60

Words, words, words


 

UPDATED: John Ralston Saul is the new head of PEN International

****

As usual, I have far more books sitting unread than read.

Last night I finished Age of Persuasion, the new book from Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant, the creators of the CBC radio series. I hope to interview Terry and Mike soon; meanwhile, it’s the sort of book where if you like the show, you’ll like the book.

I’m halfway through Joseph Heath’s Following the Rules: Practical Reasoning and Deontic Constraint. It’s his new book of serious philosophy; to a large extent, it’s an answer to the perennial undergraduate question of whether morality reduces to self-interest. It’s the hardest book I’ve read in a long time, and I’m very out of practice in this kind of philosophy.

A few weeks ago, I read the first few chapters of Diego Gambetta’s Codes of the Underworld: How criminals communicate. It’s excellent — all about status signalling amongst lowlifes.

I got 45 pages into Inside the Stalin Archives, by Jonathan Brent. I put it down when I realized I couldn’t give it the attention it needs at the moment. It looks great so far.

I bought The Anti-Communist Manifestos, by John Fleming. Not sure if I’ll get around to reading it.

Frans de Waal’s The Age of Empathy is on my desk. I love monkeys and monkey politics, but I still haven’t finished his last one. For some reason I think I already have the gist of it.

I can’t wait to dig into Transition, the new novel from Iain M. Banks, as soon as I finish re-reading Neuromancer. It’s not as good as I remember; I realize now that when I think of the classic William Gibson book, it’s Count Zero.

What are you reading, or not?


 
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Words, words, words

  1. Henning Mankell – Swedish crime fiction. I read one and now I have to read them all. They're basically candy.

    Unfortunately, this has meant that I've had to put off reading Fred Hirsch's Social Limits to Growth and Robert Frank's Status Anxiety but I think I already know the general point they're getting at.

    Immediately prior to my absorption in crime fiction I finished Alain De Botton's Pleasures and Sorrows of work – it was ok, but he sort of missed/glossed over the point that someone has to do the crappy jobs and that for a lot of people a job is just a job and you shouldn't just do what you want to do, if, say, you're sixty and bad at it. I was also unimpressed with Thaler and Sunstein's Nudge as too often straight-up paternalism would seem to work out better.

    Finally, I just picked up Amartya Sen's the Idea of Justice which I'm very excited about. I doubt it will live up to my expectations but it's been heralded as the next big thing in political philosophy. I don't know if I'm smart enough for Heath's following the rules – I might give it a stab at Christmas, along with Habermas' Between Facts and Norms. I tend to like to torture myself over Christmas.

    • I used to work for a Swedish company, and I learned a lot about relating to Swedish co-workers and Swedish ways of work from reading Mankell . Plus they're great stories.

  2. The Stalin archives book by Brent is a big disappointment. I've read many of the fascinating volumes in the series he helped bring to light and was therefore looking forward to hearing how he pulled off this feat. But far too much of the book is taken up with his boring reminiscences of what Moscow was like in the early 1990s and how the food situation wasn't that great.

    • Oh no, that's not what I wanted to hear. The series is so excellent…

  3. What I'm reading:

    The Early Stories – John Updike
    Read all of the Olinger stories last night. Brilliant.

    What I'm browsing:

    Troublesome Words – Bill Bryson
    A reference work with humour and charm.

    needless to say is a harmless enough expression, but it often draws attention to the fact that you really didn't need to say it.

    What I just finished and loved:

    Spooner – Pete Dexter
    A fictionalized autobiography that is often hilarious.

    What I'm not reading:

    How to be Good – Nick Hornby
    Read a couple of chapters and set it aside for the Updike. Seems interesting enough that I will probably go back to it.

    Your list looks interesting, the Codes of the Underworld in particular. Sounds like something akin to The Wire which was fascinating because of the complex relationships between the criminal charactors.

  4. I am reading Bob Plamondon's new book "Blue Thunder" which reviews the history of all leaders of the Conservative Party from MAcdonald to Harper. It is full of interesting insights, especially about those leaders who never became prime minister where most of us have less information grom our history books.

  5. I am reading Bob Plamondon's new book "Blue Thunder" which reviews the history of all leaders of the Conservative Party from Macdonald to Harper. It is full of interesting insights, especially about those leaders who never became prime minister where most of us have less information from our history books.

    • Read it in the summer. One fact that I remember from book is how many Con leaders didn't want to be leaders but felt like they had to take position for the good of party. Cons kept getting leaders that were cantankerous, anti-social and it shows in their election results over the years.

