Books i recently read

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Why does Estragon have such bad memory? And where the fuck was God(ot)? The two main characters wait for Godot whom they don’t know and wouldn’t recognize if he showed up. Just like the way Christians are waiting for the second coming of their messiah.

I found this conversation intriguing (I will check to verify or one of you can do us the honors).

VLADIMIR: Do you remember the Gospels?
ESTRAGON: I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.
VLADIMIR: You should have been a poet.
ESTRAGON: I was. ( Gesture towards his rags. ) Isn’t that obvious?
VLADIMIR: Where was I . . . How’s your foot?

ESTRAGON: Swelling visibly.
VLADIMIR: Ah yes, the two thieves. Do you remember the story?
VLADIMIR: Shall I tell it to you?
VLADIMIR: It’ll pass the time. ( Pause. ) Two thieves, crucified at the same time as our Saviour. One—
ESTRAGON: Our what?
VLADIMIR: Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . ( he searches for the contrary of saved) . . . damned.
ESTRAGON: Saved from what?
ESTRAGON: I’m going.
He does not move.
VLADIMIR: And yet . . . ( pause) . . . how is it –this is not boring you I hope– how is it that of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being saved. The four of them were there –or thereabouts– and only one speaks of a thief being saved. ( Pause. ) Come on, Gogo, return the ball, can’t you, once in a way?
ESTRAGON: ( with exaggerated enthusiasm) . I find this really most extraordinarily interesting.

VLADIMIR: One out of four. Of the other three, two don’t mention any thieves at all and the third says that both of them abused him.
ESTRAGON: What’s all this about? Abused who?
VLADIMIR: The Saviour.
VLADIMIR: Because he wouldn’t save them.
ESTRAGON: From hell?
VLADIMIR: Imbecile! From death.
ESTRAGON: I thought you said hell.
VLADIMIR: From death, from death.
ESTRAGON: Well what of it?
VLADIMIR: Then the two of them must have been damned.
ESTRAGON: And why not?

VLADIMIR:But one of the four says that one of the two was saved.
ESTRAGON: Well? They don’t agree and that’s all there is to it.
VLADIMIR: But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others?
ESTRAGON: Who believes him?
VLADIMIR: Everybody. It’s the only version they know

Imperfect birds by Anne Lamott

Is Elizabeth just bad at parenting or is Rosie a difficult teenager? What should a parent do with a teenager doing drugs, sex and small time deviancy? Should the parents be strict or look the other way when there are other children either O’ding to death, or getting killed in road accidents? This is the question that we have to deal with all through in the book.


The courage to be disliked

by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi

Is a book that I don’t know where to classify it. I wouldn’t want to call it a self help books, besides, I agree with Carlin, it can’t be self help if you are reading someone’s thoughts. That person is helping you.

I don’t know about you, but if you have read Consolations of Philosophy by Boethius, you want to live your life a certain way. This is the same feeling I got as I was reading this book. It starts with a shocker. And in a way, it is not for the faint hearted. It’s a call to be courageous and courage we all know is not for everyone.

These two authors present the psychology of Adler in a way that is accessible and persuasive. And every page is a challenge to live differently. To stop making excuses for being miserable.

They even have a methodology to happiness and to the question of purpose or meaning.

So I say with my friend here, read that book and if you don’t like it, come and fight me.

song of the ankle rings

by Eric Alagan

Eric manages to use an earthquake and superstition to exact revenge. But I go ahead of myself.

This book is about the merchant classes. Not that kings don’t make an appearance, they do and they are disappointing. They are feeble. Unjust and cruel, just like most kings we read about. No, the merchant class is not any better.

A brief description of the main characters is given below. In the case of the Pandyan court, I have dealt with the court as an individual though I promise nothing is lost. There is everything horrible happening in that court. And the same can be said of the Arakans. The author does not differentiate them so much to cover a big spectrum of behavior or character. The men are strong. The women are fat. All of them are charitable and generous.

Kovalan, the son of a prosperous merchant has only one thing going for him, he is upright. His business ventures don’t do well even his marriage suffers, first from three miscarriages, then folly and finally death. I don’t know how a man with his right senses would leave his woman to go live with another for two years and expect the wife will just be waiting.

Madhavi! What should I say about her or her folk? Sly. Conniving. Ambitious. And maybe cruel.

Kannagi. Here, Eric, you didn’t do justice. Her character wasn’t well developed. She is so passive until the end when she acts bravely to avenge her good husband, Kovalan.

