dchaikin 2018 part 2
This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin 2018.
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Currently Listening to:
James Baldwin : a Biography by David Adams Leeming (started reading Jan 1)
The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode (started reading NT Chapters Jun 2)
In the Study Bible, next is 2 John
Becoming (audio) by Michelle Obama (started Listening Dec 7)
links to all my old threads:
2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1, 2016 Part 2, 2016 Part 3, 2017 Part 1, 2017 Part 2, 2018 part 1
Bible Theme 2012-2015, 2018
Toni Morrison Theme 2013, 2015
Cormac McCarthy Theme 2015
Homeric Theme 2016, 2017 (includes Greek mythology, drama, Virgil & Ovid)
Thomas Pynchon Theme 2016, 2017
Gabriel García Márquez Theme 2018
A list of books read, in order of date published
bce (unknown date)
The Book of Esther, with Deuterocanonical additions
Baruch & Letter of Jeremiah
Addition to the Book of Daniel
Prayer of Manasseh
~175 bce Ben Sira
~134 bce 1 Maccabees (date iffy, based on end of book)
~50 bce 2 Maccabees (really this is unknown)
~38 Wisdom of Solomon (or Book of Wisdom)
~41 3 Maccabees
~62 Pauline Epistles by Paul the Apostle (52-62, later if not by Paul)
~70 The Gospel According to Mark
~90 The Gospel According to Matthew
~90 The Gospel According to Luke
~90 Acts of the Apostles
~100 The Gospel According to John
~100 4 Maccabees (date unknown)
~300 2 Esdras (oldest part maybe ~100, but dates unknown)
1606 Macbeth by William Shakespeare
1611 The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
1831 Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
1929 A Room of One's Own (audio) by Virginia Woolf
1931 Barracoon : the story of the last "black cargo" (audio) by Zora Neale Hurston (published in 2018)
1962 In Evil Hour by Gabriel García Márquez
1967 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
1971 The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
1975 The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez
1976 Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo
1982 The Fragrance of Guava : Conversations with Gabriel Garcia Márquez by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza
1984 Collected Stories by Gabriel García Márquez (original collections ~1955, 1962 & 1972)
1985 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
1987 Accident: A Day's News by Christa Wolf
1988 A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (updated 1996)
1988 Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
1989 Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
1989 The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez
1990 Omeros by Derek Walcott
1990 Collected Novellas by Gabriel García Márquez
1992 Strange Pilgrims : Twelve Stories by Gabriel García Márquez
1994 Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez
1996 Thinking about the Earth : A History of Ideas in Geology by David R. Oldroyd
1996 News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez
2002 Living To Tell The Tale by Gabriel García Márquez
2004 Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
2005 Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
2005 Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
2006 The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel
2008 To the End of the Land by David Grossman
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
Bolívar : American liberator by Marie Arana
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf
James Baldwin : Groundbreaking Author And Civil Rights Activist (Remarkable LGBTQ Lives) by Susan Henneberg
The Attention Merchants : The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu
Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior by Bart D. Ehrman
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
It's All Relative : Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree by A. J. Jacobs
Apollo 8 : The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Fisherman's Blues : A West African Community at Sea by Anna Badkhen
Metamorphica by Zachary Mason
Chasing Hillary : Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling by Amy Chozick
The Triumph of Christianity : How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World by Bart D. Ehrman
On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
A list of books read, 2018
(links go to review on my part 1 thread)
1. ** The Book of Esther, with Deuterocanonical additions (read Jan 1-3)
2. **½ Miss Burma (audio) by Charmaine Craig, read by the author (listened Dec 11 - Jan 4)
3. ** Wisdom of Solomon (or Book of Wisdom) (read Jan 4-7)
4. *** Mrs. Fletcher (Audio) by Tom Perrotta, with several readers. (listened Jan 5-15)
5. ***** Omeros by Derek Walcott (read Jan 8-18)
6. ****½ Collected Stories by Gabriel García Márquez (read Jan 18-25)
7. ****½ Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (read Jan 25 - Feb 2)
8. *** The Book of Joan (audio) by Lidia Yuknavitch, read by Xe Sands (listened Jan 29 - Feb 5)
9. ***½ Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus (Audio) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Jan 17-24, Feb 5-7)
10. ****½ Collected Novellas by Gabriel García Márquez (read Feb 5-11)
books read, 2018, continued
(links will go to the review on this page)
11. *** Ben Sira (read Jan 26 - Mar 1)
12. **** Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (read Feb 28 - Mar 8)
13. ***½ In Evil Hour by Gabriel García Márquez (read Mar 9-11)
14. ***½ Ratner's Star (audio) by Don DeLillo, read by Jacques Roy (listened Feb 22 - Mar 16)
--. ** Baruch & Letter of Jeremiah (read Mar 13-16)
--. ** Addition to the Book of Daniel (read Mar 16-20)
15. ***½ Real American (audio) by Julie Lythcott-Haims, read by the author (listened Mar 19-26)
16. **** ½ What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky : Stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah, read by Adjoa Andoh (listened Mar 26 - Apr 3)
17. ****½ To the End of the Land by David Grossman (started in Feb, read the rest Mar 14 - Apr 8)
18. *** It's All Relative : Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree (audio) by A. J. Jacobs, read by the author (listened Apr 3-11)
19. ****½ Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (audio) by Warsan Shire, read by the author (listened Apr 13)
20. ***** One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (read Apr 8-18)
21. **** A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (read Apr 19-26)
22. ** 1 Maccabees (read Apr 19 - May 4)
23. ** 2 Maccabees (read May 4-5)
24. * 1 Esdras (read May 5-6)
25. **** Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat, read by Robin Miles (listened Apr 30 - May 9)
--. * Prayer of Manasseh (read May 8)
--. *** Psalm 151 (read May 8)
26. *** 3 Maccabees (read May 8-11)
27. ***½ 2 Esdras (read May 11-19)
28. * 4 Maccabees (read May 19-20)
29. **** Apollo 8 : The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger, read by Brian Troxell (listened May 10-23)
30. **** The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez (read May 2-23)
31. **** Thinking about the Earth : A History of Ideas in Geology by David R. Oldroyd (read May 1-28)
32. ****½ Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper, read by Marlene Cooper Vasilic (listened May 24 - Jun 7)
33. **** The Gospel According to Matthew (read Jun 3-9)
34. ****½ The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel (read May 29 - Jun 14)
35. **** The Fragrance of Guava : Conversations with Gabriel Garcia Márquez by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza (read Jun 14-18)
36. **** Fisherman's Blues : A West African Community at Sea (audio) by Anna Badkhen, read by the author (listened Jun 8-19)
37. ***** A Room of One's Own (audio) by Virginia Woolf, read by Juliet Stevenson (listened Jun 20-26)
38. *** The Gospel According to Mark (read Jun 27 - July 3)
39. ***½ Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (read Apr ?? - Jul 5)
40. ***** Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (read Jul 6-19)
41. **** The Attention Merchants : The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (audio) by Tim Wu, read by Marc Cashman (listened Apr 15-26, July 19-26)
42. **½ The Gospel According to Luke (read Jul 22-26, Aug 11)
43. **½ Metamorphica (audio) by Zachary Mason, cast of eight readers (listening Aug 8-16)
44. ***½ The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez (read Aug 8-19)
45. ***½ The Gospel According to John (read Aug 23 - Sep 1)
46. **** Chasing Hillary : Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling (audio) by Amy Chozick, read by the author (listened June 27-Jul 3, Aug 31-Sep 11)
47. *** Acts of the Apostles (Sep 8-13)
48. ****½ Bolívar : American liberator by Marie Arana (read Aug 25 - Sep 14)
49. ***** The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor (read Jun 18-Jul 3, Jul 23-24, Aug 19-23, 30, Sep 14-17)
50. *** Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (audio) by Jeff Chang, read by Mirron Willis (listened Aug 20-31, Sep 11-25)
51. ***½ Strange Pilgrims : Twelve Stories by Gabriel García Márquez (read Sep 18-25)
52. **** Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez (read Sep 25 - Oct 1)
53. **** The Triumph of Christianity : How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (Audio) by Bart D. Ehrman, read by George Newbern (listened Sep 25 - Oct 4)
54. ****½ Barracoon : The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" (audio) by Zora Neale Hurston, edited by Deborah G. Plant, read by Robin Miles (listened Oct 8-12)
55. ***** Macbeth (RSC edition) by William Shakespeare (read Sep 16 - Oct 15)
56. *** News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (read Oct 2-21)
57. **** Accident: A Day's News by Christa Wolf (read Oct 22 - Nov 1)
58. *** On Grand Strategy (Audio) by John Lewis Gaddis, read by Mike Chamberlain (listened Oct 21 - Nov 2)
59. **** The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (read Oct 24 - Nov 6)
60. **** The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World (Audio) by Andrea Wulf, read by David Drummond (listened Oct 5-8, 12-20, Nov 2-9)
61. **** Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (audio) by Bart D. Ehrman, read by Joe Barrett (listened Nov 9-14)
62. **½ Pauline Epistles (read Sep 29 - Dec 5)
63. ****½ How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (audio) by Michael Pollan, read by the author (Listened Nov 15 - Dec 6)
64. ***** The Winter's Tale (Signet Classic edition) by William Shakespeare (read Nov 21 - Dec 11)
65. **** James Baldwin : Groundbreaking Author And Civil Rights Activist (Remarkable LGBTQ Lives) by Susan Henneberg (read Dec 15)
66. **** Living To Tell The Tale by Gabriel García Márquez (read Nov 12 - Dec 25)
67. *** Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (read Dec 18-30)
68. **** Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez (read Dec 31)
Part 1 of my reading plan - the biblical books
December Revelation (29)
*parentheses note # of pages in my book. Only useful for relative lengths, but still useful in that way.
Part 2 of my reading plan - Gabriel García Márquez
Themes by year
2012 - old testament
2013 - old testament and Toni Morrison
2014 - old testament
2015 - old testament, Toni Morrison & Cormac McCarthy
2016 - Homer, Greek mythology, Greek drama, & Thomas Pynchon
2017 - Virgil, Ovid & Thomas Pynchon
2018 - Apocrypha, New Testament and Gabriel García Márquez
Manuscript Fragments from Ben Sira, Containing XXXVII. 22.(From the Cairo genizah collection in Cambridge University, England.)
11. Ben Sira (also called Sirach, and Ecclesiasticus)
composition: ~175 bce
format: 74 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
acquired: 2012 from amazon
read: Jan 26 – Mar 1 (took a break Feb 9-20)
This is an odd book to review, given really that's true of most Biblical books and especially of wisdom books. Ben Sira is a wisdom book in the sense that like Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon (and arguably Job & Ecclesiastes), it has a lot of advise and a lot of praise of wisdom, especially as if wisdom were a female deity (created at the beginning. Which is good, since one might not want a god around doing much before there was some wisdom to make use of.), and not a lot of structure.
It has a number of features that keep it distinct from other Biblical books. First, it has an author, self identified in the text as "Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem, whose mind poured forth wisdom". And this author seems to maybe be the actual author, a real person who wasn't a prophet, and didn't have any supernatural experiences, he was just a leader with enough influence to get his name on this ancient work that survived. So, who was he, and what did he have say, and why is this a holy book, or is it a holy book?
A second unique feature is that it has a focus on the scribal class, and even contains a scribes mantra of sorts (lines 39:1-11). There is praise of scribes, but also most of the advice within (or wisdom) seems best suited for that class in general, those serving leaders through some value, here wisdom, but at the mercy of those leaders. Those managing on the lower levels of the privileged class, in a lucrative but fragile place, where reputation has career implications. Where one manages things like unruly slaves and children (he recommends severely disciplining both, although only the slaves get the racks. Wives and daughters don't come out any better.) And there is surprisingly significant amount of practical advice that is actually practical, whether on borrowing or lending, or worrying about friends stabbing you behind the back. Be careful who you trust. (in a recent review of Dorris Lessing Baswood wrote “We all know human beings are basically shit behind a veneer of civilisation and Lessing gives us some hope, but not much.” I think Ben Sira is basically saying the same thing.)
History is sometimes more story than history. Keep this mind, but the story of Ben Sira generally put forward is that he was a scholarly leader in Jerusalem when the Ptolemys (Greek rulers of Egypt) were in charge. The Seleucids (Greek rulers of Persia) took Jerusalem in 196 bce, and there was a power change in the Jewish leadership. The head priest family was replaced and Ben Sira may to have left and ended up in Alexandria, in Egypt. He may then have started his own school, and put forth his own writing in Hebrew. A grandson later translated this collected work into Greek, providing a prologue that identifies him (but not by name) and even mentions some of the problems of translation. Later, Jews would more or less jettison Ben Sira and the original Hebrew text was lost (about 2/3's have been found), but the Greek text was preserved in the Catholic Deuterocanonical works.
Ben Sira's writings seem like a collection of otherwise disconnected works. There are themes and breaks, but they are here and there. So in some places it seems like just disconnected proverbs, and in other places there are careful distillations of the Jewish texts. In places you can see where he goes book by book, especially the first five books. In 17:1-17 he covers creation, human existence, law, covenant and commandments. That's the first give books in a nutshell, minus the Exodus. In chapters 44-49 he opens with "Let us know praise famous men", and then goes quickly through all the major biblical men one at a time.
I have to say I have no idea why this is a holy book. Yes, it pushes god and religion, specifically in the phrase as "fear of the Lord". But its really more like a lesson book than anything else. Ben Sira wants to be on the one standing on the shoulders of former teachers. "Now I was the last to keep vigil; I was like a gleaner following the grape-pickers;" And he wants desperately to be a prophet. His most famous poem on wisdom, a poem that almost makes her a goddess and that pulls heavily from a work called the Isis Aretalogy, yes Egyptian mythology, ends "I will again pour out teaching like prophecy, and leave it to all future generations." Like prophecy, but not exactly that.
Hi Dan! Sorry I haven’t been commenting a lot lately, but I’m still following your readings and enjoying them. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Ben Sira.
12. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
format: 367 page kindle ebook
read: Feb 28 - Mar 9
A little preface: I read this based on a Backlisted podcast (which I checked out because of wandering_star). Backlisted is great fun. The main guys have a good time talking loudly about the books they are reading and discussing. They invite a few guests for each episode, and in the few episodes I've listened to those guests struggle to match the hosts charisma. In this episode they were all gushing about Beyond Black, when a female guest piped up with how she tried this book when it was new, and found it so painful to read, she gave up. Now that's brave. But, here's the thing, she was spot on.
Mantel got very personal with this book (and followed it up with a memoir). She was looking into modern soulless life in suburbia. Alison Hart is a psychic medium, as in like the real thing. She constantly speaks to the spirits of the dead and she makes her living travelling around and holding shows where she tells the audience about what the dead are saying. This is a modern audience, living in artificial neighborhoods removed from nature and short on history. They live meaningless lives, and are so removed from their cultural heritage, some don't even know the names of the grandparents. Although they don't really understand it, they are here, with Alison, to find some meaning.
Except Alison's skill doesn't provide this. She is an experienced performer. She knows that her audience actually doesn't actually care what the dead are saying, and probably would be pretty crushed to find out how pedestrian these dead. People don't get any better or wiser just because they've passed. So, she has to give them something else, a tangle of lies and truth, and common sense presented as personally meaningful.
I found the first 100 pages, where Alison takes on a manager who she tries to depend on, but who she doesn't really get along with, both brilliant and horribly painful. Colette is practical, but soulless, interested in how Alison works, but unable to understand her. And Mantel drags us through this relationship, relentlessly emphasizing what isn't there, without ever saying so. This is a major work, this novel, maybe a master work, and jagged little pill for sure. I pushed so hard through these pages and found them exhausting. But I kept thinking about these women and so I kept returning to the book. The book either lets up after a bit, or I got used to it, but I was able to cruise through the last three quarters and enjoy the complex characterizations and interactions. Alison Hart has a lot of past to struggle with. And her ghosts don't just lie in the background of her mind, they come up to her and talk to her, and harass her constantly night and day. There isn't really a way to hide from a ghost, or a whole collection of them.
I have to say I agree with the Backlisted crew who gushed about this work. It is ingenious and memorable and effective. It's a book a lot of readers chuck early on (and I can understand why). It's also a book that really hits deep into modern life. I think there is a reason Mantel's next novel took place in a very different time and place, it was Wolf Hall.
While harrowing at times, Mantel's characterizations are so fascinating ..., the portrait of the superficiality and blandness of much of contemporary life so pointed, and the writing so lively that I accepted the horror along with the satire.
- from rebeccanyc's 2010 review of Beyond Black
Kris - I wonder about all that and what the motivations were. And I wonder about those works on the wrong end of the process that have been lost. Beyond Black is quite a book.
Glad you enjoyed Beyond Black It was the first book I read by Hilary mantel and it is a gem.
Really interesting review, but I think I'll skip this one. I'm just too old.
Still haven’t read anything by Mantel, for some reason I don’t feel drawn to those of her books I have heard about. Including this one :-)
lost my post...
In response to >18 baswood:, >19 janeajones: & >20 FlorenceArt: (and also >15 avaland: & >16 fannyprice:)
I was trying say something about how interesting these different responses to that Beyond Black post. Previously I read Wolf Hall and was fine with it, but it was also somehow enough for. But Beyond Black was a much different experience, a much stronger one. It made me want to read more Mantel.
>18 baswood: Bas, totally agree
>19 janeajones: you are still young, read what you love
>20 FlorenceArt: Flo - I think Mantel appeals to certain kind of readers, but I also think she really rewards them. Definitely not an author to force.
Books read: 68
Pages: 9466; Audio time: 235:33 (~9 days, ~6543 pages)
"regular books"**: 28
Formats: Paperback 39; Audio 24; Hardcover 4; ebook 1;
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 21; Novel 17; Ancient 15; History 12; Classic 12; Journalism 9; Short stories 7; Biography 5; Science 4; Memoirs 4; Poetry 2; Interview 2; drama 2; YA 2; Science Fiction 1; Essays 1; Speculative Fiction 2;
Nationalities: United States 21; Columbia 13; England 8; Israel 6; Turkey 6; Egypt 3; Germany 2; St. Lucia 1; Mexico 1; Nigeria 1; Haiti 1; Liberia 1; Russia 1; Italy 1; Peru 1;
Books in translation: 31
Genders, m/f: 34/21; mixed: 0; unknown 13
Owner: Books I own 42; Library 25;
Year Published: 2010's 23; 2000's 6; 1990's 6; 1980's 8; 1970's 3; 1960's 2; 1930's 1; 1920's 1; 1800's 1; 1600's 2; 200's 1; 100's 2; 0's 7; bce 5;
Books read: 987
Pages: 260,056; Audio time: 1338:57 (55 days, or ~37,193 audio pages)
"regular books"**: 624
Formats: Paperback 531; Hardcover 222; Audio 134; ebooks 68; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 430; Novels 250; Biographies/Memoirs 183; History 167; Classics 104; Journalism 92; Poetry 82; Science 77; Ancient 71; Speculative Fiction 64; Nature 54; On Literature and Books 47; Anthology 45; Graphic 43; Short Story Collections 38; Essay Collections 34; Juvenile/YA 34; Drama 20; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 13
Nationalities: US 597; Non-American, English speaking 170; Other: 221
Books in translation: 166
Genders, m/f: 636/257
Owner: Books I owned 649; Library books 264; Books I borrowed 64; Online 10
Year Published: 2010's 211; 2000's 270; 1990's 165; 1980's 110; 1970's 51; 1960's 35; 1950's 23; 1900-1949 30; 19th century 15; 18th century 0; 17th century 5; 16th century 3; 0-1499 14; BCE 55
*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990
**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.
>22 dchaikin: 933 books since the end of 1990 and 14 already in 1994 seems like a huge increase in pace, or am I doing my math wrong?
