Posts Tagged ‘books’

A book I have read some time ago, so we’ll have to rely on tiny scrapes of paper with my notes <3 Obviously, I can’t write reviews, and I dislike writing reviews(1), so there will only be list.

The good things about the book:

1) Buruma actually did talk to actual Muslim people from Netherlands, people from different backgrounds, with different opinions on Islam and its role (if any) in their lives and so on. Compared to typical drivel that is usually written in cases like that by self-proclaimed experts (I’m looking at you, Oriana “Nomen Omen” Fallaci) who just list their racist prejudices in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order; the reverse alphabetical part being the only variety; this is a huge improvement.

2) Buruma’s criticism of Hirsi Ali as fighting her own made up version of “one true Islam” is spot on.

3) His account of anti-Semitism in Netherlands is… well. I think the stadium scene with people hissing is one of the most disgusting things I read about.

The bad things about the book:

1) Is it really really necessary to call Ayan Hirsi Ali “exotic beauty” or “African beauty” everywhere, all the time? Because, honestly, it’s sexist, racist, and also quite repetitive. If I had an electronic version of the book I’d calculate the frequency per 10 000 words at least, but I don’t and also really, really? It’s the 21st century FFS. Buruma, stop being a creepy stalkerish idiot.

2) Throughout the book, Buruma uses the words “fanatical”, “orthodox” and “fundamentalist” pretty much interchangeably. Well, the problem is, they don’t mean the same thing at all. A look at his bibliography confirms that he used mostly books and articles written by other journalists, but not stuff written by people who, for instance, research fundamentalism as a sociological phenomenon. It’s a great pity; Buruma’s argument would have been much clearer if his narration about fundamentalism versus orthodoxy versus fanaticism had been coherent.

3) Buruma’s insistence on defending van Gogh’s hateful diatribes is a bit disturbing. I mean, of course, no matter how hateful, one should not just be murdered, but on the other hand, why make excuses for everything van Gogh said? “It’s the Dutch tradition” — imagine someone saying this about some group of Muslims, the outrage it would surely cause. Also, it was clear from Buruma’s narration that van Gogh’s hateful tirades were mostly directed against people who are already silenced or oppressed in the mainstream discourse, and not against people who had actual power.

Or maybe, I might be a victim of severe culture shock: in Eastern Europe, it is only to be so vile when one bemoans one’s woeful life, which one is forced to live despite the trials and tribulations one undergoes on a daily basis, look at this shop assistant, he was rude to me on purpose, look at this guy there, he’s looking at me funny, look at that kid, she’s gonna spill that juice isn’t she, and so on.

But I digress.

Anyway, I think the book is definitely worth reading, even if it’s far from perfect. It certainly contains a lot of interesting information, and if one just closes one’s eyes every time Ayan Hirsi Ali is called “the exotic African beauty” everything should be OK.

(1) My theory of reviews is based on stuff written by Kyougoku Natsuhiko, who is otherwise an author of boring pretentious horrors interspersed with pretentious preachy bits about his views on virtually everything which I for some reason keep reading, and looks like that: there are four main types of review-like texts:

1) information: there’s a book, it was written by XY who also wrote ABC, and you can buy here and here

2) ad: you should totally read XY’s new book, it’s awesome

3) account of personal idiosyncrasy: I read XY’s new book and I totally loved it because (…)

4) structural (etc) analysis: I read XY’s new book and it’s made from tropes A, B, C

of which 1) and 2) are rather worthless, and 3) is only interesting to read if you care about the author’s personal tastes and idiosyncrasies, because you’re for instance friends with them. Otherwise it’s boring and useless. 4) requires spoilers and a reader who doesn’t care about spoilers, and we can’t have that here so.

Yes, I actually think about stuff like that. It’s really sad.


Pretty things

Posted: February 10, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Look, guise, pretty things:

1) Ten Days to Change the World – a fantastic post about Nellie Bly, who infiltrated an asylum (I cringed a bit when I wrote that, ew) for supposedly mentally ill women in 1887. The most surprising part of her account is how easily she managed to convince the authorities she was dangerous and should be locked up.

