Books I’ve read. Reviews, ratings, reactions. Quotations, highlights, commentary.
Currently reading China in Ten Words 《十个词汇里的中国》, by Yu Hua 余华; Imperial China, 900-1800, by F. W. Mote
- Words within square brackets (“”) are my additions or paraphrases. Ellipses in brackets (“[...]” or “[…]”) show where I’ve elided part of a quotation.
- Emphasized text is original emphasis; I use the mark element when I want to draw the reader’s attention.
- Non-English words are marked up like this, using the
foreignclass and HTML’s
- Anything read before 2018 is unlikely to be added here.
- A minimal entry doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. It means I haven’t yet uploaded the notes for that book.
Scale last updated 2020-04-11.
- 0/5: Terrible. No redeeming qualities.
- 1/5: Bad. Not saved by scattered sections of higher quality or inventiveness.
- 2/5: Poor. Below the bar. May well be enjoyable or have artistic merit, but excessive flaws prevent me from giving a higher rating. Not worth re-reading except for comfort or nostalgia. Recommendable only to those with a strong interest in its topic.
- 3/5: Solid. Above the bar. Good parts outweigh bad. I’m glad to have read it once.
- 4/5: Good. Left a unique impression on me. Excels in some area of written composition. Gets prioritized for transferring my notes and excerpts to this webpage.
- 5/5: Superb. Probably worth reading twice.
Finding Them Gone
(by Bill Porter :aka Red Pine) (year 2016) (score 4) (read 2020-10-02 to 2020-10-09)
What a great book. Bill Porter, known in Chinese as Red Pine, has for decades been an important figure in the world of translated Chinese poetry. His travel writings have also gained a huge following in China.
In thirty chapters, Porter describes a personal quest: spend thirty days tearing ass all over China in search of graves, hometowns, and shrines from the lives of important Chinese poets so that he can toast them with fine American whiskey.
The book is not only a modern Chinese travelogue, but also a primer on Chinese poetry. Breaking up the travel narrative are over 200 Chinese poems, accompanied by Porter’s translations.
China in Ten Words
(by Yu Hua) (year ???? 2008?)
Chris Stasse, Alexi C., and I are reading and responding to this as part of a Chinese reading group. Each chapter is an essay prompted by a single two-character Chinese word. Below are the ones I’ve read so far; I’ll definitely end up blogging more about this book.
- 人民 People
- 领袖 Leader (finished 2020-09-21)
- 阅读 Reading (read 2020-10-10)
- 7 more chapters…
(by Arthur Miller) (score 3) (read 2020-09-17)
Incident at Vichy
(by Arthur Miller) (score 4) (read 2020-09-17)
Death of a Salesman
(by Arthur Miller) (year 1949) (score 5) (read 2020-09-04)
[Not exactly a book, but I’m not going to make a “Plays” page when I don’t read or see much theater.]
Encounters with the Archdruid
(by John McPhee) (year ?) (score 4) (read 2020-08-16)
Unauthorized Versions: Poems and Their Parodies
(editor Kenneth Baker) (year 1990) (score 4) (read 2020-08-09)
The Forever War
(by Joe Haldeman) (year 1974) (score 3 or 4) (read 2020-07-18 to 2020-07-18)
As with Slaughterhouse-Five, I dug this out of the box housing my high-school bookshelf to reread it with the benefit of–eep!–an additional ~decade of life experience.
William Mandella, the main character of the book, experiences total and utter alienation from the rest of the human race after spending hundreds of years traveling at light speed while only aging a few years. He was born in the 1990s, but ends the book living in the 3000s as one of just a dozen remaining ‘original’ humans.
While Forever War was written as a response to the Vietnam War, it takes on new meaning with the increasing social atomization of modern (American) society. If, through the Web, you invisibly participate in a subculture that the people around you misunderstand or condemn, and find yourself biting your tongue in every real-life conversation, aren’t you nearly as detached as Mandella, even if you have somewhere to go online? Furthermore, the social changes Mandella faces take place over years, and historical social change took place over decades or centuries, while today a culture shift that entices you and drives away your IRL peers (or vice versa) can take place in weeks or days (and be reported on in minutes.)
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
(by Robert Heinlein) (year 1966) (score 5) (read 2020-07-16 to 2020-07-17)
Reread. Worth every second, as a plea for all people to be competent, self-reliant, and willing to live and let live.
King Leopold’s Ghost
(by Adam Hochschild) (year 1998) (score 4) (read 2020-07-11 to 2020-07-13)
(by Kurt Vonnegut) (year ?) (score 4 or 5) (read 2020-07-07 to 2020-07-08)
Reread. The first time was in high school, but I didn’t pay it enough attention at that time. [Response in progress]
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
(by Frederick Douglass) (year ?) (score 3 or 4) (read 2020-07-04 to 2020-07-05)
The Mote in God’s Eye
(by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) (year 1974) (score 4) (read 2020-06-29 to 2020-07-02)
Mote is successful because the authors have written science-fiction analogues to things they understand from the real world. [Response in progress]
Why Does He Do That?
(by Lundy Bancroft) (year 2002) (score 3) (read 2020-06-28 to 2020-06-29)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
(by Dee Brown) (year 1970) (score 3) (read 2020-06)
(by Ivan Gonchorov) (translator ?) (year 1859) (score 3 or 4)
The Republic of Pirates
(by Colin Woodard) (year 2008) (score 4) (read 2020-05)
Skillfully weaves together biographies and historical events from the Golden Age of Piracy, focusing on the lives and exploits of Henry Avery, Blackbeard, Charles Vane, and other major pirates in the West Indies (which includes the Caribbean Sea.)
Against The Grain
(by Joris-Karl Huysmans) (year 1884) (score 4) (read 2020-05)
A meditation on taste, culture, artistry, and aesthetics which is worth the read. I can’t say I cared for the ending, but that’s probably on me. Recommended to those who consider themselves artists or art enthusiasts.
Life on the Mississippi
(by Mark Twain) (year ?) (score 3 or 4 :unfinished) (read 2020-04)
Sunrise with Seamonsters
(by Paul Theroux) (year 1985) (score 4) (read 2020-04)
In the tiny country of Malawi the winter is severe […] May, June, and July, the cold months, are also the harvest months. This is the season when the village silos – huge baskets on legs – are filled to the brim with corn, the staple food of the Malawian. The oranges and tangerines are ripe; the second bean crop, the tobacco and tea are all being harvested and auctioned.Winter in Africa [July 2, 1965] - pg 12
The giraffes moved slowly among the trees like tired dancers. I wanted them to gallop. Once you’ve seen a giraffe galloping – they gallop as if they’re about to come apart any second, yet somehow all their flapping limbs stay miraculously attached – you know that survival has something to do with speed, no matter how grotesque, double-bellied and gawky the beast may be.
[…] No camera is like no hands, a feat of skill. And if you know that sooner or later you will have to explain it all, without benefit of slides or album, to your large family, then as soon as you see something you start searching the view for clues and rummaging through your lexical baggage for the right phrases. Otherwise, what’s the use? And when you see something like a galloping giraffe which you can’t capture on film you are thrown back on the English language like a cowboy’s grizzled sidekick against a cactus. You hope for the sake of posterity and spectators that you can rise unscratched with a blossom.The Cerebral Snapshot [October 5, 1965] - pg 15-16
Slowly, it happens, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph. Nothing comes out right the first time, and you are not so much writing as learning a language, inching along in what seems at times like another tongue.A Love-Scene After Work: Writing in the Tropics  - pg 86
I am calling attention to the phenomenon [of mass tourism] because it is so far from the traditional notion of travel as going away […] The interest in travel today, which is passionate, arises out of the fact that there is a form of travel prevalent that is now very easy – people want to find an antidote for the immobility that mass tourism has produced; people want to believe that somewhere, somehow, it is still very dangerous, bizarre, anxiety-making and exotic to travel, that one can still make discoveries in a glorious solitary way. Mock-travel has produced a huge interest in clumsy, old-fashioned travel, with its disgusting food and miseries and long nights. It has also given rise to a lively interest in travel literature and the affirmation that the world is still large and strange and, thank God, full of empty places that are nothing like home.Stranger on a Train: The Pleasures of Railways  - pg 135
In the schoolroom and factory and in the long dark line of coalminers waiting to be paid, the faces stare out helplessly, trapped by circumstances, and we feel judged, because we have never been gazed at in quite that way, so immediately, across time. Moments before many of these pictures were taken, the last words spoken were “Hold still!” We can see the effect of that command in the small boy’s shoulders or the man’s grip on the chairback. Everyone here is holding his breath, as if for a hundred-year leap to the present.The Past Recaptured  - pg 231-232
I have seen a number of photographs taken in [the 1800s], usually in China, of beheadings. Invariably the sword is shown poised over the neck (sometimes the head has been struck off and lies severed on the ground).
