dirac

What are you reading?

397 posts in this topic

P.S. Mjbelkin and dirac -- If you've read Dawkins' The God Delusion, may I recommend Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters.

I haven't actually read any of the recent polemics, being quite comfortable with my own view of matters and unworried as to whether I’m right or not. But I think it’s nice that there’s a livelier discussion going on. I enjoyed Shermer’s book ‘ Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.’ He’s a very useful fellow to have around.

It’s odd, but I rarely underline anything or make marginal comments, even when I was in school – it either stays in my head or it doesn’t.......

Finally started DeLillo's Falling Man, one of the big new things. Read 3 pages thus far, it starts right in the dust and debris, and gives you a much better idea of what the nightmare on the ground must have looked like in some places not seen in the Daudet film.

I have to start reading DeLillo again. I read several of his early books and began losing touch around, I think it was Underworld. But then I have been reading very little fiction in recent years. I’m trying to remedy this – I just bought Gary Shteyngart’s Russian Debutante’s Handbook and really do intend to get to it shortly.

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I read mostly biographies and right now I am two-thirds of the way through Doris Kearns Goodwin "A Team of Rivals" on the presidency of Lincoln.---it is eye-opening to read of his Cabinet---(most of them did not agree with him)---it is a pleasure sometimes to sink back into the past.....

Not to mention the adroit way Lincoln disposed of the dangerous ones. Gore Vidal gives a nice account of the goings on in his novel, "Lincoln."

I understand that the popularity of biographies has been rising and they are now the most popular form of historical non-fiction. Also recall reading BTW that many men prefer reading non-fiction and some read no fiction at all -- it's a major difference in the reading habits of the sexes, apparently.

Wonderful book

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I'm reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You might remember the murder of the Dutch film director, Theo Van Gogh. Ali wrote the screenplay of the movie that brought about the death of Van Gogh. The book is a very interesting story and thought provoking.

Has anyone else read it?

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P.S. Mjbelkin and dirac -- If you've read Dawkins' The God Delusion, may I recommend Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters. Also, Anthony Gottlieb has an essay discussing (critically, but fairly) Dawkins, Sam Harris' The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great. It's in The New Yorker, May 21, 2007. I've read Harris, a great debater who takes just one side of the debate. I haven't read the Hitchens. I still can't forgive him for his arrogant, strident, and (IMO) delusional claims to be an expert on Iraq and Middle East expert earlier in this decade.

I think when I finish reading it, I shall be heading towards something a bit lighter.

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I came in late to this thread and I have to admit I haven't read all the posts. At the moment I'm re-reading "A Beautiful Mind". Read it several years ago and loved it, then saw the movie and was amazed that it didn't have anything to do with the book! Recently saw the movie again and decided to re-read the book. The 2 are still worlds apart, and the book is still wonderful.

Recently read a book by Christopher Hibbert on the Medici family; loved that too. As a result I've been buying used copies of his books and have a stash awaiting me.

Started "The Ballet Companion" and was enjoying every single word, but then "A Beautiful Mind" entered the picture. I'll get back to "ABC" next.

Giannina

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I'm reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You might remember the murder of the Dutch film director, Theo Van Gogh. Ali wrote the screenplay of the movie that brought about the death of Van Gogh. The book is a very interesting story and thought provoking.

Has anyone else read it?

No, alas, although I've read a lot about it, not the same thing, of course. I, too, would be interested to hear any views of it.

Giannina writes:

I came in late to this thread and I have to admit I haven't read all the posts.

Not to worry. It doesn't matter - we just want to hear from you. :D

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Well, on my trip, I managed to both start and finish Athénaïs by Lisa Hilton, about Louis XIV's greatest mistress, and A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant, a true story of a secret love affair between two young Venetians in the eighteenth century. I'm now starting on Possession, the basis for the movie with the same title starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and finishing up The Bloody Countess by Valentine Penrose, a bizarre, apparently true, tale of Erzsébet Báthory, an unbelievably cruel and clearly mentally ill Hungarian countess of the 17th century.

