Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Piano Mouth
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Taking a stab at this, I'm on book II, so far so good after reading some mixed review on goodreads.

Finished this a couple weeks ago:

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Very good book, intertwining narratives with fascinating details.

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Didn't love this when I read it the first time (a long time ago), but am giving it another go with an on-line book group. I def went through a "Conrad period"--but the tales I loved were mostly a bit earlier than this one.

Also been reading a couple of books by early 20th Century value theorist, W D Lamont and early Public Choice guru, Anthony Downs. Lamont had an interesting career:
William Dawson Lamont was born on Prince Edward’s Island, Canada, in 1901. He was the fourth son of his parents Murdoch Lamont, a Church of Scotland Minister and Euphemia Ann Hume, his cousin.

Lamont attended the University of Glasgow from 1919 and attained an MA in 1925. He studied Logic and History in his first year, followed by English, Moral Philosophy and Geology in his second (1920-21). In his final years he studied Higher Moral Philosophy and Political Economy. He won the Edward Caird medal and was Euing Fellow and Ferguson scholar in 1924 and graduated from Glasgow University in 1925.

Lamont went on to study at Balliol College, Oxford and was awarded his DPhil in 1930. He returned to the University of Glasgow as an assistant in Moral Philosophy in 1926 and was made a full lecturer in 1929. He remained with the Moral Philosophy department until 1939. During this time he married Anne Fraser Christie, the second woman to gain a BSc from Oxford University.

During the Second World War he served with Clyde River Patrol and as a Naval Intelligence Liaison Officer from 1939-42, and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cairo from 1942-1946.

Lamont then accepted a position through the British Council as the Principal of Makerere College, Uganda (1946-49). In 1949 he returned to the Moral Philosophy Department of the University of Glasgow as a senior lecturer, was promoted to reader, retiring in 1968.

Although Lamont remained in Glasgow for the rest of his life, he retained his links with East Africa. When Makerere College became part of the University of East Africa, and gained the power to confer their own degrees, he was the first to be awarded an honorary DPhil.

Lamont died on 9 November 1982 in Glasgow.
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Steve Minkin
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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LINCOLN IN THE BARDO – George Saunders (2017)

Extraordinary! Strikingly original in form, wildly imaginative in setting, emotionally moving, intellectually challenging, historically informative, as well as a great and breezy read (although I know many prospective readers will be put off by the experimental style).

This is the story of Lincoln's (historically true) two trips to the graveyard to visit the body of his 11-year old son Willie, who died while he was in office.

The novel is told in 166 voices. A passage of text is followed by an attribution to one of the novel's voices. Some of the text sections are from historical sources, some from faux-historical sources, many from disembodied spirits living in the cemetery. The passages are rarely longer than a paragraph or two, and there are many stretches of pages in which all the sections are no longer than a line or two, during which the book reads like a play, somewhere between Thornton Wilder and Samuel Beckett. There are some passages in which the eccentric style proves incredibly effective – one of the spirits enters Lincoln and implores the president to overcome his grief by thinking of all the millions who support him, and this is followed by a series a letters, speeches, editorials, and diary entries denouncing Lincoln in the vilest terms.

The cemetery in which Willie Lincoln has been buried is swarming with dozens of spirits who - for various reasons – choose not to enter the afterlife but work to stay near their bodies, here in the Bardo, the plane between life and the afterlife, in which they still see and move through the world they lived in but can no longer interact with it. The stories of why the various spirits have come to stay in the Bardo "fleshes" them out and provides an historical breadth to the times with the variety of characters. The whole cosmology of Saunders' Bardo and its attendant special effects is startlingly imaginative, vivid.

Sometimes a spirit does in fact leave the cemetery for the afterlife, accompanied by "the familiar, yet always bone-chilling, firesound associated with the matterlightblooming phenomenon."

I haven't read Saunders before, a celebrated short story writer, but he's a terrific wordsmith. And this novel – at heart an extended meditation on love and mortality -- is a great accomplishment. Recommended to all, and immediately added to my To-Reread list!

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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This was really great, historical fiction about four generations of Koreans from the end of the 1800's up until 1999 or so. Koreans who ended up migrating to Japan because of the war or one reason or another.

