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January 16th, 2004

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11:01 am - What I read in 2003
A quick raft of birthday greetings to heidi8 and brakusjs for yesterday, tromboneborges for today and ari_o for tomorrow. Sending greetings on the wrong day does make me feel a little guilty, but please know that you are all thought about very often and I care about you all.

"How Much is Enough?" - a very interesting article on morality which takes a wide number of viewpoints. As usual, I don't fully understand it and I certainly don't have any reasons to pick one viewpoint over another when the competing viewpoints disagree. The argument of "well, I happen to be doing this anyway, and the those think it's right, so I'm with them and don't need to change my behaviour" is clearly one of convenience. (Is it better than nothing?) Thoughts from philosophers, both barroom and formally educated, eagerly solicited.

Transport: as discussed, I'm off to London and later Oxford (in about six four hours - so much still to do!) and won't be back until Monday 26th. LJ access over the interim is likely to be spotty. All the same, I'd love to get to meet up with more of you who I don't normally see; if I made you feel uneasy about not being able/willing to offer crash space, I think I should be OK there and would still love to meet you if we can make the schedules happen. Go do it to it!

Teessiders, don't forget the Evening Gazette offer of limited advance-booking return train travel between Darlington and London for £15 and Darlington and Edinburgh for £10 - tokens are due to be printed until the end of the month, so it's still possible to take advantage. A check reveals that it is possible to book a trip which starts from the London end; theoretically, it ought to be possible to book a return train trip from London to Edinburgh for £25 this way if you get the right GNER operator. Middlesbrough folk - that is, those who are still in Middlesbrough at the time - can likely help you with obtaining the tokens.

I am poorly read and want to do something about it, which is why I resolved to read 50 books in 2004. 2004 progress: 15th January (c. 4%). Books read so far: 0 (c. -0.1%). This is because I am a serial sequentialiser and in my mind "writing about the books I read in 2003" must come first before reading books in 2004. Accordingly I will have to produce a number of quarter-assed summaries rather than even slightly proper reviews, but I can theoretically go back and write proper reviews later. I claim to have probably read 10 books in 2003, though you can definitely argue it down to 4½.

1) Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow - counts as half, arguably, because I read the ebook. Read due to good reviews and because the author is an old-school blogger. Sci-fi set in an immensely conencted, post-scarcity world. I liked the universe that he established; it looks like a fun one in which to play and explore. Unfortunately, I wasn't taken by the characters or the story. However, I wouldn't mind reading fanfic set in the Bitchun Society, if such exists.

2) The Dragon Hunter's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Paranormal by Lori (madlori) Summers - counts as half, arguably, because it's a slim little book aimed at pre-teens. Read at MacT00bage because I've met the author and really enjoy her work. A fine collection of dragon legend with a pleasingly scientific, curious style; I suspect some of it represents Lori's original extension to the mythology and fits in seamlessly. Appropriately and entertainingly illustrated in a style very similar to what we would later know as ready.gov.

3) Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb - counts as half, arguably, because I think I reread it in 2003 after having read it first in 2002. Read because it's set in the familiar world of con fandom and because I read the same zine (Hopscotch) as the author's husband. I enjoyed and recognised the vignettes and the familiar quirks of fandom; lovable characters, but the story takes second place. Hmm - again, scope for good fanfic.

4) Dead Famous by Ben Elton. Counts as whole! Read because hawkida reviewed it unfavourably and it was second-hand to her; in turn, I am prepared to pass it on to a fourth LiveJournalist in a BookCrossing stylee because it really isn't a keeper. The setting is a thinly disguised version of the Big Brother game show; the characters are all very recognisable to those who saw the first two UK BBs. The story is a twisty murder mystery, but the style is snarky rather than affectionate and really not in a good way. Definitely better on second reading and does get bonus points for having its one belly laugh at the very end of the book.

5) Millionaire Moments by Chris Tarrant - counts as half, arguably, because it's not a single story but a collection of wrap-ups of famous UK WWTBAM? contestants with greater background and Chris's perspective. Very interesting concept for a book and very few game shows could support it. If you remember the contestant in question, about half the summaries are fascinating and the other half offer nothing new. If you don't remember the contestant, you can't get any sort of reaction. Curious to know whether Tarrant really wrote the book himself or not; it's consistent with his slightly aloof, not-overtly-keen-to-be-popular style. If you watched early UK Millionaire and liked it, worth picking up in a cheapo shop for £3. Overseas game show fans: not recommended unless you've seen the episodes.

