What Are You Reading

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Lancealot, Aug 13, 2006.

  1. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Interesting case; proving the Establishment Clause still eludes constant interpretation however well intentioned.
    Madison desired this particular passage as a bulwark for the human conscience, and juxtaposed near its ratification
    wrought the Reign of Terror which unsheathed a philosophic sword against innate human decency.
     
  2. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    When I read all the recent SCOTUS decisions, I thought to myself, Harp will be busy the next several days.
     
  3. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Diary of a Mad Old Man
    by
    Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
    Published 1961

    An elderly, wealthy, Japanese stroke victim - a man trapped in a broken-down body (limited ability to walk, this, that and everything hurts, round-the-clock nursing, multiple daily pills and weekly shots and doctor visits - you get it) - develops erotic urges for his pretty, sexual and not-of-his-class daughter-in-law who, seemingly willingly, allows for a very, very modest amount of physical contact to take place to arouse and content the "old man."

    Hey, don't judge me, I found this book via a WSJ recommendation and Tanizaki is one of Japan's most notable 20th Century authors with his book "The Makioka Sisters" considered a modern classic (my comments on it here: https://www.thefedoralounge.com/threads/what-are-you-reading.10557/page-380#post-2302937). And, to be honest, the story is much less creepy than it sound.

    At its best, in Dairy of a Mad Old Man, you feel the frustration and sadness of a once robust life reduced to an almost baby-like daily routine and supervision. A man of wealth, culture and influence is treated respectfully, but like the invalid that he's become, by a family who, as the months wear on, go about their daily lives while the old, sick man - again, not at all neglected - suffers daily disappointment and sadness.

    That his coquettish and somewhat conniving daughter-in-law senses and sometimes plays up to his sexual desires is, God yes, awkward but believable and poignantly sad more than anything else. You can understand how this broken-down man, with few sensual pleasures left, can look forward to catching a glimpse of - or having brief contact with - his scantily clad fantasy. You also sense Tanizaki's comments on class and social issues as none of those matter anymore to this once-proud old man who isn't now thinking about status or background as he simply wants something to give his failing mind and body joy.

    To be honest, had I known the plot beforehand, I would have passed on it, but I'm glad I didn't as this quick read did touch me, did remind me of how quickly a vibrant life can be destroyed and, weird or not (okay, it's weird), showed how a dying man could garner a modicum of pleasure out of the embers of his sexual desires.
     
  4. Just Jim

    Just Jim One of the Regulars

    I've been dipping back into the works of Tony Hillerman. Getting over some injuries in 2001-2002, I read all of his output up to them. I ran across a few of his later work a couple weeks ago, and couldn't resist, currently reading The Fallen Man.
     
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  5. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    I followed the Bladensburg Cross case through SCOTUS docket relisting and was surprised that six or seven
    separate opinions resulted; Justice Ginsburg has a rather constricted view of the Establishment Clause,
    and Justice Kagan refused to jettison Lemon altogether.
     
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  6. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    "All The Answers," by Michael Kupperman

    When I was a little kid, I always felt a certain discomfort at the circus or a zoo when I saw animals doing tricks -- because I sensed that the animals themselves were doing something unnatural and that therefore there had to be a hidden element of compulsion behind it. It bothered me a lot, and I feel that same sense of unease when listening to a radio program called "The Quiz Kids."

    This was one of the most popular radio features of its era, a short-pants version of "Information Please" in which superintelligent children displayed their knowledge of math, science, literature, and the arts, but I've never been able to listen to it without the feeling that there was something off. Reading the accounts of various grown-up Quiz Kids whose lives ended unhappily or who grew up to feel their childhood had been one of exploitation filled in some of the blanks for me, but I'd never really thought hard about the subject until I came across this book -- a "graphic novel" adaptation of the life of the most famous of all Quiz Kids, Joel Kupperman, as written and drawn by his son.

