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January 11, 2013


Just started reading Neil Stephenson's REAMDE [sic]. I know the guy has a thing about gold and currency markets, but yeesh.


I tend to read half a dozen things simultaneously.


"Lionel Asbo" Martin Amis --- there are passages that read like Dickens, just as there are passages in his searing memoir "Experience", that mimic Bellow, another of his heroes.

"To The River" Olivea Laing, ran across some of her essays recently and now she's published this first book. She's British, she goes on English walking tours and writes lapidary prose about them, she's had her heart broken, what's not to have a crush on at this late date?

"Lincoln On Democracy" his speeches and other writings -- folksy but incredibly clever rhetorician as he maneuvers his way through the slavery issue.

"Burning The Days" James Salter -- memoir by a writer's writer -- also read what amounts to collected "love letters", love, as in maybe the non-erotic, man/friend love of the ancient Greeks, between Salter and the late Robert Phelps, the critic.

Isaac Babel's short stories -- which I came upon at Salter and Phelps' recommendation. Extraordinary.

"Who Am I" Pete Townshend's autobiography. Along with Lennon and Ray Davies of the Kinks, one of our most literate rock and rollers. I'm fascinated by the alternating/simultaneous androgyny (for want of a better word) and Mailer-like tough guy pugilist image projected by some of the leading lights of the British Invasion way back when. All of them, despite their fundamental heterosexuality, went David Bowie (sometimes WITH David Bowie) at one time or another (beautiful, available women everywhere they turn, bedded, natch, but when it boils down to it, many just wanted to f*ck Mick Jagger, and probably did) There's good stuff too, but never enough, about the guitar playing and song-writing, and haunting the entire story are Townshend's unresolved childhood sexual traumas, which hover but never really land. Also the wreckage of the sweet-natured, hilarious Keith Moon.

I'm about to start two other books-- Jim Holt's "Why Does The World Exist?", an existential detective story by its own reckoning, and "Hellraisers", the life and inebriated times of Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed, which I expect to be the companion existential answer to the question, "Why Does The World Exist?"

One more mention: Just finished John le caree's "The Secret Pilgrim". For my money, one of the few (Tolkein ..) popular fiction writers of the 20th century who will be ranked in the annals of "literature" in the long term, not that it matters. Sums up better than anyone the utter waste of the Cold War, but yet the powerful grip it had on structuring the international "order" in ways we are just beginning to cipher.

Making my way through the holiday gift collection. Just finished Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is ... cute, but not IMHO what it should be. Ivan Vorpatril's character as previously established is a lot more Bertie Wooster ("Ivan, you idiot!" is one of the series refrains) than he appears here. He's too *competant*, too much of a meritocrat and not nearly enough of an aristocrat. I don't like Bujold's books when they're romances nearly as much as the ones where the romance is incidental or non-existent.

I read the Bujold while taking a break from Fever Season: The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City by Jeanette Keith, about the 1878 Memphis yellow fever epidemic. I'll finish that up, then probably look at Pornographic Archaeology: Medicine, Medievalism, and the Invention of the French Nation by Zrinka Stahuljak, and decide if it's readable.

If it's not, on to How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought by Leora Batnitzky.

{Long-time Lurker...}

First, big fan of all y'all...

I am dabbling in a few books this winter as well:

1) Debt: The first 5000 years -- Pretty interesting so far. I haven't looked too closely into any other interesting responses to this work yet, but I wonder if/where folks find significant disagreement with his main points. I suppose I'll search that out when I finish

2) Thinking, fast and slow -- Pretty good as well, but some parts are a bit tedious to get through. The nice thing is that the central thesis (two kinds of thinking, with different triggers, controls, and results) is described early on; the rest of the book seems to be filling in the gaps from a few different angles

3) Ecological Stoichiometry -- Very nice book, but a bit of a slog for evening reading. Just closing in on the last chapters, but a lot of really nice syntheses of C-N-P interactions at different scales of organization

4) The end of growth (R. Heinberg) -- have barely started. Ended up not even getting into JH Kunstler's 'The Long Emergency', since I didn't think I had enough bourbon or anti-depressants in the house - so I hope I can keep at least a little bit of the rosy gloss on things as I get started.

