Books in Progress and Recently Finished

My July 2019 books in progress or recently completed
A series of books, each book discussed in the following blog post.

In Progress

I have found that I enjoy reading 3 or 4 books concurrently. As one raps up, I dive back to another, then pick up a replacement. In this way, threads of thinking intertwine and commingle.

“Figuring” by Maria Popova

As Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings posts reach my RSS feed, I read them. She models an admirable breadth of reading while sharing her insights and interconnections. Her annotations and synthesis allude to the promises of Linked Data; On how we can assert relations that we see between varied subject matter.

Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friends and eventually brought online, the site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive in 2012. Here are some reflections on my most important learnings from the first decade of Brain Pickings.

I particularly enjoy learning more about Margaret Fuller, her influences, and her impact on future thinking.

“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

In buying books for Fables Books, I stumbled upon an excellent copy. In a moment of curiosity, I cracked it open and began reading. I read in wonder at Tolstoy’s ability to describe vibrant human beings, their emotions, and to capture the essence of being human.

Recognizing this about Tolstoy, I opted to hop right over to “War and Peace,” yearning a bit for a more sweeping historical perspective. I also wanted to learn a bit more about Napoleon’s impact from an outside and adversarial perspective.

“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy

I floundered a bit through the first part of the book, in which Tolstoy introduces a cast of characters all alluding to pending war with Napolean’s France. Much of the first part consists of petty intrigues and rumor mongering.

Flipping to the perspective of the military campaign engaged me. A real sense of the chaos of formation warfare, as experienced from different angles. Fog and cannon smoke, confusing dispositions, the uncertainty of who or where was the enemy, and of negotiated withdrawals.

And I love the not so brave passions of the poetic, as life cascades over the novel’s characters. Scenes capturing moments in Russian nobility: a descriptive pistol duel, a high stakes card game, a sled ride on the wintery field, a wolf hunt, a mummers party, and a rustic evening in a hunting lodge. Discussions of Freemasonry and Illuminism, Russian peasants, and written correspondences.

While reading “War and Peace” I feel transported to a lost period in time, in which Tolstoy (a war veteran and Russian noble) had interviewed survivors of the Napoleonic wars.

“The Origins of Dislike” by Amit Chaudhuri

I picked it up for the simple cover and engaging title. Then read a few paragraphs of the opening chapter, and Amit Chaudhuri hooked my brain.

Within I saw promises of a broadly read writer. So I flipped to the back of the book, and my heart swelled. I saw an index, endnote citations for source materials, and a bibliography that appears to be a superset of the citations.

I have read about five chapters and had my first exposure to Bengal poetry. One that sticks out:

When once I leave this body
Shall I not come back to the world?
If only I might return
Upon a winter’s evening
Taking on the compassionate flesh of a cold tangerine
At the bedside of some dying acquaintance.
— Jibanananda Das, “Tangerine” (translated from the Bangla by Clinton B. Seely)

“Endymion” by John Keats

I have worked my way into the heart of the first book of Endymion. I wait for more weekend mornings on my porch to dive once again into this mythic world.

“One Thousand and One Arabian Nights”

My go to night time read, and something I read a few pages at a time. I love the construct of stories within stories.

From Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind,” or the poems within “The Lord of the Rings,” these inner stories create a verisimilitude to the world of the containing story.

Heading Towards Abandonment

For some reason or other, these books languish.

“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

This book sparked my post «A Hearty “No Thank You” to Interstitial Cut Scenes in Novels». Which alone does not resign the book to the abandoned pile. I may give this another attempt—One more hour of reading.

“Black Leopard, Red Wolfe” by Marlon James

This book confuses me. I see stylistic similarities to Gene Wolfe’s “The Book of the New Sun” series; Which I love. But the narrator seeks to shock me into abandoning their story. However, I see this as a tactic of the narrator as an inquisitor (and torturer) transcribes the narrator’s words; I want to keep moving through it as it alludes to “Shadow of the Torturer”. Until I found that this was likely the first book in a series. To which my response is, “I’ll finish the series when the author finishes the series.” Bleck.

I have almost worked myself up to move it back to the “In Progress” pile. Almost.

Completed

“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk

I wrote my thoughts on “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” in late June.

“Ode to a Nightengale” by John Keats

I wrote my thoughts on “Ode to a Nightengale” last weekend). And add this for context.

“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

A book that has long lingered at the edge of my awareness, and one that I purchased at an inexpensive price. On a lark, I took this book to Germany and decided to finish it.

I enjoyed the pretense and aspects but struggled with the style. As someone practicing English Prime writing, I could not help but notice a preponderance of short declarative statements relying on “is” as the main verb of each sentence. I felt cheated, as though the author was requiring me to fill in the fantastical.

I never felt challenged to engage in the story. Things happened, and for all the mystery and grandeur, the world felt no more profound than that; Nothing more beyond the words on the paper.

“The Lost Art of Reading: Books and Resistance in a Troubled Time” by David L. Ulin

I wrote up my thoughts on “The Lost Art of Reading” a few weeks ago.

“If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino

I read this on my flights home from Germany. This book challenged me as a reader. Not for its vocabulary but for its composition. The odd chapters, from a second-person narrative, tell a single story of the reader (you). The even chapters are each the first chapter of a different book.

For me, “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” has that sense of reading concurrent books while living your life (albeit one more adventurous than myself).

“Tragedy, The Greeks, and Us” by Simon Critchley

As I wrote on Facebook:

That feeling when you read a philosophy book refuting Plato’s denouncement of Greek tragedies, and you can’t help but look at the writing through the lens Burning Wheel. And see the tragic echoes reverberate in your memory of Dune and Game of Thrones. And see (again and again) traces of Socrates and the “just city” of the Republic as they’ve been made manifest in monotheistic hegemony and our preference for logic over paradox.

I found myself underlining several sentences, drafting marginalia, and writing responses at chapter’s end. I also had my mobile dictionary app open and ready for a consultation. The most salient word: mimesis.

For Work

A few articles I’ve read at work that weave their way into my thinking.