EppsNet Archive: Books

EppsNet Book Reviews: Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

7 Jan 2018 /

Death on the Installment Plan is a fictionalized coming-of-age story based on Céline’s youth in pre-World War I France.

Absent are heroism, transcendence, love and the possibility of love. Instead, there is a lot of human action that comes to nothing. Death is not ennobling.

That said, hopelessness has never been described with more wit, energy and imagination or more droll, breathtaking language.

Here’s a sample of the black comedy, as the narrator remembers a local physician (all ellipses in the original):

“The most exquisite deaths, remember that, Ferdinand, are those that attack us in our most sensitive tissues . . .” He had a precious, elaborate, subtle way of talking, like the men of Charcot’s day. His prospecting of the Rolandic, the third ventricle, and the gray nucleus didn’t do him much good . . . in the end he died of a heart attack, under circumstances that were anything but cozy. An attack of angina pectoris that lasted twenty minutes. He held out for a hundred and twenty seconds with his classical memories, his resolutions, the example of Caesar . . . But for eighteen minutes he screamed like a stuck pig . . . his diaphragm was being ripped out, his living guts . . . a thousand open razors had been plunged into his aorta . . . He tried to vomit them out at us . . . I’m not exaggerating. He crawled out into the living room . . . He damn near hammered his chest in . . . He bellowed into the carpet . . . in spite of the morphine . . . You could hear him all over the house and out in the street . . . He ended up under the piano. When the cardiac arterioles burst one by one, it’s quite a harp . . . it’s too bad nobody ever comes back from angina pectoris. There’d be wisdom and genius to spare.

Rating: 5 stars


Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them. — George Eliot, Middlemarch


2017: The Year in Books

2 Jan 2018 /

These are the books I read in 2017, roughly in the order listed. Not as many as I wuld have liked but I spent the first half of the year having a mental and physical breakdown. I’m back on track now.

The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Books of the Year: Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (fiction) and From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe (non-fiction).


Likes and Dislikes

18 Dec 2017 /

Likes

Dogs, books, spicy food

Dislikes:

Systems of thought that reduce the richness of human lives to impersonal laws, systems and numbers. Oxford commas.

Dog and books


Crossing the Border

11 Nov 2017 /

It takes so little, so infinitely little, for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, conviction, faith, history. Human life — and herein lies its secret — takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of an inch.


What Happened?

13 Sep 2017 /

According to this review by Piers Morgan, Hillary has narrowed down the list of people and entities responsible for her 2016 election defeat to James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Mitch McConnell, the mainstream media, the New York Times, Matt Lauer, Fox News, Jill Stein, men, women, white people, black people, Joe Biden, Anthony Weiner, and the Electoral College.

Notably absent from the list: Hillary Clinton.


To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

30 Aug 2017 /

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology.

I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is.

Young female technologist

I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around.

As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.”

Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen to men and I’ve had bad things happen to me. I’m also aware of bad things happening to women in other professions. We’ve all had our ups and downs.

How to explain this? Bad things happen to women because they’re women and bad things happen to men because — what? We deserve it?

You’ve probably also read a lot of articles about a “diversity chasm” in tech, usually written by women who work in tech and can’t understand why every young woman in America is not making the same career choices they themselves have made.

Women, like any group, are under-represented in some professions (like tech) and over-represented in other professions — education and health services, for example.

Is a software engineering career objectively better than being a nurse or a teacher or a therapist or any of the careers that women seem to prefer?

I’m happy to admit that I don’t know what the “right” male-female ratio is for any given profession and that I don’t know what other people should be doing with their lives.

Programming has been a pretty good career for me — I like to build things and I like to solve hard problems — but I’ve spent most of my life alone in a room or cubicle staring at a computer screen. It’s not for everyone. There are pros and cons like any other job.

I don’t have a daughter but my son never took an interest in programming and I never pushed him to do so. He graduated college with a degree in business. I have no reason to think his life will be less fulfilling because he’s not working in a technology job.

TL;DR:

  • Don’t pursue a technology career because someone else thinks you should.
  • Don’t pursue a technology career to make some point about gender roles in society.
  • Don’t be scared off by inaccurate (IMO) generalizations about anti-female culture.
  • Follow your heart.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Identity Politics = Liberal Suicide?

13 Aug 2017 /

Mark Lilla is professor of the humanities at Columbia University. He’s got a book coming out, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.