Also - 116 days w/ no nicotine

{/end oversharing and back to Lurking}

You Can Farm

On the way, via Amazon: A Memory of Light. Somewhere, the ghost of Robert Jordan is heaving an ectoplasmic sigh of relief that it's all finally over and done with.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Over and over and over.... :-)

just finished Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying". prior to that, Jeff & Anne VanderMeer's huge short story compilation, "The Weird". now, DFW's "Girl with Curious Hair".

THE CITY & YTIƆ ƎHT by China Miéville.

I've been reading "The Corrections" over Xmas(after having been very impressed by "Freedom" about a year ago) - a truly great modern novel. Currently reading A.S. Byatt's "Possession" which is very promising. And as usual lot's of stuff about film as that is my passion. Happy New Year everyone!

American Nations by Colin Woodward
Unlike The Nine Nations fo North America, Woodward actually explains how and why the differences between the various regions arose. Fascinating stuff.

Dr. S, what I especially liked about Captain Vorpatril's Alliance was precisely that it showed just how wrong all those "Ivan, you idiot!" comments were. He was determinedly not ambitious in the way that the rest of his family thought he should be. But just see what he can do when he actually puts his mind to something.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0470040734/ref=oh_details_o01_s00_i00>Mitochondria, by Scheffler. At least, starting Monday; It's my birthday gift from my wife, looks like it should be a fun read.

Calcixeroll, when do you think you're likely to be finished with Debt? I can try to get my half-written post on it, which has been sitting here for months, finished up so we can have a real discussion. It'll be an incentive.

Am I right in suspecting either that almost everyone - except Ugh (thanks, Ugh) - who frequents ObWi is a more serious person than I am OR that on ObWi (as everywhere else on the Internet) we play who we wish we were rather than who we actually are?

Anyway, around my house, in various stages of open-ness, are copies of Umberto Eco's Baudalino, some old Elmore Leonard thriller (I'm going through them again in the other bathroom), The Coral Sea Affair by Drew Lindsay, and Charles Mann's 1493 (sequel to his magnificent 1491), plus at least a dozen other books with forlorn bookmarks indicating that I began them once and somehow ran out of time, discipline, impetus, inclination, or puff. Not to mention newspapers, magazines, journals, and printouts of papers I'm in the process of editing . . .

Meanwhile, there's theatre, where - and I've said it before, but I'll say it again - one of the great experiences of my life was seeing the one-man show An Iliad, "adapted from Homer by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’hare / translation by Robert Fagles." I have not read the script nor Fagles' translation, but there's some ridiculously good stuff there.

I just finished Anne Applebaum's new book ""The Iron Curtain" . Its about Post War Eastern Europe.

I also would recomend the book ,"1493" by Charles C Mann, that the previous commenter,"dr ngo" mentioned. I read it earlier this year.And it was a fantastic book

I am just starting George Orwell's " Diaries". Its a book of previously unreleased excerpts from his diaries. On the one hand it shows Orwell at his best. His writings about hop pickers and other working class people is often excellent. But sadly the book also shows Orwell at his worst. i have read writings by Orwell before, that hint at anti-semitism on his part. But " Diaries" sadly leaves little doubt that Orwell was anti-semitic .One can only be disgusted by the way Orwell describes various Jews that he encounters

It does seem to be a book worth reading though

Happy readings and a happy 2013 to everyone here

Am I right in suspecting either that almost everyone - except Ugh (thanks, Ugh) - who frequents ObWi is a more serious person than I am OR that on ObWi (as everywhere else on the Internet) we play who we wish we were rather than who we actually are?Am I right in suspecting either that almost everyone - except Ugh (thanks, Ugh) - who frequents ObWi is a more serious person than I am OR that on ObWi (as everywhere else on the Internet) we play who we wish we were rather than who we actually are?

If I answer that, I am going to prove it is the latter...

