Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mid-year reading update

Half way into 2017, already. Six months have gone by in a flash. Time to take stock.

I could read 25 books over the last six months. This has been one of my better reading years so far. I am fortunate in terms of time to read, and access to good books. List of books here. And notes as follows:
  • Non-fiction – 4 books so far. Aspiration was 6, one for each month. Antifragile, The Gene, Qbism and The Undoing Project.
  • Short Stories – By Chekhov, Nadine Gordimer and Knut Hamsun. Gordimer’s was an excellent collection (Jump and other stories). Little brilliant morsels to be savoured, not devoured. So, so heartbreaking. Touching one to the core.
  • Science Fiction – A bit of Isaac Asimov (Foundation, Prelude to Foundation and Bicentennial Man). Loved Foundation, but by the time of Prelude…, I think the novelty of the imaginary universe created in Foundation had worn off, and most science fiction is to be read for where it can transport you, not for the language (I believe) or the dialogue, or the characters. They are functional and means to an end, not really aesthetic or the end itself of that art form. I could also read Snow Crash, Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World.  Maybe not all is science fiction, but a lot of dystopian, alternate reality fiction. Loved parts of Snow Crash. Somehow reminded me of David Foster Wallace, the way a replica or a picture is reminiscent of something which is not there.
  • The French –Stendhal (The Red and the Black), Zola (The Ladies’ Paradise). The first one is the first modern novel ever, and Zola’s is literally an education in modern retail – modeled on the first department store ever. Stendhal’s was set in 1820s and Zola’s in 1860s France.
  • The Russians – A fair bit. Chekhov and Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago), and struggled and reached midway somewhere in the 1000-pages long August 1914.  I’ll begin it again sometime soon. I am currently reading Sketches from A Hunter’s Album by Ivan Turgenev. And some Russian poetry (and poetry in translation is not the real thing. Thinking again of the analogy of a picture to the real thing). Curiosity got piqued with Zhivago’s poetry, and of course Joseph Brodsky’s essays which I dip in here and there refer to a lot of Russian poetry, and Brodsky’s own poems. Poetry is not something I read cover to cover, just here and there when gripped by the desire.
  • My first Dickens was read this year. I read Great Expectations. Enjoyed it. The complexity grew as the narrator grew. Was interesting to compare Pip with Julian from the Red and the Black – their inner lives and adventures in the same times but different country, a different social set and a vastly different culture.
  • Known authors, new books – Henry James (The Europeans), Knausgaard (second book in My Struggle - A Man in Love), Coetzee (Boyhood: Scenes from a Provincial Life), Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms). From all over the place. Coetzee's is poignant. Stark, crisp, pithy narrative but so, so rich in imagery. Didn't really enjoy this one from Hemingway. I think I enjoyed his short stories most. And for Knausgaard, I have to say that I am drawn in, I read and I read, but eventually it all starts feeling quite petty, negative and irritating. I then leave a note to self to not go in that direction in the future, but I know from my past experience that my reading foot-steps will find their way again to the next in series, but hopefully, not until next year.
  • New authors - Tea Obreht (The Tiger's Wife), Michael Onadtaaje (The English Patient), Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana). And many of the above listed Russians, French, Orwell, Huxley, Stephenson, NF authors. The English Patient - the book was impressive, the movie not as much. Liked the poetic feel. And a good narrative in a good literary style which was not a translation or a classic. Dreamy. Sad. Questions everything since it is set up in a time which questioned everything for its people.
  • And all those unfinished books which do not make it to the list -  August 1914, Paul Aster’s 4321, Thinking Fast and Slow, poetry books, and a lot many non fiction - essay or non fiction books by fiction writers, history, economics, the new world/ popular culture books and subjects that I feel drawn to at the moment. But since the completed list is cover to cover, they do not make it to the list. For non-fiction, my approach is to explore wide, open many ideas, and I believe in serendipity, of juxtaposing ideas, of contrasting approaches and subjects. One is then not bound to finish the book, but well placed to draw what one needs, and move forward. One such area for me is Science. Reading on the deeper questions of stuff we are made up of, and trying to fathom the concept of reality itself is a philosophical, mystical thought space for me. I like going there often. It connects me to how I feel about most things, and it lends me good sense. Some people find that in meditation, some in religion. I find it in trying to understand the forces that manifest us. It lends me the necessary sense of awe, humility and wonder, and a lot of perspective.
I only wish that some of the science were easier to understand. It is a proper garden of forking paths out there. And it is evolving, and forking as we speak. And sometimes, backtracking on itself. QBism has currently sent me to the Bayesian Probability world, and I am also tracing my steps back on the science since I do not understand everything. Resorting to some interesting picture books on Quantum. Will post a few pics here as keepsake.