“And rightly so: for it is to him who masters our minds by force of truth, not to those who enslave them by violence, that we owe our reverence.” -Voltaire, in When Einstein Walked With Godel by Jim Holt
Quotes from East of Eden by John Steinbeck
You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast. – page 4
It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them. Page 133
.. Some men are friends with the whole world in their hearts, and there are others that hate themselves and spread hatred around like butter on hot bread. Page 144
Well, a man’s mind can’t stay in time the way his body does. Page 145
No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us. Page 268
… People are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen… A great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar. Page 270
The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. Page 270
… With rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind. Page 270
.. If rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. Page 270
The human is the only guilty animal. Page 271
Couldn’t a world be built around accepted truth? Couldn’t some pains and insanities be ripped out if the causes were known? Page 271
… A woman who knows all about men usually knows one part very well and can’t conceive other parts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. P. 322
At this time I had to return the book to the library. Then I borrowed it again, but this time from a different library, and it was part of John Steinbeck: Novels 1942 – 1952 from The Library of America.
An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable in our times. p. 589
“It’s one of the great fallacies, it seems to me,” said Lee, “that time gives much of anything but years and sadness to a man.” p.708
A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?” p.747
Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill? p 747
We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest with ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world. p 749
Nearly everyone has his box of secret pain, shared with no one. p. 815
“I guess this personal hide-and-seek is not unusual. And some people are ‘it’ all their lives – hopelessly ‘it’.” p. 824
“Laughter comes later, like wisdom teeth, and laughter at yourself comes last of all in a mad race with death, and sometimes it isn’t in time.” p. 835
“All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies… And we’re so overbrave and over fearful – we’re kind and cruel as children. We’re overfriendly and at the same time afraid of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re oversentimental and realistic.We are mundane and materialistic – and do you know of any other nations that acts for ideals? We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture…” p. 913
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
So I finished this book. It’s like all human flaws were crammed into a few characters and you watched it play out like a slow train crash. The most logical-seeming person was also the worst. The most convoluted narrative was the most innocent character. The character that seemed to have something going for him, whose life looked like it was just beginning… Well, I’m not going to spoil it. The whole book is just tragic.
Question of the week from Jared Diamond
I picked this book up 10 years ago but got too busy to read the whole thing. Here’s to another try.
The Emporer of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
Depression is seductive: it offend and teases, frightens you and draws you in, tempting you with its promise of sweet oblivion, then overwhelming you with a nearly sexual power, squirming past your defenses, dissolving your will, invading the tired spirit so utterly that it becomes difficult to recall that you ever lived without it… Or to imagine that you might live that way again. With all the guile of Satan himself, depression persuades you that its invasion was all your own idea, that you wanted it all along. It fogs the part of the brain that reasons, that knows right and wrong. It captures you with its warm, guilty, hateful pressures, and, worst of all, it becomes familiar. All at once, you find yourself in thrall to the very thing that most terrifies you… To be depressed is to be half in love with disaster. P. 152-153
We live so much of our lives in chaos. Human history can be viewed as an endless search for greater order: everything from language to religion to law to science tries to impose a framework on classic existence. P. 229
We look at our bodies, our energies, and we think we own them: we do not recognize, with Emerson, that they are a part of the world to be husbanded with care, to be respected, not to be misused; we think they are ours to do with what we will. And so, thinking we have been liberated, we joyfully pave the paths to our destruction. P. 583
But guilt comes in more than one variety. And so does punishment. P. 648
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
I finished this book a couple of months ago but forgot I had written down some stuff from it!
“If you marvel at your good fortune, you should marvel in secret: never let people see you.” – p. 186
“Our possessions outlasts us,… we have to live up to them, as they will be our witnesses when we are gone.” p. 54
“You need to write everything down, he tells his people. Distrust yourself. Human memory is fallible.” p. 63
Do you know why they say, ‘There’s no smoke without fire?’ It’s not just to give encouragement to people who like fires. It’s a statement about the danger of chimneys, but also about the courts of kings – or any space where trapped air circulates, choking on itself. A spark catches a particle of falling soot: with a crackle, the matter ignites: with a roast, the flames fly skyward, and within minutes, the palace is ablaze.” p. 141
“But the law is not an instrument to find out truth. It is there to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future. It seems there is no mercy in this world, but a kind of haphazard justice: men pray for crimes, but not necessarily their own.” – p. 729
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
The story of East of Eden
If anyone wants to know what the whole book is about… Pages 266 to 272 lays it all out, and it’s the most touching part of the book yet.
