Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Arthur C Clarke

 For the reading list, I have in mind doing a quick hit on each author as they come up. To help in understanding who they are. I'm going to try and do a Q&A approach and see if I like the way that works.


What is the first book on the list and who wrote it?

It's 'Childhood's End' by Arthur C Clarke.

Does he have anything else on the list?

Yes. This is one of three that made the list. 'Childhood's End' is at #49. He also has '2001: A Space Odyssey' at #24 and 'Rendezvous with Rama' at #76. 

Have you read his work before?

Yes. We did 'Childhood's End' in a science fiction class in high school. I read it then and I've read it on my own at least one other time before this list. I've also read 'Rama' before. 

But not 2001?

No. I have the short story that inspired the movie, but I haven't read it before. My understanding is that he expanded that short story into a full length book. I *think* that's what we'll read for the list.

What do you know about him?

He was one of the Big Three of sci-fi authors, along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. The three of them dominated the genre for a while, at least by reputation. Of those three, I've read the least of Clarke. The history of science fiction in the 20th century can't be told with him.

Have you read any of his other books?

Yes. At least two others. 'Fountains of Paradise' is an excellent book that popularized the idea of a space elevator to the broad public. 'Songs of Distant Earth' is a very good work about a colony world that is visited by a generation ship. I'd recommend either of them to others. I would describe his writing as 'gentle'. 

Is he known for anything else?

He is. Like lots of science fiction authors, he has actually done some important science. The story is a bit unclear, but he appears to have come up with the idea of the geosynchronous orbit. Satellites are boosted to this altitude and speed because it allows them to orbit above a fixed point on the Earth. This means that a signal from that "bird" stays steady as it broadcasts down below.

Anything else interesting about him?

Clarke was English. In 1956, he moved to Sri Lanka where he lived for the rest of his life. He was an avid scuba diver and helped find several ancient shipwrecks. He was also gay, though this was kept quiet for most of his life. In 2000, he was knighted. He died in 2008. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

A New Reading List

 Back from the dead! (Kind of.)

I'm reviving this blog to keep track of my thoughts on a new reading list. This is not based on the Great Books of the Western World. Having spent years among the great thinkers of the past, I'm going to read about the future. (Again, kind of.)

I'm going to work my way through this list, based on an NPR poll of it's listeners and readers. They asked for recommendations of the best Science Fiction and Fantasy books and tabulated the top 100. It's a strong list and I'm excited to work through it. 

Stats! (Which will almost certainly only interest me!) As of today, September 13, 2021, I have read 49 of the 100 books selected. I own 63 of them, so I'll have to find the other 37 while I'm reading. In most cases, I think this will be easy enough to do. The list was published in 2011 and the most recent book is from 2010. Used bookstores will be very helpful. 

So what's the plan?

  • Ten books per year. Each one will be given a month to do. The two months off are yet to be determined. The first one will start in October of this year.
  • The ten books will be selected at random each year. In theory, this will give a good mix to the reading, instead of all one genre or classic status.  
  • No more than one book per author per year. There are a few authors with three or four books on the list. When I'm making random selections, if one of their books comes up, I'll declare the others off limits. If they are left towards the end, I'll make sure that at least is one is chosen in each of the remaining years to make it all work out. 
  • Several series are on the list. In those cases, I'll tackle the first book of the series and see what I think. The mere thought of a ten book story makes me shudder, but maybe I'll get over that and plunge through. It's certainly possible that I'll become interested enough in the royal family of Book One and the rebel quest for the Coveted Item. 

  • I'm reading this in conjunction with a Facebook group, which is located here. If you've stumbled across this and are interested in joining in, please do.
  • I'll seek out "guides" for books and series that I'm not familiar with. This will be helpful in order to let people know what to expect from a book/series and how much they should invest in it. For instance, I know that Neal Stephenson's 'Anathem' is a great book, but I can confidently say that if you're not interested after 200 pages, don't bother with the other 800. 

