• Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

    early 2000s? Not sure when i read/wrote this but definitely before 2002

    I could be cynical as hell and say Hey, Annie! Ain’t this book already been written once by Hank Thoreau? But there’s little point in cynicism since it’s only really appropriate when the speaker has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about but is just dying to appear as an expert. But anyway.

    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is not fiction. It’s a sort of journal. A really, really good journal kept by someone who can write like a banshee. Dillard lives in the woods for a few seasons and documents the changes and minutia of a creek that passes through her woods. She is there to be astounded and shares her various astonishments in this sorta-journal.

    So right now, you’re probably thinking, So what the hell would I want to read some granola freak’s journal fer anyway? 

    Well, for one thing, she’s got some very cool things to say, I quote:I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.

    AndNo, I’ve gone through this a million times, beauty is not a hoax—how many days have I leaned not to stare at the back of my hand when I could look out at the creek? Come on, I say to the creek, surprise me; and it does, with each new drop. Beauty is real. I would never deny it; the appalling thing is that I forget it.

    In about a zillion different ways and using a zillion different scenarios Dillard tells the reader: pay attention! I’d tend to agree with her but the problem for me is in deciding what to pay attention to. Dillard (I think) addresses this issue with a quote from Thomas Merton: There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues. She describes how easy it is to “diddle around in life making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end.” I think the trap she warns against is not so much paying attention to the wrong things, but rather paying attention in the wrong way. I think there are perhaps two ways of paying attention: In one way you watch each moment unfold, commenting, critiquing and cataloging so that you can later remember it. In the other mode of attention, you simply watch the moment unfold—no narration. The first method leads to itsy-bitsy statues; the later to a life that is bright and extravagant and dangerous.

    Dillard says:The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part.

    And that’s the rub, isn’t it? The world is real and beautiful. We see this all the time when we pay attention. The problem is that we forget more often than not to pay attention.


  • Mrs. Dalloway, V Woolf

    Notes on Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

    Wednesday, June 14, 2000

    The story of Mrs. Dalloway unfolds against the metronome of Big Ben striking out time. Individual moments are made static against a fluid background of ever advancing time. And how does one reconcile the dissonance between memories of static moments against a reality that is always flowing in one direction. The man made world, Big Ben, the shops and sights of London seem to indicate that time only moves in one direction but our inner world is always moving in multiple directions simultaneously. There is dissonance between the outer world and the inner world especially with regard to the perception of how time proceeds. The characters live in a world in which time appears to move only in one direction but a deeper seeing, memories and awareness of individual moments don’t seem to validate or support that time is only moving in one direction.

    The difficulty of deciding what is important is increased because of this dissonance. If outwardly we perceive time to be always rushing forward, we too must rush with it, anticipating the next moment, always waiting for something. But if our inner world tells us time is much more fluid than this, where then do we focus out attention. The rush of the outer world tells us we are mistaken, irresponsible even, to focus on the present moment. As such, the characters, each in their own way are asking: “What is enough?”

    What is meant by proportion? Odd that while it seems to stem from propriety, the root is different. Is the meaning still implied though?

    Septimus: most interesting character for me next to Mrs. D. Does he parallel Sally, Peter’s and Clarissa’s failed attempts at life lived outside of proportion?


  • Edisto, Padget Powell

    Saturday, May 6, 2000

    Padget Powell, Edisto

    This is my third read of Powell’s Edisto and my first time really even coming close to understanding what is going on in the book. The difficulty, I see now in hindsight, is that the book covers so many different subject areas that it took me several readings to pick up on each level to see what was going on. The pages of Edisto address (and these are ranked in my order of perceived importance): the nature of learning and the development of self, race relations, class relations, marriage and parenting. 

    On the novel as a whole, I am reminded of both Hardy’s ability to paint a vivid locale as well as his ability to really define characters, even the minor/secondary ones.

    With regard to the books addressing the nature of learning and the development of self:

    (from page 84 where Simons reflects on his time with Taurus)That’s the thing I learned from him during those days: you can wait to know something like waiting for a dream to surface in the morning, which if you jump up and wonder hard you will never remember, but if you just lie there and listen to the suck-pump chop of the surf ad the peppering and the palm thrashing and feel the rising glare of the Atlantic heat, you can remember all the things of the night. But if you go around beating the world with questions like a reporter or federal oral history junior sociologist number two pencil electronic keyout asshole, all the answers will go back into mystery like fiddlers into pluff mud.

