Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Week at the Library (24/9)

Books this Update:
  • Rules of Civility, George Washington
  • Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov
  • Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
  • The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
  • Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, Al Franken

I began this week with George Washington’s Rules of Civility. I spotted it while looking for another book, and knew immediately that I had to examine it. When I went to check it out, I was informed that I looked as though I already knew how to be civil. I’m not sure what that means, but I have a suspicion that it means “I notice you’re not wearing a shirt with Bill O’ on it..” The book is a collection of rules Washington supposedly followed. Many of them are holdovers from a different era -- Washington elaborates on situations with your “betters” and your “inferiors”. Some of the rules are common rules you would expect -- don’t sneeze or cough in front of company except with your mouth covered (and your head turned, preferably); don’t clean your nails or relieve yourself of body lice at the table; don’t chew your nails in front of people, that sort of thing. Here are some of the ones I liked:
  • Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
  • Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
  • Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature; and in all cases of passion admit reason to govern.
  • Speak not injurious words, neither in jest or in earnest scoff at none though they give occasion.
  • Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
There are more here. Next I read Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge, the fourth book in the Foundation series. According to It’s Been a Good Life, a posthumous autobiography, Asimov was asked to pen another Foundation book a number of years after he had written the trilogy, and so had to read the trilogy again to recover his thoughts. This book mentions the robots that Asimov wrote so much about in other works. Before I read his biography, I wondered why there were no robots in his Foundation universe, seeing as it was set in the far future and robotics would have come a long way. I assumed that the rising suspicion regarding them (a theme throughout Asimov’s robot novels and stories) led to their demise. Asimov deals with that question in this book. Foundation’s Edge is a marvelously written book; it’s probably my second-favorite Foundation book, right behind the first. Excellent stuff.

Next I read David Sedaris’ Holiday on Ice, a short book themed around Christmas. Half of the book is typical Sedaris -- essays recalling memories from his life and relating them to the reader in a dry, amusing narrative. The other half of the book consists of stories written by Sedaris with a holiday theme. My favorite section of the book was “The SantaLand Diaries”, which you can listen to here. Sedaris reads the essay on “This American Life”. He starts about four minutes in.

Next I read The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The book is set in the mid-19th century -- the 1860s, precisely. During this time Italy was approaching unification, and the book is written to document the waning power of the aristocracy. The story itself is interesting: the book…wasn’t. I found it very difficult to read get through and the plot seemed to be jumpy. The most interesting chapter for me was the chapter where the Prince slowly approaches his death.

Don Fabrizio had always known that sensation. For a dozen years or so he had been feeling as if the vital fluid, the faculty of existing, life itself in fact and perhaps even the will to go on living, were ebbing out of him slowly but steadily, as grains of sand cluster and then line up one by one, unhurried, unceasing, before the narrow neck of an hourglass. In some moments of intense activity or concentration this sense of continual loss would vanish, to reappear impassively in brief instants of silence or introspection; just as a constant buzzing in the ears of the ticking of a pendulum superimposes itself when all else is silent, assuring us of always being there, watchful, even when we do not hear it.

Lastly, I read Al Franken’s Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations. The book, written in 1996, purports to be satire of the growing lack of civility in American politics. Franken focuses his ire on a few personalities in particular: Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, and Pat Robertson. There are others, of course, ranging from Oliver North to Arlen Specter. I don’t have much to say about the book: parts of it were amusing; other parts not so much.

Quotation of the Week: “…and in all cases of passion, admit reason to govern.” - George Washington

Pick of the Week: Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov

Next Week
  • Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures, Carl Zimmer
  • Foundation and Earth, Isaac Asimov
  • Worldwar: in the Balance, Harry Turtledove
  • Puzzles of the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov


  1. I have read "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" as well. The book aims to be satire, but Al Franken is not entirely successful. The reason being is not his fault. This is because what was outlandish in 1996 is now commonplace.

    The religious right and the social conservative moments in the Republican party have since merged tighter than ever. The Republican party has since grown into a bloated and obscene beast after feeding off of terrorism fears and simple ignorance about basic biology.

    It is amazing how far we have come since 1996 (Or regressed.)

  2. I read the World War series fairly recently. They're pretty good if a bit repetitive after a while.

    I'm *very* impressed by your reading speed BTW. One or two a week is my limit normally - though I used to average three a week when I was @ school.....

  3. I doubt that my reading speed during the school year would be so impressive were I reading nonfiction -- it's easy to zip through fiction books, especially ones by Asimov. Last fall when my reading was almost all nonfiction, I was doing good to update once every two weeks, heh.

  4. I'm trying to read more philosophy for my course but find some of it hard work and slow going. For my seminars I also only need to read parts of books rather than the whole thing - which I try to finish *after* my course if possible [grin].

    Fiction is indeed far easier to read and sometimes more entertaining....


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