I’m continuing my monthly series reflecting on my reading list throughout 2022. This entry will cover the reading I managed to get done in July 2022, including Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Margaret Atwood’s Dancing Girls and Other Stories, and a fascinating philosophical work entitled Schopenhauer & Nietzsche by Georg Simmel. If you’re interested in seeing my top ten books from last year, please see the following link:
Top Ten Books I Read in 2021
Early in the pandemic, around June 2020, after spending five weeks waiting for the world to end, I decided to make two…
A Word on Method
I average about two hours of reading per day. One hour I spend reading works from Martin Seymour-Smith’s The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, beginning in 2022 near the middle of Philo’s complete works. After finishing his complete works this month, and an article on his method of allegorical interpretation, I’ve embarked on a reading of the New Testament after a quick stop through Marx and Engels. Another hour is spent at night before bed, reading from a stack of books on my nightstand I replenish as needed. Each stack contains thirteen regular authors I’m reading chronologically and seven other works from whatever I happened to find in used bookstores or thrift shops or might be a timely read. As of the beginning of this year, I’m also working on an historical fiction work of indeterminate size, which will require re-reading a few classics over the next few months.
Philosophy in the Age of Information
Most of my research time this month was spent on giving myself a refresher on Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche by way of an overview from Georg Simmel. I set out on a quest to link up Kant, Nietzsche, and Simmel into an interesting look at the ethics of social media but came away with some amazing insights and new directions about the Age of Information as a whole, enough for at least four articles that work as a cohesive whole, including a lengthy one on my original topic at the end. However, to arrive at that original destination, I needed to borrow and extend a few concepts from Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Simmel.
The first article in this series is entitled “The Edges of Understanding”, which provides a summation of Kant’s theory of transcendental idealism as a framework for understanding the Age of Information, applying it to scientific endeavor, and then extending the concept into the Age of Information by defining a concept called the information world. A second article will follow next month extending this framework even further, which will consider the metaphysical assumptions of scientific endeavor and how well they translate into the information world. Future articles will look at embedding our systems of ethics within the life process as a common basis for understanding ethical value, and eventually an epistemological approach to ethics in the Age of Information.
Here’s a link to the “The Edges of Understanding”. It’s about a twenty-minute read:
The Edges of Understanding
An effort to find the edges of our understanding using Kant’s framework of transcendental idealism and by defining the…
New Testament Studies
The next work after Philo’s Allegorical Interpretation in Martin Seymour-Smith’s The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written is the New Testament. It will be my third or fourth reading: it’s hard to tell as a former Catholic who diligently followed the liturgical year and participated in the occasional bible study. My focus for this reading will be on the early Christian communities, the influence of the Essene communities on their formation, the influence of the teachings of Jesus and St. Paul on their development, and how these communities were an inspiration for communist philosophies.
I’m heavily inspired by Acts 2:42–47, which describes the communal life of the early Christian communities. I’m also inspired by a moment in college when I stumped the professor and my classmates by asking why American Christians resist communism so much when it is considered the ideal Christian community in the Bible. This effort will explore and answer that question, with the help of Philo, Josephus, Marx, Engels, and Kant. To ground my reading, this month I finished another re-reading of The Communist Manifesto to refresh myself on historical determinism and the role of material conditions on society.
Here’s an example of the kind of article I’m hoping to write. The article covers Philo’s concept of allegorical interpretation and how it can be applied to religious scriptures today. It is a 37-minute read, for those interested in philosophy, theology, and the ongoing dispute between scientific understanding and religious scripture.
Allegorical Interpretation and the Future of Scripture
A look at Philo’s method of allegorical interpretation and a look at one future for religious scripture.
Here are the 11 books I finished in July 2022.
Arundhati Roy — The God of Small Things (1997)
Roy’s first novel, which covers the political and social turmoil of post-colonial life in Kerala, India, centered around the tragic events involving a pair of fraternal twins and their mother’s love for an “untouchable” man. Roy’s narrative is disjointed, moving freely between three generations of storytelling to understand what leads up to the tragic events and to understand their aftermath. Her prose style playfully uses neologism and deconstruction to create a new vocabulary, very akin to the later experiments of James Joyce or the word jazz of Jack Kerouac. I personally liked seeing the complex relationship of the Communist Party in 1960s Kerala to the larger cultural and social concerns, especially the persistence of the caste system. Not a feel-good story, but a story packed with a lot of feeling.