6) Bruce by Bruce Forsyth - definitely counts as half at most because I didn't finish it. :-) I may have registered an interest in Bruce Forsyth, but I could not get through his autobiography - the anecdotes therein weren't relevant, glamorous or entertaining. I really haven't given this a fair go and probably would enjoy the second half of the book more when I have a better chance of remembering the things to which he refers. On the other hand, I've really not enjoyed all five of the autobiographies I've read (Bruce Forsyth, Bob Monkhouse, Nicholas Parsons, Tim Berners-Lee and Richard Branson) despite liking the people involved. On the other hand, I did enjoy daweaver's LJ autobiography (39,000 words of Friends-only posts in October) so much that it could well be that I just cannot relate to people from outside my generation. If I try another autobiography, it will be of someone my age. Perhaps biographies may suit more.

7) The Well-Played Game by Bernie DeKoven - counts as half, arguably, because again I read the .pdf free download. Read because I enjoy his weblog and his views and attitudes on his site. Interesting reflections on the nature of play, but (perhaps due to some prior degree of familiarity with the concepts) I would like to see a follow-up covering the same material in as much depth again to be truly thought-provoking. The part I most enjoyed was that about playing for higher stakes, especially considering spiritual exploration as a play community; unfortunately, this is restricted to about two pages and I have a feeling that Bernie wants to write two hundred on this part alone and is remarkably well qualified to write 200 in a unique way. The style is accessible and fun (while keeping deliberate funniness to one glorious surprise!) and avoids the affected style of his web site. By no means a bad book, but definitely pitched at a low level; either that, or quite possibly I've really missed the point.

8) Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by J. K. Rowling. Read because... no, can't remember. Haven't written about this on my journal at all and this is deliberate; I saw a review which said "No true Potter fan will be disappointed by this!" and thought "oh, dear". The emotion of disappointment has subtly different nuances, but it really wasn't what I was hoping for - it's another step away from the parts which I enjoy most, which are the day-to-day domestic dramas of school life. I still love and care about the setting and the characters; the character developments and the new characters are wonderful. Definitely a universe I explore for enjoyment; the chapter one metaphor of the wrecked playground was too representative of the rest of the story for me to enjoy this nearly as much as the others in the series. Sorry!

9) TV Nation by Michael Moore. Read because it caught my eye in the library. Fuller review at the time. Effectively raised awareness further and a few entertaining looks behind the scenes, but didn't inspire activism within me.

10) Language Play by David Crystal. Read on a recommendation from j4 and as a kind gift from the top of my wish list from ericklendl, so I was honour-bound to like it; happily, the bulk of the book (chapters on how amateurs, enthusiasts and professionals alike manipulate words for fun) is a clearly-written, witty and wide-ranging exploration of the techniques involved with an excellent collection and analysis of examples. Not a didactic work which directly aims to improve your verbal abilities, but definitely one to deepen your understanding. The rest of the book I found harder going, particularly the part about children's play with language. Many thanks!

And, er, crikey, nothing at all in the last 2-3 months or so. That's not so good, is it?

I will be taking at least three books with me for train journeys on this trip to start the journey towards fifty: Michael Moore's Downsize This!, The Luck Factor (as discussed) - a kind Christmas present from mrstrellis - and (Pete) McCarthy's Bar which I believe to be light and funny and have heard compared to things like Playing the Moldovans at Tennis. Is Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure recommended as a similar bit of fun? I have heard great things about the stage show, but the run of that has finished with no second run in sight. Apparently there's a shock twist to the tale (I may have been partially spoiled - by Dave's own site, grr - but assume not) and I would be interested to know whether it works as well on paper as it does in performance.

Recommendations for next year are most welcome; unfortunately, seeing as I wasn't wildly, screamingly positive about any of the above, recs may be difficult. Apart from the above three, I have heard enough good across the board about pegkerr's Wild Swans and blackholly's Tithe that they're both straight on the list. (Does it help that the authors are on LJ? Why, yes!) I enjoy reading sbisson's recs and he has sold me on Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

I also aim to read some of the classics, largely because that would be definitely out of character for me; I think we have a complete Dickens downstairs (in about 6-point print on rice paper) and I aim to read one from there. (Not the whole lot!) I also aim to read a Shakespeare play new to me and will count that as a 1. irinaauthor and fruufoo both rave over Dumas' Three Musketeers; on a cold day when we were waiting for a locksmith, I tried reading it out loud, but the first sentence of chapter one alone had as many commas as, well, one of mine and I found this rather off-putting. Nevertheless, if this self-improvement kick teaches me anything, struggling with tough books would be a useful one. I got through LotR, after all, though I really was significantly offput by the style.

