What are you reading these days? #19
Edit: #19, not 18. Sorry I messed up the title again, if someone with the chance could fix it, I'd be grateful.
What are you reading currently? Fiction or non-fiction, any genre, any language! Tell us what you're reading, and talk a bit about it.
Past weeks: Week #1 · Week #2 · Week #3 · Week #4 · Week #5 · Week #6 · Week #7 · Week #8 · Week #9 · Week #10 · Week #11 · Week #12 · Week #13 · Week #14 · Week #15 · Week #16 · Week #17 · Week #18
I am reading Medieval Bodies: Life, Death, and Art in the Middle Ages, about the way in which medieval people conceptualized their own bodies and the processes at work within them. It uses this as a jumping off point to examine how medieval people conceptualized their world as a whole, of which their bodies were only a part. So far, I am really enjoying it. It does a very good job of presenting medieval people as, well, people, as opposed to caricaturized simpletons like many other accounts do. It also traces the development of medicine over this time period, and does a good job of incorporating the Islamic world into its discussion. I feel that often this gets overlooked in accounts of the Middle Ages despite its enormous influence on European affairs.
The book itself is also visually stunning, which is a nice bonus. There are numerous color reproductions of pieces of Medieval art that are used to illustrate a point, or photos of relics and other physical artifacts. The typesetting of this book is simply amazing. I actually initially bought it because the cover blew me away, and I'm very glad that I did.
Once I am done with this, I have to decide what I want to read. I might read book two of the Three Body Problem series, as I recently finished the first book and am interested enough to continue. I'm trying to have one fiction and one non-fiction going at a time. I might instead choose Memorias de mis putas tristes by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for fiction, since I picked up a cheap copy at a used book store. For non-fiction, I might finally try to tackle Godel, Escher, Bach, which I got about halfway through a few years ago but never finished (I got busy). Or I might read A Sand County Almanac, which I also recently bought at a used bookstore. So many options!
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an awesome writer. A Death Foretold is one of my favourite books ever, and I half-read Hundred Years of Solitude some years ago (will re-read soon), and that too was really beautiful.
Medieval Bodies is really interesting, added to my reading-list! It is interesting that the kindle edition is just as pricy as the hardcover, and pricier than the paperback. Maybe that's a common thing which I only now discover, but that's sad, and kinda illogical: shouldn't it be cheaper? Weird world...
One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favorite books of all time, I'm planning on re-reading it sometime soon. Chronicle of a Death Foretold is actually one of the first books I read in Spanish, and while I enjoyed it slightly less than One Hundred Years of Solitude, I still loved it.
I finished Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. (First I weighed it on my kitchen scale, because it's so damned heavy, and found it's 3.3 pounds/1.5 kilograms -- a book to prop up on something, or an argument for an e-reader.) Leonardo was a fascinating, likeable character and I learned a few basics about art that I'd never paid attention to before, but even more interesting were all his innovations that we don't talk much about. He pioneered the style of anatomical and mechanical illustrations that we see today, with cross-sections and exploded views to show how things fit together. He discovered some very useful things (such as the way heart valves work) and wrote them down in the many notebooks we still have, but because he didn't publish this knowledge at the time, people had to re-discover it for themselves centuries later. He was an ideas guy who loved starting things but didn't care about the tedious work of finishing, so a lot of his paintings and other projects were never completed, to the dismay of his patrons.
I've been reading a lot this week.
I finished Wuthering Heights, which was great. People's main criticism seems to be that it's either a) boring (which I don't agree with, it was both funny and captivating), b) the characters were unlikable or c) the language is old-fashioned and hard to read, which I suppose is all about practise. Regarding the unlikable characters, I don't see the problem. Even in positive reviews I've seen people saying that it's redeemed by Heathcliffe's and Catherine's love for each other. Either I am misinterpreting the book entirely, or their love is not the point. I never thought of the story as a romance. It was written in the Romance era, it had a love story, but it was not a romance (in my view).
I'm on a classic-spree. I started and finished The Great Gatsby, also a book with unlikable characters. I love how Fitzgerald manages to tie everything together. It's a bunch of story-lines that all fit together perfectly, and the finale is incredible. Also, I had to take a pause because of the cringe in the "confrontation" scene. I love that kind of stuff.
I read Camera Lucida by Barthes, which is an essay/book about Photography (with a big P). I highly recommend it, he has some really interesting thoughts, and his love for his mother serves as a perfect illustration of the difference between "studium" and "punctum". His thoughts on history are also interesting.