But this beheading in China is electrifying. We see more than the sword and the head. The man has been hit with the blade several times, and the executionr is tensed to take another stroke. The condemned man, clearly bleeding – that is blood, not hair, coursing from his twisted face – is a goner. But look at the faces of the men who are holding his ropes and supporting his gibbet. This is hardly the routine event we have been taught took place in Imperial China. These men are as close as we are (and we are seeing something the witnesses in the background are missing) and they wear expressions of terror and disbelief. The whole affair is as shocking to them as it is – one hopes – to us. This is the opposite of anonymity, and after the experience of this photograph one cannot think of such an execution as something taken for granted, a ritual which we can regard as conventional and commonplace. It is almost cathartic, for those wincing men are expressing our own shock.
Some of these photographs […] are much older than their dates suggest. They give us access to the past. The Ainus, the Bedouin, the Irish peat-carriers, the Wa-Kikuyu and American Indians – these might have been taken in the ’eighties or ’nineties of [the 1800s], or even more recently, but we may be assured that for the preceding century, and perhaps for many centuries before, the people looked exactly like this. Our glimpse is not of people caught on a given year, but of an image carried away from a much remoter past, and a few decades before they were to change out of all recognition.The Past Recaptured  - pg 232
One evening, Sackville was with a group of illustrious friends at Knole House. To entertain them in front of the fire, Sackville suggested that they all write “impromptus” – a few brilliant lines apiece – and that John Dryden, who had probably ceased to be Poet Laureate at this point, should act as judge. The guests took pens and paper and put their minds to the task, each hoping to win with his own piece. The papers were collected and given to Dryden, who carefully examined each entry. He then announced Sackville as the winner. This was not so surprising – Sackville, as well as being a patron, was also a considerable poet.
Dryden read out Sackville’s winning impromptu. It was not a poem. It went as follows: “I promise to pay Mr John Dryden five hundred pounds on demand. Signed, Dorset.”Easy Money: Patronage  - pg 260
The most knowledgeable railway buff I met in Simla was a man who, over a period of years, had traveled all over India on trains visiting race tracks. He seldom stayed overnight. He would hurry to Lucknow on a night train, gamble all day at the track, and then catch the sleeper to Calcutta and do the same thing. I said it seemed a difficult thing to do, all that railroading. No, he said, the difficult thing was putting on a sad face and hailing a tonga and then riding Third Class so no potential thief would guess he had five thousand rupees of winnings in his pocket.Making Tracks to Chittagong  - pg 318
Travels with Samantha
(by Philip Greenspun) (year 1993) (score 3) (read 2020-04-23)
Passions and Other Stories
(by Isaac Bashevis Singer) (year 1975) (score 3) (read 2020-04-19)
Things Fall Apart
(by Chinua Achebe) (year 1959) (score 3) (read 2020-04-13)
Dangerous animals became even more sinister and uncanny in the dark. A snake was never called by its name at night, because it would hear. It was called a string.pg 9
The way into the shrine was a round hole at the side of a hill, just a little bigger than the round opening into a henhouse. Worshippers and those who came to seek knowledge from the god crawled on their belly through the hole and found themselves in a dark, endless space in the presence of Agbala.pg 16
- palaver: n. 1. a parley, conference, or discussion, often between people from different ranks or cultures. 2. idle or misleading talk. v. to talk idly or misleadingly; to parley.
(by Louis “Studs” Terkel) (year 1974) (score 3 :unfinished) (read 2020-04)
I skimmed through about a dozen of the interviews that make up this book.
I spent most of my life learning techniques that are of no value any more. Magazines, newspapers–print. I’m not oriented to television as I was to print. The biggest impact today is TV. This has helped reduce the need for press agentry. A client will come to me and say, “I want to be a star.” In the old days, maybe I’d get her in Life. Today on the Carson show you could get more attention that I could have gotten her in a year. As press agentry becomes part of a bigger and bigger world it becomes more routinized. It’s a mechanical thing today. It’s no longer the opportunity to do stunts. They don’t work any more. Much of what I’ve been doing all these years is not as potent as in the old days.
Most guys in my category have eight, ten clients. If you have less, you’re in trouble. You can’t depend on one or two, no matter how much they pay, ’cause you can lose ’em. One day I lost three clients that were paying me each over twelve thousand dollars a year. I lost Cinerama, Indonesia, and the Singer Company. That is thirty-six thousand dollars a year. I had years I made a hundred thousand. There’s a law of making money. You never regard it as something temporary, and you live up to the scale. But in this work, you don’t build anything. If I had a little candy store and I built it up to a bigger store, I might have sold it for a quarter of a million dollars. Who do I sell my clippings to?Eddie Jaffe, press agent - pg 88
To me, when I was a kid, the policeman was the epitome–not of perfection–was a good and evil in combination, but in control. He came from an element in the neighborhood and he knew what was going on. To me, a policeman is your community officer. He is your Officer Friendly, he is your clergyman, he is your counselor. He is a doctor to some: “Mr. Policeman, my son just fell and bumped his head.” Now all we are is a guy that sits in a squad car and waits for a call to come over the radio. We have lost complete contact with the people. They get the assumption that we’re gonna be called to the scene for one purpose–to become violent to make an arrest. No way I can see that. I am the community officer. They have taken me away from the people I’m dedicated to serving–and I don’t like it.Vincent Maher, policeman - pg 134-135
I quit chaufferin’. I make more money in a parking lot with tips and salary. When people ask what I do, I tell ’em I park cars just like any other job. Only thing you got is a white collar, that’s okay with me. Working behind a typewriter, that’s fine. You’re a doctor, that’s cool. I got man friends, teachers. We meet sometimes, have a drink, talk. Everything is normal. Everybody got a job to do. My friends never feel superior to me. They’ll say, “I’ll go downtown and park with Lovin’ Al.”Alfred “Lovin’ Al” Pommier, car hiker [valet] - pg 222
We were doing a beautiful job for a big brewer. They’d just bought a new brewery and found out the beer was too nutritious. It had a lot of food value. They did market research and found out that psychologically inadequate young men consumed beer as a way of competing with one another–the kids in college. “Can you drink fourteen bottles of beer while I drink fourteen bottles of beer?” How many can you drink before you puke? The beer that sells best is the weakest and the thinnest and doesn’t fight you. The first thing they did was take the richness out of it. They got it down to alcohol and water.
My role was to create a fun-filled image, an exciting boy-girl gaiety in the competitive market of light beer. “Light beer”–that’s the ad phrase for the watered and thin beer. So the schmucky kid thinks he’s a stud fighting for the babe by consuming all that alcohol.
You begin to say, “What the fuck am I doing? I’m sitting here destroying my country.” The feeling gets stronger and stronger and suddenly your father dies.Walter Lundquist, industrial designer - pg 526
We’ve had the bar only six months. We’re trying to get it to a point where we spend less and less time there. […] We go to bed about midnight and it starts all over the next day. Except Monday. Monday we’re closed.
Now we begin to reap the benefits of what we went there for. On Monday we put the kids on the bus to school. We get in the truck, we throw the boat in the back. Six minutes from our front door, we put it in one of the world’s largest man-made lakes and go fishing and picknicking and mess around until four o’clock when the kids come home. We sit out there, where I don’t suppose three boats go by us all day long. Sit and watch the copperheads on the shore and the birds overhead. Discussing Nixon and Daley and fishing and the dairy bar and whatever. What’s astonishing is we can climb a mountain right across from our home. There’s a waterfall at the top. And no jets going over. No people. Just a pickup truck down the road now and then.
A man stood on Eden’s Highway [in Chicago] and took a survey of guys driving to work. Their jaw muscles were working. I was one of those guys. I was this guy with his eyes bulging and swearing and saying, “You rotten guy, get out of my way.” For what? So I could get to work to get kicked around by a purchasing agent because his job is five minutes late? That forty-five minutes’ drive to work. I would usually have about five cigarettes. Constant close calls, jam-ups, running late, tapping the foot on the floor, thumping that wheel, and everything that everybody does.
I would get to the office. You might find the paper hadn’t been delivered, the press had broken down, the boss might be in a foul mood. Or you might have a guy on the phone screaming that he had to see you in half an hour or else the whole world would end. They always had to have an estimate first. So you’d do your paper work as fast as you could. Then you’d start your round of daily calls. Then came the hassle for parking space. Are you lucky enough to get one of those hour jobs on the street or do you go in the lot? If you go in the lot, what’re they gonna do to your car before they give it back to you? How many dents? So you go through that hassle.
Then it would be lunch time. You’d take a guy to lunch, have two or three drinks. Rich food … You come out of the darkened restaurant back into the summer afternoon. At four you’d take whatever jobs you had assembled or proofs you had to look over. Maybe work until five thirty or six. Then you’re fighting the traffic back to the suburb.