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finishing up The Bloody Countess by Valentine Penrose, a bizarre, apparently true, tale of Erzsébet Báthory, an unbelievably cruel and clearly mentally ill Hungarian countess of the 17th century.

Holy Moley, THAT sounds like a page turner!!

Giannina

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Indeed. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Bathory thought that bathing in the blood of virgin girls would keep her young or something like that. Hans should be able to fill us in. :)

Giannina writes:

Read it several years ago and loved it, then saw the movie and was amazed that it didn't have anything to do with the book! Recently saw the movie again and decided to re-read the book.

Funny how that works. :jawdrop: I only hopped, skipped, and jumped through 'A Beautiful Mind' sorry to say – nothing against the book, I just became distracted by something else and never got back to it – but the movie version seemed highly sentimental and romanticized. That’s unavoidable up to a point, given the people involved, but I was a little taken aback by the seeming suggestion that mental illness can be cured by the unwavering Love of a Good Woman. An unfortunate simplification of a very complex marriage. Russell Crowe was stupendous, though.

Good luck with ‘Possession,’ Hans, and please report back. I confess I was unable to get through it – too clever by half for me.

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"A Beautiful Mind" was even better the 2nd time.

Giannina

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It IS a page turner, my goodness...but don't read it while eating! Báthory did indeed bathe in the blood of virgins to keep her beauty from fading, but in order to get them to bleed, she tortured them in unimaginably appalling ways, and not just in her own castle, but wherever she went, even as a guest, she had her (also clearly very ill) servants set up a torture chamber for her. What shocks me is how long it all went on as she culled her villages and then others to keep the stream of girls coming, even as rumors spread. Eventually, her servants were put to death and she was walled up in her own castle as punishment.

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What shocks me is how long it all went on as she culled her villages and then others to keep the stream of girls coming, even as rumors spread. Eventually, her servants were put to death and she was walled up in her own castle as punishment.

An unhappy reminder of the power of life and death over ordinary folk that the aristocracy held at certain places and times in the past. Who was going to stop her, after all, until she finally went too far?

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Although their careers were more than a hundred years apart, Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) and Bàthory owed their reputations at least in part to the religio-political climates in which they lived. While Vlad had three forces, Roman, Orthodox and Islamic, vying for his sovereignty over Wallachia, Bàthory had a fourth power, Protestantism, also seeking power in Royal Hungary (now part of Slovakia). At least one Hungarian historian has contended that she was the partial victim of a bad rap. She was vicious, certainly, (Maybe she only bumped off 100 girls instead of 650?) but her detractors had things to gain from blackening her legacy. There are others who contend that she was every bit as bad as she was supposed to have been and worse. For one thing, she was an educated and well-read woman, always bad for the rep in Central Europe, and in her husband's absence, had led his county personally, a clear violation of the law of the Holy Roman Empire, of which Hungary clearly was a part. You have to be kind of fussy when it comes to Renaissance Central Europe as to where your information comes from. Who is your primary source and what is HIS stake in the story?

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Who is your primary source and what is HIS stake in the story?

Georges Bataille wrote at length at Erzbeth, for whom he had great admiration in his weird humble way, along with Gilles de Rais and Marquis de Sade. He wrote that he was sorry that the Marquis had not known about Ms. Bathory, because he would have appreciated her 'infinite cruelty'. Bataille was much involved in the fusion of intense pain and volupte. In that book, 'The Tears of Eros', you can also see pictures of a Chinese man tortured to death. I haven't done research on Ms. Bathory beyond what I read in Bataille, but I am sure that his research, if not his judgment, was always impeccable. There is further development of these matters in my friend Nick Land's book 'The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism.'

There are other rough divas to admire more than the Countess, had more imagination. All the stories of Jezebel in I and II Kings, and her daughter Athaliah's dream of Jezebel in Racine's 'Athalie' are of interest. It was interesting to find that in Isaac Azimov's book on the stories in the Bible, that he seemed to admire 'the old proud Queen Jezebel', but it is unquestionably she who had Naboth stoned in order to steal his vineyard and many other politico-religious crimes. Some of the victims may have indeed been religious fanatics, but few Christians are going to find her admirable, maybe some atheists. Black magic a la Erzbeth in Hungary is more for the fetishist like Bataille himself, and Malraux had condemned the book I mentioned. She is like a nightmare image when you hear the Bathory name anyplace else, e.g., when I read that one of her descendants, a grandson or great-grandson, awarded Franz Liszt a prize of some sort.