As you might have surmised from his job title, Lilla is a liberal himself. His concern is “the divisive, zero-sum world of identity politics” and its negative effect on liberalism in America.

Here’s an excerpt of an excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal:

As a teacher, I am increasingly struck by a difference between my conservative and progressive students. Contrary to the stereotype, the conservatives are far more likely to connect their engagements to a set of political ideas and principles. Young people on the left are much more inclined to say that they are engaged in politics as an X, concerned about other Xs and those issues touching on X-ness. And they are less and less comfortable with debate.

Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X… This is not an anodyne phrase. It sets up a wall against any questions that come from a non-X perspective. Classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. What replaces argument, then, are taboos against unfamiliar ideas and contrary opinions. . . .

The politics of identity has done nothing but strengthen the grip of the American right on our institutions. It is the gift that keeps on taking. Now is the time for liberals to do an immediate about-face and return to articulating their core principles of solidarity and equal protection for all. Never has the country needed it more.


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch

31 Jul 2017 /

The Sleepwalkers is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read, very close to the edge of what can be accomplished with the written word.

I had never heard of either the book or the author — neither seems to have any following here in the States — but Amazon for some reason started recommending me post-WWI Austrian modernists.

(I also read Robert Musil’s A Man Without Qualities, which was extremely tedious.)

I don’t know who to compare Broch with, in terms of language, wit, psychological and historical insight — maybe Nietzsche, if Nietzsche had decided to write historical fiction.

The book chronicles, via multiple overlapping narratives, the moral history of Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the disintegration of values that led to fascism.

And in his fear of the voice of judgment that threatens to issue from the darkness, there awakens within him a doubly strong yearning for a Leader to take him tenderly and lightly by the hand, to set things in order and show him the way; a Leader who is no one’s follower and who will precede him on the untrodden path of the closed circle and lead him on to ever-higher reaches, to an ever-brighter revelation; the Leader who will build the house anew that the dead may come to life again, and who himself has risen again from the multitude of the dead; the Healer who by his own actions will give a meaning to the incomprehensible events of the age, so that Time can begin anew.

Rating: 5 stars


Voltaire and Me

22 May 2017 /
Voltaire

According to LibraryThing, Voltaire’s library and my library have three books in common, even though Voltaire died almost 200 years before I was born.

The three books are:

I also have in my library one book — Candide — written by Voltaire.


The Blindness and the Wretchedness of Man

8 May 2017 /
Blaise Pascal

When I see the blindness and the wretchedness of man, when I regard the whole silent universe, and man without light, left to himself, and, as it were, lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who has put him there, what he has come to do, what will become of him at death, and incapable of all knowledge, I become terrified, like a man who should be carried in his sleep to a dreadful desert island, and should awake without knowing where he is, and without means of escape. And thereupon I wonder how people in a condition so wretched do not fall into despair. I see other persons around me in conditions of a like nature. I ask them if they are better informed than I am. They tell me that they are not. And thereupon these wretched and lost beings, having looked around them, and seen some pleasing objects, have given and attached themselves to them. For my own part, I have not been able to attach myself to them, and, considering how strongly it appears that there is something else than what I see, I have examined whether this God has not left some sign of Himself.

— Pascal, Pensées

2016: The Year in Books

30 Dec 2016 /

These are the books I read in 2016, roughly in the order listed. I got off to a good start then had a kind of a breakdown later in the year.

The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Books of the Year: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera (fiction) and For the Time Being by Annie Dillard (non-fiction).


Doors That Didn’t Necessarily Need to Be Closed

12 Jun 2016 /

You know, you spend your childhood watching TV, assuming that a some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun,’ etc. Then you start secondary school and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg — that your future will not be the rollercoaster ride you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles is actually largely what people mean when they speak of ‘life.’ Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked PROFESSIONAL STUNTMAN or FIGHT EVIL ROBOT, until the weeks go by and the doors — GET BITTEN BY SNAKE, SAVE WORLD FROM ASTEROID, DISMANTLE BOMB WITH SECONDS TO SPARE — keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed . . .

— Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

You’re Walking Around With a Mask On

10 Apr 2016 /

You know you’re walking around with a mask on, and you desperately want to take it off and you can’t because everyone else thinks it’s your face.

