What are you reading?

December 24, 2014 • 11:30 am

by Grania

And now, dear reader, let us move from the critical analysis of one type of fiction to another.

I picked up two books last week when I was in the bookshop up the road, as one does. One I would recommend to anyone, the other is more for those of a particular taste.

Solar by Ian McEwan, is like everything else of his, beautifully written and a pleasure to read. This novel follows an aging physicist whose career’s respectable peak has been reached and whose 5th marriage is in trouble as he tries to recover his former glory. It’s dark and comic and bitingly satirical.

Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio is a series chronicling the life of an orphaned girl with Mad Scientist proclivities. It’s sort of Pratchett-esque in tone, although the world is a Steampunk version of earth rather than a fantasy. If Steampunk isn’t already something you like, then this probably isn’t the book to get you into it. You can actually read it in comic book form online which I think I prefer to the novels, although obviously in a much shorter form.

What have you read lately?


333 thoughts on “What are you reading?

  1. I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods from Kindle. It was an anniversary edition so it is longer than the original as it has pieces in it that were not in the original. It also comes with audio sections and a few audio interviews.

    I am just starting 12 Years a Slave but lately I’ve been too tired to read and have been just playing Little Wing & Angry Birds on my iPad.

    Other books I’ve enjoyed this year include, Consciousness by Koch and a couple of good Russian history books one about Gorbechev.

      1. That looks interesting. I loved Good Omens.

        I also like Gaiman’s writing; and when he does the audiobooks himself, it’s really great. He has a really good reading voice. I heard Neverwhere and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane read by him. Also his shorter The Truth Is A Cave … which was good, too, though a little more “acted” than the otherz.

        1. Yes, I liked how he read some excerpts of American Gods on my Kindle version. I think I’ll get one of his books from audible if it’s read by him.

        2. I have enjoyed most of Neil Gaiman. One that was really a delight was Stardust which had also been released as a movie some years ago. I also liked that version as well.

    1. Any opinion on where to start with Gaiman? I read Neverwhere and didn’t enjoy it. However, I always hear good things about his work and want to give him another chance.

      1. I only got into Gaiman this year. I was being a bigot and found the genre, “fantasy” off putting. I think it is because I had an incorrect idea of what that genre was and to me it is just fiction anyway.

        However, I started with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is short so you aren’t invested much if you don’t like it. I thought it was brilliantly written as I see it as readable in two different, opposing ways and his use of language is very nice.

        I then read American Gods. I loved it but it seems people either love American Gods or hate it so you might not want to start there I’d you aren’t sure about Gaiman.

      2. I’ve read American Gods, Stardust, and Neverwhere, and loved all three, in that order. Anansi Boys is high on my list to read.

        I would not start with American Gods, as it is by far his longest and most substantial book. On the other hand, if you are interested in religious mythology, there is a lot of it in the book. Stardust is his most charming, a sort of mirror image of Neverwhere.

        1. I decided I needed to read more Gaiman & needed humour not sadness so I stopped reading 12 Years a Slave for now & instead started reading Good Omens. I am 3% in & I love it – the snake from Eden is named “Crawly”. That’s great!

            1. Yeah, I’m going to wait on reading it. I think it’s like Schindler’s List – you have to be neither too happy (spoils your happy mood) or too sad (makes you more sad) to partake of it.

            2. Worth reading, though. The movie is pretty true to the story, but the book feels more real. (Which should be no surprise, I suppose!)

              1. I thought everyone in the movie was great but the Brad Pitt character (usually like him and grateful that he funded it) and the young slave girl who won the Oscar. Thought she was overplayed. Chiwetel was terrific, and the white guy who played the nasty one…

    2. American Gods is a great fun read. I can’t get into Gaiman’s other work however, although Good Omens was pretty good as I have read about everything Pratchett has ever written.

  2. I just finished “The Communist Manifesto” and am still reading “A People’s Tragedy”, a history of the Russian revolution. I’m trying to follow up on some of the claims made by Chomsky about the objectives of the revolution and what exactly went wrong.

  3. Looks like Bill Nye’s new book will be under the tree at our house.
    Probably be half through it by the time dinner is served.

    1. I read Nye’s book. Interesting. He throws out lots of interesting info, but he doesn’t drive home the points to prove (sorry, I know “prove” isn’t the best word) evolution. So, he tells you about lots of cool stuff, but then in my opinion, just kind of leaves you hanging. Nothing wrong with that, other than that I think he misses the opportunity to present more convincing arguments for evolution, as opposed to creationism.

  4. Currently reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau and just finished a very interesting book on human behaviour: Mistakes were made (but not by me, by Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris.

      1. I agree Diane – just finished reading it for a second time. You might also enjoy “Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear”, by Dan Gardner. Both books are good at explaining how we can fool ourselves into believing wrong things.

    1. On my little hand-held screen thingie, I just re-read ‘Walden’, after ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’, and then started W.T. Hornaday (1913) ‘Our Vanishing Wild-life’ for the first time ever. I never saw it in a library (wrong continent), but have been reading stuff informed and motivated by Hornaday all my life without knowing it.
      Also read Pratchett’s Discworld books this year, after putting it off for many years. I bought three of the early books and then my wife got addicted and we ended up with a complete set up to ‘Raising Steam’. That book struck me as different from the rest in a few ways – wooden dialogue, lack of surprises in the plot, shallow characters with simplistic ethics: as if it had been ghost-written by Tom Clancy.

      1. So far I’ve read the first seven Discworld books to my wife. We don’t do them one right after the other, because we have to stop to catch our breaths. They are *so* funny.

          1. I don’t remember that film! Well, despite his politics, Heston was quite good in a certain type of pic. Which reads like a complete non sequitur, I guess.

    1. Very silly that the US publishers changed the title from The Book of Negroes, which was the name of the original document discussed. Lawrence Hill came and spoke to students at our school and have also met him socually as he lives down the street from friends in Hamilton, Ontario.

        1. Hamilton is north of Niagara Falls, on the way to Toronto. If I remember correctly it is about 45 minutes from the border crossing.

          1. 🙂 I was born in Hamilton. I just wondered where in Hamilton. Hamilton is divided up by the West End, North End, Mountain & East End. 🙂

            1. It’s very easy to get lost in Hamilton. Toronto has Lake Ontario to the south. Hamilton has it to the north and east, plus there’s the harbo(u)r, plus there’s the “mountain”, plus there are all the one-way streets:-).

              1. Many of the downtown streets are now two way, which confuses me because I was used to going around the block & I feel like I’m doing something wrong when I drive on them now. I never worried about the one way streets because as long as I knew about where I was going, I’d just take the next street.

                I used to work at Confederation Park as a student (it’s in Stoney Creek). I remember giving people directions on the phone to take exit x which is north toward the lake. One guy insisted I was wrong because the lake was south. I told him he was free to travel south & to enjoy Niagara Falls because that is where he’d eventually end up.

                He listened to me, got to the park & remarked about how I was right that the lake was north.

                Having grown up in that area, I actually have to think which way the lake it if I’m in the GTA.

              2. And now there are some really annoying bus lanes, which make going around the block really difficult….

                I do have to think twice when meeting friends at restaurants on James Street North, right by the lake.

              3. It’s very easy to get lost in Hamilton. Toronto has Lake Ontario to the south.

                Are you suggesting that no one ever gets lost in Toronto by driving too far south.
                I’m sure the local press “morgue” has counterexamples.

              4. They get there East & West screwed up mostly if visiting Hamilton because they think Lake Ontario is south when it is north. I’ve heard many a tale of people ending up on the opposite end of the city or in an entirely different city because they’ve made this mistake.

              5. And only a few roads go up the “mountain.” I got much better at navigating that when my son had 7 AM rep lacrosse games in various corners of Hamilton. Also finding various parts of the Bruce Trail.

              6. It gives me a headache to try to understand how people can get lost in something resembling civilisation. I can understand getting lost in a midnight white-out on a flat, featureless hillside in hurricane-force winds and -40 wind-chill – that’s reasonable conditions to give up on the navigation and dig in for the day/ week/ month. But in a town!?
                I know people do get lost … but it makes my head hurt to try to imagine how.
                OTOH – I’ve had to make maps – probably filters out the people who couldn’t navigate their way out of an occupied womb.

              7. I actually have a rather good sense of direction, but if you’ve lived somewhere where the lake is south of you for many years, and then you crawl around the edge of said lake where that other city has the lake in some parts to the east and some parts to the north, it can manage to confuse one;-)
                Berkeley, Cal, can also be confusing, what with the Bay kind of making a right angle. Palo Alto’s easy: Bay to East, hills to West, and over hills the beach.

