What I’ve been reading

1. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Autumn.  While this volume of very short essays does reflect a literary sensibility, I didn’t find it fun or insightful to read.  By the way, “Vomit is usually yellowish and can range from pale yellow to yellowish-brown, with certain areas of quite different colours, like red or green.”  So I suppose the Knausgaard canon really is just the first two volumes of My Struggle.

2. Alex Millmow, A History of Australasian Economic Thought.  A very good introduction, New Zealand too.  There is no problem filling a book with substance on this topic, in fact it left me wanting more.

3. Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., John D. Jackson, and Robert D. Tollison, The Economics of American Art: Issues, Artists, and Market Institutions.  A useful overview and survey of the role of economics in the development of art markets in American history.

4. Cynthia Estlund, A New Deal for China’s Workers? The best book I know on labor unions and labor policy in China: “It surprises many Westerners to learn that the labor standards established by Chinese law on the books, apart from actual wage levels, track modern Western (especially European) labor standards rather closely in many respects…Professor Gallagher has described China’s labor standards regime as one of “high standards-low enforcement.””

5. Beowulf, translated by Stephen Mitchell.  I cannot judge veracity, but to read this is in the top tier of Beowulf renderings to date.  The Old English is presented on the opposing page, this book I will keep.

6. Orhan Pamuk, The Red-Haired Woman.  Eh. Contrived.

Arrived in my pile are:

Robert Wuthnow, American Misfits and the Making of Middle Class Respectability.

Jean Tirole, Economics for the Common Good, with nary an equation in sight.


4. Why should it be surprising? It's an officially communist country after all.

#5 What was it like to be a Saxon? Tyler will never know. And neither will you.

Cold, ill, muddy, hungry, and superstitious, to be followed by an early death: much like nearly all the rest of our ancestors really.

And they didn't even have Bang Busses, for which I am now a driver.

Somehow I slipped through this country's educational establishment without having to read Beowulf. Should I try to amend that or is it not really worth it?

Jeff R: Since you're obviously curious about "Beowulf", you need to check it out

No, it's boring even in the Heaney translation.

Beowulf is not boring. Read it in any translation, and if English is your native language, spend some time researching the hundreds of Old English words that cannot be correctly translated. Unless you are a very very important person that time will probably not be wasted. The prosody is top level in most of the lines. Study a little bit about the Scandinavian mythology of which the Beowulf poem is a small part (Hint: English poets were often Scandinavian at heart all the way from the beginning to now: if you like poetry you will understand why I said that). That being said, there are many poetic possibilities that do not exist in Beowulf, nobody can deny that, and I can see why someone might consider the poem boring. Well, when you think about it, butterflies and prime number functions and foreign alphabets are all potentially boring too. I hope my children and grandchildren will all have constant access to the feast of reason and flow of soul that each generation provides, at parties and barbecues and seminars and sailboat weekends, to the lucky and the fortunate. I also hope that they, too, will consider the possibility that the Beowulf poet, despite his flaws, was not "boring". Sure you might not want to sit next to the Beowulf poet on a 17 hour flight to Adelaide or Darwin, but there is more to life than 17 hour flights to Adelaide or Darwin: "Sydney or the bush", as Snoopy used to say, is insightful, but not a comprehensive guide to life.

Sounds like a lot of special pleading.

Off topic, but I really enjoyed the old, long-gone "Man Who is Thursday" website. I checked it a couple times a week to read the interesting new posts, and the comment section was interesting too (I never once posted there, by the way). Decades from now I won't remember (I won't be alive) but there will be people who will remember. ((If you don't like overrun sentences stop here the next sentence is the Platonic ideal of an overrun sentence).... Words are repetitive, of course, and even the Bible cannot boast of more than 8,000 words, and almost nobody (leaving aside our beloved fellow men and women who suffer from Aspergerism) feels genuine contented pride at the combinations of words they have written or spoken (I have known a few famous writers and believe me, I think it is true: there would be a lot more good writers if we could feel pride at manipulating words: but we really don't, which is ok, there are other ways to be brave and virtuous) : but of all the things in the world I can complain about, I never will complain about the time I spent reading the posts at the "Man Who is Thursday".

