So many books to read, so little time.

Archive for October 2008

New Look

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Changed the site’s look so the individual authors’ names would be displayed. Would have liked to keep clean outline with book, but displaying the names was impossible with it.


Written by Adam Elkus

October 21, 2008 at 7:26 am

Posted in Meta

James Woods, Zadie Smith, and “Hysterical Realism”

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James Woods, a esteemed literary critic, made headlines in 2004 by denouncing Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and the novels of Jonathan Safran Foer as a form of “hysterical realism:”

Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism’s next stop. It is characterised by a fear of silence. This kind of realism is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page. There is a pursuit of vitality at all costs. Recent novels by Rushdie, Pynchon, DeLillo, Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and others have featured a great rock musician who played air guitar in his crib (Rushdie); a talking dog, a mechanical duck and a giant octagonal cheese (Pynchon); a nun obsessed with germs who may be a reincarnation of J Edgar Hoover (DeLillo); a terrorist group devoted to the liberation of Quebec who move around in wheelchairs (Foster Wallace); and a terrorist Islamic group based in North London with the silly acronym Kevin (Smith).

While I personally loathe Jonathan Safran Foer’s work, I am a bit uneasy about the idea that the novel can’t be messy, expansive, and above all have a postmodern sensibility. Thoughts?

Written by Adam Elkus

October 21, 2008 at 7:23 am

New Reading

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Just picked up some new books for the weekend–an anthology of Georg Simmel’s thought as well as his Philosophy of Money, a Weber anthology, and lastly Durkheim’s famous analysis of suicide in the book of the same name.

Looking for some books on cybernetics and systems theory. It may help me get a better understanding of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s work, which heavily relies on systems theory applied to international relations and economics. Any suggestions?

Written by Adam Elkus

October 21, 2008 at 7:03 am

A Jewel Amid The Floatsam of Mothballed Books

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My bookshelf is lined with the remnants of a pursuit of a Masters in history. Literally hundreds of books read only once, marked for reference, and citations culled for a long forgotten assignment, now wait to receive a weekly dusting. My wife used to inquire after each semester. “Aren’t you going to sell them back, what good are they to you now?” I would reply I needed to keep them for reference for my final dissertation and them I would get rid of them.

Today, two years after graduating they still line the bookshelf and now have overflowed to boxes in my college bound son’s unused bedroom. My excuse now is that I need them for reference for the history classes I teach and if they don’t actually cover the current subject I am teaching, they are in mothballs for a pending to be named, history course.

One of the books amid this slowing decaying binding of dead trees is a book that has retained it’s value as a treasure of historical lore.

 Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler, is a jewel of a read. Professor Ostler is descibed by his publisher as a scholar with a working knowledge of twenty-six languages, degrees from Oxford, in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics. and a Ph.D in Linguistics from MIT.

His book when published in 2005 was the first attempt to compile a history of all the great languages of the world into one book. Since it publication it has drawn praise from countless sources. My introduction came by way of a reading seminar in Medieval history where the professor included it as part of 22 books we were assigned to read that semester. I fell in love with this book because it added a new source to trace our shared global history and gave credence to the importance of language to the growth of civilization.

Ostler’s depth of scholarship is amply evident but he never lets the reader sink into academic dogma. Each chapter and there are many, are supported with maps and snippets of the written tongue to illustrate the course of it’s history.

If providing a history is not challenging enough, Ostler attempts to look into the future by discussing the current top twenty languages and then looking ahead at what languages will flourish and which will die.

Over the past two year I have returned occaisonly to cop a citation from it’s now frayed pages. The invitation to this blog stimulated me to take it down and begin to reread it and savor Ostler’s insightful take on how history developed through the spread of language.

Written by historyguy99

October 20, 2008 at 1:28 am

Posted in Nonfiction

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pop-science with a bit of meat on the bones

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Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is a very interesting book with a somewhat radical theory of the origin of consciousness in the human brain. This book came out in 76 and has since become somewhat of a “classic”  in pop-science. Jaynes’ theory is that humans developed consciousness at recently as 3000 years ago. He uses archeology, philology, and modern psychology to back up his arguments. Because I’m not a cognitive scientist, archeologist, or philologist, I do not personally stand in support of the claims made or the contrary. I would just personally challenge anyone with an open mind about theories of the human mind to read this and say afterward that it was not one of the best pop-science books you’ve ever read. Because of the classic texts used to support Jaynes’ claims, the book should be of particular interest to anyone with a background in Homer, the Old Testament, or the history of early tribal religions.

Written by greenmontdiy

October 20, 2008 at 12:38 am

Posted in Nonfiction

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Aren`t we forgetting something ?

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I have just done something which I do fairly often: I have dowloaded an interesting PDF with the intention of reading it later: in this instance a paper on int`l support for the FARC which I got via

Been at my laptop a lot today – work for next week, so I will not read any more now. Got a new DVD (No country for old men) to watch this evening.

Still, I have an uneasy feeling. How many docs of this type do I still have which are unread, just saved “in case” ? (Hint: 2 external HDs).

How about you ?

Addendum: !

In response to LexGreen in the comments section: I forgot to mention ZOTERO yesterday. H/T to Zenpundit

Z seems like a godsend to us content junkies. I have spent an hour on it last weekend and liked it though I am far from using systematically. Caveat – I just do not know wheter it`s great or just great-looking OK ? Try at yr own risk – I, for one, will give it a trial asap.

Written by fabiusmcunctator

October 18, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Off Topic Review: Eagle Eye

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Pacer 521

As October looms ahead, we can only prepare for the great month of quality movies ahead of us. But, to celebrate the late season of blockbusters, I had to go back to the basics and see the much-hyped Shia LaBeouf in “Eagle Eye.”

And essentially, I was very surprised. The movie was very good. It wasn’t great in any respect, but one must concede that regardless of your moviegoer credentials, everyone likes a good action movie. And Eagle Eye was no exception. It had a great plot, with a normal few flaws that could be noticed if analyzed. But what really strikes me about it is that it had all the great ingredients to satisfy the viewer. As a political “strategist,” my job is to look outside the box, and in some cases, behind it to find what really fueled the fire.

And here it was mostly the timing. After watching this movie, you were satisfied mostly because its genre has been a rarity since the close of the summer. And between this time, the average watcher has been forced to see their share of horror and documentary films. Not that this stint of change is necessarily bad, but it was a sort of refreshment to see another expensive action movie stocked with everyone’s favorite overpaid and huggable cast. It was a change refreshing you from your dull job, workload, or in my case – 7th grade math class.

The second effect that made this movie good in my opinion is that Shia LaBeouf was in it. To make it clear, I really don’t like the guy. But in this case, he made the movie work. And although I do hate to say this and probably never will again, LaBeouf was the one and only person for this movie. Why?

I sat through him in Transformers. He is now to me what he essentially is to everyone else – innocent and worth rooting for if placed in a good plot. And in this movie, everything came together. The timing was so correct that if you enjoy LaBeouf or not, we needed him. We needed to see a blockbuster, and we did. It just happened to have a good plot, and although it was similar to Live Free or Die Hard, it had the right main characters.

My point? Eagle Eye isn’t good enough that you’ll be showing it to your grandkids. Far from it. But with work, (in my case) school, and negative politics, its not a bad refreshment.

Written by pacer521

October 18, 2008 at 3:32 am

Posted in fiction

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