14 this year. Yes, good observation! Before 2004 I don’t think I had read 20 books in a year. One year I read 8. 15 a year was a good number. Now 50 a time year is just a non-stress goal I quietly put in myself. Most of those 900 books were read after 2004. But actually this year is behind most of my recent years in pace.
Fabulous review of Beyond Black. Sounds gut-wrenchingly depressing - a surefire book bullet for me!
13. In Evil Hour by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa, 1979
format: 183 page paperback
read: March 9-11
This is maybe a really good short little novel you don't need to read. It's Marquez's first novel, but he left it in a suitcase and it wasn't published for a couple years (may have been written in 1955), and then when it was published it wasn't even as Marquez wrote it. The Spanish was altered to "proper Castilian" in the 1962 first edition. But it sets up an atmosphere and character set that would lead to several of his important short stories and later works and that's maybe where its main value lies.
The novel itself is enjoyable. It has a soft plot and seems to mainly be an exploration of a small fictionalized town (outside his fictional town of Macondo). The era is after a lot of violence in Columbia. The town is run by a mayor who led the military campaign to crush a revolt in the town. And characters in the town live in what felt to me a series of provocative power plays. The mayor trying to enforce a peace on the town he decimated, while manipulating his own fortunes. He works oddly with officials he appointed and the curious town priest, Father Angel, who lives a simple life of balanced compromise, which he takes out mostly on the movie purveyor. Each of these characters has his own dealings with the wealthy town families, who have their balancing acts effected by their own personal failings. And then there is the doctor, the movie purveyor, the circus master, the talkative barber, the curious town dentist, and the completely powerless Syrian merchants. The barber and the dentist are sympathetic with the revolt and the mayor has a toothache.
One top of all this is are the slanderous "lampoons". Individuals dark secrets, real or rumored, ridiculous or spot on, are written up and pasted on doors. The lampoons have riled up sleeping controversies, and marital jealousies and violent tendencies are surfacing. One missing aspect is that thing we kind of expect, the magical realism.
I never minded reading this and also never fully understood the direction and point as it's all unspoken and feels open to interpretation. Recommended for Marquez fans who have already read his later short stories and novellas.
>13 dchaikin: Interesting review of Beyond Black and discussion following. I am a huge Mantel fan and have read nine of her books, but that one left me with a visceral reaction against it. I disliked both Alison and Colette intensely, and while that isn't usually a detriment to my enjoyment of a well written book, in this case it just didn't work. I have never figured out why I felt like this about the book; maybe it just didn't work at the time I read it. That there is such a range of opinions about it does speak for it.
>20 FlorenceArt: You might like A Place of Greater Safety for a Mantel start.
Hi Sassy. I think your reaction makes perfect sense. In a way I had the same reaction to it, but just not against it. But, the good news is that now I want to read more of her books.
14. Ratner's Star (audio) by Don DeLillo
reader: Jacques Roy
format: 16:04 overdrive audiobook (~446 pages, 448 pages in paperback)
listened: Feb 22 – Mar 16
Delillo's fourth novel is mystery for those who have read it closely. I just borrowed an audio e-copy out of curiosity, because it was available*. And I probably only kept listening because I really liked the reader, Jacques Roy, who is challenged here to come up a zillion different male and female voices. It was always curious but in very odd ways, and I found my attention sometimes engaged, but often less than perfectly attentive. Maybe it was more of an audio skim.
This is basically a philosophically playful novel that has some issues with science, math and logic. Billy Twillig is a 14-yr-old winner of the Nobel Prize for obscure work in mathematics (There is no Pulitzer Prize in math, he was apparently given a special addition). He takes on a position in secret research group staffed full of exceptional scientists from a variety of different fields, many of them very strange and well outside stem-stuff, who are working to figure out an extraterrestrial message that came from an object known as Ratner's Star.
There are numerous characters and most of them make single appearances. Each one has a philosophy that he or she tells Billy about, and each philosophy is very carefully thought out from their specialty and then extends from there, and, as we soon discover, each one eventually reaches a very weird point. The idea is that these are serious (and seriously odd) individuals who have pressed into their ideas as deeply as they could go and tried to push further and get something more. The last part of the book has Billy involved with a group trying to come up with a perfectly logical language that any being could understand simply by following the logic. The name Gödel doesn't come up, but if I understand correctly, he more or less proved this was impossible long before all this. This group doesn't seem to aware of this, but so they go. It's, of course, all fruitless, but in some mind-bending and fun ways.
Wikipedia tells me "The novel develops the idea that science, mathematics, and logic—in parting from mysticism—do not contain the fear of death, and therefore offer no respite."
*I'm not sure, but I think this audio version was only released in December
Although I'm a little late what with the major reading and post slump that I have, I do want to thank you for all those pictures of what seems to have been an incredible trip!
Edit: Still catching up on your reviews...
Thanks Oscar, nice to know that. Wishing you some enjoyable reading.
The Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah
written: the time period is essentially unknown, but maybe between 165-60 bce
format: 14 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Mar 13 - 16
These two works are later additions to the Book of Jeremiah* and the Book of Lamentations**. Original is probably Greek, although quoted and paraphrased lines are derived from Hebrew.
Baruch is the mythical scribe who actually wrote the Book of Jeremiah by writing down what Jeremiah said. He is named as the author here within the text of the Book of Baruch. He is writing to Israelites who are about to be exiled to Babylon. The book seems to be an accumulation of quotations from other works. Three parts. A poem to God on Jewish guilt, asking God's mercy. A poem on wisdom. Then a poem of consolation where the city Jerusalem speaks as a widow, and the poet responds that the exiles will return. It didn't leave much of an impression on me.
The Letter of Jeremiah is a long diatribe against idols, since the Israelites will encounter them in Babylon. I want to be respectful here, but this was pretty silly.
*My post on the Book of Jeremiah: https://www.librarything.com/topic/191940#5205720
**I didn't really post a response to the Book of Lamentations
Addition to the Book of Daniel
written: the time period is essentially unknown, so say between 332 to 65 bce, maybe
format: 11 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Mar 16 - 20
There are three additions. They are all pretty simple and straight-forward and read more like tall tales then Biblical works. Susanna is the most interesting, and has inspired some (more-or-less indecent) art work
The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews
In the Book of Daniel, chapter three, Daniel's three faithful friends are put into an oven, but they are protected and walk out. This is the story of what happened in that oven. The three said some prayers, there was an angel to protect them and then they sang a couple some religious songs.
A married woman is caught undressed by two old men who demand sex or they will tell the town she was with a man. She refuses, is condemned, but saved by a clever Daniel.
If you read my study bible introduction you might find it interesting that Susanna represents possibly the earliest (preserved) courtroom drama. If you google Susanna in art you will quickly realize that it is much better known as one of the earliest stories of voyeurism.
Bel and the Dragon
Three mini tales of Daniel. In the first he comes up with a trick on some ritual priests to show that the statue of Bel is not a god. (There is a closed-room mystery aspect to this.) In the second he promises he can kill a holy dragon without a sword, and then he essentially poisons it. In the third the now very upset dragon-worshipping community in Babylon puts Daniel into a lions' den (yes, again. He's already done this once). Of course he comes out ok, but there is some humor where the prophet Habakkuk, who says he doesn't even know Babylon, is dragged by his hair, by an angel, from Judea to the lions' den in Babylon to help Daniel.
Immense perseverance with your New Testament reading, Dan, especially as you say you aren't overly religious.
Really enjoyed your Beyond Black review. I haven't read anything by Mantel yet - perhaps this is where I should start.
Perseverance? In a weird kind of way, yes. It’s probably easier to read it as text then as scripture, but it can make it tricky to write about.
Thanks, re BB. It’s a special book, I think. But, as I notes, one to grit your teeth for a bit.
15. Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims
read by the author
format: 6:39 overdrive audiobook (~184 Pages, 288 pages on hardcover)
listened: Mar 19-26
I like this more now then when I first finished. First of all Lythcott-Haims writes well and is excellent reader. This was easy to listen to because of the nice presentation. And second because I'm thinking about it more and when I think about it a lot things come up.
Lythcott-Haims is a mixed-race American who spent those critical school age years in the almost all-white area of Verona, WI (near Madison). Her mother is English and her father, a one-time assistant surgeon general of the US, was African-American. This led her a lot of identity issues. Slowly, it seems, she would identify more and more with black issues even if she never really felt she got that American black culture.
My first impression upon finishing was that the book is a bit thin, a girl who grew up with some identity issues, but with great parents, and strong home, and who, through intelligence and hard work, moved on to Stanford and, later, Harvard Law and later a successful career, with maybe a little regret to the role affirmative action may have played. OK. That's not a really a book. She also looks deeply into racism and has many moving things to say. Ok, better. But the thing is she does make it interesting, her life is unique, she presents well and actually that is a lot - all that stuff. There is an American history there.
>37 dchaikin: I was intrigued by the title but after reading your review probably not so much anymore. I think I do understand how a rather thin story can make you feel that way. But as you say, it is probably mainly the personal touch and the uniqueness of the story that makes it stand out and worth reading/listening to.
>38 OscarWilde87: yes, exactly. Her (writing) personality makes the book.
>22 dchaikin: Very, very mpressive, detailed stat list!! Wish I had been keeping track of my reading that long. I know I've written about 500 reviews since being on LT (says the LT stats). In the decade before LT, while at the bookstore, I was consuming books at a rate that astounds me now (looking back) but I only half-heartedly kept track.
>40 avaland: Hi Lois. Well, the lists are easier when you pace is slow. :) Thanks. You must wonder sometimes about the forgotten books read over a day or over a few days.
16. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah
reader: Adjoa Andoh
format: 5:22 overdrive audiobook (~149 pages, 232 pages in hardcover)
listened: Mar 26 – Apr 3
A fun collection of short stories on life in Nigeria and for Nigerians in the US. Several of the stories have folk lore elements, or some other kind of fantastical element, almost sci-fi in one story. And several work without any of that. The reader does a wonderful Nigerian voice which adds to the stories.
This is on several award short lists, and recommended for anyone who thinks they might be interested.
17. To the End of the Land by David Grossman
published: 2008 (translated 2010)
translation: from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen in 2010
format: 576 page paperback
acquired: Tel Aviv in February
read: 1st 100 pages in and flying from Israel in February, then Mar 14 – Apr 8
This comes from a terrific book recommendation I got at a bookstore in Tel Aviv back in February. The bookstore clerk turned me away from the latest Amos Oz and even the award winning latest Grossman and pointed me to this (and a couple others).
I loved this book even as I struggled to read more than about ten pages a sitting (at almost 600 pages, that's a lot of sittings). The language is somehow very intense, always. He delves into the psychology of always-at-war Israel, specifically from the perspective of a parent of an IDF soldier during an uprising. He creates terrific characters who come alive when they are talking or being talked about. And he is something of a master of atmosphere through words, creating many different ones - sometimes surreal, sometimes from war experiences, from memory or anxiety.
I felt the weight of the book before I was aware of what went into it - which I don't want to specify (although you can look it up easily), but there a whole extra resounding meaning here because of that. Recommended, even if it took me forever to get through.
18. It's All Relative : Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree (audio) by A. J. Jacobs
read by the author
format: 8:07 overdrive audiobook (~225 pages, 336 pages in hardcover)
listened: Apr 3-11
Not much to this. This is my first book by Jacobs, and he's charming and reads really nicely on audio and can make almost anything interesting, no matter how thin. And this is really really thin. In sum, we are all related, we are all cousins at some level and you can probably connect yourself to anyone else if you find the right database. And maybe that can impact how we all treat each other. But, outside a mostly failed event he planned around this idea, that's about the whole book.
19. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (audio) by Warsan Shire, read by the author
published: 2011 (2017 on audio)
format: 30-minute Overdrive audiobook (37 pages in print)
listened: Apr 13
This was a random library pick, a poetry pamphlet that lasted only for my drive into work yesterday morning, 30 minutes. And it is terrific. Originally published in 2011, she released this audio version only last year, where she reads it herself with an elegant British accent.
Shire is Somali, but was born in Kenya and raise in England since she was one. All these cultures come to play in these poems. The book includes a glossary at the end of various Somali, Kenyan, Sudanese and Islamic terms. Her poetry is sensual and shocking and very moving. Recommended.
Anything she says sounds like sex.
Lots of interesting reviews as always. You've definitely convinced me on What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. I'm always on the look out for good short story collections. Sounds like it might be a good one for my occasional forays into audiobooks too.
So intrigued by your review of the Mantel that I’m off to download a sample right now. I enjoyed reading the rest of your reviews as well.
Excellent reviews as usual, Dan. Beyond Black definitely goes onto the wish list, as I loved The Giant, O'Brien, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Mmm...that reminds me. I should add A Place of Greater Safety to my list of books to read in honor of Rebecca, as she encouraged me several times to read it IIRC.
I'm not a huge fan of Gabriel García Márquez, especially in comparison to Mario Vargas Llosa, so I'll pass on In Evil Hour.
What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky sounds interesting. I really need to read To the End of the Land, as I've owned my copy of it for several years and enjoyed his latest novel, A Horse Walks into a Bar.
I'm glad that you enjoyed Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth as much as I did.
>48 rachbxl:, >49 kidzdoc: thanks for these posts. A nice pick me up as a I switch from an emotional funeral yesterday of a beloved family member to my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah this weekend.
Rachel - I would love to see your thoughts in this particular Mantel.
Darryl - Shire is terrific. If you can, find a way to hear her read. As for Márquez, forget In Evil Hour, but several of his novellas and many of his short stories are terrific. Still processing One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it was not as powerful to me as some of his other works.
I’m sorry for your loss, Dan. And, congratulations on your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. An emotional time indeed.
>50 dchaikin: I'm sorry to hear about the death of your dear family member. I haven't been able to attend many family funerals, as my parents sheltered me from the ones held for my beloved maternal grandparents and paternal grandfather when I was a child, and I was unable to go to the ones for my father's two eldest brothers, as both occurred during my pediatric residency, but I'll never forget the one held for my younger cousin, who was like a brother to me, after he collapsed and died suddenly from a heart arrhythmia at the age of 23, which occurred 30 years ago and still haunts the rest of us.
Congratulations on your daughter's Bat Mitzvah!
With any luck, Warshan Shire will speak during one of my visits to the UK this year or in the future. I attended talks given by several top notch authors at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last summer, including Ali Smith, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Jenny Erpenbeck and Gary Younge, and with any luck she'll appear there when I return this summer. I do have a ticket to see Jesmyn Ward talk about Sing, Unburied, Sing at the Carter Center next month, the complex in Atlanta not far from me which houses Jimmy Carter's presidential library and features talks by numerous leading authors.
Believe it or not I still haven't read One Hundred Years of Solitude, even though I've had my copy of it for at least 25 years! I've read at least Love in the Time of Cholera and Clandestine in Chile by him, but they come nowhere close to the best novels I've read by Mario Vargas Llosa, namely The Feast of the Goat, The War of the End of the World, The Time of the Hero, Conversation in the Cathedral, and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.
Congratulations on your daughter's Bat Mitzvah. What a powerful reminder than life does go on.
Hope the Bat Mitzvah goes well, Dan. Emotional no doubt, hot on the heels of your family loss - thoughts are with you, and hope that the weekend's celebrations make lots of new happy family memories.
I’m sorry to hear you lost someone close. All the best for your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
Dan, I'm sorry about your loss. Congratulations on your daughter's Bat Mitzvah and I hope you can find the right balance for you between these sad and happy events.
Also, as usual, I didn't find the time to comment individually on your recent reviews but I found them very interesting, as always.
>53 kidzdoc: Darryl, Sorry about your younger cousin. But, as for your second paragraph, on all the authors you have heard speak or read, and all the ones you plan to catch...just, wow. I'm admire you for searching on this out, on different continents. Mario Vargas Llosa is an author I feel I should read in Rebeccanyc's memory. Will get there, I hope.
>54 RidgewayGirl: Thanks Kay. The Bat Mitzvah was a nice positive counterpoint and a special experience.
>55 AlisonY: Alison, it was super-well, the Bat Mitzvah. My daughter really impressed me and, yes, lots of happy memories. An event the makes me remember why we do all this crazy stuff.
>56 rachbxl: Thanks Rachel!
>57 chlorine: Thanks Barbara. The balance was to use up all emotion and balance with utter exhaustion, physical and spiritual. It's been a low energy-mistake prone week, but the good feelings from the Bat Mitzvah and family and friends still lingers.
Books, yeah, two reviews behind and stumbling my way through several books. I still don't know how to review One Hundred Years of Solitude...
Daniel, I am finally posting here instead of just quietly following your updates. I am sorry for all you have been going through recently and wish you some some quiet time ahead, to reflect and heal. As always, I enjoy reading your literary related opinions, even if we often read different types of books.
20. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
translation Gregory Rabassa, 1970
format: 384 page mass market paperback
acquired: 2004, from Half-Price Books (Montrose)
read: Apr 8-18
For what it's worth, this is what I wrote in Litsy three weeks ago, just after finishing, at 541 characters or less:
"My first response is that my mind just needs to settle and think on this a bit. A lot to take in, and it comes at you at a gallop, in three-page long breathless paragraphs where individual sentences have entire short stories behind them. Of course, things happen, that magical realism bit, but it's an atmosphere of inevitability, of disillusionment and surprises, of a reality no one believes and that isn't always tied-in to reality anyway."
So now that I've had time to settle and think, what have I come up with? Not a whole lot. There is a lot here, and a re-reading would benefit me. But on the other hand the impact on me was less than most of his other works. It moves so fast, and has so much emphasis on cycles that it become predictable and I found myself reading faster and faster. And while he creates many terrific characters, they get mixed in with the rest. Scenes pop out of memory, but then I have to place them in this convoluted family tree, a vague structure coming out of the fog...or maybe out of the swamp.
There are two ideas I like to put some emphasis on.
The first is entropy, maybe because I read Stephen Hawking next. But it's a clear theme that stands out and that happens continuously. Stuff gets built, and them slowly break down and nature reclaims it. People push against their inevitable fates until it takes them over. And this theme rides, smoothly, into his next novel, published 8 years later in Spain, The Autumn of the Patriarch, about the hollowness and loneliness of dictatorship, where he open with death and "rotting grandeur". Solitude is, of course, another major theme, as is disillusionment.
The second is magical realism. There is a magical feel to this text of these families dealing with seriously insane stuff, lost in this swamp land, isolated from the world, with troops of magical gypsies occasionally marching through. But despite this, despite the weird stuff that happens, all of this really reined in. There is a impact of the weird stuff, but it largely comes out of how not-unusual it seems in the context. Ghosts, fortune telling, over-sized strength, some seriously weird relationships, don't necessary stand out against the real isolation of the place, and the real waves of growth and decay, or the sudden and almost random appearance of technology.* Just thought that was interesting.
My overall feeling is that is actually a pretty easy, fast read. It's different than any of his earlier works, and much more ambitious, but it's not necessarily better.
*The Spanish galleon on the rocks, far from the sea, does, however really stand out.
Very interesting review of One hundred years of solitude. It doesn't make me regret giving it up before the end.
21. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
published: originally 1988, updated 1996, with appendix added 2017
format: 220 page paperback
read: Apr 19-26
I bought this on my birthday with the idea my daughter might just read it with me - this is a very unlikely thing, but worth a shot. Anyway, it was sitting out and I suddenly found myself fascinated and decided to just read it.