[…] If you decide to cut and run, you’ve got to do it in one clean break. You’ll never do it if you piddle away and if you wait until you’re sixty. A fellow I know, he was sixty-three, bought a piece of land in Taos, on a mountain top, forty acres. He and his wife were gonna go in three years and move there. He told me this on a Tuesday. On Saturday his wife was dead in the garden. The day he buried her he said to me, “Boy, you’re so smart to get out while you’re young.” Our decision to make this journey evolved over a period of years. Not so strangely, it came about with our achievement of what is called the American Dream.
People say, “You’re wasting your college education.” My ex-employer said to my father, “You didn’t raise your son to be a hash slinger.” I’ve lost status in the eyes of my big city friends. […] My personal status with somebody else may have gone down. My personal status with myself has gone up a hundred percent.Fred Ringley, ex-salesman turned farmer - pg 534-535
Mighty Rough Times, I Tell You
(editor Andrea Sutcliffe) (score 3) (read 2020-04-11)
How Does a Poem Mean?
(by John Ciardi) (score 3) (read 2020-04-04 to 2020-04-05)
Did Frost know what he was going to do when he began [Stopping By Woods]? Considering the poem simply as a piece of juggling one cannot fail to respond to the magnificent turn at the end where, with one flip, seven of the simplest words in the language suddenly dazzle […]pg 6741
Or suppose that there existed somewhere a religious order that imposed a vow not only of eternal silence, but against all verbalization even of one’s thoughts. Initiaties, suppose further, must pray a certain number of hours each day, but they must dance their prayers. […] Can there be any doubt that the kinds of postures and the sequences of actions such dancers could fall into could constitute not only a language but a language susceptible of2 great refinement?pg 707
As soon as one takes into account this picture-behind-the-word, there are simply no synonyms anymore.pg 766-767
After a discussion of Milton (itself worth quoting):
“Poetry, it must be understood, is a made thing. It does not record reality nor even imagination; it selects from them.”pg 769-771
Discussing Keats’ revisions to the original manuscript of “The Eve of St. Agnes”:
The first draft of the manuscript reads not as above in the third line, but “Unclasps her bosom jewels.” This reading Keats immediately struck out. One must note in the final version that though Madeline undresses in this stanza, there is not one word that mentions flesh. Certainly there is no reason except the narrowest kind of prurience against mentioning “bosom” as a facet of the world. But the word does not fit the mood Keats is seeking to establish. The flesh remains in the revised line, but it is sublimated and suggested in the richness of “warmed” rather than baldly stated.
[Further discussion of revisions to the next line.]
Two things seem to emerge clearly from a careful look at Keats’ choices and revisions here. First, Keats seems originally to have conceived of Madeline as definitely buxom, but no hint of that original conception survives the revisions. Keats seems to have changed, or at least to have suppressed his original conception of the facts, and to have done so with no hint of unfaithfulness to facts, but rather in a joyous pursuit of something else.pg 772-773
Poets seem easily inclined to change the denotations of what they write about in order to control the connotations.
Thus, poetry may achieve high effect by the power of suggestion (overtone) rather than rather than by its specific identification (denotation).3 John William Burgon, an English poet of the nineteenth century, wrote many poems but survives only as the author of one line describing the Trans-Jordan city of Petra:
A rose-red city half as old as time.
The “rose-red” is clearly intended to convey the color of the sandstone from which the city is built. In another context it might suggest the sunset stain on white walls. In either case the effect is denotative. But the truly memorable quality of the line certainly rests in “half as old as time,” a phrase about as far from denotation as language seems able to go this side of nonsense syllables.pg 790
It would be simply silly, however, to argue that “steel” in poetry is anything but strong. The case is even simpler for “hushed calm” and “distant sunset”: one need only try to imagine an unhushed calm or a nearby sunset, to ealize that such adjectives must tend above all else to indicate the incompetence of the writer. The least one should expect of poetry, is that it find for itself a language (or a diction) better than the reader could improvise.pg 795
The Story of My Life
(by Giacomo Casanova) (score 3 or 4)
(by Italo Calvino) (score 4) (read 2020-03-07 to 2020-03-08T09:45:00-0700) (translator William Weaver)
Isaura, city of the thousand wells, is said to rise over a deep, subterranean lake. On all sides, wherever the inhabitants dig long, vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as are as the city extends, and no further. Its green border repeats the dark outline of the buried lake; an invisible landscape conditions the visible one; everything that moves in the sunlight is driven by the lapping wave enclosed beneath the rock’s calcareous sky.pg 20 / Thin Cities 1
Marco [Polo] enters a city; he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man’s place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in the square.pg 29
You do not come to Euphemia only to buy and sell, but also because at night, by the fires all around the market, seated on sacks or barrels or stretched out on piles of carpets, at each word that a man says–such as “wolf”, “sister”, “hidden treasure”, “battle”, “scabies”, “lovers”–the others tell, each one, his tale of wolves, sisters, treasures, scabies, lovers, battles.pg 36 / Trading Cities 1
It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form. If you go by whistling, your nose a-tilt behind the whistle, you will know it from below: window sills, flapping curtains, fountains. If you walk along hanging your head, your nails dug into the palms of your hands, your gaze will be held on the ground, in the gutters, the manhole covers, the fish scales, wastepaper. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other, but you hear of the upper Zemrude chiefly from those who remember it, as they sink into the lower Zemrude, following every day the same stretches of street and finding again each morning the ill-humor of the day before, encrusted at the foot of the walls. For everyone, sooner or later, the day comes when we bring our gaze down along the drainpipes and we can no longer detach it from the cobblestones. The reverse is not impossible, but it is more rare: and so we continue walking through Zemrude’s streets with eyes now digging into the cellars, the foundations, the wells.pg 66 / Cities & Eyes 2
In Esmeralda, city of water, a network of canals and a network of streets span and intersect each other. To go from one place to another you have always the choice between land and boat: and since the shortest distance between two points in Esmeralda is not a straight line but a zigzag that ramifies in tortuous optional routes, the ways that open to each passerby are never two, but many, and they increase further for those who alternate a stretch by boat with one on dry land.
And that is not all: the network of routes is not arranged on one level, but follows instead an up-and-down course of steps, landings, cambered bridges, hanging streets. Combining segments of the various routes, elevated or on ground level, each inhabitant can enjoy every day the pleasure of a new itinerary to reach the same places. The most fixed and calm lives in Esmeralda are spent without any repetition.
Secret and adventurous lives, here as elsewhere, are subject to greater restrictions. Esmeralda’s cats, thieves, illicit lovers move along higher, discontinuous ways, dropping from a rooftop to a balcony, following gutterings with acrobats’ steps. […] Below, the rats run […] crossing the city’s compactness pierced by the spokes of underground passages.
A map of Esmeralda should include, marked in different colored inks, all these routes, solid and liquid, evident and hidden.pg 89 / Trading Cities 5
A vegetable vendor was weighing a cabbage on a scales4 and put it in a basket dangling on a string a girl lowered from a balcony. The girl was identical with one in my village who had gone mad for love and killed herself. The vegetable vendor raised her face: she was my grandmother.
I thought: “You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it prints the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask.”pg 94-95 / Cities & The Dead 2
The image propagated by tradition is that of a city of pure gold, with silver locks and diamond gates, a jewel-city, all inset and inlaid, as a maximum of laborious study might produce when applied to materials of the maximum worth.pg 111 / Cities & the Sky 2
Then Marco Polo spoke: “Your chessboard, sire, is inlaid with two woods: ebony and maple. The square on which your enlightened gaze is fixed was cut from the ring of a trunk that grew in a year of drought: you see how its fibers are arranged? Here a barely hinted knot can be made out: a bud tried to burgeon on a premature spring day, but the night’s frost forced it to desist.”
Until then the Great Khan had not realized that the foreigner knew how to express himself fluently in his language, but it was not this fluency that amazed him.
“Here is a thicker pore: perhaps it was a larvum’s nest; not a woodworm, because, once born, it would have begun to dig, but a caterpillar that gnawed the leaves and was the cause for the tree’s being chosen for chopping down . . . This edge was scored by the wood carver with his gouge so that it would adhere to the next square, more protruding. . . .”
The quantity of things that could be read in a little piece of smooth and empty wood overwhelmed Kublai; Polo was already talking about ebony forests, about rafts laden with logs that come down the rivers, of docks, of women at the windows. . . .pg 131
You must nevertheless bear in mind what I am about to say to you: in the seed of the city of the just, a malignant seed is hidden, in its turn: the certainty and pride of being in the right–and of being more just than many others who call themselves more just than the just. This seed ferments in bitterness, rivalry, resentment; and the natural desire of revenge on the unjust is colored by a yearning to be in their place and to act as they do. Another unjust city, though different from the first, is digging out its space within the double sheath of the just and unjust Berenices.pg 162 / Hidden Cities 5
- mullion (as “mullioned”)
- declivity: n. a downward slope; a deviation from the horizontal (opp. acclivity)
- cornice: n. any horizontal, molded projection at the highest part of a building or wall (e.g. crown molding); an overhanging mass of snow on a mountain peak; v. to decorate with a cornice
The Mists of Avalon
(by Marion Zimmer Bradley) (score 3) (read 2020-02)
(by Roald Dahl) (score 3) (year 1986) (read 2020-01-24)
(by Jason Matthews) (score 3) (read 2020-01-23) (year 2013)
- gamine: n. a mischievous, playful, or elfish girl or young woman; a female waif or urchin.