Though I think I am as unserious a person as there is. I mean, everything I do is something that seems to be designed to appeal to whatever hairbrained notion pops in my head. Serious always seemed to me to be someone who weighs out the costs and benefits, who considers if it is worthwhile to do and then, after doing that, commits to it. I'm more like the magpie attracted to whatever shiny thing happens to catch its eye. Never mistake serious for a total lack of self control, I say.

I don't know about you, Dr Ngo, but I'm an engineer whose second major in college was human biology. I keep a copy of "Procedures in Experimental Physics" in the bathroom for toilet reading. (The chapter on how to construct vacuum thermopiles is fascinating.)

So, most of the time "what I'm reading" for recreation is going to come across as a little 'heavy', though I do enjoy some light fiction once in a while. I'm a real fan of Charles Stross' "Laundry" series. And, yeah, the Vor series by Bujold is a joy to read. Amazing how she can get you started reading space opera, and a few books later you're reading a romance novel...

I've had to cut down my reading a bit since the cataract surgery, unfortunately, especially after I developed a retinal complication, my reading speed isn't what it used to be. So I don't get to read as much fluff as I used to.

Crooked Timber had a symposium on "Debt".


Graeber doesn't take criticism very well.

"..., the Vor series by Bujold is a joy to read."
I like the Vor series a lot too. But, I've stalled about halfway through the latest book, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. May just be me.

My eyes have got to the point that I find reading ebooks off a monitor much easier than read physical books.

Just finished my annual light reading romp in biting social commentary, intrigue, murder, self doubt and other assorted far fetched mayhems: "Creole Belle" by James Lee Burke. Thence on to an interesting little book picked up in a Victoria, B.C. bookshop: "Why Marx Was Right" by Terry Eagleton (Oh! Canada!)

Graeber's opus is on my long "to read" list, and we gave our son Holt's "Why Does The World Exist" (at his request). I leafed through it and every page was fascinating. Can't wait till he lets me borrow it.

Dr Ngo, I've tried reading genre fiction thinking it would be an easy and relaxing experience, but it just bored me to death because the characters were shallow and the plots formulaic. So it's mainly middlebrow stuff for me - I actually find it easier to get into and hold my attention.

No such problems with films though - I'll watch anything across the whole spectrum, if its any good.

Graeber doesn't take criticism very well

If you are going to write sentences like, "Apple Computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other’s garages", you had better get used to taking criticism. That is just all kinds of wrong.

I tried to read Debt, and I just couldn't take it seriously.

American Nations, mentioned above was a great book.

Fiction-wise I've been reading PKD's 60's science fiction novels. Other than that, Roger Ebert's Life Itself, the new Jared Diamond book, a Lester Bangs compilation, Merchants of Doubt, and The Cat From Hue.

Novakant: De gustibus, etc. I find that I like mysteries (my wife owns over 1000 of them) precisely because most of them are "formulaic" to some extent. (There are a few that transcend genre, reaching at least the levels of "middlebrow" and sometimes higher.) It's the slight differences that entertain and relax me - variations on a theme - setting (many of them are remarkably good on a particular time/place/milieu), dialogue, "twists" of plot within the convention, etc. But if that's not you, fine; this thread is about what we read, not what we ought to read.

I don't read much sci-fi (though my son has an admirable collection, much of which remains with us though he has gone on) nor any other "genre" in particular: romance, horror, whatever. But I suspect it's much the same with them - if you enjoy the "formula" you can relish the variations on it without worrying overmuch about how shallow the characters are.

Like opera. (Which I also enjoy.) How can you take seriously people who sing loudly in public and then take half an hour to die after a "mortal" blow? Go with the flow, man!

I prefer ebooks,too. If it isn't on my Kindle, I won't read it. So what is on my Kindle? Well Bring Out the Bodies, for one. Aslo some of Stuart kaminski's Russian mysteries. And I discovvered Olen Steinhauer and have been working my way through his books.Also Alif the Unseen, a combo fantasy/sicfi/realistic political commentary novel set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country.

I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children.

Dr. S, the way my late winter / early spring are looking, I would say you have plenty of time to finish up your post. I'm on page 60 right now, and offspring #2 is scheduled for arrival in about 6 weeks - so there could be a hiatus in my [low-levels of] productivity.

