Wednesday, May 20, 2015

books books books

A while ago I started keeping a list of books I read, because otherwise I'll just forget. If I have the titles, I'll usually remember a lot about it.

Obviously I would want to count them, but until this year, it never occurred to me to just put them in an HTML numbered list. That makes counting much easier, though since I'm lazy and I condense series into one entry, I still have to do math. I add books in the year that I finish them, which is the only sensible way to do it.

Last year I finished 42 books. I discovered some really excellent series that jacked up the numbers, but even so, that's 0.8 books per week. I also worked full-time, but you can tell who's doing most of the parenting chores, and it's not me.

This year I've finished 21 books, and the list is a bit less fluffy than 2014. This is also the 21st week of the year. I'm pretty split now between e-books and paper books; the e-books particularly feed my lifelong habit of reading a dozen books at once, because I borrow them through the Kindle app in my iPhone and iPad, and if I don't finish them but borrow them again later, the Kindle app remembers my place and any notes I made and everything. I have some long-running project books:
  • Cubed - Nikil Saval.
  • Consider the Fork - Bee Wilson.
  • Plato at the Googleplex - Rebecca Goldstein.
  • Notes of A Native Son - James Baldwin.
  • A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn.
  • Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck.
  • Moby-Dick - Herman Melville.
It's not a coincidence that most of these are information-dense non-fiction. I sometimes have a hard time focusing these days.

Grapes of Wrath I read in high school, but after being blown away by East of Eden in Chile, I re-read Of Mice and Men last year, and clearly Younger Chris did not properly appreciate Steinbeck.

Moby-Dick (1852) is fascinating. I use it for bedtime reading, because nothing happens and it calms my mind. It's exquisitely crafted, but...what is it, exactly? Is it a novel? I can only appreciate it if I set aside my preconceived notions of a novel as a Story about Events involving Characters who might change somehow by the end of the book. There is a plot, but it doesn't appear until about 20% through the book. Melville just wasn't in any hurry.
"Come, dear reader, and let your Ishmael tell you, not about a ship or its captain or some stupid whale or whatever. Sit with me as I wax rapturous about the glories of shipboard living, the importance of the harpooneer, the fine hand-crafted details of the pulpit in the fishermen's church."
The pulpit took at least 2 pages. No joke. This author is deeply, passionately committed to describing things.

I like it, though! Now that we're actually on the ship and we've met the psychotic captain, there's a lot of Shakespearean vibes going on. Melville coins words like Shakespeare did: overscorning is the one that sticks with me, but several times I've typed a word into Google when the Kindle dictionary didn't know it, and the only reference is to quote Melville's passage. The guy loved English.

Now that I think of it, there's a woeful amount of Shakespeare I've never read. Maybe that can be the next thing to put me to sleep.

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