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.
On the shelf
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
Books I’ve Finished or Read Since January 1, 2022
Circe by Madeline Miller
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Piranesi by Susanna Clark
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Stars are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lilith Assandt
Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephensen
Light by John M Harrison
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnot
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
On the shelf
The Year of Mind, Body, and… Wallet
Without really meaning to, I’ve decided to try to make this a year (or more) of mind, body, and wallet. Meaning that during the same time frame I’ve somehow decided to 1) focus more fully on fitness, 2) read at least 10-20 books of “literature” for 2022, and 3) limit my spending.
The fitness backstory: 2021 was a year of surprise medical problems. From the months of March to May in 2021, during what I felt was a giant positive upswing in my fitness journey (I was looking fit, toned, and strong; I was using my Olympic weight set), I started bleeding. Like, a lot. I was hemorrhaging. I had to go to the Emergency Room twice because the first time, I’d lost a quarter of my blood volume and the second time, I was well on my way to losing half my blood. Both ended up in hospital stays. I got put on different medicines to try to stop the bleeding. They never worked completely. In May, I underwent a hysterectomy and everything that was wrong in that part of my body was taken out. And after I healed (3 whole months for full healing), I had to deal with weakened muscles that ended up in back pain for which I went to physical therapy. After a few more months, I finally felt ready to start my fitness journey over. But during these months, I had gotten out of shape and weak. I wanted to be strong again. I really started rock climbing regularly and did some light weights to start, but it was in December that I felt strong enough to really take my 20- and 30-pound dumbbells seriously. So for 2022 I decided to finish what I’d started 1.5 years ago.
Reading: 2021 was also a year of loss. Like I mentioned before, I inherited a few old books from someone who was gone too soon due to Covid and never visiting the doctor, like, ever. Reading Ulysses (I’m now halfway through it) has ignited within me a desire to read more literary fodder, as in anything that’s not a “quick airport book from a tiny newsstand.” The types of books that you don’t have to think about. I do enjoy the relaxed non-heavy read. But, it’s not like I’ve never read anything substantial. I went through a beatnik phase and a William Faulkner phase. I had a Tom Robbins phase. I took Philosophy classes in college (which forced me to read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, etc.) and I read stuff like Bertrand Russell for fun. My high school had me read a lot of classics because it was 3 years of Honors English and 1 of AP English. But there were still books that were out of my reach or kind of slippery because I was simply too ADD to focus on them. But now I’m 2 decades older, my ADD is controlled, and I have the time and the life knowledge to tackle books I’ve missed. Which books? Well, I’m not sure yet. There are lists of books all over the place. My first thought is to balance the reading so that I’m not reading War and Peace and Anna Karenina at the same time, that there is a difference in time, place, author, and culture. I’d also like to read across genres and points of view. Variety is the spice of life, they say.
So far this year I’ve finished Circe by Madeline Miller and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. (One of those was deeper than the other.) I’ve got Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino*, All Systems Red by Martha Wells*, Dune, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier* on rotation. And of course, Ulysses. From the library I have one Neal Stephenson book, Fall, or Dodge in Hell. On my “next” list is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu*, and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. On my bookshelf are Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, and the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. There are even more books in my Kindle and on my ebook “to read” list. My intention is to pick books that can make me pause and think, but sometimes, I’m not sure every book I pick will do that. Circe was a lot simpler read than I had thought; it was good but not as dense as I thought it would be. (I’d recommend Galatea by Madeline Miller as a more thoughtful read). In any case, I’m sure I’ll write about the things I read.
