Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Reading






Some of the writing and suggestions for books from the linked Times article are a little too precious to believe, but Portis' The Dog of the South sounds like it might be fun. I didn't realize he had written so many novels:

http://www.amazon.com/Dog-South-Charles-Portis/dp/1585679313/

60 comments:

  1. The only books I've ever found in a vacation rental were things like The Richest Man in Babylon or The Power of Positive Thinking.

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  2. I found and read a copy of Ian Fleming's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" at an inn in Bermuda long ago--thought it was great fun, launched my then-husband into Bond fanship.

    Thanks a lot, gintaras, now I can't get "Rocky Raccoon" out of my head.

    Which Elba forums are aflame--the political ones? I haven't traveled south of the Books section for ever so long.

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  3. I found the Travis McGee books in a rental in Key West one summer.There was nothing else to read and I was hooked from the first book.As for this past weekends summer reading issue book review not much there but the Charles Portis did catch my eye.

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  4. Great review:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/books/review/Barcott-t.html

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  5. Diane -- I seem to remember you once talking about Eric Hobsbawm. I have his Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, and am planning to read it this summer. Am I confusing you with someone else who was reading him?

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  6. No, it was me. Or it was also me. I _love_ Hobsbawm, and used his series as my "text books" to help prepare for my European exams.

    There is so much great stuff in there to talk about. The one thing that just fascinated me was about the spread of Islam as a counter to the breakup of civil society due to the slave trade and other social and economic displacements. Really fascinating.

    Be sure to post something when you get into it and I'll try to jump in, too. It's a great series of books.

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  7. Another Hobsbawm fan here, as was the Aussie history prof. that used to post in the NYT forums (who came to stay in SF for a period a few years back while he did research in Palo Alto, something about some Aussie art brought to Stanford?) and got everyone reading Peter Carey & Patrick White.

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  8. I'm reading Hobsbawm's Age of Revolution in connection with Melville's Moby-Dick and trying to assimilate, or aggregate, some of the sweeping generalizations both authors are known for. I'll post if I think I can say something that makes sense.

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  9. We should get Parsons involved over here. I think he was a student and/or colleague of Hobsbawm.

    He was always interested in American history -- incredibly well read -- but I think he has switched his focus to French history.

    Rick, look forward to your comments about the two books. Reading the Emerson book made me want to go back and read some of the authors he talked about again. I never really appreciated Moby Dick until I read it again with the NYTimes reading group. I think of that book almost as a revelation.

    I'm sure Thoreau and Hawthorne and some of the others would be equally great now.

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  10. Moby-Dick is unlike any novel I've ever read. The Norton anthology I use in my American Lit classes has only a few chapters but I still have the students read them. Even if it is like studying De Vinci's Monna Lisa by focusing on one of her eyes or that part in her hair.

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  11. I remember someone telling me in college that it was a good book if you read it in condensed form -- i.e., without all the unnecessary natural history etc. That really misses the entire book as far as I'm concerned.

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  12. Any suggestions for the summer? It would be fun to get another book discussion going.

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  13. I suggested "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" which still has me in its grip. What a remarkable tale! I'd be interested in what folks here would say about it, but realize it's not the usual fare in this neighborhood.

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  14. Parsons! Thanks avrds, that was the name I couldn't retrieve. It would indeed be great to see what he's up to these days.(I can't believe we discussed libations at Magnolia--once called Magnolia Thunderpussy's--pub in the Haight. Why do I recall the less elevated discussions?)

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  15. NY, on your recommendation, I ordered the Henrietta Lacks book -- but it may take awhile to get.

    I'm up for anything that's history -- or close enough to argue, like Lacks, -- but it has to be published this year. I love this reading assignment, but it does limit my choice of reading for awhile.

    I just read the new book on the liberty bell, and really enjoyed it since I had written a research paper on the controversy of the slave quarters at the site.

    I'm now reading an interesting one on water, which donot would probably really like:

    http://www.amazon.com/Water-Struggle-Wealth-Power-Civilization/dp/0060548304/

    Gintaras, you may remember the arguments we used to get into with Mosca about water... he used to joke about people standing at the border with water jugs in hand as if that was no threat. Little does he know.....