- cassoulet: n. an oven-baked stew or casserole from southwest France, containing beans, meats, vegetables, and herbs.
- spile: n. a pile (anchoring post); a bung or spigot.
- splenetic: adj. (also “splenic”) Ill-humored, irritable. [obviously related to “spleen”]
- vitiate: v. reduce the value of, impair, spoil, make ineffective, invalidate; debase, corrupt.
The Discovery of France
(by Graham Robb) (score 5) (year 2007)
Stupendously D&D-able, the way that Fernand Braudel and other “histories of everyday life” always are. The first half of the book is about the myriad and variegated traditional ways of life in France up through ~1900; the lack of a conception of “France” as opposed to individual pays (tiny areas with fuzzy boundaries but strong identities); and the huge ignorance of the land’s features and inhabitants in which most people persisted, for most of French history (not that anywhere else was much better). I kept finding parallels to what I know of China, past and present, with countless micro-cultures spread over a vast area. The second half concerns the growing of national identity; the bypassing of village, forest, and transhumance trail by railroad; the disappearance of folkways; and the replacement of ignorance of the contemporary with ignorance of the past.
Great Poems of the English Language
(by Wallace Alvin Briggs) (score 4) (year 1927) (read 2019)
Selections from this volume kicked off my Favorite Poems page.
- rialto: n. theater district. Marketplace; exchange.
- pelf: n. wealth or riches, especially when dishonestly acquired. Frippery; rubbish; refuse; trash.
- welkin: n. firmament (the whole of the sky.)
- sursum corda: “hearts up”, a phrase from the Mass
- sepulture: n. I knew the word “sepulcher” (tomb, burial place) and wondered if this was a synonym or variant spelling. It can mean the same thing as “sepulcher”, but can also mean “the act of burial”.
- uxorious: adj. excessively devoted to one’s wife.
Growth of the Soil
(by Knut Hamsun) (score 4) (year 1917) (translator William John Alexander Worster) (read 2019-11)
Rough subject matter (the unforgiving life of Norwegian frontier settlers), gently unfolding. Worth your time.
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
(by Honoré de Balzac) (year 1830) (translator Clara Bell) (score 4) (read 2019-11)
The Ode Less Travelled
(by Stephen Fry) (score 4) (read 2019-11-01 to 2019-11-05)
I like this book so much that I’ve bought copies for friends. Ode is a practical manual for improving one’s poetic craft.
The book expects you to complete exercises as you go. To not do these exercises would be to entirely miss the point. I’ve uploaded my silly, crappy responses to some of them my Poetry Exercises page.
Songs of Innocence
(by William Blake) (score 4)
Dear Los Angeles
(by David Kipen) (score 4) (read 2019-08 to 2019-10)
(by Scott Alexander) (score 4) (read 2019-10)
(by Vladimir Nabokov) (score 4) (read 2019-10-03)
I had not read any Nabokov before this book. From the first page, I knew I was in for something unique. “Wordplay” usually means puns and such, but this whole novella feels like “wordplay” in the literal sense of playing with words.
A Poetry Handbook
(by Mary Oliver) (score 2) (read 2019-10-03)
This tiny book was underwhelming, but at least it taught me some terms for kinds of metric feet, and inspired me to read some Yeats.
Government in Republican China
(by Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (score 4 or 5)
An excellent overview of the historical conditions that led to the Xinhai Revolution, the warlord period that followed, and the Nationalists’ eventual unification of the country. Outside of explaining the larger historical context, the book focuses mainly on Sun Yat-sen and his leadership.
The only criticism I have is that I found it a bit difficult to keep the timeline straight, and I believe this is a consequence of Linebarger’s decision to split the book up into conceptual sections rather than by chronology. One section will detail events up to a given time period, only for the following section to return to an earlier era.
[Excerpts coming. There were several turns of phrase I want to copy out]
Three Men in a Boat
(by Jerome K. Jerome) (score 4)
One way for a book to earn my approval is by making me laugh out loud. Three Men in a Boat accomplished that several times.
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse.
Why, all our art treasures of to-day are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. The “old blue” that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the common every-day household utensils of a few centuries ago; and the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for all our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.
Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of to-day always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of our willow-pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimneypieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful gold flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?
At that moment an angel came by in the disguise of a small boy (and I cannot think of any more effective disguise an angel could have assumed), with a can of beer in one hand, and in the other something at the end of a string, which he let down on to every flat stone he came across, and then pulled up again, this producing a peculiarly unattractive sound, suggestive of suffering.
We asked this heavenly messenger (as we discovered him afterwards to be) if he knew of any lonely house, whose occupants were few and feeble (old ladies or paralysed gentlemen preferred), who could be easily frightened into giving up their beds for the night to three desperate men; or, if not this, could he recommend us to an empty pigstye, or a disused limekiln, or anything of that sort. He did not know of any such place—at least, not one handy; but he said that, if we liked to come with him, his mother had a room to spare, and could put us up for the night.
I was steering.
As we drew nearer, we could see that the three men fishing seemed old and solemn-looking men. They sat on three chairs in the punt, and watched intently their lines. And the red sunset threw a mystic light upon the waters, and tinged with fire the towering woods, and made a golden glory of the piled-up clouds. It was an hour of deep enchantment, of ecstatic hope and longing. The little sail stood out against the purple sky, the gloaming lay around us, wrapping the world in rainbow shadows; and, behind us, crept the night.
We seemed like knights of some old legend, sailing across some mystic lake into the unknown realm of twilight, unto the great land of the sunset.
We did not go into the realm of twilight; we went slap into that punt, where those three old men were fishing.
I never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it. There is a blatant bumptiousness about a steam launch that has the knack of rousing every evil instinct in my nature, and I yearn for the good old days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them with a hatchet and a bow and arrows.
- cynosure: n. one that serves to direct or guide; a center of attraction or attention.
Lao She Short Story Collection
(by Lao She) (score 4)
On 2019-08-04, my friend Chris Stasse gave me this collection of stories (老舍小说集). As of 2020-06-25, I’ve read these stories:
- 《马裤先生》 (read my English translation)
- 《铁牛和病鸭》 (read my English translation)
- 《东西》 [2019-12-04T12:14:16-0800: one of the two main characters has a fixation on the contrast between Western and Eastern schooling, manners, lifestyle, etc. The title is thus best translated as “East and West”, not as “Things”.]
- parts of 《黑白李》、《上任》
(by François Rabelais) (year 1542) (score 4)
The second book in the Pantagruel and Gargantua series, which I read first (my copy of the series placed it before Pantagruel because it’s a prequel to that book.)
The introduction made me laugh hysterically, and the first several chapters made me laugh until I cried. Rabelais is a master of repetition; his most common form of joke is to describe a ludicrous number of items within a character’s response, or in a description of a scene. For example, one early chapter (in my opinion, the funniest) is almost entirely taken up with an enumeration of the things that Pantagruel, a toddler of comic proportions, has used to wipe his bottom.
What About the Rest of Your Life
(by Sung Yim) (year 2017) (read 2019-08-04) (score 4)
I’ve never read a memoir quite like this. The people, events, and choices that made Sung Yim’s life a hell of mental illness and drug addiction also made her into someone who probably would not like me, and who I would not like to spend time with – but I am glad to have spent a few hours absorbing her perspective.
A Man in Full
(by Tom Wolfe) (score 2 :unfinished)
I quit reading this after ~100 pages, because I felt it could be summed up as “The Bonfire of the Vanities, but in Atlanta.” I’d rather read something totally new than something which feels like a retread. I don’t care if that’s actually an unfair characterization; with so many other things to read, this didn’t make the cut.
Ivanhoe: A Romance
(by Walter Scott) (? (year 1820)) (read 2019) (score 3 or 4)
His own character being light, profligate, and perfidious, John easily attached to his person and faction, not only all who had reason to dread the resentment of Richard for criminal proceedings during his absence, but also the numerous class of “lawless resolutes,” whom the crusades had turned back on their country, accomplished in the vices of the East, impoverished in substance, and hardened in character, and who placed their hopes of harvest in civil commotion. To these causes of public distress and apprehension, must be added, the multitude of outlaws, who, driven to despair by the oppression of the feudal nobility, and the severe exercise of the forest laws, banded together in large gangs, and, keeping possession of the forests and the wastes, set at defiance the justice and magistracy of the country. The nobles themselves, each fortified within his own castle, and playing the petty sovereign over his own dominions, were the leaders of bands scarce less lawless and oppressive than those of the avowed depredators. To maintain these retainers, and to support the extravagance and magnificence which their pride induced them to affect, the nobility borrowed sums of money from the Jews at the most usurious interest, which gnawed into their estates like consuming cankers, scarce to be cured unless when circumstances gave them an opportunity of getting free, by exercising upon their creditors some act of unprincipled violence.Chapter 7
Trust me each state must have its policies: Kingdoms have edicts, cities have their charters; Even the wild outlaw, in his forest-walk, Keeps yet some touch of civil discipline; For not since Adam wore his verdant apron, Hath man with man in social union dwelt, But laws were made to draw that union closer.“Old Play”, Chapter 32
They are forbidden to read, save what their Superior permitted, or listen to what is read, save such holy things as may be recited aloud during the hours of refaction; but lo! their ears are at the command of idle minstrels, and their eyes study empty romaunts.