    • Glad you enjoyed the book. It is the first attempt to chronicle the life of a Canadian political party from inception to the present. As you now it is more than a chronicle of the party but also the history of Canada. I am happy to receive your detailed comments and observations. Hopefully there will be a second edition.

      Cheers
      Bob

  6. Glad I'm not the only one with a ton of books going on at once:

    1) Bought and read Theo Fleury's autobiography. A pretty sombre read, and unfortunately not a case where all the bad stuff comes out in the press early. The books is littered with some pretty insane stories

    2) Almsot done Rex Murphy's new book, a collection of columns from years gone by. As per usual, a witty, if not caustic view, of the affairs of the world.

    3) Partway through Linden MacIntyre's autobiographical look at the building of the Canso Causeway

    4)Making my way through Iggy's 'Blood and Belonging". Read it for a class in unversity, but as was the case 9 times out of 10 at the time, didn't exactly take the time to absorb much of it, so reading it again to contrast that Ignatieff to the current one.

  7. Part 1 (The Part About The Critics) of Roberto Bolano's 2666:
    Bolano just keeps the story moving, leaving up to you to figure out what it all means.

    Break, Blow, Burn by Camille Paglia:
    This has inestimably heightened my interest in poetry. Deconstruction, fittingly, has done so much damage; rather, this kind of close reading makes poetry come alive.

    anything Christopher Hitchens writes:
    Though I find him immensely persuasive, I don't necessarily agree with his every point of view. But his writing – the man's vocabulary is immense, his use of it is penetrating, and his arguments are verbally stunning. Even if you disagree with his every statement, read him just to watch him work.

    • Hitchens is interesting to watch too. I too don't like everything he has to say, but he says it in an entertaining and provocative way. My idea of a public intellectual rather than Ignatieff.

    • I read 2666 a couple of weeks ago; found it gripping all the way through. "The Part About the Crimes" is a little hard to take though. This was my first Bolano; I've since read "Amulet" and will certainly be reading more.

      I like Hitchens's literary essays in the Atlantic very much. Just read the one on the Somme a couple of days ago.

  8. I have general book question for everyone: I was in the library the other day and said I was looking for novel by so and so and the woman asked me fiction or non-fiction. Aren't novels always fiction?

    I like to have two books on the go at once, one fiction and one non-fiction.

    I am just finishing Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series of historical fiction. Have mostly enjoyed all the books – love Gordianus The Finder and his exploits to find missing persons and murderers.

    What has really got my attention at the moment though is Philip Pan's Out of Mao's Shadow – awesome look at today's China and guaranteed to make you twitchy about ChiComs. Pan is Washington Post reporter who spent 7 years, I think, covering China for paper. Each chapter in book starts off focused on an individual that Pan interviewed and then person's story is used to illustrate bigger point about China.

    For instance, there is one story about documentary film maker who wants to make film about heroine in late 1950's who was idealistic communist but thought Mao was on wrong path during Great Leap Forward era. ChiComs had her killed after a few years of her agitating and authorities in today's China don't want anyone looking into what went on in the past. So the filmmaker, and his wife, are harassed by authorities to stop the project but he continued on regardless of the consequences.

    There was another story about man losing family home to make way for Beijing Olympic buildings. The focus is on man, his family and ancestors who lived in the house but chapter is also about how business is conducted in modern China and it is shocking. Lets just say they don't have property rights in China yet and robber barons are in tight with leading ChiComs.

    Anyways, awesome book for anyone interested in modern China.

  9. Beyond the Outer shore – E.E. Tamm, the untold odyssey of Ed Ricketts.
    For any one who's a Steinbeck admirer, a must read. There was an almost symbiotic relationship between the two friends, one a major author, the other a struggling marine biologist/author. It seems Ricketts provided much of the grist for Steinbeck's mill.
    There's a Canadian angle to this book, indeed the author is Canadian himself. Even if Steinbeck doesn't thrill, Ricketts does/did.
    This inspired me to reread Grapes of wrath for the first time in many years. It was interesting because i had been largely unaware that Steinbeck is now regarded as an early ecological writer rather than merely political [ deal with in Tamm's book] Oddly i found GOW to be quite dull in spots, but it still holds up, largely because of Steinbeck's unique style.

    • I wonder if Ricketts is the one Steinbeck bases his marine biologist from Cannery Row? If you want to try a different side of Steinbeck, I recommend Cannery Row or Tortilla Flats- they are very funny, personable and lively, totally different from his more famous books.

