Posts in: books

Related to my previous post: 27 reading tips from Nassim Taleb. My favorites:

A good book gets better at the second reading. A great book at the third. Any book not worth rereading isn’t worth reading.

Books are not read by the majority because they read the Internet, which is like junk food for the mind.

The unread books on your shelf are like a universe of alternate possibilities waiting to be explored.

A novel you like resembles a friend. You read it and reread it, getting to know it better. Like a friend, you accept it the way it is; you do not judge it.

And here is his favorite.

I remember how many years later, in a bookstore in Georgetown, in Washington, I saw for the first time a person buying books by piling them in a cart the way one buys potatoes or bananas in a supermarket. That struck me as entirely disrespectful of writers. I would not like my books to be bought in such a way

This is from Branko Milanović’s most recent post. It looks like he doesn’t believe in the antilibrary.

Finished reading: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer 📚 and it is like nothing I have read before. I wish that was only because of the premise: that a 25th century character would write for a 26th century audience in the style of the 18th century — quite convenient when the author’s day job is being a historian of the Enlightment. Or just because of the gratuitous and at times bizzare sex, more than in anything I’ve read before — which, fine, nothing new under the Sun (king). But there is also, splattered across the pages, more gore, dismemberment and canibalism than I have ever — please, please, please excuse the pun — digested, and I am all for expanding boundaries but really, Dr. Palmer? The interest in censorship suddenly comes under a different light.

Still, it is an important story well told and I will grudgingly read the second book in the series.

📚 Speaking of Ada Palmer, I am reading Too Like the Lightning and two-thirds through my feelings on the book and its protagonists are alternating between hooked and horrified. If I had to wager I would say that hooked will prevail, but then I’m not a gambler.

R.F. Kuang, Neil Gaiman and many other great writers weren’t nominated for last year’s Hugo awards because the award administrators flagged their works as potentially “sensitive” to China.

As Ada Palmer wrote, most censorship has always been self-censorship, even in what we think of as the darkest days of the inquisition. Good thing her own Sci-Fi series was nominated one year earlier, in 2022.

Finished reading: I and Thou by Martin Buber 📚 and there is a message there, hidden under miles-deep layers of impenetrable German that no translator can bypass. Whether it is any more complicated than “don’t treat people like things” — I couldn’t say.

To Buber’s credit, he himself said that the book was untranslatable. Without knowing what the original was like, I tend to agree.

I don’t care much for self-help and productivity any more, but if Cal Newport’s Slow Productivity is anything like 4,000 weeks then of course I’ll get it. Pre-orders have started, and will get you some goodies if you follow these instructions before the March 5th release.

Ada Palmer doesn’t blog much, but whenever she does it goes right to the top of my reading list. Today’s text was about censorship. The key point:

The majority of censorship is self-censorship, but the majority of self-censorship is intentionally cultivated by an outside power.

In particular:

If we believe that the purpose of the Inquisition trying Galileo was to silence Galileo, it absolutely failed, it made him much, much more famous, and they knew it would. If you want to silence Galileo in 1600 you don’t need a trial, you just hire an assassin and you kill him, this is Renaissance Italy, the Church does this all the time. The purpose of the Galileo trial was to scare Descartes into retracting his then-about-to-be-published synthesis, which—on hearing about the trial—he took back from the publisher and revised to be much more orthodox.

There are more recent examples as well, from the 1950s comic book scare to the modern-day school library controversies.

By the way, I have just started reading the first book of Too Like Lightning, her sci-fi trilogy, and two chapters in I am completely hooked.

📚 Finished reading: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and reading something from 70-plus years ago that now seems prophetic never gets old. What if people’s appetite for food was as distorted as their current — 1950s, mind you — appetite for sex, he asks himself and answers:

There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.

Well guess what, Mr. Lewis…

Always good to see a friend’s work out in the wild. This is Bump by Matt Wallace in the tweens section of Politics and Prose.

Photo of a bookshelf with the book Bump by Matt Wallace facing forward, a girl luchador on the cover.