Looks aren't everything

I’ve been fiddling around with my template. It’s tough being a graphic designer that has zero web design skills. I feel so – s0 – so helpless! I almost broke my brain adding that third column.

I think it looks a little too much like a ‘guy’ website. Muy macho, you know? Like, sci-fi, classics, theology, dork macho. It’s a good thing I have that sissy heart cartoon.

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Philip K. Dick is not lame. Strange, maybe.

I finally saw A Scanner Darkly last week and was mightily disappointed at how lame it was. Although, just like the book, it’s saved by it’s ending.

Philip K. Dick has been floating around in my head recently. What with Elliot putting The Man in the High Castle on his favorites list, me having it on my wish list, getting Ubik for Christmas, and seeing Scanner Darkly this week.

For more Dick, click. And click. And kinda click.

Amongst all his craziness there is always hope…

“The power of spurious realities battering at us today—these deliberately manufactured fakes never penetrate to the heart of true human beings. I watch the children watching TV and at first I am afraid of what they are being taught, and then I realize, They can’t be corrupted or destroyed. They watch, they listen, they understand, and, then, where and when it is necessary, they reject. There is something enormously powerful in a child’s ability to withstand the fraudulent. A child has the clearest eye, the steadiest hand. The hucksters, the promoters, are appealing for the allegiance of these small people in vain. True, the cereal companies may be able to market huge quantities of junk breakfasts; the hamburger and hot dog chains may sell endless numbers of unreal fast-food items to the children, but the deep heart beats firmly, unreached and unreasoned with. A child of today can detect a lie quicker than the wisest adult of two decades ago. When I want to know what is true, I ask my children. They do not ask me; I turn to them.”
How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later by Philip K. Dick, 1978

While it’s the insane ideas that attract me, I think it’s the hope that has kept me.

My Five Favourite Books, 2006

I didn’t do a lot of reading for pleasure in 2006. I blame the first year of EFM with it’s insane reading demands for this. That, and the time taken up reading my favourite book this year (maybe of any year), in a year with little time for reading. Surprisingly, I read a lot of non-fiction this year – I usually read books by honest liars. Favourites, in ascending order, follow.

5. The Hauerwas Reader, Stanley Hauerwas, edited by John Berkman and Michael Cartwright
With the super-famous, Oprah-lovin’, best-is-not-a-theological-category-sayin’ theologian coming to my fair city this year I thought I should read some of his work. I was pretty lucky coming across this in the bargain section at McNally Robinson. A collection of essays, book excerpts and interviews with the man himself, from 1973-2001. A great introduction to his thinking. I thought. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be isn’t it?

4. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond
I would not shut up about this book after I read it. A little bit controversial – for it’s reliance on anecdotal evidence – and very exciting. Diamond’s thing is presenting the history of civilization as the inevitable result of the accidents of geography – not human endeavor. I could totally see this book becoming kuhninized by popular science lovers. It’s a great read. Interesting ideas, remarkable stories. Thanks, Burton Lysecki Books!

3. Dogmatics in Outline, Karl Barth, translated by G.T Thompson
The first primary text of Barth’s I’ve read. I picked this up from the “book guy” at the local Fringe Festival. A series of lectures delivered at the Bonn University after WWII. Barth structures the lectures around – ah, just read what Hauerwas has to say about it.

2. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself, Daniel J. Boorstin
Another great Lysecki find. One amazing story after another. Boorstin tells the story of World History as a story of Discovery. This following quote, taken from fifteenth century Korean printing regulations discussed in the chapters on printing, made me thankful to be a twenty-first century graphic artist:

“The supervisor and compositor shall be flogged thirty times for an error per chapter; the printer shall be flogged thirty times for bad impression, either too dark or too light, of one character per chapter.”

This apparently seems to explain the incredible reputation for accuracy of the earliest Korean efforts in print and the difficulty Koreans found in recruiting printers.

1. Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods
The top spot goes to the big Mann. This book was not only my favourite of the past year it might be my new favourite of any year. I had a long hankering for it so it was my big Birthday gift-certificate purchase (this year was The Book of The New Sun, will it be my new favourite?).
The first thing any one ever notices about the book is it’s enormous hugeness. It’s over 1500 pages. It hurts to read it. Really, it actually hurts your arms. The introduction by the translator even has a warning to the new reader suggesting an alternate nonlinear reading pattern to ease you into the book and keep you reading it.
The story itself is, of course, the story of Joseph, the dreamer, and his brothers. And his Father, Jacob. Mostly Jacob at the beginning. Unfortunately, the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers was not quite as long as Thomas Mann would have it. So, Mann makes a synthesis of every scrap of legend and scholarship surrounding the Genesis stories, mythologizing and demythologizing, building up something like an ironic hand grenade. The pin is finally pulled, for me, when you realize Mann’s god is the ultimate clever ironist. A joy to read. I was so absorbed in it I was surprised when it finally ended. Then again, I was reading it so long I may have forgotten what it was like not to be reading it.

The Worst Book I Read, 2006
That would be the dollar-store version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears where Papa Bear approaches the stairs leading to the second-floor bedrooms with a shiv made from the broken remnants of baby bear’s chair while Mama Bear and their child look on with fearful, anxious expressions. Huh? Appropriate for no child ever.

The Man Who is Chesterton

I may have to read The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (affiliate Link) again after reading Anne Perry’s short article on G.K. Chesterton’s classic. She refers to that confusing conundrum of a book as “food, armor, and a compass for the soul”. How many authors get to have that said about them? Too few.

“A Crazy Tale” by G.K. Chesteron is a favorite of mine, about a new type of animal…

…a new animal with eyes to see and ears to hear; with an intellect capable of performing a new function never before conceived truly; thanking God for his creation. I tell you religion is in it’s infancy; dervish and anchorite, Crusader and Ironside, were not fanatical enough, or frantic enough, in their adoration. A new type has arrived. You have seen it.

The Stack Revisited


The books in The Stack (today, that is. sigh.):

  1. The New Penguin History of the World: Fourth Edition by J.M. Roberts
  2. The Authority of The Bible by C.H. Dodd
  3. Space Lords by Cordwainer Smith
  4. The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer
  5. The Instrumentality of Mankind by Cordwainer Smith
  6. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, edited by Hans-Friedrich Mueller
  7. Shadow & Claw: The First Half of ‘The Book of the New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe
  8. Sword & Citadel: The Second Half of ‘The Book of the New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe
  9. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  10. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  11. Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  12. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon
  13. Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II
  14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated by David McDuff
  15. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

I like to stack my books. Every time my book acquisitions out paces my reading ability I start to stack. Usually this happens around the holidays when Birthday books, used books, borrowed books and Christmas books begin to pile up.

I have three rules for going about this. They contradict each other but I’m pretty serious about them.

Rule 1

Books must be placed in The Stack in the order they are received. Newest books at the bottom.

Rule 2

Books may be moved around in The Stack. e.g. Move a fun book next to a serious book to prevent dementia.

You’ll notice I have Cordwainer Smith bracketing Albert Schweitzer softening me up for Gibbon with a Gene Wolfe chaser. One just can’t read too many serious texts in a row.

I also have two old books from the Upper Fort Stewart Library in there as well. Old books are dealt with in the third rule.

Rule 3

Old books, read once, are put at the bottom of The Stack. Old books, read once, may not be read again until all new books are read or until you forget about The Stack because you bought a really cool new book which you can’t wait to read and, really, who can keep stacking up books like this?

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

Well, here, in all it’s raging glory, is The Stack.

I do this to myself every year around the holidays. Do all anxious readers do this to themselves? I can’t help it. Collector mentality probably plays into this sickness of mine. I just like seeing them stacked up. I lie to myself, I think, and tell myself it’s motivating.

It’s fun to share, though. “What’s on your nightstand?” we ask each other. “What’s on your soul-crushing pile of despair?” you might as well ask me. But these slices of our minds present an easy way to quickly share something important with each other. When I first met my wife I had to lend her my favourite, primary books. I mean, they were me.

A brief discussion of the books here, along with the whys and hows, will follow in a later post. For now: marvel at my stupidity and self-hate.

Beginnings

Every blog needs a beginning. Here are a few beginnings from some of my favourite books:

Sun Tzu said:
The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Translated by Lionel Giles, edited by James Clavell

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.
I am in here.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Aleksey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner in our district, Fyodor Karamazov, so noted in his time (and even now still recollected among us) for his tragic and fishy death, which occurred just thirteen years ago and which I shall report in its proper context.
The Brothers Karamazov , Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated by David McDuff

Matter-of-fact beginnings, all. So I will be too. This’ll be a blog about books.