All it took, apparently, was a night of practising vacant wide-eyes in front of the mirror. Booking into a female boarding house under an assumed name, Bly succeeded in terrifying the women around her simply by acting slightly erratically and refusing to sleep. No tearing her hair out, no speaking in tongues, no physical manifestations of inner turmoil. Sitting up late and sighing; that was enough for the management at the boarding house to cart her in front of a judge and have her taken to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

2) A hilarious and well written post about yet another phony nutritionist – it’s really cool that the cranks and woo-peddlers are being exposed on not strictly sceptic blogs, too.

3) A short round-up of a couple of common racist clichés that often come up in discussions about racism in literature – I think it’s very useful if you actually have no idea at all what’s going on.

4) Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose – a very insightful and well written piece about how women’s writing is often treated by mainstream reviewers. This is actually something that has bothered me for a long time, and I am as a matter of fact preparing a long long long thing-something-thing about women writers and some of the really awesome stuff they wrote, so stay tuned. Also, I could not possibly emphasise enough how completely I agree with the author on his every point, especially this:

It has taken me a while to get to my real point, but here it is, rather abruptly.  I do not believe that apparent authoritative literary voices of validation would ever make such a grand claim about a novel written by a woman.  I say this because I believe there are many novels by women that are about the same sort of world as presented in Freedom.  Sadly, the culture usually calls these books domestic or family sagas.  Are the novels of Anne Tyler, Marilynne Robinson and Mona Simpson any less white and middle “American” than Franzen’s?  They are certainly at least every bit as literary and arguably better written, whatever that means.

Yeah, this this this.

Women writers are feisty, sassy.  When was the last time a male writer was called sassy?  Not that I would mind, but you understand my point.  As an African American, I understand this sort of backhanded compliment.  You see, we are articulate.  This is not an insult on the face of it, but the subtext is that our intelligence is a surprise, as if being articulate is the same as being intelligent anyway.

Honestly, that guy is awesome. I mean, there were so many places there something could have gone wrong, and it didn’t, and it’s really really great. I’m going to have to check out his books!

5) Market Casualty:  The Essay I Never Wanted to Write – about the writing and marketing of books written by women of colour in the US, specifically Iranian Americans.  Some people should really read Said at least once, and then once more, and once more, and once more, until it gets through their thick skulls that people who are not like them are also people:

The description of Gelareh Asayesh’s Saffron Sky singles out mention of “the Ayatollah’s ubiquitous enforcers of female modesty” even though this issue takes up about one sentence in her entire story; on the back of Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, Iran is referred to as “a dark country”; the back ofPersian Girls promises readers a “harrowing memoir of the cruelty of men towards women” as well as “the exotic scents and traditions of Tehran”; the blurb for Journey from the Land of No says that Iran will be revealed to us and that we will understand “what life was like for women” after the revolution (even though the book is about a wealthy, literary Jewish family, hardly representative of the range of Iranian women’s experience); My Name is Iran’s cover jacket features almost identical language about “revealing Iran” to the reader by detailing a journey between “East and West, tradition and modernity.” I could go on, but I won’t.

Way to ruin everything, seriously.

6) A Polish politician yesterday said some interesting things:

‘I am not a homophobe, but I play one in the legislature’ may be what Robert Wegrzyn of the center-right Civic Platform of Poland is trying to say. Recently, he was asked about his views regarding civic partnerships for lesbians and gays, and he quipped “We can forget about gay men, but I would gladly watch lesbians.” (source)

It is my deepest conviction that he must be an unhappy, lonely man, a man who has no friends, who tries to be as cheerful as possible, but fails, because there’s nothing but despair for him, despair and hatred and eternal loneliness. Eternal well of loneliness, even. The sun shines, the children are playing in the sand, the kittens frolic, the adults read newspapers and books and swim, but for Wegrzyn, MP, there’s nothing to do but pretend not to be unhappy. No one will talk to him. No one will hold his hand. No one will even notice that he exists.

He is the Tragic Wegrzyn. Behold!

(by ^czescjacek)

I mean, the tragedy of somebody being Wegrzyn(1), MP, inspired me too to write poetry. I mean: this is like, a guy whose entire existence is entirely pointless, right? I mean:

If you don’t look close enough, you can almost think that this awful grimace on his face is a smile. But it’s not. It’s an awful grimace of an MP who is sad and alone and sad.

Look at him! He wants you to hug him, but you won’t. Nobody will.