    The elder Kupperman had a long, distinguished career as a philosophy professor at the University of Connecticut -- but his childhood career in radio has remained a closed book. He gave his last show-business interview in 1957, and since then has refused to speak publicly about his experiences as a Quiz Kid, or to appear at reunions of the program's alumni, or to interact in any way with any aspect of that time of his life. The younger Kupperman, a cartoonist well known for his New Yorker work, has struggled all his own life with the mystery of his father's past, and this book is his attempt to deal with those unanswered questions, supported by the discovery of scrapbooks and memorabilia saved by his grandmother.

    The story emerges as that of a man who has spent his entire adult life trying to escape from what was, essentially, a deep childhood trauma. One might not think that a childhood as a beloved celebrity, hobnobbing with the biggest names in show business, touring the country, and otherwise living the 1940s high life would be all that traumatic, but for a child like young Joel, it was -- profoundly so. He early on realized that he was being exploited -- in part as a living piece of wartime propaganda: "See the nice, smart Jewish boy! You wouldn't like the Nazis to kill him!" But, pressured by his mother, he decided, in his own words, to simply "go with the flow." He stayed on the program long after he'd ceased being cute -- growing into what his son refers to as a "grim nerd" -- and he was a gawky, uncomfortable young man ready for college by the time it ended. A brief reappearance on the public eye on a rigged TV game show masterminded by the former Quiz Kids producer was an even greater trauma -- and that was the end of Joel Kupperman's celebrity career.

    Michael remembers his father as an odd, emotionally-repressed man -- who once told him that he hadn't been more involved in raising his son because nobody ever told him he should -- and in reviewing his father's life, he sees that as a natural result of what had happened to him as a child, always following the orders of his mother, of radio producers, of sponsors, of quizmasters, of road managers, of movie directors and never learning to make his own decisions. He never mentions the possibility that his father might have fallen somewhere along the autistic spectrum, but it seems rather likely from the portrait painted here. But in those days, such children weren't diagnosed, they were more often put on exhibit as "prodigies," and Joel Kupperman was just the most prominent of many such young people.

    The story is a profoundly sad one, and Michael Kupperman draws in in a thick, brooding line, creating gloomy black-and-white panels that look a bit like woodcuts. Many of the panels are recreations of actual items from the family scrapbooks, traced over into blurry caricatures of the originals that tie in with Joel Kupperman's own suppressed, locked-away memories of a life he could never fully escape.

    Joel Kupperman is still alive, but dementia has claimed his mind, and Michael will never know what he thinks of this book. Which is perhaps just as well, because creating it seems to have been as much about understanding the mystery of his own life as that of his father.
     
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  7. ChiTownScion

    ChiTownScion One Too Many

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    Saw this on YouTube:


     
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  8. ChiTownScion

    ChiTownScion One Too Many

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  9. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Caught an excellent New York Times 07/16 article, For Modern Strikeouts Pitchers Veer Outside The Strike Zone

    Avoidance and plate marksmanship, and analytics too.
     
  10. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, published in 1913

    Undine Spragg is no Lily Bart; that is to say, Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country and its protagonist Undine Spragg is no House of Mirth with its ineffable Miss Lily Bart.

    Just as every Fitzgerald book ends up being measured against The Great Gatsby, it's hard not to stand every Wharton book up against House of Mirth. If not for that, I'd probably only have good and great things to say about Custom of the Country - a strong book, with sharply drawn characters, deep insight into human nature and that Wharton ability to draw comparisons between the eternal human condition we all experience - want, greed, pride, humility, love, hate... - and the challenges, accomplishments and foibles of early 20th Century New York City elite "society."

    Even the plot of Custom of the Country reads similar to House of Mirth's - a strikingly beautiful young woman whose family and wealth leaves her on the edges of New York City's "proper" society strives with everything she has to find a place at/near its top by leveraging her arresting physical beauty and calculating social skills into a marriage that will propel her toward acceptance, even dominance.