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I liked it but was shocked at the end. The geographical narrative is great though, it takes you to Nigeria, New York City, and Belgium mostly.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Don't think I'll be finishing the Recognitions. I got half way through, and while I thought parts of it were pretty good, I just kind of see it ending in the middle better than thinking that there are four hundred more pages to go.

Bei Dao - City Gate, Open Up

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Kim Gordon - Girl in a Band

Now listening to Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Gregory Pardlo - Air Traffic

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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SPAIN IN OUR HEARTS -- Adam Hoschild, 2016

This is the second book by Hoschild my book group has tackled, the first being the chilling King Leopold's Ghost, Belgium's regrettable history in Africa. This one's about the Spanish Civil War, told primarily through the eyes of a few fascinating, representative, non-famous Americans who found their lives swept up in this war. I'm still reading it, but I'm finding it spellbinding for two major reasons: 1) The book delves deeply into the questions of why the Communist Party was so appealing to young, idealistic Americans in the 20s and 30s -- with the depression and failure of capitalist institutions, the rise of fascism in Europe and Japan, etc. As a red-diaper baby, it puts my parents' lives into a sympathetic context, reveals more of the texture of the times they must have felt. In my house, the Lincoln Brigade was like a holy phrase.

and 2) how central this little civil war may have been to world history -- Franco had the military and economic backing of Hitler and Mussolini, as well as the economic and cultural weight of the Spanish Catholic Church; the republicans pleaded with the western powers for aid, but none came. Historians wonder if the world war that followed could have been averted if the allies had made an earlier stand against fascism in Spain.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Should have mentioned that the title is from Camus: "Men of my generation have had Spain in their hearts . . . It was there that they learned . . . that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, and that there are times when courage is not rewarded."

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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More or less double post from the SF thread, as this near future novel will appeal to non-genre readers too. Highly recommended. It's a character book.

VERSION CONTROL --- Dexter Palmer (2016)

"History lives in the gap between information and the truth."

Let me get this out of the way: Version Control - Dexter Palmer's second novel - is BRILLIANT. Recurrent readers know that I don't often slap on such high praise.

It might just be the best 2016 book I've read, and it might just be the best book I've read so far this year. It's either this or Zero K for both questions - I'm having a hard time deciding. It doesn't really matter anyway. Then again, maybe Version Control might have one thing speaking against it that Zero K has less of. More on that later, especially as this one thing doesn't really matter right now.

The book didn’t get a lot of attention from the online sci-fi community, so maybe a few introductory remarks are at hand. Version Control is a near-future novel, set in about 10 to 15 years from now. Rebecca Wright is the main character. She works in customer support for an Internet dating site, the same site where she met her husband, Philip Steiner. Philip is a physicist working on a “causality violation device” – a kind of low-key time machine one could say. His work has stalled his career and the physics community doesn’t really take him serious anymore. The couple has lost their son a few years ago.

Some have written the lack of attention of speculative fiction fans might be due to the fact that this novel is too literary. And indeed, a big part of this story is a couple of thirty, forty-somethings coming to terms with their lives. I’m guessing it would not be out of place in a Jonathan Franzen novel – and as a Kirkus reviewer has made that same comparison, it must be true. (Do not read that Kirkus review if you haven’t read the book: it gives away too much of the plot, it’s a shame really.)

Still, there is an important chunk of science fiction in Version Control: near-future technology and the effect it has on human lives. But the thing is, for most of the time it doesn’t really come across as science fiction, because Palmer mainly writes about things we already know: smartphones, the Internet, self-driving cars, Big Data, 3D-animation – he just takes it up a notch here and there. The end result reads as a realistic novel and even the few parts that seem a bit eccentric go down just as easily as we take GPS for granted today. Palmer manages to evoke a sense of wonder with an amazing naturalistic vibe. It’s a tour de force really, and while near-future stuff might not be the focus of the book – the characters are – it is a feast of the imagination nonetheless, and one that provides for a few stunning, perplexing scenes.

The other Big Sci-Fi Thing in Version Control is the Time Machine. This is actually the first time travel novel I have ever read that gets things right: there is nothing of the time travel paradox to be found in so many other stories. Maybe this is because, again, this is not really really a time travel story to begin with. There's none of the cool robots from the future as in Terminator 2, nor does it feature Vikings in a shopping mall as in The Rise And Fall Of D.O.D.O. Version Control is more in line with Groundhog Day and the German movie Lola Rennt, but it is nonetheless its own thing, and very much so.

