Seabear's reading in 2015

Converses75 Books Challenge for 2015

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Seabear's reading in 2015

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Editat: des. 19, 2015, 10:22pm

Hi all, this is my third year doing this. In 2013 I managed 22 books but last year only 6 - really busy with other things. This year I'll aim for 26 - one book a fortnight.

I read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, pretty much whatever takes my fancy. I am trying to read through the unread stuff I already own instead of buying new books. Library books too.

At the moment I'm about 50 pages into Bleak House, which has been sitting unread on my shelves for a couple of years, so hopefully that will be my first book of 2015!

1. With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge - finished 6/2/15
2. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall - finished 1/5/15
3. Homicide by David Simon - finished 25/6/15
4. Town Life in Australia by Richard Twopeny - finished 2/7/15
5. Australia by Russel Ward - finished 13/7/15
6. Planet Without Apes by Craig Stanford - finished 29/8/15
7. The great Arab conquests by Hugh Kennedy - finished 14/9/15
8. Paradise of dissent: South Australia 1829-1857 by Douglas Pike - finished 28/9/15
9. In search of mineral wealth by Bernard O'Neil - finished 15/11/15
10. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick - finished 27/11/15
11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - finished 14/12/15

gen. 1, 2015, 10:33am

Welcome back!

set. 12, 2015, 10:26pm

1. With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge - finished 6/2/15

Sledge is a US Marine from a well-off background who was originally in training to become a Marine officer but chose to go instead as a private. The book covers his training, both in the USA and on Pavuvu awaiting his first campaign, and then the two campaigns he fought make up the bulk of the text: first Peleliu in late 1944 and then Okinawa in mid 1945. There is no detail on anything else: it ends shortly after the surrender and "mop-up" on Okinawa.

It's the first war memoir I've read, so I'm not sure how it fits into the genre. He talks openly about his (and other Marines') interactions with the Japanese, and what it was like to live on the battlefield. There is memorable discussion of the heat, thirst, mud, rain, and the smell. I read it shortly after watching the HBO series "The Pacific" and found that the show had elaborated or changed several scenes, which I was disappointed in! But that serves as an endorsement for this book.

2. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall - finished 1/5/15

A first-hand account of what wild chimpanzees are like (after they become habituated to people). Even now, decades after this book was written (1971), some of the facts in there are surprising. I have a casual interest in chimps and the other great apes but still found a lot in here that I didn't know. Engaging and easy to read as well, a good and I guess rather early example of pop science.

3. Homicide by David Simon - finished 25/6/15

What a megalith of crime and miserable reality! This book is totally dated now, being from the late 1980s/early 1990s -- full of politically incorrect masculinity and alcoholism -- but wow. Again, I'm kinda new to the journalism in book form genre, but reading this is like an overwhelming assault of information and knowledge on the topic of urban crime in Baltimore. It is really excellent, and takes on all the different aspects of homicide investigation and prosecutions. Everything from evidence, investigation techniques, interrogation, politics, forensics, psychology, prosecutions, trials. Well written and lyrical in places. And perhaps above all else it focuses helpfully on the people, mostly the homicide detectives, but also a range of other people across Baltimore.

I read it as a consequence of watching and loving the HBO TV show which the author David Simon wrote called "The Wire", but found that it wasn't really "the book" of the show so much as being tangentially related. Of course there is a show based on the book called Homicide, which I haven't seen much of.

4. Town Life in Australia by Richard Twopeny - finished 2/7/15

Quite an interesting facsimile reproduction book from 1883, published in London, about, well, the title's got it down: town life in Australia. He covers Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, with the interesting observation that Melbourne is the biggest and brightest of the three, with Sydney a boring and unpleasant second, and Adelaide a pleasant third. How things change. Certainly Adelaide has fallen well behind. It focuses in depth of the ordinary aspects of life back then. Things like mortgages, household furniture, servants and household workers, and numerous other minutiae of life that you don't find in most history books.

5. Australia by Russel Ward - finished 13/7/15

A blunt and short history of Australia that I picked up secondhand. Published in 1956. It's not the worst history, but it's obviously outdated in many ways.

