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globulon

globulon

Currently reading

The Last Picture Show (Mass Market)
Larry McMurtry
Dracula
Bram Stoker, Ruben Toledo
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
Ray Monk
The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James, Patricia Crick
Maigret et le marchand de vin
Georges Simenon
Le Rouge et le Noir
Stendhal
Daisy Miller - Henry James I wrote a nice little review of this and of course lost it. Maybe later.
The Swiss Family Robinson - Johann David Wyss, Jon Scieszka, W.H.G. Kingston Pretty much all the criticisms of this book that I have seen in other people's reviews are true. It doesn't have a plot. The people are pretty much perfect, they never have any doubts or fears or anger or unpleasantness. Pretty much every single animal they meet they kill, and several times near the beginning of the book they end up taking away babies because they shot the mother. There is very little reason for a lot of the killing other than just to kill one of that animal as some kind of accomplishment. They basically are provided with every possible thing they could need, both from the shipwreck itself and from the land they now inhabit. The father in particular but also the boy Ernest have a ridiculous knowledge of the plants and animals and how to use them. Everything they try to build or make meets with success.

Still, somehow even with all these defects the book wasn't worthless. Somehow it was still fun to hear their adventures and activities even if we thoroughly wished they could have been more peaceable.

Romans et Contes

Romans et Contes - Voltaire read Zadig
The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction - Wayne C. Booth Picked this up after reading the introduction to Nussbaum's "Love's Knowledge". I really liked what she had to say there about the relationship between philosophy and literature. She spoke quite highly of this there. So when I saw it I decided to pick it up.
Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature - Martha C. Nussbaum I have just read the introduction to this but I liked that very much. I wrote an essay in college discussing a paper by another philosopher on the importance of literature to philosophy and have continued to think about the topic since then. Reading her substantial overview of her position that is the intro I found a lot of points of agreement and feeling that she had stated there things I had thought about better than I could have. I also found her to articulate further directions for thought as well. I very much look forward to reading the papers she collects here, but would like to wait till I've had a chance to read some of the key novels she discusses.
Chasing Vermeer - Blue Balliett This was a decent book. My kids liked it. The story was entertaining and I appreciated the attempt to introduce some more interesting ideas into a kids book than "Be yourself!".

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien I felt mixed about this. There were pieces I like a lot and pieces I didn't like at all. I also wonder if part of the reason this book gets rated so highly is because of it's subject matter.

I liked the "Sweetheart..." story because it seemed like the kind of story that might get told there by soldiers sitting around. I think this was one side of the book that was interesting. There are different types of stories, that work in different ways but that still function to give a reader like me, who wasn't there, a feel for the experience.

I liked "On the Rainy River". I felt I could connect with what he was going through and the idea of running away to some random roadside hotel to work through it.

I liked some of the images of the soldiers talking, the sketches of their personalities. I thought that stuff rang true.

On the other hand, I felt some of it was preachy, for instance "How to tell a true war story". I also felt that the book was hypocritical in that some of the pieces did seem to be emotionally manipulative rather than "true". For instance, "the man I killed". I really felt uncomfortable about his imagined story for the dead man. The whole notion of telling that kind of story and the sort of pity he seems to take on the dead guy was stomach turning. It's a cliche and it's wasn't well done. I think some times he does want to come out with some kind of moral in his stories.

On the whole I didn't think he was that great a writer. I didn't like the way he put in notes like "Start here:" for instance. I can understand he was trying to mess with notions of art and the story but it didn't feel interesting, it just made it seem messy. There's a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" in this book. I feel like there are a lot of short cuts in places. Places where the fact that he's just not a very good writer shows through in an inability to use language to create an effect or to carry an idea. He just kind of hacks at the problems sometimes.

I also think there are just some cliches that really permeate this book. The whole notion that danger can be exhilirating and make you feel more alive. I don't object to this being part of what you are doing, but he states it like it's something that so uniquely true of his experience that it justifies him just bald face saying it repeatedly. That stuff doesn't help me appreciate the experience any more.

As far as the unpleasant or uncomfortable stuff in there. That stuff I can appreciate. That did make me feel more like I was there. It made me feel uncomfortable. I think that was the intended effect. I liked that he presented this stuff with a feeling of understanding for the people who did those things, without trying to justify them. The purpose of these parts did seem "true" to me. That's just what it was like. He isn't engaged in trying to make those things seem more humane, but he's also not presenting them in the spirit of holding them up for us to feel outraged by. I think these are some of the places he can express more subtle effects. He communicates both the humanness of the soldiers doing these things, as well as horror of the actual actions.