I guess it is a bummer if the author "doesn't take criticism well" - of course with the internets, I suppose anybody's limit can be reached with enough sniping.

I look forward to your post on the book (if you care to finish it). I think this will entice me to consider putting some notes or questions into the margins.

Hey all, can we spend a minute to remember Aaron Swartz, the hacktivist who committed suicide yesterday, probably in no small part due to facing 35 years in jail due to "stealing" articles from JSTOR?


Think hard about signing this petition:



I've added hotlinks to sanbikinoraion's comment.

I've spent the spare moments I've had today reading about Swartz. There are tons of links, but this from Fallows, which has a video of Swartz talking about his part in the effort to stop SOPA, is good.

Re-reading Fifty Shades of Gray (third time). Very layered.

I once had an acquaintance who went to see "Deep Throat" a second time because, I extrapolated, there were subtleties (or maybe subtitles) he missed the first time.

I wonder if Graeber had a banker friend who wanted the former to name his book, "Assets", given the through the looking glass ledgers bankers keep.

For alla you Hilary Manel "Bring Up The Bodies" fans, I highly recommend her autobiography, "Giving Up The Ghost".

Mantel has a tough, thoughtful, no-bullsh*t mind, capable of going to some strange and difficult places, and she's interested in and insightful about human beings and what makes them tick. And, she's a really really good writer.

My holiday reading was Colin Woodard's "American Nations", which basically extends the concept of "Albion's Seed" to include socio-cultural groupings other than English-speaking ones.

Imagine that.

What I took away from the book is, basically, that we can expect another couple of generations of "f*ck me? no, f*ck you!" as the operative mode of US public life.

I'm not really sure how we make one country of the hot mess that is the US. I'm not sure how we've done it so far, frankly.

Anyway, it was a good book. Readable, seems to be well sourced, interesting, informative. A good jumping off point for more digging if that suits. Woodard has a point of view, filter as needed.

Happy New Year, all.

Based on reviews on Crooked Timber, I'm reading "Red Plenty" and recently read "Debt: The last 500 years". That was so good I had to give it away.

I also read "Information: a history, a theory, a flood" recently, via my brother.

I'm also reading a New Norwegian (not merely a new norwegian) translation of the Lord of the Rings that I picked up on Bookcrossing. Considering picking up the no_nn translation of The Hobbit by the same author to read for my son, they are very good.

Got stalled somewhere near the end of "Merchants of Doubt", a really depressing book.

I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children.

I read that and liked it, also.

Just finished A Memory of Light. Some of it is just...not bad, necessarily, but sharply contrasting with Jordan's writing. But some of it I liked a lot. Overall: there seem to be way too many evildarkmonsters to kill, and no possible way all of those things could have had even one meal a day prior to the Big Fight, never mind three. The dialogue was, I thought, so flat that it almost seemed to be tacked on as an afterthought.

Still, good to have the whole series wrapped up, finally and posthumously. It's only been a couple of decades.

About eighteen chapters into You Can Farm, I'm giving serious thought to relocating once more to a relatively rural setting. Although not really sure so much that I want to farm for a living, I think it'd be cool to (once again) be able to grow nearly all of our own produce, as well as meat animals.

Just finished Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, which I found somewhat less exciting than her Wolf Hall, but still worthwhile. In a couple of years, she's apparently going to do in Cromwell, and I might even shed a tear for him. As a sucker for historical-themed mysteries, I had hopes for The Sherlockian, author's name escapes me, the book is home, and I'm not. An interesting idea: alternating chapters from the present, in which a Baker Street Irregular invesitages the death of a member who had claimed to have found the missing volume of Arthur Conan Doyle's diary with chapters on what ACD was doing during the covered period. Execution only fair: annoyingly over-written, and with some clunky word choices that jolt the reader. For example, did the adjective "fractal" even exist in 1900? Starting now on The Great Icelandic Novel, Independent People and Oliver Twist.
In non-fiction,. I've mostly read in technical areas lately.

For example, did the adjective "fractal" even exist in 1900?

it didn't even exist in 1974.

I'm reading the New York Times. (Other stuff too.)