[…] Simpleness of diet was prescribed to them, roots, pottage, gruels, eating flesh but thrice a-week, because the accustomed feeding on flesh is a dishonourable corruption of the body; and behold, their tables groan under delicate fare! Their drink was to be water, and now, to drink like a Templar, is the boast of each jolly boon companion!Chapter 35
- “Palamon and Arcite”
- moiety: n. a half; a share; a division of something
- clarion: adj. loud and clear; v. to proclaim
- meed: n. reward, compensation
- unwonted: adj. out of the ordinary (cf. “it was her wont to…”)
- abstemious: adj. characterized by moderation (especially regarding the consumption of food and alcohol)
- shrive: v. to hear the confession of, and absolve, a penitent; v. to confess and be absolved (as a penitent)
- ague: n. condition of alternating fevers and chills (usually those brought on by malaria)
- plat: v. to plait, to braid; n. a plait or braid; n. a piece or plot of land; n. a map showing developed features, such as buildings
- importunate: overly persistent with requests or demands; troublesome
- missal: book of prayers (if Roman Catholic, contains all prayers needed to celebrate the year’s Masses)
- trivet: n. metal stand, used to support a hot dish in the fire or on a table
- pinfold: n. enclosure for confining stray animals (cf. “fold”, “pen” for livestock)
- privation: n. condition of being without something (usually necessities)
- encomium: n. glowing praise (cf. “panegyric”)
- runlet: n. rivulet; n. cask for wine or beer
- stoup: n. churchfront basin or font of holy water; n. drinking vessel
- amice: n. liturgical vestment (an oblong piece of white linen worn around the neck and shoulders)
- punctilio: n. subtle point of etiquette; n. precise observance of etiquette
- dingle: n. small wooded valley; dell.
- dubiety: n. state of doubt or uncertainty
- collation: n. a light meal (especially if taken on a fast day)
- sumpter: n. pack animal; adj. specifying a pack animal
- vizard: n. visor, mask; n. disguise (adj. “vizarded”)
- calumniate: v. to malign; to speak maliciously.
- peccadillo: n. small sin or petty fault
- poniard: n. a small, slender dagger; v. to stab with a poniard
- wert: v. archaic 2Sg past indicative (“thou wert…”)
- malapert: adj. saucy, impudent
- reck: v. worry, care; be of interest (in/transitive)
- curtal: adj. curtailed; brief; having a clipped tail
- Wardour Manuscript
Works of Benjamin Franklin
I’ve been looking through the Packard Humanities Institute’s online version of Ben Franklin’s papers.
The crouds of Coaches and Chairs for that Reason is not so great; Men as well as Women carry Umbrellas in their Hands, which they extend in case of Rain or two much Sun; and a Man with an Umbrella not taking up more than 3 foot square or 9 square feet of the Street, when if in a Coach he would take up 240 square feet, you can easily conceive that tho’ the Streets here are narrower they may be much less encumber’d. They are extreamly well pav’d, and the Stones being generally Cubes, when worn on one Side may be turn’d and become new.Letter to Polly Stevenson, Paris, Sep 1767. Franklin Papers 14:250
Every Night, Sundays not excepted here are Plays or Operas; and tho’ the Weather has been hot, and the Houses full, one is not incommoded by the Heat so much as with us in Winter. They must have some Way of changing the Air that we are not acquainted with. I shall enquire into it.Letter to Polly Stevenson, Paris, Sep 1767. Franklin Papers 14:250
- perruquier: a maker of wigs. (Franklin used “perruquier” to mean “wigmaker” even when writing in English, but this is probably because he was fluent in French.) “Perruque,” French for “wig,” was borrowed into English as-is, or with the Anglicized spelling “peruke.” Later, Shakespeare coined “periwig,” the word for which “wig” is short. In English, only “wig” is still in use.
The Monuments Men
(by Robert M. Edsel (with Bret Witter)) (score 3)
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 6: Stone Ocean
(by Hirohiko Araki) (read 2019-07) (score 2)
I was introduced to JoJo through the anime adaptation, of which I’ve watched all of parts 2 through 5. After the part 5 anime concluded, I decided to try the manga, and found copies of part 6. While I liked many of the characters and Stands, overall I liked Stone Ocean less than the other parts with which I’m familiar.
I knowingly accept a baseline level of inanity in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and the nonsense is part of what gives the franchise its charm. However, I prefer my inanity to reside in character designs, Stand powers, and fight scenarios/locations which lead to tricky or unusual fights – not in deus ex machina ass-pulls which end fights. When I read/watch JoJo, I want to see the main characters use their powers to solve ludicrous challenges with ridiculous tactics. But if the established characteristics of a Stand power are violated, the “challenge” aspect goes out of the window.
For my money, the worst sequence in part 6 is (spoilers) the resolution of Jolyne’s fight with Miu Miu/Jailhouse Rock, which effectively ends once Jolyne reveals that
four reflections only count as one fact5. I’ll admit I don’t have a suggestion for a better end to the fight. Given that this is a serial comic; given that Jailhouse Rock has an extremely strong ability with with well-established limits; and given that the fight occurs relatively early (less than halfway through the series, IIRC); it’s perhaps inevitable that Araki had to reach into his butt to get Jolyne out of this fight alive. But it didn’t sit right with me, and it stayed at the back of my mind as I read the rest of the series.
Perhaps I’m just fickle. The sequence at the end of part 5 where (spoilers) Diavolo notices Chariot Requiem’s shadow, realizes that his soul is illuminating Chariot, and injures it by punching the area behind his own mind? That’s the perfect level of JoJo bullshit.
If on a winter’s night a traveler
(by Italo Calvino) (translator William Weaver) (read 2019-07) (score 4 or 5)
I was skeptical about this novel’s premise, but my friend Matt guaranteed I’d like it. He was right: I adored it.
“The novel I should most like to read at this moment,” Ludmilla explains, “should have as its driving force only the desire to narrate, to pile stories upon stories, without trying to impose a philosophy of life upon you, simply allowing you to observe its own growth, like a tree, an entangling, as if of branches and leaves …”pg 92
The hill is entirely built up, and as I run I pass two-story wooden houses with yards, all different and all similar, and every so often I hear a telephone ring. This makes me nervous; instinctively I slow down; I prick up my ears to hear whether somebody is answering and I become impatient when the ringing continues. Continuing my run, I pass another house in which a telephone is ringing, and I think: There is a telephone chasing me, there is somebody looking up all the numbers on Chestnut Lane in the directory, and he is calling one house after the other to see if he can overtake me.pg 135
Nothing is hung on the rest of the wall, nor does any furniture stand against it. And the whole house is somewhat similar: bare walls here, crammed ones there, as if resulting from a need to concentrate signs into a kind of dense script, surrounded by the void in which to find repose and refreshment again.pg 144
Renouncing things is less difficult than people believe: it’s all a matter of getting started. Once you’ve succeeded in dispensing with something you thought essential, you realize you can also do without something else, then without many other things.pg 248
The gaze of the reader opposite you, instead of resting on the book open in his hands, wanders in the air. But his eyes are not absent: a fixed intensity accompanies the movements of the blue irises. Every now and then your eyes meet. At a certain point he addresses you, or, rather, he speaks as if into the void, though certainly to you:
“Don’t be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful for me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it. The stimulus of reading is indispensable to me, and of meaty reading, even if, of every book, I manage to read no more than a few pages. But those few pages already enclose for me whole universes, which I can never exhaust.”pg 253-254
(by Thomas More) (year 1516) (read 2019-07) (score 3)
(by Philip Roth) (read 2019) (score 4)
Because this city, as we know, is alive with girls wholly unlike Mary Jane Reed, promising, unbroken, uncontaminated young women–healthy, in fact, as milkmaids. I know, because these were her predecessors–only they didn’t satisfy, either. They were wrong, too. Spielvogel, believe me, I’ve been there, I’ve tried: I’ve eaten their casseroles and shaved in their johns, I’ve been given duplicate keys to their police locks and shelves of my own in the medicine cabinet, I have even befriended those cats of theirs–named Spinoza and Clytemnestra and Candide and Cat–yes, yes, clever and erudite girls, fresh from successful adventures in sex and scholarship at wholesome Ivy League colleges, lively, intelligent, self-respecting, self-assured, and well-behaved young women–social workers and research assistants, schoolteachers and copy readers, girls in whose company I did not feel abject or ashamed, girls I did not have to father or mother or educate or redeem. And they didn’t work out, either!pg 215
Christ, yes, this [Kay Campbell] was one of the great shikses. I might have learned something spending the rest of my life with such a person. Yes, I might–if I could learn something! If I could somehow be torn away from this obsession with fellatio and fornication, from romance and fantasy and revenge–from the settling of scores! the pursuit of dreams! from this hopeless, senseless loyalty to the long ago!pg 219
I cannot imagine myself living out my life any other place but here. Why leave, why go, when there is everything here that I will ever want? The ridiculing, the joking, the acting-up, the pretending–anything for a laugh! I love it! And yet underneath it all, they mean it, they are dead earnest. You should see them at the end of the seven innings when that dollar has to change hands. Don’t tell me they don’t mean it! Losing and winning is not a joke … and yet it is! And that’s what charms me most of all. Fierce as the competition is, they cannot resist clowning and kibbitzing around. Putting on a show! How I am going to love growing up to be a Jewish man! Living forever in the Weequahic section, and playing softball on Chancellor Avenue from nine to one on Sundays, a perfect joining of clown and competitor, kibbitzing wiseguy and dangerous long-ball hitter.pg 243-244
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
(by John le Carre) (read 2019) (score 3)
When I checked out this book, the library clerk said he thought the ending came too fast. Events do happen quickly in the ending sequence, but I disagree that they happen too quickly.
