What I’ve Been Reading

by on May 7, 2008 at 6:14 am in Books | Permalink

1. Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights, by Bill Ivey.  The concrete discussions of cultural issues are consistently interesting and thoughtful; the overall talk of cultural rights which frames the book is not even well-developed enough to be called absurd.  The book is best on copyright and least interesting on the NEA, which Ivey once ran.  Most of all the book reflects a creeping horror that the internet will make its entire series of debates irrelevant.

2. Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared, by Christopher Robbins.  A substantive travel book about you-know-where; it is both fun and full of substance.  Recommended.

3. The Monetary Policy of the Federal Reserve: A History, by Robert L. Hetzel.  This is a very serious treatment of what is, from a historical point of view, an understudied topic.  Recommended; note that while the monetarist point of view is not heavy-handed, it may not appeal to everybody.

4. Philip Bobbitt, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century.  A lengthy and thoughtful volume on how WMD are *the* problem of the future, though I found it didn’t get me further to thinking through my views.  A good start, however, for those who don’t buy the premise.

5. 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die.  One of the best books for browsing I have seen, though don’t expect much from the index.  I was most surprised by the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center in New Caledonia, have any of you been there?

1 Gary May 7, 2008 at 7:18 am

I was in Noumea, New Caledonia last summer. I saw the building but didn’t go there as I was too busy eating and sitting on the beach.

2 shawn May 7, 2008 at 8:59 am

Old Calcedonia has way more history.

3 Andrew May 7, 2008 at 10:52 am

How people cannot accept that terrorism is THE problem, I don’t know. Perhaps it is competing scenarios like out-of-control global warming, corporate greed or whatever else that take up brain space.

We have solutions for most other problems, whether we want to implement them or not. There is no coherent solution to the terrorism problem. In fact, we seem determined to make it worse.

The fact is we have podunk nations headed by dictators holding us up today based on their desire to gain WMDs. These dictators are crazy, but they aren’t stupid. They understand assured desruction in their case. What happens when a fanatic who is smart and doesn’t care actually achieves the capability due to the technological trickle down provided by market innovation? Look what 19 jacklegs did with some carton cutters.

If it is true that “they hate us because of the market,” then market innovation by providing them greater means is hastening the reckoning day. What to do? Can’t negotiate, violence won’t work, can’t ignore the problem. We better figure it out.

People who recognize the gravity of this problem early can benefit, even if their books are mediocre.

My case is that we need to, and fast, make sure that as many people as possible have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of broad economic growth. How to expedite this without hastening the conflict? Like I said, tricky. But if we can do it, then, we have a fighting chance that marginal terrorist A will rat out extreme terrorist B and marginal terrorist C will never become a terrorist because his life is getting better. That would be quite a feat even if we were trying to do it, which we aren’t. In fact, what we are doing is nearly the opposite.

What do we do? We sabre-rattle, meddle, start pre-emptive wars, alienate entire nations and religions, talk of becoming energy independent rather than increasing trade and trying to make sure the people obtain more of the fruits. Most of all we don’t try to understand. This is evidenced by one of the reviewers on Amazon who dismissed the premise as just a re-statement of “they hate us for our freedom” nonsense. That is nonsense, but if you can’t see the difference between that and this premise, we’ve got a long way to go.

4 michael gordon` May 7, 2008 at 8:42 pm

I always appreciate these lists, Tyler — and have at times found the books you list as very worthwhile: good reads if they are fiction (at times), and once in a while a serious scholarly work.

I do have a query: you obviously do read some books carefully, which form the basis, say, of your reviews in the NY Times (or in your columns there). All to the good. I also recall a post of yours a few weeks ago in which you linked to a someone who set out his strategy for mastering a book . . . note the keep term here, mastering. You disagreed; said something about how you read a book, then move on.

The query now: do you really think that in four months time you will be able to do more than remember the titles and maybe authors of all the diverse books you read and list here? I myself can read, say, three or four different novels at the same time, moving back and forth and, especially if they’re mysteries or thrillers or, say, a survey of the Gershwin generation of American popular music, read them quickly and remember most key things. By contrast, even a very good novel — never mind a demanding scholarly work — deserves, it seems to me, a much more careful reading to appreciate its full artistic creativity and triumph.


Take a novel I’m reading now at night, on top of scholarly work and in-depth series on diverse subjects that I leave on my web site: Richard Price’s Lush Life, an extraordinary novel of street live, yuppie self-indulgence, gentrification of a neighborhood in Manhattan still filled with pimps, hookers, drug-addicts, and muggers, all woven together by a police-investigation into a murder as the chief plot . . . on top of which, the novel’s great strength, there is a mastery of various kinds of dialogue that aptly mirror the different levels of education, life-experience, professions (cops, hookers, muggers, lawyers looking for a drug fix), and ways of relating to others and to themselves. if I were to list this with six or seven other books — scholarly, factual, serious fiction, light-fiction, biographies and the like — and say that I’m doing more than skimming most of them, I’d be misleading myself for sure and others.

Which leads to a final query: what do you think you actually would get out of reading such numerous and diverse works, in a compressed period of time, months later?

This is, I add, not a slap. I am genuinely curious, especially in the light of the other fellow you linked to who has a very different approach to reading and mastering books and articles, what your insight into yourself happens to be on this score?

— Michael Gordon (Aka, the buggy professor: http://www.thebuggyprofessor.org

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