, one of the oldest and most interesting parts of the bible. It’s about the destruction of the Egyptian army, apparently at sea, and it predates the Moses story. But, in this song the sea doesn’t split, that’s a later author’s interpretation. Apparently, they didn’t understand the idea of an army wiped out at sea (or by the sea), or they simply chose a more dramatic story. Storms happen, but only God can split a sea.

After this there are a few more odd chapters of narrative, and then the “Priestly” writers take over, and the book becomes one of laws, most of which are obscure. Here are the first Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and then the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23), which is mostly very obscure and has parallels that point back to the Hammurabi’s Code circa 1800 bce, and other older law codes in the Fertile Crescent region dating from about 1000 years before this was written. Moses seals the covenant with an animal sacrifice, where "Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people".

Then there are thirteen chapters on how to build a tabernacle in the desert, and we get these same rules twice. First instruction how to build it, and then how it was built, with word-for-word repetition. None of this has been applicable since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the end of the sacrificial offerings.

But mixed in the tabernacle instructions is the story of the Golden Calf. This is where, with Moses absent his forty days, up on Sinai getting the rest of the laws from God, Aaron chills the Hebrews' anxiety by creating a golden calf, and having the people praise it as God in what appears to be a massive orgy. Moses find out, make an effort to cool Gods anger, and rushes down, gathers the Levites, his tribe and the tribe of priests. They bare their swords and attack, killing 3000 (There are some 600,000 Hebrews with Moses, so they could a spare a few bodies to make a point).

This disturbing episode is followed by two chapters that seem to be about guilt and contrition. Here is the section where Moses asks for forgiveness (Exodos 34:5-8):

And the LORD came down in the cloud, and stationed Himself with him {Moses} there, and He invoked the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and He called out: “The LORD, The LORD! A compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and good faith, keeping kindness for the thousandth generation, bearing crime, trespass, and offense, yet He does not wholly acquit, reckoning the crime of the fathers with sons and sons of sons, to the third generation and the fourth.” And Moses hastened and prostrated himself on the ground and bowed down. And he said, “If, pray, I have found favor in Your eyes, my Master, may my Master, pray, go in our midst, for it is a stick-necked people, and you shall forgive our crime and our offense, and claim us a yours."

Ah yes, the self-proclaimed compassionate and gracious god…except that this makes no sense for the God in this text. He doesn’t act this way, and he doesn’t even talk this way. But, how clear are those pronouns (and what did the original text really say here)? What if Moses is talking and calling God “a compassionate and gracious God”? Read it again. Suddenly, Moses is shaking in fear, like before a king, blindly praising before asking a huge favor (Can you sort of forgive that us for that calf bit?), and then he flops himself on the ground in submission, presumably shaking to his very core. I like this version better, even if it doesn’t exactly work in the real text.

The Golden Calf story likely has a known historical origin. In roughly 920 bce, Jeroboam, king of the northern Kingdom of Israel, is recorded (in the bible, of course) to have created two golden calves for his people to worship. He did this to help discourage anyone from traveling to Jerusalem and worshiping at Solomon’s temple (which mimicked the tabernacle in construction). The Exodus writers used the rebellious Jeroboam’s story to stick it to Aaron…and his direct descendents, who were the sacrificial priests. (They did it a second time Leviticus, using Jeroboam's sons.)

So, back to the Exodus narrative. This is important. It’s the story of Passover, and hence, also the Last Supper. And it’s where we meet Moses and Aaron. It includes the story of the burning bush where God gives his name (which translates to English as something like “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”). There is also an interesting obscure bit about God attempting to kill Moses, stopped by an emergency circumcision of one of his sons by his wife. This is quite interesting. What failed for me was the story of the Moses and the Pharaoh and the plagues. Somewhere in there God tells Moses,

”Come into Pharaoh, for I Myself have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, so that I may set these signs of Mine in his midst, and so that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son how I toyed with Egypt, and My signs that I set upon them, and you shall know that I am the LORD”

In other words God is controlling everything, even the Pharaoh’s stubborn senselessness. This is just a show to make a point…which leaves me thinking, what is the point?

Mar 23, 2012, 10:49am

Dan, great review of Exodus! I have the same reservations about this book of the Bible that you have. I know biblical scholars would probably claim that it has to be contextualised, but I find the incongruities very disturbing and troublesome.

Mar 23, 2012, 11:26am

Ancient gods tend to be unpredictable and vengeful in my reading experience. Great details and thoughts, Dan.

Mar 23, 2012, 1:39pm

Dewald & Jane, thanks for the comments, interesting comments.

Dewald - Your comment could mean several different things. Incongruities are a fundamental part of the bible so far, I might call it a strength. Troublesome, yes, but much more valuable than a simple text with one philosophy.

Jane - I'm not surprised, despite my lack of reading experience in the matter.

Mar 23, 2012, 4:35pm

I agree with that, Dan. What troubles me is how to interpret these incongruities when they directly affect the moral message of the book. I like the fact that the Bible is open to interpretation, but I dislike it when contemporary people (especially politicians) try to present it as a take-it-or-leave-it message with only one possible meaning.

Mar 24, 2012, 9:43am

Hey Dan, just stopping by to say how much I enjoy your reviews and synopsises of the OT, I don't think I could ever get past the head slapping to read the bible as literature.

Mar 24, 2012, 11:14pm

#124 - Dewald - I see what you mean now. That stuff makes me cringe.

#125 - Kevin - Thanks. I'm only able to read the bible because of the mental state of in. It's a kind of curiosity that, where I should be upset or bored, instead I'm fascinated.

Mar 26, 2012, 11:30pm

10. Oil on Water by Helon Habila (2010, 216 pages, read Feb 14-26)

It’s been awhile since I got so pleasantly lost in a book. This is the wrong take on this, of course. It’s not charming. This is about Nigeria’s sacrifice for the world’s oil consumption. We follow Rufus, a young reporter driven by some sort of search for truth, or maybe just for a story, as he ends up wandering through the waterways of Niger Delta, seeing firsthand the pollution from oil exploration and the dead villages. He stumbles across rebel militias, deranged government counter-insurgency forces, displaced populations, and a shrine whose purpose seems to be to provide a refuge from modern life.

The events don’t always seem real, or at least there is a sense of detachment from them. Some of this comes from Rufus as strives to be a neutral observer. He struggles with this in the face of some of the things he experiences, nearly breaking down as suspected-rebel captives are doused with gasoline while he is set aside to watch.

I’m not sure how many deeper layers there are here, or where they reside. Or maybe this is simply a tour of the different players in this Nigerian problem. But, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Mar 27, 2012, 7:08pm

Interesting review Dan. I didn't realise things were going so wrong in Nigeria and that the oil industry was behind some of it.

Mar 27, 2012, 8:12pm

Then, Bas, I recommend it highly. The book is a great intro, and something we should all know about. Bad stuff there.

PS - I should mention the book came to me from Lois (avaland), with a box of other tempting books I've meaning to get to for some 18 months. It seemed the box arrived just as I stopped reading new fiction, these books have lingered much too long.

Mar 28, 2012, 8:30am

I am sort of dimly aware that oil has long been a big issue in Nigeria (it figured in Half of a Yellow Sun and the control of it was one of the factors involved in the Biafra war, and I've read about people sabotaging pipelines) but I wasn't aware of the details.

Mar 28, 2012, 9:38am

Thanks, Dan.

Mar 28, 2012, 10:21am

Oil on Water sounds like the sort of book I need to read sometime. Thanks for the review, Dan.

Mar 28, 2012, 11:28am

Great review of Oil on Water, Dan. I've had my eye on that book for awhile, so I'll add it to my wish list.

Mar 28, 2012, 3:09pm

127 - Nice review. I'll keep this one in mind.

