This possibly doesn’t work well as a recommendation, as I didn’t really enjoy The Martian, but Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust was the book that I was comparing it to when I read it. It has the same attractive pattern of smart practical people working together or separately to save people in an apparently hopeless situation.
Thanks for mentioning that. I did think of A Fall of Moondust when compiling my list, but decided to omit it because my post was so long and Fall, like “Nerves,” is somewhat scientifically outdated.
I got this for Xmas:
Marianne Faithfull’s autobiography.
I went to my SF book group yesterday, and before the meeting perused the library’s used-book sale room, where I picked up Sister Wendy’s My Favorite Things: 75 Works of Art from Around the World. It is a mint condition, Abrams art book (1999, $30) that I bought for one dollar and began reading last night. I don’t remember whether I have ever mentioned it on OGS, but I am a big fan of fine art. When a previous job took me to many cities across the U.S., I used to spend my free time (when I had some) visiting the local fine art museums (such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis).
I loved Sister Wendy’s art commentary series on PBS in the 1990s. Although her comments in this book are extremely brief (aiming, I think, at a pop audience for coffee-table books), they invariably offer at least one inimitable insight into each work, many of which are not the famous pieces one might expect. Following her advice in the introduction, I am minutely examining and thinking about each piece before I read what she has to say. It is a deeply affecting experience.
Two books at a time again. No SF for a change.
I’ll make it a little longer story And no worries, I won’t begin with the Big Bang again
Decades ago, in the late 1970s or early ’80s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was in my early twenties, I stumbled over a book that profoundly influenced my thinking, feeling, attitude: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (Wikipedia link) by Richard Bach (ditto) of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (ditto) fame.
Interspersed throughout “Illusions” are quotes from an ominous “Messiah’s Handbook”, which meanwhile is available as a separate book:
I loved these quotes so much that ofc I had to get this little book also:
And currently I open it almost daily.
What about this one:
Care about understanding and
before you know it,
in just a few decades,
you’ll have a system of thinking
that gives you answers
whenever you ask.
Anyway, one particular quote stuck with me forever since, and recently I was reminded of it, so I had to find the page and make something of it for sharing:
Live never to be ashamed
if anything you do or say
is published around the world -
even if what is published is not true.
This is not a book meant for reading from front to back, though ofc you can do that, but rather to open at a random page and look whether what you are reading means something to you, then off you go pondering, or maybe you’ll turn over a page … or three … until some other entry catches your mind.
The other book I’m currently reading, but this one from front to back, is Breaking the Spell: My life as a Rajneeshee, and the long journey back to freedom (WP link), by Jane Stork.
There’s a certain reason why I am interested in reports/documentaries/diaries/etc. about the Rajneesh/Bhagwan/Osho phenomenon: some of my original family, including my father, who was an M.D. and psychotherapist in this here village, traveled to Pune (then Poona) and returned in Orange and stuck with it for his last ten years—and they had obviously not “gone crazy”. It was funny how the yellow press here called it a “youth sect” when it was not me but my good old man had become a follower of “Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh”.
I was, youthfully, quite left radical at the time, and thus, at first, I opposed strongly and also made fun of them, but all within “friendly banter”.
And then, unexpectedly, I had my own “Guru Experience”, with a “no name guru” whom no-one has ever heard of (“Harold Clayton” anyone?), and one or two years later, following the advice of a Buddhist (!) proverb—“If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him!”—, I had to “cut off his head” (not really ofc! My GOODNESS!).
It was as simple (and hard) as … “I owe you infinite thanks, for you have changed my life to the better; and now I must move on.”
From then on, I could understand the Bhagwan/Osho phenomenon much better, and more generally: any “religious” or “spiritual” group phenomenon, and about leaders and followers etc., and I felt much more friendly and accepting towards the Sannyasins amongst family and friends.
Yet … I became wary of all “gurus”, never mind who calls them so, be it their disciples (not totally bad IMNVHO; I’ll expand on that if someone asks) or they themselves (evil), and also of any organized followership, so much, that, whenever someone told me about some “guru-y” kind of person, I was like, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” Still happens BTW.
And then, some time later, I accidentally almost stepped in what I call the Guru Trap.
Fortunately someone got angry and screamed at me, like, “Can’t you see that you are becoming a guru to [them]?” … no, I hadn’t noticed, but it taught me to weigh all my words carefully before I speak them out—after all, if there are people who take me serious, I have a heavy responsibility, and we DO things with our words.
OK, back to the book …
I’ve only read the first ~80 pages so far, and most of that consists of the author’s childhood in the late 1940s and ’50s in Australia, which I find immensely interesting, about the atmosphere in a Catholic family (as mine originally also was), well-written, and sometimes I’m surprised to find similarities.
Dog time in between, I may have left some unfinished sentences … “my mind is going”
About to start On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (2014), a peer-reviewed monograph by Dr. Richard Carrier.
