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Happy Everything
Posted on Sunday 28 November 2010 at 11:54 am

I'm thankful for...

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I had class last week on Monday from 10 to 10:50. I have class again tomorrow and I started working on that lecture late yesterday. Between 10:50 last Monday and we'll say 2:00 yesterday afternoon, I had around 5.5 days of doing absolutely nothing. I could have worked on the lecture for the last week of class or worked on my dissertation, but I decided against both of those for sound but ultimately unimportant reasons. Going into my little break, I announced to all my friends that if they wanted to do anything at any point during the week, just let me know and I'd be available. Until someone pulled me away to do something else, I was going to be reading. And read I did.

I'm thankful for books!
I read 10 books, or an average of about 2 a day. They were:

Will Eisner's The Plot. This is a graphic novel telling of the history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For those unfamiliar with The Protocols, it is a book supposedly written by a secret cabal of Jewish leaders detailing their plans to take over the world. The Protocols have been used by every anti-Semitic group for the last century as proof of a secret Jewish plot and as justification for their hatred, this includes being referenced frequently in Hitler's Mein Kampf. In reality, The Protocols are a forgery, created by an agent of the imperial Russian government in an attempt to stir up the czar and get him active in suppressing reforms and cracking down on what would become the Bolshevik Revolution, and they were proven to be a forgery and reported as such in the Times of London within a few years of their creation. Eisner tells the complete story of the forgery of The Protocols, the exposure of the forgery, the uses to which The Protocols have been put sense, and attempts to understand why people still believe they are real.

Howard Zinn's A People's History of American Empire. This is a graphic novel made up of excerpts from Zinn's A People's History of America and bits from other speeches, writings, etc. Zinn's words were transformed to graphic novel by Paul Buhle and Mike Konopacki. I like Zinn's People's History quite a lot and I think it worked well being switched to this medium. The graphic novel largely focuses on foreign policy, but not exclusively so as Zinn makes the argument that the suppression of the working class, Indians, and African Americans in particular amount to imperialism within the nation. Illustrations are interspersed with historical photographs and recreations of documents to make for a pretty interesting look at a lot of issues. I'm considering using this next time I teach the second half of the survey (this book only includes stuff after the Civil War), which will be this summer.

David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I like Sedaris. His sardonic essays are just the right mix of dark humor, compelling you to take a closer look at life while laughing and not taking things too seriously. This particular collection focuses on kicking his various addictions and living in foreign places. Good stuff.

Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-first Century. This graphic novel is from a couple of the comic world's big hitters in the late 80s and early 90s. Between them they'd previously worked on Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300, etc. Matha Washington is in the same line as Watchmen: a dystopian, gritty, alternate America or future America. Instead of riffing on superheroes, it deals with GI Joe military characters, with a bit of space stuff thrown in. The book I read collects the entire comic book run into one giant graphic novel, and there are some definite highs and lows throughout the run, but overall it was a pretty good and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Watchmen or that kind of thing.

David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice. I mentioned to a friend that I'd just read Engulfed in Flames and he told me to pick up the holiday collection since it was the right time of year for it. I did and wasn't that impressed. This one is half short stories and half personal essays. I liked the essays part and think some of them are among Sedaris's best, but I didn't really like the short stories at all.

Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This classic work of literary nonfic tells the story of a few years in with one of the best-known groups of the 1960s counter-culture, Ken Kesey's Pranksters. It's a fantastic look at the drug culture and the views of those turning on to drop out of society.

Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I knew the basic plot of Cuckoo's Nest but I'd never read the book nor seen the movie. Wolfe made enough references to Kesey acting like his main character that I decided to put Wolf aside for a bit and read this first. I think having read this definitely added to me understanding of Kesey in the rest of Acid Test, plus this is a really good book on its own. This one definitely deserves the designation of classic.

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I never was that interested in reading this until I read King Leopold's Ghost last spring. King Leopold's Ghost is a history of the Belgian Congo and includes frequent references to Conrad having visited the Congo and much of Heart of Darkness coming directly from that. So I finally read Heart of Darkness and I wasn't impressed. I think I would have been if I'd read it first and then read the real history. Doing it the way I did, I was struck by how much Conrad actually downplayed some of the real atrocities and horribleness.

Ayn Rand's Anthem. I've always meant to read some Rand. I know the basics of her philosophy of course, but I've never actually read nay of her work. I decided to go with Anthem since it is short and supposedly serves as a nice introduction to her basic tenets. I wasn't impressed. As a work of fiction, it falls flat because it is more interested in stating a philosophy than telling a story so the story is just a vehicle. As a statement of philosophy, it falls flat because she takes her opposition to illogical extremes and fails to see that the same can very easily be done with what she advocates and, in my opinion, the extreme bads of her philosophy are more likely to play out than the extreme bads of what she opposes.

Rudy Rucker's Postsingular. I'd heard lots of good things about this book, that is was supposedly one of the best out there for imagining a world after the singularity, the hypothetical moment when technology becomes capable of building and improving on its self (major AI) and humans reach the next, and perhaps artificial, stage of evolution by merging with that technology and becoming smarter than ever before. It is becoming a common trope in sci fi and is a subject that interests me. If this is the best, though, I'm staying far away from this branch of speculative fiction. This book sucks. The writing is flat and boring, the characters aren't compelling, and he spends all his time trying to convince that the tech future he describes could be possible, that there is real science behind the science fiction, and fails miserably at that. If you can get past all that, the plot isn't bad, but it isn't work putting up with all the other problems. This is the first in a trilogy or series and I will absolutely not be reading any more.

I'm also thankful for my friends!
They took me up on my offer to pull me away from the books on occasion. We went out for dinner and hung out some on Tuesday before some of those leaving town for Thanksgiving took off. Thursday I had Thanksgiving with mostly American Studies graduate students instead of my usual group of friends, mostly because I like some of the Am Studies people and don't see them enough and all my usual friends were scattered to too many other places. Because we were divided up, those of my usual crowd in town decided to have a leftovers Thanksgiving on Friday at my place. We watched the sixth Harry Potter movie on DVD in preparation for eventually getting to the theater to 7.1, we ate lots of food, and we played Beatles Rock Band. For I don't know what reason, I decided to drink. As in, I had 5.5 drinks over the course of the evening when I've never before had more than 2 in one night. We had to call a couple of the people that were out of town and tell them about this, and they are most annoyed I decided to do it when they were gone and are demanding a repeat soon. We'll see.

Unfortunately, my almost week off isn't ending on a high note. I've had a bit of a scratchy throat most of the week (a shot of Vodka to kill the pain was the actual start of the drinking Friday) and yesterday it became a full blown cold or sinus infection or whatever it is. I'm stuffy, light headed, coughy, sniffly, the whole nine yards. The only thing is that I'm not running a fever so maybe it is just a really bad case of sinus allergies and isn't actually a bacteria / virus / other infection or bug. I think I get this way every year in Williamsburg around late November or early December so maybe there's something in the air that disagrees with me. Or maybe I just always catch a cold around this same time because it really isn't the right time of year for pollen or anything. In any case, now I must get back to work on a lecture and hope I can make it through this last week of classes because there is no way I can cancel one and get through everything.
Feeling: Croupy
Exploring: Desk
Listening: *cough* *cough*


What's Taters, Precious?
mrstater at 7:06 pm on 28 November 2010 (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you that Ayn Rand writes stories purely to facilitate her philosophies, which are pretty flawed--especially considering she was not a great person when she lived them out--but I loved Anthem. It really resonated with me as I was coming out of a lifetime of being religious, particularly this one quote which I'll have to find for you later as we must run!

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