Tags: reading

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Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

Two books

I’ve mentioned before that I like to read a mixture of fiction of non-fiction. In fact, I try to alternate between the two. If I’ve just read some non-fiction, then I’ll follow it with a novel and I’ve just read some fiction, then I’ll follow it with some non-fiction.

But those categorisations can be slippery. I recently read two books that were ostensibly fiction but were strongly autobiographical and didn’t have the usual narrative structure of a novel.

Just to clarify, I’m not complaining! Quite the opposite. I enjoy the discomfort of not being able to pigeonhole a piece of writing so easily.

Also, both books were excellent.

The first one was A Ghost In The Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa. It’s sort of about the narrator’s obsessive quest to translate the Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. But it’s also about the translator’s life, which mirrors the author’s. And it’s about all life—life in its bodily, milky, bloody, crungey reality. The writing is astonishing, creating an earthy musky atmosphere. It feels vibrant and new but somehow ancient and eternal at the same time.

By contrast, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood is rooted in technology. Reading the book feels like scrolling through Twitter, complete with nervous anxiety. Again, the narrator’s life mirrors that of the author, but this time the style has more of the arch detachment of the modern networked world.

It took me a little while at first, but then I settled into the book’s cadence and vibe. Then, once I felt like I had a handle on the kind of book I was reading, it began to subtly change. I won’t reveal how, because I want you to experience that change for yourself. It’s like a slow-building sucker punch.

When I started reading No One Is Talking About This, I thought it might end up being the kind of book where I would admire the writing, but it didn’t seem like a work that invited emotional connection.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I can’t remember the last time a book had such an emotional impact on me. Maybe that’s because it so deliberately lowered my defences, but damn, when I finished reading the book, I was in pieces.

I’m still not quite sure how to classifyA Ghost In The Throat or No One Is Talking About This but I don’t care. They’re both just great books.

Monday, June 27th, 2022

On reading

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder is a very short book. Most of the time, this is a feature, not a bug.

There are plenty of non-fiction books I’ve read that definitely could’ve been much, much shorter. Books that have a good sensible idea, but one that could’ve been written on the back of a napkin instead of being expanded into an arbitrarily long form.

In the world of fiction, there’s the short story. I guess the equivelent in the non-fiction world is the essay. But On Tyranny isn’t an essay. It’s got chapters. They’re just really, really short.

Sometimes that brevity means that nuance goes out the window. What might’ve been a subtle argument that required paragraphs of pros and cons in another book gets reduced to a single sentence here. Mostly that’s okay.

The premise of the book is that Trump’s America is comparable to Europe in the 1930s:

We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

But in making the comparison, Synder goes all in. There’s very little accounting for the differences between the world of the early 20th century and the world of the early 21st century.

This becomes really apparent when it comes to technology. One piece of advice offered is:

Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.

Wait. He’s not actually saying that words on screens are in some way inherently worse than words on paper, is he? Surely that’s just the nuance getting lost in the brevity, right?

Alas, no:

Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. … So get screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.

I mean, I’m all for reading books. But books are about what’s in them, not what they’re made of. To value words on a page more than the same words on a screen is like judging a book by its cover; its judging a book by its atoms.

For a book that’s about defending liberty and progress, On Tyranny is puzzingly conservative at times.

Saturday, June 25th, 2022

Reading The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett.

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Friday, June 17th, 2022

Reading The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova.

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Wednesday, June 1st, 2022

What the Vai Script Reveals About the Evolution of Writing - SAPIENS

How a writing system went from being a dream (literally) to a reality, codified in unicode.

Reading A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine.

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Monday, May 2nd, 2022

Reading East West Street by Philippe Sands.

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

Reading No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.

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Sunday, April 24th, 2022

Reading On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder.

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Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

Reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

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Sunday, March 20th, 2022

Reading Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit.

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Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

Reading The Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin.

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Friday, March 4th, 2022

Interoperable Personal Libraries and Ad Hoc Reading Groups

Speaking of hosting your own reading list, Maggie recently attended an indie web pop-up on personal libraries, which prompted these interesting thoughts on decentralised book clubs—ad hoc reading groups:

Taking a book-first, rather than a group-first approach would enable reading groups who don’t have to compromise on their book choices. They could gather only once or twice to discuss the book, then go their seperate ways. No long-term committment to organising and maintaining a bookclub required.

Nelson’s Weblog: Goodreads lost all of my reviews

Goodreads lost my entire account last week. Nine years as a user, some 600 books and 250 carefully written reviews all deleted and unrecoverable. Their support has not been helpful. In 35 years of being online I’ve never encountered a company with such callous disregard for their users’ data.

Ouch! Lesson learned:

My plan now is to host my own blog-like collection of all my reading notes like Tom does.

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022

Reading About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks by David Rooney.

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Sunday, February 13th, 2022

gilest.org: What using RSS feeds feels like

  • You’re the curator
  • You decide what’s interesting
  • You have more control over what you read and how
  • It’s a fast and efficient way of reading a lot of web
  • It’s just better than the endless scroll of a social media feed

Spot on!

To me, using RSS feeds to keep track of stuff I’m interested in is a good use of my time. It doesn’t feel like a burden, it doesn’t feel like I’m being tracked or spied on, and it doesn’t feel like I’m just another number in the ads game.

To me, it feels good. It’s a way of reading the web that better respects my time, is more likely to appeal to my interests, and isn’t trying to constantly sell me things.

That’s what using RSS feeds feels like.

Monday, January 31st, 2022

Science Fiction and Philosophy - Five Books Expert Recommendations

I’ve only read three of these five books, but after reading this rollicking interview with Eric Schwitzgebel, I’ve added the other two recommendations to my wishlist.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2022

Reading Parable Of The Talents by Octavia Butler.

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Sunday, January 9th, 2022

Reading A Ghost In The Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

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Saturday, January 1st, 2022

Reading Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar And Grille by Steven Brust.

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