Edited: Mar 30, 2012, 8:21pm

Apr 1, 2012, 11:10am

:) thanks.

Apr 1, 2012, 11:11am

Apr 1, 2012, 12:27pm

Great comeback by the Jayhawks last night. I didn't think they could come back from that awful first half. They'll have to play much better if they have any hope of beating Kentucky tomorrow night.

Apr 1, 2012, 1:41pm

It would be quite an upset if KU pulls it off.

Apr 1, 2012, 6:16pm

Glad you enjoyed Oil on Water, Dan. There's no pressure around that box o' books, you know...

Apr 2, 2012, 10:21pm

Lois - no worries, I don't feel pressure, just curiosity and a little sadness at their neglected state.

Apr 2, 2012, 10:29pm

UK up 14 over KU at the half. Jayhawks look overwhelmed.

Not many college basketball fans here, I know, just burning off some frustration. They've had a good run, I'd like to see them make a run and make it a game.

Apr 2, 2012, 11:49pm

Congrats to Kentucky, who were impressive. I sort of got my wish, as KU was an errant jump away from making it a 3 pt game with still a bit of time left.

Apr 3, 2012, 12:44pm

Sorry about KU. I don't follow college basketball as much as football and baseball (because LSU is usually quite bad). Y'all did win us some money in our pool for the win over Ohio St though!

Apr 3, 2012, 12:49pm

Dan, next time just let us know earlier and we will cheer whichever team you want :) As long as it is not British soccer, I can cheer for any team. :)

Apr 6, 2012, 8:49am

To be honest, I stopped watching once Duke (sooooo much earlier than expected) & OU (entertainingly & surprisingly much later than expected) were out of the running.

Edited: Apr 8, 2012, 10:54am

KU had a very good year, despite the loss to Kentucky. Do you think that Thomas Robinson will return for his senior season? If so, how good will the Jayhawks be?

Pitt had a very disappointing season, although it was one of four teams to end the season with a win, as the Panthers beat Washington State in the CBI Tournament (big whoop). Pitt should be a little bit better next season, but they should return to form for their first season in the ACC in 2013, especially now that they beat out Duke and UCLA in acquiring Trey Zeigler as a transfer from Central Michigan. He was one of the best high school players in Michigan two years ago, but decided to play for his father at CMU. The elder Zeigler was recently fired as the head basketball coach there, and his son decided to transfer to Pitt, as Jamie Dixon, Pitt's current head coach, and Zeigler were assistant coaches under Ben Howland, who was Pitt's previous head coach before he took the job at UCLA. The 2012 incoming class features two top 100 recruits, including a 7 foot center from New Zealand who is supposed to be very talented if a bit raw, and if the Panthers get Savon Goodman from Philadelphia we should have one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country (the class is currently ranked #13; KU is currently 10th). Give these young Panthers a year to figure things out, and I'll bet by 2013 they will be back in the top 5 again.

Rutgers is Rutgers: great at home, awful on the road. The women should be better next year, though.

Edited: May 4, 2012, 7:23pm

I haven't posted any reviews in a while, here are some quick comments. Hopefully I review a few of these in more detail later.

11. Cain by José Saramago (2009, 189 pages, read Feb 25 - Mar 2)
Translated from Portuguese to English by Margaret Jull Costa, 2011

This was a nice companion read with the bible because it's a quick, fun and easy read. The biblical Cain wanders in time and place through different parts of the Old Testament, where things happen exactly as they are told in the text. Here is God talking to Joshua. There is no punctuation. Capital letters mark a change in speaker.

You were probably thinking, said the lord, who was inside the ark, of asking me to stop the sun, Yes, lord, so that no Amorite will escape us, Unfortunately, I cannot do as you ask. Joshua opened his mouth wide in amazement, You can’t make the sun stop, he asked, and his voice trembled because he believed he was uttering a terrible heresy, No, I can’t stop the sun because it’s already stopped, it hasn’t moved since I put in there.

12. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (2008, 308 pages, read Feb 11 - Mar 3)

Read out loud to my daughter. The Penderwicks are as much about character development as plot. This one was maybe a little slow to get going, but there is some great stuff in here, especially when two sisters swap homework assignments.

13. The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris (2008, 270 pages, read Mar 1-12)

I probably can't review this book well because it's one I liked for more than what was really there...because there is more than what is really there. The plot hovers around a casual dart league game between mostly lowlifes in small town Idaho. The ridiculous characters come alive and some bigger things really do begin to hang in the throw of a dart. What I liked was how seriously this is all laid out, all the details cross, everything has meaning. And the characters—I had to return the book to the library, but, to paraphrase a blurb—they are driven by fantastic hope for impossible things they don't deserve.

14. Leviticus (from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter) (136 pages, read Feb 27 - Mar 16)

I'll post more on this later. Important, but not fun. Another paraphrase, from The Literary Guide to the Bible: The problem with the literary aspects of Leviticus is that it's not literature.

15. Black Warrior Review : Volume XXIII, Number 1 (1996, 171 pages, read Feb 17 – Mar 26)
Published by the University of Alabama

High quality throughout. I plan to post something more on this, even if it's just a list of authors.

16. The Songlines (1987, 294 pages, read chapters 1-30 Feb 4-15, the rest Mar 20-29, a re-read)

I reviewed this last year when I read it the first time. The book really wasn't finished, and ends in a long series of the author's notes...or maybe that was intentional. I'm trying to workout coherent themes from the notes.

Edited: Apr 10, 2012, 2:13pm


Thanks for the KU comments. Jane - congrats on tournament $$. AnnieMod - who is your team? ljbwell - I have to admit I didn't feel bad about Duke... kidzdoc - KU totally overachieved and I hope most fans are happy with how they did. Robinson has size and ability, but should be playing a lot smarter when he goes up against the big men. Good luck to Pitt...I won't be paying much attention to Rutgers.

Now on to baseball...too bad the Houston Astros are, well, experimental.

Apr 10, 2012, 7:56pm

Saramago's Cain sounds like fun -- I'll keep an eye out for this one.

Apr 11, 2012, 1:11pm

Jane - I feel a little indifferent towards it. I'm would not recommend it to anyone, but not recommend against it either.

Apr 11, 2012, 5:10pm

>150 dchaikin:

Liverpool... and they are abysmal this year.

Apr 12, 2012, 12:29pm

153 - thanks for reminding me. I've been trying to forget...

Edited: Apr 14, 2012, 10:52pm

A Friend of Houston Public Library Book Sale sent these onto by TBR list

An Invisible Country (2003) by Stephan Wackwitz - autobiographic essays on Germany and the Holocaust, I think
Reading the Lines : A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible (2002) by Pamela Tamarkin Reis
Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) by Marguerite Yourcenar
Angels and Ages : A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life (2009) by Adam Gopnik
Siddhartha : An Indian Tale (1922) by Hermann Hesse - remembered something nice about this on Robert's thread
The Barbarian Conversion : From Paganism to Christianity (1997) by R. A. Fletcher
Constantine's Sword : The Church and the Jews : A History (2001) by James Carroll
The Literary Guide to the Bible (1978) by Robert Alter - the best pick-up, since I'm reading this now, but using a copy from my library
Cobb : A Biography (1994) by Al Stump
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid : A Memoir (2006) by Bill Bryson
Game Time : A Baseball Companion (2003) by Roger Angell
Metamorphoses (8 ce) by Ovid - never read this. I blame The Songlines for making me think about it now.
Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams
A Universal History of Iniquity (1935) by Jorge Luis Borges
Tales of Old-Time Texas (1955) by J. Frank Dobie
The Lives of Animals (1999) by J. M. Coetzee
The Night Trilogy : Night - Dawn - Day (1958) by Elie Wiesel - I read Night some distant time ago. I don't really want to read it again, but I know I should...