              8. OH, very rude words. Got interrupted by work and lost my post. What was I saying … white end of the compass points north … man 40 miles off course. Yeah, fun ; could have been worse though. Confused Egyptians in Babylonia, because in Egyptian “river flows” _=_ “towards North”. Difficult enough in the Jordan valley (N-S, but river flows the wrong way), but worse in the area of Babylon : river flows NE-SW, river isn’t n-S, and there’s the wrong number of rivers. “Who in the name of Set designed this planet? And is the turtle male or female?”

            1. I visited relatives there. Looking out the window of a Tim Horton’s, I am amazed another Timmy’s across the street.
              He was not surprised.

              1. Poor Philae! Freezing on a comet and still not far enough away from any McDonalds.
                On the bright side – Voyager 1 may be feeling better now!

  5. Just finished “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein. Seemed rather surreal at 35k feet, with the beauty of the green planet sliding along below me.

    1. This Changes Everything is my favorite book from 2014. The first part about how this is an ideological battle and that the Right is CORRECT because this does indeed mean we must shift our economy and we must do this quickly. The chapters about bioengineering are phenomenal. I could gush on and on about Klein. She is probably one of my favorite non-fiction authors of all time.

      I’m currently reading two books for a globalization class: Global Capitalism: It’s Fall and Rise in the 20th Century and Global Political Economy. These are also deeply fascinating.

      1. Krugman (and others) argue that the costs of moving to a green economy are fairly low, once you put the proper market incentives in place. The argument that this would require a vast restructuring of our political institutions (or the end of capitalism) strikes me as fairly absurd. If so, we’re all doomed.

        1. once you put the proper market incentives in place.

          This would be a variant on Voltaire’s “pour encourager les autres”?

  6. Surface Detail (re-read) by Iain M. Banks.

    Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes – The Catholic Church’s 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse by Thomas P. Doyle.

    Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 2.

    Bully For Brontosaurus – Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould.

      1. He also wrote* fiction (as opposed to science fiction) under the name Iain Banks (no middle initial).

        I would recommend “The Wasp Factory” for sample of his fiction writing.

        On of his best (IMHO) SF novels is “Against a Dark Background”, one of the few non Culture based books.

        * Sadly no longer with us.

        1. A curiosity: Iain Banks, Kage Baker, and Octavia Butler, three of the leading science fiction writers of the past few decades, especially among those whose last names begin with “B”, all died at age 59 of cancer. Very depressing.

              1. I want to achieve immortality through not dieing – Woody Allen.
                Obviously he hasn’t read the legend of Tithonus

                but when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his supple limbs.

        2. Fully endorse Iain (M) Banks, and would particularly recommend any of his Culture novels. The ones set in and around Glasgow are great too.

  7. In the middle of “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. It is taking me forever because I get sleepy quickly due to its tedium.

        1. That one is on my shelf. I sometimes look through it for tidbits. I really must read it one day. After years of reading non fiction, I suddenly want to read fiction again instead.

        2. I put it down a bit more than half-way through and never picked it up again.

          I have it on good authority that PCC’s opinion of it echoes ours. 😉

  8. I’m wrapping up a second read of “Max Jamison” by Wilfrid Sheed. I like comic novels and this is a good one. Not sure what I’ll read next.

  9. A Sleepless Eye: Aphorisms from the Sahara
    by Ibrahim al-Koni; translated from Arabic by Roger Allen.

    Legacy: Jewelry Techniques of West Africa
    by Matthieu Cheminee
    (Part photo documentary, part instruction manual).

    [Background music: “Inside/Outside”, new EP by Tinariwen.]

  10. I’m reading Eye Of The Storm: A Civil War Odyssey by Robert Knox Sneden. It is a first hand account of the American Civil War, written by a former Union soldier and prisoner of war. It was not published at the time it was written and was lost until the 1990s. It has illustrations by the author.

    Also… I’m finally working my way through Pinker’s Better Angels.

  11. I rotate through different books. I have been reading Wicked: The Life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and On The Origin of Species by someone named Charles Darwin.

    1. I lived The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Did you feel it could be read I two completely different ways: one that accepts the story as fantastical and the other that sees it as a result of trauma? I saw a lot of people raging about how it was beautiful and reminded them of childhood while I saw it as quite scary if you think about what the narrator is creating around him.

      1. On The Origin of Species by someone named Charles Darwin.

        It’s boring. “Was seasick. Discovered fossils in un-mapped swathes of South America. Was seasick. Documented ground movement in an Earthquake. Was seasick. Found lots of weird tortoises and birds on some really interesting volcanoes. Was even more seasick. …”
        Weird thing is – people seem to think that Darwin was a biologist, when he self-identified as a geologist. Poor sea-sick, Chaga’s-raddled bourgeois that he was.

        1. Probably my comment is too late to be noticed, but I am sure gravelinspector-Aidan is referring to Voyage of the Beagle. I have not read that, but I have heard it is boring, and your comments about all the bits of being seasick are not at all what is in the superb Origin of Species. The Origen is not about sea voyages. It is beautifully written. Lays out the case for evolution by natural selection, starting with domesticated animals which was evidence no one could deny. And he did not shy away from that difficult topic of the human eye, but tackled it straight on, though he is often misquoted about it. I loved the book. Ends with that great line “there is grandeur in this view of life…” what an astounding individual Darwin was.

              1. I just heard on the radio excerpts from “The Origin,” an oratorio by Richard Einhorn. Words by Charles Darwin. It seems like a great listen – a cappella for female voices

                Since I recently read The Origin of Species and I’m going to read the Voyage soon, it fit in nicely.

            1. My bad, since i have not actually read it. In my defense, I wanted to promote Origin. It sounded like Aidan was definitely talking about Voyage, not Origin. Reading Origin, in my case only several years ago, made a deep impression on me and since then I’ve read more about and by Darwin, including his books on plants. My interest in Darwin led me to this website.

          1. I’ve read Voyage and Origin, repeatedly. They’re different books for different purposes and different audiences.
            Some on Twitter may have noticed there is an account who is publishing extracts from Darwin’s diary in “real time.” That’s got plenty of seasickness, and just recently an account of the sailor’s Xmas party with dancing, jollity and the homesickness of facing another 4 years at sea.

    2. I enjoyed the annotated Origin facsimile, put out by biologist James T. Costa. He’s got a new one out that brings Wallace into the picture, and he’s also done an annotated facsimile edition of Wallace’s On The Organic Law of Change, that I’d like to get my hands on. I believe Ernst Mayr also put out a facsimile of On the Origin of Species back in the early 1960’s but I’ve yet to track that down but keep forgetting, along with some decent version of Darwin’s earthworm and barnacle works. So many books…

  12. Currently I’m about half way thru Christianity is not Great, John W. Loftus which is a very heavy book covering just about everything.

    Mostly I do American History so here are a few more recent ones worth reading:

    Breach of Trust – Andrew Bacevich and also The New American Militarism by the same Author.

    Revolutionary Summer, Joseph Ellis

    The Idea of America, Gordon S Wood
    Revolutionary Characters, Gordon S Wood

      1. He is that. Most qualified to write about the military and where we are today. Has only one drawback and that is being catholic, but we try not to hold it against him.

        1. Had not known the Catholic bit. Will try to forget it;-) Another very bright and perceptive guy is Thomas Friedman(n?). Everything I’ve ever heard him say (on TV) or that I’ve read of his makes sense.

  13. Recently: Two collections of stories by M. R. James. James is definitely a writer where one has to immerse oneself to become accustomed to the writing style and vernacular. Worth the effort – great antiquarian ghost stories.

    Now: Bits of pieces of Russell’s collection Why I am Not a Christian and the Russell section of Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy – where I’m not sure if the subject comes off in an entirely positive light. It was written in Russell’s lifetime, so I’m sure Durant didn’t have the perspective we have now.

    1. I think I may have read some of his sections about Augustus for an essay in his book about civilization. I remember thinking he was a good writer, but I was suspicious about what he had to say about Augustus. I can’t remember that details, just those two feelings.

  14. I too have several on the go at once…

    * ‘On the historicity of Jesus’ – Richard Carrier (540 paged in! Excellent stuff, it really is)

    * ‘Deconstructing Jesus’ – Robert Price

    * ‘Handel: The man and his music’ – Jonathan Keates

    * ‘The great warbow’ – Robert Hardy and Matthew Strickland

    * ‘Unweaving the rainbow’ – Richard Dawkins

    * ‘Clarence Darrow for the defence’ – Irving Stone

    * ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’ – Albert Schweitzer

    * ‘Nothing Remains But to Fight: Defence of Rorke’s Drift’ – Ian Knight

    So, no fiction in that little lot!