    But House of Mirth's Lily Bart is, basically, a good person who bends and stretches, but won't break, her morality to advance herself - she won't marry for money alone, she won't become a mistress to settle her debts and (oddly) remain in society (which accepted that type of arrangement if between the "right" people and handled with discretion), she won't fight dirty to win her inheritance and she won't sell out her friends.

    Undine Spragg - a name more fitting an Ayn Rand villian - has no such scruples. Undine knows where she wants to go and will stop at almost nothing to get there: nearly bankrupt her parents - check, marry and divorce repeatedly for money and position - check, give up her child when convenient and later (all but) sell him to his father for money to make a better marriage for herself - check, drop old friends for social advancement - check, and that's not a complete list.

    To stay engaged through three hundred pages of a battle for something most of us don't care about - will Undine become part of a sliver of some putatively elite society - we have to see something more in it, something of ourselves in it, something universal in it.

    With Lily Bart in "House of Mirth," we see a good but flawed person (ourselves) struggling to her core with how much she is willing to contort herself and her morality to achieve acceptance in a group she views as important. While not elite society, how many of us haven't made compromises to fit in at work, at home, with our friends, etc.?

    It's not the prettiest aspect of ourselves - or human nature in general - but in Lily Bart we see an honest struggle we can relate to. With Undine, (hopefully) most of us have more scruples and depth than to sell out our parents, our child, our word and our self respect for the acceptance of others that, while "elite" in some ways, are really all just self-indulgent posers.

    Despite its shortcomings, Custom of the Country is an engaging read with vivid characters living in a select world few of us will ever touch that, somehow, is still relevant to us as its underlying challenges are all-too human. What it lacks is a heroine - not a superhero, but a real human who fights hard to stay on a good path despite all the obstacles and allurements life throws at her, as it does at everyone of us. That's why House of Mirth is a classic and Custom of the Country is a good book, or, succinctly - why Undine Spragg is no Lily Bart.
     
  11. Touchofevil

    Touchofevil

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    Ross MacDonald's "The Far Side of the Dollar" from 1964. Always an entertaining mystery when written by Ross MacDonald.
    :D
     
  12. Just Jim

    Just Jim One of the Regulars

    Currently reading Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin). Its a memoir that reads (so far) like an evolutionary tale of his approach to comedy. It turns out that Steve Martin is a fine non-fiction writer.

    Books like this are why I have this serious second-hand store addiction. I can usually find one or two , (sometimes three or four, and once, 500+) books that I missed the first time around. On this trip to this particular small town church-run shop, in addition to Born Standing Up I snagged Woodward's VEIL: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, Stafford's Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets, and Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Atkins. My total was 3 USD and tax (plus a sawbuck I tucked in the donation box).
     
  13. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Steve Martin can also write decent fiction (not Pulitzer worthy, but a good read) like "The Shopgirl" (which was also turned into a movie).

    Second-hand books offer some of the greatest per-dollar entertainment value out there and, as you note, the serendipity of the second-hand store is wonderful.
     
  14. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom One Too Many

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    “Spain in our hearts” by Adam Hochschild. Although the focus is on the involvement of Americans (journalists, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, etc), it’s a good overview of the Spanish Civil War in general. Yes, the evils of the fascists is detailed, but it’s equally sad to watch the various factions of the loyalists go at each other instead of uniting to beat the main foe. There’s a lesson in there that is still relevant today.
     
  15. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Ethan Frome is another. I recommend it often to kids to improve writing skills.
    A gal pal gave a Wharton short story collection recently and I hate to admit that I haven't looked at it yet.
     
  16. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    "Ethan Frome" is one of my favorite Wharton books. I read it early in life and it's one of the reasons I absolutely would not get married young. To be sure - and let me be clear - many people have married young and have had long and successful marriage - which I applaud - but I knew it wasn't right for me.

    "Summer" which I'll bet is in the collection is one of my favorite short stories - might be a good one for you to break the ice on the book with. Love to hear your thoughts on it if you do read it.
     