  10. Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf
    Fraser Sutherland's The Monthly Epic
    Agatha Christie's El asesinato de Roger Ackroyd

  11. Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf . . . at last.
    Fraser Sutherland's The Monthly Epic . . . just to check out if we're in better or worse shape these days than we were in, oh, 1850.
    Agatha Christie's El asesinato de Roger Ackroyd . . . even though I can't really follow whether the chair is moving towards the window or in front of the window and it might all come down to that.

    • Great story teller Mowat. Did you read Bay of Spirits? A wonderful little jog around Newfoundlands outports and a way of life that i would imagine hardly exists anymore.

    • I LOVE Farley Mowat! Through his words first, but it was further cemented when he was barred from entering the USA after threatening to shoot at cruise missile bearing B52s with his .22 rifle (on some TV show I can't recall). Never Cry Wolf is brilliant.

      Good to have you back, by the way!

  12. I’m re-reading Words the Work by Dr. Frank Luntz – it’s a fun read.

    I’m also digging through the latest Federal Election review book – these are good, but because the authors don’t have perfect information, it means they aren’t right all the time (but then again, who is).

    I’m looking for another book or two – I like this thread and these comments :-)

    William

  13. Unfinished stuff:

    Mistakes were made [but not by me] – Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts.
    C.Tavris and E. Aronson
    I'm not much of a self help book fan, but this layman's look at cognitive dissonance is fascinating and nicely episodic, which is why i didn't finish it yet. Aronson is one of the early pioneers of dissonance theory.
    That far greater bay – Ray Guy. A great, wise and funny Canadian. I have a great fondness for humourists/story tellers, particuarly Canadian ones – Greg clark was another.

  14. Just finished Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich At War, the final book in his three-volume history.

    I'm in the middle of David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous and Jason Schneider's Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music from Hank Snow to The Band.

    On deck: Solitary Raven: The Essential Writings of Bill Reid, and All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation, by Ian Gill.

    • What did you think of the Evans? I read all of part one and half of part two over the summer, then took a break. I loved the first one, but the middle one doesn't have as strong a narrative arc . It's much more thematic… but can't wait for the War to start.

      • Third Reich at War is the best of the three. I didn't want to stop reading, his prose is so clear and concentrated, but the thoroughness of the story he tells is bearable only a few pages at a time.

  15. Recently finished: American Psycho, Ogilvy on Advertising and Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.

    Started Charlie Wilson's War last night intending to read only a chapter but got through three or four, so it's pretty good. Picked up Unbuilt Toronto so that may be next or I may go a chapter at a time.

    Most of the tomes Potter lists sound too heavy for me.

    Re. Stalin: interesting piece from Saturday Post "Scholar targeted after study on Stalin victims" http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=21

  16. Other than texts, the last book I got into a bit was the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. From this book, I want to find a book on the feud between Brouwer vs Hilbert, and Einstein's resignation. It starts off general then gets progressively more advanced. Also Harold Bloom's the Western Canon.
    I'm working my way through, Drezner's reading list on top ten books international economic history.

  17. I read a lot of crime fiction too. I've never read Mankell but will look for him. An American writer I love is James Lee Burke. He writes fantastic stories.

  18. Andrew or Jody

    Have either of you read Michael Burleigh's Nazi books? Burleigh's The Third Reich: A New History and The Racial State are next on my list of non-fiction but I am wondering if I should go with Evans' books instead. There is only so much Nazi stuff I want to read at one time so I am curious if Burleigh or Evans is better than other.

  19. Just finished Mordecai Richler's, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz… good stuff. I hear it ain't his best, just the most well known? Is this true? I recently tried to make my way through Henry Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi, but I failed.

    • Barney's Version is his masterpiece, imo.

    • Agree that Barney's is a masterpiece, but you have to be willing to slog through without following the plot in the begining as he shuffles between time lines. Barney is brilliant. I have also heard Solomon Gursky is fantastic. St Urbain's Horseman was good but not in the class of Duddy or Barney.

  20. Haven't read Burleigh. Evans' trilogy is being called 'the clearest account' (TLS), 'a brilliant synthesis' (Kirkus), 'a masterpiece (NYT), 'a magnificent achievement' (Atlantic), 'magisterial' (Economist), 'masterly and exhaustive' (Foreign Affairs), and 'will take its place alongside Ian Kershaw's monumental two-volume biography of Hitler as the standard works in English' (Publishers Weekly) according to the blurbs on the back of the third book. I can't imagine anything better, and I've read a few. If you can only do one of the three, go with the last one, The Third Reich at War. That should take care of your Nazi reading for a long, long time.