Apr 15, 2012, 8:51am

Looks like an interesting haul, Dan! The only one I've read is Siddhartha, back in my teenage years when we all read it!

Apr 15, 2012, 11:42am

Wow; great haul, Dan! The only ones I've read are Siddhartha and Watership Down, which was one of my favorite novels I read as a young adult. I look forward to your review of The Lives of Animals.

Apr 15, 2012, 12:50pm

It's an interesting list to me too, First, as I was only familiar with five of these titles (six, if I include Night), they are just books I stumbled across. Second, only two of really date to the ebook era. I didn't find many newer books. I didn't expect 2011-2012. But 2006-2010 I did expect. Wondering how much ebooks may have reduced these.

Rebecca - wondering on your thoughts on Siddhartha. Turns out that we had a copy, uncatalogued...oops. But translator is different, so that $1 was not completely misplaced.

Darryl - The Lives of Animals is about 40 pages. The rest of the book is four critical essays about it by other authors (and a gorgeous cover). I was intrigued.

Apr 15, 2012, 12:55pm

Dan, I am complimented that you think I can still remember something I read as a teenager! My thoughts are only that now I would probably wonder what I ever saw in it. But perhaps I would instead see something quite different.

Apr 15, 2012, 1:26pm

Those great library book sales. I enjoyed Watership Down when I read it some time last century, but I think I might not like it if I read it today. His follow up book Shardik was awful.

Apr 15, 2012, 1:34pm

Bibles and baseball: an interesting mix, Dan. It's been too long since I've been to a library book sale. My wife probably hides the announcements.

I've read Metamorphoses, Siddhartha, Memoirs of Hadrian, and Watership Down. All are great books. Just a week ago, in fact, I was recommending Watership Down to the grandchildren (Easter, of course). I've read some of J. Frank Dobie as well, but I don't recall which titles.

Apr 15, 2012, 3:06pm

Dan, what a great collection. Several on there I've read and are in my library — Siddhartha, Metamorphoses and The Literary Guide to the Bible. But a couple I would like to read — The Lives of Animals, and The Barbarian Conversion. That one is right up my street!

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 11:10am

Steven - I actually went in thinking bibles and baseball. I haven't been willing to read a baseball book for awhile. But I won an Early Reviewer (on Jim Abbott) and suddenly they appeal - easy reads when I don't feel like concentrating too much. And suddenly I'm very into baseball again (it's only week two though). As for the bible stuff, it was somehow very awkward to pick through the religion/philosophy section.

And I noticed you had a review of Memoirs of Hadrian...

#159 Rebecca - I expect full recall...my wife read it in college, but doesn't remember much either.
#160 Bas - I "missed" Watership Down and keep thinking I should read it. Maybe I will now.
#162 Suzanne - I thought about you when I picked up The Barbarian Conversion...wonder how well done it is.

Apr 16, 2012, 7:45pm

I read Siddhartha in the Early 70s (probably about the same time rebeccanyc did!) and was just this past weekend dustng off a rather ratty paperback, debating whether it is ready for the recycle bin. I think I remember some of it (I was quite smitten with it at the time) but the memory could be mixed with class i had later in Comparative Religions....

Apr 16, 2012, 8:23pm

I read most of Hesse in the late 60s and early 70s, but the one that has stuck with me (and which I have taught a few times) is Steppenwolf -- very Jungian and vaguely autobiographical. I honestly don't remember how true Siddhartha actually is to the life of the Buddha.

Apr 17, 2012, 3:10pm

It was probably the late 60s, Lois . . . I actually retrieved my old copy a few years ago when I cleaned out my parents' apartment, but I don't think I'll reread it.

Apr 17, 2012, 4:48pm

Watership Down is along the lines of Animal Farm - a good story at different ages, with deeper commentary going on beneath the surface.

Apr 17, 2012, 8:44pm

#164-166 - maybe no one actually remembers the contents of the book...perhaps they have been erased from everyone's memory...

#167 ljbwell, Animal Farm takes me back to sixth grade.

Edited: Apr 18, 2012, 7:18am

14. Leviticus (from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter) (136 pages, read Feb 27 - Mar 16)

Perhaps the greatest problem facing students of the Bible as literature is the fact that so much of the Bible is not literature at all,” so David Damrosch opens his chapter on Leviticus in The Literary Guide to the Bible. There is almost no narrative in Leviticus, instead it is entirely a collection of laws focused on purity and holiness. It’s not fun stuff to read. And yet it has inspired some of the most fascinating commentary. Here is the place to ponder the meanings purity and holiness, even if the Bible never tells us what these words mean. Robert Alter discusses some prominent books in his notes, notably one by Mary Douglas who broke the laws down into an “analogic reasoning”. That would be something like a logic of analogy, instead of…err, a logic of logic. Everything is reference to something else, an analogy to something. So, for example, when Leviticus instructs on what parts of an animal are to be set apart and can’t be eaten, these are meant as an analogy to the holiest parts of the Tabernacle, or of the top of Mount Sinai, where God has presence and Israelites are not to approach (on the penalty of death.)

Leviticus is actually two collections of laws. The first sixteen chapters are priestly laws on purity and on the Tabernacle the Israelites maintain as they wander in the wilderness. The final eleven chapters make up the Holiness Code, with multiple commandments on everyday life, including long sections on sexual prohibitions. Here, in the Holiness code, in 19:18, apropos of neither the commandment before or after it, we find, “And you shall love your fellow man as yourself. ” The golden rule, the proclaimed center of the Bible, the most fundamental part of all religious (and non-religious) moral codes…is not found in the Ten Commandments, is not pronounced by Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. It has no prominence, but is merely another line lost in the middle here, over two and half books into the Bible. It comes right before “Your beasts you shall not mate with a different kind.

Near the end of the Leviticus is a most curious chapter where God gives a list of blessings he will reward those who follow his commandments. They will have peace, security, good crop yields, and will be fruitful and multiply, nice stuff. Then the threats begin for those who trespass. There are, I counted, five different phases of punishments and promised destruction and humiliation, each is described as seven-fold worse than the previous (so the last phase is 2401 times worse than the first phase). In phase five, among all the other things, God tells us "And I will turn your towns into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will not smell your fragrant odors. And I Myself will lay waste to the land, and all your enemies who settle it shall be appalled by it. And You I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword after you, and your land shall be desolation, and your towns a ruin"

Apr 18, 2012, 6:20am

Vile. An utterly vile text, Leviticus, full of rancid hatred and sheer nastiness; and very revealing about the aims of the commitee who decided to include it in a book purporting to be 'the word of God.'

Apr 18, 2012, 7:17am

It's much more pleasant than Numbers...

Apr 18, 2012, 5:05pm

each is described as seven-fold worse than the previous (so the last phase is 2401 times worse than the first phase)
Brings the Richter scale to mind and makes me want to look into the history of math ... what was known when.

I didn't find many newer books. I didn't expect 2011-2012. But 2006-2010 I did expect. Wondering how much ebooks may have reduced these.
Very interesting catch.

Edited: Apr 18, 2012, 10:08pm

I'm going to guess they could do 7x7x7x7...however, math wasn't all the important to these authors in this case, they just liked sevens and big numbers, and, apparently, coming up with scary threats.

Apr 19, 2012, 4:06am

Dan, Do you feel any better for having battled through Leviticus?

Apr 19, 2012, 7:31am

>168 dchaikin: LOL! Well, there are definitely loads of things I'm not remembering from the era, so it wouldn't surprise me. (Rebecca, I'd guess I read it around '72).

Apr 19, 2012, 7:55am

>168 dchaikin:,

Reminds me of the adage that, if you can remember the 60's, you weren't part of them.

Apr 19, 2012, 8:22am

Bas, "feel better" is not a phrase I've associated with the Bible.