What did I gain from this? I'm not entirely sure. A lot of this I've read about before, although maybe never really understood well. I did have the feeling that I understood what he was saying, but just barely, and never enough to be critical of it, if that makes sense. But then, when I put it down and pick it back up, that flimsy understand sometimes wouldn't stick. So I just took it. I think I understand vaguely what NPR meant when the said scientists seems convinced we live in a flat universe. Hawking's in 1996 was a sphere of spacetime, where the big bang isn't a break down of physics, but just a pole along the sphere, like the north or south pole. Of course, that's an over-simplification and, of course, Hawking was up on the science and undermines some of this in his appendix. But, it's a cool idea anyway.
More apocryphal books, or deuterocanon
22. 1 Maccabees
composition: maybe in or just after 134 bce
format: 42 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
acquired: 2012 from amazon
read: Apr 19 – May 4
This is the story of the Maccabee revolt in Judea from 175 to 134 bce. It's a tough tale to tell, because it's heavily entwined with the bewildering politics of Seleucid Empire which was supposed to be ruling over this, not to mention all their intrigues with Egypt, Rome & Persia. King's claim thrones out of line because the next in line is imprisoned somewhere, or regents depose the child kings in their care, or some just make up royal lineages that are pure fiction. Everyone switches sides, and sometimes the winner just happens to be around when everyone else dies. And that's just the background. Judea has it's own in intrigues as they try to make the right alliances with the right claimants, and often someone just buys their way into becoming the high priest - making them the effective ruler in the Judean hills.
Mixed in all this is the Hanukkah story, where under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the temple in Jerusalem is desecrated and looted and possibly even turned into a temple to Zeus. At the least, it seems have much placed much too close to a Greek gymnasium of naked wrestlers and disc throwers. Much deep offense is taken and much blood shed until Antiochus has died and the local commander takes the army away to deal with succession issues in Antioch, and then, finally, Judas can reclaim his temple and the priests and purify it all and celebrate for 8 days once every year.
That's just 165 bce. This book then goes on to 134 bce with more of the same. The tone is super formal and reads like you might imagine an ancient chronicle. The religious aspects and phenomena are toned down, the accuracy is impressive (but it's still transparently manipulated to make heroes and villains). It's really difficult to read because of so many names appear in each paragraph and it's never clear who is or will be important and who will never get another mention.
The one corrective lesson I took from this was that the Maccabees were never really in charge. First of all they lived on local loyalties and spent most their time hiding in the wilderness and fighting guerrilla wars. But second, they were always part of the Seleucid Empire, and it was always just a matter of time until a real army came in. In this book the Seleucids held an important fortification in Jerusalem pretty much the entire time, even has Judas Maccabeus led the cleansing of the temple.
23. 2 Maccabees
composition: essentially unknown, but later than 124 bce, probably before 0.
format: 29 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
acquired: 2012 from amazon
read: May 4-5
That same story but different. Unlike 1 Maccabees, this was originally written in Greek, probably in Alexandria, Egypt. The tone is almost casual, and the narrator includes some rather charming and quotable interludes. This is designed to be a story with a neat wrap-up on a hopeful note, and there are some limits on the international politics. And there are strong religious elements - including really disturbing martyrdom scenes that could almost come out of Monty Python. They can be moving, like where Judas prays for fallen soldiers found with idols in their, a major sin in Israel. He prays to make atonement for their sins so they will go into death free of sins.
The most famous story here, which was new me, is the story of the seven brothers who chose to be martyred rather then follow Greek customs. It's an odd story and not one I'll forget. The bothers undergo gruesome tortures, willingly, one after another, while their mother looks on an encourages them and even advises one with a line that becomes the source the phrase creatio ex nihilo, or creation out of nothing. (She actually says, "I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being.)
The narrator has a way, though. After a one bad high priest is replaced by even worse one, and the infighting leads murder, warfare and eventually to Antiochus to loot the temple and sending in his army to use a massacre to put down the revolt, the narrator kindly breaks the flow, encouraging the reader, "Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities..."
24. 1 Esdras
composition: pretty much entirely unknown.
format: 20 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
acquired: 2012 from amazon
read: May 5-6
A very different book. This originated as a Greek translation of Ezra. It's not simply a translation, but a reworking of the text, most notably with the addition of a tale - a competition between three of the Persian king's body guards to name the strongest thing (answers are wine, a king, women and truth - the first three having some maybe subversive ambivalence). In any case the effect is about the same as Ezra. The Israelite's are permitted to return to the Judean hills and Jerusalem, and rebuild their temple and their city and reestablish their customs, although with an uncomfortable hatred of those not purely of their line. Overall, not much to this. Apparently, when Christian writings cite Ezra, they are actually citing this book.
>69 dchaikin: I should think the chief difficulty of reading that is the danger that you find yourself with Handel’s great earworm “See, the conqu’ring hero comes” stuck in your mind all the way through!
I have to admit that I’ve listened to the oratorio many times without ever taking the trouble to read up on the history behind it.
>72 thorold: Sadly I’m clueless with Opera. Take it Handel has a Judas Maccabeus?
>73 dchaikin: Yes, well worth a listen, if you get the chance. All sorts of interesting things going on. Lots of big patriotic anthems where the audience is obviously meant to fill in Israel=England, but also the oddity that it’s full of arias in celebration of “liberty”, but dedicated to the Duke of Cumberland, who was just back from quashing a rebellion in Scotland...
>65 dchaikin: Coincidentally, I'm reading a biography of Hawking right now, and have just recently gotten to the part where A Brief History of Time made him unexpected piles of money.
I have to admit, I had a very similar response to the book when I read it, back when it first came out. I then went on to get an undergraduate degree in astrophysics, and I still don't fell like I 100% understand Hawking's idea about unbounded time, despite the easy-to-grasp analogy about the surface of the Earth.
I could totally explain what a "flat universe" means in simple words, though, if you ever need it clarified. :)
>77 dchaikin: OK, you asked for it! In simple words, what does it mean when we say the universe is flat? To answer that, it helps to consider the possible alternatives.
The universe, as is now common knowledge, is expanding. (Partly that expansion is the after-effect of the Big Bang, and partly it seems to be due to weird stuff we call dark energy.) But the universe is full of matter, and matter has this property we call gravity. The gravity of all the stuff in the universe attracting all the other stuff in the universe tries to pull everything back in together even as it expands outward.
Now, there are three possible ways this push-and-pull could ultimately go. The first possibility is that gravity wins. There's enough stuff in the universe pulling against that expansion to slow it and slow it, until it stops and finally reverses, and the universe starts collapsing in on itself instead, possibly right back down into the infinitely small point it may have started from. This is called a closed universe. In a universe that works like this, spacetime curves back in on itself under the influence of all that gravity. The geometry of such a universe would reflect that; it would behave like the three-dimensional equivalent of geometry on the surface of the Earth. We call this kind of curvature, like surface of a sphere, "positive curvature." On Earth, if you draw two parallel lines, they may look straight at a small scale, but if you extend them out far enough, they'll meet, the way lines of longitude do at the poles. Large enough lines in a positively curved universe would do that, too (although they'd have to be insanely big before you'd notice), and if you could travel far enough in one direction, eventually you'd come back to where you started, the way you can do on the surface of the Earth.
The second possibility is that there's not nearly enough gravity to stop the expansion, and the universe will just keep expanding outward forever. A universe like that would have what's called "negative curvature." Think of it as curving outward, like the the surface of a saddle, rather than curving around on itself like the surface of a sphere. A negatively curved universe would have different geometry from a positively curved one. Parallel lines not only wouldn't ever meet, but they'd actually diverge from each other, and if you set out in one direction, you'd just keep going forever.
The third possibility is that there's just exactly enough gravity to balance out the effect of the expansion, and as time goes on the expansion will get slower and slower and slower and slower, always approaching closer and closer to the point where it just stops completely. In this case, the geometry of the universe is flat, like an infinite sheet of paper. At a large scale, it obeys the rules of Euclidean geometry you might have learned in school, such as parallel lines always and forever remaining the same distance from each other, no matter how far you extend them out. You won't come back where you started in this one, either.
The universe, or at least the part of it that we can observe, seems, as near as we can tell, to be flat (or at least very, very, very close to it), which is fascinating, because it doesn't seem like it can possibly be a coincidence. It may be that there are many universes, and the reason we live in a flat one is because flat universes are more likely to have the kinds of conditions that make life possible. But, while that might very well be true, current thinking is more that the universe, early on, underwent a period of super-rapid expansion that basically "flattened" it out, forcing the density of matter in the universe to be just that critical value it needed to be. Don't ask me to explain the details of that, though, because I rapidly get out of my depth!
(And I hope all that made sense. Possibly I should not attempt to explain cosmology after I've been awake all night. :))
You’re awesome Betty! It’s makes sense to me - until I start thinking it through too much.
Do you have a similar take on particles and antiparticles which mostly cancelled out but which actually came out of nothing (the free lunch)? Is it all inevitable? : )
Heh. That's physics for ya. :) Glad it made some sort of sense, anyway.
And, oh, man, "Is it all inevitable?" is one of the biggest and most profound questions in science, for various different values of "it".
Anyway, it sounds like you understand the basic idea here, which is that you can theoretically get something out of nothing -- that's thanks to Heisnberg's uncertainty principle, which, among other things, basically indicates that you can never be entirely sure the nothing you have is actually nothing in the first place -- but when that happens, various values of the something you end up with (like the electrical charge, for instance) are supposed to add up to zero. Think of it as starting with a great big zero, and ending up with a gazillion 1s and a gazillion -1s. Put 'em all together, and they ought to all cancel out, back into the zero you started with.
What that means is that if the universe was created that way, as a sort of statistical fluctuation in the nothingness, you'd expect equal amounts of matter and antimatter to come out of that. And it does seem like that's almost what we got. In the beginning, there was lots and lots of matter, and lots and lots of antimatter, all packed in together. But, as any science fiction fan knows, when matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other back into nothingness again. Or, rather, into a vast amount of energy.
It looks like that happened in the early universe, and when it was all over with, a (comparatively!) itsy bitsy teeny-tiny amount of matter was left over at the end, and that's what all of us are made of. But why there was that teeny-tiny little inequality between the two to begin with... Well, smart people are no doubt hard at work figuring that out, but I personally have no idea.
Thanks again! My understanding is just sort on the surface. I know the words, but I don't really understand what they mean. How does uncertainty create? what is this thing like an electrical charge? What are these particles anyway? Are they just hovering energy? But I like the idea that it all could be inevitable, or that certain parts are just because nothing is nothing and therefore isn't maybe exactly nothing.
>81 dchaikin: Well, you are very much not alone. I think it may be impossible to fully understand this stuff just from reading words, honestly, as the real language it's written in is math. I think you need a deep and intuitive understanding of the math to fully grasp most of it. Which is part of the reason why I did not become a cosmologist, but ended up just being the person who points the telescopes.
To try to sort of vaguely answer your questions, though... The thing about uncertainty is that it means you really can never have absolute nothingness. You can never say for certain there's nothing there, so there's always the potential for something to be there. So "nothing is nothing and therefore isn't maybe exactly nothing" is maybe accurate enough. :)
As for things like electrical charge that I was talking about, well, one of them is electrical charge. That's one of the things that's conserved in the universe. Electrons have a negative charge. Anti-electrons (aka positrons) have an equal but positive charge. (Which means, among other things, that positrons would flow the other direction through wires. If they didn't just annihilate the electrons in the wires, that is.) Since electrical charge is always conserved, you can't create a particle with a positive charge out of energy without also creating a negatively charged one, to balance it out. There are other properties that are also conserved, but they're more esoteric and harder to explain. One, for instance, is something called "lepton number.," which indicates that a particular particle is a kind of particle-- a lepton -- that obeys certain kinds of quantum mechanical rules. The number of leptons plus anti-leptons in the universe always remains constant. An electron has a lepton number of 1, and a positron -1, so they balance out that way, too.
And "what are these particles anyway?" is a deep, subtle, rather profound question that has probably not been definitively answered. You might think of them as energy that's become frozen into forms with specific sets of properties (like electrical charge, lepton number, etc.). But that's probably a horrible simplification. Some theories suggest that maybe they're best thought of as little vibrating strings, and how the string vibrates determines what properties they have.
(OK. That is probably way, way more lecturing on physics than you or anybody else ever wanted. :))
>79 dchaikin: Don't feel badly Daniel, as I think many of us are in the same boat (realm, sphere or blackhole)? Even though I am interested in physics or astrophysics, beyond electrons, protons and neutrons, my head starts to throb a bit. Other than reading a few books on the subject, much of my knowledge comes from watching The Big Bang Theory.
A fascinating conversation here though and I have enjoyed reading Betty's explanations. A nice review of A Brief History of Time too, Daniel. Hang onto the book and maybe your daughter will read it sometime. I think it's really cool that a parent would want to read a science book with their child.
neglecting my own thread.
>82 bragan: Thank you again, for another great post. I read it a while ago, sorry for not saying something sooner. In the mean time the idea of creating something simply by potential has been simmering in my mind.
>83 This-n-That: Lisa - she just might. It's in her room now, anyway.
>84 janeajones: That's the spirit, Jane! : )
25. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
reader: Robin Miles
format: 7:04 Overdrive audio (~196 pages, 238 pages in hardcover)
listened: Apr 30 – May 9
An audio I stumbled across, as it was available, this was also my first time reading Danticat and my first time getting a look at Haiti, and I liked both, although Danticat may not be ideal on audio.
Claire of the Sea Light is the translation from Creole French of one character's name who shows up in the beginning and then isn't heard from again for a long time. The novel is actually a series of connected short stories that overlap in story line and, for most, tie into the same moment. They give a multifaceted view of a small seaside Haitian town marked by poverty, serious gang violence and a small middle class. The tensions tie in a number of ways, but the writing in third person keeps the reader at a bit of distance. It pulled me in here and there, and was subtle enough that I had to re-listen a lot and finally acknowledge that there is only so much I would get out of this while driving. (Not the fault of the reader. Robin Miles is terrific.) A good experience and I hope to read more of her novels.
>87 dchaikin: I've just recently been looking into Danticat's books myself, so interesting to see your view of it here. I'm definitely intending to check out one of her books soon, though I'm not sure exactly which one yet. You've made this one sound tempting, especially as I tend to enjoy the connected stories format.
I recently read Danticat's The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story, which is... hm, I guess you'd call them essays. It's part of the Graywolf Press "The Art of" series on writing, and it talks about death and dying, with a bit of craft and a bit of memoir thrown in. I liked it a lot—I'm a fan of the books from the series that I've read. It was definitely an oddball little book, though.
>89 lisapeet: That sounds like something I’d really like! I’ll keep it in mind. Series sounds interesting. I don’t like fictional series of this sort, where different authors write on the same theme. Because I think it forces an author into something that may not work. But this essay theme sounds very appealing.
>88 valkyrdeath: no clue if this is the best one to start with, but it’s at least an ok one. I liked it a lot and I liked the sense of place I got from it
Five different biblical reviews to do...
Prayer of Manasseh
written: unknown, Roman era maybe
format: 15 verses and notes take 3 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: May 8
Manasseh was one of the kings of Judah, he was also the last really successful one in the sense that he ruled a long time and wasn't invaded, put under siege, killed, or replaced or otherwise much interfered with by the large regional empires. But in Kings he's characterized as being religiously unfaithful and allowing or practicing the biblically evil religions. One might wonder if that just means he was tolerant, but then you're outside the biblical mindset. Chronicles adds an extra piece to the story, and has Manasseh give a penitent prayer shortly before he dies, asking forgiveness for all his sinful ways - this is Chronicles way of saying, if you didn't think he was really bad, well look, he was bad enough to finally cower at death's door and beg god. Ok, that's my interpretation. Anyway, the prayer - it's referred to but never given in the books. There are two different versions in existence. One only exits because it was preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls. History preserved this very different version. There's really not much to it, 15 verses.
(if you want, you can read translation of this version and the Dead Sea version side-by-side here: http://michaelcardensjottings.blogspot.com/2009/02/prayer-of-manasseh.html )
written: unknown or original parts in the Dead Sea scrolls, so say Hellenic era (332 – 65 bce)
format: 7 short verses and notes take 2 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: May 8
Psalm 151 is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but in two different parts. There is a short poem about David being selected by Samuel. There is another short poem about David and Goliath. A Greek or Roman era writer combined the two pieces together, with some editing. They thinned out the wording leaving a simple verse that does nicely in English. The study bible commentator can't get over how it looks like this later editor censored out all the religiously difficult stuff from the original scraps. But I think this editor created something elegant.
Psalm 151 is full
I was small among my brothers,
Psalm 151 has a definite fairytale quality to it --the youngest, least apt brother becoming the hero.
>98 janeajones: Yes. A touch of the Homeric Hymns to it, and some other layers.
26. 3 Maccabees
written : unknown, but during and just after Caligula makes sense, so say c41 ce
format: 15 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: May 8-11
Apparently an oblique commentary on how Roman policy impacted Jews in Alexandria, Egypt.
3 Maccabees has nothing to do with the Maccabees. It's also not an historical chronicle, like 1 & 2 Maccabees, but more like a Once Upon a Time tale. In a nutshell, Ptolemy IV Philopator (222 - 205 bce, pictured above left), riding high after a major victory over the Seleucids in the Battle of Raphia (217 bce), tries to enter the sacred parts of the the temple in Jerusalem. Instead he has a seizure at the front steps...Ok, this is a biblical book. God sent him something like a seizure on the front steps, preventing him from entering. The famous Ptolemy takes his frustration out on Jews at home in Egypt by having them arrested and all stuffed into a "hippodrome" - men, women and children. Then he orders an elephant keeper to get a bunch of elephants drunk and send them into the hippodrome in stampede, thereby stomping all the Jews to death. Alas, things go wrong, the king changes his mind, has wild emotional swings, until finally he lets the Jews go home. (There is an effort to convert to Jews to Greek customs that is mixed in there too.)
We don't have a date, but Caligula, the Roman Emperor (37-41 ce, pictured above right), comes up a lot in the commentary. His rather botched policies in Egypt led to major anti-Jewish riots in Alexandria and then he famously ordered a Greek statue of himself installed in the temple in Jerusalem. These policies were perceived as random and arbitrary moves by a psychologically unstable and capricious Roman emperor, creating a lot of havoc.
The idea is that this book is commenting on contemporaneous Caligula through the safe distance of history. I found the book on one hand really boring, but on another hand I thought it had a sense of satire - a heavy satire with a dark sense of humor. This perspective changed the book for me. The idea of satire I think reorients the reader. It lightens the text and at the same time adds a sense of the pain and frustration that are behind it. Given, that's interpretive on my part.
27. 2 Esdras
written: Suggested times are ~100, ~200 & ~300 ce for different parts
format: 41 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: May 11-19
It's not easy to capture, but this was a book that pressed a lot of buttons in sequence and had me quite fascinated. Commentary will specify with confidence this book has three parts, an older Jewish central section, then two chapters added on to the beginning from a Christian perspective and two other chapters added on to the end, also from a Christian perspective. The book had no discernible influence of Judaism, but it appears to have had a big influence on Christianity.
In the older section, Ezra, the scribe, goes into the wilderness outside of Babylon (during the Babylonian exile) and has seven different visions where he speaks either to an angel, Uriel, or, later directly to God. Ezra begins with a complaint, asking why the Jews have been treated so poorly. He is playing Job, and playing the religious skeptic. Uriel deflects his questions leading to some interesting give an take. But the visions progress, and Ezra learns many secrets, especially about the end of time, the coming Judgment day. And then Ezra changes. At one point he faints, a representation of conversion. Now Ezra is not longer the skeptic, but becomes a prophet, and he no longer speaks to Uriel, but directly to God. And through this Ezra writes down 24 books (the traditional length of the Jewish bible) and then 70 more books which are to be kept secret.
