I used to read stuff. It was fun.

[Title links to suntzusays’s take.]

Waaay late to this game, but around here we just call that being on [my maiden name] time.  Apparently this semi-recent thing started with Cowen, but I also want to call out Rorty for one excellent explanation that also resounds with me:
[T]he feminist blogosphere help[s] me “get” feminism in a way that academic literature couldn’t, particularly for seeing it as a project of how to live one’s life.
I guess the original question came from a MR reader:  I’d like to see you list the top 10 books which have influenced your view of the world.

I’m much more of a fiction than a non-fiction reader, so in comparison to the other bloggers that have done this, I expect this to read almost anti-intellectual, but the word of the day is…..whatever.  Here we go!  
  1. I’m going to start with blogs, rather than end with them.  In the past month or so I’ve almost abandoned my Google Reader, but eventually I’ll get back to it, cut out the dead flesh, and regroup.  The list of blogs I try to keep up with is constantly evolving, or mutating.  Teh internets can be a scary scary place, but the wealth of information and opinions out there has become a resource I wouldn’t want to give up any time soon.  Or, ever.
  2. The Giver, Lowry.  Don’t forget to look around, see what’s to be seen, ugly or otherwise.  I actually just gave away my copy of this book to one of my CASA kids.  It got left behind when they were moved suddenly, and I was PISSED about that.  Not at the kids, obviously; I was in fact happy as a clam to hear her say she knew exactly where she’d left it.  I played it as if I was just loaning her the book, please take good care of it and all, but it’s not something I’d ever really ask to be returned, even though I’ve got somewhat of an irrational attachment to it.  I probably should not have done that thing I did.  I called up dude who owns that house to ask if we could stop by and pick up some things for the kids…they’re not my kids, I don’t transport them anywhere or anything, I just get the distinct feeling I should not have let them walk back into that house.  Couldn’t help myself.  I’m supposed to investigate…I had never seen the upstairs, where their room is (rooms are/were?  as if one could tell by looking)…and I would give anything to scrub that image from my brain now.  Ugh.  Whatever.  Kids safe, book safe, moving on.
  3. Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky.  Only book I recall having been required to read in both high school and college and actually looking forward to the discussions, arguing with the prof, and having her smile and ask, what’s your major again?  Good times.  Read it, well and often.  
  4. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy.  It’s just…delicious.  I’m not going to link back to my original review here, because it probably makes very little sense, having been written from a dark, dark place.  Classically:  Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  Also, I haven’t read other translations, being very partial to Pevear and Volokhonsky, but I do also like this quote by another translator, apparently (via wikipedia):  “no one may build their pleasure on another’s pain.”
  5. The Awakening, Chopin.  I could stand to reread this one, but I do remember liking it.  I dunno if it’s good or bad when an ending to a novel pisses you off, but meh…times have changed a bit, thankfully.  
  6. Dandelion on My Pillow, Butcher Knife Beneath, Thomas, Thomas and Thomas.  Paints a very poignant picture of the horrifying things that go on in the world and how spongy kids are.  Reactive attachment disorder is nothing to take lightly.  You will cry.
  7. A Primate’s Memoir, Sapolsky.  Brilliant.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  You’ll spill water on it and lose the dust jacket and have to replace it, but you’ll be happy to own it.  
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas.  Just a damn good story.  Revenge may be served cold, it may or may not taste like shit.
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee.  If you see bullshit, call it out.  There’s a lawyer in me somewhere.  Whether it ever earns the degree or practices is a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax.    
  10. The Technology of Orgasm, Maines.  I don’t know if this actually influenced my world view, but it definitely should be read, well and often.  Or at least once.  Makes a hilarious gift for coworkers, who then ask you, did you READ this?  No, I just randomly give people books without thinking.  Reminder, retrieve the original copy and pay it forward…or back.  Something.
  11. Hmmm….how did I get through this without any Steinbeck?  Or Hemingway?  For Whom the Bell Tolls, East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, etc.
That was fun.  Wanna play?

6 thoughts on “I used to read stuff. It was fun.

  1. Bazarov says:

    Hmm…ten books that shaped the way I look at the world? In no order of importance:1.) The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins), The Selfish Gene (Dawkins), and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Dennett). Three books and two authors, but since it's the same topic from three different perspectives, I shall list them all. If I had to recommend only one, it'd be The Selfish Gene, though all three should be read by anyone curious about our place in the universe and how we got to be what we are. The Blind Watchmaker I started in high school on a recommendation from a friend of my father and was my first real introduction into evolutionary theory, despite having good science teachers. It was the first time I saw someone openly mocking religious “theories” about humanity…and I liked it.2.) Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. I think Dawkins’ quote in the beginning sums this one up perfectly: “I wish I had written The Demon Haunted World. Having failed to do so the least I can do is press it upon my friends. Please read this book.” Given the state of post-internet age we’re living in, critical thinking is at an all-time high demand. 3.) Phantoms in the Brain by VS Ramachandran, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, The Trouble with Testosterone by Robert Sapolsky, Descartes Error and The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio, How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. Most are more or less neuroscience books, ranging from the watered down (but still informative) general science/philosophy approach to the more in-depth, specialist type reading. One can build a rather good model of human behavior from these books, mostly by the chisel method: not so much by building from fundamentals as by removing misconceptions, falsehoods, or simple lies. It also, along with the earlier mentioned books, The Selfish Gene in particular, provides answers to many of the questions one often asks oneself when realizing superstitious answers are, putting it kindly, hopelessly lacking, such as where do morals come from?, what’s the point of life?, where are we headed?, etc.

