September 30, 2017

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, September 2017

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste, and no qualification to opine on any matter of history, or horitculture.

Elsa Hart, The White Mirror
Mind-candy historical mystery, in which an exiled Chinese scholar untangles multiple mysteries in a snow-locked valley on the western borderlands. I lapped it up with a spoon and only wish there were more. (Previously.)
Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century
By "Traditionalism", Sedgwick means a very specific school of thought, whose roots he traces to the early 20th century, which is all about how there exists One True Tradition of primordial wisdom and indeed literal magic, passed on by initiation, whose loss has given us the horrors of the modern world. This is a synthesis of a bunch of themes of varying ages and origins (including Renaissance syncretism a la Pico della Mirandola), and which might be left to psychoceramicists, were it not for two things. One, which is Sedgwick's main theme, is that Traditionalism, in this sense, had a lot of adherents among eminent names in the 20th century humanities, especially among scholars of religion, like Eliade, and especially among scholars of Islam. The other is that it got bound up with the more intellectual elements of Fascism, and some of the various rightwing mountebanks (Bannon, Dugin) lurking around those now in power are either full-bore Traditionalists, or influenced by them. (Cf.)
--- I first read this in 2005; it's just as interesting, much less in a "how curious" and much more in a "oh, shit" spirit.
L. Sprague de Camp, An Elephant for Aristotle
Mind candy historical fiction, in which Alexander sends his old teacher a present from India, and we follow the adventures of the beleaguered-yet-plucky Greek soldier who has to make it happen. (De Camp did a good line in beleaguered-yet-plucky protagonists.) I read it as a teenager, and re-read it now that it's available electronically with pleasure.
--- This book is also the source of a question which has puzzled me ever since reading it. Why didn't anyone in antiquity realize that Greek, Persian, Prakrit, Pali, etc., were all much more similar to each other than any of them were to Aramaic, Hebrew, etc.?
Mary Louise Kelly, The Bullet
A thriller in which an academic's seeking help with carpal tunnel leads to increasingly bizarre and dramatic events. Despite the impressive amount of mayhem, this may be the least dude-ly (good) thriller I have ever read. Highly addictive mind-candy.
G. E. R. Lloyd, The Ideals of Inquiry
More of Lloyd's comparative studies of ancient Greek and ancient Chinese thought. (India and Mesopotamia also get some attention.) This time he focusing on (as the title says) what each culture thought of as the ideals of inquiry, both in terms of what satisfying knowledge should be like, and how to get there. (He's good, as usual, on internal diversity within each culture.)
Charles Soule et al., Letter 44: Escape Velocity and Redshift
Matt Dembicki and Evan Keeling, Xoc: The Journey of a Great White
Ryan North, The Midas Flesh (vol. 1)
Comic-book mind candy, assorted.
Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River
A wonderfully-written, highly compressed history of the Columbia River, and how people have interacted with it. There are some bits I'd really like to know more about (could the local Indians really have not traded foodstuffs with each other?!?), but I see why it's a classic of environmental history.
Amy Raby, Assassin's Gambit, Spy's Honor, Prince's Fire
Mind candy fantasy/romance; perfectly enjoyable as fantasy novels.
Andrew Moore, Paw Paw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit
An interesting mix of food writing, popular botany, regional history and travel writing.
Disclaimer: Moore lives in Pittsburgh, and I've grown paw-paws in my garden here, but we've never met.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; The Beloved Republic; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Biology; Writing for Antiquity; Tales of Our Ancestors; The Running-Dogs of Reaction; Psychoceramics

Posted at September 30, 2017 23:59 | permanent link

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