I never thought a homophobic MP would inspire me to become a poet, but, there it is. Poetry. (You can make some too)

Good night, Wegrzyn, sweet prince, I still have a book to read. Hugs and kisses and bitter coldness of being always alone.

(1) At least it’s not me; I don’t even want to think what I’d do if I had to be Wegrzyn, MP.

How to write a lot of words without making an ounce sense? How to be a complete jerk while at the same appearing to look benignly concerned and slightly offended?

Look closely, guys. Leon Wieseltier has a lot to teach you.

My adventure with Leon Wieseltier, of whose existence I used to be blissfully unaware until this morning, started, as usual, with a book. Wieseltier is, as it turns out, the author of the introduction to my newly purchased edition of Illuminations by Walter Benjamin(1).

Now, from three and a half pages of text by Wieseltier, I found that:

– Illuminations were fashionable among students when (presumably) Wieseltier was in school, also other things about Wieseltier that I never wanted to know, really

– That “His [Walter Benjamin’s] incompetence at ordinary living allowed him to see it more sharply”, an ultimately meaningless statement, accompanied by many similar ones

– And finally, this gem, which translates roughly to “people who don’t write about what I want them to write in a way I want them to write are failures as human beings”, a staggering display of reader entitlement, in its pure form seen only in the deepest recesses of the internets, where the fan fiction readers lurk in the shadows, waiting for their prey:

“These volumes may be read almost as a spiritual diary. They give a portrait of a pilgrim. But this pilgrim makes no progress, and his story at some point ceases to be stirring, and becomes alienating, and then crushing. It is not only the evil circumstances of Benjamin’s death that leave one with a gathering pity for him.”

Wow, how generous! Were you per chance trying to say that Benjamin should have found god like you did(2)? (3)

– Additional stupidity:

“His [Benjamin’s] infatuation with Marxism, the most embarrassing episode of his mental wanderings..”

Oh, really? Embarrassing? What, pray tell, is so embarrassing about espousing marxist views? Or is Wieseltier just mindlessly repeating what he must have heard many many times,  not having actually ever read Marx?

– Coup de grace,

“I confess that there are many pages in Benjamin that I don’t understand, in which the discourse seems to be dictating itself, and no direction is clear.”

This is important, because while I actually do believe that Benjamin’s discourse is usually completely clear, and while it is perhaps a wee bit embarrassing that a person who purports to be an expert in words in so nonchalant about being unable to understand them when they’re arranged in an order and provided with full stops and commas, this confession is not just Wieseltier’s false modesty and coquetry, and eye-winking to his reader, it isn’t — because misreading, misinterpreting is actually something Wieseltier does for a living a lot.

Apparently, people tend to notice his awkward to malicious fumbling from time to time, because his shoddy writing is shredded to pieces with surprising regularity. Despite that, the only thing that changes is the person doing the shredding; Wieseltier remains the same blathering nincompoop, his writing as devoid of any substance as before, his intellectual dishonesty as glaringly obvious as it must have been in the first sentence he had ever written.

Exhibit 1

Wieseltier called out on his bullshit in 2004.

Exhibit 2

In 2006 he writes a review of Daniel Dennett’s book. Among other things, it (the review, not the book, thank Cthulhu) contains such pearls of wisdom as:

THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so.

Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Easy there with all the wishful thinking, pumpkin.

(The review is duly mauled here <— the author could have used some more claws, though)

Exhibit 3

In 2008, Wieseltier, apparently having obsessed about Sullivan for more than a decade, completely fails to understand what Sullivan wrote(4), and accuses him of antisemitism. Mauling ensues (v worth reading; the author has his hearth and his claws in the right place — heart in a pocket, claws deep in Wieseltier’s flesh).

Exhibit 4

Two years later, emulating such worthy men as Captain Ahab, Wieseltier continues with his obsession about Sullivan, calling him the only name he knows, that is, anti-Semite. Actually, he’s got a little bit of point (see this article about Jewish exceptionalism), but it all gets drowned in a deluge of incomprehensible (not because of the thesaurus-tinged vomit, but because it. makes. no. sense) long-winded blathering. Also, the reason for Sullivan’s idiocy is not antisemitism, but his fucked-up religious views.