— Pat Barker, Regeneration

This Was the Room I Had to Live In

14 Mar 2016 /
First edition cover

This was the room I had to live in. It was all I had in the way of a home. In it was everything that was mine, that had any association for me, anything that took the place of a family. Not much; a few books, pictures, radio, chessmen, old letters, stuff like that. Nothing. Such as they were they had all my memories.

— Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

3 Possibilities

29 Feb 2016 /

From The Possibilities of Organization by Barry Oshry (with very slight modification):

Possibility I. Internal Warfare

We can misunderstand one another’s worlds; we can misinterpret one another’s behavior; we can see malice, insensitivity and incompetence behind one another’s actions; we can see ourselves as the well-intentioned, blameless, helpless victims of other people and of circumstances; we can act accordingly and go to war with one another.

Possibility II. Understanding and Accommodation

We can see into, comprehend, accept and adjust to one another’s worlds; we can accommodate to others, acting in ways that make it possible, easy even, for them to do what we need them to do in order for us to move ahead with our work; we can see the “stuff” that comes at us from others as the behavior of people struggling to cope with and survive in the unique conditions of their worlds; we can choose NOT to get hooked on that stuff; we can stay in the Center Ring and not get drawn off into the drama of the Side Show; we can accomplish our goals by easing the conditions of others.

Possibility III. Transformation

We can refuse to accept and accommodate to the familiar realities; we can say NO to the predictable responses to the common conditions of life; we can create new responses and new, more powerful realities in which we are not burdened, we are not oppressed, and we are not torn. We can become central to creating what our lives will be.


Harper Lee, 1926-2016

25 Feb 2016 /

28 Sep 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird

I took my son to the bookstore to buy To Kill a Mockingbird for his English class. They had two paperback editions available — one with a fancy binding for $15.95 and another one for three dollars less.

I pulled the cheaper one off the shelf and my son asked, “Why are we getting that one?”

I said, “Because it’s three dollars less for the same book.”

“I like the other cover better,” he said.

“Gimme three dollars.”

 

23 Oct 2008

FATHER: Would you take out the trash please?

SON: Are you KIDDING?! I’m doing homework! I’ll take out the trash if you read To Kill a Mockingbird and tell me what each chapter is about.

FATHER: I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird. You want to know what it’s about? ‘Racism is Bad.’ Now take out the garbage.

 

RIP Harper Lee


Free Advice on Free Advice

5 Feb 2016 /
Shoulder pain

Today a colleague offered to fix the pain in my shoulder. “Sounds like a problem with the connective tissue,” he said. “I can push it back into place.”

“No,” I said. “No no no no no no no.”

“Why not? Are you homophobic?”

“Not wanting you to touch my shoulder is not homophobic.” Also this guy is not gay.

“You don’t trust me?”

“I was trying to think of a nice way to say that.”

“I have a gift for this. I’ve helped a lot of people.”

“You might be able to fix it. Probably you could. On the other hand, you might, just perhaps, push on it the wrong way and I lose the use of my left arm. Not worth the risk.”

He then recommended that I go to a health food store and buy some red something-or-other algae to use as an anti-inflammatory.

Which I’m not going to do . . . If someone recommends a movie I should see, I might check that out. Even if it turns out to be terrible, which it usually does, I’ve only lost a few bucks and a couple hours of time. Same with a restaurant. Or a book.

But on medical matters, when someone says “You should go to a health food store and buy some of this product and eat it,” I’m not going to do that because if I do that, and I die . . . because the recommender didn’t know anything about my health condition, medical history, medications I might be taking, didn’t know anything about chemistry, biology, pharmacology . . . I’m dead and the person who told me to do that is scratching his head going, “Hmmmm, that never happened before. Maybe I should have gone to medical school to actually learn something.”


The Savvy Clinician

8 Jan 2016 /

It’s a little hard to read the subtitle on the book cover but — “Savvy”?! I don’t think I want to work with clinicians who consider themselves “savvy.”

Being “savvy” sounds like a poor substitute for actually knowing something. I’m not fully informed but I’m “savvy.” I’m “with it.” I’m “in the know.”


2015: The Year in Books

30 Dec 2015 /

These are the books I read in 2015, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Books of the Year: Hotel World by Ali Smith (fiction) and Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton (non-fiction).

Honorable Mention: Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Disgrace, Lament for a Maker, Nothing.


Next Page »