Friday, September 30, 2016

Try to Remember

The kind of September... Where I finally start on the weaving project I was supposed to be working on all throughout the summer as well as got ready for my Introduction to Bookbinding Workshop (tomorrow!).
  1. Criminal That I Am: A Memoir by Jennifer Ridha
  2. flesh and bone (2015 miniseries)
    • Everyone needs a Pasha in their lives. Everyone.
  3. If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
    • My comment on this is going to be shorter than I would like it to be simply because of the nature of this book, but it was so incredibly difficult to keep up with all the characters, what with the way the chapters picked people up and dropped them and some would show up again and some you might never hear of for the duration of the book! I understand that to write the events in a chronological order would make it so that you would have to jump around here and there to talk about these people, then those, but still! The atrocities started to blend into one another towards the end, which really makes clear how easily one can grow numb to it, but it really struck me at the end the woman who went home (I believe to France) and got a jump in line for food handouts because she was too weak, and when someone told her off for it, she responded that she just came back from a concentration camp, to which the man retorted "mais quand même, they have to line up in concentration camps, don't they?". For which she hit the man. That brutal insensitivity, right in the face of the person who had to undergo that! Thank goodness she hit him.
  4. The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible by A.N.Wilson
    • Well with a title like that, I suppose I should have expected the tone that the author took throughout the entire book - not that I disagree with it per se, it's just that what I'm interested in is something a little different. I guess I was expecting more of a critical look than what the message I took away from it came out to be, namely something along the lines of: don't read the Bible literally (... duh?), stop trying to force your own views and interpretation of the Bible onto others (again, duh?), and God is the living word, through which one's life can be enhanced if only it is lived and acted upon (which is swell and all, don't get me wrong...). But this could have been a much better book. Perhaps I was simply reading the wrong book for my interests. What I did take away from this book that I think I might want to follow up on is that I should read the Bible. Although that's kind of a lie: How to Read Literature Like a Professor re-implanted the idea in my head (it's been there since high school at least, if for all the wrong reasons, something like "keep your friends close and your enemies closer", not that religion was ever my enemy, so to speak), so it's more like this book gave me more reason to actually read The Book.
  5. The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall
    • A seemingly very large section on memory and how fallible memory is. I also just recently queued up a book about memory (and identity): The Memory Illusion. I haven't read it yet, but somehow things always make sense in terms of how I queue up what to read next, even if by the time I get around to it, I've - the irony! - forgotten why.
    • "J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books... are twice as long in their entirety as War and Peace" (p.276). Well golly. Now I have even less excuse to not have read War & Peace!
  6. Quicksand by Steve Toltz
    • I very much enjoyed reading A Fraction of a Whole by Toltz a while back, so when pondering over what fiction to read next, I figured I probably wouldn't go wrong with more Toltz. Rambling, vaguely articulate yet very disturbed characters seem to be Toltz's thing. Not that I'm complaining, since I very much enjoy these characters, but all the same. There's a sort of surreal, almost forced - forcedness - to them, in that they are so incredibly thrown, although they don't disintegrate into flatness because of that, which I think is a piece of work in and of itself. That being said, I enjoyed A Fraction of a Whole more than I did Quicksand, in that I was able to immerse myself much more into the world of the story. I'm sure I missed so many allusions and references to other literary works in both novels that there's much to be said about reading them both again, with a bit more focus, but in terms of the sort of relaxing read that is about all that I'm in the mood to read about right now (in terms of ease of reading, not in terms of being uninformative or uncritical), this ranks a little lower down the list than expected, based on my memory of the first novel.
  7. Born to Be Blue (2015)
  8. The Memory Illusion by Julia Shaw
    • I'm probably remembering wrong, or not all of what I read, but I'm almost positive that I learned all this at some point or another throughout my psychology degree, to some degree. Which is not to say that a reminder course every now and again isn't good to keep me on my toes and continue to make me doubt my memories & their veracity, but anyway. A great crash course into the fallible nature of memories.
    • Does this mean we fabricate our own identities more than we may like to admit? In that case, shouldn't we simply own up to it, and not say that we're "phony" (rather to die than to be phony, was it? Catcher in the Rye reference referenced in At The Existentialist Cafe), but instead make full use of our freedom to choose who to be?