But, in particular, I'm reading about the Golden Globes. Interesting about Jodie Foster, how she's probably one of the most respected actors on the planet, and has nothing to lose, but refuses to make herself an object: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/movies/awardsseason/jodie-foster-lifts-a-veil-at-golden-globes.html?hp.

Good for her. She's arranged her life in a way that works, and she isn't going to be part of a category. Instead, she's in the fight to do what works.

Well, got Mitochondria on my birthday, and it is indeed proving to be an interesting read. I'd highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in cellular biology.

I got mitochondria from my mother, but it was way before any of my birthdays.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

Not sure what to say except that it's really interesting, and that the body of work he and Tversky produced is amazing.

i got midichlorians from my mother.

Well, I'll tell you--

(actually I've been reading Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn lately, but...)

--for reasons that I can't exactly go into, I've had occasion to read a lot of JSTOR articles.

And I don't want to 'jack this thread [sic], but it seems like recent events might call for some discussion thereof.

Just sayin'.

(Also too I think I've finally finished all of the Le Carre' there is.)

Hey Bob,
I'm hesitant to post on Aaron Swartz's suicide because crooked timber has posted several posts about him and there are people there who knew him personally. It also seems a bit offputting to me to post something about someone's death when there are people around who knew him personally. And lastly, I don't feel confident enough of all the information that is out there to be an active commenter and weigh in if there are squabbles.

hey, bob. After Le Carre, move on to some Ross Thomas.

lj: Fair enough; I am more interested in intellectual property aspects, but whatever.

(other) bob(byp): Don't know Thomas, but willing to try. Will hit up my local used bookstore. Any particular virtues?


see his http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Thomas_(author)>Wiki entry.

I also enjoyed Len Deighton's books.


I'm curious, what IP issues do you see? The case was about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and wire fraud statutes, not IP per se. The only angle I see for IP is calculating the cost of damages for what Swartz took and I can't see any reasonable way for shading the numbers low enough to matter; in fact, I was surprised the DA was so generous.

briefly delurking-

Going Postal, Mark Ames - Ames has the courage to tell the truth about why these things keep happening. It's an unflinching picture of what the owners/managers have been doing to working people since 1970.

Stillwell and the American Experience in China, Barbara Tuchman - Story of the U.S. general in China during WWII. Engrossing. Wonderful.

Red Star Over China - Natural thing to read after the Stillwell history. Never got around to reading it in my 20s. Just started it. Kind of excited to be reading a long account from someone who was actually there.

Julian, Gore Vidal. - Story of the last Roman emperor to try and fight the rise of the Christians. Refreshing to read about someone who knew they were a menace and tried to do something about it.

Ivan Vorpatril's character as previously established is a lot more Bertie Wooster

It is greatly to Ivan's advantage to be thought of as an idiot, but it's always been fairly clear that he isn't really. He saves Miles' ass on several occasions.

I'm curious, what IP issues do you see?

I'm all for knowledge being free, but curating, storing, indexing, and providing access to information (in this case, academic journal articles) costs money. Moreover, JSTOR is a non-profit entity; the fees they charge -- which are by and large paid for by universities and other organizations, the members of which get access -- go towards their mission of curating, etc. this content.

Even though they've been very nice about it, it seems, there's the sense that, abstractly or ideally, downloading 5 million articles is the "right thing to do" because "information wants to be free" -- specifically, I think, that some of that content is legally in the public domain.

I don't understand all of the ins and outs of copyright law; however, JSTOR articles, once accessed, are frequently downloaded, printed out, photocopied, shared, etc. (which is I think in line with their intent). But fundamentally they're a nonprofit with a mission to provide access to the 8.5 million articles -- they collect and OCR, for example, stuff that would otherwise be unavailable electronically, some of it dating back to the 1880s.

So why is it sort of implicit in the story that this act [keeping in mind that I didn't know him and don't want to step on anyone's toes] is framed as somehow noble or stickin-it-to-the-man-type justice?

That's what I'm interested in. "Fnck those people for collecting, scanning, indexing, curating, and storing all of this knowledge and not turning a profit!" seems to be the unspoken underlying, unspoken "fact" about the story - and I don't get it.

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