      1. The Strickland/Hardy book is very good indeed. Large format with many interesting illustrations, photos, etc. Well worth a look in my opinion.

    1. I’m glad you like Carrier’s new book, I’ve been vacillating about buying it in case it was dull. I will buy it on your recommendation. 🙂

      1. Hs! It is always hard to commit to a book I find and I often worry a book will be bad. What is it about the disappointment of a bad book? It just seems so awful.

        I imagined a funny email: Dear Richard, is your book dull? I don’t want to read it and be dissointed if it is. Thanks for your time.


      2. I think it’s the most interesting book on the subject of the historicity of Jesus that I’ve read so far. I’ve read 10 or 12 on this topic, and this is the longest, the clearest, and the most persuasive.

        I take on board the comment from Greg (above this) and I think that Price’s books, in general, whilst enjoyable and witty and very informative, can indeed be hard to follow for the novice or layman (me!!). More of a stream of consciousness at times, so to speak, rather than the logical structure of – say – Carriier’s work… and this fits in with Greg’s ‘disorganised’ comment I feel.

        However, that said, I’d much rather Dr. Price be writing what he does on the subject, than not at all, by a long way. He is a biblical scholar, and that does shine through in his work. But it can be somewhat dizzying in its complexity and scope I admit.

        But yes, in comparison, Carrier’s tome is better organised for sure, and clearer and easier to read as a result. It’s not dull at all! Unless you find the subject intrinsically dull of course…!

        For me, it was expensive, due to its number of pages and peer-review status (I assume), but in hindsight it’s been worth every penny. I think it’s excellent.

        1. Interesting. I find Bob Price to be very variable, some of his stuff is very interesting and easy to read; “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man” I had no trouble with, but others have been impossible to finish. I have read a lot of Carrier’s blog posts and they are pretty good but I was a bit worried, as Diana says, the disappointment would be hard to take! I don’t handle disappointment well. 😉

          1. Again, I agree with that.

            And I would have no qualms about recommending Carrier’s book now I’m nearly through it. I have learned a hell of a lot on the subject and my thoughts have been crystallised and focussed better now as a result.

      1. The very same sir!

        He is an authority on the English Longbow, and was in fact consulted on the longbow finds brought up from the wreck of the great ship of Henry VIII, the Mary Rose, in 1982.

        1. Oh a thesp … .I apologise in advance … a thesp woth several strings to his bow.
          Ka-boom-tish, and Heeeeer’s Johnny!

  15. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East – by Scott Anderson. Fantastic book!

    The Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

    The Half-Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman

    The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (last year’s Booker winner)

    We Are All completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – Booker finalist for this year – interesting fictional tale of a young girl being raised with a chimp.

    The Testament of Mary by Colm Toíbin. Another Booker finalist which tells the story from Mother Mary’s POV. Very well-written.

    1. When we were kids, my sister and I used to watch the documentary series of the same name. Our parents recorded it on a VHS at some point. It should still back in my room at home. It was a good series.

  16. The Athiest’s Guide to Reality by Alex Rosenberg. A fascinating look at the implications of a deterministic universe. Gave copies to both my sons for xmas. Recommended.

    1. Yeah, philosophy, but fun to read. Makes difficult concepts accessible for wider public and it filled a lot of gaps in my thinking.

  17. Currently reading:

    Bicycles, Bangs and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press by Patricia Marks. About how the popular press in Britain and America, especially the satirical press, wrote about the “New Woman” who demanded education, suffrage instead of the traditional marriage.

    Just finished:

    Collecting & Historical Consciousness in Early Nineteenth-Century Germany by Susan Crane.
    The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe by Daniel L. Purdy.
    Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless by Daniel Peris

  18. Family Life by Akhil Sharma – truly wonderful writing if you’re a fan of Hemingway, and Collector of Hearts by JC Oates.

    Also just finished Sex on Earth by Jules Howard. A little like Forsyth’s The Natural History of Sex it mixes animal behavior, evolution, and a bit of weirdness. At least what seems weird to me. But I’m no duck or insect.

    FWIW I like this topic – maybe run it monthly? I’ve already noticed a couple of titles to add to my To Be Read list.

    1. FWIW I like this topic – maybe run it monthly?

      +100 internet points – which can be redeemed, well, nowhere, but I like this idea.

  19. I rereading A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway), and new reading is The Innovators (Walter Isaacson), and Sherston’s Progress (Siegfried Sassoon).

    If you aren’t familiar with Sassoon, I highly recommend Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, recounting his experiences in WW1. He’s a great writer. I was turned into it after reading Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves.

    I love nonfiction science writing, but the genre has been disappointing in the last few years.

    1. May I also cordially suggest that you look up Wilfred Owen, if you aren’t aware of his work. Another great WWI poet.

    2. I’ve got The Innovators primed to begin in the next few days (or rather got myslef primed, the book cued). Sounds really good.

      1. It’s a good overview of the history of computing, although he’s a little heavy-handed with his thesis that innovation require collaboration. It’s interesting to me because through my career in Computer Science I knew several of the characters.

          1. I knew Stallman, Minsky, Jobs, Hertzfeld, and Kay, but only in passing. I doubt they’d remember me. They were stars and I was way under their radar. There may be more people — I’m only halfway through the book. I went to work at the AI Lab at SRI in 1979 and was star struck. The NIC — Network Information Center — was right down the hall from my office.

            My computer background started in the late 60s, the punch-card era, with the Univac 1107. Then I worked for Univac, dodging the draft with a IIs deferment during the Vietnam War. I went to the University of Minnesota for a PhD in CS after I was safe, and then to SRI, working in Computer Vision. I came to the conclusion that AI was too hard (after I think some pretty good work), and then went to Cray Research and NASA after I became fascinated by supercomputers, having worked with the Connection Machine.

            One thing I’ll never forget was being in the office of my collaborator at NASA and him showing me the Mosaic browser — the first web browser. It was clearly the future.

            1. Neat! I think we may have discussed SRI before. I worked in a bio-med lab there in maybe 1974, before changing to a lab at Stanford proper. I only took one CS course at Stanford – intro to programming ( in ALGOL)- in the midst of taking lots of bio, chem, and physics. When I moved to Toronto with my then pre-husband ( now long my ex) I did a second BA in CS ( first was in French) with lots of science in between). Met Knuth and Winograd at Stanford, but just through my bf, who did a joint chem-CS PhD.

              1. Donald Knuth invented TeX, which was transformative for applying typesetting to digital media. Terry Winograd’s work on natural language understanding was impressive, but I’m not sure that it led to anything more. I felt that AI was, if not a dead end, then at least an impossibly hard problem, so I left it behind.

              2. What struck me when I got into the serious world of AI at SRI was the naiveté. They actually thought that blind-search theorem proving could work, even with the pathetic computer resources available at the time. Looking back, it’s amusing, but I suppose it was worth a shot.

              3. Did you think your French degree would help in Canada then realize you were surrounded by a bunch of Anglophones? 🙂

              4. I was surprised at how many more Italian speakers there were than French speakers. My French had nothing to do with my moving here, but yes, I did expect to maybe use it a bit. I tutored it for a while, but then ended up teaching math ( and some CS) for 20 years. Go figure. As I think we’ve discussed before, Quebecois is very hard to understand…

            2. Lucky you got the 2-S while it was still a deferment. On principle I didn’t think it should exist, but on behalf of, well, all who were saved by it, I was very happy.

              1. Meant to reply to you, Diane G.

                It was terribly unfair. Only when grad-student deferments and IIs deferments were abolished, and the middle class saw their sons subject to the draft did the public turn away from the war. I was stuck in a job I hated for years when all I wanted to do was to go to graduate school. In hindsight, I probably learned a lot from the experience.

            3. I actually bought that browser (bought!) for my dad with a book on how to use it. 🙂 Ahhhh the naive early days of the UI Web.

    3. WWI is a big draw for me this year, for some odd reason. I’d like to get my hands on some of the journals I came across while researching a paper I did finishing my history degree a few years back but can’t find my notes! Luckily, I live not too far from the National WWI museum here in Kansas City, Mo, and their wonderful research library. I tried reading The Long Fuse by Laurence Lafore, but his style is so antiquated that I get easily distracted.

      Might I suggest, if you have not already enjoyed it, that you check out the BBC radio 4 program released earlier this year called Voices of the First World War, interviews from the Imperial War Museum audio archives.

  20. “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland” by Alex Bellos.

    Wonderful anecdotes, and fascinating mathematics that anyone can appreciate.

  21. * Righteous Victimns: A History of the Zionist Arab Conflicts, by Benny Morris — (on Hitchens’ recommendation), Morris manages to treat the topic as dispassionately as if it was an account of some random conflict in some random point of history. 500+ pp.