Chess for Zebras: Making the Most of White and Black

Chess for Zebras: Thinking Differently about Black and White - Jonathan Rowson Full disclosure: I'm quite a weak player at the time of reading this. I don't expect reading this book will make much difference to my strength either. Rowson mentions in an endnote that he basically agrees with the dictum that at my level studying tactics is about all that matters for improvement. Like another reviewer much of the annotations for the games was over my head.

On the other hand it was an entertaining read. It's not meant to be any kind of doctrine. The style was engaging. It really feels like hanging out with an interesting, educated, thoughtful grandmaster and just listening to him talk about how he thinks about the game. He comes across as enthusiastic and modest in pleasant way.

I can see though that it might take a certain kind of person to enjoy this book. I think you have to be able to enjoy some spitballing that doesn't really translate to direct variations or concrete how to's. I think that's why as a weak player it might be easy for me to enjoy it because I don't have deeply held mental attitudes about chess, so it's fun for me to just kind of listening to him rap about stuff. I certainly don't think though that he's expecting anyone to read this and come away going "Yes, Rowson has it all figured out.". It's just not that kind of book. I think rather they are interesting ideas that hopefully can enrich how I think about the game as I (hopefully) grow and get stronger.

The Frankenstein-Dracula Variation in the Vienna Game of Chess

The Frankenstein-Dracula Variation in the Vienna Game of Chess - Eric Schiller I bought the amazon e-book. It was only a couple of bucks but it's horrible as an e-book. The formatting is total garbage. I'm not being a formatting snob, when I say it's garbage I really mean that the book is unreadable.
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien Just finished reading this to my 9 year old boys tonight and it was great. I was worried going into it that this might be a bit much for them but they handled it well. One of them did better than the other with details and remembering characters from before but they both enjoyed it. I have also seen some of the features of this world building in their own creations.

I myself must make an admission though, I thought I had read the whole series as a boy. I clearly remember much of the first two volumes (and the Hobbit). I almost remember where I was and when I finished the Two Towers the last scene was so vivid to me. However, I don't remember anything really from the Return of the King. It seems I never actually read the third book. I saw the movies when they came out and I think I kind of suspected that I hadn't read it, but it wasn't till reading it to them that it became clear that somehow I had convinced myself that I had read it but hadn't actually.

It's a great series. I think in many ways this defines "epic" for me more than Homer or Vergil. Even not having finished the whole thing it definitely made a big impression on me as a boy.

Paul Bryant has an interesting quote from China Mieville in his review. I think there's some truth to Mieville's criticisms. In some ways there are some sort of ludicrous aspects to the series. Still, I think that's part of adult enjoyment. There's very little that we can be so enthusiastic about as when we are young. When you are young you really unreservedly immerse yourself in things. As adults there's always parts of us that feel dissatisfied. Whether it's the artistry or the level of maturity, or the ideals that animate the narrative. I think for me at least I can kind of hold them together. This is true for a lot of things I encounter. Often I have felt that I was excessively picky and that maybe that pickiness was just a way of distancing myself from things. In thinking about the Lord of the Rings, I guess it seems to me that I'm just never going to go back to being a child and unreservedly taking something on. There's always going to be a critical voice in my mind now. I think though that I can kind of have them both. I don't have to think that the Lord of the Rings is a perfect series while I still say that it was a five star read.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - Jared Diamond I found the argument very convincing and very interesting. It definitely changed how I thought about history particularly early history.

I will say that I am still somewhat skeptical of it as a unified theory of all of human history, but it clearly is an important contribution to the discussion about large scale history.

I wouldn't have picked myself as someone who prior to reading this would be very welcoming to geographical determinism and while I certainly am no convert, I have been persuaded that we can concretely talk about geography as a huge factor in the evolution of societies.

