What are you reading?

This topic contains 530 replies, has 60 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 3 weeks, 2 days ago.

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  • 23 Apr 2017 at 2:40 pm #9185

    Richard L.

    Well, the Kekule Problem: Language and Consciousness Thread, in case you missed it, starts here:

    The Weekly Standard/Prufrock review of it is here:

    The A. V. Club has a funny review of it here:

    Reddit comments:

    The online issue of Nautilus has a bunch of comments:

    The Quartz Review by Lila MacLellan is here:

    The New Yorker review is here:

    Recent read, reading now, or about to read:

    Tom Robbins’ B IS FOR BEER in tandem with Christopher G. Moore’s THE WISDOM OF BEER. Zany stuff, and I love them both, even though I cannot stand the taste of beer. A genetic thing, according to my profile on 23AndMe.com.

    Louise Gluck’s AMERICAN ORIGINALITY: ESSAYS ON POETRY. The opening essay is a rant, a wow of a rant too. After that, she reviews poets and my favorite Stephen Dobyns gets extraordinary praise from her, as he should. And she hadn’t even seen his latest stuff.

    30 Apr 2017 at 12:03 pm #9215

    Richard L.

    Over in the Kekule Thread, Clem posted a gem of ideas which alluded to the horn symbol, so I had to reread the ending of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, just to see if my memory of it still flies, and indeed it did. Neat stuff, immediately followed by the And then I woke up line.

    Reading now, recently read, or about to read:

    HOW TO TAME A FOX (AND BUILD A DOG) by Lee Alan Dugakin, a biologist at the University of Louisville who will being giving a talk here this week. This is the only book-length follow up to the dog experiments discussed in Julian Jaynes’ THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND. The foxes are friendly just like dogs, become marked like dogs, exhibit every kind of dog behavior.

    This lends fuel to the structuralist arguments against gradualism. There are certain types that evolution favors, and gradualism does not explain the development of the large brain in primitive man, who didn’t need such a thing to become dominant.

    CHASER: UNLOCKING THE GENIUS OF THE DOG WHO KNOWS A THOUSAND WORDS by John W. Pilley. It’s too bad that dogs can’t talk. Still, a wonder.

    BEYOND WORDS: WHAT ANIMALS THINK AND FEEL by Carl Safina. In the Kekule Thread, someone was amazed that I would think that dogs could do math. Hell, even spiders are hardwired for math.

    OTHER MINDS: THE OCTOPUS, THE SEA, AND THE DEEP ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I’ve read other books on the remarkable consciousness of the Octopus. Good for the Cthulhu cult, I suppose.

    THE GENIUS OF BIRDS by Jennifer Ackerman. And of course, birds are related to dinosaurs.

    ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? by Frans De Waal. The author says that there’s a study showing that cat lovers are smarter than dog lovers, but whether cats are smarter than dogs seems difficult to determine. Dogs are certainly more loving than cats.

    04 May 2017 at 3:39 am #9227

    Richard L.

    Well, most probably this post will vanish into the ether at any moment, just like life itself. Yet here I type, the synchronicity of my dreams coincidentally, redundantly, pointlessly pointing out to me yet again the wave collapse in Cormackian Brian Evenson’s short story, “A Collapse of Horses.”

    The collection got good reviews everywhere, and just for instance, at the Chicago Review of Books and in all those reader reviews at Amazon:


    But no one, not one, has seen or at least mentioned what I immediately saw, that the man who has the head injury, who then sometimes has three, sometimes four children, whose house changes without explanation, that this man is alternating between universes or dimensions. It’s enough to make a man lose his grip, and that’s just what the man does.

    For in his world, as in ours, no one seems to get quantum mechanics, despite all the books written, all the movies made, all the lectures in the snoring universities across the land. It reminds me of when I was first in Morocco back in 1967 and a street vendor came up, trying to sell me one of his pastries. The pastries had these big Moroccan flies crawling on them. No, I said, aghast, it has flies on it.

    He brushed the flies off and offered it again. Here, he said, no flies.

    No, I said, it still has germs all over it. The man held the pastry up and examined it, but he didn’t see any germs.

    Well, you can’t see them, but they’re there, I argued.

    He seemed to think about this a minute and he said, “Me Mohammad.”

    I guess he thought I was talking about my religion, flies in the eyes, and I think now that maybe he was right all along. I do have flies in my eyes, but, as Joseph Heller had it in CATCH 22, you can never see them because you have flies in your eyes.