6. Planet Without Apes by Craig Stanford - finished 29/8/15

A fairly straightforward and short polemic on saving great apes from extinction, that I picked up on Amazon for my Kindle in a quick shop before going away. It was depressing insofar as he convinced me that the future is not at all good for any of the great apes, despite his early welcome insistence that he was not going to be depressing. I wish it could be more positive, but it doesn't sound like a good prognosis, especially not for orang-utans.

set. 20, 2015, 12:00am

7. The great Arab conquests by Hugh Kennedy - finished 14/9/15

The spread of Islam immediately following the life of Muhammed in the early 7th century is a remarkable story. But there is a subtle difference which is easy for an outsider like me to miss, and which becomes apparent in a book like this. The conquest of various empires and lands that Arab armies led in the 150 years following Muhammed is one thing -- while the spread of Islam and the effect that had on modern life is another thing entirely, once non-Arabs started to convert. I was interested in the latter, but the book is about the former. Don't let the subtitle mislead you.

The primary sources are not as reliable on the Arab conquests as one might expect, given the nature of the Islamic civilization that was to follow. The author (a professor in the field) points this out repeatedly, which left me wondering why he bothered writing the narrative of the conquests at all! I found many aspects of the story new and interesting: the contrasting views of the simple honest and poor Arabs vs the cynical weak luxurious Persians/Byzantines, the unwillingness of the Arabs in general to settle and integrate themselves into conquered lands at first, and what seems to be an intriguingly confused way they viewed non-Arabs, and non-Muslims in turn: Arabs must be Muslims, but non-Arabs are preferably non-Muslim, but taxed. It's a fascinating subject to me, but unfortunately not really explored in detail. In fact Islam is not really a major theme of the book.

As expected, the Kindle edition is not good. The accented characters didn't show up properly, making some of the transliterated Arabic names a complete mess. And the maps weren't there.

des. 19, 2015, 10:24pm

9. In search of mineral wealth : the South Australian Geological Survey and Department of Mines to 1944 (1982) by Bernard O'Neil

Interesting topic. It's a bit frustrating how the writing is arranged chronologically; I felt like a thematic organisation would have worked better (e.g. chapters on coal mining, the role of mine regulation vs geological survey, funding for the department, groundwater, and so on).

des. 19, 2015, 10:25pm

10. The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick - finished 27/11/15

I came here to slam this book for being immature and pointless, and to join the chorus singing "the end sucks". But there is an unsettling aspect, which is the story of Mr Tagomi, ending with his disturbing vision following his encounter with Frank's piece of jewellery. That section confused but fascinated me - and now thanks to this* review, I think I understand. The novel is challenging our pre-conceptions of evil and universal progress in history. Mr Tagomi's vision and the uninspiring encounter with Abendson at the end emphasises.. well, it emphasises something about the nature of choice and despair and the relationship between your internal struggles and happiness and the situation of the world around you.

I'm not sure.

In any case that's the point - on first pass it's a dull and confusing book - half immature alternate history exposition, half I Ching deliberation and introversion. But with further thought it becomes more interesting.

PS: Pity, as usual for books of the era, with the portrayal of female characters. Juliana is not all housewife, as her prowess with a razor blade demonstrates, but the fact that bra-purchasing is an actual plot point in the story is a joke. Please.

* -

des. 19, 2015, 10:27pm

11. Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley - finished 14/12/15

This is a brilliantly prescient book. A world at peace, without conflict, hate, cruelty, or any unhappiness at all, is also a hideous nightmare of boredom, dissatisfaction, and manipulation. It's hard to put into words but the dystopia in Brave New World is everything that 1984 is not. There are some excellent reviews that put it much better than I can, such as Neil Postman in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" (1985):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.

I tried to read this book once many years ago but got lost in what seemed like a weak plot working off weak characters. This is true - the plot is indeed weak compared to others in the genre like 1984 - but it is the ideas that make it all worthwhile. The story does build up to a rewarding exposition in the last few chapters.

Above all, there is an terribly unsettling feeling at the end. The dystopia is far too close to the reality. What, really, is the difference between "feelies" and Youtube? We already live in dulled obedience to a set of political masters who are obsessed with economic growth - this is not far from the Brave New World of Controllers deliberately breeding and maintaining a society with just enough labour and just enough leisure to ensure maximum consumption of products and minimum unrest.