    Other books on my list right now include the new book on the Little Big Horn by Philbrick, which I've decided to give a try (I have thoroughly enjoyed his other ones) and the one that was reviewed with it at the Times about the Comanches which may be the better book from the sounds of it.

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  16. And always on the lookout for something off the beaten path, I ordered this one -- I met him at a history meeting a few years ago. Amazing man:

    http://www.amazon.com/Admirable-Radical-Straughton-Dissent-1945-1970/dp/160635051X/

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  17. Avrds,Is the Comanche book"Empire of the Summer Moon" I ordered it from HBC only to be told it is temp out of stock.I have one also I bought some time ago called Comanche Empire but have not read it.Temps,Good old Magnolia Thunderpussy and my fave"The Montana Banana" summer of 70 we went there several times.My brothers motley Berkeley hose mates along with his two younger brother 15(myself) and 14 who he talked my parents into letting us spend the summer with him.What a blast!You were the one who informed me what it had become.

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  18. Yes, that's the one. Must be really good. Do you still get the Sunday Times? It's reviewed there:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/books/review/Barcott-t.html

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  19. Parsons may have officially retired. I tried his university address and it came back as undeliverable.

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  20. George is around.The univ email changed but he is in Avoice's yahoo group and I have him as a friend on Facebook.

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  21. The univ email I have is George.Parsons@humn.mq.edu.au

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  22. Thanks! I'll give that one a try.

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  23. Great, avrds, I so look forward to your reaction to the HeLa tale, whenever it occurs. The book was published this year. (I wasn't in time to read your post about your "reading assignment" but hope you're enjoying it.)

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  24. JAbel, Wow, what an adolescent adventure -- and what enlightened parents to OK it!

    Oddly enough, when you go to e-mail link at the Magnolia pub site, you get this:

    http://www.magnoliapub.com/index.html

    Hmmm.

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  25. Wheatie,We lived in Rochester,N.Y. so my parents and my brother and I had no idea what we were being sent to!

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  26. I'd be up for HeLa later in the summer. Takes 3-4 weeks for me to get a book shipped these days. In the meantime, any takers on Lanterns of the Levee? I dug out my copy yesterday and plan to start reading soon.

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  27. Cool. May take me that long, too.

    Parsons is interested in joining us here. I sent you an email, Gintaras, but since all of my emails seem to be out of date these days, thought I'd mention it here, too.

    The email John posted above works (and then maybe we should take it down?).

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  28. Rick, did you see this?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/weekinreview/13kennedy.html

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  29. I saw it. The analogy Delbanco finds so irresistible (whale oil of Melville's day and petroleum of today) misses the point by about two oceans. It is, however, nice to see Melville's novel get some mention in almost any context.

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  30. I liked this part:

    Melville’s story “is certainly, among many other things, a cautionary tale about the terrible cost of exploiting nature for human wants,” he said. “It’s a story about self-destruction visited upon the destroyer — and the apocalyptic vision at the end seems eerily pertinent to today.”

    And it does give a contemporary/relevant spin to a story that might otherwise be out of reach for some college students (like me the time I first tried to read it).

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  31. Moby-Dick is many things, but a cautionary tale about exploiting nature doesn't seem to be one of them, at least not in my view.

    Ahab certainly isn't driven by an immoderate desire for whale oil. He lets the crew of the Pequod know that they need to keep a sharp eye out for the white whale. The white whale takes precedence over the harvesting of whale oil. And as for Ahab's desire to be revenged on the whale (and the God that made him), that surely isn't exploitation.

    Perhaps it could be argued that Bildad and Peleg, who hire Ahab presumably because they believe he will help them maximize profits, are analogous to a company like BP. Their immoderate desire for whale oil leads them to entrust their ship to a raving lunatic who will cause them and their investors to lose everything. That's a reach for characters who appear in a couple of chapters early in the book.

    And finally, Moby-Dick is at least on one important level a paean to the whaling industry, but more particularly to the men who do battle with God's mightiest creatures. It is an exultant celebration of courage, heroism, and the little, expendable men who do all the work.

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  32. So happy to see some others will be reading Skloot (that sounds funny) anon, look forward to more enlightened comments than appeared in some forum I looked in on in which participants seemed focussed on the small picture.