So what's on the list for the first year? Some pretty good stuff:

Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Time Machine by H G Wells

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

Dune by Frank Herbert


I'll post some thing about the author and whatnot that are, again, almost certainly only interesting to me. But there you have it. If you are reading this and feel at all interested, please do join in. The more the merrier! 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

First Rule of Philosophy

Last fall I took a Philosophy class. I thought it would be a piece of cake because I'd been reading so much philosophy with the Great Books work. Well...it was ok. We mostly covered philosophical concepts and I can understand those to some extent. In fact, it's often much easier to understand a description of a philosophical concept than it is to understand the original philosopher's writings about it.
I wanted to mention a part of it though. One of the books that we worked with is a small volume called  'The Practice of Philosophy' by Jay Rosenberg. Rosenberg is very good at the descriptions that I mentioned above and the book is well worth your time. Much of the book is an expanded look at logic and logic forms.
The highlight for me though, was what he formulated as Rule One of philosophy:
Any opinion for which one can give reasons is admissible in philosophy, but once a claim has been supported by an argument, subsequent criticism must then engage the argument.

So if I tell you that X is better than Y for reasons 1, 2 and 3, you must then grapple with reasons 1, 2 and 3 if you're going to tell me that Y is in fact better than X. This makes complete sense, of course. If an intelligent reader sees you argue against 1 and then pretend that everything is settled, then they should be skeptical that you couldn't argue against 2 and 3.
Or worse, they may see someone dismiss any possible argument without even bothering to engage. That's absolutely plaguing our discourse today.
Would that this rule was taught in every school!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

To Be Or Not To Be

I'm reading Harold Bloom's 'Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human' and finding it fascinating. Bloom has a chapter on each play, grouped by category but also chronologically. This allows him to compare characters to previous characters and, in part, charts how Shakespeare's progress developed. I'm hugely enjoying it, and (once again) am thankful that I read all of the Bard's plays last year.
One very interesting idea that Bloom uses has to do with the Shakespearian soliloquy. He believes that the character, while talking to themselves, overhears what they are saying and then reacts to that. In turn, they develop their character based on what they've learned. In effect, they ideas that they lay out are not fully developed. They may even come as a surprise.
I'm imagining Hamlet's famous line then as something like this: "To be or not to be, that (?!?) is the question?" Hamlet is surprised that he has come to a question of suicide as a way out. He then weighs the pros and cons and continues.
Frankly I love this idea.


Bloom is also in love with Falstaff, especially of Henry IV, part 1. He loves Falstaff's vitality and life force. I can't blame him. Bloom also says that we are wrong to see Falstaff as a coward and I can't quite read that version out of what the text tells me. Which isn't to say that Bloom is wrong. Merely that I need to reread the play.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Brag

(Posted here because I'm not sure who because infrequent postings making this semi-private.)

In the past 14 months or so, I've read:

  • Moby Dick
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Odyssey
  • Chaucer's Tales
  • Don Quixote
  • Tom Jones
  • All of Shakespeare's plays
  • now 1/4 of the way through War and Peace
This is easily the highest quality per average book that I've had in my life and I don't know that I'll ever approach it again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quotes from Shakespeare

This weekend, I was working with my daughter on some passages from Shakespeare.  (I wrote about this project many months ago.  The project got side-tracked but we decided to start over with the school year.)  The passage she was memorizing is that great one where Puck ends with "Lord, what fools these mortals be!".
I told her it was one of my favorites and that I'd used it for a little project of mine.  Back in April, in time for Shakespeare's birthday/death day anniversary, I prepared a quote from each play.  The idea was to hang them on trees in a park as an homage to 'As You Like It'.  It didn't happen then, because I couldn't find the right place, but I still have hopes for it.
Each quote has its own page.  I showed them too her and she leafed through each one, trying to read them cold.  If her reading didn't make sense, I'd read it again.  As she went through, she'd give little commentaries on how she liked this one and that one.
I couldn't help thinking, "These are hand picked quotes from Shakespeare of all people.  Of course you're going to like them!"