    ‘ The Lagoon, How Aristotle Invented Biology, by Armand Marie Leroi — the documentary was featured on WEIT some years ago. The book is even better. Completely spellbinding.

    * Ornament of the World, by Maria Rosa Menocal — history of Andalusia in the good times before they kicked out the Jews & Muslims.

    * Money, by Martin Amis — don’t especially like the guy, but the book is indeed very good, about a rich git in the 1980s destroying his life with excess. Some aspects of it ring home to me, just without the money & the excess. It does touch on some important issues about “WTF am I doing with my life?”

    * Defending the West, by Ibn Waraq — critique of E Said’s “Orientalism” (the seminal book arguing that all “oriental” studies by the west ar colored by racist & neo-colonialist motives & biases). The critique can be summed up in one line: Said ignored C19 German scholarship. A visit to just about any museum in Berlin confirms confirms this quite spectacularly.

    * Autobiography of Bertrand Russell — includes the story of how the British Govt tried to conscript Russell for WWI, but couldn’t find him, because they’d forgotten that they’d already imprisoned him for opposing it.

    * Probably a dozen other books that have disappeared under the pile.

  22. I’m almost through “The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science” by Armand Marie Leroi. It’s a nice (and very erudite) mix of science, history and travel memoir – a combination I enjoy. Still, David Quammen’s “Song of the Dodo” remains my favorite exemplar of that genre.

    1. I must read The Lagoon!
      If we think of Aristotle primarily as a comparative anatomist, and the collected works as notes for a lecture series that inevitably strayed beyond his areas of expertise (prep work for teaching the young prince of Macedon?) rather than finished scholarly works, his errors in physics and physiology (not to mention the later use made of them by christians) should not be resented.
      (Either T.H. White’s Merlin is largely based on this view of Aristotle, or perhaps my idea of Aristotle is based mainly on White’s Merlin, whom I encountered at the impressionable age of seven.)
      When his texts were preserved and copied, it was by those who could not or would not copy his anatomical drawings for reasons of religious prohibition or personal incapacity, and they were lost (except that the numbered notes referring to figured structures remained in the text). There’s a nice edition I found in a public library with both translation and drawings by D’Arcy Thompson (reprinted in the Everyman series?), doing dissections of the same or closely related species and adding Aristotle’s labels.

  23. ‘Medieval Latin Lyrics’, Helen Waddell, Constable & Co., 1930.

    A sample Epicurean poem by Venantius Fortunatus, (c.530-c.603) for the season.

    To Gogo, that he can eat no more

    Nectar and wine and food and scholar’s wit,
    Such is the fashion, Gogo, of thy house.
    Cicero art thou, and Apicius too,
    But now I cry you mercy: no more goose!
    Where the ox lieth, dare the chickens come?
    Nay, horn and wing unequal warfare keep.
    My eyes are closing and my lute is dumb,
    Slower and slower go my songs to sleep.

    1. Thanks. I needed a holiday poem to share with my poetry group on December 28th. As the only secularist, I usually share Winter Solstice poems and the others share Christmas poems.

  24. I recently finished “Money” by Martin Amis. Brilliant novel about a farcical drunk and philanderer, whose obsession with money gets him into some outrageous situations. Super witty prose, as one would expect from Amis.

    Now I’m working on “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie, “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker, and “Godel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter.

    1. I DO need to get back to G,E, and B, which I began about 30 years ago before the kids came along. Think I’d need to begin again…

      1. Probably 😉

        On the other hand, I read it 5-6 years ago, and still remember parts of it. It is a very, very good book.

          1. That’s puts you ahead of me on at least one book that I *know* I bought, but can’t for the life of me find in this bookstore that we live in and sometimes jokingly refer to as a condo…

            1. More than once I have found two copies of the same book filed right next to each other:-( I’m so glad that amazon will at least tell you that you’ve already ordered that Kindle edition, dummy…

              1. Well, I wasn’t going to mention that. But, today, as my wife and I were deciding what book to read next (I read to her constantly while she cooks and cleans up; we get through about 20 books a year that way), we were perusing the shelves and found two copies each of *two* different books. Well, that’s one way to clear a little extra shelf space…

              2. I make sure to identify on Good Reads if I own a copy then I sort by that when I’m in a bookstore. Otherwise, I will by duplicates all over the place. I also like having my “To-read” list handy so that I can remember what it is I want to read & purchase that if I’m in a bookstore.

              3. I have waaaaaay too many still-unreads to put them all on GoodReads. I do have them on an Excel spreadsheet, but that doesn’t transfer very well to my iPad. I have just sometimes stupidly not looked properly on my list ( or shelves, or piles) and hit the amazon one-click button. My bf and I have over 5000 books between us in this house. Kinda crazy. I am getting much better at not keeping read books, unless they are really special. I donate them to the library. Won’t even mention piles of New Yorkers and Harper’s ( how DO you pluralize Harper’s?) and Paris Reviews and Grantas and Znatural Histories…ack, the walls are closing in…back to reading…

              4. Fortunately, u didn’t document my to-reads before Good Reads. Now you just need to put your excel list in the cloud somewhere so you have it wherever you go.

      2. I tried reading it about 25 years ago, under the advice of my hash dealers (maths and computing Masters respectively) ; couldn’t get into it at all.

      3. I handed on my well-thumbed copy of GEB to my eldest last xmas. She’s a couple of years from the age I first read it, but back then I wished I’d seen it even one year earlier, when it first came out. I know she likes Escher and at least knows of Magritte (one of the runner-up names, like Turing, that didn’t make the cut of the book title) so I hope she’s at least opened it – the art might, even in these times of live internet, attract her attention to the text. Yesterday I read the foreword that DRH added to a recent reissue, and now think I should borrow it back and read it again. Add a few post-it notes, maybe.

  25. I’m about a third of the way through John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and am really enjoying it. It has been on my reading list for a long time, and it is nice to finally have some time to get to it.

  26. Just finishing up “Dodging Extinction: Power, Food, Money, and the Future of Life on Earth”. Provides great discussion on the evidence for climate change as well as it’s implications. Also, which I love, he provides lots of solutions that we could be implementing to address these issues.

  27. If you’d posted this last week, I’d have had to list one more in the long, long series (sometimes series of series) of mystery stories that I read. They’re like the background of what I read, what I read unless reading something in particular. This week, though, it’s Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I expected a sad slog because my last acquaintance with Dickens was in high school, but so far I am impressed.

    I too have added some books from these comments to my list of books to read. It’s helpful when people give a little one line summary of genre or subject. We should do this again from time to time.

  28. If you’d asked me last week, I’d have had to say one more in the long series (sometimes series of series) of mysteries that are like the background of what I read — what I read unless I’m reading something in particular. Right now, I’m reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I expected a sad, hard slog because the last time I read Dickens was in high school. So far, I am impressed.

    Let’s do this again from time to time. Like some others, I’ve added some titles to my list of books I’d like to read some day. It does help when a line on genre or subject is added.

  29. I am reading three books at the time.

    1-Evolution, The First Four Billion Years
    2-Dragons In Amber
    3-In The Footsteps Of Eve

    Three more waiting:
    1-Adam or Eve
    2-Tras Los Pasos De Adam
    3-Why Evolution Is True (second time)

  30. The Philip K. Dick Megapack

    The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
    by Stephen Greenblatt

    by Christof Koch

  31. I just started The History of Rock & Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus. Mr. Marcus uses his considerable knowledge of pop music history to analyze 10 songs that show how we got from country & blues to Rock & Roll.
    its an evolution of music study!

    Also started Land of the Big Rivers (French & Indian Illinois 1699-1778) and by M.J. Morgan. A history, ecology guide to the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri & Illinois rivers and surrounding area including St Louis MO and Cahokia IL

    No fiction on my table right now

    1. Big Rivers sounds interesting. I should be writing down all these great recommendations! I can’t help but think that if only the French had held on to that region, we’d have much better food here in Missouri! (not to mention that we’d pronounce place names like St. Louis, Versailles, Auxvasse, Bois D’Arc correctly for a change)

      also, I’d throw in Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, which I read years ago, for anyone who hasn’t moved beyond Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer.

  32. I just finished “Magicians Land “by Lev Grossman, I’m halfway through “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest, and in a day or two I will start “Ancillary Sword” by Ann Leckie. Leckie is a very good newcomer to the sci-fi genre. I’m kind of burned out reading serious stuff, so I will go through some science fiction and fantasy until my desire to do some serious reading is rekindled (oh, an unintentional pun – read everything on my kindle for pc to combat acid reflux as I can’t read in bed with my pc).