    That’s not funny strange, it’s funny funny–no es verdad? I still look for patterns, holes in the heavens, numbers and equations everywhere, but it no longer bothers me when, as with Brian Evenson’s book, the world has a different explanation and a different sense of humor.

    05 May 2017 at 7:31 am #9349

    Richard L.

    I read books for various reasons. They can be a distraction from life, as when I read to my wife when she was in a coma during her last days. They are something to talk about at parties, especially when you attend dinner parties of elders, some of them Cormac McCarthy’s age, none of them without tales of illness and of other friends who have passed away.

    Bringing up the subject of good books is a way of brightening the conversation, a conscious choice as to how to pass time, and this cheerfulness is contagious to others.

    Here are some I have read and recommend at such times, with such people:

    AN AVAILABLE MAN by Hilma Wolitzer. This astonishingly insightful book was written by a woman in her eighties. It is about a man whose wife dies and about the difficulty he has when entering the dating scene in his mid-sixties. Unlike Kent Haruf’s book, OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, AN AVAILABLE MAN shows how older people actually are in the current age of hormone replacement therapy. It is witty and situation-funny too. And so true.

    I have not yet seen the movie of OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, but it is bound to be an improvement on the book, which I found to be maudlin silly and artificial.

    I highly recommend Hannah Pittard’s THE FATES WILL FIND THEIR WAY. I had passed on it a few years ago when it was first published, but I read it this last HALLOWEEN and am glad that I did. It is akin to THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET in its atmospheric grip, told mainly in the first-person plural, and is very insightful of the manner in which we all construct the narrative of our lives, and adjust it along the way. It took my breath away at times, and that isn’t easy.

    For escapist fare, I recommend the fast-paced police procedurals by Donald Harstadt. Last October, I read his quasi-Halloween themed ELEVEN DAYS and CODE 61, and I read THE BIG THAW over the winter. I look forward to reading his others.

    Some time back, I mentioned that I was wowed by the opening of
    THE STRAW MEN by Michael Marshall, and was wondering why I had not heard of such a marvel. It turned out that the book was a start of a three book series that was something like the X-Files, but rather original and I repeat, very well written.

    Since then, I have downloaded the author’s entire works and am enjoying them when the mood is right. He writes under the names Michael Marshall and Michael Marshall Smith.

    07 May 2017 at 2:15 am #9354

    Richard L.

    Congrats to ALWAY DREAMING and his connections. The Derby time was slow on a very off track, but he won like a true champion. Class is the ability to do your best against the best under the worst possible conditions.

    Soon to read:

    SEABISCUIT: THE REST OF THE STORY by William H. Nichols. Jeff Bridges and his brother Beau were here this week, and when they stuck a microphone in front of Bridges, he talked about his memories of working on the filming of Seabiscuit and of his duel with Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, a son of Man O War.

    THE NUMBER SENSE: HOW THE MIND CREATES MATHEMATICS (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Stanislas Deheane. I love the cover art on this, as you can see here:
    Linkety link

    Notice that the numbers 6 then 9 are prominent. I knew a professor whose wife worked in advertising, and he swore that all the advertising we see of whiskey and of just about everything else, was photoshopped with subliminal messages of sex and 69 in order to get our unconscious attention. I scoffed at the notion at the time, but it wouldn’t surprise me now.

    And what a laugh it is.

    09 May 2017 at 3:09 pm #9363

    Richard L.

    Speaking of Jeff Bridges, here’s an Esquire take on HELL OR HIGH WATER, best movie:


    Viggo Mortensen, who starred in the movie version of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, lists his ten favorite books in the New York Times:


    I daresay that he would fit right in here, even though McCarthy’s name is not on the list.

    I also like actress Drew Barrymore’s list:


    12 May 2017 at 4:53 am #9375

    Richard L.

    If we’d had the same crew here that we had back in the good ole days, we’d have had a thread on the movie HELL AND HIGH WATER. By now we’d have deconstructed it and pointed out all of the McCarthyesque features and had some laughs over its finest points.

    It reflects modern times, in that every sonofabitch seems to be carrying a loaded gun, no matter how poor they are. People cling to their guns the way young women cling to their tattooing, a libido for the ugly and unhealthy. One day they’ll do a Nature film on this, like they do now with orchids and insects. and you will be able to see it on educational TV, if you don’t get hit with a stray bullet by then.

    13 May 2017 at 3:32 am #9376

    Richard L.

    Some time back, I read and loved Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES, then delved into a study of the movies, the crit-lit, and my own associations. As synchronicity had it, I was also reading some Civil War narratives back then, and General Lovell Rousseau, whom I had once exhaustively researched, turned out to have been an avid reader of the work, this when the book had just been published.