The wallet: Suddenly one day I pondered if I could do an entire year of “no spending”. This was after the splurging I did in November and December to set up my workstation at home with 2 4k monitors and a docking station. I also bought a bookshelf. Not to mention everyone’s holiday gifts. Then one day after Christmas, it hit me that I could try to do a “no spend” month where I didn’t buy anything on impulse or that I didn’t really need. I wondered how much money I could save. I thought about what were “approved” spends and “bad” spends — and if you’ve never thought of this before, it is an enlightening exercise. For people doing this, the first thing they must do is to make lists of what’s a “need” versus a “want”, what’s okay to spend on, and what isn’t. (One can look up “no spend year” and find a million links and social media about the topic.) I read this Forbes article to start.
What’s nice about the No Spending thing is that it’s personalized, for the most part. I, for instance, do not need the latest game console or video game, because nothing I do depends on that. Someone else might. Someone else might not need shampoo and conditioner, but I do, or else my hair turns into a giant, out-of-control tumbleweed. I can broadly put down in the “approved” list things like medical bills, medicines, things for health maintenance, insurance, and things for health improvements. Other “approved” spending includes food (nothing carb-loaded or deep fried), gifts (dollar limits depending on what the gift is for), car maintenance, house maintenance, vacation, and replacements for things I already own if they are used up or worn down, like soap. It’s easy to write “No late-night Amazon browsing” and remember it, hence, cutting out the possibility of ordering something half-asleep. Also, it’s easy to remember “no more clothes” and “no impulse buying”. This past week, this “resolution” has reared up at Target, Best Buy, and the grocery store, successfully convincing me to not buy something just for the sake of buying it. It was both difficult and empowering. Once January is over, I’ll try February. I’m hoping that eventually, this will turn into a habit and my wallet will be happier for it.
*Books that are ebook or library loans will have priority.
Words from Madeline Miller’s Circe
You can teach a viper to eat from your hands, but you cannot take away how much it likes to bite.Page 99
… perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.Page 325
He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.Page 406
I’m on page 3 and I already want to weep.
In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them. There is a sense of emptiness that comes over us at evening, with the odor of the elephants after the rain and the sandalwood ashes growing cold in the braziers, a dizziness that makes rivers and mountains tremble on the fallow curves of the planispheres where they are portrayed, and rolls up, one after the other, the despatches announcing to us the collapse of the last enemy troops, from defeat to defeat, and flakes the wax of the seals of obscure kings who beseech our armies’ protection, offering in exchange annual tributes of precious metals, tanned hides, and tortoise shell. It is the desperate moment when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin, that corruption’s gangrene has spread too far to be healed by our scepter, that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us the heirs of their long undoing.–Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
Sorry for the long gaps in posting here. I’ve had a birthday, then Thanksgiving, and was preparing for the holidays (2 days left!). Also, work seems to be ramping up a little bit due to everyone doing things at the very last minute.
Here are a few things I looked up this week:
The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. (for work. seriously!)
The College Board: 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers. This list is a bit outdated in parts, and it does not include a lot of current (21st century) literature. This list is also not very diverse in terms of culture.
The 21st Century’s Greatest Books (according to the BBC). I’m so glad White Teeth made it on there; I read it when it first came out and thought it was awesome, but it seemed like no one else read it or heard of it. I read Wolf Hall when it first came out, loved it, and everyone liked it as well. Strange how these things are.
How to Make the Best Sugar Cookies. It calls for a lot of cream of tartar, and I recommend to put that whole amount started in the recipe in. I didn’t because we barely had enough of it, and upon baking, my cookies spread out too much. I probably didn’t put all that flour in as well because flour is messy and I got some of it on the counter and on myself.
How to Make Peanut Sauce (as with recipe blogs, the recipe is at the bottom of the post). I don’t like ginger so I didn’t put that in. I also didn’t have limes, so I substituted for lemon juice. Sometimes people add some sort of spice in this. I don’t like spicy, so I didn’t put any chili flakes or sriracha sauce in. (I think I might be part supertaster because I can taste every ingredient in this after I made it). The result was pretty good still. Maybe it’s one of those recipes that you only put in things that you like after the soy sauce and honey.
NYT’s Royal Icing recipe. I had to add some water to this recipe because the amount of wet materials in the recipe wasn’t enough to make the whole thing manageable.