After spending the first half of my life growing up in a Christian doomsday cult, I’ve recently become very interested in taking an outsider’s look at Christianity, and have been watching all of Richard Carrier’s Youtube videos I could find. I find it fascinating that there may not have even been a historical Jesus, and that the letters of Paul (the first New Testament books to be written) suggest that even Paul might not have believed in a Jesus who had walked on Earth. Can’t wait to dig deeper with this book
I’ve just finished re-reading the four gospels in preparation. Boy, even IF any of those stories are historical, Jesus certainly isn’t someone whose teachings I can empathize with anymore… I’ve also recently taught myself how to read Ancient Greek so I could read the Revelation of John in the original.
EDIT: Funny timing, I just read the post above mine! trohde, have you heard of Roger Castillo by any chance?
No, I hadn’t but, now I did a Web search, thanks!
And I was like,
Oh, yet another spiritual teacher?
With Techniques™ and Methods® and Logo©?
GREAT … This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us!
I’ve had attachments to many spiritual teachers, but …
… but but but … Wowtama Siddhartha is the last of all prophets!
Hahaha, fair enough
Went to the library yesterday to get tax forms and found an excellent scholarly work (164 pp. of notes and bibliography), Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor (Viking, 2007). Again, a $30 book for one dollar. I read tons of U.S. Civil War history in my youth, in part because I had ancestors on both sides, but rarely read that now. However, this attracted my attention because The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee is a very important book about the Confederate strategy, and I thought that Reading the Man might provide similar insight about the personal side of Lee. Indeed, it taps numerous letters closely held by the family and never before consulted by historians.
The fascinating preface has a great social history of the rise of letter writing (formerly an indulgence only of the rich). It was spurred in the U.S. by increased literacy, cheaper paper, an excellent postal system, and the introduction of stamps (in 1847, mandated in 1854). The result was unprecedented historical documentation up until the widespread use of the telephone.
On the fiction side, I have begun The Eyre Affair, by Jaspar Fforde, for my book club. Some years ago the club read, and I moderately liked, his Shades of Grey (not to be confused with the bestselling porn novel of the same title). This sprightly book (already 22 years old!) depicts an alternate history Earth that has adapted to time alteration as well as other fantastic intrusions into reality, kept in check by a Special Operations force. It reads very fast, due to the large amount of dialogue.
Not “same title”—AFAIK the latter, which indeed seems to be some kind of -ploitation, is “Fifty Shades of Grey” (and I won’t even link to it).
I thoroughly enjoyed Burr by Gore Vidal, a fictional survey of the American revolution and its aftermath as seen by one of its more controversial participants. ( The controversy came later ). Aaron Burr is perhaps best remembered today as the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. That he was Thomas Jefferson’s vice president seems to receive scant attention by comparison, at least in the public eye. That he once stood trial for supposedly attempting to break up the United States has receded even further in the public consciousness. Apparently he was also father to the future president Martin Van Buren, and the novel is largely concerned with an attempt by muckraking journalists to discredit Van Buren by establishing the illegitimacy of his birth.
There’s a lot to take in here. We see Aaron Burr as a nineteen year old recruit in the Continental Army. He serves briefly as a member of General Washington’s staff. He distinguishes himself in the field, if only for his ability to avert or at least mitigate the disasters that would otherwise follow from other peoples’ bad decisions----mainly Washington’s. He associates with rising stars such as James Madison and James Monroe, yet he can also be seen huddling for warmth with the common soldiers at Valley Forge. As a politician he adopts a moderate stance and displays a conspicuous lack of concern for other peoples’ opinion of him. This last quality makes him troubling to his rival Hamilton and a conniving Jefferson.
Central to the novel is Burr’s contention that history generally gets things backward. The urge to mythologize quickly takes over, and a figure like Burr, by reputation a womanizer and corrupter of morals, fits easily into the required villain role. George Washington, remembered as a capable military strategist but a somewhat weak politician, is remembered by Burr as a liability in the field yet indispensable to the revolution since he is seemingly the only one who can maintain discipline in the army, pacify the revolution’s merchant backers, and maintain some semblance of unity in the congress, which Burr describes as a den of thieves.
Vidal’s portrait of Thomas Jefferson is especially compelling. The apostle of democracy and the inherent rights of man is disturbingly nonchalant about the human cost of war. He typically resents any federal powers that he himself does not wield. And his interpretation of constitutional matters invariably aligns with his self-interest. For instance, he is so insistent on states rights and so vehemently opposed to centralization that in a conversation with Burr and company he suggests that state politicians who cooperate with the established federal banking system should be found guilty of treason. And this after having previously arranged a personal loan with said federal bank.
Perhaps most impressive to Burr ( and Vidal?) is the way Jefferson, without using the military, was able to conquer more territory than his transatlantic rival Napoleon Bonaparte, and yet still come away smelling for the most part like a rose. Love him or hate him, Jefferson was a master of realpolitik, possibly unmatched to this day.
The trumped up charge of treason and subsequent trial against Aaron Burr dominates the latter third of the novel, and I feel the story loses some momentum there. Even so, it remains a fascinating read throughout. This is the only thing by Gore Vidal I’ve read, and I’m greatly inclined to read more, although that’s probably down the road a ways.