  9. At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell
    • Alternative title suggestion: 50 Reasons You Should Be In Love With Jean-Paul Sartre
    • I read this book very much as a love story.
    • Bakewell renders Sartre into literally the most adorable human being of all time, in the same way in which I view Plato's portrayal of Socrates as being adorable, except maybe more so. Just a teaser: when tasked to write a foreword for Genet's book, Sartre hands over a 700-page manuscript, though no word on whether he got that foreword done or not; and even though he didn't know much English, by the second time he went to America, someone (I forget who) was struck by his loquacity despite that little inconvenience - I'm paraphrasing Bakewell here, but, he couldn't say much, but he just wouldn't shut up! Also, Bakewell does wonders with the literary device of foreshadowing. Reading Sartre's foibles & (what appear in hindsight and at a remove, as I am reading now) horribly executed freedom - his practice of existentialism within his own life? - is akin to what I would imagine watching a trainwreck would be like, except combine that experience with that depicted in No Longer Human (by Osamu Dazai). On the topic of Camus' death, Sartre noted that he was probably the last good friend (despite their major falling out prior to his death after which communications were superficial and sparse). Merleau-Ponty, on the topic of Sartre, spoke something along the lines of "Il est bon", even if it doesn't come across in Sartre's writings, etc. He is essentially good, and in Bakewell's portrayal of him, it is heartrendingly sad in a way that rips you apart precisely because you know he is doing what he thinks is in the best interests of everyone, or he thinks he is right, and is only doing what is in accordance with what is right. For all his decisions that might be frowned upon, he was essentially good. That's what makes Bakewell's rendering of his story all the more tragic.
    • Bakewell has an incredibly engaging style of writing and I would very much like to read her other works. It probably helps that, like her, I was besotted with Sartre & the idea of existentialism in high school, very likely around the same age as she was when she became enthralled with him. And I still remain so now (if it wasn't obvious by the above paragraph on how adorable Sartre is and how I basically have no trouble at all believing that for all his physical imperfections he had no troubles scoring lovers & admirers), if in a slightly different way.
  10. The Epiplectic Bicycle by Edward Gorey
    • ... what did I just read? Did I miss a joke, or some allegory, or perhaps a variety of literary references? Did some literary devices just pass me by? I'm so incredibly confused. What does epiplectic even mean? Why 14 yellow boots? Why an obelisk? WHO ARE THESE SIBLINGS?
Working on:
  1. KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
    • Saw it on a list somewhere, I think (new additions to the library, perhaps? I do believe I'm the first person to get this book), towards the end of my reading about Ravensbruck. Apparently there's a memoir by a concentration camp prisoner called If This is a Man, which I didn't know about, and which makes the title for the book on Ravensbruck (If This is a Woman) make sense also, as a nod to that. But Helm also mentioned the phrase, 'if this is a woman' in some other context - poetry, I think? - and possibly also as one of those quotations that starts off a chapter; I'm not sure what those are called.
  2. The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert
    • I'm halfway through this book or so and I have SO MANY THINGS TO SAY. But I'll satisfy myself with just one comment for now: if you're going to write a book about a historical subject such as this, which has been written about before, and recently to boot (e.g. Meyer), and you're not going to contribute anything new, in either sources or interpretation, and it's not even going to be as thorough - perhaps I'm being too harsh here, so let's tone that down to more thorough - than the previous books, what's the point? I did a research project for my personality disorders course on Cesare Borgia, so maybe it's only because I've read up on at least one person from the family (though all of the books touched upon pretty much all the members of the family) that I'm incredibly frustrated and tempted to just drop this book altogether. That being said, I want to believe there's some redeeming feature to it, so I'm going to finish it before ranting on.
    • I lied; one more note: there are no footnotes/endnotes/in-text citations. Zilch! Nada! How are the readers supposed to know who said what when, and judge whether the sources are reliable in which circumstance? I mean, anyone looking to read about the Borgias has more than enough old sources if they want to read about juicy gossip and myth-making. Is this actually just a gossip column on people long gone? A republishing of all the malicious rumours? It seems as though Hibbert has just been repeating every slander that could possibly have been said against the Borgias and not looking into the truth of every one of them as far as can be investigated; he is very clearly biased in his approach is the feeling you immediately get upon reading. Anyway.
  3. The Evolution of God by Edward Wright

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