  17. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    "Der Fuehrer: Hitler's Rise To Power," by Konrad Heiden, translated by Ralph Mannheim.

    Having recently read, and been very much impressed by Heiden's pre-Holocaust study of Nazi anti-Semitism, I picked up a copy of this book, published in 1944 as the most substantial biography of Hitler to be published during his lifetime. And a very significant work it is.

    Heiden was present in Germany, working as a journalist, thruout the 1920s and early 1930s, and covered the rise of the NSDAP nearly from its beginning -- he attended his first Nazi meeting in 1921, and was well-acquainted with the leaders of the movement and more important, with the social context that produced that movement. He was the first journalist to dig deeply into the reality of Hitler's past -- and his account of Hitler's Vienna period is the basic source for every historian who followed. Heiden was an eyewitness to many of the key events of the Nazi movement's evolution in the '20s, and has impeccable first-hand sources for those events he did not witness, giving his narration of the period a crisp sense of journalistic veracity. Later works on Hitler by Shirer, Fest, Toland, and other writers have the advantage of hindsight, but Heiden puts you right in the middle of events -- the book is a long read, but it doesn't feel long.

    Most significant, Heiden writes from the perspective of a German who lived thru the Nazi period without being taken in by it. He was born in 1901 -- precisely the right age to have been caught up in the wave of "stabbed-in-the-back" reactionary nationalism that swept Germany after the World War, but intelligent enough to see the deception and cynicism behind that wave. He tracks the origin of Hitler's beliefs back thru the muck of early-twentieth-century European anti-Semitism and pan-Germanism and demonstrates that the real reason the Nazis rose to power was not that they had anything original to say -- but that they understood how to package those ideas most effectively to appeal to various groups of Germans -- from the powerful capitalists of German industry -- who saw how the Nazi doctrine could be used to drive out Jewish business rivals -- to the disaffected gutter thugs who found "the Jews" a convenient scapegoat for their own failures.

    There are many thought-producing comments in this book -- Heiden has a gift for pithy epigrams -- but the one that's stuck with me comes toward then end, as he's discussing the Night Of The Long Knives in 1934. "Each horror," he observes, "blots out its predecessor in the minds of the people." That was one of the key Nazi strategies -- and it's one that still has application in today's world. "Der Fuehrer" is a book well worth reading -- and pondering.
     
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  18. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Culled off Balkinization front page fare, Richard Primus' John Locke, Justice Gorsuch, and Gundy v. United States

    Citing Locke in his opinion, originalist Gorsuch is pilloried for the sin of supposition as regards the philosopher's
    Two Treatises of Government and the separation of powers outlined in the American Constitution; contention being
    a lack of proper attribution-a valid academic argument-but within the realm of Philosophy and labyrinth of mind
    such attribution might rightly be inferred or supposed; though Gorsuch should have considered scholastic pot shots,
    while not exactly cheap, neither top-dollar, and miserly in turn since Primus as advocatus diabelli with a splendid
    subjective skirt of legal scholastic exactitude simply lobs one over to recent scholars and their suppositions.
    Nevertheless, a swell hash. Want to revisit Hamilton, Madison, and Jay again soon and perhaps splurge on
    Levinson's An Argument Open to All; Reading The Federalist in the 21st Century. Truths are timeless, yet Levinson
    I suspect is a lost soul unconvinced but full of conviction. Primus, as knight errant is Quixotic, but a damn good hash.
     
  19. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom One Too Many

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    “I could just drift, he thought, and sleep and put a bight of line around my toe to wake me. But today is eighty-five days and I should fish the day well.”

    Re-reading The Old Man and the Sea. Last read it when I was in high school. At the time I didn’t get it and was bored stiff. Perhaps it should not be assigned to high schoolers because, I think, you have to be a little battle fatigued to get it, or at minimum know something about life and work. I’m surprised by how much I’m getting out of the book this time around.
     
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  20. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom One Too Many

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