  21. I'm absolutely loving Never Cry Wolf. The used bookstore where I got it has Bay of Spirits and also his WWII memoir, which looks great too. I'm psyched. The only other book of Mowat's I'd read was West Viking, which I thought was great.

    As a minor note, it's incredible how affordable books are here compared with Argentina. Lots of bookstores, but they actually cost 50% more in absolute terms than ours do! It's amazing people buy them, but they do . . . a moral in there somewhere.

  22. Bunch of different things:

    The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga- it's for my bookclub. Pretty good so far, although I keep forgetting that Adiga is writting this, not Salman Rushdie. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

    On the Pragmatics of Communication by Jurgen Habermas: Just started. Reading for a future masters thesis that will get written somtime.

    Wheel of Time: Knife of Dream by Robert Jordan- With The Gathering Storm coming out next week, gotta remember everything that's happened. Still as awesome as I remember it, even with all the tugs of hair, and playing with/adjusting skirts that Jordan has his characters do.

  23. Don't laugh at me, but 'Don Quixote'. Second go at it, but I won't get distracted this time.

    Read a lot of Robert Service poems during the summer. Some of it is awful, but it helped me imagine car camping with kids was more adventurous. :)

    Not too long ago I finally read 'Galileo's Mistake,' by Wade Rowland, which had been sitting on my self for some time. While somewhat apologist for the Church, he nevertheless does a good job of examining the philosophical issues inherent in the conflict, and provides context beyond the simplistic (and false) idea that the Catholic Church was purely anti-science, and that Galileo was a hero/martyr. It was a lot more complicated than that, and has a lot to do with "ways of knowing," in some respects. I don't think it's a brilliant study, but it's sound enough to speak to some of the same debates playing out to this day.

  24. I'm starting David Peace's Occupied City, and Richler's Solomon Gursky, having just finished Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh. For work related reasons I'm hoping to start Ginzburg's the Worms and the Cheese, as well as any number of academic texts on 16th C France.

  25. Farley is quite the character, that's for sure. I always try to remember if i can one of his more memorable views on modern day consumer society. – Mindless production for witless consumption –

  26. I have general book question for everyone: I was in the library the other day and said I was looking for novel by so and so and the woman asked me fiction or non-fiction. Aren't novels always fiction?

    I like to have two books on the go at once, one fiction and one non-fiction.

    I am just finishing Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series of historical fiction. Have mostly enjoyed all the books – love Gordianus The Finder and his exploits to find missing persons and murderers.

    What has really got my attention at the moment though is Philip Pan's Out of Mao's Shadow – awesome look at today's China and guaranteed to make you twitchy about ChiComs. Pan is Washington Post reporter who spent 7 years, I think, in China covering the country for paper. Each chapter in book starts off focused on an individual that Pan interviewed and then person's story is used to illustrate bigger point about China.

    For instance, there is one story about documentary film maker who wants to make film about heroine in late 1950's who was idealistic communist but thought Mao was on wrong path during Great Leap Forward era. ChiComs had her killed after a few years of her agitating and authorities in today's China don't want anyone looking into what went on in the past. So the filmmaker, and his wife, are harassed by authorities to stop the project but he continued on regardless of the consequences.

    There was another story about man losing family home to make way for Beijing Olympic buildings. The focus is on man, his family and ancestors who lived in the house but chapter is also about how business is conducted in modern China and it is shocking. Lets just say they don't have property rights in China yet and robber barons are in tight with leading ChiComs.

    Anyways, awesome book for anyone interested in modern China.

    • Far as I know, novels are always classified as fiction, even when they are based on history. Their overlap with non-fiction (biography, autobiography) is something usually denied by the authors and suspected by readers. Seems to me the woman at the library was responding automatically (there are so many questions in a day) and may have only picked up on the author's name. Anyway, for fiction you might consider Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean.

    • I tried replying, but it didn't show up, so here I am again. Far as I know, all novels are classified as fiction, whether or not they're based on history or historical individuals. Calling something a novel automatically puts it in the fiction category, even if it may be non-fiction (a disguised memoir). Seems to me the woman at the library was probably in automatic-response mode (they get so many questions in a day) and picked up on the author's name without really hearing the word 'novel.' Anyway, for your fiction choice, you might consider Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean. Aristotle was never like this.