Rules for Radicals
(by Saul Alinsky) (read 2019) (score 3)
The Name of the Rose
(by Umberto Eco) (read 2019) (score 3 or 4)
This was my master’s way. He not only knew how to read the great book of nature, but also knew the way monks read the books of Scripture, and how they thought through them.pg 24-25
“Monasterium sine libris,” the abbot recited, pensively, “est sicut civitas sine opibus, castrum sine numeris, coquina sine suppellectili, mensa sine cibis, hortus sine herbis, pratum sine floribus, arbor sine foliis […]”pg 36
Then the abbot gave his benediction, the hebdomadary said the prayers, all bowed toward the altar in a moment of meditation whose sweetness no one can comprehend who has not experienced those hours of mystic ardor and intense inner peace.pg 102
- balneary: n/adj. bathing place; of or relating to bathing.
- pudenda: genitals (usually used in the plural, as “genitals” is)
- jocose: jocular; waggish; given to joking.
- anagoge: mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially exegesis which claims to detect allusions to heaven or the afterlife
- hebdomadary: member of a chapter or convent whose duty it is, during a certain week, to officiate in the choir, rehearse the anthems and prayers, and perform other services which on extraordinary occasions are performed by the superior. Also “hebdomader”. Can also be an adjective meaning “weekly”, in which case there is the synonym “hebdomadal”.
- vicissitude: mutability; state of being changeable; a change.
- versicle: the first half of a call-and-response verse, chanted by an officiant (priest, cantor, etc.)
- prebender: also “prebendary”. a stipend allotted to a canon or chapter member, or the one receiving such a stipend.
- ascesis: also “askesis”. Strict discipline or self-control, especially for meditative or religious purposes.
- vituperate: rebuke, vilify.
- adumbrate: produce an vague image of; sketch; outline. Foreshadow; prefigure. Overshadow; partially darken or conceal.
- quodlibet: subtle or elaborate argument/reasoning, usually on a theological or scholarly subject. From Latin quod libet, “as one pleases”.
- simony: making a profit from that which is sacred, e.g. the sin of dealing in beneficies or ecclesiastical preferments. From the Biblical figure Simon Magus.
- tatterdemalion: adj. ragged, tattered. n. a person wearing ragged or tattered clothing.
- brume: mist; fog.
- gonfalon: banner suspended from a crossbar; a standard, such as those used in medieval Italy. The bearer of a gonfalon is a “gonfalonier”.
- cortege/cortège: line or train of attendants. Procession, especially a funeral procession.
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
(by David Simon) (read 2019) (score 4)
(by Upton Sinclair) (read 2019) (score 3 or 4)
My Promised Land
(by Ari Shavat) (read 2019) (score 2 or 3)
(by Fredrik Pohl) (year 1976) (read 2019) (score 3)
(by Kurt Busiek) (art Alex Ross) (reread 2019) (score 3)
In the Land of Israel
(by Amos Oz) (translator Maurie Goldberg-Bartura) (year 1983) (read 2019) (score 3)
This is a collection of interview articles which novelist Amos Oz conducted in October and November, 1982, while writing for the newspaper Davar. The titles given in the citations are those of the articles, which are also the titles of the collection’s chapters.
“I’ll tell you what shame is: they gave us [Mizrahi migrants to Israel] houses, they gave us the dirty work; they gave us education, and they took away our self-respect. What did they bring my parents to Israel for? I’ll tell you what for, but you [Amos Oz] won’t write this. You’ll think it’s just provocation. But wasn’t it to do your dirty work? You [non-Mizrahi Israelis] didn’t have Arabs then, so you needed our parents to do your cleaning and be your servants and your laborers. And policemen, too. You brought our parents to be your Arabs.”Unnamed resident of Bet Shemesh. Quoted in “The Insult and the Fury”, pg 36
“When you [left-wingers] were on top, you hid us away in holes, in moshavim and development towns, so the tourists wouldn’t see us; so we wouldn’t stain your image; so they’d think this was a white country. But that’s all over now, because now we’ve come out of our holes. […] Who built this country? Siegel or Bouhbout? Ashkenazi or Sephardi? A hundred years ago – they said on TV – the Alignment people came from Russia, and the first thing those Labor Party people did was bring a bunch of Yemenites from Yemen to do their dirty work. Only after that they made up all these stories.”Unnamed resident of Bet Shemesh, pg 40-41
“That’s the situation between the Jews and the Arabs here. It’s like two people standing on a roof stuck tight together: if they don’t want to fall off the roof together, they have to be careful. They have no choice – they’re stuck together very tight.”Naif, a Palestinian from Ramallah. Quoted in “Just a Peace”, pg 83
“Tell me yourself, do the bad guys really have it so bad in this world? Do they lack for anything? If anybody tries to lay a finger on them, they cut off his arms and legs. And sometimes they do the same for the people who haven’t even tried anything. If they feel like eating something, and they can catch it and kill it, that’s what they do. And they don’t suffer an upset stomach afterward or any divine retribution. So from here on in, I want Israel to be a member of this club.”“Z”, a pseudonym. Quoted in “The Tender Among You, and Very Delicate”, pg 89
“[…] we could have put all that [hypothetical violence] behind us and by now become a normal nation with prissy values, with humanistic neighborly relations with Iraq and Egypt, and with a slight criminal record – just like everybody else. Like the English and the French and the Germans and the Americans – who’ve already managed to forget what they did to the Indians – and the Australians, who almost totally eliminated the aborigines. They’ve all done it. What’s the big deal? What’s so terrible about being a civilized people, respectable, with a slight criminal past?”“Z”, pg 96
He [Z] replied calmly, “Listen, friend, if that celebrated Jewish mind had spent less time saving the world […] and instead had hurried up a bit, only ten years, and set up a tiny, Lilliputian Jewish state […] and invented in time a teeny-weeny atom bomb for the state – if they’d only done those two things – there would never have been a Hitler. Or a Holocaust. And nobody in the whole world would have dared to lay a finger on the Jews.”“Z”, pg 99
“I think that the positions of Gush Emunim6 really do constitute an irritating and alarming threat to the legitimacy of this secular, hedonistic ‘Israeli-ism.’ The existence of Gush Emunim disturbs your [secular Israelis’] experience of modern Western existence, including permissiveness and pacifism and internationalism; it interferes with your attempt to ‘adjust’ our society to fashionable Western values. You have been trapped by a multifaceted threat: first of all, in terms of Zionist fulfillment, you are no longer the pioneers. Second, you’ve been tangled up in a war you don’t really believe in. Third, what you view as injustice is being done to Arabs in your name.”Yisrael Harel, Chairman of Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza [the occupied territories]. Quoted in “An Argument on Life and Death (A)”, pg 115
I have stated many times that Zionism is not a first name but a surname, a family name, and this family is divided, feuding over the question of a “master plan” for the enterprise: How shall we live here? Shall we aspire to rebuild the kingdom of David and Solomon? Shall we construct a Marxist paradise here? A Western society, a social-democratic welfare state? Or shall we create a model of the petite bourgeoisie diluted with a little Yiddishkeit?Amos Oz, in a speech given to members of the Ofra settlement. Quoted in “An Argument on Life and Death (B)”, pg 128
The controversy between “hawks” and “doves” is fundamentally not about the future of the territories. It is a controversy over the nature of Zionism and even the meaning of the Jewish destiny. The hawks maintain that there is some ancient, mysterious curse of fate because of which we are doomed to eternal conflict with an inimical, alien world, no matter what we do, and therefore we had better slough off the image of the “nice Jewish boy” and become the big bad wolves for a change – they are not going to love us anyway, but maybe they will fear us. Some wolf: with claws made in the United States and jaws donated by charity. Whereas the doves maintain that there is a certain correlation between our acts, our behavior, and the support we garner. He who shuts his eyes and sings ecstatically, “All the world’s against us” forgets, for instance, the broad, vital, and fateful support we had in  and again in , despite the oil and assorted other delicacies the Arabs had to offer anyone who would line up against us.Amos Oz, pg 146