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  33. It has been years since I read it, so I'm really not equipped to counter your argument, but I thought Ahab was a whaler, who ran afoul of one of his intended victims. So he goes back to hunt it down. And through his obsession he brings himself and his crew down.

    As I remember the book, there's much beauty in the natural world (e.g., the rookery) that the whalers destroy. I don't recall that much is made of why they are killing all these animals except for their oil.

    It's an interesting idea that becoming obsessed with something in the end has the power to destroy us and our world -- oil or no oil.

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  34. Yes, Ahab is hunting the white whale and seeking revenge. And in the process he maniacally sacrifices his entire crew and is himself destroyed by Moby-Dick. But that still doesn't make the novel a cautionary tale about exploiting nature.

    By way of analogy, King Lear isn't a cautionary tale about the perils of dividing one's estate without benefit of counsel.

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  35. "King Lear isn't a cautionary tale about the perils of dividing one's estate without benefit of counsel......"

    Ah, yes, but I'm sure we could find some contemporary relevance in that tale, too!

    Not to belabor the point, because you obviously know the book much better than I do, but is not the whale of nature, and does not the irrational attempt to destroy it bring down the Pequod and its crew in that giant funnel?

    The entire enterprise seems to set up man vs. nature and in this case man does not win. I would think twice before heading out after a big white whale after that, that's for sure.....

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  36. Ahab seeks to destroy the phantom white whale, Moby-Dick. And, yes, in seeking to destroy Moby-Dick, Ahab leads the crew of the Pequod to destruction, with the exception of Ishmael. But I don't think Ahab's pursuit of the white whale is born of a desire to exploit nature. The white whale represents something that Ahab cannot abide in a spiritual or philosophical sense. It represents something both inscrutable and seemingly malevolent. It is an affront to Ahab's conception of himself as a thinking, reasoning creature. So if as a result his wish to destroy or conquer the white whale is to be equated with the exploitation of nature, it's an odd form of exploitation.

    We exploit nature in order to benfit from our actions in some way. We mine coal or drill for oil, for instance. Often we destroy nature in the process. But that isn't what Ahab is doing. In trying to destroy the white whale, Ahab is trying to destroy, or at the very least finally deny, God. Is that what we're up to when we exploit nature? I've never thought of it in those terms.

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  37. I think that's the missing piece here -- the "exploitation" which is being added in this discussion is part of the novel's back story. So the referenced article sort of fills in the blanks.

    In his past, Ahab exploited nature in his pursuit of oil, and paid for it with an attack on his ship by a whale rumored to have been white. We sort of pick the story up mid-way when thinking of it in these terms.

    So Ahab goes back out determined to destroy the whale which almost destroyed him, and in so doing brings down himself and his multi-national crew.

    I never read this as an allegory about God v man -- although I know most people read it that way. Melville puts so much energy in describing the natural history of the whale and whaling that I can't help but see it as a different kind of story. But then I'm not inclined to see God in much of anything I'm afraid!

    I suppose it could be like Job, only in this case Job fights back and (of course) loses. That's just not how I read it -- but that's me, not Melville.

    This is at the heart of the book's greatness. There's so much there!

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  38. The allegory, if that's what you want to call it, makes more sense to me than seeing it as a tale about the dangers associated with exploiting nature. Like you, I don't go looking for God in much of anything, least of all as an explanation for anything that happens here on earth. But Melville was always looking for God and always doubting that he would ever find what he was looking for. And it is difficult to read Chapter 36, The Quarter-Deck, and not see that Moby-Dick, at least as far as Ahab is concerned, is God's agent.

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  39. Ah, yes, well _agent_.... I'd have to re-read that chapter, but my general argument might still hold.

    In any event, fun to stretch the old literary muscles once in awhile (although I haven't read it in so long, I probably haven't done the book or my reading of it justice). I loved the book when I read it last time.

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  40. "Any suggestions for the summer? It would be fun to get another book discussion going. "

    Before we decided upon Emerson, someone suggested "Beneath the American Renaissance". A couple of folks voted for it before we reached consensus on the other book.

