“Now consider Banks’s scenario. Consider the process that is generating modern hypercultures, and imagine it continuing for another three or four hundred years. The first consequence is that the culture will become entirely defunctionalized. Banks imagines a scenario in which all of the endemic problems of human society have been given essentially technological solutions (in much the same way that drones have solved the problem of criminal justice). Most importantly, he imagines that the fundamental problem of scarcity has been solved, and so there is no longer any obligation for anyone to work (although, of course, people remain free to do so if they wish). All important decisions are made by a benevolent technocracy of AIs (or the “Minds”).
And so what is left for humanity (or, more accurately, humanoids)? At the individual level, Banks imagines a life very much like the one described by Bernard Suits in The Grasshopper – everything becomes a game, and thus at some level, non-serious. But where Banks went further than Suits was in thinking about the social consequences. What happens when culture becomes freed from all functional constraints? It seems clear that, in the interplanetary competition that develops, the culture that emerges will be the most virulent, or the most contagious. In other words, “the Culture” will simply be that which is best at reproducing itself, by appealing to the sensibilities and tastes of humanoid life-forms…
…Human beings have spent much of their lives lamenting “the curse of Adam,” and yet work provides most people with their primary sense of meaning and achievement in life. So what happens when work disappears, turning everything into a hobby? A hobby is fun. Many people spend a great deal of time trying to escape work, so they can spend more time on their hobbies. But while they may be fun, hobbies are also at some level always frivolous. They cannot give meaning to a life, precisely because they are optional. You could just stop doing it, and nothing would change, it would make no difference, which is to say, it wouldn’t matter.”
—Joseph Heath, “Why the Culture Wins: An Appreciation of Iain M. Banks.” Sci Phi Journal. November 12, 2017.
“Merchants have a waste-book (Sudelbuch, Klitterbuch, I think it is in German) in which they enter from day to day everything they have bought and sold, all mixed up together in disorder; from this it is transferred to the journal, in which everything is arranged more systematically; and finally it arrives in the ledger…This deserves to be imitated by the scholar. First a book in which to inscribe everything just as I see it or as my thoughts prompt me, then this is transferred to another where the materials are more ordered and segregated, and the ledger can then contain a connected construction and the elucidation of the subject that flows from it expressed is an orderly fashion.”
—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books. New York: New York Review Books, 2000.
Not recommended. It’s a commonplace book that has some gems in it, but the audience for this book is a small one. The idea of a waste book is a good one.
Here is a sampling of quotes I liked:
“The frogs were much happier under King Log than they were under King Stork.”
“It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing someone’s beard.”
“Let’s let the grass grow over it.”
“I have had all last year’s newspapers bound up together, and the effect of reading them is indescribable: 50 parts false hopes, 47 parts false prophecies, and 3 parts truth.”
“What most clearly characterizes true freedom and its true employment is its misemployment.”
Sometimes, there is such compelling possibilities with a background group or character, that is only briefly mentioned or used as a backdrop in a book, I wish the author had developed them more fully. For example, I’d love to read more about the Zetetic Elench from Iain M. Banks’ Culture series and Quellcrist Falconer and Quellists in Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Novaks series (although, I haven’t read Woken Furies yet, perhaps it’s fleshed out more fully there). Read below for quotes that provide some context. If you are reading this and have your own idiosyncratic example(s), please leave them in the comments. Better yet, suggest fan fiction you have found compelling. I have no idea where to start. Thanks!
“The Elench wanted to alter themselves, not others; they sought out the undiscovered not to change it but to be changed by it. The Elencher ideal was that somebody from a more stable society — the Culture itself was a perfect example — could meet some Elencher — Rock, ship, drone or human — on successive occasions and never encounter the same entity twice. They would have changed between meetings just because in the interim they had encountered some other civilization and incorporated some different technology into their bodies or information into their minds. It was a search for the sort of pan-relevant truth that the Culture’s monosophical approach was likely ever to throw up; it was a vocation, a mission, a calling.”
—Iain M. Banks, “Excession”
“The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide from under it with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way, you stand a better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous marks the difference – the only difference in their eyes – between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that it’s nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal.’
—Richard K. Morgan, quoting fictional character Quellcrist Falconer in “Altered Carbon”
Background: I have thousands of books in my book queue that I would like to read, but never seem to find the time for. In 2018, instead of reading whatever seems good at the moment, I’m going to try sticking to an idiosyncrastic list of 101 books and/or collections I’d like to read in the coming year.
I’ll consider it a success if I manage to read a quarter of the titles on this list by the end of 2018. If I can manage a third of them, I’ll consider that an excellent outcome.
In the end, it is alright if I end up reading a handful of these books. I also intend to either do a book review when I complete a title or post interesting quotes as I find them.
Methods: Stick with the list. If I want to read a book off list, I’ll review this book list and ask: Is this off-list book more interesting than all the unread titles on this list? If not, then it can wait for next year’s list.
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah.
- Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations.
- Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.
- Bowles, Paul. The Stories of Paul Bowles.
- Bradbury, Ray. The Stories of Ray Bradbury.
- Browne, Harry. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.
- Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild and Other Stories.
- Calvino, Italo. Italian Folktales.
- Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities.
- Carroll, Peter J. Liber Null and Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic.
- Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats.
- Cerón, Rocío. Diorama.
- Chagdud, Tulku. Gates to Buddhist Practice.
- Congdon, Lisa. A Glorious Freedom.
- Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1).
- Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
- Dinesen, Isak. Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales.
- Endō, Shūsaku. Silence.
- Epictetus. Discourses and Selected Writings.
- Etheridge, Chuck. Border Cantos Trilogy: Book I.