    Recently published now is David Bellos’ excellent story of the writing, publication, and history of that great novel: THE NOVEL OF THE CENTURY: THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF LES MISERABLES (2017).

    I switched back and forth between the Kindle and the audiobook which Bellos himself narrates in a fine Michael Caine-like voice.

    Bellos doesn’t mention the same diaries I had read, but he cites others to show that the novel was read by campfire light to both armies, North and South. And both armies saw themselves as being oppressed, though in different ways. The Confederates read a different edition of the novel, one with all of its many anti-slavery passages omitted. General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops began referring to themselves as “Lee’s Miserables.”

    That’s amazing.

    It’s also interesting that then, at the time the novel came out, Russia had just freed its own slaves, kinda, changing them from serfs and the personal property of the landlord, into simple peasants, in debt from birth to their landlord.

    Just published is China Mieville’s OCTOBER: THE STORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTiON (2017). Mieville we know from his excellent science-fiction (PERDIDO STREET STATION and THE CITY AND THE CITY). I’ve read a bit of this, but will put it back for reading in October.

    And maybe I’ll watch Dr. Zhivago again.

    16 May 2017 at 3:38 pm #9434

    Richard L.

    One of the remarkable sentences McCarthy writes in his Nautilus article is this one:

    “You may have read a thousand books and be able to discuss any one of them without remembering a word of the text.”

    McCarthy’s point, in context, was that we store a remarkable amount of info in a kind of shorthand. At least, that’s the way I read it. Case in point, the Burroughs thread. It has been some time since I have read him, and they have just about convinced me to give him another try. But maybe not.

    Let’s see–that means I first read Fitzgerald’s Gatsby over fifty years ago. Yet the picture in my mind does not come from that reading, but from later–when Robert Redford and Mia Farrow appeared in the movie.

    That’s our Gatsby.


    [edit] I don’t know what happened to the “…Compelling” Thread started by Stephanie, but thinking about Gatsby has me wondering why so many have found it compelling. I went back to Peter Mendelsund’s excellent book, WHAT WE SEE WHEN WE READ, in search of something I seemed to remember reading.

    Novels like THE GREAT GATSBY and BLOOD MERIDIAN are compelling because they have enormous recalcitrance, they are multi-layered and profound on a number of levels, and ambiguous because they yield such a great variety of interpretations. I said this in the vanished thread (which contained a number of excellent responses from others as well), but Mendelsund says a few things about this too.

    He says that we enjoy literary novels more than, say, the superficial stories by influential persons, because they give us, the readers, agency. We each decide what the author means.

    And what McCarthy said, about not consciously remembering a word of the text, applies. What we remember is significance, not words.

    When I’m reading a novel or story, the contents–places, people, things–of the drama recede and are supplanted by significance. The vision of a flowerpot, say, is replaced by my readerly calculation of the meaning and importance of this flowerpot.

    We are ever gauging these significances in texts, and much of what we “see” when we read is this “significance.” All this changes when a book is adapted into a movie

    I like what he says, but I am not certain I entirely agree with him. The committee of selves I have internalized reads novels with me. Sometimes I can get caught up in a novel and completely shut out my analytical self until I finish the book the first time and look back on it. Sometimes, depending on my mood and the author, it is my analytical self that reads the entire novel.

    Among the novels I read last Halloween season was that of an often acclaimed horror author, Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. It was narrated in the first person/juvenile and I had no trouble identifying with him in the first part of suspenseful narrative. I was too caught up in the story. Later, my “good” character participates in the graphic rape and abuse of a young girl. The H. L. Mencken in me then said, what are you reading this piece of crap for? and I stopped and flipped to the ending.

    Ketchum says in the endnotes that everything was based on a true story, and he cites sources. True or not, I do not forgive him. The violence in his novel was not at all like the violence in BLOOD MERIDIAN. Ketchum made it personal, and my free agency lets me be done with him from now on.

    • This reply was modified 8 months, 1 week ago by  Richard L..
    • This reply was modified 8 months, 1 week ago by  Richard L..
    16 May 2017 at 5:05 pm #9440


    I loved The Border Trilogy and The Road, but have hit the wall with Blood Meridian. It has been difficult going, but the festival of violence has simply become gratuitous and numbing. A great pity as I have found real insight in previous works.
    I don’t need to be reminded by Mr Macarthy that the devil rides out, it’s in my face elsewhere every day.

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