Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This Week at the Library (5/8)

Books this Update:
  • Lemony Snicket's The Carniverous Carnival, The Grim Grotto, The Slippery Slope, The Penultimate Peril, and The End.
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  • To Have or To Be?, Erich Fromm

This week I finished Lemony Snicket's series of unfortunate events. By this point the children have decided to strike out on their own and find answers -- why does Olaf keep chasing them? Who is VFD, and what do they have to do with Count Olaf? And where is that mysterious ticking noise coming from? * Even Count Olaf will be overshadowed by plot elements as the books draw near series' end. Rather than repeating what I said in the series comments, I shall simply link to it.

Next I read Henry David Thoreau's Walden, his account of a year spent living on the shores of Walden Pond, living off of six weeks' worth of labor and spending much time communing with nature. Although the book is dominated by Thoreau's accounts of watching the seasons pass and the forest-dwellers live their lives, there is considerable social criticism and philosophical musings. Those familiar with Thoreau's transcendentalism will see it here. Many of his criticisms seem perfectly valid, particularly those endorsing simple living. The effect was somewhat subdued for me, having read excerpts from his journals beforehand.

Lastly I read Erich Fromm's To Have or To Be?, which is a straight work of social criticism. Fromm sees humanity as having trapped itself in a "having mode" of existence: according to him, we build our sense of identity on what we have. This is not limited to material possessions: it extends the way we view relationships, religion, and intellectual ideas. Although this leads to psychological distress, Fromm writes out of a sense of greater urgency -- for he believes this problem will lead to utter disaster for humanity and the planet. The problems caused by this having-mode of existence cannot be remedied through government legislation or the adoption of ideologies: only a change in the human character can save us. Fromm proposes a way to change our characters, deliberately modeling it on the Four Noble Truths (and perhaps to an extent the eight-fold path) of Buddhism. The book does not go into as much detail in the "offering a solution" phase as The Sane Society, but I think it will serve to make those who read it think.

Pick of the Week: The End for fiction, To Have or to Be? for nonfiction.

Books Next Week:
  • Gold, Isaac Asimov.
  • Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, ed. Gary Gregg. This is a book of essays on the electoral college system in the United States. I don't understand where "delegates" fit into the system, although I get its function well enough.
  • Anthropology for Dummies, Cameron Smith. I've found the for Dummies books to be adequate introductions to their subjects, and I'm enduring a science drought.
  • The Footprints of God, Greg Iles. The novel appears to be a thriller set in the context of what happens when scientists attempt to create a computer that is superior to the human brain in all respects -- not just processing speed.
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.
  • Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and illuminated the Dark Ages, Richard E. Rubenstein.

It's doubtful that I'll get to all of these, but you never know.


  1. sc said: It's doubtful that I'll get to all of these, but you never know.

    Your reading capacity never ceases to amaze me. I *wish* I could read that much!

  2. My class and work schedules this year have helped tremendously. ;-)

  3. I remember my student holidays & my time unemployed when I read an average of 3 books a week. I just haven't got the free time to do that anymore. I'm still well above average with 60 a year though... [grin]


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