The visions Ezra receives about Judgment Day are not found elsewhere in the Jewish literature. There is an emphasis on sin and on the righteous who don't sin, even though everyone sins (or something). And then there is a reward on Judgment Day. The sinners are punished and shamed, and the saints are rewarded. (and all these souls see each other, making the shame of punishment and pride of the reward important parts of the reward and punishment). Some of the key parts are missing in the Latin semi-canonical works. But they are found in other old texts, like the Ethiopian book of Esdras.
The bookend stories are Christian and odd from a Jewish perspective. In the opening God rejects the Jews. They have done enough bad things, that God has given up and turned to another people. There is a split reaction to this from me. On one hand, after reading all these books and all these crimes, why they heck here does he suddenly do this about face? What was different here? On the other hand, well, I mean, it is about time. In any case, God explains to Ezra that his son (or servant - depending on the translator) will come and lead these new people. The closing section is an oddball thing that seems to have not had much impact on anything. It appears a commentary of the rise and fall of the state of Palmyra, and it's Queen Zenobia (260's ce, pictured below), has been oddly reworked into an apocalypse.
For me, going from reading about how God has suddenly rejected the Jews and is bringing in his son to lead a new people, then switching to Ezra's pointed questions and Uriel's deflections, just rang a lot of bells at once. I was pretty fascinated early on. Both an interesting and obscure biblical book.
28. 4 Maccabees
written: really unknown, but suggested date is ~100 ce
format: 22 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: May 19-20
A manipulated and amateur effort at philosophy. The stated point is that we should use "devout reason" over emotion. To simplify, since we can control our urges through mental control and we can use reason to determine our actions in any situation. Devout reason is basically sacrificing yourself to blind faith and making that the basis of any other reasoning or acting you might do. The point is dug in through extended graphic takes on the tortures of martyrdom and how martyrs handled all these horrors by sticking to their faith, in reward of being examples and also of what will comes in the next world. So we get a extended replay of Eleazar and the seven tortured brothers from 2 Maccabees, with speeches added in, leaving this reader thinking something along the lines of WTF.
29. Apollo 8 : The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
reader: Brian Troxell
format: 11:12 overdrive audio (~311 pages, 320 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Library loan
listened: May 10-23
Apollo 8 was the first manned flight to orbit the moon, famous for the Earthrise photo above. For me this was a random audio selection that I was afraid might be boring and predictable and that opened up that way, almost. Honestly, the word "thrilling" in the title was enough to make me suspicious. But it was freely available from my library on audio and worth a try.
Kluger won me over completely. I was a bit interested and then really interested and then maybe even caught some of the excitement of the era as television audiences around the globe stopped to watch these three astronauts orbiting the moon. I think the book just manages to have the structure to bring you to each moment, to make prolonged rather mundane activities by the crew in the long space voyage feel like fascinating critical parts of the story. So, a fun rewarding book, recommended to anyone who stumbles across it and thinks they might be interested.
30. The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 1976, by Gregory Rabassa
format: 255 page paperback
read: May 2-23
“Relentless immersion of the reader” - that’s William Kennedy’s phrase in the postscript. Also druggy surreal, of its time, a meditation on the march of sick dictators throughout of the 20th century and their trail of carnage, combined together into one general of universe, who sells the sea. It’s an odd disturbing book of run-on sentences that go and go and had me disturbed and losing track of time.
That was my Litsy entry. It's really quite stunning to think about all the dictators this book points to:
Juan Vicente Gómez - Venezuela 1908-1935
Rafael Trujillo - Dominican Republic 1930-1961
Francisco Franco - Spain 1939-1975
Juan Perón - Argentina 1946-1955
Marcos Pérez Jiménez - Venezuela 1950-1958
Rojas Pinilla - Columbia 1953-1957
Fulgencio Batista - Cuba 1952-1959
Alfredo Stroessner - Paraguay 1954-1989
Just catching up again, Dan. I always love your thread. Such interesting conversations. Your conversation with Betty made my head spin a little bit—-in a fun way. :)
>105 NanaCC: Thanks for stopping by, Colleen. ... OK, I was going to say it's not everyday we have someone around who can explain this stuff...meaning, of course, Betty. But, then, actually, she has been around here many many days for some time now. Anyway, the sympathy is hopefully expressed.
>106 dchaikin: LOL! Well, I can only explain some stuff, to some degree. But it is kind of fun making people's heads spin... with SCIENCE! :)
Giovanni Arduino's sketch of the Agno Valley, 1758
A-C - Arduino's Primary, roughly current Paleozoic
D-M - Arduino's Secondary, roughly current Mesozoic
N-R - Arduino's Tertiary, roughly current Tertiary (his term is still used)
31. Thinking about the Earth : A History of Ideas in Geology by David R. Oldroyd
format: 348 page hardcover (entire book with glossary, bibliography, index, etc is 440 pages)
read: May 1-28
The book for those who were wondering what a geosyncline is or was, or a miogeosyncline, or eugeosyncline, and for those wondering what the heck a Wernerian was, or what the big deal was between uniformitarianism and catastrophism. Geology, for all that it goes back to mythology, is a surprisingly young science, and not always well-given to empirical research. You collect data and then make a story. So Descartes could send out crazy ideas, and they remained influential for years, while Leibniz could write up some very creative ideas, and see them disappear and never get published until the 20th century. Because who knew what was true, and maybe the earth really had an outer crustal layer lying on a molten ocean of convection. Hooke threw projectiles at plaster balls to try to determine whether the moon's craters were impact craters or volcanoes. Someone else tried to cook limestone to see if he could generate marble. Unknowns make fascinating people.
Of course James Hutton was giving us deep time in 18th century, but Lyell wasn't providing plainly reasonable observations until the the 19th century, and he never bought into ice ages, despite the evidence all around him, covering and confusing all the other geology. Darwin waited till mid century. It's kind of amazing that geologic maps didn't exist until the 19th century, and the real intense mapping didn't get under way until well into that century (many areas weren't mapped at all until the 20th century). That plate tectonics, an earth science fundamental, wasn't worked out in any sensible and defensible way until the 1960's. Ideas that appear crazy to us today aren't very old, leaving one to wonder how fundamentally sound earth and geologic concepts are today.
The writing was maybe rough, the geological terms not exactly user friendly, but Oldroyd has put together quite a story, covering the history of science from the geologic perspective. Lovers of geology and this obscure history of science will really enjoy this. Thanks to Kevin (aka stretch) for pointing me here.
>109 dchaikin: This seems quite interesting, although maybe a bit too arid for me who knows next to nothing about geology. I never knew that this was such a young science!
This reminds me of a series of documentaries I had watched called La valse des continents which I had found very interesting.
Well, you never know, but it’s not a book I would recommend casually to non-geologists. (I might recommend John McPhee, though). The documentary sounds fun (I needed a translator for la valse).
>109 dchaikin: I hadn’t thought about it before, but I suppose it can’t be a coincidence that new theoretical models in geology started being developed at about the same time that engineers were preoccupied with building canal and railway tunnels and doing industrial-scale deep mining for the first time?
>112 thorold: Oldroyd collects a lot of reasons, but the main impetus was military sea floor mapping during and after wwii. That provided large parts of the critical information. Oldroyd does point out, which was nice to know, that the ideas of plate tectonics were tossed about and considered seriously before the proof was in place.
Also, interesting side note, as the US military did the main sea floor mapping, many of the last intelligent holdouts on plate tectonics were Soviet and didn’t have access to that information.
>112 thorold: one last thought - I’m realizing what you meant depends what you meant by “new”...
>115 dchaikin: :-)
Yes, I was thinking about Hutton and Lyell, really. But the submarine mapping would be another aspect of the same sort of phenomenon of technology driving basic science.
When I was doing a course on the 19th century, we talked a lot about how the new ideas in geology and biology got appropriated in theology, poetry, and all sorts of other places in contemporary culture, but we never really looked into why geologists were coming up with new ideas about the origins of the earth.
>117 thorold: That sounds fascinating.
Mining played less of a role in Oldroyd’s story than I would have guessed. Basically miners were interested in the ores, not the theory of the earth (which probably didn’t help then much anyway). But then William Smith worked in the field and later made the first real geologic maps (with fossil-based correlation on part).
Oldroyd thinks geology, and geologic mapping, was another way of taking over the world.
I loved The Map That Changed the World which was decidedly more lay person friendly perhaps than this sounds. What really drew me to it was also the discussion of the graphics of the project - something i struggle with daily in how to graphically convey information. You can have all the data in the world, bit it's a rare person who can come up with simple elegant means of conveying it.
>119 janemarieprice: Simon Winchester is trained as a geologist. I do wish he had put more actual geology in that book.
Geologic maps are pretty fascinating to look at. There is definitely an art to their design.
32. Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper
reader: Marlene Cooper Vasilic
format: 12:45 overdrive audiobook (~356 pages, 336 pages in hardcover)
acquired: library loan
listened: May 24 – Jun 7
posted on Litsy:
This book is why I’m somewhat random in how I select audiobooks. It never occurred to me that Liberian history was so fascinating and awful, or that the transformation this woman represents could be so special on so many levels. So much to say. Extraordinarily and grotesque violence, 70% of women raped in a civil war before Sarleaf began rebuilding. And then Ebola. Special book, special person, terrific writing, great reader.
Liberia has an odd history where freed mixed-race American slaves formed the country in 1847, essentially taking it over and becoming a ruling elite, known for some reason as Congo people. Liberia actually was financially sound, except that all the wealth from mining and whatnot went to the ruling elite, creating a massive class divide that broke down first into a coup and military dictatorship in 1980, and then into in all-out civil war of unending violence that began in 1989 and continued till about 2003 when President Charles Taylor was charged with war crimes for actions in Sierre Leon (but not in Liberia) and fled. The details and extent of the violence in Liberia are unfathomably gruesome, with torture, massacres, causal violence and, of course, rapes committed by all sides.
Out of the now completely broken country came Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a grandmother elected to president through a massive women's movement. Sirleaf is a financial expert with ties to key members in the world bank, private banks and financial and political leaders in the US. She was far from a nobody. In course of her presidency, the country's debt was cancelled, the economy reactivated, the violence plummeted, corruption reduced (but hardly stopped), the country began to rebuild, and Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected to leadership in Africa, won the Nobel Peace Prize (along with two other women). Then came Ebola - into the capital city, Monrovia, the first time an epidemic of the disease hit a urban area. Serious predictions saw 4 million deaths coming in a matter a months.
The author, Helene Cooper, was born in Liberia, and later became a member of the press corps following American presidents. When Ebola hit, she when back to Liberia to cover the outbreak and interview Sirleaf and to write this book.
I'm not sure how to put it, but this is a really terrific book in so many ways, uplifting and human. The introduction about the author's own life already had my attention. And the life of Sirleaf, hardly a perfect person, is really inspirational. It's the story of what can happen when a really qualified person is actually given responsibility, but it's also the story of the catastrophe it took to get there. I'll add that it was interesting to see the presidency of George W. Bush, a president I hate, in a positive light. And it see was nice to see Obama playing such a key role in being proactive with the Ebola crisis, sending in resources and American marines to assist, and essentially saving the city. And all of this in a country I hardly ever thought about before starting this book.
That is such awful stuff, Clémence, what was done there, children killing their own parents among other things. Cooper does go through all that. It leaves marks on the reader.
>124 dchaikin: I'm fascinated by Sirleaf and her journey. I'll have to borrow that from the library one of these days--thanks for getting it on my radar.
>126 dchaikin: It does leave marks indeed. What you say makes the Cooper book all the more interesting, but intimidating.
It's a rough topic and I can understand that. However, it's actually an uplifting book.
>109 dchaikin:: Just catchy up. Glad you liked the Oldroyd history. It was the more detailed then your typical history of science books, but i thought it was more interesting to see how the arch of modern geology lined up with sea studies and how far the science has come in such a short time frame. I was recently reading sections out of an old geomorph book published in the early 50's that hinted at plate tectonics. They were so painfully close but didn't make the leap.
And I thought I was the only one disappointed by Winston's lack of geology in a book about something as pure geology as a map that fundamental altered the way we look at the ground.
>130 stretch: Thanks, Kevin. I liked the detail, and, of course, kept wanting more. I thought Oldroyd kept a good balance. As for Winchester, if you read my review, there's a rant embedded in there. I was actually pretty upset on Winchester for a long time and avoided his books. I haven't read him since, but I wouldn't avoid him now and I wouldn't have written the review that way.
>131 avidmom: Sirleaf's life makes a great story.
Confession: I've nev Winchester's book. I've tried both audio and physical books but I get too disappointed that it isn't what I want. Not really fault of the writing or anything but it just doesn't live up to expectations. I can say much the same about Foley.
Ah, but I like Fortey (assuming that's who you meant). His Earth : An Intimate History is hit and miss, but has lots of hits. But John McPhee is my favorite. I compare them in my review of Fortey : ) ... (from 2007 !!)
Yes Fortey, auto correct on phones is a pain. I find Fortey to be long winded so for me his hits are blunted by the extra two paragraphs at the end. I wish Earth: An Intimate History was written more like Rough-Hewn Land. Or just a few well placed edits that would make Fortey more succinct. I really hate that I dislike Earth, because I actually thought there was a lot of good information in there; just buried.
No one compares to McPhee. He is the bar.
(Fun to watch Mexico hold on) I’m not familiar with Rough-Hewn Land...
Great review of Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -- thanks for posting it. I followed some of the Liberia story on NPR as I commuted back and forth to work.
>138 janeajones: You're better informed then me, this was all new. My first thought when I saw the title was something like - that could be interesting, but who the heck is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf...
33. The Gospel According to Matthew
written: mostly scholars want 80-90 ce, or after Mark but still close to destruction of the Temple. But, of course, unknown.
format: 57 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Jun 3-9
Having thought about this for a bit, I don't think I can go back to it and review. Instead I'll link to the two overview posts from my notes:
intro notes: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6502750
34. The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel
Forward Rick Moody
format: 412 page ARC Paperback
acquired: 2007 from a library book sale
read: May 29-Jun 14
This is a collection of four books of stories:
- Reasons to Live (1985)
- At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990)
- Tumble Home (1997)
- The Dog of Marriage (2005)
"My heart—I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God." So entered Amy Hempel into the book world, a master of the line to the point of hyper-intense concision. Hempel was one of the great short story writers of the 1980's whose career went beyond the popularity of form. When short stories weren't selling so well the in the 1990's, she tried to transform into a longer form writer, coming out with only the 80-page story Tumble Home, a good illustration of why that's not her strength. It's a good story in the end, but the getting their requires the reader to move through numerous hyper-intense short outbursts all going different directions.
But in the short form she is a special voice, clever, fun, passive in complex and fascinating ways, and full of memorable lines, including wonderful opening lines (all hinted at in some of her titles). She can be sensual, but mostly she is scoffing and blessing at the same time all life's normal difficulties. Another gem that was languishing on the shelf way too long.
Mrs. Deane scans the written portion of my test. She says I skipped a question, the one that says, "Would you prefer to: (a) Think about your plans for tomorrow, (b) Think about what you would do if you had a million dollars, (c) Think about how it would feel to be held up at gunpoint?"
35. The Fragrance of Guava : Conversations with Gabriel Garcia Márquez by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza
format: 118 Page little paperback
read: Jun 14-18
Márquez won the Nobel Prize in 1982, but this interview took place before that. Márquez was a different person before and after One Hundred Years of Solitude (published 1967). Before he was world-traveling journalist from coastal Columbia who went through starving stretches where he was unemployed (including once when his publisher was shut down), had written numerous wonderful stories and four full books, none of which had sold more than a 1000 copies. He wrote at night after work, all night, and was constantly searching out connections and feedback about his writing, openly sharing passages with close writer friends. Afterward, fame entered and Márquez responded by becoming extremely private, focusing on his family and developing a writing routine he never broke - 9am to 3pm everyday. When he finished Autumn of the Patriarch early one day, he struggled with how to fill his time until 3:00.
Mendoza fills in a nice role as a writer who knew him in his younger hungry days, and has remained close to him, and, based on this book, is an elegant writer himself. This is a short book, stretched out to over a hundred pages by photos and line spacings. Márquez is both interesting and reticent, and Mendoza needs to pull things out of him. He comes across as very closely connected to Caribbean culture, as one obsessed with solitude (of course), and who claims his most personal and autobiographical (and technically best) work is the really disturbing Autumn of the Patriarch, a book about the complete corruption of power which took almost 20 years to write. In the end he as little to nothing to say about his most famous work. He seems to have very mixed feeling about both the book and the impact it had on his life.
"I believe writers are always alone, like shipwrecked sailors in the middle of the ocean."
36. Fisherman's Blues : A West African Community at Sea (audio) by Anna Badkhen
read by the author
format: 7:54 overdrive audio (304 pages in hardcover)
listened: June 8-19
Badkhen uses the phrase "like an itinerant storyteller" near the end of this book. A Russian born American whose books are about journeys through war zones, the African savanna and Afghanistan, this may have served as her self-description. In a poetic voice she does a complete immersive journalism, trying to become part of a Senegalese fishing village, invisibly of course. Except that she fails to become invisible, as she acknowledges. She does join these fisherman on their long fishing voyages in their rickety boats, hiring herself out and helping with the labor, getting very intimate with many of those around her, even as they see her always taking notes, and sometimes ask her to write things down for them.
This is a community on the edge, starved out of the Senegalese interior, they are still viewed as migrants some hundred years or so since they took to the sea, only to witness the fishing stock crash and continually diminish (she doesn't analyze too much, but the fisherman blame the large international fishing vessels with gigantic nets and no restrictions.) The community lives a precarious life where death is cheap, crews are lost, and bodies wash up routinely. They are surrounded by temporary unmarked graves which all seem to wash away eventually. And yet they are connected to the larger world in numerous ways, and many of the men she talks to have left Senegal to find work, usually illegally, in Spain and elsewhere, sometimes doing very well, sometimes just to be imprisoned.
I finished this book, which she reads herself, very much in it's thrall, very enchanted by everything she reported and sees. Yet, I notice a lot of negative reviews, and complaints about her prose. She writes in a thick poetic prose where the facts and the story come second to the atmosphere she is trying to create. And I suspect that the same discomfort readers tend to feel with poetry in general today crops up in these reviews. So, recommended to those with more poetic tastes.
>34 dchaikin: It's a neat collection, isn't it? Every so often I go back and read a story at a time, just because Hempel's voice is such a palate cleanser from pretty much everything else out there. I've also heard she tends to walk around covered with dog hair, which endears her to me all the more.
>145 lisapeet: Hempel is terrific and fun. I’m reading Flannery O’Connor’s stories right now, and she’s brutal. I having to try to not get attached to characters because I now know she’s going to do something bad to them. I’m thinking I should take a break and reset my brain and come back.
37. A Room of One's Own (audio) by Virginia Woolf
reader: Juliet Stevenson
published: 1929, 2011 audio
format: 5:02 Libby audiobook
listened: Jun 20-26
includes four short stories: Monday or Tuesday, A Haunted House, Kew Gardens, The New Dress
I think I'm supposed to say something about feminism after reading this, but while I was listening I was too distracted by the way Woolf writes (and the way Juliet Stevenson reads her) to really be thinking about her points. Woolf is a wonderful stylist, who stands apart on many levels from anything written today. Clever, formally structured, elegant, but also everything is designed to bring in the reader's interest, give a universal perspective, and provide a sense of lingual precision. This is my first time reading her, I was kind of in awe at just listening to how she says what she says.
She is writing about women and fiction, but really about sexism in general, and what this has meant for women then (1928) and throughout history. At one point she explains that she looked through all the books on women, all written by men, and she feels they can offer her nothing because instead of careful unbiased analysis, these books are all, everyone, pervaded by anger. She has to turn elsewhere, a point that really stuck with me. As for the rest, it was all true, all frustrating, all good to read, but also all stuff I felt we all already know and (at least in our little community here) pretty much all fully agree with. You can read this for 1928 feminism, but my recommendation would be read this to read Woolf in essay form, and be rewarded with literary critiques of the Brontës and Jane Austen, or the impact of WWI on humanity, and also with her views on feminism.
