It’s been a little while since I posted a proper reading check-in, so here’s what’s currently on the table(s)…
In the past few weeks, I’ve read “In Praise of Shadows” by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Agamemnon by Aeschylus.
Tanizaki’s essay was an interesting look at Japanese aesthetics, particularly as it relates to the relationship between culture and technology. Unfortunately for me, the pros were undermined by some unsavory racist and misogynistic passages. You can read my full review on Goodreads.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is what it says on the tin: a day-in-the-life story following a man imprisoned in the Gulag. I read the Parker translation which, from what I understand, is a good translation but suffers a bit from censorship, even in its 2009 edition. Nonetheless, it is a compelling story that immerses you in Shukhov’s bitter winter and starvation that make up the greater focus of his day. I have read quite a few prison or camp memoirs now, and what stood out to me uniquely in Solzhenitsyn’s book is the madness of the labor camp itself. The different work groups had to scrounge for their own supplies and were constantly competing with (or sabotaging) each other. The story is told in a simple, matter-of-fact style, so if you are looking for extended commentary on the emotional or psychological angle, this is not the book for that (try Man’s Search for Meaning).
On to the Greeks… After finishing Agamemnon, I found myself frustrated by the story but also a bit curious to finish the Oresteia trilogy. I think I will wait and share my thoughts at that point. A couple of my reading friends have been helping me get oriented to the cultural context of Greek tragedies, which I really appreciate!
Nothing very new here, I’m afraid. My current stack is a complete mess—physically, mentally, catastrophically… I have been so busy with non-reading things, I haven’t been making much of a dent in it, either.
It has been oddly serendipitous to read Augustine and Joyce at the same time. To put it bluntly, both books are about young men who struggle with lust. Now, I have reason to believe they end up on very different trajectories, but I just finished the section in A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man when Stephen (the young man) has a moment of profound religious conviction. That part was beautifully written and seemed very sincere. What strikes me as such a tragedy—in addition to the sense that this conviction will not last—is that Stephen is consumed by guilt without seeming to grasp the love of Christ in his life. Repentance is a key part of Christian faith, and being a faithful believer is not easy, but none of this means you must crush yourself with guilt or live a joyless life. Anyways…I will not write a sermon here, but I feel grieved for Stephen in a way I have not felt for a fictional character in a while, perhaps ever.
Huxley has been temporarily abandoned but not forgotten. I am determined to finish Ends and Means by its due date (early May).
I have two Kafkas at the moment, Letters to Felice (which I finally got a hard copy of) and The Metamorphosis. This is something like my 6th time reading the bug book (or will be, once I’ve started it). I didn’t have any solid expectations going into the Letters, but I find Kafka grows more likeable even while appearing more human and flawed. There is a delightful amount of banter between Kafka and Felice, as well as backstory about the writing of The Metamorphosis and Amerika (my favorite of his novels), so it’s absolutely worthwhile even if love letters aren’t your jam.
I took The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction on a trip recently and started to get back into it. If you’ve been following the news even vaguely, understanding the Cold War seems more relevant than ever. This is the first time I’ve been able to wrap my head around the seemingly absurd foreign policies of that time period (I still think they’re largely absurd, just more understandable). The book provides a solid context in WWII, which made all the difference for me. Definitely a nice combination of reviewing info I absorbed in college and also learning new details.
If you want to delve further into Cold War ‘thinking’ – if you can call it that – I picked up ‘The War of Nerves – Inside the Cold War Mind’ by Martin Sixsmith recently. Naturally, I haven’t *read* it yet (!) but it certainly looks good and what I know of the author its going to be a very good read. After living the first 30 years of my life during the Cold War I find it endlessly fascinating. Agree on you comment re: Present Day relevance!
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That sounds interesting, thanks for the recommendation!
Too bad about Tanizake’s unsavory passages. Wonder if he’d do the same in these modern times?
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I would say his views are still alive in some parts of the world, but fortunately I have not encountered anything like that from contemporary Japanese authors.
I love this John Singer Sargent’s painting of two girls lighting the lanterns! I will definitely now want to re-read Tanizaki’s essay with fresh eyes and having in mind your criticism.