I continue my monthly series, an abridged list of recent materials that I’ve enjoyed reading, and brief discussion of why I recommend it to you.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Great work. I identified with Tsukuru quite frequently in this story, and there is more written in my journal than I’m going to share here, but the phrase “a lone but not lonely” is a recurring theme in both of our lives. But that’s only part of why I think this is a great book. There is a passage where Aka explains to Tsukuru about their friend Shiro, who had enough talent to remove her from her hometown, but not enough to advance to where she wanted to go. Says Aka, “Talent is like a container. You can work as hard as you want, but the size will never change. It’ll only hold so much water and no more.”
Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders is a beautiful object to behold and fun to thumb through. (Subtitled, parenthetically, An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World.) She’s culled a long list of words from languages the world over, excellent words of unique use, that do not have an exact English translation. Proper cheating, I must confess: I have not actually read the book, front to back, which is supposed to be the prerequisite to make my monthly list, but I have perused it, and I now use random selections as writing prompts for my occasional writing exercise. Highly recommended for lovers of words, language, or quirky illustrations.
Here is an example, with my re-phrasing:
Warmduscher (n.) (German)
Literally, a person that only takes warm showers, not freezing cold or hot hot hot. The implication, an insult, is a person that does not leave their comfort zone.
The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston
A colleague/friend of mine, Grace, recommended this book. I had championed the use of LIDAR for certain aircraft applications; the expedition detailed in this excellent book would not have been possible without LIDAR. (Likely unknown to Grace, as much as I love mathematics, I wish I had gone into archaeology when I was in college.) (Also, I spell LIDAR capitalized, as the acronym that it is, but Preston does not. It means “light detection and ranging” and I have seen people call it “light radar”.)
Anyway, cool book. The armchair explorer, archaeologist wannabe, the logistics enthusiast will enjoy reading this book. The joint American-Honduran team that originally found the sites in remote Honduras jungle were exposed to the blood-borne disease leishmaniasis. The final chapters are a great discussion of epidemics and pandemics over the past 1000 years, and a pointed study as a precursor for the COVID-19 pandemic that we are now living in. (The book’s copyright is 2017.)
Find it and read it – highly recommended.
From the New York Times, 26 February 2021, “The Secret Life of a Coronavirus”
This is the best thing I’ve read in quite a while. [n.b.: I wrote that before reading Tsukuru.] What is life? Brilliant, philosophical analysis of life, from viruses, to bacteria, to the Amazon molly, to humans.
With scientists adrift in an ocean of definitions, philosophers have rowed out to offer lifelines. Erik Persson, a philosopher at Lund University, and his colleagues think that we would be better off thinking about life the way we think about games.
We don’t think much about how we think about games. Children don’t stare at games on toy store shelves, wondering what these strange things are. But if you try to answer the question, “What is a game?” you can find yourself in the same quandary as scientists who ask, “What is life?” If you try to answer it with a list of requirements, you’ll fail. Some games have winners and losers, but others are open‐ended. Some games use tokens, others cards, others bowling balls. In some games, players get paid to play. In other games, they pay to play, even going into debt in some cases.
n.b.: This essay is adapted from the forthcoming book Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive, same author. This book is also on my future-reading list at my local public library.
I picked up Jughead with Archie Comics Digest Magazine, no. 95 in a Little Free Library during a walkabout in my neighborhood. Light reading. I am not a big fan of jealousy, but I feel bad for Betty. She’s a beautiful girl, smart and sweet, but Archie just leads her along as he continues to pursue Veronica. Get real, man, Betty is a way better woman.
My first Toni Morrison book, Jazz. Difficult for me to get into, but I plugged along. I’ll have to read it again – maybe this summer – I’m sure I will understand more a second time through. I just think it’s a hard book. I think she’ll be work the effort.
It’s good they don’t need much space to dance in because there isn’t any. The room is packed. Men groan their satisfaction; women hum anticipation. The music bend, falls to its knees to embrace them all, encourage them all to live little, why don’t you? since this is the it you’ve been looking for.
Curious about this phenomena of “not getting into it”, I found a blog piece, several years old, from Mike Duran, “Why Can’t You Get Into That Book?”.
I learned I am a “promiscuous reader” — several books, magazines, and other things in play at one time. Other than that, I just think Jazz is a hard book. It’s not the first book I’ve struggled with, but I finished it, and am convinced I should try again.
The Silk Roads: An Illustrated New History of the World by Peter Frankkopan, with illustrations by Neil Packer, is a wonderfully enjoyable book. I picked this up from the discount table at one of my independent booksellers without really knowing what I was getting. The illustrated version is for children; Frankopan’s adult version may need to migrate onto my reading list.
I wish my history education was this good when I was a child; here’s an excerpt:
The people that [Christopher] Columbus initially met seemed to be ‘very gentle and do not know what evil is.” He met one man who had never seen a sword and cut himself after taking it by the bade rather than the hilt. This was a good sign, thought Columbus. People like this would not put up much resistance. In fact, they would make ideal slaves, he wrote.
A lot of the hate that I’ve heard over the past couple of decades has not been informative; people tell me things like, “pfffft, Columbus was lost! Why does he get a holiday?” But this book actually states, in clear language, things that I did not know about him. And the illustrations are marvelous – I’m looking for a source to buy prints for my own wall. Who wouldn’t want, hanging on their living room wall, a map showing Spread of Black Death in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries as a function of Mongol campaigns? Dynamite graphic!