Delia Owens — Where the Crawdads Sing (2018)
My spouse recommended I give this novel a read before the movie came out, after a copy leaped off the thrift store shelf at us one afternoon. The novel is part of a large sub-genre of poor, Southern white women with good hearts struggling to survive despite their origins. Owens’ historical novel considers a six-year-old who scratches out a living in the marsh and finds herself accused of murdering her local town’s football hero later in life. The book has a lot of red flags for me: white noble savage character, who has cache with and access to non-white populations, yet still doesn’t fully understand the concept of privilege because of their poverty. I was particularly leery about the monolithic presentation of the non-white characters, which raises an ongoing question for me about the responsibility of white authors in dealing with non-white characters for my next article in my Breaking White Solidarity series. The final chapters accelerate and almost cement these unseen themes of social privilege. Interesting concept, but mixed feelings about the storytelling.
Immanuel Kant — Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785)
Look, I know discussing the metaphysical properties of a purely rational system of ethics may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was exactly what I was looking for during my college years after becoming fed up with Christian morality along with “because I said so” and “it’s the law” reasoning. Kant’s categorical imperative basically says that we should only perform an action if we can imagine a world that made sense where everyone performed that action in the same circumstances. When I first learned about Kant’s categorical imperative, I was fascinated by its simplicity. Reading this work twenty years later, I can appreciate how Kant was fascinated with the same simplicity, but also the complexity that springs from it, particularly a “kingdom of ends” where everyone follows the same system. Would not recommend this book to anyone unwilling to slog through a deeply philosophical work, but it truly is one of the foundational texts when it comes to modern ethics and modern ethical thinking.
Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels — The Communist Manifesto (1848)
I think this is the second or third time I’ve read this short pamphlet all the way through, the same one I’ve been carrying around since college after buying a used copy at a book sale. It reads differently now after finishing five of Peter Kroptokin’s works, and I’ve begun to appreciate the diversity of socialist and communist ideas from that time period. Marx and Engel’s theories of historical determinism and the relationship between our material conditions and our philosophies remains fundamental for understanding our capitalist world and the reasons for its inevitable collapse through over-exploitation. Marx and Engels need not be correct about the efficacy of communism to understand the failures of unchecked capitalism. Perhaps the only thing in which I take some comfort is that the proletariat is finally growing large enough to understand its own untapped power, which can only lead to change. In fact, the material conditions have changed so much since their time that it almost seems appropriate to draft a new manifesto for today’s times, an act that I believe both Marx and Engels would encourage.
Virginia Woolf — Monday or Tuesday (1921)
Woolf’s first anthology of short stories, which includes “The Mark on the Wall” from the initial publication from Woolf’s Hogarth Press, Two Stories. This anthology really begins to showcase Woolf’s developing experimental style, with loads of stream-of-consciousness and tangential perspectives to almost dazzle the reader with every word. One must sometimes completely let go of any throughline to appreciate the beauty of her prose, a technique I also use with Kerouac when he really begins to meander. I can understand why Lynne Truss returned repeatedly to Woolf’s use of punctuation within Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. Woolf’s style breaks most punctuation rules while creating new stylistic uses mimicked by authors that would follow. This anthology makes me look forward to watching this style blossom and mature in her work during my chronological reading.
Margaret Atwood — Dancing Girls and Other Stories (1977)
Atwood’s first short story anthology, collecting works from the 1970s from other publications, plus a few new ones. Her short story process is a nice fusion of her fictional writing and her poetic work, blended with her wry, cynical, and compulsive narrative style. As this month shows, I’ve been working on reading more work from female authors, and each work is bringing me loads of insight from their standpoint, particularly concerning the male gaze and social expectations. It’s always disconcerting to see myself as a man reflected back in her writing, because it just confirms in print (from before my birth) what women thought, something I only really began to understand in feminist philosophy and through experience outside of college by listening instead of speaking. More men should read works that make them uncomfortable. Highlights in this anthology include the delightfully disconcerting “A Travel Piece” and the deeply disturbing “When It Happens”, which pulled me completely out of a drowsy state before bed with every word and left me unable to sleep for quite a while.
Georg Simmel — Schopenhauer & Nietzsche (1907)
George Simmel was a German sociologist whose work would become one of the major underpinnings of sociology as a scientific discipline, but he was also a philosopher in the interdisciplinary way of continental Europeans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Schopenhauer & Nietzsche is an overview of the important aspects of each philosopher’s work, their place in cultural history, and the ways in which their lives may have influenced their philosophies. Simmel focuses on Schopenhauer’s metaphysical pessimism and Nietzsche’s life-affirming optimism as undercurrents in each philosophical worldview. This particular translation by Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein, and Michael Weinstein includes a fifty-page introduction that was invaluable in trudging my way through this book, especially as I began to wrestle with concepts I hadn’t considered in a meaningful way since college. Fascinating read, but for a philosophical or academic audience.
