There exists in my house a shelf which I call The Bookshelf of Guilt. It’s reserved for all those really thick tomes that I usually avoid, not because I don’t want to read them but because they are so Big. It’s easy to spend years shying away from these massive books that sit judging you every time you pick a ‘normal’ sized book.
Reason suggests that reading shorter books will allow you to experience more now, and will also mean more time to read the longer books ‘sometime later on’. Let’s be honest it won’t happen, with that reasoning.
I set myself a goal to read one such big book a year, mainly because people gravitate to the largest book on a shelf and without fail ask if I have read it. That was half the reason I got around to reading War and Peace. Choosing this time was fairly easy. The Brothers Karamazov, and The Mysteries of Paris were in the early running, to name but two but I finally I narrowed it down to a couple of philosophy books in the end.
After so many recent fiction reads it seemed sensible to mix things up a bit. My next read was chosen from the non fiction pile, and finally came down to either: Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy or Diarmaid MacCulloch’s A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.Continue reading “Murdering Books”
There is something strange about watching the news, specifically when they greet viewers just joining from overseas when it is last thing at night in your mind, now I get to watch the same shows on BBC News that I used to drop off to, with my morning coffee. Had I been up late watching, I would have certainly forgotten to check out The Hundred Stories That Shaped the World by the next morning.
I’m not sure if this flew under the radar back home or not but for those of you not familiar, here is the catch up. In April the BBC polled authors, academics, journalists, critics, translators in 35 countries to nominate five works of fiction that they felt had changed or shaped history. The top ten with the most votes were as follows:
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC) 2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852) 3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818) 4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949) 5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958) 6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries) 7. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615) 8. Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603) 9. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967) 10. The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)
The other 80 books of the list, and the author’s reasons for picking the top ten can all be found here and is well worth a look. As I never usually bother to ask pointed questions, as I know you lot are intelligent enough to pick up on my unspoken cues and will always give me good comments, I may as well, for novelty’s sake, indulge in doing just that for once.
What fictional books do you believe have changed or shaped history, and/or the works that have changed or shaped your personal views upon life? Did the Harry Potter series really deserve to be on the list? Feel free to add and answer our own questions as well, such is my generosity.
The second entry in a (very) occasional series of words that caught and held my attention, that are well worth sharing.
“Human relationships flourish and decay, quickly and silently, so that those concerned scarcely know how brittle, or how inflexible, the ties that bind them have become.” – Anthony Powell – A Question of Upbringing
“He reached for his pocket, and found there, only reality” – Victor Hugo – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
“He was one of the numerous and varied legion of dullards, of half-animated abortions, conceited, half-educated coxcombs, who attach themselves to the idea most in fashion only to vulgarize it and who caricature every cause they serve, however sincerely.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment
“Proof is what lies at the heart of maths, and is what marks it out from other sciences. Other sciences have hypotheses that are tested against experimental evidence until they fail, and are overtaken by new hypotheses. In maths, absolute proof is the goal, and once something is proved, it is proved forever, with no room for change.” – Simon Singh – Fermat’s Last Theorem Continue reading “Reading out Loud #2”
The first edition of Tally’s Corner, a sociological classic selling more than one million copies, was the first compelling response to the culture of poverty thesis-that the poor are different and, according to conservatives, morally inferior-and alternative explanations that many African-Americans are caught in a tangle of pathology owing to the absence of black men in families. The debate has raged up to the present day. Yet Liebow’s shadow theory of values-especially the values of poor, urban, black men-remains the single most parsimonious account of the reasons why the behavior of the poor appears to be at odds with the values of the American mainstream.
While Elliot Liebow’s vivid narrative of “street-corner” black men remains unchanged, the new introductions to this long-awaited revised edition bring the book up to date. Wilson and Lemert describe the debates since 1965 and situate Liebow’s classic text in respect to current theories of urban poverty and race. They account for what Liebow might have seen had he studied the street corner today after welfare has been virtually ended and the drug economy had taken its toll. They also take stock of how the new global economy is a source of added strain on the urban poor. Discussion of field methods since the 1960s rounds out the book’s new coverage.
I first became aware of this book through reading the excellent The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood; which would eventually form the bedrock of so many storylines in The Wire. In many ways that book is the perfect follow-up to Tally’s Corner, which in itself is a dynamic study of relationships in poorer neighbourhoods and their place in wider society.
This seminal work focuses on a cross-section of a Washington DC street corner society (poor African-American men who work only intermittently if at all) and the local environs. It gives the reader a glimpse into a different world, where the choices both men and women make have come about through the struggle against poverty through generations. It’s a world where different rules apply exclusively to them no matter how absurd some will appear to outsiders.
It is thus, a book that rewards reading and learning not so much with pleasure as with the painful recognition that American race troubles remain so stubbornly at the center of social and economic life.
The above quote underlines the lack of understanding still prevailing all these years on, or perhaps the lack of interest in solving the problems that affect us all in some way. Focussing on the men – who pass mostly under the radar – and their relationships – both work and family – the reader is given an intimate portrait into the life of the time. The cast is fairly sizeable and diverse and all the stories are equally fascinating of challenging in different ways. Continue reading “Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men – Elliot Liebow”
It’s been a while and although this is sadly not the review I mentioned in the last post, it is nonetheless a post. Recently I have been distracted by even more good literature (fiction and non fiction) and I’m really excited to be in the process reviewing. I will do that as soon as I can but first, here is a bunch of new books that cost less than a tenner.
There is a sensible reason for these purchases, wanting to downsize my books somewhat this year, It makes sense to buy more books so I can feel inspired to start clearing the ones I don’t want anymore as I read/review them.This is logical as otherwise I would be drowned by paper through my own laziness and/or hoarding tendencies.
Finally I have returned! After an absolutely tiring week (a fortnight ago now), which is now thankfully over, I managed to not only pack and move to Nottingham but also secure a job closer to my new home. Since then I have largely loafed about flipping my sleeping pattern which is more challenging than I remember from last year. I did manage to unpack the majority of my books though…except for these ones pictured here, which are a moving in present to myself and a celebration of an end to seven months of night work.
I only went in to look for one book (Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies) but not having been around for a while, it morphed from being a secondhand shop with familiar spines to a new treasure trove which combined into a haul faster than those Transformers did to make a really big one in the classic 80’s cartoon and merchandise machine. I was also delighted to note the addition of some chairs and a roaring fire which will make my stays longer now.
There are as ever plenty more good books for me to get down and review and will finally be able to catch up with you all in the next couple of days as well. It’s been too long and there has been little reading in my life of late so I will get back to it soon and hopefully help you out with a few Christmas present ideas.
In a week or two I will be moving house and this has led to the ordering and packing up of my many books, which is strange due to my penchant for appreciating the quirky and often fascinating juxtaposition of books when randomly placed, like the Bible tightly packed next to Christopher Hitchens or Alice in Wonderland next to de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
I have been busy putting my series of books together to be boxed up and it made me think about the times when I used to travel to Nottingham once a fortnight to collect all 21 Famous Five books. Even years ago I was paranoid that the publishers would change the covers so they wouldn’t look as sexy on my shelves.
It all started with Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series which was actually a bit of a blessing, the black covers look a lot better than the less than impressive (to my eye, at least) illustrations of character set pieces. Since then I have always strived to collect the full series in the same cover. Continue reading “Game, Sets and Match”