Reading Period: October 2 - October 22
1. Notes from Underground (A), by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Right up my alley, that's for sure. Still, it is hard to judge this novel without having a better understanding of the entirety of Fyodor's work. While this book was great, and I loved the philosophical and self-reflective content, it is certainly not enough to cull my appetite. After getting a taste of what Fyodor is able to do, I'll certainly seek out more. Maybe then my thoughts, outside of "wow I love this," will become clearer.
2. As I Lay Dying (A), by William Faulkner
Not for me. I'm sure there are some people who love this sort of stream of consciousness writing style and rugged "realist" plot. For me, it all felt overdone, boring, and tacky. I'd rank this as one of my least enjoyable reads, probably in the bottom two or three books I've read in my life.
3. The Pearl (A), by John Steinbeck
Honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The plot was pretty simple and there's not really a complex lesson to take away, but the writing quality was solid. John is pretty talented, and I figure I should tackle his better known works before the end of the year is up.
4. The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (A), by Martin Bunton
Given my immense level of ignorance about one of the world's most complicated and distressing issue, I figured I'd start small with this audiobook by Martin. Now, I feel much more informed about the historical context of the Israel/Palestine conflict, but I am no more resolved on the solution. Recent tragic events in Israel have brought this conflict to the forefront of world news, so I will likely be diving deeper into my thoughts over the coming months.
5. On Liberty (P), by John Stuart Mill
Thoroughly interesting read. John discusses the struggle between liberty and authority. He states that the "will of the people" is a synonym for "will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people," and that oppression of minority opinion by this group must be avoided. Society itself can be oppressive, imposing rules and practices that can infringe on individual rights. Thus, "there needs protection against the tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling." This is a really good argument against aggressive law making, and in favor of laws that blanket protect individual rights. The will of the majority of the current generation should not dictate the freedom of future generations!
John is very motivating. He claims that the great renaissances in art and science have one thing in common: they defy authority. They push boundaries, not only cultural and societal, but also religious and moral. It's a waste to refuse to follow your independent, innovative thoughts just because other people might disapprove. Conformity, according to John, can shove it. In our world, the main question people ask is: what have other people in my position done? And they use that answer to guide their lives. What a waste!
There are a few other points I'd like to mention. First, John states that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant." If people have sound minds, which can be persuaded and changed, you have no right to force them into anything. Second, a lot of our current views (this was written in 1859) are silly. In some court systems, jurymen who refuse to profess a belief in God are barred from testifying, because some are convinced that atheists are liars. John rightfully points out that this is self-defeating, as you are left with the atheists who are actually willing to lie, and exclude the honest ones. Somewhat randomly, John has some interesting quotes on Christianity. I'll end with these, but not first without reiterating that this was an extremely insightful book.
"Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) "thou shalt not" predominates unduly over "thou shalt.""
"All Christians believe that the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-used by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not, lest they be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they should love their neighbor as themselves; that if one take their cloak, they should give him their coat also; that they should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor. They are not insincere when they say that they believe these things. They do believe them, as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed. But in the sense of that living belief which regulates conduct, they believe these doctrines just up to the point to which it is usual to act upon them. The doctrines in their integrity are serviceable to pelt adversaries with; and it is understood that they are to be put forward (when possible) as the reasons for whatever people do that they think laudable. But any one who reminded them that the maxims require an infinity of things which they never even think of doing would gain nothing but to be classed among those very unpopular characters who affect to be better than other people. The doctrines have no hold on ordinary believers—are not a power in their minds. They have an habitual respect for the sound of them, but no feeling which spreads from the words to the things signified, and forces the mind to take them in, and make them conform to the formula. Whenever conduct is concerned, they look round for Mr. A and B to direct them how far to go in obeying Christ."
6. The Old Man and the Sea (A), by Ernest Hemingway
Name a more iconic duo than a man and his fish. You can't. Overall, I enjoyed this book. I saw the deeper meaning as the struggle between life and death, and the futility of it all. Being able to draw my own conclusions, and not have to take a literature exam after, probably led to me liking this book far more than the general public.
7. American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms (A), by Chris Kyle
Some people I work with love history, especially the history of American firearms. I figured I'd venture out from a point of complete ignorance, to at least knowing why the M1 Garand was such a significant rifle and what exactly a 1911 is. This book allowed me to accomplish this, but I don't think it was particularly good in any other sense.
8. Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (A), by Daniel Gordis
This book was a supremely good overview of the history of Israel. I felt that Daniel did a very good job focusing on the political conditions relevant to the creation of Israel and the subsequent military and economic conditions that led to Israel's survival in the region. I think that Daniel overstepped a bit, specifically in his desire to include random tidbits of Israeli movies, music, and art into his story. These injections felt forced and irrelevant, and I don't think added any truly useful information. Also, Daniel is a passionate defender of Israeli, and his bias shows clearly. His takes may very well be justified, but it is hard to not acknowledge that you a reading a very slanted view of Israeli history.
9. Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (A), by Joby Warrick
Incredibly interesting read. The most terrifying terrorist organization of the past century was not created in a vacuum. The specific events leading to the formation of ISIS, specifically the influence of US intervention in Iraq and the fallout from the Syrian war, were very fascinating. I found it interesting that the sheer brutality of ISIS and its terror attacks were a strong contributor to its rapid rise (radical Islamists bent on volunteering), but also led directly to its downfall. Carrying out terror attacks on Muslims and embracing true brutality gave the West and its allies moral license to destroy ISIS at any cost, which thanks be to god they did. Not a controversial take, but I really, really do not like terrorism.
10. The Sense of an Ending (A), by Julian Barnes
Wasted potential. The beginning of the book was so interesting and engaging, but in the end the book fell flat. The confusing and non-reliable narrating frustrated me, but what was more frustrating was the lack of closure. I looked up different interpretations of the ending, and each one of them felt cheap and half-baked.