    Taurus’ sit back and watch without judgement way of the world becomes something that Simons seeks to emulate and it serves as a good form of protection for when, at the close of the novel, surrounded by the pompous clods who populate the 19th hole. Instead of judging them, he turns their arrogance into a path of learning

    (page 182-183)you never see these guys fold their arms and smoke and look for hours at a wall, knowing they don’t know the whole alphabet of success, have all the piece. They know the whole alphabet of worldly maneuver.And how, I have to find out, did they ever come to think they know that?

    Another example of the book’s take on the development of self comes when Simons realizes the difference between himself, Taurus and the men who hang out at the Baby Grand: (Page 176)I had one of those white hearts that lub-dub this way: then—next ; and Taurus had one of these that go now—next; and the guys at the Grand when now—now. And you can’t change that with decisions to be cool. You can’t get to that now—now without a congenital blessing or disease, whichever applies.

    Which takes us into a deeper look at the role that race relations play in the book. I don’t think that Powell is making any assertions about blacks in general here. I do think that the now—now lubdub that he refers to is more contingent upon where, when and how someone is raised than the color of their skin. But still, it raises some interesting issues. Especially when taken together with the sit back and watch without judgement perspective manifest in Taurus. 

    Meaning, Taurus sees the world without prejudice. It’s not that he is incapable of discerning the differences between individuals, but rather he waits for those differences to be raised by the situation instead of applying them without evidence. And in this sense, I think the book paints an incredible positive picture of what the world could be like if it were populated with Taurus’ instead of people who went into situations with their own preconceived notions of how other people will act.


  • Paul Bowles

    11/19/1999 9:00AM

    It was around 10 o’clock by the time I got in last night. I was just getting back from a Moroccan cooking class, feeling full from several consecutive hours of North African feasting.

    The feverish flu that hounded me all day long was chased away by the distraction of food. Perhaps the cinnamon and cayenne kicked the flu out of me? I thought to myself as I got out of my car. A brief, ephemeral cloud of a thought that was quickly blown off shore by a more serious thought-front moving through; one that called into question my future as a writer. I played my key-choice-as-omen-of-writing-future game whereby I stand on my front porch and arbitrarily pick a key from my key chain and if said key unlocks my front door, I interpret it as an indication that I should continue to apply pen to paper with due diligence. Had it not fit, I’d still be writing this morning, albeit with an even thicker, more ominous cloud of self-doubt than the one that never fails to deny the muses to shine down on me unfiltered. Needless to say, the key fit and I once again basked in the hope that inspiration stood waiting around just the next corner.

    After filling my wife in on the evening’s exotic dishes, we went to bed. I remember turning off the light and standing over my side of the bed, my hands fumbling around the nightstand, hunting among the precarious stonehenge of picture frames for my earplugs (sharing a bedroom with our boxer Emily, who clearly suffers from a bizarre manifestation of canine sleep apnea is like trying to sleep in a factory).

    At this exact moment my wife informed me that Paul Bowles was dead. Huh, I said. Not the huh with an implied question mark that indicates disbelief, but the huh of finality that denotes the audible period of a sentence begun at some unremembered point in the past and is only now winding its way around to some sort of terminus.

    As a wave of neurochems washed through my brain, cultivating a response to this news, my wife pointed out the irony of my attendance at the aforementioned Moroccan gastronomy exploration on the same day of Bowles’ death. I was several steps behind her on this one, as I usually am several leapthoughts behind her anyway. I further confess that I was at the moment still trying to uncover whether or not I had any idea that Bowles was still living when I learned of his death.

    All of which points to the strange relationship between authors and the readers of their books. I stood over my bed, earplugs warming, compressing in my hands. I had the unmistakable feeling that a friend of mine had just died, a friend who’s existence I was never that sure of to begin with.