There's also a film 'Les Levres Rouges', released in the US as 'Daughters of Darkness', with the glorious Delphine Seyrig who plays an 'Elizabeth Bathory' who is supposed to be Erzbeth's granddaughter, although the character is clearly largely based on Erzbeth herself, but not to great effect. Seyrig, one of the greatest of all French film actresses, is much better viewed in 'Last Year at Marienbad', 'Muriel', or 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.'

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I realized I forgot to mention what I thought of all the other books I've plowed through lately--I really enjoyed Athénaïs. Thought Lisa Hilton did a very good job of bringing this important lady out of relative obscurity without going so far as to whitewash or justify her flaws in the attempt to rehabilitate her reputation. She provides a very intriguing glimpse of Luis XIV's court, and it is interesting to consider this book in relation to similar ones about Mme. de Pompadour, Marie Antoinette, and Josephine Bonaparte.

A Venetian Affair was primarily interesting to me as a collection of long-unknown letters detailing a (mostly) secret affair between one of the last statesment of the Republic of Venice--Andrea Memmo--and an English lord's illegitimate daughter with a Venetian woman--Giustiniana Wynne. However, it is more than that, as it evokes not just 18C Venice, but also Parisian and London society during the Seven Years' War and the decline and eventual fall of La Serenissima. Giustiniana had some extraordinary adventures, and she was an engaging writer (she eventually wrote a novel and a collection of essays), which makes the story even more fun to read.

So far, Possession is leaving me totally cold. I am not able to care about any of the characters, whom I find irritating at best, and while the writing is indeed very good, once I put the book down I do not have the desire to pick it back up again except as something with which to occupy myself on the metro and at lunch, but maybe it just takes time to get into it.

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I only know of Madame de Montespan through my reading of Nancy Mitford’s “The Sun King,” and I am embarrassed to admit I remember not a word of what Mitford said (Madame de Maintenon made a much stronger impression on me for some reason). Must go get the book of the shelf and review. I remember reading something about a poisoning scandal?

So far, Possession is leaving me totally cold. I am not able to care about any of the characters, whom I find irritating at best, and while the writing is indeed very good, once I put the book down I do not have the desire to pick it back up again except as something with which to occupy myself on the metro and at lunch, but maybe it just takes time to get into it.

That’s what I thought, too, and eventually I did give up. Not involving at all, felt like an academic exercise. Anyone out there feel differently?

She is like a nightmare image when you hear the Bathory name anyplace else, e.g., when I read that one of her descendants, a grandson or great-grandson, awarded Franz Liszt a prize of some sort.

Yes, imagine having the distaff Dracula in your family tree. :tiphat:

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I only know of Madame de Montespan through my reading of Nancy Mitford’s “The Sun King,” and I am embarrassed to admit I remember not a word of what Mitford said (Madame de Maintenon made a much stronger impression on me for some reason). Must go get the book of the shelf and review. I remember reading something about a poisoning scandal?

And don't forget, if you're really interested in Louis XIV's court, to read or re-read the Memoirs of Saint-Simon, who was at court and quite disgusted with much of it. This is one of the works Proust always talks about in Recherches, and it's full of wonderful things about the Duc du Maine and the other 'royal bastards.' He's quite good at making you feel that the distance between you and the old moments he's talking about is not there at all, and it's a good complement to the Mitford.

This wiki post is a quick way to get to know the good Duc de Saint-Simon if you don't already.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_de_Rouv..._de_Saint-Simon

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I would like to read the Saint-Simon, which Hilton mentions:

So vivid are the Duc de Saint-Simon's descriptions of the court of Louis XIV that it is easy to forget that he did not arrive there until 1691, and was therefore not an eyewitness to many of the events he detailed. Athénaïs de Montespan was little more than a memory at Versailles for almost all of the time Saint-Simon spent there. His personal agenda, and its political implications, are clear in his memoirs.... Vincent Cronin suggests that "one can be fair to Louis only by treating with extreme caution the writings of a man so hostile to the King"....
Of course that snippet is mostly about Saint-Simon's writing in relation to the subject of Hilton's book.