    1. Oooh, just noticed that James S A Corey has a new “expanse series” novel out, “Cibola Burn”. I like Corey’s books a lot.

      1. Corey is excellent. Did you know he also writes as Daniel Abraham – very sophisticated, thought-provoking and different fantasy.

    2. My wife hated the first “Magicians” book by Grossman, so I’ve never gotten into that series. I liked all of Boneshaker—except the zombies! I find zombies boring.

      Unless she already has a second book out, the Ann Leckie title is “Ancillary Justice”. It won every award in sight this year. Definitely on my list. All I’ve “read” (actually, listened to on Podcastle dot org) is a few of her short stories; I was favorably impressed by them.

      1. It is actually the second book out, a sequel to “Ancillary Justice”. I notice you like science fiction, ever read the Hugh Howey “Silo Saga” series?

        1. No, can’t say I’ve even heard of that one, or of the author.

          I tend to confine my science fiction and fantasy to award-nominated books, except for a few authors (PKD, Jack Vance, Tim Powers, Michael Moorcock) and themes (especially time travel) which I really like, and will read even without a nomination. I have a database with all works ever nominated (yes, I’m OCD) for a major award, and am peacefully working my way through it. Hence such books as “Tower of Dreams,” which I mentioned somewhere else on this thread.

          I also mentioned Stephen Baxter’s “Evolution”. I’m now about 150 pages in. Not much as a traditional novel, but pretty interesting as a fictionalized textbook, “scenes from the history of mammalian evolution.” I’m learning a lot, and all the factual background material that I’ve looked up has been accurate.

  33. The Woman Who Would Be King, Cooney (Hapshepsut);Secessionist States of America, D. McKinnon, (wingnut ‘traditional values’?); Birds of Pandemonium,Raffin; Birth of the Pill, Eig;
    Our Declaration, Allen; Presidents and Their Generals, Moten; The Human Age, Ackerman, (Anthropocene); The Cave Painters, Curtis (’06); Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting Our First Amendment Liberties, Fairman; Arrows Against Steel: History of the Bow, Hurley, 1975; Robert B Parker’s Cheap Shot, Atkins; A town Like Alice, Shute; and again and again Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forester.

    1. The Cave Painters, Curtis (’06)

      I’m pretty sure I’ve brought that, but I can’t remember if it was for myself or Sis or Dad.

  34. – The Opposing Shore by Julien Gracq
    – The Damned (La-Bas) by Joris-Karl Huysmans
    – The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1 by Robert Musil

  35. .Stillwater. is a highly researched, historical novel, the third book by Ms Nicole Helget, mama of six who, being a native Minnesotan, has, of course, fished — has fished her cell phone out of the toilet.

    And I almost never read fiction … … ! (Stillwater was out only in February of this year and is down already to one penny on amazon. = s h a m e f u l … …)

    Pre – and during the United States’ Civil War in and around Minnesota, not a state into the Union until 1858, Stillwater chronicles the rural territorial lives for a certain woman, her twin – babes and others who have to let go of one another oftentimes, but for other struggles as well, to death.

    Check out, particularly, page 136: the events happening to another woman of grit — Big Waters her name.


  36. “My Real Children” by Jo Walton
    A very different take on alternate worlds and dementia. How’s that for a combination?
    Actually a very moving story and I will be surprised if it isn’t nominated for several awards.

  37. ‘Great North Road,’ Peter F. Hamilton.
    ‘The Bone Clocks,’ David Mitchell
    ‘Life after Life,’ Kate Atkinson
    ‘Orfeo,’ Richard Powers
    ‘Waking up,’ Sam Harris

    1. What did you make of “Waking up”? – it took me a while to get through, I kept putting it down and reading something else – ended up reading it on a flight. Unusual for me with something by Harris. Couple of friends had similar experiences. I’m not really sure why I couldn’t get into it.

  38. I recently finished Hilary Mantel’s latest, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Good stories.

    I am close to finishing Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs (as an audiobook) and I don’t like it at all.

    I have also been reading David van Reybrouck’s Congo for a while now. It is great, a sprawling history of the country.

    Finally, I recently started Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek, and that’s very good so far.

      1. I read the first Mantel & have the second to read on my shelf. I found the first one confused me because I didn’t realize the narrator was Cromwell.

        1. There were a whole bunch of Thomases and she often used “he” without any attribution, but I eventually caught on. The 2nd one is a little less confusing.

          1. I figured I’d just gotten bad at reading fiction since it has been a while. Then I looked on Good Reads & found others had the same issue. Yes there were way too many Thomases.

            1. Sorry, I can’t share the universal indulgence for Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Brilliantly researched. But. 600 pages of the present historic. What a rotten decision to use that tense. Like being rabbited at by an extremely erudite over-the-garden-fence gossip or pub bore. Thomas, he says to me, he says…And it is 1 part of a trilogy. 1800 pages of the stuff. The forever present, present historic. Literally interminable. A foretaste of Alzheimer’s in literary form. x

              1. Couldn’t disagree more. It’s a challenging book, to be sure. I was mighty confused through much of it. Her Cromwell is one of the most powerful semi-fictional characters I’ve encountered.

              2. John Humphrys had (has?) the same complaint about most of the historian guests on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time programmes. It was barmy then, too.

    1. I’ve read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies — both excellent. I’m tempted to go to England and chain her to the typewriter to finish The Mirror and the Light.

    2. Enjoyed Hilary Mantel’s stories ‘It is a sick book from a sick mind” – Lord Tebbit. How much more recommendation do you need?

      1. This is why Mantel’s historic present is useless when writing a novel. The historic present is almost a sine qua non when describing a particularly vivid event or emotion. For example, one’s reaction to the death of a loved one, a physically threatening circumstance. When time itself is telescoped and becomes intensely relative.

        In the context of a narrative written in the conventional past tense, we can drop in the historic present to intensify the protagonist’s passion and to highlight the importance of this scene in the story. For a few paragraphs only. Just like we experience and recall the emotional highs and lows of life.

        If we plod along with the historic present for 1,800 pages (and, btw., there are 2 paragraphs near the start of Wolf Hall, in which she uses the past tense – a mistake, and bad proof-reading), then as a writer one is likely to produce a tale which is just one damned thing after another, you have arbitrarily reduced your ability to emotionally engage with the reader at certain vital points. You are writing with one arm tied behind your back: you reduce the impact of the key scene.

        And, rather shockingly, considering what a good writer Mantel otherwise is, it demonstrates your incomprehension of the nature of the historic present. x

        1. I have no idea what the “historic present” tense is, nor do I care. All I can say is that Wolf Hall was a great and challenging read.

  39. Currently reading: The confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau
    Finished reading: Oedipus of Sophocles, The Fragments be Reimarus, Atheism; a philosophical justification by Micheal Martin, The Prince and the pauper by Mark Twain, Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan and The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer

  40. I’m currently re-reading Why Evolution is True! I originally read it when it first came out, and Jerry referenced things he’s said in it recently that I didn’t remember. So I decided it was time to re-read.

    Just yesterday I started reading the article on free will in the latest Scientific American. The writer disagrees with Jerry… ruh roh…

  41. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson…winner of the 2010 Man-Booker Prize…highly recommended, especially for anyone who’s Jewish (or not Jewish).


    Also, Netherland by Joseph O’Neill…winner of the Pen/Faulkner award…excellent novel…especially for anyone who has ever lived in New York City.


      1. Loved Finkler Question. I’m not Jewish, but think I appreciated the wonderful wit. Going to be reading his latest, Booker-shortlisted one soon (whose title escapes me).

  42. I strongly recommend to readers here Orfeo by Richard Powers, especially those interested in genetics and 20th Century music.

    I’ve read through all of Richard Carrier this year, plus David Fitzgerald’s Nailed, and the very amusing What Do You Do With a Chocolate Jesus?: An Irreverent History of Christianity
    by Thomas Quinn.

    1. Loved Powers’ Prisoner’s Dilemma. Hope to get to Orfeo soon.

      Speaking of good novels with musical themes,
      Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music is very good.

      1. Big fan of Powers, especially the Gold Bug Variations, reminiscent of Godel, Escher, Bach mentioned above and one of the few novels with a reference librarian as hero (yes I used to be one). And of Seth who is also a notable poet, his first novel ‘The Golden Gate’ is told as a poem, inspired by Eugene Onegin – and everyone should read A Suitable Boy

          1. I don’t even remember that it came with a CD. That was back when my daughter was studying violin in college; we tracked her music very closely, and at that time I read a number of books on or about music.