Apr 19, 2012, 10:16am

#176, Unfortunately, I was too young until the late 60s to have reason to have forgotten them. I'm afraid it's just my middle-aged brain.

Apr 19, 2012, 12:12pm

#177 LOL

Apr 19, 2012, 2:32pm

#169 - “Your beasts you shall not mate with a different kind.”

I suppose this means breeding mules is sinful. Searching the web for "mule" and "sin" does reveal that some people think it so.

Apr 19, 2012, 3:37pm

It also prohibits fabrics made of mixed materials. Purity is purity....I guess. Many of these laws area contradicted elsewhere. I'm pretty sure there was a mule somewhere, and the priests clothing is described in detail and involves fabrics from mixed materials.

Apr 19, 2012, 8:40pm

I suppose this means breeding mules is sinful. Searching the web for "mule" and "sin" does reveal that some people think it so.

Interesting. Well, I guess it's obvious that God disapproves, since they can't reproduce.

Apr 20, 2012, 1:36am

Nice review, Dan. I wonder what they'd make of ligers and tiglons (which can reproduce)?

Edited: Apr 20, 2012, 11:15am

Isn't Leviticus the book with the massive wealth redistribution every fifty years? It oddly comes up much less than some of the other stuff.

Yeah, the mixed fibers thing. Too bad the Lord didn't tell us what he thinks about polyesters and spandex.

Apr 20, 2012, 12:23pm

The Jubilee year is in Leviticus, in extensive detail. The famous line on the Liberty Bell (a United States thing) comes from here...but it also happens to be a poor interpretation. The Hebrew text doesn't mean what the KJV text interpreted. It wasn't about liberty.

The Jubilee is not a redistribution of wealth, but more of a restoration of wealth. Sold land is returned to the original owners, debts are released, Israelite slaves are freed (not other slaves). This keeps the tribes on their tribal land. These laws were abandoned once the Israelites were conquered and exiled (...well, that is unless the laws were written after exile, in which case they were never followed)

Edited: May 4, 2012, 8:43pm

15. Black Warrior Review : Volume XXIII, Number 1 (1996, 171 pages, read Feb 17 – Mar 26)
Published by the University of Alabama

I really enjoyed working my through this, and was impressed with the quality. These authors are largely unknown, but many were writing great stuff. It took me awhile because it included a 20 page chapbook of very difficult poems (difficult for me). The notes below are for my reference, and are only semi-coherent. Read at your own risk.

George Starbuck – Recently deceased at publication, the issue is dedicated to him, and quotes a wonderful excerpt from “The Universe is Closed and has REMs”
Nancy Vieira Couto – two poems
-- Chemical Sins -- where the subject reflects “art shadows life in both tenacity and dissolution. Life is luminous enough, all those tiny pricks of light scattered along a space-time continuum.
-- After the Engaging Diversions -- on marriages and divorces
Phillip St. Clair – three poems
-- Almost Everyone’s Story - I enjoyed this poem, that opens, “So you want to lead the band? Fine—the clouds of ambition form on the tops of mountains,
-- The First Day of Lent - similar feel and also entertaining. Opens “Why do the heathens rage? You would, too, if you were standing on a high mountain with the Devil,/being tempted as Jesus was but thinking about that sweet deal you’ve just been offered,
-- Hedda and Her Sisters
Eric Brooks – two poems
-- Hay Tag
-- Burning Laundery
Lee UptonCivilian Histories -- long poem I didn’t get
Christine SneedIf Camus Had Asked me to Write a Love Poem
Dave Smith – Tremble - An entire chapbook of about 20 single page poems, each thirteen lines. These were difficult enough to read that I would often read one and stop, using all my energy to try to make something out of it. Seems like good stuff, just a little beyond me.
Stephen Berg – two poems
-- Beds
-- Hands Refracted in a Glass of Beer - The narrator watches a couple at a café or bar. Looking through the beer on their table: “back and forth their hands pass behind it, cubistically shattered and magnified, bulging and swimming in the full, ten-ounce glass.
Timothy Geiger -- Einstein and the Ants
Kate Northrop – two poems
-- The Servant Girl
-- Story: I - I loved this poem so much I posted it in our poetry thread here
Reginald ShepherdHe and Sleep Were Brothers - poem
Sam Witt Listening Room -- a very difficult to understand poem with re-occurring themes around air and listening and wrestling angels.
David JaussThe Wandering Between Worlds - several part elegant poem

Short Stories
Anna KeeseyBe My Boo Radley -- An Ok story about a girl fascinated to something like obsession with her odd high school literature teacher

Stephen Graham JonesPaleogenesis, Circa 1970 -- a surprising memorable story narrated by a lonely guy in a truck stop watching a truck driver pick up a waitress, and mixing description of her up with some his own unclear-to-me memories

Keith Lee MorrisIn the Lobby of the Hotel St. Marie -- I loved this story so much I went and checked out one his books (all published after this issue), The Dart League King. All that happens here is that the narrator has come to stay at a hotel to see a picture in the lobby. Although consumed with seeing he it, he waits a while and meets a woman. They go to see the picture together. Watching the picture leads each of them to their own emotional breakdown. It’s three pages

George ClarkSaint Besse’s Gift -- A surprisingly memorable story about a random theft of a bag at a bus stop along Las Olas BLVD in Ft Lauderdale, FL. The narrator is the thief. When he finds a child’s toy in the bag, his own loneliness pours out.

Rebecca Eagle – Have You Seen Me? -- Just OK. A poor girl whose hesitates to go to the ballet lesson her parents really can’t afford.

Elijah Gowin – photograph selections from Hymnal of Dreams series

An interview of Rick Moody by Rob Trucks. Moody’s novel The Ice Storm, was about to come out in film. Moody came across as immature and arrogant, and claimed he wants to write like David Foster Wallace (good luck)

William Black -- Necessary Excesses: On Writers in Search of Literature’s Relevance
- Reviews Milan Kundera’s Testament Betrayed, Nadine Gordimer’s Writing and Being, and Seamus Heaney’s The Redress of Poetry. These are all essay collections on writing.
Many many shorter reviews
Dev Hathaway reviewed Last Days of the Dog-Men : Stories by Brad Watson
Jennifer Horne reviewed Hunter-Gatherer : Poems by R. T. Smith
Jeane Leiby reviewed Atticus : A Novel by Rob Hansen
Jeff Mock reviewed The Post-Rapture Diner : Poems by Dorothy Barresi
Jeane Leiby reviewed Tenorman : A Novella by David Huddle
Jeff Mock reviewed Vision of a Storm Cloud : Poems by William Olsen
Kennette H. Wilkes reviewed Witness : Poems by Jeanie Thompson

Edited: May 4, 2012, 9:16pm

17. Imperfect : An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott with Tim Brown (2012, 290 pages, read April 8-15) Early Reviewer

At some point, in high school, I caught a story in Sports Illustrated about a promising college pitcher who was born without a right hand; and I was quite fascinated. I didn’t exactly follow him along, but in the back of mind I looked for stories about him and was happy to see him win 18 games one season with the California Angels, and then later pitch a no-hitter for the Yankees (in Yankee Stadium). Then he disappeared. Seeing this book on LibraryThing.com’s Early Reviewer list I was suddenly quite curious to hear his story.

The way this apparently worked is that Jim Abbott talked into a recorder, and Tim Brown restructured the recording into this book. (Tim Brown is a Yahoo sports writer. He worked for southern California papers when Abbott was with the Angels, and likely covered him then. This is his first book). The result is a bit long for the content, but reads very well. I was surprising moved by how nice Abbott is, and especially how he describes his unusual fan club of disabled children. He would meet with them, on their request, at pretty much every game in every stadium. (In a side story, Steinbrenner actually complained publicly that he wasn’t focusing enough on baseball, leading to news stories like “GS criticizes Abbott for being a decent human being.”) Also, I enjoyed all the players he came across at different times and how he talks about them. His descriptions of Angels managers Doug Radar and Rene Lacheman are wonderful.