    I am at my very core a pathetically lazy reader. I can’t honestly recall more than a couple of books that I’ve read by Bowles. Only two books, specifically Sheltering Sky and some longish essay on modern Morocco, are distilled from my recollection. Still, my life is fundamentally different because he lived and wrote and I read what he wrote.

    At least once a week, Bowles’ telling of the three sisters and their pursuit of tea in the Sahara finds a way to imbue some event in my life with meaning that would be lost had I not read Sheltering Sky. I can’t count the number of times my grasping for some experience removed from the pedestrian has been either instigated or squelched by recounting the fictional lives of Port and Kit.

    Knowing that Bowles spent some part of his life traveling through Africa in search of indigenous music that transcended the commonplace, and consequently inspired the listener to transcend, etc., it is impossible to avoid reading Port’s life as a parallel to Bowles’ own life. When Port says, ” Everyone makes the life he wants,” it is near impossible to imagine Bowles disagreeing with his character’s take on fortune and fate. As such, finding myself in a convergence of events that simultaneously seems out of my control and calls the meaning of my life in to question, I am urged optimistically forward by Bowles’ creepy but knowing voice to decide how I would wish my life to be instead of leaving it to chance and blaming outside forces later.

    I have, at least in my own private thoughts and recollections, so thoroughly confused Port and Bowles that the former seems more real than fictional creation I know him to be and the latter seems too knowing to be anything but the creation of a masterful novelist. 

    No doubt, Bowles’ appearance at the end of Bertolucci’s beautiful (but full of shortcomings) cinematic interpretation of Sheltering Sky contributes to my uncontrollable intermingling of the character and his creator.

    In the last minutes of Sheltering Sky, Bowles makes an appearance to recite a passage that is spoken by Port about 2/3rds of the way through the novel. In the book, the passage reads:

    As I slipped into bed my wife said, ” He won’t get to see the moon rise again.” I put my earplugs in and lay in a dark room made intermittently light by the moon, hoping, pleading that my friend got to see the full moon float across the black, North African sky one last time. And that as he watched it, he knew with certainty that it would be the last time, cheating life’s uncertainty and not taking a moment of it for granted.


  • Paul Bowles

    11/19/1999 9:00AM

    It was around 10 o’clock by the time I got in last night. I was just getting back from a Moroccan cooking class, feeling full from several consecutive hours of North African feasting.

    The feverish flu that hounded me all day long was chased away by the distraction of food. Perhaps the cinnamon and cayenne kicked the flu out of me? I thought to myself as I got out of my car. A brief, ephemeral cloud of a thought that was quickly blown off shore by a more serious thought-front moving through; one that called into question my future as a writer. I played my key-choice-as-omen-of-writing-future game whereby I stand on my front porch and arbitrarily pick a key from my key chain and if said key unlocks my front door, I interpret it as an indication that I should continue to apply pen to paper with due diligence. Had it not fit, I’d still be writing this morning, albeit with an even thicker, more ominous cloud of self-doubt than the one that never fails to deny the muses to shine down on me unfiltered. Needless to say, the key fit and I once again basked in the hope that inspiration stood waiting around just the next corner.

    After filling my wife in on the evening’s exotic dishes, we went to bed. I remember turning off the light and standing over my side of the bed, my hands fumbling around the nightstand, hunting among the precarious stonehenge of picture frames for my earplugs (sharing a bedroom with our boxer Emily, who clearly suffers from a bizarre manifestation of canine sleep apnea is like trying to sleep in a factory).

    At this exact moment my wife informed me that Paul Bowles was dead. Huh, I said. Not the huh with an implied question mark that indicates disbelief, but the huh of finality that denotes the audible period of a sentence begun at some unremembered point in the past and is only now winding its way around to some sort of terminus.

    As a wave of neurochems washed through my brain, cultivating a response to this news, my wife pointed out the irony of my attendance at the aforementioned Moroccan gastronomy exploration on the same day of Bowles’ death. I was several steps behind her on this one, as I usually am several leapthoughts behind her anyway. I further confess that I was at the moment still trying to uncover whether or not I had any idea that Bowles was still living when I learned of his death.

    All of which points to the strange relationship between authors and the readers of their books. I stood over my bed, earplugs warming, compressing in my hands. I had the unmistakable feeling that a friend of mine had just died, a friend who’s existence I was never that sure of to begin with.

