Kind of strange that you might come across a post in May that talks about a New Year’s Resolution, huh? Well, this is partly to blame on the fact that I haven’t been a very good blogger in keeping up with my blog for quite some time now. I sort of envisioned this blog to be something purely about food and San Antonio, but I thought what the heck, I might as well through in some thoughts every once and a while (especially since I can’t afford to eat out as much!).
So my New Year’s Resolution this year was to read one book each month; now it is important to note that this does not mean the same thing as reading 12 books in the year. I can often get in the zone where I just knock out 3 or 4 books at once and then don’t read anything for the longest time. No, I wanted to be disciplined in reading one book every month.
I have kept up with this to date; in fact, I finished my May book pretty early (this occurred after having a marathon to finish my April book on the last day of the month). I thought I would let you know what I read each month, offer you some insights/favorite quotes from each of them, and then open it up for people to comment on what should be read next.
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
This book was actually a Christmas present from a dear friend, so I thought I would begin the year with it. The book is the memoirs of an agnostic as he tries to live out as many rules from the Bible quite as literally as possible. Some of the rules are the standard ones (“Thou shall not kill”) while other rules are more obscure (not letting fibers mix in your clothing; to do this he must get a specialist to inspect all his clothes to make sure they are OK).
I have to admit that I was a little leery to read this book because I thought that it was going to be an easy softball for an agnostic to poke fun at religion looking at archaic rules that most people today don’t know exist, much less practice. I found two things interesting from this book: (1) the fact that no one, even some of the most devout sects, follow all the Bible’s rules to the letter; all will mold certain rules to their liking and (2) the actual transformation of the author writing the book. I enjoyed getting to see how Jacobs started becoming more receptive to religion and its place in our daily lives as the book was written.
“My favorite parts of the Bible are the ones that take the complete opposite track, that admit that we don’t know everything, that stress the mystery of God and the universe. Like Ecclesiastes 6:12 says:
‘For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? for who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?’ ” — page 225
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I had been wanting to read this novel for several reasons: (1) a band that I really like called Birdmonster has a song called No Midnight off their album No Midnight that references Dorian Gray, (2) a friend had read it about a year ago and really liked it, and (3) I have always liked Wilde’s quotes but have never seen any in context.
Apparently the novel was quite the controversy when it came out; it always amazes me how something in one era can be a scandal and in another era be revered. I will say that it takes a little while for the novel to develop into the story of the never aging man that you are familiar with. In fact, you will be probably a third of the way through before you get to that story.
What I like most about the novel is the fact that Wilde never once states the terrible deeds that Dorian Gray supposedly commits. This makes the novel fresh, even in today’s scandalous world, because the reader’s imagination substitutes in what he/she thinks Dorian might have done. In the end, doesn’t that say a lot about the reader as well as Dorian?
“‘I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable.'” – Lord Henry, 42
“‘Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.'” – Lord Henry, 50
“‘To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.'” – Harry, 221
I am a sucker for real life stories dealing with paintings being stolen. I mean, don’t we all have a little Thomas Crown Affair or Entrapment side in each of us, to either be that daring thief or the private investigator who busts them? This is one of the reason’s that I like The Gardner Heist so much.
Coincidentally, March of this year was the 20th anniversary of the heist that many people consider the greatest theft in art history with a value of $500,000,000 to $600,000,000 USD. The novel does an excellent job of telling the story of Isabella Gardner and how she amassed her collection, the basic story behind the theft, the shady characters in the Boston underworld who might have something to do with the crime, the different detectives and investigators who have tried to crack it, and the attempt of the author to lend his hand to the case.
The book is a fast read that will bring you in from that start and leave you wanting to hit the trail to see if you can solve the case yourself.
This is a great book for anyone who would like to understand a little more of the power of the new types of media and the role it plays in current group forming revolution. The basic premise is that prior to social media (and understand that Shirky lumps in email into this category), it was very difficult to form groups. Think about all the steps you did if you ever had to send out a newsletter or organize anything pre-1996: make copies, address envelopes, buy stamps, go the post office, make phone calls, etc., etc., etc. There was an actual cost along with a time cost with organizing groups.
Now, look at the present landscape. With a few clicks of a button a mass mailing can be sent out to your email list. You can update your Twitter status to let people know what you think of the newest Iron Man movie. You can check-in on Foursquare to let people know where you are. The transaction costs have been immediately lowered to where group forming is happening all the time.
Shirky’s book looks at the innovations that led to this phenomenon, gives anecdotes of how people have used the technology, and talks about both the societal gains and risks of the new media. The one point that Shirky repeatedly makes is that it is not just the technology, but how people use the technology.
“Now that it is possible to achieve large-scale coordination at low cost, a third category has emerged: serious, complex work, taken on without institutional direction.” – 47
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
What can I say, I like Yann Martel a lot. He is one of those modern authors like Nick Hornby or JK Rowling who can just suck you into a book that you can’t put down until you finish it. Most readers will recognize the name as being the author of The Life of Pi, but equally good is his short story collection entitled The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios. I also have a great respect for him as he petitions the Canadian Government to include more emphasis on the arts in education by sending a book each week to Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, with a note on why he sent that particular piece of literature. He publishes which book he sent and the note on the website, What is Stephen Harper Reading?
Beatrice and Virgil is a novel that is used as an allegory for the Holocaust much in the same way that Animal Farm was allegorical to the Stalin era in Russia. The novel is complex as the lead protagonist is an author in the same vein as Martel himself — he had just come off of a successful novel and was looking to write a followup.
The construct of the novel is interesting because you have several things going on: (1) a novelist finishing a new novel that he presents to his editor (though you never read any of this novel), (2) the story of the novelist living in a new city, his life, and interacting with a taxidermist, and (3) the taxidermist’s play (of which you read selections).
I can’t really explain more without giving it away.
“Creative block is no laughing matter, or only to those sodden spirits who’ve never even tried to make their personal mark.” – 101
Does anyone have a suggestion for June’s book?