Florence, still not reading books in 2018
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My name is Florence and I live near Paris. I'm 54 and work as a freelance business and software consultant (AKA SAP consultant). I'm also a visual artist and I have been working with musicians lately on a project called Hapax. This has kept me pretty busy but it's not really a valid excuse for the fact that I am no longer reading books.
In fact I still read a lot, but mostly articles. I keep telling myself I should keep track of them (at least the best ones) and post about them, but there are so many and I am so lazy...
As far as book are concerned, I am still at least theoretically reading a few, but who knows when and if I will ever finish them?
Le ventre de Paris
Histoire mondiale de la France
New American Stories, a short story collection edited by Ben Marcus
And here are some of the best articles I've read lately:
The Book That Incited a Worldwide Fear of Overpopulation
How a Mormon lawyer transformed archaeology in Mexico—and ended up losing his faith
Overlooked: what happens to children when mothers go to jail?
The dark history of Donald Trump's rightwing revolt: this one has been on my backlog for a while and it's from 2016, and implicitely assumes that Trump will lose the election. But it's still a very interesting look at the history of conservatism in the U.S. since the end of WWII, and how it lead to this.
Silicon Valley talks a good game on ‘basic income’, but its words are empty: another one from my backlog, it reminded me that I need to do more research on the subject of basic income.
Funny coincidence: I finished Le ventre de Paris one week ago, so we are kind of in synch! I loved The Goldfinch when I read it a few years ago.
I hope you're enjoying both of them, at whatever pace you're reading them!
Another one from the backlog, it's two years old but still fascinating. A short history and look into the uncertain future of the human understanding of the cosmos.
Relativity versus quantum mechanics: the battle for the universe
This one is also rather old (2015). But it's still good to see a (tiny) light of hope in the dreary landscape that is news nowadays.
I still have one novel to finish, The Goldfinch, and it's likely to be a struggle too. The short format seems to suit my limited attention span better at the moment, and I have several short story collections under way: New American Stories (next up is one by De Lillo), Saki's complete short stories, and Deborah Eisenberg's complete short stories.
And of course I read many great articles. Here are some of them.
Something Mysterious Is Killing Captive Gorillas
(Spoiler: actually it's no longer that mysterious, but then the unadorned truth rarely makes good headlines)
Against The Four: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google
Les écueils du débat sur les différences cognitives et cérébrales entre les sexes
Whatever you think, you don’t necessarily know your own mind
The dark psychology of dehumanization, explained
Also I finished the last installment of Tim Parks and Ricardo Manciotti's discussions On Consciousness. They raised very interesting questions but I was never satisfied by the answers.
On Mother Earth and Earth Mothers
Apologies for butting in, but the theme is irresistible and the argument presented in the article terrible. It smacks so much of the jejune "gotcha" arguments so common in high school courses on logic and philosophy I'm surprised someone squeezed a book out of it... no, wait, maybe I'm not surprised.
The gist of my critique: the problem with rapists and other "monsters" isn't that they think or believe their victims are non-human, but that they treat them as non-human (i.e. as those who do not belong to the same category as themselves, do not deserve the same respect, care etc. as themselves.)
It's the abuse that's dehumanising, regardless of what the perpetrator "thinks".
Hitler didn't think Jews were rats no more than Art Spiegelman thinks Jews are mice and Poles pigs; Hitler wanted Jews to be treated like rats. And Spiegelman, in showing Polish Nazi collaborators as pigs, means to shame and chastise them. (The difference is important.)
As for urging us to recognise the "banality of misogyny", I can't help wondering where Manne lives and what does she read, if she thinks she's making an original argument. I don't mean the obvious debt to Arendt's "banality of evil", I mean that recognising that misogyny is a structural problem that ordinary, "non-monstrous" people contribute to and sustain is one of the earliest discoveries and basic tenets of modern feminism. (And, I might add, of many women's personal experience regardless if they even know the word "feminism".)
“Hitler didn't think Jews were rats no more than Art Spiegelman thinks Jews are mice and Poles pigs; Hitler wanted Jews to be treated like rats.”
