EppsNet Archive: Literature

Though Much is Taken, Much Abides

24 Mar 2018 /
Carbon print of Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1869

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

Turning Away Wrath

5 Mar 2018 /

There are answers which, in turning away wrath, only send it to the other end of the room, and to have a discussion coolly waived when you feel that justice is all on your own side is even more exasperating in marriage than in philosophy.

— George Eliot, Middlemarch

She Never Even Knew It

4 Mar 2018 /

Chapter XXII of George Eliot’s Middlemarch starts with an epigraph from Alfred de Musset:

Nous câusames longtemps; elle était simple et bonne.
Ne sachant pas le mal, elle faisait le bien;
Des richesses du coeur elle me fit l’aumône,
Et tout en écoutant comme le coeur se donne,
Sans oser y penser je lui donnai le mien;
Elle emporta ma vie, et n’en sut jamais rien.

Some editions of Middlemarch provide a translation in a footnote:

We talked for a long time; she was simple and kind.
Knowing no evil, she did only good:
She gave me alms from the riches of her heart,
And listening intently as she poured out her heart,
Scarcely daring to think, I gave her mine;
Thus she carried off my life, and never even knew it.

George Eliot on #MeToo

4 Mar 2018 /

Let any lady who is inclined inquire into the comprehensiveness of her own beautiful views, and be quite sure that they afford accommodation for all the lives which have the honour to coexist with hers.


EppsNet Book Reviews: Middlemarch by George Eliot

28 Feb 2018 /

George Eliot is a transgender author whose work was previously unfamiliar to this reviewer.

Ha, kidding! It’s hard to think of new things to say about old books, but if you appreciate the novel as an art form, or you think you might appreciate the novel as an art form if you gave it a chance, you should read Middlemarch.

What it is about? At 800+ pages, it’s about a lot of things: life in rural England in the 1830s, the status of women, the bonds of matrimony, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy and politics.

It’s about the heroism of ordinary lives.

It’s about, in the character of Dorothea Brooke, “the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion.”

Here’s the conclusion of the novel, in which the narrator is looking back from several decades later at the main characters. Admittedly it loses some power out of context but you’ll get the idea. Googling the Cyrus reference might help.

(Mild spoiler alert, insofar as spoilers can exist for a well-known book from the 19th century.)

Sir James never ceased to regard Dorothea’s second marriage as a mistake; and indeed this remained the tradition concerning it in Middlemarch, where she was spoken of to a younger generation as a fine girl who married a sickly clergyman, old enough to be her father, and in little more than a year after his death gave up her estate to marry his cousin—young enough to have been his son, with no property, and not well-born. Those who had not seen anything of Dorothea usually observed that she could not have been “a nice woman,” else she would not have married either the one or the other.

Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. . . . Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Rating: 5 stars

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).

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.

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.


  • 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.

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

Like Virgil

23 Jul 2017 /

Like Virgil, I recognize that I may have falsified reality in my attempt to create beauty . . .

Voltaire and Me

22 May 2017 /

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).

George Orwell: “I Told You So”

25 Jun 2016 /

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Associated Press review of the official calendar Hillary Clinton kept as secretary of state identified at least 75 meetings with longtime political donors, Clinton Foundation contributors and corporate and other outside interests that were not recorded or omitted the names of those she met.

Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said that Clinton “has always made an effort to be transparent since entering public life.”

In addition to the unrecorded meetings with donors, this effort at transparency includes setting up a private email server to use as Secretary of State, and giving speeches at $200,000 per to Wall Street banks and investment firms, foreign governments and other special interest groups under a contract that prevents anyone from releasing a transcript of what she said.

Merrill went on to say, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

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

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

Shut Not Your Doors to Me Proud Libraries

7 Feb 2016 /
Walt Whitman

Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass

Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries,
For that which was lacking among you all, yet needed most, I bring;
A book I have made for your dear sake, O soldiers,
And for you, O soul of man, and you, love of comrades;
The words of my book nothing, the life of it everything;
A book separate, not link’d with the rest, nor felt by the intellect;
But you will feel every word, O Libertad! arm’d Libertad!
It shall pass by the intellect to swim the sea, the air,
With joy with you, O soul of man.

— Walt Whitman, “Shut Not Your Doors to Me Proud Libraries”

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.

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