Yes, non-fiction, too. Not sure what. Books of rules to games will not count, books about games will count. I need to read much more history because my grasp of history is woefully weak.

I am greatly amused that the USA's best chess player aged under 28 is just-over-16-year-old Hikaru Nakamura. Henceforth he will be known as Hikaru No Chess.

Lastly, if I promote friend_whoring and anti_whoring at the same time, will the two cancel each other out?

That is all. That's yer lot!

Edited to add: Folks on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, we hear that the temperature where you are is dozens of degrees below freezing, yet I haven't heard any whinging about it on my Friends list because you are evidently all made of very strong stuff. Please take very good care to keep yourselves and your loved ones warm!

OK, now that's yer lot! :-)
Current Mood: rushedrushed

(14 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 04:24 am (UTC)

How much is enough ?

I think a key thing that article misses is that morality is social.

If I really - I mean really - wanted to help solve the world's problems I wouldn't be donating money at all, because that's unilateral (and thus ineffective). What I'd be doing is devising ways to forcibly extract the resources of other groups and individuals to redirect to better ends.

Quite apart from the fact that would quickly end up in the domain of the illegal, it's also something that could be considered immoral itself.

The modern civilized world runs on democracy and if you're going to believe democracy is right then one of the things which is hard to get around is that if everyone else wants to do Bad Things (and wants to let each other do Bad Things) then you cannot prevent this.

Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, the most moral thing to do is to strive for social change in such a way that your efforts themselves do not do harm. Then at some future point, society will be ready to manage its own resources in moral ways.

Of course, one can easily see that this may never come about. That doesn't mean it's not still the most moral course of action.

And if in the meantime you also want to donate however many £1000 to charity then yes, it will do some good, just don't forget that other people are busy causing damage far faster than you're fixing it.
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 05:13 am (UTC)
Sweet wishes & good tidings are appreciated, whatever day they're made on! Thanks!
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 06:39 am (UTC)

*puts on English major hat*

45°F here. It's good to live in the South. :D Still pretty cold by Floridian standards though! :-X

*peruses bookcase*

If you're looking for nonfiction, I recommend Carl Sagan. He's written about everything from outer space to the evolution of the human brain, and he has a very friendly style. The Dragons of Eden and Billions and Billions are brilliant. His fiction is also very enjoyable. Try Contact, also a movie with Jodie Foster in it.

Michael Crichton writes a lot of good fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed Jurassic Park, Sphere (very psychological), The Andromeda Strain, and Congo. My dad said that Timeline is very good as well. I can't think of the nonfiction one that I started reading once, but it's about his experience in the medical profession. I recall it being good, but then stuff for classes got in the way. *checks amazon.com* Ooh, I'd forgot about The Great Train Robbery. Never read it, but the movie was great.

Tom Clancy's novels are cool too. He puts in a lot of technical detail, so his characters come across and knowledgeable and real. I think I've only read The Hunt for Red October and part of The Sum of All Fears. Very suspenseful. Also, the Red October movie has Sean Connery, so it's all good. :-"

Annie Dillard writes about nature and philosophy. Hard to explain her style, really. She takes long walks in the woods and writes about what she sees there and what it makes her think. I'm very fond of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (read it in high school for AP English).

Joseph Heller's Catch-22 is one of my favorites. It's crazy. It's a "war novel" in that it's set during a war, but it mocks the bureaucracy and red tape of the gov't and military. Hilarious. I think I read it when I was 16. My dad gave it to me for Christmas and told me that he couldn't get through it, but thought that I might like it. :>

Bridget Jones' Diary is always good for a laugh. Might be funnier to girls, but humor is humor.

Ooh, and if you're looking for sci-fi, let me give two thumbs way way up for Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. (There are more books in both series but I haven't read them yet.) These are books that a bunch of people I know read in middle or high school, but I never got around to reading them until this year and they're awesome. Also by Card is Enchantment, a fantasy novel about time travel and Russian fairytales.

Haha, that's enough to last anyone for quite a while! Hope at least a few of these work for you. :)
Date:January 16th, 2004 08:37 am (UTC)
quiz_master_man here:

Don't get all bent out of shape about including ebooks. My list from about five years ago included a number of Project Gutenberg e-texts deliberately picked for their shortness in order to pad my count. (I think MLK's "I have a dream" speech was one of them.) My total for last year neared 100, but I included books I'd read before, audiobooks (unless I'd actually read the book that year [the Harry Potters], children's books, and comic strip anthologies (as long as they were newly published.) And I would have included quiz books, had I actually gotten al the way through one of them. I'm going to be a little stricter this year, but not much, and in fact will not be separating by category at all.