(...)

For the sake of analysis, let me point out how this novel uses the concept of time travel and something often connected with it: changing events that happened, killing Hitler, trying to change future events.

(...)

The full review is here

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Piano Mouth
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes

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800 pager that's filled with small scenarios and stories about kings and armies and war time. Bits and pieces of snippets from Christianity and Judaism in its images and themes. I like the prose style enough to want to read it and finish it.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Carsten Jensen - We, The Drowned Great summer reading, those who like Mutis' Maqroll books will like this. However, it would work better if it had been published in three separate volumes instead of crammed into one giant tome.

"Tell the helmsman veer to starboard
bring this ship around to port
and if the sea were not so salty
I could sink instead of walk."

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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NR:

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City of My Dreams - Per Anders Fogelström

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Piano Mouth
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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walto
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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Very much enjoyed A.D. Lindsay's Essentials of Democracy (1929). And am also liking Herbert Croly's 1914 tract, Progressive Democracy (though it's not very elegantly written). Croly was the first editor of The New Republic--his original assistants were Walter Lippman and Walter Weyl. Lindsay was a British peer who actually understood democracy.
"Freedom of thought and speech without available means of gaining information and methods of sound analysis, are empty. Protection and security are meaningless until there is something positive worth protecting." E.W. Hall

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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Steve Minkin wrote:Image


LINCOLN IN THE BARDO – George Saunders (2017)

Extraordinary! Strikingly original in form, wildly imaginative in setting, emotionally moving, intellectually challenging, historically informative, as well as a great and breezy read (although I know many prospective readers will be put off by the experimental style).

This is the story of Lincoln's (historically true) two trips to the graveyard to visit the body of his 11-year old son Willie, who died while he was in office.

The novel is told in 166 voices. A passage of text is followed by an attribution to one of the novel's voices. Some of the text sections are from historical sources, some from faux-historical sources, many from disembodied spirits living in the cemetery. The passages are rarely longer than a paragraph or two, and there are many stretches of pages in which all the sections are no longer than a line or two, during which the book reads like a play, somewhere between Thornton Wilder and Samuel Beckett. There are some passages in which the eccentric style proves incredibly effective – one of the spirits enters Lincoln and implores the president to overcome his grief by thinking of all the millions who support him, and this is followed by a series a letters, speeches, editorials, and diary entries denouncing Lincoln in the vilest terms.

The cemetery in which Willie Lincoln has been buried is swarming with dozens of spirits who - for various reasons – choose not to enter the afterlife but work to stay near their bodies, here in the Bardo, the plane between life and the afterlife, in which they still see and move through the world they lived in but can no longer interact with it. The stories of why the various spirits have come to stay in the Bardo "fleshes" them out and provides an historical breadth to the times with the variety of characters. The whole cosmology of Saunders' Bardo and its attendant special effects is startlingly imaginative, vivid.

Sometimes a spirit does in fact leave the cemetery for the afterlife, accompanied by "the familiar, yet always bone-chilling, firesound associated with the matterlightblooming phenomenon."

I haven't read Saunders before, a celebrated short story writer, but he's a terrific wordsmith. And this novel – at heart an extended meditation on love and mortality -- is a great accomplishment. Recommended to all, and immediately added to my To-Reread list!


I was going to choose this for my book club selection, but one of the others chose it before me. So I've both read it again and listened to it on books on tape, my first experience with that medium. Since there are hundreds of different voices in the book, and they are played by many actors and actresses, the audio version was amazingly effective.


After two readings and a listening, I love this book even more. Can't recommend it highly enough.


Since I couldn't pick this for my book club selection, and I'm next up, I'm going with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for my choice, and the next book up. I read it as a pre-teen, and it became clear after watching the Ken Burns' documentary on Twain that I missed most of what mattered the first time around, and it was worth another look.

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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It's old news that Huckleberry Finn is a great book. But it's true. Twain's a very funny and a masterful storyteller, and a keen observer of antebellum attitudes about race. Huck's choice -- at the core of the book -- is whether to do what he has been taught is the morally correct thing, which is to turn Jim in as a runaway slave; or to damn himself to hell by helping Jim, who legally belongs to somebody else, stay free and try reunite with his family. Twain is never preachy, always entertaining, and (once you adjust to reading the often phonetically-rendered dialect) a breezy and consuming read.


