Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Books for Me

So now that I've written about TV and books for Sam, and TV for me, it's time for an update on what I've read in the past couple of months.  I’ve read some really great stuff lately!

Psychologically, I'm still in great need of fiction.  Any non-fiction seems like a chore (except my Italy guidebooks).  I am in the middle of Objectively Speaking, a collection of Ayn Rand interviews, but I'm having to force myself through it.  I'm finding that there's not much new there for me.  I've been stuck for weeks in the middle section which is a series of college-radio station interviews.  The questions are intelligent but they feel planted, and Ayn Rand's responses don't feel extemporaneous.  This might be over-editing, but I suspect it was the nature of the interviews themselves.  Since I already know Rand’s positions on most of the issues, what I’m really looking for in this book are those flashes of brilliance – no, not flashes, but the consistent brilliance that she shows in her off-the-cuff remarks.  Hopefully I’ll get that in the third and final section.

From the book swap at my gym, I picked up Agatha Christie’s Funerals Are Fatal, which I found to be a complete waste of time.  I don't know why I keep going back to Agatha Christie, but hopefully now that I've actually written this down, I'll remember how much I dislike these kinds of mysteries and stop picking them up.

I’ve read two more Dick Francis books from the stack my friend loaned to me.  I was bored with To the Hilt, but I loved Risk.  I continue to be amazed by Francis’ ability to create unique, but always admirable heroes.  I'm sure that eventually I'll start getting all of his characters and plots mixed up, but for now, each book still stands in my mind as a unique experience.

Through my online book club, I discovered a new author that I love:  Elizabeth Peters.  I read the first book in her Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.  It was a benevolent, intelligent adventure mystery with the most interesting, admirable characters!  Rational Jenn has a nice post about the series and I agree with her completely.  I’m excited to have a huge new list of fiction books to read now that I’ve discovered this gem.

I just finished Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card.  Leonard Peikoff recommended it on his podcast and I’ve loved his picks in the past (especially sci-fi author Frederic Brown).  I also dearly love Card’s Ender’s Game, but I thought Enchantment was a bore.  I’m not a big fan of fantasy fiction, and this was too wildly impossible and irrelevant to the real world for me to find much of interest in it.  I also thought it was very anti-technology, the characters were average people moved by fate, and the plot was not very exciting.  That was a big disappointment.  I wonder if I missed something.

I saved the best for last, so if you’ve stuck with me so far, you get the prize.  Go read Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day right now!  Aside from Anthem, this is the best dystopian novel I’ve ever read.  This book has a real hero who moves the plot by his choices and actions, the plot is full of twists and turns that I never expected, and it has some great themes.  I haven’t figured out the overall theme of this book yet, but it’s rich enough that I know I’ll read it again.  In fact, I almost want to read it again right now.  It was that great.

I’m still (somewhat) determined to keep going with my Great Books project.  I’m stuck on Augustine, though.  I think I’ll have to modify my plan to allow me to skip things that are just too painful for me to read, or I’ll never make it through.  So that is on the near-future agenda, along with tons of other exciting books.  They are all lined up on a bookshelf in my bedroom, waiting for me.  I love that.


  1. For individuals who want a very long-term self-education through a "great books" approach, I have a suggestion: Read first an intellectual biography of the writer who is next on your list. The intellectual biography will show you the writer's life as a whole _and_ the place in it of a particular book. Then read the particular book.

    A well written intellectual biography -- either an essay or a book -- explains who the writer was as a whole person and thereby sets a context for an otherwise boring or painful book.

    Augustine in particular had a fascinating life if you have a picture of his overall evolution (from shallow Christian to Manichaean to philosophical skeptic to neo-Platonist to a true-believing born-again Christian). That is one reason why I made him the subject of Ch. 4 of _The Power and the Glory_.


  2. Thanks for the fiction recommendations. I will try some of them. Even if they don't pan out, at least I will have expanded my list.

    The only Agatha Christie stories I like are the Miss Marple series stories, starting with the oldest ones, including the anthologies. (The later ones gradually became a little darker as she aged.) I own them all and I have read each one three or more times.

    Fiction is very personal. Likes and dislikes depend on more than the stories themselves. They depend in part on who the reader is and what he is looking for. My main requirements are: a success story, a story that presents a world I would want to live in.