    I am at my very core a pathetically lazy reader. I can’t honestly recall more than a couple of books that I’ve read by Bowles. Only two books, specifically Sheltering Sky and some longish essay on modern Morocco, are distilled from my recollection. Still, my life is fundamentally different because he lived and wrote and I read what he wrote.

    At least once a week, Bowles’ telling of the three sisters and their pursuit of tea in the Sahara finds a way to imbue some event in my life with meaning that would be lost had I not read Sheltering Sky. I can’t count the number of times my grasping for some experience removed from the pedestrian has been either instigated or squelched by recounting the fictional lives of Port and Kit.

    Knowing that Bowles spent some part of his life traveling through Africa in search of indigenous music that transcended the commonplace, and consequently inspired the listener to transcend, etc., it is impossible to avoid reading Port’s life as a parallel to Bowles’ own life. When Port says, ” Everyone makes the life he wants,” it is near impossible to imagine Bowles disagreeing with his character’s take on fortune and fate. As such, finding myself in a convergence of events that simultaneously seems out of my control and calls the meaning of my life in to question, I am urged optimistically forward by Bowles’ creepy but knowing voice to decide how I would wish my life to be instead of leaving it to chance and blaming outside forces later.

    I have, at least in my own private thoughts and recollections, so thoroughly confused Port and Bowles that the former seems more real than fictional creation I know him to be and the latter seems too knowing to be anything but the creation of a masterful novelist. 

    No doubt, Bowles’ appearance at the end of Bertolucci’s beautiful (but full of shortcomings) cinematic interpretation of Sheltering Sky contributes to my uncontrollable intermingling of the character and his creator.

    In the last minutes of Sheltering Sky, Bowles makes an appearance to recite a passage that is spoken by Port about 2/3rds of the way through the novel. In the book, the passage reads:

    As I slipped into bed my wife said, ” He won’t get to see the moon rise again.” I put my earplugs in and lay in a dark room made intermittently light by the moon, hoping, pleading that my friend got to see the full moon float across the black, North African sky one last time. And that as he watched it, he knew with certainty that it would be the last time, cheating life’s uncertainty and not taking a moment of it for granted.


  • Sophie’s World, J Gaardner

    Sometime early 1998

    I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Getting my arms around it, I mean. I finished Sophie’s World on the flight back from Key West the other day. It’s difficult to even try to give a synopsis of this book, not to mention which of its various facets I think really made me like it. 

    It’s written by this guy who, I think, teaches high-school level philosophy. It’s a history of ideas, a history of philosophy that it incorporated into a narrative about a girl named Sohpie who is just around 15-years-old. 

    So when you first start reading it you’re like, Oh yeah. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, I remember all this stuff about materialists and rationalists and crap like that. And it becomes an interesting read simply because it’s like a little refresher course for all of that unconsolidated philosophy information floating around in your brain. But then, about halfway through the book, after Hume (who, by the way, is explained much more clearly in this book than in any philosophy course I ever took) and around Berkeley, this second narrative takes off and you realize that you’ve been reading the book in a sort of mis-directed fashion and it just makes your head swim. 

    For the first 300 pages Gaardner gets the reader involved in Sophie’s ruminations about god and what god’s role is in the world, if there is a god, etc. Then, just when you feel like you and Sophie may be reaching some sort of understanding about the world, this new narrative is introduced that makes you question everything from Socrates on up. Gaardner forces the reader to evaluate each philosopher’s arguments re: God. 

    It’s tough for me to explain all this because it’s sort of like that flick The Crying Game (which I still haven’t seen) where everyone’s running around screaming, you gotta see this movie! it’s great but I can’t tell you the ending,kinda crap. You really just have to read the book yourself.

    The book got me thinking about so much stuff–happiness and mental health and what is real. Is the world something that is out there that we all agree upon as being our world or is the world only in our heads? That kinda stuff. The other issue I found pretty interesting is that perhaps reality as we know it really did start out from just a single cell somewhere. A single cell that divided and mutated and divided and reproduced and divided and mutated again and again and again until, whammo!, 4.6 billion years later, here we are. The products of that single cell. I do not think we are the end product of that single cell. I do think that the whole history of that cell, the history of our world, or universe has been a process of that single cell expanding and evolving so that it can better know itself. And that is the reason why. 