It might be also worth mentioning that Wieseltier spouts incredible amounts of barely comprehensible religious (or at least I assume it is religious; other religious people in the second Sullivan debacle tended to be at least as puzzled as  I am) stream of consciousness (at least I assume it is; otherwise it would be very difficult to explain).

There’s also Wieseltier’s piece on humanities here, which is, as far as I could brave the gigantic paragraph of doom, was made of  brain death and gorilla poo.

Guys, I read so much drivel today just to warn you. Don’t waste your time on Wieseltier, it’s not worth it(5). I’m going to read Stefan Zweig now, to rid my literary palate of the Wieseltierean scribblerish aftertaste(6).

(1) The reason why I’m reading Illuminations, and why I’m reading them in English when I’m in Germany, so DUH, there’s an overabundance of original German editions in all sorts of bookstores, is uninteresting and irrelevant.

(2) This article should be approached with caution. I read and read and read, and waited for the author to stop fellating Wieseltier, already, but HE NEVER DID.

(3) Benjamin wasn’t an atheist; his sort of religion, though, might not be enough for Wieseltier.

(4) Full disclosure: I actually strongly dislike Sullivan for his inability to parse that haven’t been a persecuted minority for over a millenium and a half, and also for his demands that the state support his religious morality (see his stance on civil unions). Also, lol, conservatives.

(5) Actually, it’s a lie. I kept reading to accumulate enough hatred to motivate me to write at least 500 words. Success!

(6) This is, I am certain, how Wieseltier would have written the senstence. I hope you enjoyed your painful visualisation.

I was one of those kids(1) who, when they wanted to look something up, would open the dictionary, or the encyclopaedia, or something, and their eyes would just wander towards a greatly amusing and fascinating yet completely irrelevant entry, which they would consequently read, and the entry after that, and another, ten pages further, which would prove even more fascinating, and in two hours they would finally have the startling realisation of ‘omg  so laaaaaaate, whyyyyyyyyy’.

This has not changed in the least, only the obsession and compulsion has been upgraded to something more compulsive, more obsessive and more deranged. Now it’s happening all the time, not just when I open a dictionary. I have to carry at least two colours of post-its, in case I feel the need to stick a pink note about something to the closest flat surface I can take with me. I always carry pencils and an extra box of leads, because you never know.

There’s paper everywhere in my living space. Online, I follow all the links. Usually, I even read the comments(2).

All this pales in comparison to what happens when I start reading.  Every book, fiction or not, is a list of things that can be looked up, allusions, associations, citations, facts, names, events, animals, plants, everything. I can’t read any further if I don’t look up every historical personage, though toponyms are something I’m as a rule uninterested in. It’s ludicrous to propose that one can continue reading without seeing a photo of a plant one has never heard of before.  Every citation’s author has to be looked up, and if the citation was fun or any good at all, the possibility of acquiring the author’s books has to be meticulously considered. Covers of individual editions are compared and rated (why Alberto Manguel’s books have such ugly covers, by the way? Ugh. I’m starting to think I’ll have to wait for a new edition or something), availability and shipping times noted down. Bookmarks are created, the Delicious account swells, but already there are ten further links to follow. Link link link.

Very frequently what starts as an ostensibly simplistic task of identifying an author of a quote will turn into one-day back and forth between Wikipedia, Worldcat, JSTOR and several other places, ending in hundreds of pages, articles, and a migraine.

(Also, soon I will need better glasses)

(Also, where’s my coffee)

It seems like a small mercy when an author provides footnotes, or appendices or indices on his or her own (hello there, Georges Perec), but in fact this only leads to more research, and more madness, because now there is virtually no excuse NO EXCUSEEEEEE not to look everything up, including minor, obscure Impressionist (blergh, is what sums up my thoughts on Impressionism), minor obscure German mediaeval poets (nom nom nom), and tedious theological treatises (yaaawn). An index: it only means the autor is asking, very very politely, to look everything up.

This is, more or less, why I haven’t been posting much recently.

Also, why I probably should give up reading BUT I CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN’T ;_;

(1) The reason why I know I wasn’t the only one is that we exchanged anecdotes in secondary school, over our dictionaries.

(2) Not recommended.

Atheist Easter, a recipe:

Posted: April 5, 2010 in atheism
Tags: , ,

1) one A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust <– for Sendai to read

2) one The Greatest Show on Earth(1), Polish edition <— for Sendai’s mum to read

3) one Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy <— for Sendai’s dad to read

4) three laptops <— for Sendai’s younger brothers to held a LAN party. Caution! Remember always to hide Sendai’s laptop first.