The Castle of Otranto (World's Classics)

The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story - Horace Walpole Not sure what to say about it. It is an interesting book in that it is very different from most of what I read and it was reasonably entertaining. I know it has some literary historical significance which was one of the reasons I read it. So on the whole it was worth my while I felt. On the other hand it is not something that effected me much.
Selected Stories - Alice Munro Read her story "Walker Brothers Cowboy" in [b:Literature and Its Writers: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama|4331019|Literature and Its Writers An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama|Ann Charters|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1266664634s/4331019.jpg|228408] and really liked it. Then I saw a great review by spenkevich that pushed me to get a copy. So far I have enjoyed the stories I read here as well.
Narcissus and Goldmund - Hermann Hesse, Ursule Molinaro I read Siddhartha when I was a teenager and it was pretty formative for me. I also read Demian but don't remember as much about it. I tried reading Steppenwolf several times but it wasn't till I was older that I finished it. I guess I kind of felt I was over Hesse by now, but my wife recommended this one strongly. I'm glad she did. Hesse can be a bit heavy handed with his theories and in some ways the story is very directly an allegory for spiritual paths. Still, it's enjoyably done and thought provoking throughout. I've been thinking about art and spirituality myself lately so this kind of hit the spot.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon I was excited by this at first. It reminded me of China Mieville's "The City and the City" and I thought the alternate history stuff had definite potential. At first the writing seemed exciting as well. Lot's of unexpected comparisons to liven things up. I also was interested in the chess angle. As the book got past about the halfway point though I started to feel dissatisfied. I felt that the idea of plot with the unblemished cow and the location outside of the district wasn't that exciting and felt kind of cartoony. I also was getting kind of tired of the characters. They also kind of felt unreal. Particularly with Landsman I just kind of started feeling that both his degeneracy and his turnaround were ridiculous. Lastly, I felt disappointed with the chess angle. It was always kind of hanging around the story, but there wasn't really that much to it, and the ending with the puzzle seemed anti-climactic both in terms of the explanation of the solution and how it tied into the plot. I do wonder if my experience didn't suffer some from reading this right after a Faulkner novel that I thought a lot of. This is definitely much lighter material and perhaps I judged it unfairly. Still, as I mentioned, at first I thought it would be better than it was.
Absalom, Absalom! - William Faulkner I tried reading this a few years ago and didn't get very far. I found the style difficult to follow and I just couldn't "get into it". Recently I read "The Bear" another shorter piece by Faulkner that I remember my mom talking about with high praise. I had a better experience with that because most of it is more straightforward. I felt that when I got to the difficult section I found I was committed already and so was willing to put the effort in to understand what was going on. I found that when I put that effort in I actually was able to get something out of it and basically follow the flow of ideas, although some of the details got muddled.

I attribute another part of my willingness though to some of my experience here on goodreads. I am a lurker. I like to read other people's conversations but don't often contribute. I found though that with reading "The Bear" some of my experience following Stephen M, and s penkevich and their adventures with some of the more difficult books out there came up. I found that I respected their effort and in some sense wanted to be a part of that. It makes me happy to think of the ways that goodreads has influenced me. It was in large part the success I had with the difficult section of "The Bear" that decided me to give "Absalom, Absalom!" another try.

I liked this book a lot. I found the writing to be very dense but that was something I valued this time instead of rejecting. I have heard the idea many times that some books just have to be written a certain way or that the style was crucial to the what was being told, something along the lines of the inseparability of form and content. This is certainly a case in point. Much of what this book is about is conveyed in the style and the structure rather than in the details of the narrative.

I think many of the things that I have to say on that topic are pretty obvious. He is trying to discuss at least in part something that isn't concrete at all, the atmosphere of southern culture. He is also trying to convey it in much the way that we learn about family and cultural history, that is we hear it in different versions and often with repeated material differently emphasized. I really enjoyed, even reveled in, these aspects of the novel.

What do I have to say about the difficulty of this book? Well, I think the reason that I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 despite the fact that it was a great experience for me as a reader was that the density of the writing did serve as a barrier to some extent for me. I found that I was less emotionally connected with the characters and the events of the narrative due to the style. Because of the energy I had to devote to making sense of the text I had less available to feel something about what was going on. I think this is the primary sense in which the text was difficult for me. Reading it was something that did take some determination.

On the other hand, I think that the difficulty of the book is a bit overstated by some of the other reviewers. I feel that often Faulkner was much more clear than I expected him to be and that particularly when you keep reading, anything that is presented in an oblique manner or is somewhat obscure or mysterious is almost always taken up later and explained quite explicitly. So perhaps you have to be willing to live with that sense of unfolding to some extent, but I feel in the end much of what is being discussed is presented pretty directly though not necessarily on a first pass.