“It was a little strange. It annoyed me. The Zionists should be soldiers! Let them be a brutal enemy! They’re not supposed to look like the old people of Nablus! And then I saw little children playing in the street. And then I saw an elderly Jewish laborer drag an ice box and load it onto his cart, which was drawn by a donkey. All of a sudden it became difficult to hate them. They looked too much like human beings. That trip caused a small crisis in me. Perhaps something similar happens to a Jew who comes to Germany for the first time and suddenly finds that the streets are not filled with uniformed Nazis with jackboots and whips, but that there are old people, poor people; that there are lovely children; that there are human beings without horns and tails. It was hard!”Ali “Abu Haled” Al-Halili7, a literature editor at Palestinian newspaper Al-Fajr. Quoted in “The Dawn”, pg 175
“Look, we’ve learned something from you. We want to be an open, pluralistic, democratic society. And that is not about to happen so soon with Jordan. We still remember King Hussein, all right. I, for one, am willing to state openly and out loud today: the Jews have a historical claim to part of Palestine. Your forefathers were here, along with our forefathers. Your suffering grants you rights, as does our suffering. I accept that. Do you know what the hardest thing for me to accept, the hardest thing for me to swallow? That we are two similar peoples. That our fate is interlocked. Am I happy about it? No, not at all. You are not happy about it, either. But nothing can be done about that any more: we are linked together. You are our destiny. We are your destiny. Our respective disasters, yours and ours, for decades in this land – these very disasters have welded us together. And that’s it. Either we will continue our stubbornness until we destroy each other completely, or we will recognize each other and recognize the tie between us, and then, maybe, there will be an end to the suffering. Perhaps. My tears in Haifa that I told you about – perhaps it was my hatred that wept then, because it was dying. My hatred is dead. Now I have only bitterness and anger, but no more hatred. There’s nothing we can do about it: here in this land we are welded together, Jews and Arabs, forever.”Ali “Abu Haled” Al-Halili, pg 177
“My dream is – before my time comes, they should give me two minutes on the television Friday night, when everybody is listening, and I will tell the young people what everybody should be saying here every morning and night, should say thanks God for everything what we got here in this country: the army, the ministers by the Knesset, the El Al, the income tax even, the streets, the kibbutzim, the factories – everything! What is this?! They forgot how we had it in this country in the beginning? There wasn’t nothing! Sand and enemies! Now, thanks God, we got the State and everybody has what to eat and clothes and education – not enough yet, the education – and we even got a lot of luxury! What did we have in the Diaspora? We had bubkes, that’s what!”Unnamed Rumanian resident of Ashdod. Quoted in “At the End of that Autumn: A Midwinter Experience”, pg 224
Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe
(by Simon Singh) (read 2019-05) (score 3)
(by Charles Murray) (read 2019) (score 3)
The Bonfire of the Vanities
(by Tom Wolfe) (score 3 or 4) (read 2019)
I’ve read magazine pieces by Tom Wolfe, but this is the first novel of his that I’ve read. Wolfe’s strongest skill is capturing the every-which-way rush of ideas that the average person experiences in unsure and stressful situations. He does this with a signature style in which descriptive prose is constantly being broken up by characters’ reactions and inner monologues. He’s also good at writing odious characters, and at simmering both the characters’ anxieties and the reader’s expectations. On the other hand, his verbose style can come off cutesy, flat, and artificial once I’ve spent enough time trekking through it.
Garden of Marvels: Tales of Wonder from Early Medieval China
(by Various) (translator Robert Ford Campany) (read 2018) (score 3)
He Yu, byname Yanju, a native of Shanyin in Guiji, once fell ill and unconscious. Only a place beneath his heart remained warm. After three days he revived. He said that a functionary had to taken him up into the heavens to appear before a magistrate. The Magistrate’s official quarters were very imposing. He ordered Yu to be taken into a secret chamber with several shelves. On the shelves were a seal and a sword. Yu was directed to take whichever of the items he liked. He was short and could not reach the top shelf, so he took the short sword [from a lower shelf] and went out. He was asked, “Which did you choose?” Yu said, “I chose the sword.” The functionary replied, “What a pity you didn’t choose the seal. With it you may have commanded the hundred spirits. With the sword you command only local earth gods.”
After he had recovered from his illness, whenever Yu traveled about, he saw earth gods along the roadside bowing to him as if to a superior.Originally from 录异传. pg 22
In Yuhang District there lived a man named Shen Cong. His home was near the mountains. One night he and his father were on the mountain when, during the third watch, they suddenly saw a person wearing a muslin cap and a thin, crimson damask gown. The man said that he was the king of Mount Dou. (Mount Dou is in Yuhang District.)Originally from 齐谐记. pg 27
(by Peter Watts) (read 2018) (score 3)
Life in a Medieval City
(by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies) (year 1969) (read 2018) (score 5)
A gem of a book. I can soak for hours in descriptions of historical daily life such as these. Some notes and quotes from Chapter 3:
- The cathedral, as the seat of a bishop, had the right to ring bells before the count’s chapel and Notre-Dame-aux-Nonnains
The housewife’s first chore in the day is shopping for food.In the streets surrounding St-Jean,
signs furnish a colorful punctuation: a grape bush for the vintner;
gilded pillsfor the apothecary; a red-striped hand and forearm for the barber-surgeon; a horse for the harness-maker; a unicorn for the goldsmith
In the butchers’ quarter, slaughtering is performed on the spot […] blood dries in the sun amid piles of offal, swarms of flies.
- The poulterer sells
geese, chickens, ducks, rabbits […] their legs trussed, they flounder on the ground.
- Sweeteners and spices are expensive; prices of different-sized loaves are set by regulation; each baker must mark loaves with his seal.
- In a well-to-do burgher’s house,
ceaseless war is carried [out against insects]. All 4 stories of the house are occupied by the burgher and his family. In the rear are stables and storehouses; the toilet is a privy in the stableyard. The first floor is for business; it contains an anteroom and a workshop or counting room. The second floor holds the solar (living and dining room), with a hearth on one wall, and the kitchen. On the third floor is a big canopied master bed with a clothes-hanging pole running above the head of the bed; children’s smaller beds are here, too. The fourth floor is for the servants.
- The building is
large and low-ceilinged; the
floors are covered with rushes;
narrow windows [are] filled with oiled parchment; on the walls
hang panels of dyed and embroidered linen cloth, but there are no tapestries yet.
Furniture is drab; costume is not.
Life at the Bottom
(by Theodore Dalrymple) (read ? 2018) (score 3)
The Shadow of the Torturer
(by Gene Wolfe) (read ? 2018) (score 4)
The Design of Everyday Things
(by Donald A. Norman) (read 2018) (score 4)
The Three-Body Problem
(by Cixin Liu) (read 2017) (score 2)
I read this in Chinese. Anyone lauding The Three-Body Problem has not read enough classic 20th-century science fiction, which expected some effort from its readers. Occasional memorable scenes (like the ship assault) and the solid Cultural Revolution sections cannot save the daft plot. One example: the alien “videogame” lacks the features of an actual videogame – motivation, progression, reward – and is more like a series of weird lectures. While people do play bad videogames, the way this one is described, it’s hard to understand why Earthlings would play it in large numbers.
Before bothering with this, read Roadside Picnic, Dune, and Starship Troopers. [And don’t whine to me about Heinlein.]
Homage to Catalonia
(by George Orwell) (read ? 2017) (score 4)
(by Sinclair Lewis) (read 2017) (score 3)
(by Franz Kafka) (translator David Wyllie) (read 2017) (score 4)
Crime and Punishment
(by Fyodor Dostoyevsky) (translator Constance Garnett) (read 2017) (score 3 or 4)
The Importance of Being Earnest
(by Oscar Wilde) (read 2017) (score 3)
Sons and Lovers
(by D. H. Lawrence) (read 2017) (score 4)
A first-rate novel. (I’m afraid I can’t say the same about Amores, a collection of Lawrence’s poems.)
The Good Soldier
(by Ford Madox Ford) (read 2016) (score 3)
(by Stanisław Lem) (score 5) (read 2014) (year 1974) (translator Michael Kandel)
A phenomenally inventive collection of stories which is enjoyable by anyone, SF fan or no. While the protagonists are robots who ride spaceships and build poetry machines, and Lem employs endless riffs on scientific and technological diction, the stories in The Cyberiad are structurally myths, or fairy tales. My copy is, quite accurately, subtitled “Fables for the Cybernetic Age.”