    2. Oh that reminds me that I still havent read the Gold Bug Variations.

      I’d also like to recommend Galatea 2.2. Maybe it’s because it was my first Powers book, but it made a big impression on me. As did Operation Wandering Soul later …

    3. I started Orfeo earlier this year but didn’t finish it – purely because of a lack of time and I needed to return the book to the library. I am definitely planning on getting back to it.

      I like Powers. I read his Echo Maker which was great, and I also liked Galatea 2.2. He’s one of those writers whose full body of work I want to read.

  43. De Natura Rerum by Lucretius.

    The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
    by Stephen Greenblatt

    (If you can, read these two together as they enhance each other. One might read some Epicurus and Democritus as they preceded Lucretius, influencing his thought.)

    Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? by William G Dever.

    How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

  44. 2/3 of the way through “The Western Intellectual Tradition: from Leonardo to Hegel”. (J. Bronowski, Bruce Mazlish) Absolutely amazing treatment. I waited way too long to read this book.

      1. It sure as hell is. It immediately gives one a better sense of where we come from — the way we think. Gave me context for all the various modes of thinking I unthinkingly fall into. All the stuff I took for granted. It seems like a hell of a lot of copy to get through, but it reads like lightning, and just pulls you along. A delight.

  45. The science of liberty by Timothy Ferris.

    He tries to make a case for science as the big inspiration for democracy and more importantly liberalism.

    Half way now, good read so far.

  46. I’m (mostly) on a strict one-book-at-a-time diet.

    I just finished “Three roads to quantum gravity” by Lee Smolin. Interesting topic, but I’m not a theoretical physicist, and I gave to admit that I understood the last third of the book only in a sketchy way.

    The hardest part after finishing a book is always to choose the next one. I’ve started with the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical novels “My Struggle”. A friend told me about it and I had a look at it in the Amazon preview, and I was hooked by reading just the first two sentences. This happens rarely, but the simplicity and – lacking a better word – rawness of it went straight to my belly and I knew that I’d want to read this. It starts with a dark theme but the first few pages are promising.

    And before those two (somehow I associate the “adjacent” science and fiction book with each other now) was “a universe from nothing” by Lawrence Krauss and “Until I find you” by John Irving. I didn’t think that I’ll ever find another Irving book that captures me the way “Owen Meany” did, but this one did. Probably the most leitmotific book I’ve ever read.

    Before *that* we had WEIT by Prof Ceiling Cat himself. Even though I didn’t need any convincing at all about the topic, I was totally amazed by the vast amount and diverse kinds of evidence there really is. Associated with that is “The Circle” by Dave Eggers which I found started out good but became increasingly unconvincing towards the end. But apart from the actual story, the system it describes is actually not too far from where we seem to be heading.

      1. It’s an amazing character. And yet so unlikely, unreal, improbable. Funny thing is: Given the books ending (Owen actually turning out to be fulfilling god’s plan), I shouldnt like this book at all.

          1. Well, I choose not to be turned off just because it’s got “prayer” in its title. I don’t think it’s preachy at all. It’s just a story.

            Anyway, this reminds me of an argument I was in recently where someone demanded to boycott any movie starring Tom Cruise b/c he’s a “Scientology wanker”. While the latter might be true, it would be cultural suicide to exclude everything that involves people who – or topics that – don’t agree with my personal views.

            1. I wasn’t turned off because of the title, but because of the religiosity. I read it a long time ago though. Maybe I misjudged it. I remember being very disappointed that in the end God was an integral part of the story though.

    1. Aah I just re-read it after seeing the ‘Imitation Game’ film, which confirmed my feeling that almost everything in the film is a distortion, or plain make-believe.

  47. Just finished listening to The Disappearance Boy by Neil Bartlett, read by the author: a brilliant performance all round; the eponymous boy is assistant to a 1950s music hall illusionist in a run-down theatre in Brighton around the time of the Coronation.

  48. I’m currently reading Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt”. Carrier covers material I am already familiar with but he does it in a way that is quite thought provoking. I am a Historian who was in the camp that accepted that a human Jesus of Nazareth likely existed. Carrier is challenging that notion in showing how Christianity could have come into being without a literal Jesus as the catalyst. Should be required reading for those interested in early Christianity.

    Also on my reading list are “Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Rights To Tell Other People What To Do” by Robert Boston; “The Founding Fathers And The Place Of Religion In America” by Frank Lambert. I just read “Interstellar: The Official Movie Novelization” by Greg Keyes because I loved the film so much. This led me to get “The Science of Interstellar” by Kip Thorne who was the science consultant on the film. I have to admit reading about naked singularities and the dilation of space-time around strong gravitational fields gives me a bit of a headache. I’m also working on “The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall” by Mary Elise Sarotte.

    If I could design an afterlife, I think one concept would involve an eternity being able to sit in a comfy chair, with a nice light, unlimited fresh coffee and pastries while getting to read every book I am interested in. I think that is a “heaven” that would be enjoyable for a time.

    1. Yes to your heaven! And you could with no moral compromise, stare down and gloat, Tertullian-style, at all the people you don’t like in hell being forced to read anything you hate. x

      1. I love reading so much that I can’t imagine anyone being tortured by such an endeavor unless we’re talking all of those horrific religious books in the Christian Inspiration section. Reading those books would be a cruelty I could not inflict upon my worst enemy. Nice shout out to poor ol’ Tertullian!

      2. stare down and gloat, Tertullian-style, at all the people you don’t like in hell being forced to proof-read anything you hate. x


    2. “Pop, do we have heaven?” he’d asked on the day he discovered the (dead) cat. “You want to know a Jew’s idea of heaven?” his father had replied, looking up from his Maimonides. “It’s an endless succession of long winter nights on which we get paid a fair wage to sit in a warm room and read all the books ever written…Not just the famous ones, no, every book, the stuff nobody gets around to reading, forgotten plays, novels by people you never heard of. However, I profoundly doubt such a place exists.” James Morrow, Only Begotten Daughter

      1. Nice. but replace “Jew” with “nerd” and you’ve got me, although I have Jewish ancestry from my great grandpa; genetic, alas, not cultural, and I’d need to have different seasons for a real “heaven”(falling asleep reading under a tree in summer, hot tea, a book, and rain in the spring and fall work equally as well for me)

      2. Hmmmm, I don’t have any Jewish blood but I dig the concept. I don’t have a material based economy in my heaven since we will have Replicator technology courtesy of the United Federation of Plants based out of the Heaven next door.

    1. They’ve been sitting on the wife’s “read” pile (on *my* bookshelves, and then she tells me that I’ve got too many books!) for some years now. Never got around to opening them myself.

  49. I just got done reading Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

    Good read.

      1. The thing that really depresses me about it is how closely some of it parallels current attitudes toward climate change.

  50. The Rediscovery of the Mind by John R. Searle. Almost finished. This book is helping me think about concepts of consciousness and free will. Searle does not propose anything immaterial, does not think free will exists. Very clear writer.

  51. This looks worth reading:
    PULLMAN, Wash. – American fundamentalist apocalyptic theology of the 1880s and 90s prompted suspicion and skepticism of anything that seems to undermine individual liberties and give more power to the state, according to a Washington State University professor.
    His new book about his work sheds light on why some Christian evangelicals may have opposed Obamacare, civil rights, the New Deal and other government-initiated change, says history professor Matthew Avery Sutton.
    According to the theology, Sutton says, all nations are going to concede power in the end times to a totalitarian political leader who will be the Antichrist. If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving toward that event, you’re going to fight anything that gives more power to the state.
    Read more in a Salon article picked up from Religion Dispatches at http://www.salon.com/2014/12/10/why_millions_of_christian_evangelicals_oppose_obamacare_and_civil_rights_partner/.
    Read a British review of the book, “American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism,” from the Sunday Times at https://news.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/American-Apocalypse_-A-History-of-Modern-Evangelicalism-by-Matthew-Avery-Sutton-The-Sunday-Times.pdf.

    1. You do realize that evangelicals have been fairly publicly saying exactly that for decades, so it’s not like any of this should be a surprise.

    1. You can skip the “Begats” and it doesn’t really affect your understanding of the plot at all.

      I’m afraid that my attempt to read the thing cover to cover some years ago ended when Paul started pronouncing on women’s roles. The book got tossed against the wall, and that was that.

      Revelations though, woah, trippy, man.

      1. This is a danish pocket book edition and it’s the umpteenth time I give it a go.

        Holy crap it’s boring. 🙂

        1. I only liked the beginning & the end myself & basically started at the beginning of the book, got bored after that quickly so jumped to the end.

          1. It’s like watching Titanic.

            I mean it’s not exactly like there’s a plot surprise waiting around the corner for the patient reader.