Anandan! The carefree, and I would, for lack of a better word, loose, brother to Kannagi. He never saw a woman he didn’t want to bed. Was unkind to their house servants. Only drew the line at Madhavi and any woman he considered pure. An astute business man and a good friend too.

Savaali, the Silent One and all the Arakans. Now, these are my heroes. The problems of nuclear families, this is my child, is not a problem to them. The parentage of the child is not definite and the whole community is involved in their upbringing. They have received a bad rap for crimes they have not committed but come out on top of the pack as being very upright and gentle fellows.

The Pandyan court. A place of injustice. It would interest Machiavelli. It is here where the final drama is enacted. The place where Kovalan is redeemed or rather redeems himself but dies ( the question for the previous post) and Kannagi exacts vengeance. When her husband is killed unjustly on the orders of the king and following the treachery of the Royal Jeweler, she forces an audience with the king during a state reception of Roman guests (and here Eric employs superstition to full effect). An earthquake that he alluded to earlier erupts, and it is during this earthquake, well after she has accused the king, proved the innocence of her husband and the guilt of the jeweler that she sets fire to the curtains and the palace is engulfed in fire. Savaali comes to the rescue and upon her death, the story is retold until she becomes a goddess.

Well, the story is well told. Eric brings about the issue of Sati practice among Indian widows. Faithfulness in marriage but contrasts it immediately with the Arakan freedom. The place of women in traditional society and even present is all discussed.

The style is easy. I like short paragraphs and Eric uses them well. The narration is good though once in a while you might forget who is the speaker. I had this problem, especially in the beginning. And I think with the death of Kovalan, our author took liberties because he has Kovalan telling us what happens to his head after it has been severed from his body by the executioner.

Thank you Eric for an autographed copy of the book and for weaving a beautiful yearn.

the darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

by Catherine Nixey

Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lionthe tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. – African Proverb

To understand the impact of Christianity on the ancient world, this story would have to be told by the ancients themselves. Unfortunately, for us living today, the past is so much lost, thanks to the works of Christians of lore. It is this past that Catherine attempts to weave in her very readable book. And it is a sad, depressing past.

Christians are wont to say that their religion found a ready ground for conversion, that Rome had declined and all, but this is a tall tale. The Christians destroyed what was noble, what was beautiful and what was glorious and spread their religion through terror, rapine and violence.

For most people, the most famous name that points to the barbarity of Christian mobs is Hypatia of Alexandria. Ovid is lost to most of us, Catullus with his poems is lost to us, the temple of Serapis is lost to us and many more marvelous works in both East and west of the Roman empire.

In one place Catherine writes

Christians could, their preachers told them, wash for simple utility as long as they didn’t enjoy it too much. The good Christian should certainly not wallow in the sensual pleasures of the baths. Some defied such pious grubbiness: Augustine openly claimed bathing to be one of the pleasures of life. Others took a more robust approach to washing. Ascetics celebrated the ideal of being ‘alousia’ – unwashed. As one writer asked, what need did a Christian have to wash at all? Even if one’s skin becomes rough and scaly from lack of cleaning, he had no need, since ‘he that is once washed in Christ need not to wash again’.28 An intellectual change had taken place. Filth was moving from something that was found outside a man to something that stained his soul. A clean body was no longer one that was free from dirt: it was one that was unsoiled by sexual activity – and particularly by ‘deviant’ sexual activity – which started to be precisely defined then deplored in newly fierce and censorious terms.
Male homosexuality was denounced; and then outlawed. By the sixth century, those who were, as one chronicler put it, ‘afflicted with homosexual lust’ started to live in fear. And with good reason. When a bishop called Alexander was accused of having a homosexual relationship, he and his partner were ‘in accordance with a sacred ordinance . . . brought to Constantinople and were examined and condemned by Victor the city prefect, who punished them: he tortured Isaiah severely and exiled him and he amputated Alexander’s genitals and paraded him around on a litter. The emperor immediately decreed that those detected in pederasty should have their genitals amputated. At that time many homosexuals were arrested and died after having their genitals amputated. [emphasis mine]

what else happened? She notes further

Sex between a husband and wife was allowed but it should not, preachers said, be enjoyed. The old merry marriage ceremonies, in which people had eaten, drunk and sung profane songs about sex, were bluntly deplored as the Devil’s dungheap. Admiring stories of married couples who never slept with each other but spent their nights wearing hair shirts proliferated.