For those curious like me about what happened to him, it seems Abbott was mainly a one-pitch pitcher with a nasty cut fastball (It curved into right-handed batters. This meant it broke a lot of wooden bats used in Major League baseball, and resulted in a lot of ground ball outs. This is not the kind of pitcher that gets no-hitters. His story of the no-hitter is the heart of the book and is fascinating. It took some amazing plays by the likes of Wade Boggs and Bernie Williams.) When Abbott lost his velocity, still in his physical prime, his career was over.

In the mood for a baseball book, one that actually will make you feel good about the game, you can’t go wrong with this one.

May 5, 2012, 6:57am

Disappointed to hear that Rick Moody came across as immature and arrogant, as I really enjoyed his Purple America which I read last year. It just goes to show we can't always like the authors whose books we admire.

Enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Black Warrior Review

May 5, 2012, 8:40am

Nice review, Dan. I remember hearing about Abbott when he pitched for the University of Michigan. I'll be on the lookout for this book.

May 5, 2012, 9:09am

ah, I've been hearing about Jim Abbott lately, didn't know about the book. My husband might be interested.

May 6, 2012, 8:13am

Bas - I haven't read Rick Moody, so I don't know how that might work out in his writing. Anyway, 1996 was a long time ago. (although Purple America was published in 1998...) Thanks for the comments, and you get a medal for actually reading all my comments on the BWR. :)

Darryl - Thanks. I wonder how much press Abbott had while still at UM. Interesting, because I can't think of any other baseball player I followed from college to the major league.

MJ - I suspect anyone who likes baseball books would like this.

Thanks again for stopping by.

May 6, 2012, 11:06am

I haven't been into baseball in a long time, but I do remember seeing Jim Abbot pitch against the Rangers. His pitching and fielding looked so natural that it was easy to forget he had only one hand.

May 6, 2012, 12:51pm

I'm not the biggest baseball fan (well, pro ball anyway), but I think I'll check out Imperfect.

May 6, 2012, 10:51pm

I remember watching Roger Clemens pitching for the Texas Longhorns in the College World Series.

May 10, 2012, 10:21pm

18. This Close to the Earth by Enid Shomer (1992, 71 pages, read Mar 27 - Apr 18)

Trying to describe poetry only seems to expose the limits of adjectives and of my vocabulary. I can’t express what I like about Shomer’s poetry. There is something moving and beautiful, although this little book passed very fast and was maybe a little too easy to skip through. But, it didn’t leave me disappointed; instead it left me wanting to find more of her work.

Edited: May 11, 2012, 2:26pm

20. Numbers (from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter) (194 pages, read April 1-25)

Numbers is the oddest, most horrible book anyone would call sacred. I truly don’t get it. I don’t know why this was ever part of a holy book, and yet it’s central, one of the five cornerstone pieces of The Book. It’s not all horrible, mind you. The first ten chapters range from boring to quite pleasant. A most curious chapter describes an adultery ritual trial that involves having the accused woman (women only) drink ashes. Then a priest examines the effects to determine her guilt or innocence. There is a chapter on Nazarites, who I had never heard of. This was a kind of accepted, but clearly not promoted, group of religious ascetics. This chapter also has “Aaron’s blessing”. I’m not sure what Christianity does with this, but any Jewish person will recognize and likely be quite moved by the words “May the LORD bless you and guard you…” and so on. Then, in the back end the book showers us with ancient poetry and the story of Balaam and his talking ass. This is all good stuff, some of the best stuff I’ve come across in the Bible so far.

All of which only makes the low parts that much more disorienting. For ten chapters God kills Isrealites…over and over again. They are burnt, made to choke of food, swallowed by earth quakes. At one point he burns them as they beg forgiveness with offerings in copper bowls. The survivors are ordered to make an altar decoration out of the copper from the bowls. In all these cases the general crime is basically to look around the desert wilderness they are wandering through and say something like, “this places sucks. Forget Moses, we’d be better off in Egypt.” And, they would have been for they will die in the wilderness. Every last one of the wilderness generation gets condemned to die without setting foot in the promised land, all except for two insanely optimistic scouts, Caleb and Joshua.

Something that doesn’t come up here is love. This idea that God loves, it’s not here. God hates, he’s angry. He doesn’t want reason. He wants his little tribe to forget the odds, have faith and kill, have blind devotion or be killed.

Throughout these book so far there have been many odd and disturbing parts. Draconian laws, immoral heroes, killing of enemies merely to make a point. Isrealites have attacked each other, two-timed each other, and done all sorts of odd, unfortunate or simply terrible things. But somehow I see how that can be accommodated. There is a lesson in there. There is a different lesson here. I don’t like it.

May 10, 2012, 10:31pm

23. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008, 374 pages, read May 5-9)

This flawed amateur piece of writing had me glued to it, heart actually racing even long after I put it down…when I convinced myself to put it down. Fun stuff, I’ll try not to think too much about it.

May 10, 2012, 10:35pm

I seem to be caught up...

May 11, 2012, 2:13pm

Dan - I really liked your comments on Numbers. I've never read it (or much of the Bible or any other holy text for that matter) but I appreciated your sharing your very personal, honest reaction.

And I see The Hunger Games sucked you in, too :)

May 12, 2012, 12:24am

#196 - Numbers is bad, but it only gets worse. The Book of Joshua disturbed me as much as anything I have ever read.

May 12, 2012, 12:40am

I am really enjoying this Bible read.

I read through the entire Bible between grades 7 & 11 (12 - 16 years old) because it was the only thing I was allowed to read during church. I found it mostly boring with some juicy bits, but I found church way more boring, so it was my compromise. It's interesting hearing about it from adults, and adults who aren't trying to make me think every word is perfection.

May 12, 2012, 10:46pm

199-201 - interesting comments, thanks.

Katie - You know, Genesis was OK. But I can't really recommend the next four books...actually I'm not sure how I feel about having (almost) read them. Feeling a bit mixed at the moment. Hunger Games was fun. I'll read the other two eventually.

Steven - Very interested in your comment on Joshua. I was hoping Numbers was a low...A strange collection of books these are.

Joyce - That is surreal to me - this effort to make out every word as perfection. It's a remarkably cultivated blindness?

May 13, 2012, 8:30pm

"faith". . . My mom could explain it all.

May 14, 2012, 8:42am

>196 dchaikin: Your thoughts on The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary have me seeing the Bible from a completely different perspective, Daniel. I have never before really thought about it as actually being literature.

May 14, 2012, 9:13am

>197 dchaikin: LOL! (just peeking in to keep up with your posts...well, as best I am able)

May 14, 2012, 11:45pm

#203 Joyce - sigh...I have many responses, but would rather chicken out and sidestep them here.

#204 Linda - Your innocent comment has be wondering whether I'm really reading the bible as literature. That is what it felt like when I was reading Genesis - there are terrific literary elements and many curious historical elements. But the next four books haven't felt like literature to me, or at least I haven't felt that I was reading them in a literary way. To some extent it has felt like I'm reading a collection of archives currently kept in a closet somewhere. I'm not sure what to make of it all.

#205 Lois - always nice knowing you've stopped by.

May 15, 2012, 7:45am

Whew! I just caught up on your thread (with a bit of skimming...I admit). I think your reviews of the Bible are fascinating. I read the bible through once, and had some of the same issues with the Old Testament as you are having. Your reviews are very thoughtful and interesting! My impression is that it is of more historical value than literary value. I was thinking of re-reading it, this time with the help of guides--especially guides that help me to understand the historical perspective a little better. This is a huge task and you're doing a great job!