The Mitford book is another I would like to see, along with her book about the Pompadour (whom, try as I might, I cannot so far admire much)--they've been recommended by a friend as extremely entertaining.

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her book about the Pompadour

Definitely do. It's wonderful, and the layout and interiors of the apartments and other rooms as they existed at the time are very good here.

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The Mitford books are not only entertaining, but lovely to look at; ravishing reproductions and photographs. (Her view of Pompadour is most sympathetic, BTW.)

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Read parts of The God Delusion and The End of Faith. Harris is a fine polemicist but there isn’t anything new or even very interesting in his book. He quotes from parts of the Old and New Testaments in order to disprove or ridicule other parts of it or of Christian beliefs generally, something which has been done before—a lot. He does it well and perhaps it was time to shoot more fish in this particular barrel.

Dawkins has a broader approach but I found it didn’t really speak to me—I felt, for example, while reading his chapter on Aquinas the his five proofs of the existence of god that I had dealt with that sufficiently about 30 years before. Not sure at whom these books are aimed although the publishers knew their markets since both have had very decent sales, Dawkins in particular.

Christopher Hitchens, over the past several years, has become a “desert island” writer for me—he should be on a desert island for a few years.

Three other books:

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon is a terrific book which I flew through in a couple of days. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a book that several people whose opinions I respect, had suggested, is now near the top of my list. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union takes place during the final days of the Federal District of Sitka, a self-governing but temporary Alaskan refuge set up during World War II as a refuge for European Jews fleeing the Nazis. It works very well as a hard-boiled mystery and also on several other levels.

Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee is a novel of manners of middle class and upper middle class Korean-Americans and others in New York City. I abandoned it after about 100 pages—something I typically do—but found myself wondering what was happening with Casey, Tina, Jay and the rest of the gang, so obviously I had to finish it. She describes perfectly the daily life of a young investment banker among many other things.

A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan is one of a small spate of mysteries set in Thailand written by gwielo/farang/Caucasians who have lived in East or Southeast Asia that have come out recently. John Burdett’s trilogy—Bangkok 8, Bangkok Haunts and Bangkok Tattoo—also fall into this category. They are very dark and very well done mysteries. Will probably dip into Christopher G. Moore next.

In addition I picked up We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, the collected nonfiction (up to but not including The Year of Magical Thinking) of Joan Didion. I may have read every word she has published, usually at the time of publication and I like to wallow in her prose every once in a while. This is a perfect book for that, all Didion all the time

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I am reading 'The Dragon's Trail' by Joanna Pitman. It is the biography of a painting--Raphael's 'St. George and the Dragon' which I believe is at the National Gallery in Washington. Also, Al Gore's 'Assault on Reason' and Kirstein are waiting in the wings.....I finally plowed through most of Doris Kerns Goodwin's book on Lincoln 'Team of Rivals'---I haven't quite finished it; the assasination is coming up and I don't feel like going there yet.

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So far, Possession is leaving me totally cold. I am not able to care about any of the characters, whom I find irritating at best, and while the writing is indeed very good, once I put the book down I do not have the desire to pick it back up again except as something with which to occupy myself on the metro and at lunch, but maybe it just takes time to get into it.
That's what I thought, too, and eventually I did give up. Not involving at all, felt like an academic exercise. Anyone out there feel differently?

I did. I love conceits in literature - poetry and prose. I love the idea of people being passionate about intellectual pursuits, a relatively new idea for me at the time I read it (probably in my late teens). The post-modernist discourse isn't quite as heavy handed as some of Byatt's later books like The Bibliographer's Tale. Try AS Byatt's books about Frederica Potter: The Virgin in the Garden, Shadow of the Sun. Potter is a very real although fairly dislikeable character as are the rest of her family and the depiction of England in the '50s very intriguing.

