What I’m Reading, Part 1

(generated by this post below):

In terms of what I just finished reading, in the last two days:

Elias Canetti’s extraordinary work Crowds and Power. I’ll post some more excerpts even though no one seems to give a shite. Ha. Incredible book -dissecting the dynamics of power structures and crowd structures, and how they work. I finished it yesterday and thought: “And that’s how you win the Nobel Prize, folks. You write a book like THIS.”

Finished Chechnya: To the Heart of a Conflict, by Andrew Meier this morning. It’s a short book – 131 pages long. Hmm. Mr. Meier seems to think that getting “to the heart of” this conflict (which basically has gone on, in different forms, for centuries) will only take 131 pages and will consist mainly of telling about how HE PERSONALLY risked his life to go into Chechnya. Oh, so now we really know how dangerous it is there, because Mr. Meier feared for his life. Whatever. There are way better books about the Caucausus and the Russian/Chechen conflict and the Ossetians and the Ingush (I have many of them on the top 3 shelves of Bookshelf # 6) … Meier’s book was a piece of fluff – it’s more travelogue than anything else, and there’s nothing wrong with that – I guess my beef is with the title. Meier got to the heart of nothin’.

Books I am now in the process of reading:

Lincoln – by David Herbert Donald. To those of you who recommended it to me, all I can say is: “thank you!!” I’m only in the second chapter of it, but I love it. I can see why it is so revered as a biography.

The Aran Islands (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin), by JM Synge. This is one of my favorite books. I pick it up from time to time. I’m re-reading it now, and loving it. From the first sentence (which I know by heart): “I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of Gaelic rising from a little public-house under my room” you are transported into another world.

And that’s it for now. I need to read a good sweeping novel next. Too much reality is not good. At least not for me. I’m nothing if I don’t have escape-hatches available to me at all times.

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13 Responses to What I’m Reading, Part 1

  1. Linus says:

    Have you read T.C. Boyle’s Water Music? Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale? Did you ever take your dip into Philip Roth? Ah, the sunny possibilities.

  2. red says:

    Nope – no Philip Roth yet. Don DeLillo took up 5 feckin’ months of my life, and I’m bitter about fiction now. :)

    I love Winter’s Tale – I read it years ago.

    I have not read Water Music.

    I’ll keep a running tally here, add them to the ever-expanding list.

    Thanks, Linus!

  3. Linus says:

    Well, technically I only really recommended the first hundred pages or so of Underworld, since that’s all I ever read of it. And read them over and over again, and with joy. Even after your warnings I’m a bit curious as to how it all comes out, but I’ll get to it one day.

    Water Music really is extraordinary; I don’t think Boyle was ever that amazing again. I like him in general – he just made up “Coraghessan” since he didn’t want to be named plain old Tom Boyle, incidentally – but here he’s at the top of the game. He’s also a terrific reader, if you ever have a chance to catch him.

    If you’re down on fiction via DeLillo, Roth might be just the catholicon. Heh. But early Roth, before he became literary. Zuckerman, that stuff. A joy to read, it leaps off the page at you.

  4. red says:

    Linus –

    I could not agree more about the opening of Underworld. It’s got to be one of the most spectacular beautiful openings of a book I’ve ever read. The thing was just too damn long.

    I’m thinking I might do some George Eliot now. I need some female energy, I think. I haven’t read a book by a woman in months. And … this is horrifying to admit – especially with Anne and my dad reading – … but I’ve never read any George Eliot.

    Any excerpts I’ve ever come across, though, are BEYOND great. So she is what I’m gravitating towards right now.

  5. Linus says:

    Hmmm. I’ve never read any George Eliot either, now you mention it. One of the many holes in my modest walls. Maybe I’ll take a page from yours then. I suppose Middlemarch is the natural place to start, right?

  6. red says:

    Linus – I think my dad recommends I start with Adam Bede – that one is his favorite.

    All I know is that the first line of Middlemarch is just yum-yum delicious and I want to read more:

    “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.”

    I mean. come ON. People don’t write like that anymore. More’s the pity.

  7. Jay says:


    Before you get totally off of the books about reality thing, I want to ask your opinion. I feel the need to read some Bernard Lewis and I would appreciate your recommendation on where to start.

    I can’t think of any good reason why I haven’t read ALL of his stuff yet, let alone a single piece of his work. Maybe it is because I’m surounded by all of the reading I should be doing for work. Kind of like an igloo of articles and journals.

    Again, thanks for any recommendations.

  8. red says:

    Start with What went wrong? That’s my recommendation. Once you read that, you will probably want to read every damn word the man ever wrote!! :)

    His post-Sept. 11 books are good (The Crisis of Islam, etc.) – because he was one of those “experts” out there who had been writing about the “crisis in Islam” for years – and suddenly his knowledge was needed. Bernard Lewis was everywhere.

    However – his books written before September 11 are just as fantastic. If you’re interested in learning about the Muslim world (and not from an urgent we-are-at-war-with-these-people perspective) – check out his earlier books. There’s one on the emergence of Turkey as a modern nation that’s really good. I’ve always been interested in Muslim culture (the poetry, music, art, philosophy) – and Bernard Lewis has lots of great books on that as well. His Middle East Mosaic is really fun – it’s basically Bernard Lewis’ “commonplace book” for the Middle East. It’s all quotes and excerpts and travelers recountings of their trips to the Middle East … grouped under certain headings like: Food. Women. Laws. Diplomacy. I like that one a lot.

    But I would definitely start with What Went Wrong?

    Terrific perspective, and I would say indispensable reading for this day and age.

    So speaketh the wise and learned and full-of-shite redhead. :)

  9. Jay says:

    Please O’ Wise One, refer to me evermore as grasshopper.

    Seriously, thanks for the recs.

  10. Anne says:

    George Eliot, George Eliot, yes. It’s time.:)

  11. Laura (southernxyl) says:

    When I read “good sweeping novel” I immediately thought of Middlemarch.

    My daughter is in AP English Lit this year and in the last week or so she had to read a bit of Middlemarch and write an essay about it. She thinks now that she’d like to read it. It probably would be a good antidote to her next assigned book, which is Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

    When I think of Virginia Woolf I always immediately picture a boozy Elizabeth Taylor leaning out of a window and bellowing “HEEEEEEYYYY!”

  12. Mark says:

    Have you ever read “Wind, Sand and Stars” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery? It is a quick read and one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

  13. red says:

    I love Wind, Sand and Stars. Magical book, huh?

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