Edited: May 15, 2012, 8:56am

I've been lurking regularly, Dan -- don't have a lot of insight to offer, I'm afraid. But your Biblical commentary is intriguing.. I saw the movie of The Hunger Games, but can't say I'm inspired to read the books -- so many books, so little time.

May 15, 2012, 10:11am

>208 janeajones: Jane, that was also my feeling after seeing the movie.

May 15, 2012, 10:51am

#208-9 I'm not rushing out to see the movie. Maybe I'll stumble across it some time, but it's not something I feel I'm missing.

#27 Rachel - For a 200 post thread, I'm quite impressed and appreciative that you worked you're way through. Thanks! (note to self - start a new thread). Thanks for the compliments as well.

I agree that the historical value of the Bible may be much richer than the literary value within the texts themselves. But, on the other hand, when I'm reading later works and they refer constantly to the various parts of the Bible in various ways—then a new type of literary value is created, and it's enormous. As a foundation—that idea of exploring the foundation is probably my main motivation here, although not just literary foundation, but whatever else too (vaguely waving my hands here).

sorry, not sure what all that came from...

May 15, 2012, 1:07pm

I really loved the movie version of The Hunger Games, actually. Very accurate to the book, and made some of its points regarding violence and the entertainment industry as well as Collins did, if not better. Plus, Jennifer Lawrence was fabulous as Katniss.

May 15, 2012, 11:28pm

Nathan - I'm still reluctant, but good to know.

Edited: May 15, 2012, 11:37pm

With four books arriving today, plus an e-book, plus another on the way, a list of new acquisitions:

On April 28 I stumbled on a garage sale that was actually the end of bookstore. Sad (the bookstore was far away, and I had never heard of it. It was called The Booknook in Tomball, TX). At $1 a book I picked up the following:

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick - I've been lusting after this since reading Moby Dick. A great find
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
Indian Country by Peter Matthiessen
Schlepping Through the Alps: My Search for Austria's Jewish Past with Its Last Wandering Shepherd by Sam Apple
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
A History of Warfare by John Keegan
Indian Wars of the Great Plains by Stephen Longstreet
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama

Then on May 7 I used half of a $100 amazon gift card (saving the rest for kindle purchases)

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Jamilia by Tsjingiz Ajtmatov - avaland's fault, from a review in 2009
When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant
A Theory of Flight by Andrew X. Pham - $1 kindle book for an author I've wanted to read for a while.
Icefields by Thomas Wharton - still in transit

I just spend a while pawing through Radioactive, Just Kids, The Master and Margarite (smaller than expected) & Jamilia...

May 16, 2012, 12:02am

after posting I checked the mailbox...and found Icefields

May 16, 2012, 7:20am

>214 dchaikin: Weeee! I hope you like it. And Jamilia too! (ironically, I also just bought this a few days ago from Amazon for a gift)

May 16, 2012, 9:05am

Dan -- you're the only person on LT with Pham's A Theory of Flight -- is this a book he wrote before or after Catfish and Mandala and The Eaves of Heaven?

Edited: May 16, 2012, 9:22am

It's a 2012 publication. There is a comment on amazon that says something to the effect that he see this as the book he always wanted to write, but he needed to write the other two before he could write this. Not sure what to make of that comment, but is explains his own chronology.

May 16, 2012, 9:40am

#215 - Your recent review certainly helped nudge me toward Icefields. Of course owning it, and reading it are not the same thing...

May 16, 2012, 9:42am

A nice haul, Dan. Your mention of A History of Warfare immediately gave me the idea that this would be a great gift for my grandson who is interested in military history but has no idea where to start. I've read other books by Keegan, who is an excellent and perceptive writer.

May 16, 2012, 1:03pm

#213 Very interesting haul. I have several of them but haven't read them, specifically Indian Country, A History of Warfare, Radioactive, and Citizens, which I've been meaning to read for several years. It's such a tome, i have to save it for when I have lots of reading time at home, as opposed to on the subway. Loved loved loved Just Kids and The Master and Margarita. I also ordered Icefields based on Lois's review.

May 16, 2012, 1:06pm

#219 - Steven - good to know about Keegan. The first few pages were interesting, but not sure when I'll get to it.

#220 - Rebecca - Radioactive looks magnificent. I looked through it a bit last night and I'm still thinking about that bit. I paged through Citizens the other day and was terribly intimidated.

May 16, 2012, 4:43pm

wow! for a dollar a book you got some real gems.

May 17, 2012, 10:16am

#222 It was a good find, but sad too. I've come across bookstores that had just terrible selections, and that is what I would expect if someone is selling them out of their garage. But, she had good stuff (all used).

May 18, 2012, 2:09pm

>218 dchaikin: Well, Icefields sat on my TBR for a couple of years before I got around to finishing it.

>213 dchaikin: This is why I've started to avoid library sales. I was bringing a dozen or more from each one.

Edited: May 27, 2012, 11:27pm

24. Cobb : A Biography by Al Stump (1994, 428 pages, read Apr 15-May 14)
(foreword by Jimmy Reese)

Baseball was just starting, the bible was a pain to read, and that Early Reviewer autobiography on Jim Abbott was so much fun that it just made sense; this was a year to read about baseball. So, I picked this one up at The Friends of Houston Public Library book sale and then quickly started it. The experience was mixed. On one hand this is a very interesting biography; a psychologically penetrating study of a disturbed…well, not just disturbed, but a truly psychotic early baseball star. But, Cobb was such a dislikable person, that reading about him wasn’t fun, and it spoiled the game of baseball more than it added to it.

And I should stop there, and keep this review short. But…there is so much more to talk about.

Ty Cobb is commonly on the short list of all time best baseball players and still holds record for the highest lifetime batting average. He played in the dead ball era, when the same ball was used through the whole game. Home runs were scarce, and scoring was about getting on base and making things happen. Cobb could hit, bunt for a hit, steal bases, he likely had track-star speed, and he was game-sharp with a knack for outwitting the opponent. In one game he stole home base while a third baseball tossed the ball up in the air to himself, not paying attention. (Someone stole home base this year, once, and it was big news.) And Cobb was mean. He injured players seriously and intentionally, sometimes to get on base and sometimes just to make a point.

Cobb wasn’t a player who turned it on at game time. He was always on, a fighter who couldn’t let go and couldn’t relax. He got in numerous fights with everyone – opponents, teammates, umpires, fans, hotel bellmen. These were serious affairs where the loser ended up needing medical attention. Many of the non-player victims were black, as Cobb’s intense racism only heated up his anger. At the same time he was a star, Cobb was roundly hated by most players around the league because of all the dirty plays, his angry demeanor and his penetrating insults. He was also hated by his own teammates, who simply couldn’t stand him. Some long time teammates would later say he ruined the game for them.

His own teammates would wonder both about his sanity and whether he would ever let go or wear out. He didn’t do either. He was good, and for a long time. And that wasn’t at game time. He was also fiercely successful off the field, financially. He invested widely and successfully. Among other successes, he was an original investor in Coke. He became the first millionaire ball player (his $20,000 was far higher than regular players, but clearly not enough to make him a millionaire). But happy he was not, at any point. He spent his retirement in apparently the same psychotic state, getting divorced at least twice with accusations of abuse, alienating all his children, and eventually burning bridges with all his fellow players and most of his close friends. If we can believe Al Stump, only three players from his time attended his funeral.

There are three problems with the book. The first, and main one in my opinion, is the subject. Cobb was such a dislikable person that he turned me off of baseball. I had to ask myself why I watch this game where any idiot can get famous just because he’s got the right athletic construction. The second problem was that it was too long. Stump covers every lunatic activity by Cobb, including every major fight he got in, and every publicity stunt he screwed up and so on. There was a lot to cover. And the third was that I don’t know how much I can believe Al Stump.