5) one cheesecake <– to feed the crazy old aunt

6) on blanket <— for grandmother, when she fells asleep

7) internet connection <— just in case

Stir until not crazy, serve with eggs(2) and coffee(3).

(1) Yes, it was very fortunate that I ACCIDENTALLY TOTALLY ACCIDENTALLY spotted it in a bookshop.

(2) Sendai could do without the eggs, though. But noooo, eggs are TRADITIONAL, you see *grumble*

(3) Crazy aunt was really crazy this time; she was alternatively cooing at Sendai, exhorting her to Pursue a Poetry Writing Career(4), cooing at one of her younger brothers, and trying to make another of Sendai’s younger brothers meet her friend’s granddaughter who has a great job and could support Sendai’s brother forever WTF I DON’T EVEN.

This meant that Sendai needed a lot of coffee. And naps.

(4) Sendai knows her limitations v. well. Also, her disinterest in poetry is v. striking, and only comparable to her disinterest in sewing.


Posted: April 3, 2010 in books
Tags: , ,

I’m having a reading orgy. Will be back soon.

(just finished Anne Fadiman’s essays. Nice, perfect for an afternoon when you just want to relaaaaaaaaaax *yawn*. At first I thought the piece about culture wars would suffer from acute  golden mean fallacy, but surprisingly — I always expect the worst — it turned out very rational and pragmatic — although I’m quite certain Fadiman wouldn’t think that “rational and pragmatic” is a compliment — but anyway, I do)

I’ thinking, I might just finish Proust, finally.

(I always finish the first three volumes, and then I’m busy or something. But then! When I want totart (finish?) reading it again, I start from the beginning, instead of where I finished last time. The first three volumes, I think I might have read them about four times, hurr hurrrrrrrrr. I might have to reconsider my strategy)

(Because I have to take a break. Pshaw, internet forms, pshaw. Especially if they’re really stupid pdfs that need to be filled out FAIL and sent to like five different secretaries HUMANITY WHAT’S WRONGH WITH YOU *HATES*)

1. Hipster racism – I think this post very articulately sums up what people like Amanda Palmer do.

2. Female astronauts! PRETTY!

3. Goerge Takei in uniform, Brad Altman in a tinfoil, uh, headdress.

It was the tinfoil that totally sold the vid to me.

4. No aliens at Area 51. WO must be terribly disappointed (hurr hurr).

5.  10 Dinge die Sie nicht tun sollten beim Gottesdienst (Ten things you shouldn’t do during a mess)

5, 7, 8 = cool, but the transphobia in 6, not so much.

(Incidentally, this is the first vid that pops out if you search YT for “Gottesdienst”, hurr hurr)

6. Hilarious April Fool’s posts:

6a. by CERN:

“It’s awful”, explains Alain Grand, still shocked by the discovery. “It left horrible tracks inside the detector that made the physicists on duty at the time feel quite sick”.

6b.  via Language Log, the best story of the year: Doctorow and Stross to Write Authorized Sequel to Atlas Shrugged

“But then we realized that both of us shared one important trait with Ayn Rand: all three of us really, really like money. That made it much easier for Cory and I to cash the seven figure check.”

Hurr hurr hurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

6c. Silent no longer.

7.  A very insightful post about framing reading books as a moral issue. While I dislike books like the Twilight series as the next sentient person, I also believe that arguing that they ARE BAD FOR THE CHILDRUNZ will get us nowhere. I mean, when you’re a 11 year old, you simply don’t notice stuff like sexism they way you notice it, say, even ten years later. I mean, I do know I would have hated Twilight even as a 11-year old, but only because it was boring, also romance, also boring.  I was into Tolkien and Philip K. Dick when I was 11.

(OTOH, I think Justine Larbalesier goes on a crusade against strawmen when she argues that the issue of reading versus going to play outside is some sort of a problem. I seriously doubt there are parents telling their kids to not go outside to play BECAUSE BOOKS. C’mooooooon)

8. The “new written language” thing everybody and their cousin’s talking about. Seems like a load of bullshit to me, haven’t had the chance to look at the actual paper yet, though.