I am way behind on my reading. I keep ordering books I want to read, and they arrive at my door, and then they sit for awhile on the shelf of my end table, their titles looking up at me now and again with their cat-like eyes, pleading for me to pay just a little attention to them, reminding me what a deliberate reader I am. If they could, these books would rub their pages up against my legs and purr. Which would be pretty fucking weird.
With that, here are the books I intend to finish in 2015:
The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. This was widely hailed in 2014 as the book to help one understand the zeitgeist at the start of World War I. I’m a third of the way through and it has already given me a better perspective. But why World War I? The Guardian explains:
The first world war and the treaties that followed it redrew the map of the Middle East by creating new states and new political realities on the territory of the defeated Ottoman empire. Rivalry between Britain and France, the growth of Arab nationalism, Zionist ambitions in Palestine and the emergence of modern Turkey all changed the face of the region.
European arrogance in the early 20th century shaped events, distorted cultures and impacted tens of millions of people for many decades. It contributed to the rise of the various Al Qaeda groups, ISIS and other violent fundamentalists vying for power and territory in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. I have read Paris 1919, The Ottoman Empire: 1700-1922 and The First World War: To Arms. This will be my last read on the topic.
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time edited by Craig Callender. I am curious how the universe works on a fundamental level. I enjoy reading physics and I enjoy reading about time. Philosophy, not so much. I have made my way through a few chapters in this book — they have been heavy on symbolic logic and arguments about what constitutes a true sentence. For example, I just learned that “necessary truths are actually true; that necessary truths are necessarily necessary; and that ψ is necessarily possible if it is possible.” It is actually possible that the entire book will consist of this punctilious crap, but not necessarily. I will not know for sure until I have finished reading it and have thereby transformed a possible future into the immutable past. Stay tuned.
Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler. I started this thick science-fiction read over a year ago but got bogged down one-fifth of the way in. Unlike the Serial podcast, this novel maintains an uneven hold on my attention, but I’m going to give it another shot and see what goes.
Meet You in Hell by Les Standiford. I picked up this book on a visit to the Frick House in Pittsburgh last year. It is the story of the turn-of-the-century steel empires of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, the feud between the two men, and the (mis)treatment of their workers, which is the aspect I’m most interested in. By chance, on that same trip to Pittsburgh, I had toured an abandoned blast furnace built by Andrew Carnegie in 1884 and which operated until 1982. The hot, strenuous and dangerous work conditions described by our tour guide, a former employee, were incredible enough — it is hard for me to imagine what that same work would have been like a century earlier.
Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century by Francisco Bethencourt. I know that racism existed before the enslavement of Africans by European colonists, but I am ignorant of its origins and how it spread. I am hoping Bethencourt’s book gives me a better idea of the depth and breadth of this ongoing tragedy of human history. There are many books on racism I could have picked — I settled on this one to get started.
The People, Yes by Carl Sandburg. After all those weighty reads, the last book on my list for 2015 (should I be lucky enough to finish them all) will offer some respite. This book-length poem was a birthday gift from my wife — we often visit the Carl Sandburg House in nearby Flat Rock when we have out-of-town guests. The photo at right shows his second-floor writing room. Sandburg was a much more diligent reader and writer than yours truly.
Except for pet photos, there probably isn’t anything more boring to share than one’s reading list. But at least you now know that my dance card is full — just in case you were thinking of inviting me to join your book club.