My #reading: February 2016

“We are creatures made as much by art as by experience and what we read in books is the sum of both.”  Andy Miller

“I wanted to possess all the books I had already read, as well as all those I had not – every book in the whole wide world, in other words.”  Andy Miller 

Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film is an absolutely wonderful personal journey through many aspects of film culture by cartoonist, Edward Ross. Strong on theory, entertaining, insightful and readable, it has an extremely useful endnotes sections with sources for the many quotes throughout the graphic novel. The filmography and bibliography supports each chapter particularly well. The website also has great resources including video essays

Brilliant and original, I could not recommend a book more highly for English teachers and film buffs. I can imagine senior students flicking through it for a while and then starting from the beginning, immersed in the film culture it celebrates. It is a “must buy” book for English teachers.

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I didn’t think I’d read The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller let alone enjoy what one would imagine to be a fairly predictable kind of book but found it surprisingly entertaining. More than that, I didn’t want to put it down (figuratively speaking as I listened to the author reading aloud via my Audible app).

Miller is affable and amusing, which I expected but also writes with great insight and has impeccable taste in books (in other words he and I mostly agree). His chapter on Michel Houellebecq, who is far and away the writer that I most look forward to publishing something new, is a letter to the author about Atomised (which I must re-read) and much more beside. Like Miller, I laugh aloud at Houellebecq’s wickedness without too much guilt. We chatted about this on Twitter:

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I’d recommend Miller’s book for bibliophiles and those wishing to reflect a little on what ‘classics’ they’d like to read or revisit. You may wish to read the first chapter for a taste of what’s on offer. I am about half way through Anna Karenina as a result of reading of Miller’s enthusiasm for Tolstoy’s novel and will follow that up with another Russian author when the 50th anniversary edition of The Master and the Margarita is released in a month or so.

“So the invention of atheism (in the negative sense of the word) in fifth-century BC Athens was rooted in a politically influenced desire to stigmatize certain individuals. But perhaps there was more to it than that. What if what began as an insult was in time reappropriated as a badge of honor? This is a phenomenon well attested by modern social scientists: think of “queer,” “nigger,” or even “geek.” In such instances, the connotations of an initially negative term shift, and the label becomes associated with positive attributes.”

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I pre-ordered Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh quite some time ago and was pleased to find it unexpectedly on my kindle. It is not always an engaging read but certainly has some very interesting insights into our earliest records re: atheist thought*.

“The invention of atheism was, both etymologically and historically, the creation of a negative. The Greek word atheos, which first appears in the fifth century BC, implies the absence (a-) of a god (theos). The older meaning implies someone who has lost the support of the gods, someone who is “godless” or “godforsaken” in the archaic English senses. It was often used in a kind of hyperbolic crescendo along with other negative adjectives, in phrases such as “atheos, unruly (anomos), and lawless (adikos).” This kind of phrasing suggests wild, barbaric behavior that is the very antithesis of proper, civilized Greek behavior…”

“Within the lifetime of the classical Athenian democracy, however, it came to acquire a second meaning, referring to someone whose beliefs or practices suggest a lack of commitment to belief in the gods. “I certainly do believe in gods—I am not an out-and-out atheos,” said Socrates at his trial in 399 BC (according to Plato). From the 430s onward we hear of atheos being used as a surname or nickname attached to various individuals. The pre-Socratic Hippo of Samos, active in Athens in the mid-430s, was said to be “surnamed the atheos”; so were Diagoras of Melos (mid-420s onward) and Theodorus of Cyrene (late fourth century). In other words, if you said “Hippo the atheist,” everyone knew who you meant.”

I have about one hundred pages left to read but will finish it in the coming week. It is probably a little obscure for most but in an era when politicians, in what purport to be secular democracies, go to church each week it is important to get a sense of how long the debate about the existence of God and gods in our culture has been running.

*BTW In case you were wondering, “Diagoras was the first person in history to self-identify in a positive way as an atheist…”

Kiso (1 of 1)

THE WALKS BETWEEN post towns along the Kiso Road are not particularly taxing: some are as short as three and a half hours, some as long as six. Most of the scenery between the towns is stunningly beautiful, and there is plenty of opportunity to empty the mind and find one’s pace. There are quaint mountain villages, small towns that take you back hundreds of years, and large towns like Kiso Fukushima with historical sites well worth visiting.