Go read this book, you will weep. But after you weep, I hope you find consolation in this poem and song.

First, Carmen 16 by Catallus

I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,
bottom Aurelius and catamite Furius,
you who think, because my poems
are sensitive, that I have no shame.
For it’s proper for a devoted poet to be moral
himself, [but] in no way is it necessary for his poems.
In point of fact, these have wit and charm,
if they are sensitive and a little shameless,
and can arouse an itch,
and I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
who can’t get it up.
Because you’ve read my countless kisses,
you think less of me as a man?
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.

And then a song

The Earth

By Emile Zola.

I first heard about Zola in a comment by Paulette many moons ago. She wasn’t talking about the earth though. This I read because of a short review by Mark Twain where he said the book had so much sex, the French stopped its serialisation in their dailies. I told myself that must have been a lot sex. I am afraid, Mark Twain lied. I was disappointed.

The Earth is set in Rognes. Our star characters are peasants and their attachment to their land.

The peasants in Rognes are indifferent to religion and seems to me to take great pleasure in pissing of their priest.

La Grande is the meanest grandma in the whole book.

Fouan is one unlucky man. Divides his land to his children and they take turns turning him out from their houses until, finally, he is murdered by Buteau(his son) and Lise(niece and wife of Buteau) who suffocate him in their house and attempt to burn his corpse. The Buteaus get away with the murder of Francoise and that of old Fouan.

Tron kills Hourdequin out of jealousy so he can have La Cognete, the mistress to the boss.

Hyacinthe is that easy going son who is not a slave of the land as his fellow peasants. When their father Fouan gives each of them their inheritance, he mortgages his so he can drink and live a merry life. La Trouille, his daughter, is a thief.

The characters are well developed. The story quite well told. At the end, one wants to know what is in La Grande’s will and the manner of her death.

Or what happens to Jean, that unhappy man whose wife leaves him nothing and is turned out of the house by his in-laws.

And the issue of the war with Prussia. How does it end.

It is a book I would recommend.

A brief history of time

by Stephen Hawking

Is such an interesting read. But after I finished reading it, I am no wiser on what space is, whether time had a beginning and when. But at least I know there is psychological time, thermodynamic time and cosmological time.

Time travel maybe possible but there are paradoxes. If you travel back in time and kill your great great grandfather as a young man, will you born in the future? Unless you travel back in time but with an alternate history, but then where is the fun in this?

Are there singularities like the BBT or not? Does the universe have an edge?

Is determinism true or does the uncertainty principle rule it out completely?

Did god create the universe or rather the initial conditions and left the rest to take its course?

Is faster than light travel possible?

And finally, who was Einstein?

Skin in the game

By N. Taleb.

If you want to be provoked, maybe even annoyed by something you have read, then this is a book to read.

Having said that, if an author has said they have written a standalone book, it makes no sense when one feels every few pages is a sales pitch for previous books of the same author. We are not trying to read all your books, just this one, so go slow on the sales pitch.

Taleb hates Hillary Clinton, Steven Pinker, Dawkins and many others. I wish he could treat this is a separate subject or give an explanation. I think Pinker is misleading us on his claims of us living in the most peaceful times. I am not interested in doing the hard work presently, though.

He is right that those who make policies should have some skin in the game. Think for example, the idiots who make pronouncements about our non existent public transport have a driver paid for by a tax payer. They never get inconvenienced by their stupid regulations. Had they been forced to use public transport, we would have better service. To this extent, and in many others, Taleb has a point. The adage that if someone’s pay is dependent on them solving a problem, they are unlikely to solve it, applies here.

As for his use of aphorisms, I don’t think he succeeded. This work sometimes appear disjointed, random and doesn’t flow so coherently.

He makes a good case for skepticism about GMO and further that sometimes there are simpler solutions to the problem that GMO proponents are trying to solve. Looking at the people dying of hunger in Baringo (where Moi who was president for 24 years hails) is evidence that the problem is infrastructure and political will. To solve the problem, one would need to improve access and plan for adverse weather. But when you have idiots and thieves in charge, you have people die from starvation. Well, they voted for the idiots, anyway. It’s a problem they have a hand in, too.

Have a good weekend everyone. Read a book, if you can. If you can’t, drink a beer, take a walk, make love! Do something, don’t just sit.