I think that’s the whole point of the article Fanny posted. Taking what people say at face value when they say someone is a beast is missing the point. They know perfectly that they are talking about a human being, and that treating him/her like an animal is going to hurt him/her. And I guess you’re right that it shouldn’t be a surprise, except that the dehumanizing argument is sometimes being used as if it explains racist, hateful or genocidal thought processes instead of just expressing them.
The good guy/bad guy myth
ETA: I just realized both the article I posted and the article you just linked to reference the same book: One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. I can't say it seems like an enjoyable read, but I am now considering adding it to my list.
>22 FlorenceArt: and >21 LolaWalser:, I don't have any particular viewpoint on this issue, I just like to read ideas and critiques of those same ideas. I do think that the idea of the "banality of evil" is worth revisiting continually, even if it's no longer particularly original. I think it's too easy otherwise for us to see ourselves as fundamentally different from people in other contexts who didn't resist oppressive governments or helped sustain systematic racism/misogyny/etc. And that puts us at risk of the same behavior. As a career civil servant in the US gov't, this is something I think about every day now.
I gave up on The Goldfinch, it was OK but not great enough to force myself to finish it.
And despite the fact that I've got a gazillion books to read already, I bought another one: Enquête au pays by Driss Chraibi. I loved the fist book of his I read several years ago, La civilisation, ma mère, so I hope that this one will be as good and that I'll actually be able to read it.
And since I'm here, here are some notable articles I've read in the last few days.
How an author trademarking the word “cocky” turned the romance novel industry inside out
Does anyone have the right to sex?
About Barbara Ehrenreich
Physicists and Philosophers Debate the Boundaries of Science | Quanta Magazine
The cult of memory: when history does more harm than good
Why Professors Distrust Beauty
The male glance: how we fail to take women’s stories seriously
And I'm still working on this one, which is an excellent explanation of how evidence based practice works, and how it could be applied in the educational field.
Building evidence into education
While browsing books on my e-reader, I found selected letters of Madame de Sévigné. I had tried reading them before but this free edition has no introduction or footnote, so it was frustrating. As of today I am the owner of an "augmented edition" that should provide more background and help me understand what she is writing about. She does have an enjoyable style. I've been wanting to read her since I read Proust. The narrator's grandmother, easily my favorite character, had a great admiration for these letters.
This came about thanks to an excellent blog I have been following, Footnotes to Plato. This blog with its weekly reading suggestions list is one of my main providers of links to interesting articles, many of the links I posted recently come from it. The author also has a "book club" where he gives detailed comments on a book. The current series is about the Early Dialogues.
This book will probably know the same fate as all the previous ones, namely that I will grow frustrated and give up on it. But at least it's a relief that Saunders acknowledges the errors in Socrates' and Plato's reasoning instead of just ignoring them and leaving me with an impossible alternative: either all the philosophers and critics since Plato have been blind to these obvious errors, or I am the blind one for not seeing that they are right even when their errors make me want to scream at them.
I think my problem is mostly that although I see the errors, I have difficulties seeing the things that he did so right that they are now ingrained in Western thinking.
When Socrates insists on defining a concept before discussing it, it feels completely natural to me and I tend to focus on how his definitions seem weak or unsatisfactory. It annoys me when any non-fiction book I read doesn't start with this initial step of defining the subject, and conversely when it does it just feels normal. But if I react that way, it's probably in large part because of Socrates and Plato and the way they shaped our way of thinking.
I'm not sure knowing that will help me read him. I'll try to keep in mind this comment from Saunders' introduction:
"If any or all of these dialogues provoke the reader into exclaiming, ‘But that can’t be right!’, or ‘I can think of an answer to that one’, then Socrates’ formula for philosophy will be doing its magic. The magic worked in the ancient world, and it still works today."
(Edited to fix a wrong pronoun :-)
In with the Out Crowd: Contrarians, Alone and Together
In the meantime I also read A Shilling For Candles by Josephine Tey, which was OK. And I bought and started reading Plainsong by Kent Haruf, which so far feels very much closer to what I want to be reading right now.
I think I'll go back to Zola now. At least I started Nana, which I've been wanting to read since that exhibition on prostitution at the musée d'Orsay.
*ETA Our Souls at Night
I think I’ll probably read another Haruf, but not right now. The Zola seems good so far.
I've been reading a lot of romance too, that's my usual response to stress. Mostly Heyer re-reads, and lately a fun "Victorian", A Curious Beginning. Great for comfort reading, if you enjoy that kind of thing.