I'm right with you on the day-to-day school parts of Order of the Phoenix. I listened to the audiobook right at the begin of the Fall semester and I found that the chapters about final exams put me right back in a studying mood. I should listen to it again, actually, since I'm a little slow coming out of the gate this year.

Have a good weekend.

[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC)
The sentiment is appreciated. :D
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 11:06 am (UTC)
Firstly, although I don't remember much about it, I too have read Dead Famous whilst on holiday in Italy two years ago. The thing that I thought was clever about it was that the identity of the victim was kept a mystery for the first 100 pages or so, if I recall. I like Ben Elton for holiday reading - enjoyable but nothing you'd want to re-read.

I'm also aiming for the 50 books this year - I just managed it last year, if I counted some dubious ones too (driving theory handbook springs to mind - although I did read it all). Some that I intend to read include the meaty War and Peace, other Russian classics such as Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov and Doctor Zhivago. Also on my list are The Picture of Dorian Grey and To The Lighthouse and some more modern classics such as Casino Royale, Rebecca, Lolita and On The Road. I'm going to try Dumas as well with The Count of Monte Cristo. My next read is going to be Ivanhoe - I've ordered it from the bookshop and am waiting for it to come in, and although I have some fifty unread books in my room, I'm in an Ivanhoe-ish mood. I've already earmarked A Suitable Boy for my summer holiday in Italy - is that sad of me?

I've just finished this year's first book; all of it on Wednesday when tucked up ill in bed - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - I adored it but wouldn't rec it for you - too sentimental and romantic and girly, but the perfect book for a seventeen year old girl (same age as the narrator Cassandra Mortmain) because at moments she perfectly encapsulates the feelings of being a 17 year old girl. Moments of genius indeed.

I thoroughly recommend Dickens to you - I thought that I would hate it, but adored Great Expectations (David Copperfield not as enjoyable). For Christmas I got Bleak House, which I aim to read at some point, although the size of it excludes it from being a potential school bag book. Treat yourself to a Wordsworth Classic edition because it will only cost you £1.50 and although the quality of the binding could be a lot better, the print won't be as small and if you like to take books around with you, like I do, then it doesn't matter so much how battered it gets.

For non-fiction, I found Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue a fascinating and quick read - the history of language, and what makes English unique. Also, I cannot stress stongly enough how much you should read Schott's Original Miscellany. I read it cover to cover like a novel, but you can just dip into it as well.

For history books, if you have any interest in the Tudor period I can recommend two very good volumes. Firstly Tudor England by John Guy; this is an almost biographical account of one the most famous English Royal families and covers religious, social, economic and foreign policies. It's a perfectly likeable book, but nothing spectacular, and has a somewhat simplistic approach to certain areas. Nevertheless it works well as a general analytical read - very informative and you would come away feeling that you have really learned something interesting. However, for a fantastic book on Tudor history try English Reformations by Christopher Haigh. It is really aimed at undergraduate level historians, but we have used it throughout our A-level history course (but it's not a textbook). It is very scholarly and some sections are a bit dry, but the chapters can be read in isolation (particularly those on Henry VIII) and are truly fascinating. It's expensive at £21.99, but your library should have it. Worth it if you really want to get your teeth into real historical analysis.

I hope I haven't overwhelmed you, but, well, I really like books and am always willing to discuss them, and give recs. I might root through mine and see if there's anything that leaps out as a "you" kind of book. I look forward to seeing what you do and don't enjoy this year, and to see how well we both do with the challenge.
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 11:52 am (UTC)

another book lover!

Hope you don't mind me commenting on your book recs...

Count of Monte Cristo is my friend Emily's favorite book. :D

I bought On the Road last year when it was voted one of the BBC's top 100 books. Unfortunately I didn't care for it very much. It seemed very pointless -- the characters just rush back and forth across the country, but never seem to really get anywhere. But I suppose that perhaps that was the point that Kerouac was trying to make.

And hee --

I've just finished this year's first book; all of it on Wednesday when tucked up ill in bed - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - I adored it but wouldn't rec it for you - too sentimental and romantic and girly, but the perfect book for a seventeen year old girl (same age as the narrator Cassandra Mortmain) because at moments she perfectly encapsulates the feelings of being a 17 year old girl. Moments of genius indeed.