            But it is kind of funny when you’re rooting for the dude downstairs.👹

            1. But it is kind of funny when you’re rooting for the dude downstairs.

              Or is this a plot element I hadn’t heard of in “Titanic” (it’s not a film I’ve seen – love story (several million points off) between Star Wars (1/7/4/45/whatever) and Lord OF The Rings (1), so I didn’t see it in the movie house and haven’t ever experienced any desire to watch it on TV.
              Wasn’t there a joke about being able to watch diCaprio drown time and time again that referred to ‘titanic’ Or ‘Perfect Storm’?

    2. I like the part where he says “Thou shalt not kill” then turns around and commands genocide. That’s a real knee-slapper

    3. It turns out Jesus H. Christ had a (holy) ghost writer who was a terribly bad editor. The books of the New Testament provide conflicting testimony to the alleged events surrounding the life of Jesus. Hell, ol’ Paul didn’t even give a crap about Jesus of Nazareth as his Lord was the risen Christ who appeared to him when he had an epileptic seizure on the road to Damascus. The Book of Revelation was written by a John (not Lennon) the Elder on Patmos. Turns out the dude was straight trippin’ Boo as he dropped his apocalyptic vision about the Romans in metaphors open to all kinds of interpretation. How could that ever go wrong.


  52. I have a good friend who, along with his wife, posts godly faith stuff on Facebook. It’s the whole deal, with bible passages. I mostly ignore it, but sometimes it’s too much and I have to reply. The last time it was an anti-abortion thing that set me off. He takes it in good humor — his wife not so much. Does anyone else have this problem? I suspect so. If someone posts a politically charged theme I feel justified in responding with my opinion. If I don’t respond it feels like a tacit endorsement.

    1. I mostly ignore them until they say something bigoted, anti science or politically backward. I realize rhe last one is somewhat subjective.

      I can’t hold back especially if it is both vigoted toward atheists and anti science.

      I figure if you are posting on Facebook and you know who can read your posts, you should expect someone may not agree and be prepared to defend yourself.

      1. I like new experiences and must admit that I had thought that the category of ‘Satanist Marxist’ was a set whose population was zero. But I recently came across one on fb, who justified jihadi suicide/homicide bombings. Ecclesiastes was wrong: there really is something new under the sun. And you can always find it on fb. x

    2. I have a FB friend of a friend with whom I discuss good books – and cats. She’s intelligent and well-read but posts the goddy and prayer stuff every now and then. I just ignore It because of the friend in between.

    3. The worst: A school FB group where a self-appointed minister regularly spams the group with biblical babble. There I point out it is off-topic and I did not chose him as my minister. He no longer posts there.
      * * *
      On personal pages, I respond to slurs on atheists, harmful anti-science stuff (anti-vax). I don’t respond to religious stuff otherwise. I have an atheist friend who gets flack from his theist friends and I do reply to those posts.

    4. Does anyone else have this problem? I suspect so.

      I had one person do that – literally the first firend-of-a-friend who I friended on Facebook. She got rather upset when I reported her for abuse and un-friended her. Then she went for another holiday in the locked wards.

  53. I’m reading Adrian McKinty’s third Irish Troubles trilogy title: In the Morning I’ll Be Gone (2014). Among of the best and most intelligent crime fiction writing happening today. But start at the start with The Cold Cold Ground (2012) and then I Hear the Sirens in the Street (2013). I can hardly wait to read the 4th in the trilogy: Gun Street Girl (coming in March 2015).

  54. “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, the A.S.L. Farquharson edition, a renowned classicist’s life’s work, which adds some 200 pages of fascinating endnotes to the book’s 90-odd pages of the Roman Emperor’s text.

    Written as a series of private thoughts 1800 years ago. Apparently lost for nine centuries. Then rediscovered in a Middle Ages monastery (a good deed by religionists).

    This slim volume’s stoic, genuinely uplifting contemplation of honor, duty, love and “the vanity of human wishes” in the face of our transience ought to have long ago replaced each and every “holy book.”

    We’ll never know, of course, but had this replacement happened, all human problems would not necessarily have vanished, but humanity in general would surely have been better equipped throughout at least recent history to deal with these problems without blindly, obstinately threatening its own existence, as it seems determined to go on doing now.

    1. Maybe but Aurelius was writing at the height of the empire – relatively peaceful and safe for Ancient times. It kind of went down hill afterward & I wonder if Christianity didn’t fill the void, something else just as strange may have.

    2. mfdempsey1946, you might be interested in this online forum on all things Classical Roman and Greek. Great references to Hellenistic literature: an online Library of Alexandria, imo.



  55. Just remembered that we listened to Simon Winchester’s Atlantic, read by the author, on our recent road-trip. I’ve found all his books interesting so far. Hadn’t realized before that he had an MS in geology. This book is all about this ocean: geology, geography, military history, personal anecdotes, etc. i hadn’t heard of it till stumbling across it on our library’s “available to download now” list.

  56. I’m halfway through “Sense of Style” by Steven Pinker. It’s a guide to good writing, which interests me as non-native English speaker and as someome who likes to add new ways to think (I’m more into that, than into specific content). And the book doesn’t disappoint.

    “The Pinkah” promotes the “classic style” where the writer shows a subject the reader doesn’t yet see and argues against what makes academese, legalese, medicalese et cetera such terrible writing (though in no way confined to these genres). I liked it a lot that he refreshes the good bits of language stylists, clears up the misconceptions and looses some all-too-strict rules put up by these style gurus.

    “Sense of Style” is however not aimed at casual writing improvers. It gets technical by the second quarter with the introduction of the tree-like Deep Structure of language and a lot of special terms and grammar.

    Those afflicted by corrupted language, the postmodernist, the lawyer, the researcher will probably get the most out of it, provided they find Pinker’s premise convincing enough (he argues opaque and obscurantist writing was unintentional — I am not so sure). Professional writers will sharpen and undergird their intuitions and have something to throw at their editors, if not figuratively then literally. Indeed, the world would be a better place if especially some groups would heed the advice.

    I can recommend it if the prospect of reading about language and grammar doesn’t scare you away already.

    1. That one is on my “to read” shelf too. I saw Steven Pinker in Toronto at the end of October to talk about his new book and it was quite enjoyable. I agreed with everything he had to say about grammar and some of its silliness. I took a friend along who used to be a professional medical writer and she really enjoyed the talk so she is going to get the book. She and I have similar feelings about grammar.

    2. I admit this one has been picked up and put back down a dozen times in the bookstore by me. I can’t get excited about reading about writing, no matter how much praise the book gets. Some day, maybe I will go for it, but right now, it sounds about as exciting as a book about watching paint drying (fifty shades of off-white?) and I’m a bit ashamed for even typing that, but I would rather work my way through his back catalogue, like the Stuff of Thought, staring at me from my night stand as I type this…

  57. “What have you read lately?”

    For starters, I’ve been trying to catch up on back issues of Free Inquiry.

    I can’t seem to get through the NY Times on a daily basis. It’s my fault; I underline and comment as I read, incensed by NYT reporters (editors too?) more and more including their opinions in their allegedly objective reporting, using words like “seem” and “eccentric” and “odd,” among other such words,in their reportage. Once a woman observed my so underlining, asking me if I were studying for a test. I’m sure I invest too much effort in the enterprise.

    I see Lapham’s Quarterly in my independent bookstore. I have successfully resisted the temptation to purchase the last few issues. I haven’t been able to read those I have.

    Have a bunch of books I haven’t (completely)read, including Donald Prothero’s “Evolution,” Richard Dawkins’s tome for the younger set.

    While I’ve read the abridged version of Edward Gibbon’s “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,” I’m contemplating tackling the two-volume unabridged set from the Great Books of the Western World I recklessly bought more than a few years ago.

    During the last few months I’ve listened to recording of selected works by Ingersoll, Russell, Emerson, Thoreau, Jacoby. Lectures and debates by Hitchens, some two and three times. (Surely there are some recordings of The Hitch out there that are accessible but that I haven’t ferreted out yet. I’m grateful for any such gems anyone may direct my way.)

    As regards my reading aspirations, I’m reminded of Robert Browning (?): “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp; else, what’s a Heaven for?”

    1. I subscribed to Lapham’s Quarterly for a couple of years but found it hard to keep up. Loved him as editor of Harper’s for so many years.

  58. It was terribly unfair. Only when grad-student deferments and IIs deferments were abolished, and the middle class saw their sons subject to the draft did the public turn away from the war. I was stuck in a job I hated for years when all I wanted to do was to go to graduate school. In hindsight, I probably learned a lot from the experience.

    1. I very highly recommend The Martian too. I read it when it was in “beta” before he had a publisher and absolutely loved it. Read it before the movie comes out next year. The movie might be good, but it’ll be very condensed.