    • Truman Capote claimed to have invented the "non-fiction novel" with In Cold Blood, i.e. true events told in the conventions of a naturalistic novel ("It was a dark and stormy night when President Harding signed the Litmus Act, frowning as he loosened his belt buckle . . ." etc.).

  27. Anyone can read his stuff. My 8yr old loves to have the dog who wouldn't be, and lost in the barrens, curse of the viking treasure, read to her despite the difficulty of the language.
    Argentina has always been on my list of places to still see. [ and Brazil ] It's very encouraging and uplifting to hear that Argentians still find a way to buy books, despite their economic woes. A sign of spiritual and cultural inner wealth surely.

  28. Ask a mexican! by Gustavo Arellano, had me laughing non stop…
    Last exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby JR, different and I couldn't put it down!
    With Borges, Alberto Manguel, AMAZING! Anything by Manguel is amazing, I share my passion for reading and books with him!! He shares his time with Borges, he was so lucky!!
    La casa verde – The green House by Mario Vargas Llosa, he is one of the best narrators I have had the pleasure to read…
    Everyday Grace by Marianne Williamson, about peace, purpose, hope, love, I highly recommend it if you are in a spiritual quest!
    The lovely bones by Alice Sebold, I refused to read it for a long time, I thought it was too dark, finally I did and am I ever glad I did, amazing, couldn't put it down! Read it in one day and re-read it about 2 months ago…

  29. I have read Don Quixote a few times, still one of my favorites…

  30. Working my way through a bunch by Marq De Villiers ( some co-authored by Sheila Hirtle ).
    He's a South African who's currently resident on the south shore of NS. He's spent a lot of time
    in North Africa, particularly the Sahel area, and put out a number of works ..
    Sahara
    Timbuktu
    … how trade patterns are influenced by climate change, and Islamic fundamentalism, along with
    the kidnapping of diplomats, is nothing new.
    Water
    Windswept
    … good stuff on a lot of things that are all around us but we rarely see or think about.

  31. In Mexico is the same, but not only because of the this economic woes, it has always been like that, also with music, the prices of CD's are crazy!!

    You would be surprise how much culture is in Latin America, and truly some of the best writers around!!

  32. Curse of the viking Grave…rather.

  33. Thanks for the tip. I just looked up The Golden Mean on Amazon and sounds like something I would enjoy.

  34. It's easy to get distracted reading Don Quixote (especially towards the end), but it's still a great read. I've lost count of how many times I've started reading Ulysses, so I can't criticize.

  35. Just finishing up the new collection of Orwell's novels. No essays (unfortunately), but still some solid novels I hadn't heard of before.
    About a quarter of the way through my Twain anthology. Somehow I'd forgotten just how great a writer he is.
    Next up is either Hemingway (yet another anthology, but it's cheaper that way) or John Ralston Saul's 'A Fair Country' (recommended by a friend who had to read it for a course). Or 'Prisoners of the North' if I can remember where I put it.
    That, and endless stacks of incredibly dull journal articles.

    • I re-read Huck Fin last year and was gobsmacked at the storytelling skill of Twain, its just virtuoso writing. That he can pull off so many dialects is also incredible.

  36. Where's Waldo?

  37. I recently finished Kipling's Kim- its just beautifully written. The story sometimes gets weak, but the characters and storytelling are just so strong, and there's so much intelligence in it- like Hesse or Conrad.
    Also recently finished Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in aesthetics, ancient Greek cultures, or just a peek at early Nietzsche. His writing is like no one elses, the sentences seem to burn on the page. He's just freaking nuts, but what could be better than a nutty genius who writes everything he thinks?
    I am currently flipping through some of Nietzsche's collections of aphorisms, plus the Arabian Nights, Herodotus, and just started Kite Runner. Arabian Nights is really beautiful storytelling, its just jammed with ideas and plot devices. Herodotus is also great. The Kite Runner isn't really drawing me in yet.

  38. I did not know that. I just looked it up on wiki and Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe have also written non-fiction novels.

    I was discombobulated by In Cold Blood. I must have read it 15 years ago and to this day I have occasional feeling that crazed killers are about to break into my home.

  39. Thanks again Jody. I had no idea Irving had a new book coming out, will have to get it soon. I was just talking to a friend the other day about Irving and we were wondering when his next book would be released.

    A Prayer for Owen Meany is in my top three favourite books of all time.

  40. Yeah Rickets was Doc, who appears one way or another in many of Steinbecks novels. Totally agree. Cannery Row may be his best. Have you read the sequil – Sweet Thursday, it's good too?

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