Despite the cover Libby uses, I didn't get the Ali Smith introduction, but instead did get four short stories. The New Dress was my favorite and I'll have it in mind when I get to Mrs Dalloway, one of these days.
"I was kind of in awe at just listening to how she says what she says. "
That was my exact experience when I read Mrs. Dalloway a few years ago.
I love Virginia Woolf's writing also. It is so unique. I've read all of her novels now except The Years which I'll get to soon. A few of her earlier ones I didn't connect with, but by and large I've loved them all.
>149 dchaikin: Juliet Stevenson reading Virginia Woolf, how awesome! I bought a very expensive unabridged set of CDs of Juliet Stevenson reading Middlemarch on the excuse that it is what I will be listening to in the nursing home, LOL.
>150 avidmom: I need to get there. Part of my 1800-1950 reading hole... but this book really made me want to read that one.
>151 japaul22: I have this idea I will dedicate a year to Woolf, and I’ve noted readers find her early books very difficult. But... I would have to start there...or adjust my brain structure...
>152 avaland: Now there’s an image! : ) Juliet Stevenson reads this style so well.
38. The Gospel According to Mark
written: mostly scholars want ~70 ce. But, of course, unknown.
format: 37 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Jun 27 - July 3
I don't have a review in me, but my intro to my notes might suffice: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6519908
39. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
format: 374 page Paperback
read: read first 200 pages here and there with my son, then Jul 3-5
So, I bought this for my son on my birthday thinking if doesn't read, I still might. We had seen the movie together. I started reading to him out loud and he loved it. I gently nudged him to feel free to read ahead on his own, and eventually he did read it over a couple days. Then we went back to our place and I kept reading out loud. This all happened over three months (April-June). Finally I picked it up and finished it on my own.
Not the most perfect book, but it was fun and kept my interest and my son loved it and I got a kick out of explaining all the 80's references to him, and convinced him to watch Real Genius (not to mention, we had to look up several 80's games on youtube...)
If you've seen the movie and are interested in the book, note that the overall story line is roughly the same, but otherwise the stories are completely different. (The movie has a zillion cultural references that are different from those in the book. Mostly you can look that up. Unmentioned on those websites is, I suspect, a strong tie to Snow Crash in the movie.) The book has a decent story and serves as a romp through 80's gaming and movie trivia as well as a peak into what life might be like if we lived most of it virtually to avoid a ruined real world.
40. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
translator: Edith Grossman, 1988
format: 348 page trade paperback
acquired: 2008 from a library book sale
read: Jul 6-19
From the perspective of reading through Márquez, this book has me thinking of several things. It's his first book since winning the Noble Prize in 1982, and it's his first book since The Fragrance of Guava, which gave me insight into his writing style and how much it changed after One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it's his first regular novel since OHYoS. (Autumn of the Patriarch is an oddball book, and not a typical novel). The lesson from The Fragrance of Guava is that this is no longer a carefree author willing to writing frivolous stuff at speed and rework later on, but instead a slow and painstakingly careful author turning out a small amount of text a day, but each page ready for publication.
Love in the Time of Cholera mixes different aspects of Márquez's writing, notably mixing his more formal style in his first four novels with the more dramatic style he used in OHYoS. It's a seamless mixture by character, and hints at some of what he is doing here.
Ok, this a love story. It's one from yet another perspective, or actually from several - first from childhood and then revisiting the evolution of emotions through the ages of life. Time changes slowly in the place, but characters age, deal with the consequences, and unconsciously recreate themselves without shedding their pasts. Márquez makes this romantic by not neglecting the world that the story takes place in, including all its filth. That's, of course, the main point of the title, cholera being a disease caused by human excrement, and an important reminder of what he's doing. And that world is another love story in the book, one between the author and his nostalgia for early 20th-century Caribbean Columbia (actually, the whole book takes place before he was born, and ends just before he was born.)
But it's a love story, filled with numerous memorable characters, and one one that sweeps away time. The reader is sent drifting through various flows of text that the mind can ride along, and it's never necessary to put your feet down.
I think readers in a place to get swept away, without knowing it of course, are most likely to fall in and really enjoy this novel. And readers who might get quickly bored as the text waxes slowly on, will find themselves turning pages looking for next chapter end. It's ultimately a slow moving book, even if those chapter ends aren't all that far away.
If someone were to ask me where to begin with Márquez, I would want to suggest his novellas, keeping in mind the variety of things that come of them all combined, but I would probably suggest this instead.
Ha, very interesting review! I guess I belong to the category of people ready to be swept away, even though I didn't feel like that at the time I read this book. What I enjoyed most was the slow pacing, the fact that I knew the book was getting somewhere but taking its time about it, and the non-linear narrative (a form of narration I also appreciate a lot in John Irving's books).
>153 dchaikin: back to Woolf :-) I don't think her early books are difficult - they just aren't as inventive and mature as her later books, as is probably to be expected. I was so blown away by her middle books which I read first, that going back to read the first ones felt anti-climactic. Maybe starting at the beginning is the way to go?
>157 chlorine: - sounds like you were the perfect state of mind the book. Sadly, I wasn’t, although I still enjoyed it a lot. I just got stuck on reading lines carefully then dwelling on my slow reading speed.
>158 japaul22: - you know, I’ve never heard anyone put it that way before. Very encouraging.
Hey Dan, we started a poetry thread in the group, if you are interested in stopping by and leaving some comments. It's mostly general discussion at the moment (what, how, why....)
Funny, I caught it this am, just caught up in it and afterwards, just saw your post. Unfortunately haven’t been reading much poetry his year and filled in the last few years with Greeks and Romans. I should step back in that pond again...
41. The Attention Merchants : The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (audio) by Tim Wu
reader: Marc Cashman
format: 15:26 Overdrive Audiobook (~428 pages)
listened: Apr 15-27, Jul 19-26
When you listen to half a book in April, then the rest in July, then immediately leave town for two weeks, then sit down for a review, you're first thought might be something like, what was the book about again?
So, in the discombobulated and scattered pieces of my recent memory, I can confidently say this was a pretty fun history of advertising. Wu really begins with the early news papers, especially the ones in the early 1800's that hit on the idea that they could make more money from advertising then from sales of papers, and therefore they should strive to get as many readers as possible, even if they just gave the papers away. Perhaps you notice a reflection of our current mindset there. Wu moves forward through patent medicine, England PR for support in WWI which inspired Nazi PR ideas, to some oddball country listening to Amos and Andy blackface on the radio, and watching, en mass, I Love Lucy on TV and so on. I had the impression of a theme through AOL email and chat rooms, and a little aside on how The Drudge Report started internet brainwashing, but by Google, the Blackberry (he skips the iPod/iPhone), and Facebook it felt a little more like a book report padded on...or maybe that three months waiting to renew confused me.
So, fun, of value and perfect for those who like nonfiction audiobooks.
I heard Wu give a keynote at a conference earlier this year, when he was promoting this book—so presumably surfaced a lot of the same points—and it was really interesting and entertaining. He was super personable too. Attention as commodity certainly isn't a new idea, cf. the Penny Press, but it's so urgent right now. That reminds me I want to check that out of the library one of these days soon (and I'm sorry I didn't get a copy signed when he spoke).
>163 lisapeet: Cool that you saw him speak.
The way we are seeing online media mess with people’s minds lately, get people so worked up and immune to reflection, and real information—it’s really scary screwy stuff. Unfortunately Wu doesn’t really dig into that aspect too deeply, he builds up on how advertising snuck in everywhere and how we are the product, but not so much into the psychology of what’s going on right now.
>164 dchaikin: That's too bad, though maybe that's outside his expertise enough that he was wise to leave it alone. It would have been helpful to correlate it a bit, though. Guess I'll reserve judgment until I read it...
Lisa - I think it left me a little disappointed at the end because of that, but I really liked all the advertising history, which was really interesting.
42. The Gospel According to Luke
written: mostly scholars want ~95 ce. But, of course, unknown.
format: 57 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Jul 22-26, Aug 11
Luke strikes me as oddball mixture of texts, simplified in some ways, ways I didn't like, and interesting in some ways too. Mostly I was disappointed because I didn't like how it compares to Matthew (which I'm appreciating more now after reading Mark and this).
I have lots of notes. They start here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6552978
43. Metamorphica (audio) by Zachary Mason
Readers: Bronson Pinchot, Kevin Kenerly, Robertson Dean, Will Damron, Xe Sands, Amy Landon, Kate Reading, Robin Miles
format: 6:31 Libby audiobook (~181 pages, 304 pages in hardcover)
listened: Aug 8-16
A very recent promising release with some super positive professional reviews, a beautiful hardcover (which I've only seen as pictures), and, for audio, an elaborate audiobook cast with several very good readers. I feel bad not joining the party and lumping on the praise.
Mason has a nice idea and poetic writing style. He uses Ovid as inspiration and re-writes an expansive variety of mythological stories in his own way. He changes the stories in ways he likes, and presents contemporary sounding voices, mostly in the style of first person confessionals of a sort. He includes notes with explanations for some of the story changes he chose.
I liked revisiting all these stories, but I never took to how Mason tells them. Worse, I got bored and annoyed. But I can't say they were bad, more they weren't for me. I can pick out a few things that I maybe didn't like. The style is unoriginal, the stories feel very similar in many aspects, and so many are open ended with a with characters staring into the vast emptiness and depths of no-meaning, but he only pulls this last bit off with, for me, mild interest...over and over again. And, finally, his poetic voice did nothing for me. He has a nice vocab, but it felt to me like he was trying to sound lyrical but instead managed to sound like weak imitation. So, that's a lot of criticism.
What to make of this? Well, my criticism are very moody and I do hope no one takes them too seriously. I honestly am not sure why I didn't like this book. I'm curious how my response will compare with that of other readers, especially those holding that nice hardcover in their hands.
44. The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 1990 by Edith Grossman
format: 285 page paperback
read: Aug 8-19
A novel based on the last several months of life of Simón Bolívar.
After leading the liberation of much of South America from a Napoleon-dominated Spain, Bolívar became a dictatorial-like president of Greater Colombia, a country that included present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, northern Peru, western Guyana and northwest Brazil. He held the position about 12 years, when, in 1830 he stepped down, left his capitol, Bogotá, and with a small party traveled down the Magdalena River to the Caribbean coast of modern-day Columbia. Roughly seven month later, in December of 1839, he succumbed to what historians generally believe was tuberculosis. He was 47. His country, considered one of the most powerful in the world by John Quincy Adams, quickly dissolved.
Bolívar is considered a hero throughout South America, which is apparently why there was a lot of outrage when this book was published. Márquez stays to the facts close enough that some critics want to call this novel a history (it's a novel). But he develops a different kind of Bolívar, a sickly dying man who can see the failure of his creation, but lacks the strength to do anything about it. This is a melancholy man, and, it seems, what he's pondering in 1830 is essentially the South America of 1989, after years of bad government, civil wars and uprising, and military dictators. This book is an outright attack on Colombia and the surrounding region, and a call for some reflection.
But, alas, I stumbled through. I know very little about South America or Bolívar. Lacking context of times, places, names, implications, etc, I was at the mercy of narrative I didn't understand and couldn't figure out where it was going. Instead of reflection, I got lost and a little bored. It seems this a common problem in this part of this hemisphere, because the while reviewers loved this book and the South America reaction was hot, the US public was less interested. It's a slow book, and Bolívar slowly winds down all his relationships and business and carries on just a bit longer.
This is my seventh book by Márquez this year. I enjoy following his themes as they wander through the books, mixing various fictional and non-fictional Caribbean rulers, and the ideas of absolute power with solitude and, by reference, his life as an author. This book is clearly meant to be closely associated with The Autumn of the Patriarch, a poetic attack on absolute power and the corruption it entails - a curious pairing of hero and villains.
Overall, I think this is interesting, but mainly a book for completeists.
>44 dchaikin: "but mainly a book for completeists". And Dan your a completist. Enjoyed your review.
45. The Gospel According to John
written: mostly scholars want 90-110 ce. But, of course, unknown.
format: 41 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Aug 23 - Sep 1
notes start here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6568714 (post 113)
No real review, but a bit of a summary in the same thread, here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6572789 (post 146)
Catching up. Flannery O'Connor is indeed brutal. And I must have been in a place to be swept away when I read Love in the Time of Cholera last year. But I do like a deliberately paced book that takes its time getting to where it's going.
I'll have to read some Amy Hempel. I do like a well-done short story and the collection I'm currently reading isn't entirely satisfactory.
Hi Kay. Hempel, O’Connor and LitToC are three highlights from this year. O’Connor has been hit and miss, but in groups, not random. I didn’t like most of the stories from A Good Man is Hard to Find, but I’ve really liked pretty much everything else. I should get back to her, but caught running around Venezuela and Columbia with Bolívar, leaving me quite exhausted but in much better shape than everyone in the book. Good luck with your current book.
I finally caught up with your thread!
I read The general in his labyrinth last year but that was before I joined CR so I have no review and my memories, as always, are dim.
I remember I did feel lost because I didn't know the context, but I seem to have enjoyed the book more than you did - there was something pleasant about letting myself be led by the book.
>175 chlorine: I'm really happy to get another opinion on The general in his labyrinth. I'm still thinking about this book. It has me reading a biography of Bolivar now (which is really a hard-to-believe-this-is-nonfiction adventure tale), so of course I'm constantly comparing the non-fictional Bolivar and surrounding people with Marquez. But, this art, of letting yourself be led by the book, it's something I need to work on.
>169 dchaikin: South and Central American history seems almost completely neglected, at least here, and as you suggest, in the US. I have always wondered why that is, given how fascinating it is, and how many people live in those areas. Guilt over colonization, lack of interest in translating from Spanish, who knows? All of this is to say that in my reading of South America, I often encounter the same difficulty with vague ideas about the historical character(s) in question. However, this is a book I keep meaning to read, and it does sound worthwhile, especially for some historical context for Columbia, plus I really like Marquez.
>121 dchaikin: Every time I scroll down past this post I envision the image in some kind of fibre or fabric art. It's intriguing.
>177 SassyLassy: Hi Sassy. I do love that image in >121 dchaikin: too. As someone who has always liked and searched out history, I’m kind of surprised to realize how much interesting stuff I just ignored in South America. I mean, I knew a little about Napoleon and the Spanish take over and revolt, but never connected it to what what happening throughout SA at the exact same time, and as a direct consequence. And the entire cultural make up of SA is completely knew to me - Legion of Hell, system designed so that slaves basically keep the white South Americans inline with Spain (slaves supported Spain at first until Bolívar figured out he needed them and freed them). Very curious and fascinating.
I don’t think it’s guilt. I do think the slave revolt scared the slavery-using US at the time and limited the American bond to about nothing. Also, between the discovery/gold looting and the OPEC embargo, I’m not sure SA had a huge impact on the rest of the world...it is a little invisible, like New Zealand...
>176 dchaikin: I’m curious about the Bolivar biography, I’ll look out for your review when you finish it. I just read a chapter in the book on "the world history of France" (Histoire mondiale de la France) that I'm reading, about Napoleon and South America, and that's the sum of my knowledge on the subject, but it sounds fascinating.
>179 FlorenceArt: Bolívar is about to go up against a french born Spanish general in Peru... and a lot of players came with experience against (and some for) Napoleon. The book I’m reading is fun, like an adventure story. The author was born in Peru (Marie Arana) giving maybe a slight tilt towards highlighting that part of his life.
46. Chasing Hillary : Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling (audio) by Amy Chozick
format: 12:42 Libby audiobook (~352 pages, 382 pages in hardcover)
listened: Jun 27-Jul 3, Aug 31 - Sep 11
Hesitant to pick up Hillary Clinton's book, What Happened, I got this from the library instead. I was worried that there were aspects of Clinton that she herself wasn't aware of that played a key role in the election and I wanted something more at a remove and critical, but reasonable. This fit that to a degree. And, I love these kinds of books, by journalists about what they are seeing as they cover the stories. But this had two hard lessons.
Chozick was the New York Times reporter assigned to follow the Clinton campaign. This means that she was on the press plane and attended about every event she could, at the cost of, in a way, of being too close and not getting a chance to really analyze the campaign, and do research and talk to other people and whatever it entails to get a broader picture. Her book is wordy and mixes in a lot extra information about her personal life, but Chozick is entertaining and writes intelligently and perceptively and is a terrific narrator. Unfortunately, she writes about a very naive, under-experienced journalist making a lot of mistakes, losing sight of the big picture, and accomplishing roughly the opposite of what she intended. Kudos for honesty, but... Chozick saw Clinton up close and all the problems and awkwardness Clinton managed to convey to the press, and that's basically what she reported. From her came a series of negative articles - to the point that Clinton campaign hated her. Of course, she was actually a big fan of Clinton. What she did was exactly in line with what the New York Times accomplished in a nutshell. Find the flaws in every candidate, and equate them on the headlines. Clinton e-mails become just as bad on Trump's lacks of ethics. It's a really disturbing kind of insight and one that left me disheartened and discouraged with our big presses. (I know, I'm not alone there).
But this book is a two punch, and that's just one of them. The other is against Clinton.
Anecdotal side note: So, I know I made too much of this, but I have this memory of Clinton as Secretary of State, after having recently lost to Obama. She was in Malaysia and doing an event with a bunch of kids and I was interested because, despite all her time as a public figure, I never felt I got a sense of who she was. It was such an awkward event. Clinton clearly wasn't comfortable with these kids, but she forced her way through it, smile pasted on. The kids were fine and, later the same day news stories praised her. I've been worried about her since. (this isn't in the book, of course)
Clinton, it turns out, is really awkward with the press and with groups of people she doesn't know in general. In her fund raising sessions, she can cut the chase and say the critical stuff and comes across really smart. She is really smart. She is also knowledgeable, experienced and hard hitting. But, in the midst of supporters and watched by the press, she struggles and hates every minute of it, pastes on the fake smile that no one thinks is real. She looks like she is putting on an act.
Chozick thinks it was Clinton's handling of the emails that gave Trump the confidence he could beat her. I think this noteworthy. Most people at a sane-allowing political remove know that e-mail thing was a lot of about nothing. It's unfortunate she wasn't careful, she should have known better, but mainly it was just bad consequence of a kind of innocent mistake. But, it became a story because Clinton couldn't handle the press and kill it. It was left to linger.
She was apparently way worse in 2016 than in 2008. Chozick implies she seemed worn out and she kept the press, the group Chozick was a part of, at an unbridgeable distance, never letting any of them get to know her or interview her. No private conversations, no insightful comments and news releases. She even had two campaign planes - one for herself, and a second plane for the press dedicated to following her campaign.
In a nutshell, she was terrible with the press and did everything in her power to make it worse. I close this book convinced that had Clinton become president she would have pushed a lot of good policies, done a generally good job with all the executive agencies, appointed generally good people to critical posts, and the country would have hated her. Every mistake would be blown out of proportion, like Benghazi, and she wouldn't handle it well. In the midst of whatever success, the spotlight would be focused on the problems. And the New York Times would be part of that.
I really appreciate this book. I have to say that. Whatever Chozick did or didn't do wrong in her job, she provides a great deal of insight here into a lot things. I wonder how much of this kind of analysis is in What Happened. How does one say, "I was awkward at my own rallies and hated them"? How does one say, "I failed to build any relationship with the press because I didn't want to"? You can't get that kind of ground truth from the person who is actually in the spot light and must be guarded about everything they say.