    Or how about:

    http://www.needcoffee.com/2001/12/17/good-old-days-they-were-terrible-book-review/

    "Good Old Days - TERRIBLE!"


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    "Scoundrel Time" ??


    http://www.amazon.com/Scoundrel-Time-Lillian-Hellman/dp/0316352942


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    Since historical fiction was mentioned above, would you consider one of my childhood faves "Johnny Tremain":


    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/816870.Johnny_Tremain


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    Native American issues:


    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57585.In_the_Spirit_of_Crazy_Horse




    Thoughts, please?

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  41. The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible! looks like fun ; )

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  42. Alas, Trippler, I can't commit to read any book not published in 2010, although some of these are tempting. Lillian Hellman's book is the classic example of a memoir under fire, which would make for a great discussion.

    Right now I'm reading Bomb Power which Gintaras posted about earlier. One of the first Wills books that I find entirely readable -- at least so far.

    He makes a great point about the so-called "free market" not being the most efficient, as evidenced during WWII. When government stepped in during the American's entry into the war, the economy took off.

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  43. Gintaras:

    I told Carol Polk about the HeLa book and our other readings, and she'd like to join us here as well! I sent you her email address. Hopefully it reaches you.

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  44. I invited Parsons again and invited Carol. You need to remind them to look in their spam box, in case the invites ended up there.

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  45. If a discussion is planned for a date certain, I can delay reading (hard though it be) the HeLa book. I'll confess there are times when I have to put it aside to think about this or that concatenation, or because there's quite a bit to give one pause even as the story of the story propels the reader forward.

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  46. Cool! I emailed Parsons but haven't heard back from him so he may just be temporarily away from a computer -- is the Aussie summer break the same as ours for school, or do they reverse it? I'll alert Carol.

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  47. It appears as of everyone has settled upon:

    http://www.amazon.com/Immortal-Life-Henrietta-Lacks/dp/1400052173

    If so, when do we begin the discussion?

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  48. Trippler, I don't think we have a date yet. Ginataras and I need to get books. Can you get a copy at your library? Sounds like a good read from what NY has said.

    But the decision to read this one doesn't preclude another book discussion before, during, or after the HeLa book. We have some new readers aboard, which is great!

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  49. I checked both the local and county libraries. Both have multiple copies but every last one is either checked out or there is a hold list. Evidently the book is extremely popular and it would take a long time to get a copy!

    Perhaps another book ... ?

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  50. It does seem to be the hot book of the summer. I think it is best to make it an August read, as I wouldn't be getting a copy until mid-July at the earliest.

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  51. On a humorous note, they could come up with a marketing angle using the pop hit Hey Ya from a few years back, changing the tune to He - La,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvKs133Udmk

    with all the "cloning" in the video.

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  52. August works for me. I hope to be camping along the Yellowstone River by then.

    I talked to a biologist friend today and she said the book has caused quite a stir with some scientists. All the more reason to read it I told her!

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  53. While waiting for the bus today a Bentley Convertible cruised past with personal plates that read AHAB.Alas it was a blue and not a white Bentley.

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  54. This year I bought a used (white) camper van and thought about getting a MOBY license plate. It does look a bit like a beached white whale in my driveway. But thinking about where that whale led, I went with another PEACE license plate instead.

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  55. Good that you did, avrds, or some might have mistaken you for a fan of a certain rock group;-)

    I can see -- and others will too -- see why some scientists might get more than a little touchy about the HeLa book revelations. There are some jaw-droppers, for sure. Readers would do well to recall the state of knowledge/practice at the time (just as it is well to bear in mind contemporary attitudes, racial & otherwise, when we read history). Still, some of the characters and their attitudes reminded me of the joke: Q: What's the difference between a doctor and God? A: God doesn't think he's a doctor.

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  56. Well, I managed to get my name on two library waiting lists for He-La. I am # 21 in St Paul & 55 in the Dakota County systems. It was no use trying to get on the Minneapolis waiting list as my # would have been 365!

    I guess the book must be exceedingly popular!

    :)

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  57. There are some on offer at amazon.com for relatively low prices:

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dus-stripbooks-tree&field-keywords=rebecca+skloot&x=11&y=13

    (What I can't figure is the hardbacks for double the usual price--autographed, maybe?)

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