There's also a film 'Les Levres Rouges', released in the US as 'Daughters of Darkness', with the glorious Delphine Seyrig who plays an 'Elizabeth Bathory' who is supposed to be Erzbeth's granddaughter, although the character is clearly largely based on Erzbeth herself, but not to great effect. Seyrig, one of the greatest of all French film actresses, is much better viewed in 'Last Year at Marienbad', 'Muriel', or 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.'

In a recent interview with Julie Delpy, Delpy mentioned that her next directorial oroject would concern a Dracula-like Countess. I assume this is the person she was referring to. I wonder if that project will materialise. I'm not sure I see Delpy in this role, but I would like to see her try.

Quite unusually, I am actually reading a book, "The Women's Room" by Marilyn French. It is the well-known ("Classic"?) feminist text although it isn't just about women, it is about the rise and fall of the American Dream. It is remarkably, almost scarily, applicable to today. It is an easy read because the chapters are very short but after a while all the characters are jumbled together - was everybody unhappy, unfulfilled, longing for something else? What bothers me about the book is that although French mocks the pursuit of happiness and a quick buck as played out in the '50s, she too seems to make the point (and I'm only in the middle so this may change) that self-fulfillment is the ideal and sacrificinhg for others can only have negative consequences.

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So far, Possession is leaving me totally cold. I am not able to care about any of the characters, whom I find irritating at best, and while the writing is indeed very good, once I put the book down I do not have the desire to pick it back up again except as something with which to occupy myself on the metro and at lunch, but maybe it just takes time to get into it.

That’s what I thought, too, and eventually I did give up. Not involving at all, felt like an academic exercise. Anyone out there feel differently?

I thought it was a brilliant tour-de-force of a book. I could not put it down.

I did care about all the main characters, and found the portrayal of the excitement in discovering something new through research spot on. She really captures the excitement of those moments (which is why I knew the movie would be awful, the thrill of an intellectual discovery is not exactly the type of "action" that transfers well to the screen).

The conceit (if you will) of writing portions of the book from the perspective of different characters and in their clearly identifiable individual voices was carried out brilliantly and consistently.

It is one of my all time favorite books.

Oddly enough, my response to Henry James novels is much like yours to Possession--and her short stories (at least the book Sugar and Other Stories) have been called Jamesian. I like James' short stories/novellas though so that wasn't an issue for me.

Because of this book I have now read almost every piece of fiction she's written (she is also a literary critic), and with the exception of one book (the biographer's tale) I havent found one I don't like. I still need to read a Whistling Woman, because when I started it, it had been so long since I'd read the previous 3 books of the quartet that I felt I was missing things. So I need to reread them first.

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Thank you for speaking up for “Possession,” aurora and GWTW. Maybe I should give some of Byatt's other work a chance.

Oddly enough, my response to Henry James novels is much like yours to Possession--and her short stories (at least the book Sugar and Other Stories) have been called Jamesian. I like James' short stories/novellas though so that wasn't an issue for me.

My experience has been that “Jamesians” are often no more like James than “Freudians” are like Freud. (They have everything down except the genius part.)

Dawkins has a broader approach but I found it didn’t really speak to me—I felt, for example, while reading his chapter on Aquinas the his five proofs of the existence of god that I had dealt with that sufficiently about 30 years before. Not sure at whom these books are aimed although the publishers knew their markets since both have had very decent sales, Dawkins in particular.

Good to hear from you, Ed. I haven’t read the recent spate of atheistic polemics although I’ve seen several author interviews, but I imagine they are aimed at a more general readership. Certainly it’s true that much of this isn’t new, but very little is new under the sun, especially in this department, and I think the intention was not to say anything stunningly original but to push a few buttons and get a discussion going.

I haven’t read Chabon’s recent workbut I very much liked “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” his first book.

I am reading 'The Dragon's Trail' by Joanna Pitman. It is the biography of a painting--Raphael's 'St. George and the Dragon' which I believe is at the National Gallery in Washington......

That sounds like a very interesting idea for a book – tell us more when you have a chance.

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