- Euripides. Medea and Other Plays: Medea / Alcestis / The Children of Heracles / Hippolytus.
- Ferriss, Timothy. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
- Fletcher, Alan. The Art of Looking Sideways.
- Frank, Pat. Alas, Babylon.
- Galbraith, Carrie. Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society.
- Galeano, Eduardo. Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone.
- Gallwey, W. Timothy. The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance.
- Garson, Scott. Is That You, John Wayne?
- Gessel, Van C. The Shōwa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories.
- Girard, René. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.
- Gorey, Edward. The Gashlycrumb Tinies (The Vinegar Works, #1).
- Gracián, Baltasar. The Art of Worldly Wisdom.
- Grass, Günter. The Danzig Trilogy: The Tin Drum / Cat and Mouse / Dog Years.
- Graves, Robert. I, Claudius (Claudius, #1).
- Greitens, Eric. Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.
- Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing.
- Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy As a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault.
- Hagy, Jessica. How to Be Interesting: An Instruction Manual.
- Hamel, Christopher De. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.
- Hansberry, Lorraine. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: An Informal Autobiography.
- Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
- Hwoschinsky, Carol. Listening With The Heart: A Guide For Compassionate Listening.
- Ingalls, Rachel. Three Masquerades: Novellas. 12/2017.
- Jaeger, Werner Wilhelm. Paideia 1: The Ideals of Greek Culture: Archaic Greece: The Mind of Athens.
- Johnson, Denis. Jesus’ Son.
- Keene, John. Counternarratives.
- Kelly, Joe. I Kill Giants.
- Kennett, Jiyu. Selling Water by the River: Manual of Zen Training. 12/2017.
- Khema, Ayya. Be an Island: The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace.
- King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
- Kreider, Tim. We Learn Nothing.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories.
- Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko.
- Van Lente, Fred. Action Philosophers!
- Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph. The Waste Books. 12/2017.
- Lin Yutang. The Importance of Living.
- Liu, Cixin. The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1).
- Liu, Cixin. The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2).
- Liu, Cixin. Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3).
- Manguel, Alberto. The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
- Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard.
- McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.
- McLuhan, Marshall. The Book of Probes.
- McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove.
- McPhee, John. Draft No. 4.
- Mercier, Hugo. The Enigma of Reason.
- Mirtalipova, Dinara. Imagine A Forest: 45 Step by Step Lessons to Create Enchanting Folk Art.
- Miłosz, Czesław. Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004.
- Moore, Alan. Jerusalem.
- Moten, Fred. The Little Edges.
- Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
- Novy, Adam. The Avian Gospels, Book I.
- O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories.
- Ōe, Kenzaburō. Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels.
- Palmer, Ada. Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota, #1).
- Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects.
- Rothenberg, Jerome. Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
- Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1).
- Sanderson, Brandon. Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2).
- Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3).
- Sapolsky, Robert M. Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
- Scharf, Caleb. The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing.
- Schopenhauer, Arthur. Essays and Aphorisms.
- Seneca. Letters from a Stoic.
- Shakur, Assata. Assata: An Autobiography.
- Shepard, Lucius. The Jaguar Hunter.
- Shklovsky, Victor. Zoo or Letters Not About Love.
- Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
- Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1).
- VanderMeer, Jeff. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.
- Vargas Llosa, Mario. Conversation in the Cathedral.
- Vonnegut Jr., Kurt. The Sirens of Titan.
- Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing.
- Ware, Chris. Building Stories.
- Willink, Jocko. Extreme Ownership: How U. S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. 12/2017.
- Wilson, August. Three Plays: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom / Fences / Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
- Woodring, Jim. Congress of the Animals.
- Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own.
- Zehme, Bill. Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman.
- Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday.
“A question from the New York Times’ Bookends, “Where is the great American novel by a woman?,” got an interesting answer from the Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid…
[Ursula’s answer, in short:]
But there’s something coy and coercive about the question itself that made me want to charge into the bullring, head down and horns forward. I’d answer it with a question: Where is the great American novel by anybody? And I’d answer that: Who cares?…
…Art is not a horse race. Literature is not the Olympics. The hell with The Great American Novel. We have all the great novels we need right now—and right now some man or woman is writing a new one we won’t know we needed till we read it.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, “Who Cares About The Great American Novel?” Literary Hub. December 6, 2017.
“Interestingly, one of the initial impediments to open-mindedness is not ignorance but ideology. This is especially true in America, where (particularly in “progressive” circles) we have politicized open-mindedness to the point that it isn’t so open-minded anymore. Indeed, regardless of whether your sympathies lean to the left or the right, you aren’t going to learn anything new if you continually use politics as a lens through which to view the world. At home, political convictions are a tool for getting things done within your community; on the road, political convictions are a clumsy set of experiential blinders, compelling you to seek evidence for conclusions you have already drawn.
This is not to say that holding political beliefs is wrong—it’s just that politics are naturally reductive, and the world is infinitely complex. Cling too fiercely to your ideologies and you’ll miss the subtle realities that politics can’t address…”
—Rolf Potts, Vagabonding. (New York: Villard, 2003), 161-162.
“I have heard it said that modern dying means dying more, dying over longer periods, enduring more uncertainty, subjecting ourselves and our families to more disappointments and despair. As we are enabled to live longer, we are also condemned to die longer. In that case, it should come as no surprise that some of us seek out the means to bring a dignified end to the ordeal, while we are still capable of deciding matters for ourselves. Where is the crime in that? A sorrowful goodbye, a chance to kiss each beloved face for the last time before sleep descends, pain retreats, dread dissolves, and death is defeated by death itself.”
—Cory Taylor, Dying: A Memoir. (Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2017), 140-141.