As we now live under a world where the US is run by a sociopathic nutjob undermining critical aspects of all government agencies and the courts, strengthening the ugliest world leaders, while running out a series a news-absorbing lies and nursing his relationship to white supremacists, it's kind of hard to understand how this happened. Russian bots, Breitbart, Fox and The Drudge Report all played their parts in their misinformation campaigns, but also, the mainstream press allowed themselves to be played, and the Clinton campaign was unable to manage it.
Very interesting review. I suspect that you're entirely correct in your assessment of how the media would have handled a Clinton presidency.
Thanks Kay. I'm constantly second-guessing myself on HC. Makes the book good, but the review kind of difficult.
45. Acts of the Apostles
written: mostly scholars want 80-90 ce, with later edits. But, of course, unknown.
format: 54 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Sep 8-13
I don't plan to add a review, but will come back and add links to the notes once I finish them (haven't started yet)
ETA - above from Sep 15. I finished the notes. They start here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6583053 (post 148) and end with some concluding thoughts here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6585945
48. Bolívar : American liberator by Marie Arana
format: 468 page hardcover (603 with notes in bibliography)
read: Aug 25 - Sep 13
This is a terrific book and a larger than life real-life story, but, goodness, there is so much to tell, I don't know where to begin, or how to sum up. I can't explain Bolivar in a simple straight way without wandering off on convoluted discursive paths in an effort to clarify.
Simón Bolívar was a wealthy and unruly orphan from Caracas who was educated by a random but fascinating assortment of characters, was connected to the highest society, would play badminton with the crown prince of Spain, and later, in Parisian and Italian high society meet many of the leading figures of the day, including Alexander Von Humbolt (who "judged him a puerile man").
Simón Bolívar was a failure, part 1, 2 & 3. His most impressive role in the First Republic of Venezuela was to be exiled instead of executed. The Admirable Campaign that initially made him famous and led to him being named the Liberator and that mostly took place in Colombia, created the Second Republic of Venezuela. This one was wiped out by the Legions of Hell (that's their actual name), a marauding army of ex-slaves loyal to Spain that would rape and pillage through the second republic, massacring a large portion of revolutionary supporters. Bolivar wound up in Jamaica and Haiti. Having finally figured out that he needed to manage the slave revolt if he were to get free of Spain, he invaded again, freed the slaves, promised to undo the racial favoritism and saw his invasion quickly wiped out again. He was chased out by his own revolutionary allies and almost gutted by an ally who was so upset he swung a sword a him to kill (and would later be a loyal supporter of Bolívar).
Simón Bolívar was in a weird place. Spain had done some strange stuff to keep the masses in check in New Spain. The European descendants, Creoles, like Bolívar, were divided from the natives, and from the slaves and a large population of mixed race in what came to be tension driven freezing-in-place of the system. It was these kind of tensions that led to the Legions of Hell to fight against the Creole rebellion, and that made these new rebellious colonies impossible to manage, leading to a variety of regional warlords who no one actually liked. No one liked anyone else, except somehow everyone like the Liberator, Bolívar. So he became to only possible leader. This is just the beginning.
Simón Bolívar was special. It's only at this point that we say he was what the myths say - energetic, elegant, educated, graceful, charming, tougher than everyone else, deeply dedicated to his cause with full integrity, insightful, and finally savvy enough to be dangerous.
Simón Bolívar was the revolution. From this point Bolívar made it happen almost single-handed. His energy was the motor of the revolution, his integrity disarmed, his charm brought devout enemies to join him, his physical prowess won over his army (which included large contingents of British veterans out of work after Waterloo), his personality won over the most intransigent resistance to cooperation, his strategies, many psychological, would set the victories in place. Finally, his statesmanship won over whatever was left.
Simón Bolívar was a butcher. Outside the 800 Spanish prisoners he ordered beheaded over a few days because of rumors of a prison revolt, he lost several armies, saw populations of entire regions drop by 1/3, economies completely break down.
Simón Bolívar was a notorious womanizer. Briefly married, he met widowhood by finding prominent lovers in France, notably the married Fanny du Villars. He took with Josefina "Pepita" Machado almost as a war prize, and once held an entire invasion fleet on hold in port for several days until she could join him. She disappeared somewhere in the Venezuelan wilderness, on the way to meet him. And, most famously, Manuela Sáenz, the married Peruvian who became his final mistress, saving his life during an assassination attempt.
Simón Bolívar was a failure, part 4. He would momentarily reach an amazing high tide where he had freed future Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from Spain, had charmed his rival liberator, San Martín, Liberator of Argentina, out of the picture, was writing his own constitutions and had in a place a very talented successor, Antonio José de Sucre. Alas, his constitution with its life-time president left about everyone horrified, including Henry Clay, his most devout supporter in the unsupportive United States and Lafayette, one his most valued European supporters. Regional animosities, an assassination attempt and tuberculosis finally led him to resign all powers and try to flee his own country, shortly after saying in an important speech, "I am ashamed to admit it, but independence is the only thing we have won, at the cost of everything else." He would die several month after giving up the presidency. He was nearly alone, poor, out of power, unwanted, and finally broken by the news of the assassination of Sucre.
Simón Bolívar is a legend. Quoting Arana, "But, for all his flaws, there was never any doubt about his power to convince, his splendid rhetoric, his impulse to generosity, his deeply held principles of liberty and justice." and later, "The intervening century had made Bolívar a good Catholic, a moral exemplar, an unwavering democrat—none of which he had been during his life."
And, worst of all, Simón Bolívar has become a rallying cry of populist autocrats the like of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution: "Bolívar purported to hate dictatorships—he claimed he had taken them on only for limited periods and as necessary expedients—but there is little doubt that he created the mythic creature that the Latin American dictator became."
What an insane life.
I picked this up because I had just read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel The General in His Labyrinth, based on Bolivar's last several months of life, living on little money, very ill and essentially rejected by his continent.
49. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Introduction Robert Giroux
published: 1971 (posthumously)
format: 555 page paperback
acquired: 2006 from my neighbor, poet Larry D. Thomas
read: Jun 18-Jul 3, Jul 23-24, Aug 19-23, 30, Sep 14-17 (28 days)
There are judgments in our reviews, even as we try to disarm them, but here it feels very uncomfortable and kind of hinders my thought process. I'm not able to and don't want to judge O'Connor, and certainly it's not needed. I think it's best for me to just list this collection as a classic, and leave it there. Anyway, my main reaction upon finishing wasn't one of evaluation at all, but one of accomplishment. I'm proud to have read this, awkward and goofy as that sounds.
Giroux orders O'Connor's stories from the dates they were written and, where appropriate, as they were originally published. So they get grouped, by chance, along these lines:
1. Six stories from her master's thesis at the University of Iowa (including one that became the last chapter in Wise Blood), submitted 1947
2. Four stories later incorporated into the novel Wise Blood (one overlaps above), published 1952
3. Ten stories from A Good Man is Hard to Find, published 1955
4. One story that become the opening chapter to the novel The Violent Bear it Away, published 1960
5. Ten stories from Everything that Rises Must Converge, published 1965
6. And one story intended for a future novel (The story is called, Why Do Heathens Rage?, and while it's not the last story here, it's an apt epitaph.)
Flannery O'Connor died in 1964 after a 12 year battle with Lupus. So, that's 31 stories, and twenty-two were likely written and published knowing she was going to die young, and while living in her family home in Georgia.
O'Connor is southern writer and with a mentality colored by the contrast between the culture she is surrounded with and tries to capture, rife with racism, ignorance and strong character, and the perspectives of the educated and generally atheist. She leaves herself, as narrator, as an unbiased observer. So she can quietly note (maybe) the humanity of her black characters while flooding them with all the character biases and real consequences to the role they play in these stories. She both captures the atmosphere and relentlessly attacks it. And she attacks her readers in the most painful ways she can come up with. The most most exposed, most sympathetic characters are sure to have the worst possible ending - and if they're children, let it end the worse for them. There were times I finished a story, closed the book and thought, wounded, what the heck has she done to me. You can't forget some of this stuff.
I can pick out some changes over those six divisions I put in above. Her master's thesis stories are the most raw, and they play heavily on the tensions of racism. The Wise Blood stories are magnificent and outrageous humor, and it all comes together in the organically driven mental contradictions of Enoch Emery - hormones and need and a mouth that talks one thing, while the head calculates something else, all of it wild and almost incoherent. He's my favorite of her characters. The stories in A Good Man is Hard to Find are aimed at the whole of American culture and are the most attuned to literary convention - they have clear points (of uncertainty, mind you) covered over in language, and mixed in with symbolism. I haven't found the right description of them - they include probably her most famous stories, but they have the least, for lack of a better word, soul in them. Thinking of the title story and what it does to the reader, and I'm still thinking to myself, "unfair!", they just feel polished too neatly for their impact. This changes a lot in her stories in Everything that Rises Must Converge, and I could relax into these and let myself get gripped as a satanic character positions himself against one he says, accurately, thinks he's Jesus. These later stories target religion (O'Connor was Catholic) and they are really ambivalent in their play on faith and enlightenment and atheism and social justice - on modern sensibilities and subconscious inclinations. All this is to say, I was never comfortable in the stories of A Good Man is Hard to Find, but rarely not fascinated by everything else.
I should add the O'Connor really excels at capturing the southern characters through their language, and it's, to me, the foundation of her writing. Once she lays it down, and you are into the oddball characters, charmed even if you don't like them, she can do a lot of different things. But what she does... I might summarize it as making you, the reader, feel uncomfortable with how smart you think you are.
"Enoch's brain was divided into two parts. The part in communication with his blood did the figuring but it never said anything in words. The other part was stocked up with all kinds of words and phrases. While the first part was figuring how to get Hazel Weaver through the FROSTY BOTTLE and the zoo, the second inquired, "Where'd you git thisyer fine car? You ought to paint you some signs on the outside it, like 'step-in, baby"--I seen one with that on it, then I seen another with..."
Phew - Excellent reviews Dan. Very interesting on Chasing Hillary I still don't understand how she lost that election, but your review points some of the way.
Bolivar: American Liberator is a fascinating review because the man has become a mythical hero in some quarters and so it is good to have some idea of what sort of man he was and what he did.
Thanks Bas. There’s a lot I can’t understand about the US right now.
I wasn’t aware of the Bolívar worship, but it came up while I was reading the book (but it’s not in the book). People could chose a worse hero. I won’t forget him.
50. Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
Introduction DJ Kool Herc
reader: Mirron Willis
published: 2005 (2016 on audio)
format: 19:33 Libby audiobook (560 pages in hardcover)
listened: Aug 20-31, Sep 11-25
The book is dated, but what do I know? Outside the Beastie Boys and the maybe not-quite-Hip-Hop Red Hot Chili Peppers, I kind of missed this whole thing. Chang, currently the executive director the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, at Stanford University, writes an incomplete selective history of Hip-Hip and the cultures it came from. He's both fascinating and frustrating, but more the former than the later.
He presents an elaborate narrative from the Jamaica of Bob Marley, to the Jamaica-immigrant driven street Hip-Hop scene in the black and latino New York inner and suburban neighborhoods, to the take off of Hip-Hop in the mainstream culture and arts. He picks places to focus on, especially Marley, DJ Kool Herc (who wrote the introduction), Grandmaster Flash, graffiti artists like the Fab 5, to Public Enemy, to, when the book finally leaves New York for LA (about 3/4's in), Ice Cube, and NWA, and finally a long take on the magazine The Source. And he ties it all in, mostly, the Jamaican politics, a painfully detailed and confusion history of certain aspects of the New York gangs, police violence against blacks, over and over, and more and more horrifying, to Watts, Compton and the Rodney King Riots. But the book has some narrative issue at this point. Did the LA riots in 1992 really impact Hip-Hop? I couldn't tell from this, because Chang changes course attacking the music industry for it's failure to identify that Hip-Hop was the about the fastest growing music market in the 1990's, and then attacking US policy for allowing Clear Channel to sterilize American radio on a national scale.
That's a lot, and wanders off in way too much detail on a lot of this stuff, which is maybe ok. But there are gaping holes, and, as far as I can tell, he didn't interview anyone. He just quotes news articles and published sources. While reading it I looked up some YouTube videos on the early history of Hip-Hop and found a world of characters and names and voices he barely indicates exists. Most of these people are still around and they want to talk about the era, the technology tricks, the personalities, the crowds and cultural feedback. There is so much rich information, so much not here. It's a major oddball flaw, and one he never expresses. You get his summaries defined as complete. They're not.
Still, a good experience, and I'm glad I listened. I have a lot of music to explore...
51. Strange Pilgrims : Twelve Stories by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 1993, by Edith Grossman
originally published: 1992
format: 195 page paperback
read: Sep 18-25
Márquez presents these twelve stories as a remnant rescued from a lost collection. His introduction tells of 64 story ideas, with notes and sketches that were kept in a notebook and lost together with it. He selected these twelve for how they interact with each other, and then re-wrote them for this collection. Each story is dated to when he began writing them, an odd choice, especially as these dates are printed at the end of the story. But, I think it's significant that all twelve dates are from before he won the Nobel Prize in late 1982.
It's kind of sad how little these stories sparked my thinking. They are elegant and so carefully written, all twelve have wonderful openings and read effortlessly. These are polished works. The first story, on a deposed and exiled Caribbean president undergoing a medical procedure in Switzerland, has hung around. And the one titled I Sell My Dreams, well it's a wonderful title. But the rest, the haunted house, the depression from the Spanish sea side wind, and so forth, largely dissipated as I finished them. They left me thinking Márquez had, by his point, become too safe a writer, so worried about how clean his work was that he was no longer provoking, or making the reader uncomfortable. That analysis, if I can call it that, is unfair and it doesn't apply to his other later works that I've read, although it may capture an aspect of them. Márquez leans toward a quiet clean formality in style. These twelve stories stand mainly as polished sketches. I doubt anyone will mind picking this book up and reading through it, but I suspect many other readers will, like me, then just move on to the next book.
51> That's a really on-point analysis, Dan. As I wade through my huge pile of short story collections, all of them so different, I find myself trying to figure out how to actually go about judging which ones I think are "best." There are individual stories that just knock me sideways, so those are easy calls, but it's harder when I start to look at the collections as a whole, and think about them formally—what makes them skilled, what makes them significant, what makes them just plain good? It's like thinking about albums vs. singles or EPs.
>192 lisapeet: Thanks. Wondering how you work that out the prize you're working for. "albums vs. singles" - I once read a collection where one story undermined the whole thing, and haven't read that writer since (She's won awards). On the other hand, literature can be effective or ineffective in so many different ways, I would have guessed the "albums vs. singles" problem would be secondary to the apples vs oranges comparisons.
>194 lisapeet: Well fortunately for apples vs. oranges, we don't have to choose one, or even a few—I think there will be at least five on the final list. So that allows for a good range of writers, story types, collection types, etc.
>193 dchaikin: So now I'm thinking about that. I usually judge a short story collection on its balance, the overall quality and the stand-outs, but I've also stopped reading an author I once loved based on two short stories in a collection. I don't think I can read him with an unbiased eye any more. But why that one author and not all the others who have included something substandard in a collection?
>194 lisapeet: Makes sense. I look forward to see what is selected
>195 RidgewayGirl: Kay, it might be a sausage making problem. Sometimes you see an aspect of the author’s working parts, and don’t like what you see. But, I think mainly if we’re annoyed once in certain kinds of ways, we then try to avoid being annoyed again. Some stories just cross that line.
>195 RidgewayGirl: I think short stories have the potential to really get under our skin in a way that a novel usually doesn't, because they're so... I want to say "pointed" but that sounds like I'm trying to be more clever than I am. But they are sharp, they do their thing and get out, and something that affects you hard is going to stick. And by you, of course, I mean me.
I'm actually thinking of a story in one of the collections I read that did the opposite—it was one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read, but disturbing on an emotional, gut level because it was so skillfully done, and it pushed the collection up another notch in my eyes (I already thought pretty well of the book to begin with). I'm still thinking about it days later. I'm also its perfect target audience, so I don't know that it would have the same affect on other folks. But it was a knockout—felt both visceral and allegorical at the same time—and it literally made me sob.
(I don't mean to be all coy and mysterious about it. The story is in Mark Slouka's new collection, All That Is Left Is All That Matters, and the story is "Dog.")
>197 lisapeet: thinking about this. We should have asked you your feelings about short stories before you got so immersed in them. Then we could compare it to your impression now.
>198 dchaikin: I've always been a huge short story fan, which is why I was tapped to sit on the award committee. But I've never read them in such a concentrated way, nor with an eye to whether a collection as a whole is worthy of inclusion on a list. Previously, when reading short fiction, my critiques/reviews would be more about which stories worked for me and which didn't, and I only thought about the collection as a cohesive unit if it was striking one way or the other--linked stories, for instance, or stories grouped around a theme. Or, conversely, if they were so all over the place it was notable.
So this is a whole other ball of string for me, and a really interesting one--I'm always psyched to read through a different critical lens. It's challenging, to be sure. I'm finding that some books are very clear yeses and some are no's, and I can tell by the time I'm halfway in, but for others I have a feeling the jury's going to be out until I read them all the way through and reflect a little bit.
The awards lead just added a couple more books to the pile... good thing I'm enjoying this.
The Letter of Paul to the Romans (or Epistle to the Romans)
written: 55-56 ce ??
format: 23 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Sep 29-30
Romans appears to be the most important biblical text for the Reformation and possibly for most version of Evangelical Christianity. This is the first Pauline letter in the bible, one of twelve, and one of seven commonly believed to have been actually written by Paul and so an interesting tie-in to the various ideas of Pauline Christianity - the idea that the apostle Paul changed Christianity from its origins.
My notes are here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6588607 (posts 187 - 219)
No review, other than above. If Pauline Christianity interests you, you can check my notes here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6595091 (posts 191-195)
Romans 13 was recently in the news, cited by the US government for doing some awful stuff (ongoing) with the children of both legal asylum seekers and non-legal US residents. If you're curious, see my notes here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6600246 (post 215)
52. Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 1995, by Edith Grossman
originally published: 1994
format: 147 page paperback
read: Sep 25 - Oct 1
After reading Twelve Pilgrims just before this, I was starting to believe Márquez had become too safe in his later writing to really affect the reader, and this starts off slow (and elegant), and seemed only to confirm that feeling. But this book opens up into a really wonderful and playful take on Rapunzel, in 18th-century Caribbean Colombia.
A young creole girl, Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, is bit by a rabid dog and is given up for rabies, well actually as possessed by demons, and sent to a convent. A lot of strange things happen around this girl. She must exorcised, but the priest assigned, Father Cayetano Delaura, is a book-absorbed librarian with uncertain and unstable views on all around him. (A remark on Leibnitz was the only reference to a date I could find in the book.) Márquez provides an imaginative look at the era, rife with slavery, poverty, isolated landlords, cultural melanges, secret magic, and various religious and non religious officials very far from Spain, worked into his reoccurring mixture of sex and filth (like the title Love in the Time of Cholera).
In hindsight, I can't help by being charmed by all the playful ties in to Rapunzel: the tower as an impenetrable convent, the wicked women as a head nun, the prince as an unstable priest temporarily blinded by an eclipse, and so on. And what to make of her parents?
"I would like to know why you are so kind to me," he said
53. The Triumph of Christianity : How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World by Bart D. Ehrman
reader: George Newbern
format: 10:22 Libby audiobook (~288 pages equivalent, 353 pages in hardcover)
listened: Sep 25 - Oct 4
From Litsy, Oct 5: I really enjoyed this book on audio. Nothing crazy or controversial, but a nice summary of the history of Christianity from a tiny sect to an empire-wide religion of the underclasses, to the empire's official religion. Eventually more than half the empire was Christian
Among the things I learned: 1. Christians weren't really persecuted all that badly 2. Rejection of other gods may have been the most important thing in its spread, because it meant it eliminated other religions 3. Before Constantine, Christians argued elegantly for freedom of religion. Under Constantine they won this! But then they persecuted... 4. Maybe Christianity originally spread as an eastern mystery cult. 5. It was really small a long time.
