Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Week at the Library (27/10)

Books this Update:
  • A Mist of Prophecies, Steven Saylor
  • The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Mark Forstater
  • For Everything a Season, Philip Gully
  • Darwin Awards III, Wendy Northcutt
  • The Cosmic Connection, Carl Sagan

This update is a bit unusual in that it covers two weeks: I think I've updated once a week since spring 2008, but reading has been slower than usual because of papers and a difficult read, one that I've not finished yet -- a formal translation of Epictetus' Manual for Living and Discourses. Two weeks ago I continued in the Roma sub Rosa with Mist of Prophecies, which breaks the emerging pattern of stories against war by taking us to Rome in a period of relative peace. Gordianus takes it upon himself to investigate the murder of a seeress called Cassandra, for reasons made clear to the reader near the end. Mist offers more characterization on Gordianus' part, but isn't quite as riveting as novels that precede it.

Next I read a partial translation and commentary on the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Author Mark Forstater updated the language of a more conservative translation, then organized sections of the Meditations into themes ("Cultivation of Death", "Oneness of Nature", etc.). This text follows an extended introduction on Forstater. The book is an obvious recommendation for those interested in ethical philosophy: it makes the Meditations more accessible, and may give those who have read it a more filling experience through background.

I followed this with Quaker pastor Phillip Gully's For Everything a Season, stories about his and his town's life organized into chapters that follow Ecclesiastes "For everything there is a season" passage. (If you're bored, click that and read verses 19 through 22 and tell me you're not surprised to read such heathery in the bible.) The book is rather charming, and makes for enjoyable reading. The stories show people living the simple life, relatively unspoiled by modernity.

I followed that up with a little levity in the form of the third collection of Darwin Awards, "honors" given to people to improve the human gene pool by offing themselves in stupid ways before breeding. The collection wasn't as strong as the first, but there were a couple of amusing tales. Interestingly, one of the Darwin awards in this book just featured in a article -- entry #6.

Lastly, I read Carl Sagan's The Cosmic Connection, a series of essays written about astronomy and space exploration in the hopes of expressing Sagan's own enthusiasm for those objects and cultivating them in readers. Although some essays are more technical than others, they should be appreciated by most lay readers. I recommend the book to science buffs and Sagan fans.

Pick of the Week: The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Mark Forstater

Potentials for Next Week:
  • A Gladiator Dies Only Once, Steven Saylor. This is Saylor's second collection of Roma sub Rosa short stories.
  • The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins. This was the surprise entry from last week.
  • Discourses, Epictetus. (I wouldn't count on it.)
  • Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir Venkatesh. I'm rather looking forward to this one: Venkatesh penned the fascinating Gang Leader for a Day.

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