  2. Bazarov says:

    4.) The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes and The Golden Ass by Apuleius. There are some, for a lack of a better word, “essays”, written by some ancient Greeks that also did what these books have done for me. They have shown me that people have been, despite what many authorities and people would have us believe, pretty much the same way we are now. We’re obsessed with sex, pride, self-inflation, mystery and so on. Writings from thousands of years ago can show, reveal, can betray us to our future selves that not much has changed since then, as when elders of millennia ago complain about the next generation and how the world will soon end because of them, to the simple morals given by a slave in his collection, Aesop’s Fables—most of the lessons still hold to this day. Put us in a cave or in a three piece suit and we’re still the same confused ape. Of course I don’t think humanity hasn’t progressed from our earliest beginnings, not at all; I just think that because we wash every day doesn’t mean we still don’t have the same ol’ dirty mind, by and large. (And no, I haven’t read all the stories within The Decameron, but I have seen some interesting secondary writings about it, the most interesting to my eyes being the role it has played, along with other forms of ‘pornography’ throughout the ages in shaping human cultures). Other books, while I’m thinking about it that have had similar sorts of influence in these realms would be Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.5.) Animal Farm and 1984 by Blair/Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, quite a few of Harry Harrison’s works, mostly those dealing with population pressures, such as the one which was the seed for the movie Soylent Green. These dystopian novels have opened doors I haven’t been able to shut since having opened them. Animal Farm in particular holds a special place in my thoughts: what better way to display our shortcomings than by using non-human animals?6.) Essays! Too many to list or get to, but let’s see what I can recall. The Realists, Nineteenth-Century Scholasticism, Plato’s Idealism and Thinking Proletariat by Dmitry Pisarev. (I couldn’t separate the ideas from these since I’ve long ago read them, but they were great reads.) The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. These two men are responsible for my delving into Russian literature, philosophy and thought, scarcely ever wandering elsewhere. Orwell’s famous A Hanging can hardly go unmentioned. The slews of Russell writings have done much as well to maybe not influence my thoughts as to have solidified them. Few writings or authors have actually gotten me to abandon or change my views significantly, rather they have strengthened them by showing me that intelligent people from other eras, regions of the globe or studies have expressed similar sentiments as those I hold or have provided new, unthought-of perspectives which prompted new thoughts never before entertained. Essays, like shorts, are quite appealing to me because one often finds great ideas condensed, concentrated. I know I’m missing several which I’ll be kicking myself for later not having mentioned (real influential huh?). But besides those already mentioned in this Essay section, I’d have to include some of the previously mentioned authors of books as well: Dawkins, Pinker, Sapolsky, and again, Russell, one of the finest writers of the English language of which I can think.

  3. Bazarov says:

    7.) Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Given as much as I’ve read by him, I can’t say much has really shaped the way I think. I definitely admire many of his works, but nothing compares to this short novella, particularly the first part. I was hooked at the first sentence, first paragraph, first page and on! “I am a sick man…I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with liver…” and so on, page after page. It was the first literature I read where I felt like I had company. What Chernyshevsky and Pisarev initiated, Dostoyevsky thoroughly completed as far as my addiction to this era’s literature and thought are concerned. This is the one book I have actually read over and over and plan on reading over and over. No other book has tempted and lured me so.8.) Russian Literature, mostly 19th Century. Some of Gogol’s writings in particular. He wrote The Overcoat and Diary of a Madman. How can anyone read those and not enjoy them over and over again? But Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Bulgakov (amongst others I’m most assuredly forgetting). The style that ties them all together is one of the main attractions—it’s so familiar, inviting, unassuming, yet covering such large topics. 9.) Science books in general. Read most, if not all, of Sagans books. Cosmology is a must for any human being. The universe will just slap the smart right out of ya and leave you a dumbfounded dipshit when you learn about it, in a good way. Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything is a good general coverage as well. Oh, and Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel in particular.10.) I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but since I listed far more than ten I don’t feel so bad. Here…Supertoys Last All Summer Long. The movie it inspired could’ve been, should’ve been so much better!!! Disappointing.Before I end this ricockulously long comment, let me make the following observation. I think I’ve learned and been influenced as much, if not more so, by good TV as I have by any book. From lectures on the web or from The Teaching Company, I’ve gleaned more mind-shaping information from modern multi-media than from most of the books I’ve ever read, and I think I’ve retained more of it from these newer outlets as well. Granted, books can do a lot movies or programs can’t, but the same can be said for programs and movies. Ok, maybe not so much movies (can’t say I get quite the hard-on for them as many people I know, though they are great for satire, among other things), but programs. As a child I loved PBS, Discovery (before it turned into a big, Satan’s cock sucking outlet for DIY and other retarded, mind-numbing horseshit) and the programs contained therein. Museums and planetariums have done as much as well. TV gets a bum rap, throwing the baby out with the bath water. It’s a bit like not liking Big Macs so you throw out all bread, lettuce, beef, and fuck it, all other food while you’re at it. It’s what you watch. TV has given me quite the edge over peers in classrooms throughout my school years. If you watch the right shit you’ll benefit greatly. I don’t want to say books are vestigial, because I’d like to write a few before my time is done and still enjoy them, but let’s face it, new media have developed and it’s hard to argue that they’re not more captivating than reading or that people don’t willingly devote more of their time on this rock to them than they do reading. Having said that, I need to finish this book I’m almost done with now, and maybe drink some and watch an Attenborough program on TV. Is it TV if it’s watched on your computer via the internet? Hmm…

  4. I am totally putting this meme on my blog next time I post. Nice work, and thanks!!

  5. Thanks! And very welcome!

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