    Why are we here? So that whatever was divine and inspired in that first cell can better know itself and seek the source of its divinity and inspiration. Maybe?


  • Microserfs, Douglas Coupland

    Late 90s?

    So I just finished reading Microserfs. First off a couple of things amazed me right away: the book was written in the early nineties and yet Coupland manages to avoid the starry-eyed view of the information superhighway that was sucking everyone in left and right back then. He sees all the technology around him with a level-headedness and equanimity that as far as I remember was absolutely lacking back in the day. Secondly, he really does come across as seeming to know a lot about coding software. He may not know squat about any particular programming language, but he knows what it s like to sit in a room and code for several hours. Coupland writes about coding the way Hemingway wrote about fishing. I was impressed by the authenticity of the characters work experiences.

    If anything, the book is about a search for meaning. It tries answer questions about what role money and creativity and personal satisfaction play in the uncovering of meaning in one’s life. None of the questions are particularly new. Against the backdrop of a purely late 20th century lifestyle (nomadic coder, moving from job to job), the questions take on a slightly new significance. Several of Coupland’s characters argue that because of the nature of technology and the miracles it promises, to simply be involved in the computer industry in any capacity at this point in history is enough to bring meaning to one’s life. Being on the cutting edge of what will inevitably effect the rest of human history is supposedly sublime enough an occupation that meaning need not be sought elsewhere. I disagree, but this here bit of writing is about the book, not me.

    Another interesting issue brought up by the characters is at what level we function simply as members of the human race and at what level we function as individuals. One character describes it as this: when we look up at the sky and see a flock of geese flying overhead we do not see any one individual goose, instead we see them all as a group and evaluate them as a group. Should humans be seen any differently: should our individual actions be so scrutinized or should we instead step back and see the human race’s actions as a whole? It goes back to the question: In what ways are we like all other people, some other people and no other people? Everyone answers that questions differently I guess.

    So among all the bitching and whining about how life has no meaning and crap like that, the only solution the characters of the book can find is to share common experiences like the huge effect that playing with Legos had on their lives and crap like that. This is where Coupland always has driven me nuts and continues to do so in this book. Yes legos and nerfguns can be sublime in how they connect us to one another. Maybe they connect us despite their unnaturalness or maybe because of their synthetic, purely from the hands of man, nature. Same with computers. Yes computers may bring us closer together, but there’s something weird about it.

    There’s something distasteful about human bonds being formed of inorganic substances. A shared affinity for a particular sunset warrants that feeling of sublime connectedness that makes us feel a part of the human race. But what about a shared affinity for Linux? I think this geek will look elsewhere for connections.


  • The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

    June 5, 1998

    After seeing this movie two or three times I decided it was finally time to read the book. I’d without hesitation suggest that if you haven’t already seen the movie or read the book you do one or the other or preferably both as soon as possible. 

    Lately I’ve been under a modified grass is greener on the other side spell. Only the grass isn’t greener it just more real and it’s not on the other side, it’s anywhere that is strange or exotic or different. So I’ve had this nagging notion that anything that is unfamiliar to me is more real than the world I live in everyday.

    I don’t think I’m alone in this mis-guidedness. I think a lot of times people can easily fall into the trap of seeing how bland, homogenized and seemingly boring life in 1990’s America can be. As such, any cultural blip that appears as an anomaly on our radar is instantly more exciting than where we are right now. That yearning makes us saturate our own world in diversity: Brazilian music (Tropicalisimo!) instead of Stone Temple Pilots, Zen replaces Catholicism or whatever you were raised up to be not because it’s better but because it’s different, instead of American meals like meatloaf and apple pie we hover over exotic recipes for Moroccan Ras el Hanout or ancient South Indian chats. 

    An infant lying in a crib, if presented with two images– one simple with few colors and shapes and the other more complex with many colors and shapes and designs—will gravitate and show more interest in the complex than the simple. Is that why a new palette of spices makes us want to travel thousands of miles to taste strange fruit from its native tree?