This was a really nice supplement to my NT reading, as he goes into Paul and Acts, and into the contextual Roman history. He doesn't make any arguments on the question of Pauline Christianity or the possible James/Peter/Paul tensions, but only acknowledges some of the thinking and possibilities. He also spends some time talking about the various religious conventions of Rome and how Christianity mixed in. And he spends a lot of time on emperor Constantine (who first openly permitted Christianity in 321, summoned the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and converted to Christianity upon his death in 337. He was the first Roman emperor to convert.).
It was interesting to get a sense of how the religious acceptance evolved overtime. First on, religious grounds, Christianity was unique in that it (apparently slowly) made converts, but those converts than stopped practicing all other religious rites, so as it spread, what we call paganism lost followers. This hadn't happened previously because Judaism didn't really spread, and in general, if you honored one rite, there was no need to forgo any other rites or beliefs. That played some role in anti-Christian tensions.
And, Rome official acceptance evolved in interesting ways in the 4th century. Diocletian persecuted Christians. Constantine first persecuted them, then as a ruler supported Christianity. Julian grew up Christian, and then persecuted them as an emperor. Theodosius persecuted pagans.
Sounds interesting, I have added it to my wishlist. And it reminds me that I still haven't read Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, which I bought ages ago.
About persecutions, Corpus Christi insisted on the fact that as soon as Christian obtained the status of state religion, they started persecuting... other Christians. It was important to nip in the bud any attempt to compete with the sect in power. I guess heretics were much more of a threat than pagans (who would join sooner or later) or Jews (who never tried to conquer the empire).
Well, Ehrman is probably a lot shorter (in more than one way. He mainly covers 100 years, the 4th century, instead of 3000.) 300 pages isn’t nothing, but it’s a breezy 300 pages.
As for Christians on Christians, he touches on that. There were a lot a different views, some prominent ones having Christianity include three divinities - which is more pagan friendly and helped define the Catholic trinity. Of course, there were ugly tensions. (Side note, it’s not in the book, but aren’t angels essentially minor divinities? A judaeo-Christian oddity to me.)
54. Barracoon : The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" (audio) by Zora Neale Hurston
rediscovered and edited by Deborah G. Plant
reader: Robin Miles
published: 2018, but originally written in 1931
format: 3:53 Libby audiobook (~107 pages equivalent, stretched to 208 pages in paperback)
listened: Oct 8-12
The story of the last living African born American slave, told in his own voice. Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis in 1927, and she includes herself in the book, but she gives him control of the narrative, and he takes it in some unexpected places, and colors it in his own variety of southern black English. His language, beautifully captured by Robin Miles on the audio, hangs around after the book.
Lewis, born Kossola (pronounced here, roughly, KUH-zoolah), insists on talking first about his ancestry in Africa. And spends the heart of narrative on his home continent, including the story of his capture in a gruesome village massacre. But he also goes into his time in the barracoon in Ouidah (modern Benin), his purchase, 70-day passage across the Atlantic to Mobile, Alabama, his life as a slave, and then a free man who married, had several children, and lost several in tragic, and sometimes mysterious ways in Alabama. He was 19 when he made the passage to America in 1859, and so 87 years old when Hurston interviewed him.
It's not clear to me whether she continued to interview him, but she wrote up this book in 1931 and then when tried to get it published, there were no takers. Publishers were uncomfortable with the extended dialect, and especially with his Africa. In the mythology of the time, Africa should have been something of positive, something to long for. But, despite his painfully missing his home, the Africa he writes about is brutal, marred with terrible violence. Deborah G. Plant recently (?) discovered the manuscript and it was first published earlier this year.
“We cry ’cause we slave. In night time we cry, we say we born and raised to be free people and now we slave. We doan know why we be bring ’way from our country to work lak dis. It strange to us. Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk wid de udder colored folkses but dey doan know whut we say. Some makee de fun at us.”
>208 dchaikin: Wow. Wishlisted. Despite a strong prejudice against audiobooks, I almost feel this one might be worth listening to.
There was an interesting piece on this book and Hurston and her process in the New Yorker last spring: Zora Neale Hurston’s Story of a Former Slave Finally Comes to Print. Plus some great photos of both Hurston and Kossola—not always the case, but I felt like the visuals really added to both the article and the book's history in a captivating way.
>212 lisapeet: Thanks Lisa. That article is a really nice addition to the book. Hurston was such a complicated mess, she’s on the short list of authors I would invite to dinner memes. I had wondered about her late life what happened. Alas, the article leaves me with a lot more to read.
>209 FlorenceArt: some books are really better and on audio than text. The problem is when to listen. Not everyone, including me, can just sor down and listen to a book for an hour or so. I need to do something. This one is probably just as good on audio as in text, but Miles is terrific.
>210 NanaCC:, >211 OscarWilde87: - Thanks both. The book leaves a mark. Highly recommended.
55. Macbeth (RSC edition) by William Shakespeare
editors Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
published: originally performed 1606 for King James I, this edition is from 2009
read: Sep 16 - Oct 15
My first time reading Macbeth (I'm underread in Shakespeare and most other classics). No deep thoughts, it was a very casual read for me. I enjoyed coming across the famous lines I knew but didn't know were here, and I enjoyed wondering about Lady Macbeth's motivations, and what role her drinking played in all this, and all the other playful curiosities Shakespeare adds in. And it gave me a new perspective on the movie Fargo.
I read this a part of a Litsy group read, one act a week. So I used five different Sundays, one for each Act. But, ultimately, I didn't contribute much to the conversation. My edition, from the Royal Shakespeare Company, included several essays/interviews on performance aspects of the play...I would like to see this performed some day
>214 dchaikin: After reading Shakespeare’s version, I wonder if you would like Macbeth: A Novel by A. J. Hartley, David Hewson (Author), read by Alan Cumming. I really enjoyed listening to this version after my first reading of the original. Because it is a novel, it fills in all the bits that you would need to imagine offstage, and of course Alan Cumming’s narration is wonderful. I know that you listen to audiobooks, so thought I’d make the suggestion.
>216 dchaikin: I’ve subscribed to audible for years, Dan. Their selection is really pretty good, and my library’s selection is awful. If you do listen to it, I’ll be looking forward to your comments.
Colleen - I had a subscription, then finances got tight and I felt guilty, so cancelled it (not that it was a significant or even noticeable part of the budget). Finally trying again.
When I was working I had a subscription for two credits a month. I dropped it to one after I retired. I figured I would be in the car less, and therefore wouldn’t need two books a month. Every once in a while they have a sale on credits, 3 for the price of two I think. I sometimes splurge on that.
>214 dchaikin: I always feel some kind of bizarre guilt about not knowing as much as I think I should about Shakespeare. There is a series of books I discovered "Never Fear Shakespeare" that I'm going to try and read ... you know, one day ....
>220 avidmom: I have the same kind of guilt. But I'm trying to convince myself one day, I'll read all his works. : ) The Litsy group is actually planning to go through all his plays, and is doing A Winter's Tale next month. I might join.
I read a lot of Shakespeare in middle and high school, but only The Tragedy of Richard III as an adult (because we had tickets to see it a couple of years ago at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with Kevin Spacey chewing up the scenery). As with many other classics I read in school, I'd really like to go back and revisit at some point. I understand why they're part of the canon, but I also think asking a 10th-grader to really get the nuances of, say, Macbeth could be a stretch. Or maybe not... I was a notably oblivious teenager, so maybe it's just me. Anyway, who knows if I'll ever reread any of those—I have so much else calling to me from my bookshelves, am notoriously short on free time, and am not a particularly fast reader.
>220 avidmom:, >221 dchaikin: The "No Fear" Shakespeare books are rather entertaining, if it's what I'm thinking of -- Shakespeare's original on the left page with "Modern teenager" language on the right. I'm a big fan of seeing the movies/plays, definitely before (and in most cases instead of) reading the text.
>222 lisapeet: Richard III is my favorite history play! I love the manipulative evilness -- Richard tells you exactly what he is going to do to win the crown and then systematically carries out his plan, eliminating all the obstacles.
I spent a semester studying Shakespeare and I've still only read about 2/3rds of the plays.
I remember being really inspired by the movie Looking for Richard III. Then I saw it a second time and was horrified by the arrogance. I’ve never read the play.
I actually find Shakespeare very readable and enjoyable. There are a view hangups where I’m just not able to bring the right perspective to the phrasing to get it. But that’s what decent footnotes are for. I tend to read him slowly, but it’s time well spent.
Not sure, Lisa, about 10th graders. My main complaint now is not how much I struggled with Shakespeare then, but how little we covered.
Liz - hoping you didn’t read all 2/3 in one semester! : )
>224 dchaikin: Yep, 2-4 plays a week. It was also the semester that I (re)discovered Jane Austen. My flatmate was taking a 19th Century novels course as an elective and I picked up her copy of Emma -- it was a trashy-chick-lit-romance-novel compared to all the Shakespeare.
My reading plan has put Shakespeare on the horizon, but he still probably a year away (I was thinking this the same time last year). I have read most of the plays, but I am looking forward to reading them from start to finish.
>224 dchaikin: Glad you found Macbeth easy to read.
>225 ELiz_M: intense course, Liz. Must have given you a big picture perspective over his work.
>226 baswood: I'm hoping to dedicate a year to him, but it won't be next year and probably not 2020, although that's optimistically possible. Next year Beowulf, Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer...if I'm really up for all that, mind you. And, of course, there are many ways and levels to read Macbeth.
The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthains (or First Corinthians)
written: 54 ce ??
format: 24 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Oct 17-20
My notes are my NT thread, posts 220-242: https://www.librarything.com/topic/292076#6608685
56. News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez
translation: 1997, by Edith Grossman
originally published: 1996
format: 391 page paperback
read: Oct 2-21
time reading: care of Bookly, I know it took me 9 hrs, 45 mins to read this. That's 2 pages a minutes, or 29.8 pages per hour
The next book on my Márquez list. I knew going in this wasn't an exciting book. Reviews complain it's long and boring. And, while the first 20 pages are gripping, it is a slow book. There is no effort to glorify and run the adrenaline (although there is some awful stuff). Márquez is patiently exploring the humans involved and watching how the story reveals some things about them and about Colombia.
This is a true story. As Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord and billionaire, looked to turn himself in apparently for protection, he needed leverage to protect himself from the government. So, he started kidnapping people connected to prominent people. And when kidnapping the daughter of an ex-president didn't work, he kidnapped more people. Ultimately ten in all, and several by accident because they happened to be with the target. Drivers or guards were merely killed on the spot.
Escobar is essentially looking for legal ransom. He doesn't want to be extradited to the United States where he would be put in a maximum security prison for life. But the book isn't about him. The typical American journalist would open this book with a thrilling depiction of some aspect of the drug business, or Escobar's life style and violence. Márquez barely touches him. We only see Escobar through his people, his lawyers and connections and the different crews running the different kidnappings. Instead Márquez focuses on the life of those kidnapped, and each experience is different. Hero Buss, a German photographer, essentially had an adventure, his first action upon release was to give a bystander a camera to take a picture, documenting the moment. Whereas Maruja Pachón never knew if she was about to be executed, or raped or entertained or left alone and for months on end, and spent her time trying to build useful relationships with her constantly changing captors. Two of those kidnapped were killed (as mentioned in the opening acknowledgements).
I can't say this is anything I would recommend to someone, unless they were really interested in circa-1990 Colombia and couldn't find a more engrossing book, or they wanted an alternate view of then Colombian president César Gaviria, who comes across as cold and calculating but also sincere. And I can't say I feel rewarded by the reading experience. But I never minded the book and I got some interesting things out of it, and, in way, I really appreciated the sort of respectful unheightened approach.
Your time reading comment in your review of News of a Kidnapping is interesting. I often wonder how long I spend reading a book. Enjoyed your review.
>231 baswood: it's a fun stat in hindsight, sometimes a little daunting in foresight. 22 hours reading left for the NT, at my current pace. (76 hours spent on it since April, when I started keeping track)
>204 dchaikin: The Bart Ehrman book sounds interesting. The only real interest I have any more about Christianity is what happened in that first couple of decades. Sounds like this book would cover that period, and I like Ehrman, so maybe a good choice.
>233 auntmarge64: I liked Erhman too. However he doesn’t spend much time on the first century, much less the first decades in this book. He does talk about Paul for some pages and Acts, which he doesn’t see much truth in. But mostly he skips the earliest years and focuses on the 4th century.
>234 dchaikin: That's too bad. It might be another book of his I was thinking about. That whole development is so intriguing.
>235 auntmarge64: He has a lot of books and your post sent me a little chase. A lot of his audiobooks are part of the Great Course series, and some of those look very interesting. But looking only at his books, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior caught my attention. It's a 2016 book that seems to have quietly collected very nice reviews. I might try that on audio.
And, I'll add, if you have come across anything you really like on this, I would love to hear about it (or them).
The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (or Second Corinthians)
written: 55-56 ce ??
format: 16 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Oct 25-31
A good one in terms of Pauline writing, and one with parts I actually enjoyed reading, especially chapters 3-6. No review, but my notes are in posts 4-20 here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6617970
57. Accident: A Day's News by Christa Wolf
translation: from German, 1989, by Heike Schwarzbauer and Rick Takvorian
originally published: 1987
format: 113 page paperback
read: Oct 22 - Nov 1
time reading: 3 hr 30 min, 1.9 min/page
From my Litsy post (Nov 1): Christa Wolf was an East German activist and feminist under surveillance. She writes here about Chernobyl, in the shadow of the fallout, as her brother undergoes brain surgery. And she touches on her culture and being German in 1986, and on science and the mentality of science and its conflicts. It's all very random, stream of consciousness style writing, with indirect points that are often hard to pin down, and a few vivid striking sections.
I didn't mention she had a record of working with Stassi, too, where they found her "reticence" frustrating, and lost interest in her cooperation. Or that she was against reunification (according wikipedia). Or that she was already a grandmother in her late 50's when she wrote this, so, we might say, long past her idealism. It's a mature work of frustration with our Promethean games.
(janeajones directed me here, back around 2011)
>240 dchaikin: with indirect points that are often hard to pin down, and a few vivid striking sections
Yes, that sounds like Christa Wolf all right! Worth reading, but quite likely to give you a headache... I haven’t got around to that one yet, but there are a few others I’ve read from the same period that all seem to be dealing with more or less those topics in different proportions, so I keep putting it off.
You've had lots of good reading! I particularly appreciated your excellent review of Chasing Hillary. I'm still trying to work out how or why she lost to DT. Your review made some sense of it.
58. On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis
reader: Mike Chamberlain
format: 11:02 Libby audiobook (~306 pages equivalent, 368 pages on hardcover)
listened: Oct 22 - Nov 2
from Litsy ~Nov 5: What's cool is all the historical analysis from Ancient Greece to Rome to St. Augustine and Machiavelli as applied by Queen Elizabeth vs Philip II of Spain, to Lincoln vs Napoleon (with Tolstoy's War and Peace), to Woodrow Wilson vs FDR. But his points are troublesome in that they amount to: everyone who was successful managed to balance strategy with reality and uncertainty and everyone who wasn't didn't. Is that really insightful?
I think I pushed my Litsy 451 characters to the limit of coherence and maybe beyond. This was an odd book for me. I'm not particularly interested in grand strategy or any other type, but I was wondering how it applied to what is going on now. And, mostly, it only does in how you use it (even if he mentions that it is partially a response to Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century). I kind of liked this and kept listening because of all the interesting historical topics and characters he brought up and the odd way he analyzed them and compared them to each other. But I'm not sure I really got much out of it. This is all hindsight analysis, identifying successes and failures and trying to come up with one general idea that defines them all. When you analyze history in hindsight by grouping the winners into one category and losers into another, in this case on the basis of his grand strategy ideas, it's not only very easy to manipulate your argument, but very hard not to. Gaddis not only picks the winners and losers, but he even defines how they won and lost in his own way, and not always in ways they might have understood. Basically he can say whatever he wants to, and it may or may not be meaningless.
59. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
format: 449 page hardcover
acquired: my daughter's book
read: Oct 24 - Nov 6
time reading: 9 hr 5 min, 1.2 min/page
I was eyeing this on my daughter's shelf and finally picked it up after seeing the movie previews. It's, I think, an important book and I was happy to read it. It's also very YA in that the narrator, a high school girl, does all that high school rambling, where the way she says stuff implies most of what she actually wants to say. That's to say, it's wordy. But, feeling responsible, I kept reading, and then got really into it, and then, as election day rolled around and I feared the worst, this book and its ending began to have more meaning. You have to remember election night was dark and disappointing, and in a lot of ways this book ultimately is too, and in a parallel way. It's an uncomfortable ending, but it also allows the reader a structured context to process some of what is going on around us. (Fortunately the election results turned out better than what they initially seemed.)
This is the police shooting book, but, by following Star Carter, a maybe middle class black girl who attends a well-to-do mostly white private school, it evolves into a more nuanced look at race and cultural clashes. Recommended.
60. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World (Audio) by Andrea Wulf
reader: David Drummond
format: 14:03 audible audiobook
acquired: September (~390 pages equivalent, 496 pages in hardcover)
listened: Oct 5-8, 12-20, Nov 2-9
It was interesting this evening, as I was driving home and listening to Michael Pollan read his latest book, to hear him refer to this book as if it were a major inspiration for him. Humboldt's view of nature as one entire interconnected thing. It is a beautiful concept, one he made at length and, as Wulf shows, elegantly and poetically. Darwin, who eventually met Humboldt, found Humboldt's writing inspirational for his scientific view of nature. Henry Thoreau devoured his writing, and found inspiration of his poetic view of the nature around his small pond. And John Muir, so enraptured he set off for Cuba and South America until he learned the tropical climates made him ill, found in Humboldt an inspiration for the environmental movement. And, I should mention, Simon Bolivar not only found in Humboldt a South American natural identity he raved about, but also used Humboldt's maps in his military campaigns.
Wulf follows all these threads and more, in great detail. She rushes headlong through narratives, making them something of a roller coaster ride, and she spends time at the end wondering why the contemporary English speaking world has practically forgotten who Humboldt was or why anyone cares. What did he accomplish anyway, other than create some of the first detailed maps in a few hard to reach parts of South America? He was, it seems, primarily and powerfully, an inspiration.
OK, he also invented the idea of nature. Well, maybe. I mean, Wulf makes the claim, over and over again, but it's a claim that reveals a major weakness in the book that bothered me a lot. She presents, ultimately, a very narrow in focus. So, yes, no question, Humboldt has a thought-provoking unified view on nature. But, was he the first? What was the intellectual world around him thinking, and what were the foundations? Is it possible nature as a unified thing was brought up before? Ever? by anyone? Wulf doesn't do context well, or didn't here. Really, mainly what she does is report stories in lengthy but also abbreviated forms.
I liked her book and I really liked learning about Humbolt. It's not a perfect work, but it's not like the early 19th century intellectual world is an easy one to capture. So, flawed but still recommended, and who knows, you might be blown away like Michael Pollan.
61. Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior by Bart D. Ehrman
reader: Joe Barrett
format: 10:04 Audible audiobook (~279 pages equivalent, 336 pages in hardcover)
listened: Nov 9-14
Erhman tries to bring in the sciences of memory, cultural memory and evolution of oral story telling into an understanding of the Christian gospels, written down several decades after the death of Christ. It makes for an interesting book, an author having fun mixing several different fields, but writing with his casual formal tone.