Stump ghost wrote Cobb’s autobiography, which was hardly reliable, published shortly before Cobb’s death. Stump brings a lot of his personal experiences with Cobb into the book and into the psychological breakdown. And these stories are spectacular. (Stump was also able to interview many players from his generation.) Yet, Stump waited another thirty years, and a year before his own death, before publishing this volume. Alas, in 2010(!) there were accusations against Stump of forgery and of inaccuracies in his book. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this out until after I was almost done, and I never did find out whether the accusations were legitimate.

A few on Club Read include a category in their reviews about who should this book they are reviewing. I would only recommend this to someone either obsessed by Ty Cobb or someone not actually interested in baseball.

May 27, 2012, 11:52pm

Great review of the Ty Cobb biography, Dan. He seems to have been the meanest person ever to don a sports uniform. However, in northeast Georgia, roughly 1-1/2 hours away from Atlanta, he's also known for creating what is now known as the Ty Cobb Healthcare System, which was dedicated to his parents and provides high quality care to the residents of Royston, Georgia, his home town, and its surrounding communities. So, despite his arrogance, virulent racism and unending meanness, he did do something good.

May 28, 2012, 8:07am

He also created a college fund charity which he specified was because he wished he had gone to college (there is a story behind that)

He had a knack for publicity and for doing things that would make him look good. I know that's a sorry way of looking at, but that is pretty much the type of person he was. He could have been a successful politician - his father was a state senator.

Edited: May 28, 2012, 10:21am

Based on what little I've read about Cobb, I'm not surprised that he did things that enhanced his public image and put the spotlight on himself.

I assume that the book mentions the notorious incident when Cobb left the field, went into the stands, and viciously stomped a handicapped man that verbally harassed him. That made Ron Artest's attack of a fan during an NBA game, for which he was suspended for an entire season, look like child's play in comparison.

May 28, 2012, 10:31am

Oh yes, with all details. It was the first time his teammates supported him! The whole team went on strike - a first for baseball.

Edited: May 28, 2012, 11:07am

That's right; I read an article about the game that followed the team's decision to go on strike (in the NYT, I think), in which a lot of replacement players were defeated by some ungodly score, which prompted Cobb's teammates to end the strike after one(?) game.

ETA: I found that article, from the April 28 edition of the NYT: A Beating in the Stands, Followed by One on the Field

May 28, 2012, 5:30pm

Very informative review of the Cobb biography. I'm not too interested in baseball but your review was quite interesting. Cobb does sound like an extremely unpleasant person.

May 28, 2012, 6:59pm

Great review of Cobb: a biography. I know very little about baseball, but still I found your review fascinating. I don't think it is that unusual for teammates not to like a fellow team member, but it would be unusual for fans not to like a star player and so I was wondering what the fans thought about him. Did they like him at the time? Do they like him now?

Edited: May 29, 2012, 12:34pm

I recommend Darryl's link (#230) for anyone who wants a taste of the true Ty Cobb in all his colors. It's worth noting that future Hall-of-Famer, and I think generally liked, Sam "Wahoo" Crawford hated Ty Cobb, and was later quoted by Al Stump as complaining that Cobb never helped anybody (meaning any teammates).

Thanks for the link, Darryl! It's significant that the article cites Charles Alexander, and not Al Stump. I've heard Alexander's book it not the best read in the world, but it must be more reliable.

#231 - maus - Thanks!

#232 - bas- Stump doesn't provide a direct study, just anecdotal stuff. Home fans were clearly mixed. Some really didn't like him. But, he sold tickets. Around the league he provoked much hatred, at least one close riot in Philadelphia when he intentionally hurt one of their best players. But he also inspired a lot of awe and grudging respect. Casey Stengel met the now famous and rich Cobb while he was rookie (1912), and they become long time friends. Why? Because Stengel was in awe of Cobb and really thought he was the best player ever. This was about the only successful way to work with him.

Edited: Jun 13, 2012, 9:52am

My personal top ten list of 2000-to-present fiction list. For the record, I've only read about 100 books from the time period, and almost none dated 2010-2012.

1 & 2 - Easily the best two books from my list. Penetrating, deeply worked through, ambitious and satisfying. These are actually the same book, by the way.

- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
- Home by Marilynne Robinson (2008)

3 to 7 - These books all put me in a sense of wonder, a joy to read and think about.

- When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant (2000) - wonderful on Tel Aviv
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002) - fascinating on Detroit
- The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)
- Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (2003, trans 2005)
- The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (2006, trans 2008)

8 - Fits in previous category, except this one you haven't heard of.

- Possessed by shadows by Donigan Merritt (2005)

9 & 10 - Two well constructed books that, while enjoyable in their own way, left me in various states of discomfort and confusion

- Peace by Richard Bausch (2008) - A little masterpiece. I had this higher, but then realized my main impression was not a joy of reading, but how much it messed with my head.
- Tinkers by Paul Harding (2009)

Honorable mentions:

Sorry by Gail Jones (2007) - This book is flawed, and, really, it's not that good, but the writing is magnificent.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007) - This one is better if you forget about the prize it won. The Dominican Republic lives here.

The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris (2008) - Another one you haven't heard of. Not a must read for anyone, but excellent writing, a pleasure to have read.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009) - Probably a better book then some higher up the list, but I have some kind of not-understood ambivalence towards it.

ETA - I have Desert by J. M. G. Le Clezio dated 1980, when it was originally published in French, instead of 2009, when it was translated to English. It would be a top three here.

Edited: Jun 13, 2012, 10:57am

Tried this for the 1990's...oye...

Here is my list:

1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996, read in 2010) - I would not argue if someone told me this is the best book of the last 25 years. Incredibly ambitious.

2. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998, read in 2005)

That it, two books...and I read both of those in the 2000's.

Honorable mentions to
- Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (1994, read in 2007)
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992, read in 2004) - this is actually a classic of sorts, and recommended. But, it's not literature, just fun.

Here are highlights of what fiction I was actually reading in the 1990's...
- Terry Pratchett's discworld series. Small Gods (1992) is my favorite
- Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut (1997) - KV's last novel, and the first I read by him. This is almost serious literature.
- Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. Yes, crap fantasy. Lord of Chaos (1994), book 6, was the best of the series and the last before Jordan got overwhelmed.

Jun 13, 2012, 10:54am

My 1980's list is way better, but I didn't read any of those books in the 1980's...so I'll quit here.

Jun 13, 2012, 11:13am

I think I'll definitely skip the Ty Cobb book -- life is too short to read about thoroughly disagreeable athletes. ;-)

Jun 13, 2012, 4:07pm

Interesting lists. Absolutely agree about Middlesex - one of those books I read a few years ago and it still has left an impression on me.

Snow Crash was my official intro to cyberpunk (a sign that my then-friend-now-husband was a good match for me), followed not long after by Diamond Age. A look at my library shows those were just the start. Fun, page-turner reads.

Jun 13, 2012, 5:58pm

Interesting lists, especially for me since I haven't read a lot of the books you mention. I didn't read most of my 80s or 90s books in the 80s or 90s (or the 70s in the 70s, for that matter), although I did read some of them. I feel most of the book I read in those years wouldn't hold up, because I don't remember a lot about them! I loved Out Stealing Horses when I read it, and maybe I should have included it in my list, but it didn't hold up for me as well as others and my opinion may be colored by later reading To Siberia and being disappointed. I read another Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs, and really liked it, but it didn't rise to the top. And I read another Gail Jones, Five Bells, and agree that the writing was gorgeous but that the book was flawed.