    In any event, I’ve been aching for the exotic lately. Sometimes it seems more real to me than McDonalds and Wal-Mart and marketing scams like Beanie Babies and Godzilla. But it’s not. It’s not any more real. I pulled out of my driveway and over the hood of my car looked out over Ohio. A Moroccan native would look at all this mid western blandness and find it as strange and exotic as I would his Algerian Bazaar. It’s all real. The exotic is only exotic and strange in the eye of the beholder. But like an infant lying on his back in a crib I’m pretty sure I’ll keep grasping for the complex and strange instead of the simple. It just keeps things interesting and keeps me from not paying attention.

    So but anyway, that’s what The Sheltering Sky sort of covers. It answers the question: What happens when we grasp too much, too far for the complex and strange?

    Lines I found particularly cool:

    “I wonder if after all I’m a coward?” he thought. Fear spoke; he listened and let it persuade—the classical procedure. P131

    “Before I was twenty, I mean, I used to think that life was a thing that kept gaining impetus. It would get richer and deeper each year. You kept learning more, getting wiser, having more insight, going further into the truth—” She hesitated.

    Port responds: “And now you know it’s not like that. Right? It’s more like smoking a cigarette. The first few puffs it tastes wonderful, and you don’t even think of its ever being used up. Then you begin taking it for granted. Suddenly you realize it’s nearly burned down to the end. And that’s when your conscious of the bitter taste.” P 165

    How many times his friends, envying him his life, had said to him: “Your life is so simple.” “Your life seems always to go in a straight line.” Whenever they had said the words he heard in them an implicit reproach: it is not difficult to build a straight road on a treeless plain. He felt that what they really meant to say was: “You have chosen the easiest terrain.” But if they elected to place obstacles in their own way—and so clearly they did, encumbering themselves with every sort of unnecessary allegiance—that was no reason why they should object to his having simplified his life. So it was with a certain annoyance that he would say: “Everyone makes the life he wants. Right?” as though there were nothing further to be said. P198

    “death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” P238

    Note:

    I just watched the movie again last night and it occurs to me that it’s easy to miss the point of the book if you only see the movie. The movie leaves out the story of the three sisters who go to have tea in the Sahara (yes, The Police wrote a song about this story). The finally get to the Sahara to have their tea but they can’t agree on which dune to sit on while they drink so they keep saying, “oh this next dune looks much better,” then upon arriving at the peak of that particular dune they’d point and say, “well, that next one looks much better than this one,” and they’d move on indefinitely—never satisfied with their particular dune, always pushing on across the Sahara to the next, bigger and better dune– until they die without ever stopping to have their tea.


  • Galatea 2.2, Richard Powers

    Richard Powers: Galatea 2.2 

    (not sure when I wrote this, late 90s?)

    I don’t really know why I read. Usually i don’t even remember half the stuff that happens in a book that i read. It’s not even like i read all that quickly either. it’s more like i read a book the way I listen to a Coltrane solo. Coltrane started the idea of sheets of sound, where the individual notes were not quite as important as the flavor, the feel of the entire melodic phrase taken as a totality. Or maybe instead a better analogy is curry. you don’t notice any one particular spice, it’s the collection of spices as a whole that decide whether a curry is good or bad. 

    That’s the way i read books. It’s admittedly, not the best way to read. I mean, i am horrible at remembering particular passages or events or whatever. but i don think that i get a pretty decent overall flavor from a book. I come away with something good that lingers around long enough to remind me how badly i need to find a new book when i haven’t read in a day or two. 

    That’s how i came across Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers. I hadn’t read in a few weeks. I was taking a break because nothing was appealing to me. I couldn’t find anything that would leave anything but the blandest most tepid sensation on my cortex after the first few sentences. So i didn’t read for a while and then i came across Powers’ book which pretty much seeks to answer the question: why bother reading? 

    i think it does a really decent job at explaining why we keep picking up book after book after book. The premise of the novel appears to be a bit on the sci-fi end if you only read the dust jacket for the book. But it’s pretty far from being sci-fi, it just so happens to use technology in an effort to answer the questions about why we read. 

