Thursday, February 18, 2010

This Week at the Library (18/2)

I haven't done a review post in nearly a month, as I've been toying with the idea of dropping the weekly summaries. When I changed from a weekly to an individual format over a year ago, I maintained the weekly posts because I posted those where this hobby of mine began, on MySpace. I've avoided MySpace for a long while, though, so that need is lost.

Additionally, I liked the idea of having shorter summaries and longer comments both: one allowed readers to get a quick idea of what a book was about, while the other provided more details.  The weekly review posts also punctuate the routine, and enable me to give people previews of what's coming.

On the other hand, writing the truncated summaries tends to be tedious. I like writing about the books I read, but I delight in details. The summaries seem rather bland, which is why my favorite part of the review posts are the ending features -- the highlighted quotation, favorite pick, and list of upcoming reads. I've been thinking about various ways to accomplish what I like while ditching what I dislike, and the approach I'm going to try for a while is to limit summaries to a sentence or two.  Hopefully, that will serve to introduce people to reads they might potentially like, while reducing the tedium on my part.

  1. The Motorcycle Diaries:  I read this book to introduce myself to "Che" Guevara, but the Diaries are chiefly about the geography of the land and his occasional misadventures. Political reflections are present, but marginal. 
  2. Letters from a Stoic consists of the classical Stoic Seneca's letters to his friend and student Lucilus. The translation made for an easy and informative read: Seneca's approach to Stoicism may be the most accessible text beyond The Emperor's Handbook.
  3. Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran was my second visit with that author. Unlike The Prophet, which is poetry and philosophy in a novel form, this consists mostly of one-line aphorisms. These aphorisism are poetic and mystical in form, and I enjoyed many of them.
  4. Red Emma Speaks, an Emma Goldman anthology, was certainly a thought-provoking read.  Goldman's anarchist perspective and her attempts to grapple with the role of violence in political activism were particularly interesting. The book added much to my understanding of the period and to the philosophy.
  5. Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger is the strangest war memoir I've ever read. Although giving a detailed account of the gruesomeness of life on the Western Front, Junger rarely reacts to this as a human being might be expected to react. Even when he is wounded, his recorded thoughts are bizarrely unemotional. The book may be regarded as "pro-war" as Junger sees armed conflict as a supreme test of character.
  6. The Tyrannosaurus Prescription consists of one hundred and one essays by Isaac Asimov. I doubt I've ever read an Asimov collection with a wider range: he covers science, language, science fiction, history, culture, and more. As usual, I was delighted.
  7. A Power Governments Cannot Suppress is another collection of essays, this one by Howard Zinn. The essays emphasize the need for and the  role of popular movements in political reform. I thought it encouraging.
  8. A Guide to the Good Life is William Irvine's attempt to create a popular introductory work to Stoicism. The guide emphasizes Stoicism as a way of life rather than being an academic approach. It's easily the best guide I've read: I admired it for its thoroughness and readability. 
  9. I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy is both an autobiography current to 1995 and a Star Trek memoir. It's been one of my favorite books for years, giving Trek fans like myself an inside look into the franchise and into Nimoy's fascinating life. The book is charming and often hilarious.
  10. The Emperor's Handbook,  a translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations by David and Scot Hicks, is the most readable approach to Aurelius I've yet encountered. This fresh translation is very direct, increasing the books' communicability while maintaining Aurelius' meanings for the most part. A few passages seemed flat, but they were a definite minority.  

Favorite Quotations:

"Many a doctrine is like a window pane. We see truth through it, but it divides us from truth." (Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam)

"Don't become disgusted with yourself, lose patience, or give up if you sometimes fail to act as your philosophy dictates, but after each setback, return to reason and be content if most of your acts are worthy of a good man. Love the philosophy to which you return, and go back to it, not as an unruly student to the rod of a schoolmaster but as a sore eye to a sponge and egg whites, or a wound to cleansing ointments and clean bandages. In this way you will obey the voice of reason not to parade a perfect record, but to secure an inner peace. Remember, philosophy desires only what pleases your nature while you wanted something at odds with nature." (The Emperor's Handbook: Book 5, passage 9)

Upcoming Reads:

  •  Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering, David Gregory
  • A Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs 
  • Yours, Asimov: A Life in Letters; Isaac Asimov
  • American Infidel: Robert Ingersoll, Orvin Larson. 


  1. I like this. I mean, if you're going to maintain the This Week posts, I like the truncated summaries. Although it would be even cooler if you linked the books to the original post, so that if a person sees a book on the week in review, they can easily access your full comments. Just an idea. ;)

  2. I used to do that for the Myspace readers, but I've fallen out of the habit. Thanks for the feedback. :)


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