      1. Yes, it’s hard to imagine the movie capturing the same ambience. But then, I’ve said that about many a book from which fairly good movies have been made.

    2. The Martian was one of the best Sci-Fi books I have ever read. I felt like I was reading future history it was so intense and real. I hope the movie doesn’t lose this feeling of being alone on Mars fighting to survive.

      1. Castaway did the lone stranded person pretty effectively, so it can be done.

        I hardly ever read Sci-Fi, yet this one was SO engrossing. One of those “you can’t put it down” jobs.

        Did you ever read Encounter with Tiber? That’s pretty old now, but my only other favorite Sci-Fi book.

        1. I knew Buzz had written some Sci-Fi but I haven’t read any of them. Encounter with Tiber sounds interesting. I will check and see if my local library has a copy. I remember finding Heinlein’s “Foundation Trilogy” in a used book store as a middle-school lad. I read that book cover to cover several times. It still ranks as one of my favorite of the genre. Another one that has stayed with me from my youth is “Job: A Comedy of Justice” by Robert A. Heinlein published in 1984. Ahhhhhh, memories.

            1. Spacehistorian misspoke (mistyped?) just a bit; the Foundation Trilogy is by Asimov, not Heinlein.

              Heinlein did write Job: A Comedy of Justice. I actually read the first chapter once (I had a few minutes to kill in a library), and it is very high on my list, especially as it is a swipe at organized religion, but I haven’t quite gotten around to reading the whole book yet.

  59. I read a lot.

    Without looking back through my lists, I can confidently state that the best non-fiction book I read this year was Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook.

    Most of my reading is science fiction and fantasy, though. Just finished Jamil Nasir’s Tower of Dreams, which I’d recommend only if you are interested in a science fiction psychological thriller set in the Muslim world, especially Cairo.

    Best fiction book of the year, again no need to think twice, was Tim Powers’ Declare, which just leaves you breathless.

    And, what did I start just today? Steven Baxter’s Evolution, a science fiction novel (from 2003) which (if the back cover is to be believed) is about the whole sweep of mammalian evolution from the time of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs up until today, and beyond. I’m really looking forward to it, though all I’ve read so far is the prologue. In fact, I’m going to move away from the computer now, and go read some more of it!

  60. In the process of reading several books.

    Under Non Fiction are:

    “The Nazi Doctors”- Robert Jay Lifton
    (As its title says, insights into the heal/murder dichotomy of the Nazi ideal through medicine and the veneer of science.

    “The Many-Headed Hydra”- Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker (About the others who were trampled, enslaved, killed by the growing forces of empire, white supremacy an racial slaver through maritime power and rise of Capitalism.

    Under Fiction

    “End of the Beginning” – Harry Turtledove
    (About the Japanese finishing their attack on Hawai’i and taking over the islands instead of stopping and leaving as they did in our world.)

    1. “The Nazi Doctors”- Robert Jay Lifton (As its title says, insights into the heal/murder dichotomy of the Nazi

      Yeuchh. I recall reading a slim memoir written by Mengele’s pathologist in Auschwitz which was deeply stomach-turning. I read through it several times, and passed it to a number of friends until it disintegrated by being over-used. Damned if I can remember the name now. Horrible book about horrible events done by horrible people for horrible reasons. No wonder the author committed suicide not long after finishing writing it. Recommended.

  61. I have just finished Spillover by David Quammen which is pretty good, and The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron. The latter is light crime fiction and quite amusing. Before that I read Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingston, which is very enlightening regarding 19th century Africa.

  62. Great thread! Great Recommendations!

    I’m currently tucked into:

    -E.O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence

    -Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma

    and recently finished:

    -Oliver Sacks’ The Island of the Colorblind

    -Neil deGrasse Tyson’s The Sky Is Not the Limit

    and currently waiting in the queue:

    -H G Wells, The Outline of History (2 vol.)

    -Ernst Mayr, The Is Biology

    -Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

    -Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought

    and just picked up in a used book shop today:
    Behavioral Ecology: an Evolutionary Approach, edited by JR Krebs and NB Davies,

    which just reminds me I still haven’t read Prof. Coyne’s (and Orr’s) Speciation, although I bought it well over a year ago! Damn required readings for my Master’s degree in education is getting in the way of my preferred readings for my own education!

    Cheers, praise Jibbers and Merry Crabst-mass to all and to all a godless night!

  63. Lately I find myself jumping around between three or four books. I always used to read one book until it was finished.

    Inside Scientology (kindle) by Janet Reitman

    At the Water’s Edge : Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life by Carl Zimmer

    Homeostasis Lost (kindle) by Kyan Yauchler

    The last book falls into the guilty pleasure category. I have a soft spot for zombies and apocalyptic fiction.

  64. Just finished Asimov’s Foundation series.

    Re-reading Ignition! by John D Clark, which has to be one of the funniest books about chemistry (the exploding kind) ever written…

    1. I just reread the Foundation series about two years ago; hadn’t read it since I was a teenager. It still holds up pretty well. Say what you want about Asimov’s (lack of) literary style–the dude could tell a story!

  65. I loved Operation Mincemeat by Ben McIntyre. Its the true story of the British attempt to convince Germany that the Allies were not going to invade Sicily (when anyone with a map would know that the Allies had to take Sicily). The 1950s movie The Man Who Never Was is based on the same event – though much has been declassified since then.

    The author is hilarious. He goes into the back story of all of the people involved, and truth is stranger than fiction. The younger brother of the main British intelligence officer working on this was passionate about cheese, ping pong, and spying for Russia, in no particular order. The German intelligence officer in Spain was actually half jewish.

    It is incredibly fun to read.

  66. Kirsty Gunn’s novel ‘The Big Music’, whose structure is based on that of ‘ceol mor’ (the ‘big’ or ‘great music’ of the Scottish bagpipe). There is a wonderful feeling of performance in the writing, and in its sense of the broadness of life I think it could only have been written by a woman (as Gabriel Josopovici also remarks). ‘God’s Zoo’ – I make no apology for recommending a newly published book written by a friend of mine, the Polish-Canadian poet, long resident in London, Marius Kociejowski; it is a simultaneously harrowing and exhilarating series of conversations (not interviews) with emigre or exiled artists, writers and musicians from Syria, China, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Brazil, Russia, Zimbabwe, Iran and other places, all of whom are living in London; it is wonderfully written, in sinuous and subtly pointed prose. Otherwise, the following books by the philosopher Bernard Williams (among others – I only recently discovered him): ‘Shame & Necessity’, ‘Ethics & the Limits of Philosophy’ and ‘Truth & ‘Truthfulness’ – splendidly written and exhilarating books which give the lie to those who like to pontificate about the worthlessness of philosophy. And, finally, John Eliot Gardiner’s idiosyncratic but hugely illuminating and historically informed ‘Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven’, a book by someone who is very much more than a musicologist or musicsal historian and a very considerable musician in his own right (though I am not fond of his Schumann – like many musicians who made their name in Early Music – the excellent Rene Jacobs and William Christie are others – he seems not entirely to be able to enter into the spirit of music after Handel; I leave aside Roger Norrington’s unspeakable Beethoven…).

  67. I recently read and loved both “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, and “An Unquiet Mind”, a true account by Kay Redfield Jamison about her lifetime struggle with biploar disorder.

    Am now reading pscyh books about mental/personality disorders, such as Buddha and the Borderline.

  68. http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s3860821.htm

    Interesting interview w Colm Toibin about his heretical take on Mother Mary. Just finished the book last night.

    Just remembered I’m also reading Dispelling the Darkness about Wallace’s voyages to the Indonesian archipelago, correspondence w Darwin and Bates, defining of the Wallace Line dividing Asian and Australian critters, etc. Not brilliantly written, but interesting material.

  69. Gulliver’s Travels. Plowed through within three days. Very amusing, if a tad pessimistic about human nature, to say the least.

    Just finished Die Vorsokratiker (The Pre-Socratics) edited by W. Capelle.

  70. Really late to the party here but my recent reads:

    Right now: 1491 by Charles Mann (not great, flogs his idea a bit too hard IMO)

    and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott (about women going undercover during the American Civil War — quite good)

    And recently read:

    The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
    Edward Abbey, A Life by James Chahalan
    Contact by Carl Sagan
    Pacing The Cage Bruce Cockburn’s recent memoir: Highly recommended to any Cockburn fan.
    Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
    The Flame Tress of Thika by Ellspeth Huxley

    All pretty good.

      1. well … I like them both a lot.

        I saw the movie first. The two went different ways (in some places), both of which I found very thought-provoking and entertaining.


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