As I said in a previous post, Walking the Kiso Road: A Modern-Day Exploration of Old Japan by William Scott Wilson was probably the book I was most keen to read from the pile left unbothered since returning from Japan. Having had high expectations – and intending to walk the Kiso Road – I felt more than a little disappointed. 

The author has had an impressive career translating historical texts but this text, although a gentle and occasionally interesting read, just does not give one a sense of deep scholarship informing his walk along the Kiso Road and is often boring. One never really gets a sense of the walk and the vignettes never really help us to know the people Wilson meets along the road. The author just does not capture the spirit of the walk or the antiquity of the route. At one point I found myself wishing for a few photographs or some maps. I have a found a few interesting books from the bibliography though and will likely re-read before I do the walk.

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The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World by Kishore Mahbubani, who has the most impressive of CVs as a diplomat and academic, argues that we need to focus more on global governance to successfully face a host of challenges including the plight of refugees, terrorism, economic and environmental issues. The author is optimistic about the future, while spending many pages discussing the considerable challenges, citing the progress made since WWII in creating a global middle class, especially in Asian countries as a good example of progress.

It is a thought-provoking read from one in a very good position to share insider knowledge, especially the challenge of operating the United Nations when major global powers are so antagonistic to democratic, global decision-making. His analogy that:

“People no longer live in more than one hundred separate boats. Instead they all live in 193 separate cabins on the same boat. But this boat has a problem. It has 193 captains and crews, each claiming exclusive responsibility for one cabin. However, it has no captain or crew to take care of the boat as a whole.”

is quite obviously true and we need to seek pragmatic, as well as democratic solutions.

Occasionally the book is irritating. Mahbubani is comfortable, sometimes too comfortable, with paradox. His speaks a little too politely about GW Bush and his passion for Milton Friedman also jars. These are minor concerns as it is a balanced and important read. I should mention that debates about Australia (finally) becoming a republic seem so insignificant compared to the need for equitable, democratic and effective global governance. I do not hear many voices clamouring for such reform…as we seem to think that painting our cabin is a better option.

Featured image: flickr photo by erin m https://flickr.com/photos/erin_m/6603103775 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

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4 Comments

  1. David Norris:

    Yet another well polished, highly readable and informative blog post. I particularly like the look of Filmish and Andy Miller’s ambitious book experiment. Thank you Darcy for the heads up! You are a service to readers across Australia and beyond.

  2. David Norris:

    I am just about to duck off to my local bookstore (shout out to The Constant Reader, Crows Nest) and purchase a copy of Filmish. It looks excellent. The idea of a comic-inspired illustrated essay is not only helpful for my students but a great deal more interesting for me as well. There are always a couple of great contemporary book discoveries in your blog that offers an in-depth and unbiased opinion of the text. What more could the time-poor reader ask for! The only problem is you keep adding to my already insurmountable reading list. You must be a speed reader! Thanks again Darcy…look forward to the next one.

    • Darcy Moore:

      Thanks for your kind words, David. I should mention, re: ‘speed reading’ that I have a couple of advantages on most adult males. Firstly, I do not drive which means I read on the train and listen to books via my iPhone when walking. This amounts to two hours per day without even having to try and find time to read. Secondly, I had a teacher when I was in 5-6th class who was doing some kind of post-graduate work who had recorded my progress with a speed reading projector of some sort. Sentence after sentence on the screen would be displayed, at steadily increasing paces, each time I got all the comprehension questions right. I had the same teacher for almost two years and did this daily at some stages while he recorded the speeds and my scores. By the end I could do it at the fastest setting and score mostly perfectly on the ensuing test task. I liked the challenge, being a competitive boy who was good at sport, never realising that perhaps it was a little detrimental to my pleasure reading. As a result, I do read very fast. I am sure over 40 years of reading daily as helped with this too. 😉

  3. Deb:

    Will look out for The Year of Reading Dangerously – thanks Darcy

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