February 28, 2005

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, February 2005

Kalpana Misra, From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion of Official Ideology in Deng's China
Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T. Barber, When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth
A cognitive theory of mythology (quite similar to the work of Sperber and followers, who aren't cited), from the authors of The Mummies of Ürümchi and Vampires, Burial and Death. Great fun and right-headed, if not always completely convincing.
Richard H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism: From Erasmus to Descartes
How the combination of the Reformation and the re-discovery of Hellenistic skepticism, especially Sextus Empiricus, launched modern philosophy. Popkin is obviously sympathetic to a combination of skepticism and Christian fideism, such as he attributes to Montaigne, but not in a really prejudicial way. I read the first edition; the third, which is the one in print, is subtitled From Savonarola to Bayle. Both of them feature in the edition I read, but presumably that material has been expanded. --- It would be interesting to know why skeptical arguments failed to have much impact in antiquity, especially since they're really hard, if not impossible, to actually answer.
Phil Rickman, The Prayer of the Night Shepherd
The latest in his "Merrily Watkins" mystery series, which are perhaps best described as procedural ghost stories: the eponymous character is a Church of England minister, and in fact the official diocesan exorcist ("Deliverance Consultant") for a particularly ghastly region on the English-Welsh border. As in many procedural series, a lot of the book is Watkins struggling with the trials of her life (her faith, her parishoners' lack of same, the C. of E. hierarchy, her boyfriend, her teenage daughter) while trying to solve the mystery; it's just that the mysteries always involve spooks in some way, or at least seem to do so. In many ways, the real theme of these novels is the slow, miserable, hopeless decay of the border country, and the appalling human secrets it harbors. Rickman is able to pull this off. It's not necessary to read the books in order, but Prayer probably isn't the best place to start; the first one is Wine of Angels.
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
See, for fully-deserved praise, Henry Farrell, or John Holbo, or Jo Walton: "It's as if we've all been building sandcastles in the shadow of a cliff and suddenly Clarke has raised a great castle out of the sea with a strange light shining through the foam-water windows." Further comment on my part is superfluous.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted at February 28, 2005 23:59 | permanent link

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