My leisure ‘book’ reading continued to slow over the past couple months, and I haven’t had as much time for this blog, so I’m going to roll my January and February reading recap into a single post. Here’s what I read for pleasure (i.e. not for work or for my dissertation) in January and February of 2017.
- Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. It was pretty engrossing and I tore through it, but I didn’t find it much more than a fun, quick, thoughtful read. The big reveal at the end of the book felt a bit too much like a big, fundamental idea that the rest of the book ultimately served as a vehicle for. The effect was that the book almost felt as though it had a main/central idea which could be summarized in a single sentence (I won’t share it here, because I don’t want to be a spoiler). This is not typically a good sign for enduring works of fiction.
- Kenneth Cox, The Art of Language: Selected Essays, edited by Jenny Penberthy. Great collection of literary criticism/essays by an eccentric English critic. Excellent essays on Lorine Niedecker, Basil Bunting, Louis Zukofsky, and others.
- Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Breezy, smart book that I really savored, until the final chapter and epilogue, when I couldn’t help writing furious disagreements in the margin. Probably would end up as an FB, + (using the author’s notational system1UB: book unknown to me; SB: book I have skimmed; HB: book I have heard about; FB: book I have forgotten; ++: extremely positive opinion; +: positive opinion; -: negative opinion; –: extremely negative opinion.
- Michael Holt’s By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876. Nice review of the book here. I also skimmed former Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist’s The Centennial Crisis and Roy Morris Jr.’s Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden and the Stolen Election of 1876. This election was insane, and I knew almost nothing about it. Wild times in American electoral history.
- Rick Telander’s Heaven is Playground. Essentially an extended longform piece about a summer the author spent playing basketball and hanging around a city playground in Flatbush during the early/mid 70s featuring Fly Williams (just about to self-destruct) and Albert King (Bernard King’s little brother and future NBA player, then just about to start high school).
- David Bach’s Debt Free for Life. I’ve been helping some friends do some planning for their future, including managing debt, and making savings goals and spending plans. I picked this book up from the library and read it in an evening. The first several chapters are mostly a sales pitch for some credit monitoring product he’s all jazzed about, the book is largely rah-rah fluff type stuff, but Bach’s heart is in the right place overall, and there’s probably 10 pages of really solid content in the book. I did learn about unclaimed.org, which is a pretty awesome site.
- George Seferis’ Collected Poems: 1924-1955. Seferis was a Greek diplomat and poet. I didn’t know much about him, but I saw him mentioned in an interview Carl Rakosi gave near the end of his life, and then saw the book on the shelf at the public library so picked it up.
I read a lot more journalism this month (slipping back into old habits) in place of books. I wish I would have kept up the book reading, but amidst the thousands of words I read in magazines and newspapers over the last two months, here’s what stood out to me most as worth reading:
- Stephen Pinker in a Vox interview with Julia Belluz addressing the importance of watching baseline trends instead of just spikes and variation (watch the signal, not the noise, basically).
- Sabine Heinlein (who wrote a terrific book about men returning to free society after years in prison for murder that I can’t recommend highly enough) on dating among ‘Truthers’
- Connor Kilpatrick writing about Cornel West in Jacobin.
- Jason Zweig’s “A Portrait of the Investing Columnist as a (Very) Young Man.” Much better than you’d probably guess from the title.
- Amia Srinivasan’s “Remembering Derek Parfit,” written for the LRB’s blog shortly after Parfit’s death on January 1, 2017.
- “Homer and Harold,” Ken Armstrong’s moving story of an honorable prosecutor in 1920s Connecticut.
- John Eligon piece on gang-related violence in Chicago for the NYT.
- Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ NYT magazine piece on machine learning, A.I., and Google Translate
- Mitch Prothero writing for Buzzfeed about the problems European police encounter in investigating IS-affiliated terror cells in Europe.
- Christopher Solomon writing in Outside Online about “BIKE BATMAN” and other urban do-gooders trying to recover bikes from thieves.
- Carlo Rovelli writing about the importance of the idea of the atom in aeon.
- Kevin Birmingham’s acceptance talk for the Truman Capote Award excoriating the current labor conditions for humanities graduate students and newly minted Ph.D.s.
- Nathaniel Rich’s sickening account of abuse and racially-destructive policing in New Iberia, Louisiana.
- David Bradley’s review of Albert Murrays’ Collected Essays & Memoirs in First Things.
- Evelyn Juers’ review of Andrea Wulf’s new Alexander von Humboldt biography in the Sydnew Review of Books.
- Tim Layden writing for Sports Illustrated about Curt Tong, a coach and athletic director who had an outsized human impact on both the author and prominent NBA coach Gregg Popovich.
- Richard Grant writing in the Smithsonian on Dan Sayers’ archaeological work shedding light on a mostly-hidden refuge for escaped slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp.
- Amanda Petrusich’s extended reflections on Tokyo’s love affair with blues music in Oxford American.
- An excerpt from Michel Pastoureau’s latest book on color (RED!!!) in The Paris Review
Featured image by Rob Hurson
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|1.||↑||UB: book unknown to me; SB: book I have skimmed; HB: book I have heard about; FB: book I have forgotten; ++: extremely positive opinion; +: positive opinion; -: negative opinion; –: extremely negative opinion|