The Subutai Corporation — The Mongoliad: Book Three (2013)
The third (and largest) collection from the Foreworld Saga continues the disparate yet related threads of action between Rome, Hünern, and the Mongolian plateau. I’ve grown to like this series a lot, despite the high body count at the end of this installment, including characters I cared a great deal about. Book three is the last of the installments to feature Neal Stephenson as a contributor, but there are two more books in the series that tie up the loose ends left by this installment, one by a subset of the Subutai Corporation, and one entirely by Nicole Galland writing once again as her pseudonym, E.D. deBirmingham. It will be interesting to see just how many of the moral mystical elements introduced towards the end of book three show up in the final two works, and how much more information we may get about the Shield-Brethren as an organization.
Richard Matheson — I Am Legend (1954)
Matheson’s seminal work combines the classic vampire and evolving zombie genres into one post-apocalyptic thrill ride through sexual frustration and alcoholism. Matheson has an excellent concept here, one which would influence the greats like Romero, who unambiguously states that he stole this idea for a short story that would become the genre-defining Night of the Living Dead, along with other talents like Stephen King and Danny Boyle. It’s also been the inspiration for three different adaptations, the most recent in 2007 starring Will Smith. However, Matheson’s execution is not very good, lacking descriptions and cohesion for his characters, a common problem for the so-called golden era of science fiction in the 1950s. This book will probably only appeal to genre fans, and particularly white, male ones at that. Luckily, my copy of I Am Legend published during the 2007 movie promotion also included a small anthology of Matheson’s short stories. Each short story makes much better use of his style and technique, some becoming radio and television adaptations, while many of the stories notably containing all the usual social problems buried in the narratives by white, male writers during the 1950s. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, because I appreciated the influence this work has on the genre, but I wasn’t as impressed as I was hoping to be because so many other authors have done much better versions of the same tale since its initial publication.
William S. Burroughs — Cobble Stone Gardens (1976)
A short cut-up work where Burroughs reflects on his childhood in St. Louis and the nature of his strained relationship with his wealthy parents, jumbled together with the usual frustration with White America. This edition was released by Cherry Valley Editions, with fifty copies signed by Burroughs, although I’m not lucky enough to own one of those copies. This edition includes several pictures from either Burroughs’ childhood or scenes from history, adding some weird juxtapositions to the prose. I wouldn’t recommend the cost of running down one of these copies, as the whole work is reprinted in The Burroughs File which is much easier to find, but it is a neat piece of history and gives me ideas for my own experimental chapbooks, in the same tradition as Burroughs, Atwood, Le Guin, and pioneered as mentioned earlier by Virginia Woolf.
Kurt Vonnegut — Fates Worse Than Death (1991)
Vonnegut’s second autobiographical collage, a quasi-experimental format of collecting his various speeches, articles, and other errata into an autobiographical review of his life. The first was Palm Sunday which I found to be an interesting read and will probably inspire me when putting together memoirs later in life. This second collage delves into a lot of difficult topics, including his parents’ deaths, the divorce and later loss of his first wife, and his suicide attempt in 1984, along with living through the Reagan/Bush years with wide open eyes. I wasn’t aware or had forgotten about his suicide attempt, which changes a lot of my views of his later works, particularly after reading Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut. His perspective also made me reconsider a lot of the carefree nature of my late 80s / early 90s childhood and adolescence, especially in rural America.
I’ll be doing a lot of reading next month, both for research and for pleasure. For research, I’ll be working between a few works each day, with regular reading from the New Testament, Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I’ll be continuing to flesh out my articles on the Age of Information. I think I’m finding the rhythm and ability to balance multiple projects and reaping the rewards of intense reading and note-taking as a font for new writing ideas.
For pleasure, I’m looking to finish up another stack of twenty books in August, which includes Christopher Moore’s Secondhand Souls, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer, T.C. Boyle’s first omnibus anthology appropriately titled T.C. Boyle Stories, and Robert E. Howard’s The Scarlet Citadel. I try not to plan too much when selecting another stack of books, but I do know that I’ll be including Toni Morrison’s Sula and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The former I found while thrift shopping in Oxnard recently; the latter I’m reading as grounding for reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies… like the serious reader I am.
See you then!
Here are links to my previous entries for 2022:
Reading Roundup: January 2022
Rounding up books read during January 2022, along with accompanying writing pieces when appropriate.
Reading Roundup: February 2022
Rounding up books read during February 2022, along with accompanying writing pieces when appropriate.
Reading Roundup: March 2022
I’m continuing my monthly series reflecting on my reading list throughout 2022. This entry for March 2022 will cover…
Reading Roundup: April 2022
Rounding up books read during April 2022, along with accompanying writing pieces when appropriate.
Reading Roundup: May 2022
I’m continuing my monthly series reflecting on my reading list throughout 2022. This entry for May 2022 will cover the…