Edited: Jun 13, 2012, 10:11pm

Rebecca - I agree that Out Stealing Horses doesn't hold up. The same for The Twin, and, to a lesser degree, Middlesex. I put them on there because I loved them while I read them...and because I didn't have that many books to chose from... I think When I Lived in Modern Times will flit away too, but I just read it. Actually I think only half of those ten books seem to have really left a long term impression on me (Marilynne Robinson's two, The Known World, Peace, and maybe Possessed by Shadows). As I was going over my books I noticed many others like that - ones I loved at the time, but don't really value in hindsight. I'm not sure what that says about me, but it does partially explain why I haven't been reading newer books lately.

I came across your review of The Clothes on Their Backs recently when I was looking for more books by Linda Grant. She really has a wonderful way of instantly creating atmosphere and of writing memorable lines...at least she did in When I Lived in Modern Times.

Edited: Jun 14, 2012, 12:18am

25. Deuteronomy (from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter) (198 pages, read April 30 – May 16)

Deuteronomy is Moses’ final words before his death. He stands overlooking the Promised Land he will not enter, before the people of next, younger generation, as his own generation has passed—he, Joshua and Caleb are the only men remaining. And Moses gives them a series of lectures on their history, on instructions of how to invade the Promised Land (in short, kill everyone, destroy everything), on their religion and their relationship with God. He then gives them a prolonged (and very boring to read) repetition of laws. Then there are more sermons. Finally he curses them at length, predicting the future failure and exile, and blesses them. Actually, Moses has a lot to say. The book closes with the death of Moses.

My first observation of Deuteronomy was the clarity. The previous four books are full of laws and stories, but explanations have been sparse. Here things are summarized and, to some extent interpreted. This is a nice change. It’s here we are clearly told that there is only one god and there are no other gods. And it’s here we are told to love god, not just fear him. Also here are some of the fundamental words of Judaism, the Shema creed and part of the Amidah prayer, things I recognize from my own Jewish experiences. The laws are boring, the pronouncements of doom are odd, but the sermons are actually interesting, and complex. The last part of Exodus, almost all of Leviticus and much of Numbers is non-narrative, very dry. Most of the rest of Numbers is about failure and bad news. These sermons are actually a nice change.

The distinct oddity about Deuteronomy, however, is not its contents, but its history. It’s a known forgery, and we know this because the bible tells us so. Kings mentions it, called “the Book of the Torah”. There it is described as writings by Moses newly discovered during the reign of Josiah in 622 bce (The Biblical Moses lived in the 13th century bce). Jeremiah mentions it too, called “the Torah of YHWH”; except Jeremiah didn’t buy the discovery story. He criticized “The Torah of YHWH” as a product of “the deceitful pen of the scribes”...meaning it’s a forgery.

Deuteronomy, in its original form, was part of the religious reforms pushed under Josiah during his reign of the Kingdom of Judah. The repetition of old laws is carefully manipulated so that the Israelite’s religion is redefined as one now centered on a single building, the Temple of Salomon in Jerusalem. Within the laws, the text repeatedly says many religious rituals, including all sacrificial offerings, shall (now) only take place in "the place the LORD your God chooses to make His name dwell there” And that would happen to be the main temple…only.

Knowing this left me wondering how the heck it worked. How did they pull it off? Not only has Deuteronomy been accepted, it’s part of the Torah, the most holy part of the Old Testament. And it may be the most important book of the bible for Judaism. It’s a great mystery how this happened. There are three things I noticed, and for which I must compliment the authors. There is a change of tone in Deuteronomy and there are inconsistencies with the earlier books (but there are plenty of inconsistencies within those books). However, first thing I noticed is the overall thematic consistency of Deuteronomy with the preceding books. The second thing I noticed was that, at this point, having just read the previous four books, I was craving explanation, something the break through all the obscurity. And this is just what Deuteronomy offers. The third thing is the Deuteronomy is now wholly “new” writing. It includes old writings, patched in.

I think this particular book is really a masterwork. The authors had a huge challenge, but they found a need and they managed to craft a book that fit that need. Finally, we are given some clarity. Also, the authors made every effort to make this book feel old and conceptually in line with the previous books—except those few little changes where the religion just happens to be completely redefined. And it worked.

Jun 14, 2012, 4:16am

Sharing your ambivalence to Wolf Hall, which is one of only three that I've read from your lists. The other two are My Name is Red and Middlesex, both good contenders.

Jun 15, 2012, 6:18pm

My 1980's top ten list....couldn't resist.

The Prospector by J. M. G. Le Clezio (1985, trans 1993)
Desert by J. M. G. Le Clezio (1980, trans 2009)
The Passport by Herta Müller (1986, trans 1989) - I don't think this is a major work by Muller, but it left a strong impression on me.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980, trans 1983)
Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard (1984)
Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (1982)
Aracoeli by Elsa Morante (1982) - I like this more now than when I read it
The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick (1987) - the only Ozick I've read
Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok (1985) - much lower quality than the others above, a personal favorite when I read it in 1999
The Covenant by James A. Michener - ditto, read this in 1993 and was enraptured. Probably would hate it now.

Honorably Mentions

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (1987) - maybe a little to slight, at least in hindsight
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett (1986) - Silly nonsense, but...I don't think anyone else actually likes this Terry Pratchett as much as I do, versus his other books...
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins (1984) - just fun, maybe.

Jun 15, 2012, 6:32pm

Interesting list, Dan. Your observation on Aracoeli is intriguing, as are the reviews listed on the work page. Everyone seems to have struggled with it.

Jun 15, 2012, 7:58pm

Aracoeli was a tough book. It's strange, I didn't enjoy it while i read it(although there is something about the writing that is striking, in a good way), I was discouraged after I finished. But it hung around. And after reading a biography of Morante, I find I really value having read it...and I would like to read it again.

Edited: Jun 15, 2012, 8:17pm

dchaikin - I love the reading list you have here! Your comments on Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible remind me of Jaroslav Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It?. He extends the orality point to the New Testament as well. Texts like Paul's letters were originally intended to be read out loud to a congregation, presumably as a whole. I don't know any church that does that now. Silently reading the Bible to ourselves is a much more recent style.

Are you continuing in the Tanakh?

Jun 16, 2012, 6:25am

Deuteronomy sounds like it may be worth reading. Nice list by the way.

Jun 16, 2012, 2:41pm

#246 - I plan to read through the Old and New testaments, but I will quit if I get sick of it. Scribal Culture has great ideas, by the way. There's not much to say about the oral history of the OT, researchers mostly wave their hands. Scribal Culture does put some thought into it. I'll keep Pelikan in mind.

#247 - Thanks Kevin. If you start reading the bible, good luck :)

Jun 17, 2012, 11:33am

26. Wolves by Larry D. Thomas (2010, 5 pages, read May 19)
(Linocuts by Clarence Walfshohl.)

Tough to call these five poems a book, but I don’t know what else to call them, since they are bound and self-contained between covers. This book is probably more about the printer, Clarence Wolfshohl, than the author. It is handmade, letter-press printed, and includes four wonderful original linocuts of wolves by Wolfshohl. His name has “Wolf” and his press is El Grito del Lobo, which translates to “the cry of the wolf”. Also, I know the poems were selected by request of Wolfshohl.

As for the poems themselves, they instantly take you into the stark atmosphere Larry creates with much of his poetry, particularly his animal (and biker) poems. My poetry reading is unsophisticated, but it doesn’t take much to see the theme of howling and project that to the poet himself.

their great
throats clotting

with the warm,
sonorous vowels
of the howl.

The connection to books is found in other ways to, as the “cadenzas/ of faraway howls” or when the paws “are the cracked/ leather binding/ of the book of time. ” But, still it’s about the wolves and the world through their desperate perspective, “the revving/ engine/ of vigilance

Jun 17, 2012, 11:34am

And so I will end part I. The new thread can be found in the continuation link below.
This topic was continued by dchaikin continues in 2012.