Books to Read
What I hope to read.
- Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century Paperback - (Orville Schell, John Delury) 
- Electric Incandescent Lighting (L. H. Latimer)
- Wetware (Dennis Bray)
- The Corpse Walker (:vote 2)
- Gitanjali / Song Offerings (Rabindranath Tagore)
- Cell 2455, Death Row
- Paradise Lost [online at Dartmouth]
- The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers (Robert L. Heilbroner)
- The Death of Ivan Ilych
- Tibet’s True Heart (Woeser)
- Absolute Beginner’s Guide to C
- Night Comes to the Cumberlands (Harry Caudill)
- Illustrated Excursions in Italy (Edward Lear)
- Structures: Or, Why Things Don’t Fall Down
- King Lear
- On Combat (Dave Grossman)
- The Ascent of F6
- Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Tony Judt) 
- The Challenger Launch Decision (Diane Vaughn)
- The Heart of Chinese Poetry
- Burned Bridge (Sheffer)
- Fiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States
- Flashman #1 - George Fraser
- Os Lusiadas
- Lexicon Urthus
- Left of Bang [see this book review]
- Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader (Peter Wright)
- Specialization and Trade (Arnold Kling)
- Basic Economics (Thomas Sowell)
- House to House (Bellavia)
- Berlin Stories (Christopher Isherwood)
- The Mysterious Stranger (Mark Twain)
- Invitation to a Beheading (Nabokov)
- The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854
- Endgame (Jensen)
- Fortress Beseiged / 围城 (Qian Zhongshu)
- book list for “The Winnowing of American Democracy”:
The first group of books I recommend all deal with how democratic institutions actualley work.
- (Matt Grossman) Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change since 1945
- (Christopher Achen and Larry Bartel) Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government
- (Frank Bryan) Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How it Works
My perspective on this question is strongly shaped by books like these, which paint a vivid picture of what it felt like to live the democratic way of life.
- (Alexis de Tocqueville)
Democracy in America
- (Daniel Walker Howe) What God Hath Wrought
- (Henry Watson) Liberty and Power
These books describe the slow death of self-government in American civic life. Like the last set, all three of these are data heavy. Skopcal’s book is the most important in the set and probably the most important of the entire list.
- (Theda Skocpol) Diminished Democracy
- (Robert Putnam) Bowling Alone
- (Charles Murray)
- In an Unspoken Voice (Peter A Levine)
- Wuthering Heights
- Tropic of Cancer
- Liberators (Robert Harvey)
- A History of Warfare [recommended by SSC user Del Cotter:
it might as well be called “War Systems Very Different From Ours”. It takes Clausewitz’s aphorism, and, noting that it doesn’t really describe war as many societies have waged it, takes a tour of military cultures in history that were not just different, but based on a different understanding of what war is.]
- Computer as Theatre (Brenda Laurel) [omg, how could I not want to read a book with that title?]
- Hamlet on the Holodeck
- Super Forecasting
- The House Without Windows (Barbara Newhall Follett)
- Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!
- The Decadent Society (Ross Douthat)
- Kiln People
- Tall Trees Tough Men (Robert Everding Pike)
- The Mom Test (Rob Fitzpatrick) [supposed to be stupendous for product development]
- The Man Who Folded Himself
- Japanese Death Poems (Yoel Hoffmann)
- Hidden Order (David D. Friedman)
- Legal Systems Very Different From Ours
- Robert Hartwell Fiske’s Dictionary of unendurable English: a compendium of mistakes in grammar, usage, and spelling: with commentary on lexicographers and linguists
- The Invisible Hook - Peter Leeson
- The Dream Machine - M. Mitchell Waldrop
- Turing’s Cathedral
- A Chinese Life - Li Kunwu [graphic novel]
- Confessions of an Economic Hitman
- A Study in Words - C. S. Lewis
- The Conquest of the Useless (Werner Herzog - about filming Fitzcarraldo)
- movies and shows: Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Emitai [by Ousmane Sembene], Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993 Fry and Laurie show), Chinatown, Adaptation, Big Sleep, Citizen Kane, Fitzcarraldo, Jarhead, Twentieth Century Women, Vertigo, Drinking Buddies , Orange County , Make Way for Tomorrow , Waterloo Bridge [1941 version], 三峡好人, Blind Shaft, Beijing Bicycle, Gunga Din, My Dinner with Andre, The Betrayal (rules vs. moral codes; amazing sword fight), My Man Godfrey, Cleo from 5 to 7, Scenes from a Marriage, Ashes and Diamonds (end-of-WWII Poland; made in 1950s), movies by Kieslowski, Chimes at Midnight, Vrtigo
- 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem
- Jesus the Jew (Geza Vermes)
- Mindstorms (Simon Papert)
- The Territory of the Historian (Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie)
- The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century (Joel F. Harrington)
- 撒哈拉的故事 (三毛)
- Heart of Darkness
- Behave (Robert M Sapolsky)
- Three Men of the Beagle (Richard Lee Marks)
- Diplomacy (Kissinger)
- Haunted by Chaos (Sulmaan Wasif Khan)
- The Tragedy of Liberation / Mao’s Great Famine / The Cultural Revolution (Frank Dikötter) [trilogy]
- Free to Choose (Milton Friedman) [available as free video series]
- Platform (Michel Houellebecq)
- The Once and Future King
- City of God (Paulo Lins)
- The Way Things Work (David Macaulay)
- Spirit Level Delusion
- The Futurological Congress
- Days of Rage
- Turtle Geometry (Harold Abelson)
- (:vote 2) Draft No. 4 (John McPhee)
- On Paradise Drive (David Brooks)
- 唐诗三百首 / Three Hundred Tang Poems
- Black Book of Communism
- Interviewing Leather
- Defending the Undefendable
- Never Split the Difference
- Science and Civilization in China (Joseph Needham) [available as online scans]
- Titan (by Chernow)
- The Magic Cauldron
- The Remains of the Day
- Don’t Make Me Think
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Red Mars
- Going Clear
- The Food Lab
- Life a User’s Manual
- Arctic Adventure (Peter Freuchen)
- New Rules of Posture
- Empire of the Summer Moon (S C Gwynne)
- Discipline and Punish
- The Blacker the Berry (Wallace Shurman)
- Return of the Native
- East of Eden
- Kings of the High Frontier (Koman)
- Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (Donald Engels)
- Dirk Gently
- Let My People Go Surfing [by the founder of Patagonia]
- The Coddling of the American Mind
- socialism is great (Lijia Zhang)
- Wanderer (Sterling Hayden)
- The Sheep Look Up
- Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path (Michael Mitterauer)
- Underground History of American Education (John Taylor Gatto)
- Seeing Like A State (James Scott)
- Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
- The People’s Republic of Wal-Mart
- Farmers and Fishermen, 1650-1830
- Slouching Toward Bethlehem
- The Road to Wigan Pier
- The Adapted Mind
- To Mock a Mockingbird
- War and Peace and War
- The Search for Modern China
- Orlando Furioso
- Practical Typography
- Hackers (Steven Levy)
- Critical Path (Buckminster Fuller)
- The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Jean-Francois Lyotard)
- A Burglar’s Guide to the City (Manaugh)
- Politics of Social Solidarity (Peter Baldwin)
- Economic Theory and the Welfare State (Nicholas Barr)
- Myth of the Rational Voter (Bryan Caplan)
- The Case Against Education (Bryan Caplan)
- Cambridge Handbook Expertise and Expert Performance
- Handbook of Relationship Initiation
- The Shallows (Nick Carr)
- Death Life Great American Cities
- Zoned in the USA
- Zoned American
- Dignity (Chris Arnade)
- Spent: Sex, Behavior, and Consumers
- Independence Day (Richard Ford)
- classes/courses/textbooks: SICP
- Paradigms of Artifical Intelligence Programming
- Weyanwen (R. Eno)
- Git Internals Guide (Scott Chacon)
- Continue NAND 2 Tetris computer architecture course with Chapter 3, Part A
- Beautiful Racket
- Fast.AI’s course on Deep Learning
- Introduction to User Interface Design Through Wireframes
This book’s page numbers begin at pg 663, since the volumes in this series are meant to comprise one continuous work introducing the reader to English literature.↩
Yes, “of,” not “to.”↩
Here, Ciardi puts his period outside his parentheses; later, he includes, inside quotation marks, a comma that wasn’t part of the quotation. I wonder if he is consistent about his usage? It doesn’t really matter.↩
Yes, “a scales.” Not a typo.↩
A 1970s-1980s political-religious Israeli movement which settling the occupied territories.↩
Al-Halili later accused Amos Oz of misrepresenting the former’s beliefs. For more, see the explanatory note “Some Reactions to In the Land of Israel”, at the end of that book.↩