I'm reading John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. As previously noted, I read The Story of Philosophy; after that, I moved on to A.C. Grayling's The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind (staying with a theme). Locke got a significant mention in both books, and a favourable write-up in Grayling's book, so I decided to check him out for myself. I therefore bought an e-book version of the Second Treatise. (I also bought Thomas Hobbes' 'Leviathan', in case I feel like reading that later - as the two works are often mentioned together, with Locke's work being a response to Hobbes' work.)
Grayling had said that this was one of the first attempts to create a modern political philosophy based on secular principles, rather than on religion. Locke has scattered references to God and God's law all through his text. In fact, one of the underlying principles of his philosophy is that governments can not kill their citizens because the citizens can not delegate to their government an authority that they themselves do not have, and they do not have the power to kill themselves... because only God has the authority to kill His creations. Sure, most of Locke's ideas are based in secular principles, but there are large intrusions of religion where I didn't expect them. Part of the problem is that I had expectations based on Grayling's description, but part of it is that I just can't accept a religiously based philosophy. It's like building a castle on a foundation of air: there's nothing holding it up!
Locke's work also suffers from rampant sexism and colonialism and such things, but those are just a matter of him being a man of his times.
One thing that doesn't work is his assumption that there are always going to be new lands for someone to set up their own commonwealth. The whole basis of his political philosophy is that men (did I mention sexism?) will come together in common interest and mutually agree to form a commonwealth with a central government to whom they delegate their authority, so the government can act for the common good of those men. I realised that this voluntary choice doesn't apply to those men's children, who did not voluntarily delegate their authority to this commonwealth government - which niggled at me, until I reached the later section where he addresses this loophole. He says that, upon reaching adulthood, a man can either accept the government he grew up under, or go off to be free or even found another commonwealth. This might have worked in his day, when there were undiscovered lands to be found and empty land to be settled, but it won't work in a full world. When all land is claimed by someone, where are these freedom-seekers to go? There's nowhere for them to go - and, according to Locke's principles, if they continue to use the land they're living on, which is under the authority of the government they grew up under, they are tacitly accepting that government's authority over them. They're trapped. Locke lacked foresight in this, and it's a major flaw. He is very clear that all governments should be formed by groups of men coming together and voluntarily agreeing to delegate their authority to a government which acts for the public good in their name - but he doesn't properly address the fact that not everyone can extract themselves from such a government if they don't agree to be ruled by it.
It's still a worthwhile read.
I've also moved on to the sequel to Heaven (previously mentioned): Dark Angel by Virginia Andrews (before she died and became V.C. Andrews™).
I always regard reading older to ancient philosophy as an excercise in critical reading, as a test bed for testing and forming my own views, and as a source for seeing various methods of philosophical thinking in action. Most advice in these books suck by todays standards, but watching these arguments be built and then refuting them is a good excercise, and even fun.
That's quite interesting of an idea TBH. I wonder how life would be today if we still numbered around 1 billion, and anybody who was bored or annoyed enough could go on to form their own city.
I've dropped Dost, which I mentioned last week. It was totally cliché, standard Turkish neo-realistic stuff, which I find boring. Instead, I picked up a translation of Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke. The translation sucks TBH, but it is interesting and thus I'm keeping at it. I'm only 18 pages in, and I don't really get what this is about. It is a young adult with a troubled childhood and problems with his immediate social circles, family or not. The book is self-referential and seems to be autobiographic to some extent, so I expect to read a (possibly) slightly metaphorical autobiography of an author, or a moment of reckoning with their past life. I don't know, up until this point it is a confused but intriguing stream of conciousness, not in form, but in essence.
I've also picked up Discourse and Identity by Bethan Benwell and Elizabeth Stokoe, as an intro to discourse analysis and identity questions in (socio)linguistics. I'm not sure if it is a good intro, tho, because I may be lacking some knowledge, especially postmodern-philosophical, to really grasp the theories and approaches discussed. But I have my admission exam and interview for my master's next week, so I am going to try to complete reading this before that date, together with Understanding Phonology that I mentioned last week.
i resolved to just go through the doorstop of a biography that is ian kershaw's hitler since i started it at some point but never got around to even finishing the first book. both of these books are doorstops in their own right honestly, and cumulatively i think they clock in at like, 1,500 pages? it's mildly obscene. plenty to chew on if you're interested in that sort of thing, though.
