Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This Week at the Library (24/9)

Books this Update:
  • Constantinople: the Forgotten Empire, Isaac Asimov
  • In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré
  • Rubicon, Steven Saylor
  • Barrel Fever, David Sedaris

I began the week with a little history by Asimov. This was the first time I've read any of Asimov's historical work, not counting the historical background he often did for Asimov's Guide to the Bible, volume I. My ignorance of the Byzantine period is near-total, but Asimov superbly rectified that situation. He tells the story of the Eastern Roman Empire's last thousand years in a six chapter narrative. It's very readable, but rather obscure by now.

Next I read a book I'd anticipated for a few weeks, In Praise of Slowness. The book documents the approaches the Slow movement takes in resisting the increasing pace of life in the United States and throughout the world -- although the book is rather US-centered in some chapters, unavoidably so. No one does suburban sprawl quite like the states. Although the book has weak spots, particularly in regards to medicine, I was pleased with it overall. It is essentially a book about making human lives both more human and more livable, and I reccommend it -- with a caveat or two.

I next continued in the Roma sub Rosa series with Rubicon. Rome is under military law, headed by Pompey the Great. Julius Caesar has broken Roman law and crossed the northern borders of Italy with his army, and civil war seems at hand. Gordianus has a lot to lose in the coming days, given that his son serves as Caesar's scribe, but things grow worse when a dead body appears in his garden -- a young and beloved relative of Pompey the Great. Vengeful Pompey takes Gordianus' son in law into his army and refuses to relinquish him until Gordianus finds the killer. Gordianus only has until Caesar and Pompey's armies meet in the cup of Italy to meet the deadline -- but before book's end, he will see battle.

Lastly, I read David Sedaris' first work of stories and essays -- mostly stories, with four essays in the back. Sedaris' first work doesn't too much resemble his latter works, which almost wholly consist of his psuedo-biographical essays, but is more entertaining than not.

I'm still working on James Randi's Flim-Flam, but it may take some time. I'm beginning work on a paper for my senior seminar, and that will detract greatly from my leisure time reading. I think the tone of upcoming books will be more casual than serious -- it's a lot easier to breeze through 400 pages of a quick novel than 200 pages of science or heavier social criticism.

Pick of the Week: In Praise of Slowness. Although Asimov's history was very enjoyable, this is more meaningful and can help people.

Quotation of the Week: "The most honest man in Rome! No wonder nobody likes you." This was said to Gordianus the Finder by Pompey the Great. While he meant it to malign Gordianus for not choosing sides, to me it comments on Rome's declining virtues.

Potentials for Next Week:
  • Flim Flam! James Randi
  • A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, John A. Buehrens
  • Fates Worse than Death, Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices, Edmund Kern. Although I was amusedly attracted to the book's title, the publisher -- Promethus Books -- clinched my decision to read this one. Books I've read in the past by them have always been enjoyable.
  • The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton. Long-anticipated: this one is going to make it difficult for me to read through 200 more pages of Randi-style debunking. Still, I think I may refuse to read it until I've taken a substantial amount of notes for an upcoming paper.

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