    Powers’ is the main character in the book, it’s got a ot of autobiographical stuff that is worked in via some pretty cool narrative technique. He is hired as a Humanities Resident at some Institution where he is given the assignment of teaching a computer how to read. The computer not only has to be able to read, but has to understand well enough to pass something called a Turing test. Meaning that the computer (who is named Helen) has to go up against a graduate student in English. The test is administered via terminal and the answers are presented to the tester who then has to tell which is the computer’s answer and which is the real human’s. Powers reads Helen pretty much everything from Beowolf to Emily Dickinson and the computer does start dealing with some pretty interesting issues w/r/t reading and writing. 

    One exchange between Powers and Helen is particularly cool: Helen, in the days before the Turing test, asks Powers how many books there are. He replies by telling her that the Library of Congress contained 20 million volumes and that the number of new books published increased each year, and would soon reach a million worldwide. He continues that a person, through industry, leisure and longevity might manage to read, in one life, half as many books are published in a day. 

    Helen reached the conclusion that the more days that pass, the less likely that any particular book will be read and the less likely any one of us will run into someone who can have a conversation with us about a book we’ve just read because the chances that any two people will have read the same book will diminish over time. 

    Consequently, Helen asks why do humans write so much or even at all. Powers is great here because he goes back to Nabokov’s afterward to Lolita and says that humans are each pretty much trapped in their own cage, and a book ?bursts like someone else’s cell specifications.” And the difference between the two cages completes an inductive proof of thought’s infinitude. He closes the conversation with Helen with a poem that i think is by Emily Dickinson: 

    There is no Frigate like a Book 

    To take us Lands away 

    Now any Coursers like a Page 

    Of prancing Poetry– 

    The Traverse may the poorest take 

    Without oppress of Toll- 

    How frugal is the Chariot 

    That bears the Human Soul!

    I pretty much highly recommend that anyone who likes reading check this book out.


  • Forgotten Truth, Huston Smith

    probably read this mid-90s

    What follows are a slew of quotes by a book called Forgotten Truth it’s sort of like a grandparent of Power of Myth. I think what he’s getting at with all this stuff here is that we’ve got to believe that there is something bigger than us and that we are part of that something bigger.

    The scientific gauge is quantity: space, size and strength of forces can all be reckoned numerically. The comparable yardstick in the traditional hierarchy was quality.

    To the popular mind quality meant essentially euphoria: better meant happier, worse less happy. Reflective minds, on the other hand, considered happiness to be only an aspect of quality not its defining feature.

    The man of archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred…because for primitives the sacred is equivalent to power and in the last analysis to reality. The sacred is saturated with being.

    Objects can be larger or smaller, forces can be stronger or weaker, durations can be longer or shorter, these all being numerically reckonable. But to speak of anything in science as having a different ontological status–as being better, say, or more real–is to speak nonsense.

    Itself occupying no more than a single ontological plane, science challenged by implication the notion that other planes exist. As its challenge was not effectively met, it swept the field and gave the modern world it soul. For this is thew final definition of modernity: an outlook in which this world, this ontological plane, is the only one that is genuinely countenanced and affirmed.

    Though man’s conversion to the scientific outlook is understandable psychologically, logically it involves a clean mistake. Insofar as we allow our minds to be guided by reasons, we can see that to try to live within the scientific view of reality would be like living in a house’s scaffolding, and o love it like embracing one’s spouse’s skeleton.

    Norbet Wiener used to make the point by saying: Messages from the universe arrive addressed no more specifically than To Whom it May Concern. Scientists open those that concern them. No mosaic constructed from messages thus narrowly selected can be the full picture.

    Ambiguity seems to be an essential indispensable element for the transfer of information from one place to another by words where maters of real importance are concerned. It is often necessary, for meaning to come through, that there be an almost vague sense of strangeness and askewness. Speechless animals and cells cannot do this. . .Only the human mind is designed to work in this way, programmed to drift away in the presence of locked-on information, straying from each point in a hunt for a better different point.

    Science can tell us what men do prize but not what they should prize. Values, life meanings, purposes and qualities slop through science like sea skips through the nets of fishermen.

    Since reality exceeds what science registers, we must look for other antennae to catch the wavebands it misses.


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Reading Notes

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  • Great resource, teachers, charts, tools. #music #guitar #bluegrass — Direct link
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