Sunday, January 21, 2018

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These Happy Golden Years (Little House, #8)These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Starts off well, like most of the other books. Though she's still going to school, Laura has work-related adventures as a teacher and begins to grow up. Mary is progressing at college and all of this is great.

Then Pa spends all her teaching money, IN ADVANCE, on a musical organ. Yuck.

Then page after unromantic page about boring Almanzo Wilder and his dangerous unbroken horse.

The ending is particularly bad, and I almost imagine her at the end, sitting outside her cabin, realization dawning in her eyes that she's made a terrible mistake.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara

Lunch PoemsLunch Poems by Frank O'Hara
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were lots of parts I loved, but more that I struggled with. I suspect that part of my problem is that I don't read enough poetry yet, so I'll keep trying and hopefully revisit this one later.

Here are my favorite bits:

From "Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul," p. 35:
“the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do”

From "Steps," p.58:
“oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much”

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful, heart-breaking, and mostly joyful book. I will definitely reread this book for years to come. It starts off a bit silly because Anne is just 11 at the beginning of the book, but by the time it ends she's 16, and the pages can barely contain her amazing soul.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Meno by Plato

MenoMeno by Plato
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This dialogue is Socrates's attempt to make the handsome Meno tell him what every instance of virtue has and only virtue has. Meno is a little slow and talks about "getting good things" rather than any soulful or golden-rule type answers.

Shortly thereafter, Meno tries to give up. So Socrates teaches a slave boy some geometry to prove that people are better off realizing all that they don't know rather than thinking they do know and being incorrect.

Then Socrates launches into some strange religious ideas he doesn't substantiate or explain in any convincing way. He ties reason and use of logic to "anamnesis" or recollection of a past life's knowledge.

Anytus comes by and makes death threats to Socrates.

Then is my favorite quote because it is the only part that makes sense to me:
"... none of us remarked that right and good action is possible to man under other guidance than that of knowledge (episteme);-and indeed if this be denied, there is no seeing how there can be any good men at all. "

But then Socrates goes on to say "right opinion" is just as good as knowledge. Seems dubious to me, since "right opinion" would likely still have a basis in knowledge of the things opined about or similar. Although, further research tells me that this might just be a bad translation, and Socrates is actually saying that a logical working out of a solution (via the Socratic method) is as good as knowledge.

Then finally Socrates concludes that since goodness isn't something we are born with, nor something we can learn, it must come from the gods. My online research tells me scholars disagree about whether he is being serious or sarcastically dismissing Meno because he can't be taught anything.

He certainly seems serious in the dialogue but he can't be because he's endeavoring to do the very thing he claims is impossible to do? Though, irony on top of irony, I don't know how effective Socrates has been in this dialogue. At least, I don't feel any smarter after reading this.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Republic by Plato

The RepublicThe Republic by Plato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am reading Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World and pausing to read any of the books mentioned that I have not already read. In this case, I had read most of The Republic before but couldn't remember it so I went back and read the whole thing.

Great Books didn't give me a lot of help in analyzing or dealing with The Republic so I listened to a library audiobook course about The Republic. This definitely helped in understanding all the confusing arguments Socrates makes.

Plato describes Socrates engaging in a dialogue with Glaucon and numerous other Athenians and non-citizens about a number of topics. The first part is about justice and it mostly matches up to a modern (even Christian) conception of justice. Justice is not about the force of the powerful. It's about the soul, goodness towards even enemies, and the rights of weak.

The next part is about the perfect society, but not really, because Plato didn't believe in a modern-day Western conception of legal equality based on human rights. To his credit, his perfect society is feminist- women can do whatever men can do except things requiring a lot of physical strength. Unfortunately, his society is also based on eugenics, hierarchical with little opportunity for social movement, communist, and without families. To modern ears his perfect society sounds like the perfect Young Adult Dystopian Novel; a cross between The Giver and Allegiant. According to my audiobook course, this Socrates's conception of the perfect society is the direct result of Athen's recent defeat to Sparta. Many of the aspects are wither taken from Spartan society or a "correction: of something in Athenian society that Socrates perceives to be at fault for Athen's loss.

Socrates also wanted philosopher kings. As such, the book is also about Socrates's conception of making philosophy a fixed study in the way that math and geometry have fixed answers. Which is certainly an interesting concept. Philosophy (at least popular philosophy) has moved so far away from that idea that the idea of real answers in ethics and philosophy is very appealing.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish the author had put the "About This Project" at the beginning of the book, and I recommend that if you read this book you start with that section. When I began the book I had the expectation that the book would have a lot of history, politics, policy, with some personal examples, as many nonfiction books focusing on a particular legal or policy issue typically do. This book is not like that, it's an ethnography. It is more of a biography of several people going through evictions - and the one landlord that was willing to participate. The distance between my expectations of the book and the actual substance of it made it made it difficult to finish. Another thing that made it very difficult to finish the book was how deeply depressing the subject is (granted it's important that it feel depressing but it makes it very difficult). That said, I am very glad I finished it, despite- or because of- all the tears.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman

The Areas of My ExpertiseThe Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this because my husband owns the book but sadly I didn't think it was as funny as he did. This might be might fault, I think some of the jokes flew right over my head.

I like the fictional almanac concept. I always thought almanacs were really weird (though appealing in their weirdness) and Hodgman basically uses roasting the almanac as his humor vehicle here.

I especially liked the literature jokes, but the hobo section was extensive, as was the states section. The book relied a lot on tables and long lists (700 hobo names for example). Just wow.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Phantom TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Phantom Tollbooth is about education, good writing, advanced mathematics, and mindfulness. Also, it’s delightful. What a great book for children.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man in HavanaOur Man in Havana by Graham Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tongue-in-cheek spy novel that gets a bit dark and more exciting as it goes on. Graham Greene is a confusing author for me because he wrote one of my favorite literary works, The End of the Affair, but his writing isn't limited to literary fiction, and The Third Man, for example, is just some noir nonsense. This was sort of in between but I did enjoy it.

I was especially interested in the pre-Castro Cuban setting. My family is from Cuba, and around this time my grandparents would have been in their 20s. My paternal side moved to Santa Clara at about the time of the story (the main character James Wormold goes there on vacation). My maternal side moved to Havana shortly after the time period of the novel. All Cuban-Americans are devoutly anti-Castro but the sacrilegious question is always whether the dictator that preceded him, Batista, was also a bad guy. This makes the character Segura particularly interesting to me, especially since Greene doesn't make him as one-dimensional as it initially appears.

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