>>He was a preacher, too… and never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too.<<

>>I see in a minute [Tom's plan] was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides.<<

>> because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it and aint't agoing to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.<<

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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After years of quoting Hazlitt on Shakespeare from secondary sources, I've finally begun reading the man in the original -- insightful and the most beautifully written of any of the books on Shakespeare. The book of essays -- with the justifiably famous one On The Pleasure of Hating -- is also magnificent. A wonderful writer!


"THERE is a spider crawling along the matted floor of the room where I sit (not the one which has been so well allegorised in the admirable Lines to a Spider, but another of the same edifying breed); he runs with heedless, hurried haste, he hobbles awkwardly towards me, he stops -- he sees the giant shadow before him, and, at a loss whether to retreat or proceed, meditates his huge foe -- but as I do not start up and seize upon the straggling caitiff, as he would upon a hapless fly within his toils, he takes heart, and ventures on with mingled cunning, impudence and fear. As he passes me, I lift up the matting to assist his escape, am glad to get rid of the unwelcome intruder, and shudder at the recollection after he is gone. A child, a woman, a clown, or a moralist a century ago, would have crushed the little reptile to death-my philosophy has got beyond that -- I bear the creature no ill-will, but still I hate the very sight of it. The spirit of malevolence survives the practical exertion of it. We learn to curb our will and keep our overt actions within the bounds of humanity, long before we can subdue our sentiments and imaginations to the same mild tone. We give up the external demonstration, the brute violence, but cannot part with the essence or principle of hostility. . . without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions, of men . . . Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is a bittersweet, wants variety and spirit. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal. . . a whole town runs to be present at a fire, and the spectator by no means exults to see it extinguished. It is better to have it so, but it diminishes the interest; and our feelings take part with our passions rather than with our understandings."


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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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I just reviewed Matthew Revert's Human Trees. Do check it out if you like slighty weird fiction!!


(...)

A few final words on those emotions. Human Trees doesn’t seem to be written from a happy perspective. Parental abuse and their little sister dying were formative for the Larson brothers. There’s angst and phobia, and Robert, the main character, hasn’t made peace with the world yet.

There was a lingering emptiness, which Robert absorbed into his character, but life, he would come to learn, was a procession of new emptinesses to explore, absorb and forget.

While I cannot claim to have been happy my entire life, I simply cannot relate with the book’s main atmosphere – which sometimes has something of unfledged rebellion to it. I do not feel life is empty. I do not feel afraid.

That said, I do think Human Trees manages to evoke something of how certain people feel, and again, that is no mean feat – even though Robert suspects “that all empathy is self-absorption.”

A difficult book to market – give it a go, you might like it a lot.


Full review on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

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Re: Currently Reading: Chapter II

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I just reviewed Dexter Palmer's new, third novel: Mary Toft; Or, The Rabbit Queen. Do check it out if you like historical fiction. His previous book - a near-future Jonathan Franzen - Version Control was my best read of 2016.


(...)

Altogether, the book’s philosophical foundations didn’t satisfy my hunger. And also some of my other expectations were not met. I would have thought Palmer would do something with the preternatural hoax – a literary trick, just like he used time travel in Version Control. Yet the story remains linear & straightforward, without any real surprises. The hoax will come out eventually, and characters will have to face up to their naivety. Predictable as it is, Palmer does manage to draw the reader in - no mean feat.

One could argue the core of the book is not perception, but the human appetite for the dark. In many ways the centerpiece of the story is a visit of Zachary – a 14-year old surgeon’s apprentice who’s the main focal character – to a clandestine horror show somewhere in London. Both emotionally as philosophically it was dead on – some humans indeed regrettably perceive life as a zero sum game – and this scene alone was worth the price of admission, but I will not say more & spoil it.

(...)

But Mary Toft surpasses the political – it is about human emotions first and foremost. It’s like a line in Nick Cave’s Bright Horses, the second song on his new album: “We’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are” – that line is as much about fake news as it is about his unwillingness to accept the death of his son. There’s tremendous potential grace in a denial of facts.

I will read the next novel Palmer publishes – but not right out of the box.


Full review on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It