I don't think this book will change my life, but I will certainly try to put in practice its recommendations. Most of them are things that I have been trying to do for several years, at least in small things, but there is some appeal in trying to organize them into a kind of system. And one important lesson I will try to remember is to keep my priorities straight: many things in life are nice to have, but they are not worth losing my moral integrity for. Of course, that's all well and noble in theory, but I'm not at all sure I would stand up to my principles if my live, or even simply my livelihood, were on the line. But as Epictetus said, start with small things.
Another important lesson is that you should worry about things that are under your control (your actions mainly), not about what isn't (everything else). Again, easier said than done, but it can help.
I've been trying to put all this in practice on Facebook. As I'm sure you already know, it can be painful to witness the torrent of hate and lies, often unwittingly but enthusiastically spread by friends and family. But on the other hand, I don't think I should just stand by or flee (although I do avoid spending too much time there). So I just try to add a tiny drop of reason in the ocean of insanity, and not to worry too much about the usefulness of exposing myself to public scorn by trying to point out what I believe is the truth. It's all I can do and it isn't much, but who knows, maybe one person will read what I wrote and start thinking. And that part is out my control.
Detailed Review: How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci
I am trying to find and read more Stoic works. I already read Epictetus' Enchiridion (handbook), which is as the name implies, full of very useful practical advice. I think I'll also try to read his Discourses.
I have a big paperback of (I think) all of Seneca's philosophical work. He also wrote dramas, but I'm not much interested in those. I remember buying this book (unfortunately not available as an e-book) the last time I had a philosophy streak, a few years ago. When I picked it up again, I found that I had stalled at letter #81 in the Letters to Lucilius, which is about a very important question: if someone did you a favor in the past, but then wronged you, are you quits? Right. I think I can live without Seneca's answer to that. Let's try something else.
So I went back to the beginning of the book, the Consolation to Marcia. One thing about Seneca is that he can write. I can't say I agree with him on everything, and his love of death is rather disturbing, but it's an agreeable read. And he had some pretty good insights on how humans work too. The commentary by Paul Veyne is funny and sometimes a little too sarcastic, but it helps to understand Seneca's ideas and works in the context of the time and place he lived in. Apparently, "consolations" were a popular literary genre at the time, a public letter written to someone who lost a loved one to, in effect, tell them to shut up and be a man/woman about it. As is to be expected, the bereaved didn't necessarily appreciate being harangued this way, but on the other hand it gave them and the deceased some amount of literary fame.
I also bought Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and started by reading the introduction, which shattered all my illusions about it. I had always been skeptical that this book could have been written by the emperor strictly for his personal use, but in fact it turns out it's unclear how much, if any, of it was actually written by Marcus Aurelius. It's also unclear whether the emperor was really a bona fide Stoic. Much of the book expresses beliefs that were common to the Roman ruling classes at the time, and many of them were shared by Stoics. Also the book contains some approving comments about Christians, even though Marcus Aurelius is known for having persecuted them. So these comments may have been added later.
That said, my reading slump seems to be getting better, even though (or maybe because) I'm mostly reading not-too-demanding stuff. So to catch up on recently finished books:
L'Entreprise des Indes is a fictional memoir of Bartolomé, Christophe Colomb's (sorry, too lazy to look up the English name) brother. I am normally rather skeptical of that kind of book, but I enjoyed this one, which was hanging around the house because my mother lent it to me ages ago.
Temps glaciaires might be the last book by Fred Vargas I read. Not that I didn't like it, it was a nice enough read, but she's getting a bit too fond of supernatural stuff for my taste. On the other hand, Adamsberg's team is just as human and (mostly) likable as ever.
The Code Of the Woosters was just as expected, silly and fun.
And it’s good to enjoy your reading. Wondering what happened to Nana.
And I agree about the supernatural tendencies in Vargas, although she seems to have toned that down a bit in the most recent one (spiders instead...).
>48 FlorenceArt: ...one likeable character - obviously an aberration! I’m feeling a bit Zola’d out at the moment too: I started L’assommoir the other day, too soon after the last one, and really felt that I knew where this was headed and didn’t want to go there... Moving on to something else for the time being.