That's almost exactly how I'd have described it. I read it in June, just before I left England, and her imagery made me "homesick" for England while I was still in the country! Great and t00by is my love for this book. :)
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 11:58 am (UTC)

Re: another book lover!

I've had On The Road on my bookshelf for a while now, and since we're doing a module of 20th century american lit for the A-level synoptic paper I thought it might be worth trying. I notice that penguin have just "upgraded" it from their modern classics, to their classics section, which surprised me, as the other "upgrade" I noticed was James Joyce. I adore the new penguin classics with the matte black covers. SO. MUCH. LUST. It's a good job that I have lots of book vouchers to spend, because they are quite expensive.

Did you specifically read any other books after the Big Read was announced?

RE: I Capture the Castle: there is something very nostalgic about it isn't there? I live in Suffolk where it is set, and the countryside is still almost perfectly how she described it. I plan on sending it to a lot of friends. I don't think any 17 year old girl should be without it.
Date:January 16th, 2004 12:10 pm (UTC)
If you really want to run up the total, Dickens' Pickwick Papers was originally produced in fifteen (count 'em!) monthly instalments. One could argue that the volume is a collection of a semicircle of individual texts. Certainly, if you only read one Dickens, this romp through society might be easy going.

Otherwise: I'll recommend FForde's The Eyre Affair and Lost In A Good Book to anyone, especially you. Hunting them down between the Crime section (Waterstones' A) and the General Fiction section (Waterstones' B) and the BOGOF section (Smiths) is an experience in itself.

If it's history you're after, I'll recommend Christopher Lee's This Sceptred Isle (two volumes, one covering everything up to 1900, the other covering the 20th century) as a great book of the radio show.
[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 10:21 pm (UTC)

Book suggestions

I don't even know how many books I read in a year. Definitely far more than 50. I'd be glad to recommend you some stuff, but it'd be easier if I knew what kinds of things you were interested in/liked to read. So tell me more about your interests.

One anthology I recommend is _The Sorcerer's Academy_, ed. Denise Little. It's kind of an American take on a magic school - if you liked Harry Potter, you'll probably like this.

A used bookstore down the street went out of business lately, and by the end was literally giving away its stock; I've been reading a lot of plays lately, as a result. (I've read more obscure plays by Shaw than probably anyone ever wanted to - but they're so *good*!)

[User Picture]
Date:January 16th, 2004 10:30 pm (UTC)

Quick thought on ethics

Just a couple of comments about the ethics article.

1) Peter Singer is a rather extreme utilitarian. His views, although interesting, are definitely not representative of all utilitarianists. (He's actually rather infamous for advocating that infanticide is ethical for several months after birth, under various conditions.) This doesn't make what he says wrong, but be aware that rejecting what he says doesn't imply that you reject all utilitarian responses.

2) On rights-based accounts: an important distinction is often made between negative and positive rights. A negative right means that you may pursue something unhampered by interference from others. A positive right means that you have a claim to pursue something, and others have a duty to help you obtain it.

So, for instance, if we take a basic right to be "the pursuit of happiness", we get rather different ideas of how that should be implemented depending on whether it is construed as a positive or negative right. If it's a negative right, it means that society shouldn't hamper you from pursuing happiness (as you see it). If it's a positive right, though, it means that society is required to provide you the means for pursuing it.

(Note, of course, that we may have a mixed view, with some rights being viewed as negative and others as positive. Perhaps you have a positive right to education, up to a certain point, but only a negative right to, oh, possess a stereo.)

Anyway, the strong link between rights and duties isn't inherent in negative-rights-based accounts. Just kind of an FYI.

For myself, I think that she's right that being "perfectly moral" (whatever *that* means) is too narrow a way to measure a life. Ethicists classically ask the question "What is the good life?" (in a philosophical sense - we're not just talking wine, women, and song here *grin*), and that rarely involves simply being morally upright. It may involve passion or aesthetic achievement or...well, any number of things, depending on your philosopher.
(Screened comment)
[User Picture]
Date:January 19th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC)
THANK YOU SO MUCH. :-) (Now I've just got to hope you got the right mutual friend!)

What time would you like me to turn up? Owen mentioned the possibility of meeting up in London and travelling back together, but I can't remember the details at all. :-)
[User Picture]
Date:January 19th, 2004 10:30 am (UTC)

Screen explanation

huskyteer very kindly and helpfully quoted a mutual friend's phone number. The friend was unnamed, but still not good to have phone numbers floating about willy-nilly.
[User Picture]
Date:January 19th, 2004 10:24 am (UTC)
Your proposal is entirely acceptable and welcome.

See you ASAP?

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