Question of the week from Jared Diamond

If we succeed in examining how some people came to dominate other people, may this not seem to justify the domination? Doesn’t it seem to say that the outcome was inevitable, and that it would therefore be futile to try to change the outcome today?

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies

I picked this book up 10 years ago but got too busy to read the whole thing. Here’s to another try.

Weird shit I find

Yes, I think that should be a category.

I borrow books from the library. People use bookmarks in books. Some of these bookmarks are whatever these strangers happen to have around them that’s flat. I’ve already seen the grocery lists and library slips. And people are strange. You know where this is going. Today I opened up a comic book (yes, I read one once in a while) and found… This.

If anyone can figure out what ties all these together….

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

We think time cannot touch the dead, but it touches their monuments… P. 10

Death is your prince, you are not his patron; when you think he is engaged elsewhere, he will batter down your door, walk in and wipe his boots on you. P. 136

What is the nature of the border between truth and lies? It is permeable and blurred because it is planted thick with rumor, confabulation, misunderstandings and twisted tales. Truth can break the gates down, truth can howl in the street; unless truth is pleasing, personable and easy to like, she is condemned to stay whimpering at the back door. P. 159

… Don’t pay out good money for horoscopes. If things are going to go badly for you, is that what you need to know as you saddle up? P. 165

… If a man’s subject is deception, you are deceived if you think you grasp his meaning. Page 348

If what someone wants from you is an admission, it is never in your interest to give it. Page 353

Intrigue feeds on itself; conspiracies have neither mother nor father, and yet they thrive: the only thing to know is that no one knows anything. P. 370

Thoughts and an excerpt from East of Eden by John Steinbeck

So I’m reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it when I was 13 years old in middle school and at that time, I remember it as a continous puzzlement of mentally pleading to the characters, “Noooo, don’t do that!” over and over again. I felt like everybody in the book was a slow moving train wreck and when I finished it, I felt “bothered” by it but wasn’t sure how. It felt like a Grimm’s fairy tale with no happy ending. I didn’t understand how people worked (and probably still don’t; see: autism) in the book and couldn’t compare it to real life because no one acted that way in my small 13 year old world. I realize now that no 13 or 14 year old would “get” it, not in a “been there” way.  I believe there is a time to read certain things (but I wouldn’t forbid anyone reading, though).

I’d recommend reading East of Eden with at least 30 years’ of life experience. Reading this book in my 40s is another thing entirely. Now, I feel like I understand it. And I wonder if all the women in Steinbeck’s life were “suspicious of fun”, “had no spark of humor and only occasionally a blade of cutting wit”, “a pale inside-herself woman” on which “no open laughter raised the corners of her mouth”. We haven’t even gotten to Cathy yet. I’m on page 132, and I don’t remember what happens next. I’m hoping there is a woman that isn’t miserable or evil or drab, a woman with strength, personality, joy, openness, warmth, and a moral compass. I want to tell Steinbeck that women can have all of those qualities and it wouldn’t threaten anyone’s masculinity, but this could be the 2020s talking to the 1950s. Anyways…

This is a beautiful and introspective book at times. The writing is snappy, flavorful, and sensory. The language is nowhere near as hard as Ulysses (I’m still working through that one). It’s very palatable if one wants a see a master of description at work. The setting and the characters are drawn so well that I can sense their essence. What really is worth reading are the small sections of… Ponderance?

There are sentences that I do agree with and ones I don’t. But I just had to share this whole section – I have no recollection of reading this in middle school; it probably went over my head – but now these are my favorite parts.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell

“Beneath every history, another history.” – p. 61

“It matters what name we choose, what name we make.” – 165

“There is a world beyond this black world. There is a world of the possible… The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were before.” – 189

“A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hands and the unguessed-at expression of his face.” – 331

The fate of people is made like this, two men in small rooms… This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase… ” – 566

Light by M. John Harrison

“… Somewhere between waking and sleeping, ‘rents’ had become ‘tears’ and this, he felt, summed up the life of his whole race.” page 15

“Circus was in the streets. It was inside people’s heads. Eat fire? Everyone was a fireeater. Everyone had geek genes and a story to tell. Sentient tattoos made everyone the Illustrated Man. Everyone was high on some flying trapeze issue of their own.” page 163

“The more you deny the forces inside, kid, the more they control you.” page 224

“They’d driven themselves past the norms of their relationship, they had no idea what to make of each other. He didn’t want her to be healthy. She didn’t want him to be reliable or good-natured.” page 241

Ulysses: Page 249

At this moment, I’m on page 249 of Ulysses. The first two “chapters” were fine, but quickly ramped up from here such that I’m swallowed up by references, themes, mythology, languages, and details. Any chapter from the viewpoint of Stephen Daedalus is really hard to get through, so it take me a long while to finish those parts. There are Post-Its all over the place with words I don’t know, and I’m underlining phrases I find interesting, deep, funny, or incomprehensible. All of which have caused me to look up online resources in order to more fully understand and appreciate what I’m reading:

Michael Groden’s Notes of Ulysses

I’m currently watching the Hades episode in this series of YouTube videos: Reading Ulysses for Fun. There is a video for each “chapter”, plus additional videos. This series is super helpful in explaining and pointing the way.

Gilbert Schema for Ulysses

Guide to Ulysses (includes a guide for each episode)

The Joyce Project – where you can read the book where parts of it are annotated. I bought an annotated version for my Kindle so I’m using that when I don’t want to lug my book around (my book is hardcover, the “completed and unabridged text, as corrected and entirely reset in 1961”, and contains the new forward by the author and “the historic decision by Judge John M. Woolsey whereby the Federal ban on Ulysses was finally removed”. I can’t find a picture of the exact edition online; the ones that look like the cover I have are labeled “paperback”, but I have the hardcover).