I'm at the beginning of Door Into Summer, by Robert Heinlein. It's about a guy who suffers a romantic disappointment and wishes to be cryogenically frozen along with his alcoholic cat. Up until now, it is more an amusing story about betrayal and the corporate world than a science fiction story. I feel that it would be a good read even without the sci-fi elements. The main character is kind of an old bastard, and his actions and inner world are described in a delightful comedic fashion.
Ahhh, yes. There's always an old bastard hanging around in a Heinlein work. He likes old bastards - whether they're crotchety grandmothers, cynical lawyers, or dirty old men.
That's very noir of him... and I love noir. Good to know.
Personally, I think it's just narcissism: he put a version of himself in all his books.
I'm willing to forgive that.
Same here - mostly because they're usually loveable old bastards. They always have some redeeming characteristics. (Because of course they would if they're representing Heinlein himself!)
I don't know much about Heinlein, but I got quickly fond of his style and atmosphere. Some science fiction writers are more attractive to me because of their ideas, but I feel Heinlein could be a great writer in any genre.
There's a straightforwardness and directness to Heinlein's writing which is appealing. He's not trying to impress you with fancy language or overwhelm you with flowery descriptions or amaze you with imaginative ideas. He has a story to tell, and he just gets on with the job of telling you that story without too much fuss.
Of course, if you read enough Heinlein, you'll see a few tropes appearing over and over again. Everyone's a genius. Anyone who is not a genius is to be pitied and taken care of like a poor lost puppy. Everyone's a libertarian (as was Heinlein). Non-libertarians are stupid people who don't know what's good for them. Red-headed women are sexy. Women are attracted to old men for their intelligence and character. All women are sex-mad (and so are the men). Teenage girls are just women in younger form, and should be sexually available. Sex is good clean fun. Violence is necessary. And so on.
But he's a good storyteller, for all that.
I'm very much in disagreement with all the political and social leanings you describe, but his writing has been very pleasant up until now. My reading habits are rather erratic, so I'll probably not stay with him for long. But I'm very fond of dryness and simplicity, so you hit the nail in the head there.
I tend to disagree with a lot of Heinlein's political and personal opinions (but not all of them), but I enjoy his stories regardless.
Oh wow, time flies, huh? Nearing the end of Seven Blades in Black and I'm loving it. I mean I'm closer to the end than I was two weeks ago.
In my defense, I got a new Picross game and those are very distracting.
Jurassic Park. It's good enough, but i'm finding it a little cheesy...
The Wandering Inn!
I saw it mentioned on the /r/motheroflearning subreddit after I finished reading MoL - another good fic, featuring a Groundhog day-type of situation set in a fantasy world that reminds me a bit of Eberron - and it turned out to be pretty good.
The Wandering Inn is a LitRPG web serial set in a fantasy world, where a bunch of people from our Earth have been summoned. It mostly follows the adventures of Erin, a student and chess player which became an [Innkeeper] after stumbling across a ruined inn, but there are a lot of other characters involved, from the runner/engineer student with anger issues to drakes to talking ants to goblins to [Ladies] to a [Clown]. But, sooner or later, everyone ends up in her inn.
It can be confusing, and it's massive - three point five million words, enough to give even me pause - but it's good. The characters are interesting, things happen, people die, you'll feel sad for them, and Erin has a skeleton [Barmaid].
Edit: I mentioned it elsewhere, but - fanficfare supports FictionPress and thus can be used to download Mother of Learning, and kemayo/leech can be used out of the box to grab an ePub of The Wandering Inn.
I always enjoy these threads but I'm terrible about posting in them! I'm going to try to change that. For anyone curious, I keep a public online reading log here.
Most recently I read Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle, which is about our modern online culture wars and the rise of the alt-right. It's not a pure nonfiction, informational book, instead leaning mostly on commentary and criticism. I suspect it was based off of a graduate thesis or something similar, as it has the fingerprints of academia visible in places. The author has a way with words and manages to succinctly capture a lot of complex concepts. Her commentary deftly cuts through a lot of the baggage of the topics she addresses and tackles her subjects uncompromisingly and head-on.
Through her confidence and insight, she brings a fresh, non-partisan eye to our internet fights and politics. Though she offers criticism for both the right and the left, she individualizes each so that her arguments carry meaningful weight and aren't a lazy "both sides are the same" reduction. While I didn't agree with everything she wrote, she is nonetheless thought-provoking and gave me a lot to consider. I liked the book a whole lot more than I expected to.