The first half of this book is basically a popular science book on memory, cultural memory and another take on Milman Parry's work on oral story telling. It's a little disheartening to learn just how our memory works, our brain scattering memory into different places, and then processing these bits and pieces together, filling it whatever is necessary. Not only is our memory pretty awful, and easily manipulated, but even those really vivid memories, the especially real ones we are most emotionally attached to (for better or for worse) are mostly mental constructs and mostly wrong. In one fascinating study, university students in the Netherlands were asked if they recall the film of a traumatic plane crash into a building as it tried to land. Roughly 50% remembered the footage, which didn't exist. It was never captured on any visual medium. At the end of this section, one is left to wonder whether anything they remember is true, much less anything written 2000 years ago, and 40 or 50 years after the events they describe.
Eventually Ehrman gets to actually looking at the gospels, analyzing several along with various non-canonical writings, most interesting being the Gospel of Thomas, found only in 1945. The Gospel of Thomas is not really a gospel, but a list of sayings, just like what had long been theorized was the source the other gospels. Of course he goes into the differences, and he brings in the Pauline letters, which are much older, but actually have very little to say about Jesus's life, other than he was the messiah, he died and came back. If you like, that is essentially the base story. Well, it's even more basic than that, since, historically, we can't accept anything supernatural. So, the gist (or gist memory) is that Jesus came into Jerusalem, and caused enough trouble that he was later executed by crucifixion. The rest is a build off that gist memory - all the parables, and exorcisms, and sermons (even, sadly, the Sermon on the Mount) are ways that later groups of Christians found to remember Christ and his message. Not that that needs to surprise anyone. (And Ehrman argues, at some length, it shouldn't bother any Christians either. What is meaningful to us doesn't need to be historically verifiable or historically true. There are other planes of meaning.)
As I'm reading the New Testament, one thing that stood out to me was Ehrman's take on why there are four anonymous gospels. He has an unprovable idea, but one I found made a lot of sense. To some extent you can trace in Rome when the gospels were given a name. There is a point where they are referenced, without any names, and there is a point where they are referenced by name. Roughly, in Ehrman's view, different groups would collect the writing of the gospel and put them together. There was no author, exactly, just a communal collection of writings. (They must have been shaped, though). The communities in Rome would have had these various versions circulating around. The Romans are both the cultural center of the empire and really far away from the origin of these stories. So, some group collected four of these gospels, gave them the most logical names they could come with as authors, basically formalized them as the official gospels. It's a curious thing to me, because they must have made the decision that they didn't know exactly what had happened, so instead of selecting one version, they chose four somewhat consistent, but also somewhat contradictory variations.
Overall this book makes good use of a curious mixture of fields and perspectives. Recommended to those interested.
The Letter of Paul to the Galatians
written: ~56-57 ce ?? (uncertain and controversial)
format: 10 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Nov 9-16
time reading: 1 hr 52 min, 11.25 min/page
No review, just notes, posts 21-32 here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6635305
>248 dchaikin: Ooh, sexy! This book is on my wishlist. I’m a bit worried by your comments now.
There’s plenty in Wulf’s book to keep you thinking. I wouldn’t hesitate, if you’re thinking of reading it.
62. Pauline Epistles
written authentic letters written 52-62 ce, pseudographical letters generally before ~120 ce
format: 126 pages in paperback version of The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books With Concordance
read: Sep 29 - Dec 5
time reading: 19 hr 50 min, 9.5 min/page
A summary table with: my rating, the letter, whether it's authentically by Paul, a possible date, the number of pages in my study bible, the dates I read it and a whole bunch of html space characters to try to line things up.
*** Romans Authentic ~56 ce 23 pages, read Sep 29-30
**½ 1 Corinthians Authentic ~54 ce 24 pages, read Oct 17-20
*** 2 Corinthians Authentic ~55 ce 16 pages, read Oct 25-31
** Galatians Authentc ~56 ce 10 pages, read Nov 9-16
** Ephesians pseudograpical date unknown 9 pages, read Nov 24
*** Philippians Authentic ~62 ce 7 pages, read Nov 25-26
** Colossians pseudograpical date unknown 7 pages, read Nov 28-29
** 1 Thesselonians Authentic ~52 ce 6 pages, read Dec 2-3
** 2 Thesselonians pseudograpical date unknown 4 pages, read Dec 3
* 1 Timothy pseudograpical date unknown 8 pages, read Dec 4
*** 2 Timothy uncertain ~62 ce or unknown 5 pages, read Dec 4
* Titus pseudograpical date unknown 4 pages, read Dec 5
*** Philemon Authentic ~57 ce 3 pages, read Dec 5
One possible order:
1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philemon, (2 Timothy), Philippians
I post on these four epistles posted on above (links go to those posts): Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians
I decided to lump all the Pauline letters into one "book", causing some havoc in all my various reading lists, and numbering, which is now partially fixed...mostly fixed. The Pauline letters are the oldest texts in the New Testament, the closest Christian documents that we can get to the life of the founder. As such, they have a huge value both historical and religious, as they set the framework for all the later thinking and writings, including all the canonical gospels. Unfortunately and oddly they don't say much about Jesus himself, his life or his thinking. In Paul you get a basic framework that says the Messiah has come and given the world a restart, come put your faith in this, be reborn through your baptism and join in - except that his letters are written to Christians - so they say it more like, we, who were given a fresh start and cleansed of our sins through Jesus when we were baptized...and so on. So what was he doing and why are these writings, writing that are essentially practical works for at-the-time diplomacy, preserved, or kept holy?
You may have heard of the idea of Pauline Christianity, a phrase with broad and multiple meanings, among them the idea that Paul redefined Christianity in his own way, somehow taking it away from this "meek will inherit the earth" peaceful Messiah who saved souls. And maybe he did, but since the Sermon on the Mount came after Paul, we can't really say. It also refers to a type of Christianity. Paul is about forgetting the traditional laws, and focusing on your salvation. But he's not against all rules, he demands a maintenance of conservative cultural norms (which at the time probably weren't considered conservative). So, he is passionately against crimes like fornication, but he also wants to preserve the social order with slavery and submissive wives. His imitators who wrote in his name would demand woman be subservient in pretty disturbing ways and some of that is preserved in the pseudographical Pauline letters. Anyway, social conservatives, especially American style, like Paul and are much more comfortable with him than with those pushing social justice with the gospels in mind.
Maybe, essentially, Paul represents the true foundation of Christianity. The initial Jewish Christian sect probably didn't have a great future because Judaism has largely been a blood religion, pushing bloodlines over conversions. So, Paul, born Jewish, turned his back on Jews, but not really, and focused entirely on the world of gentiles. His Christianity is free of all Jewish tradition, even if he says the traditions aren't harmful, because the need for these was wiped away by the crucifixion. And, actually, Paul viewed anyone pushing these laws as a competitor corrupting the message—even though the laws aren't harmful, they maybe are, or something. Anyway, this followers don't need to worry about them, they can follow Paul's Christianity without having to adopt any strange-to-them customs. Or maybe he rode a movement that was already spreading and put himself in a prominent position. But it's fascinating to imagine him carrying the torch of this eastern cult and spreading its message everywhere he went, bravely, suffering various horrible punishments, and managing to completely capture a group here and there, groups that would have to turn their back on all other religious traditions. It's probably the way most Christians imagine him, and it's a image worth thinking about, maybe even focusing on.
What's odd about reading Paul's letters is that you can't pin him down exactly on much of anything. He's vague and inconsistent and frustrating to follow and try to come to any conclusion. It's not a wandering frivolous inconsistency, but carefully crafted hovering on both sides of the fence. The last and shortest epistle, the one to Philemon, expresses this most clearly, as Paul carefully conceals what exactly he is asking for so well that today we don't really know. He was, to put it another way, a master diplomat and always that. Never one to be cornered.
But Paul isn't fun to read. Having spent all this time with Paul and his imitators, I'm left feeling that he almost turned me off of reading this NT altogether. Why suffer through all these twisted logics that are ultimately, for one reading this for something other than religion, uninspiring? I, of course, am not concerned with the obscure details of Christian faith, as long as Christians are happy with their religion and not too abusive about it. So, these details—goodness, do people spend their lives twisting out the mystical meaning in this? Ultimately, the gospels are way more fun.
You can find my notes on the last nine Pauline epistles on my NT thread. Here are the links:
Ephesians https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6637704 (post 33)
Philippians https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6639287 (post 41)
Colossians https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6642913 (post 46)
1 Thessalonians https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6646346 (post 52)
2 Thessalonians https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6646972 (post 57)
1 Timothy https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6647118 (post 59)
2 Timothy https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6647276 (post 61)
Titus https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6647573 (post 64)
Philemon https://www.librarything.com/topic/298222#6649497 (post 65)
>254 dchaikin: I am always so impressed with the detail in your notes, Dan.
63. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (audio) by Michael Pollan
reader: the author
format: 13:36 Audible audiobook (~377 pages equivalent, 480 pages in hardcover)
listened: Nov 15 - Dec 6
Now that I'm using audible.com I feel some responsibility to pick good books with good narration and I spent a lot of time struggling to come with a one this time and nothing seemed quite right enough, then I listened to this oddball title and Pollan won me over with his passion in the sample - he reads this himself. And, he also completely won me over with this book.
There was a time when psychedelics were a serious medicine under serious study, especially for alcoholics. Then Timothy Leary came in, decided everybody needed to experience these drugs, acted as if he had discovered the whole field and promoted them in such an attention-grabbing way to where everyone knows something about LSD...and also to the point that the drug become illegal, and study of it dropped to zero in the US, full stop. Of course, Leary got his message across and these drugs saw wide illegal usage especially in the 1960's...and also especially in silicon valley where, as a software developer put it, LSD helps you see patterns.
LSD is a powerful drug, but, in a surprise at least to me, it turns out it creates no health issues. The only danger with LSD is what someone might do while they are using it (like Charles Mason's group, maybe). But it doesn't have any impact on anything in our body except for it's temporary impact on the brain. And it's non-addictive, maybe anti-addictive. But it does have surprising benefits when used the right way. To frame this kind of the way Pollan does, research in NYU on terminally ill patients found spectacular results with patients using a psychedelic. Many said they had mystical experiences, and many lost their fear of the coming deaths and made peace with it. In some examples, people had the best parts of their lives, terminally ill, after their experience with psychedelics. It didn't work for everyone, of course.
So, what's going on? This is where the book gets especially fascinating. Recent study of brain activity has determined what is our default node network - that is, your brain activity when you're not doing anything. You're just day dreaming and filling in time. This activity is actually a big deal, it's your basic thought process, your default mindset. And you can't really change it very easily. Pollan uses a ski slope as an example. Imagine your brain as slope with a fresh cover of snow. Someone skis down and leaves tracks. As more people ski down, some tracks harden, and soon everyone has to ski down the same track, you can't get out of it. That's your brain, and track is the default node netwark - all your thoughts funnel down the well worn path.
This is actually an issue with everyone. Our brain tries to make things easier on us, and it forms these networks so we can focus on other things, but we lose some touch with reality, if you like. Instead of seeing things as they actually are, our brains make all sort of assumptions and we accept these as real without really knowing. We lose that childhood sense of exploring everything because everything is new. This breaks down when, say, we travel to a new country and all these assumptions start to fail. But, it becomes a serious problem for certain states of mind. Our brain has a structuring and the more structured we are, the most separated we from reality and more prone we are to various obsessive problems, like addiction of course, and OCD, but also depression and anxiety and other things. Essentially the brain becomes too rigid.
So, the big thing with psychedelics is that they shut down our default node network, our background brain, or ego. In the ski slope analogy, they provide, for short period, a fresh coat of new snow. Our brains are freed up to re-investigate the world around us with new eyes, like a child. And, the connections in our brain are free to follow new paths, and new connections, leading to some strange stuff, but also, apparently, to a completely new view of consciousness, or maybe even other consciousnesses. (technically you don't need the drugs, you can mimic this affect with meditation, for example). And, with the drugs, you don't lose the experience, but you remember everything. And anything you learn stays with you.
I know I'm getting wordy and maybe it's better to just read the book then read my review with all its oversimplifications, but this stuff has got me thinking so much. So, I'll add here that Pollan points out the experience doesn't work for everyone, that it's very dependent on the mindset and setting you are in when you take the drug, and whose around to guide you and help you if you get into trouble. And the affect wears off. And while the terminally ill tended to have inspirational life changing experiences, and nicotine and alcohol addicts had good rates of positive results (much better than, say, with AA), there were also those oddball experiences. There was the smoker who had such a powerful important insight, she made the guide with her write it down. When she came out of the high and checked on the message, it was...eat fruits and vegetable and exercise (but she kicked smoking)
Anyway, I recommend this one with all the enthusiasm expressed above.
>255 NanaCC: you're so nice, Colleen. Thank you. I have some insecurity about posting them, so encouragement is helpful.
>256 dchaikin: I was just thinking about that book—visiting with an old friend in San Diego this week, who's a therapist and is interested in all sorts of alternative treatment options, and we were talking about the microdose phenomenon. I always thought that it worked like kind of a small reboot for the brain, but Pollan's metaphor is a bit smoother. I'll probably read that at some point, since I find the whole thing very interesting.
I enjoyed reading your review of How to change your mind, loved the analogy of the ski-slope. I think my brain is desperately in need of some fresh snow.
>256 dchaikin: I hadn’t heard of this, but just after reading your review I saw a mention of it in a Guardian piece dismissing a new “book digest” app. Sian Cain says: “It is a charming detail that Pollan, during a loo break mid-psilocybin trip, admired his pee stream for looking like diamonds – but you would rather read his writing than have it described. Trust me.”
>257 dchaikin: my brain is desperately in need of some fresh snow ... !
>260 thorold: Blinkist sounds entertaining, and interesting that Pollan’s pee stream made their version, but Pollan does write well and that’s part of what makes the book work. The structure is only ok, maybe odd, but he does a really good job of expressing surrounding complexities and giving the reader a broader and richer sense around his specific topic.
>256 dchaikin: Great review of what sounds like an interesting topic! Wish I had endless time for endless books....
btw, I ordered that book about oral history & geology. I think it's due January. Will report back if I get around to reading it over the winter.
64. The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
editor: Frank Kermode
published: 1623. Originally performed ~1610-11. Kermode's edits are from 1963 and 1988, Barnet's latest edits are from 1998
format: 299 page Signet Classic paperback (The play is 116 pages)
read: Nov 21 - Dec 11
time reading: 13 hr 16 min, 2.8 min/page
Sylvan Barnet: general editor and contributor of a 54 page Shakespeare overview
Excerpts from Robert Greene's Pandosto
Essays/miscellany from Simon Forman, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, E. M. W. Tillyard, G. Wilson Knight, Carol Thomas Neely, and Coppélia Kahn
Of course you need a bear on stage, how else does one blend jealousy taken to dark and lethal extremes into a charming romantic comedy. This is the second play I've read with a Shakespeare read-along group on Litsy. Shakespeare based it off Pandosto, a book on jealousy by an older contemporary, Robert Greene, but he added in the character Autolycus, a sort of predecessor to the Dicken's Artful Dodger, pastoral version, who kind of steals the text. (Autolycus had a source too, although I forgot where Shakespeare pulled him from). Shakespeare doesn't go light on the tragedy, he stretches it out to three kind of intense acts, so that once act four comes and your supposed to laugh, a modern audience might find the turn a bit confusing. But, apparently Shakespeare was having fun all along, while exploring time and nature with a touch of philosophic depth. A fun play.
for a summary:
65. James Baldwin : Groundbreaking Author And Civil Rights Activist (Remarkable LGBTQ Lives) by Susan Henneberg
format: 100 page YA hardcover
read: Dec 15
time reading: 1 hr 36 min, 1 min/page
Working on my 2019 plan, which involves James Baldwin - novels and essays. So, I requested several books from the library on his life, and actually hadn't realized this was YA until I saw the physical book. Anyway, I started paging through and found myself a bit fascinated, so just decided to read the whole thing. It gives a nice quick summary of his life, with a focus his being gay, something I wasn't even aware of, and which has been generally played down.
My 2019 plan looks something like this at the moment:
- Finish the 2018 plan (one and a half books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, several Catholic Epistles and Revelations)
- Read through James Baldwin: (1) read about him, then (2) read his books in order through the 1960's when his most important works were published, and (3) then maybe read more.
- Read through a kind of Rome to Renaissance theme: Apuleius, Plutarch, Old English literature with Beowulf, Dante, and, maybe, Petrarch.
>265 dchaikin: The Baldwin biography by David Leeming is good, but you’ve probably already got it on your radar. (I have to admit that I originally came to Baldwin as the author of Giovanni’s room and didn’t realise at first that he was also an important African-American writer...)
Sounds like a good plan, anyway - hope it works out for you, and looking forward to seeing the results! Beowulf is definitely on my radar for 2019 as well (although I was a little frightened to read yesterday that, amongst other problems, it contains some 500 words found nowhere else...). And I’ve been vaguely thinking of having a go at Petrarch since spending a holiday in his neck of the woods and visiting his tomb in October.
Will be interested in your Baldwin reading. I've only got as far as Giovanni's Room, but I enjoyed it.
>268 dchaikin: (Brief pause while I try to work out where it’s wandered to on the shelves...)
I think it’s the one you have to read: Leeming knew Baldwin well from the early 1960s on, and was the designated biographer with access to all the papers. He does write like an American professor, but from what I recall (it must be 25 years ago that I read it) it was a very absorbing read. The connections he makes are relevant ones, on the whole, and he doesn’t get bogged down in trivia like some biographies. I ended up thinking of Baldwin as someone I really wished I’d had the chance to get to know.
But I haven’t read anything else substantial about Baldwin since - others may want to chip in and say that there’s a more recent book that offers a quite different insight.
I'm about ready to close my thread for 2018, but before I do, a few summary bits on the year.
One theme was the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books and the New Testament. I almost finished. Overall, the Apocrypha were pretty good fun, the NT was a mix where the gospels and Acts were interesting but a little contrived (they were put together decades after what they describe and basically try to compile the various existing stories), and the letters were just painful. I did appreciate Matthew in a few different ways. A good experience overall. For the Apocrypha, I mainly think about 2 Esdras.
The other theme was Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, and I read nearly all his books. A much slower and more methodical writer than I had anticipated, I enjoyed most his works written before One Hundred Years of Solitude - that is his early novellas and his earliest mature short stories. They are flawed, but also quite wonderful in their sincerity and overview of life in Caribbean Colombia. I'll add Chronicle of a Death Foretold to that list, which was maybe mostly written earlier. After OHYoS, Marquez changes as a writer. The flaws are gone, the master story teller wrote a lot of really great stuff, but there is caution and precision in everything he wrote once he became famous, there is a self-awareness. The books are fun, but they don't have the same energy as his early works. OHYoS itself remains a bit of a mystery to me, a fast-paced wild tale of history where the wild stuff has a lot of truth.
These themes do weird things to my numbers.
- the numbers of books are decent - 68, but my page count was way down - under 10,00 pages for the first time since 2004
- since I called the biblical books "paperback", I read more books in paperback than ever before (39), and the fewest in hardcover (4) in almost 20 years. I read one ebook, the fewest since I started reading them.
- I read 31 books in translation, my second most ever.
- Only 2 books of poetry, my lowest total in 9 years. And no anthologies, for the first time in ten years and no nature books for the first time in 15 years
- I read 12 classics, my second most ever (I did not count most of the Marquez books as classics. Only OHYoS and, I think one other)
- And I read 15 ancient books, also my second most ever.
- I read 21 books by American authors, the least in 9 years, and 35 by authors from non-English speaking countries (but some were written in English). That's my second most ever.
- the male/female break down was 34/21 (with the rest unknown), about average for me recently
- I listened to 24 audiobooks over 235 minutes, which is about average for me.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.