And yes it was special pleading: I am certainly not claiming to know more about poetry than anyone else who cares about poetry. The Beowulf poet could have been something like the 20th best poet in, say, New York state in the 1970s. But the Beowulf poet would have been the best New York poet with an AngloSaxon view of the world. I actually like poetry, even bad poetry at its best, and am always hoping that bad poets have good days. Well maybe the whole Beowulf poem was just a really good day for a not that good 1985 New York poet who jumped in a time machine and got to write a poem that nobody else could have written.

For your consideration: Ecclesiastes 9:7. (9:10 is humorous and clever but not all that serious, in a weird old desert way, but it is easy to understand why it is there - that being said, Ecclesiastes 9:7, a fantastically more important verse, is honest: cor ad cor loquitur!) (Ecclesiastes 9:7 ---- eat your bread with happiness, drink your wine with a cheerful heart, G*d has approved what you do). All of us have met someone who would remind us of the Beowulf poet, if we thought about it. 25 years ago the guy who reminds me , amongst all the friends I have known in this life, more than any others, of the Beowulf poet, looked at me when his girlfriend looked at me in a special way, with a question in his eyes: you won't steal her, if you can, will you? I didn't. G*d has approved what you do: for all my faults, I know what that means.

I was born to specially plead. I didn't ask for it but whatever.

Listen to the audio performance of it by Julian Glover. An excerpt is on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR464WBmA2s

Please don't feel a need to reply, Thursday, I didn't really disagree with you, and I always try my best to comment somewhere where I won't be noticed. People will just figure you shrugged your shoulders and moved on. Tyler or Alex will soon post on some subject where you can explain what you know about the world in a better way than anyone could on a day-old "internet" "comment section", even a fairly widely read one like this one. If I was right about you and your website - Thanks. If I wasn't - God bless you anyway. God Bless people like you.

#3 Strangely, the opportunity to mention how it compares to a seminal work like 'Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding' was missed.

Especially unfortunate given the $70 price tag. It sounds interesting, but not $70 interesting. I guess it's reflective of the intended audience.

When's rayward coming back? Bicho pegando!!!

'with nary an equation in sight'

Yep, that is also what makes people like Smith or Veblen stand out in their most famous works.

#5 - Have you read J. R. R. Tolkein's Beowulf translation and analysis; and/or his "The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun"?

I first read Beowulf in old English and it has a better rhythm/alliteration to it. After getting into it it also begins to be easier to understand the old English words. It is a little like reading the original Chaucer works.

I think, even in modern English, Tolkein's Sigurd/Gudrun flows. Plus, his son/editor provided much background on the mythology and legends.

In college (I graduated - believe it or not), they made me read Chaucer in old English. I thought it unnecessarily impinged on my drinking schedule.

#1 - 1. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Autumn. - is this man the modern day Proust? Writing a ton of stuff about nothing? Reminds me of the guy a few years ago who wrote an entire book about a pencil, and no, I'm not talking about the economics book by Leonard E. Read. It also mirrors the historical trend of looking at ever more narrow and obscure periods of history. It's a farce, like the emperor's new clothes.

Proust was a genius. Like you, he did not understand why God created the world and created us. Nevertheless, he was a very very good writer.

#1 - was thinking of getting this as way to experience Knausgaard without slogging into My Struggle. Sounds like I will give it a miss

#5 - I want to know how he translates the first line of Beowulf, and the first word 'Hwaet!' Chickering has "Listen!". Heaney has 'So' I've never heard a fully satisfactory rendering.

#5 - Tolkein has it, "Lo!"

As a huge Knausgaard fan, I've been struggling to admit it but Tyler is right. I would say read book 1 or 2 of "My Struggle" and you will get the best of what he offers, don't feel bad about skipping the last 3 (eventually 4) in the series because the quality drops off. If you want to get a tone for his writing I would suggest the excerpts/articles published in NYT instead of Autumn or the books to follow.

"My Struggle" is not a slog. I didn't find it interesting or enlightening. But it's easy to read.

I haven't read volume 3 yet and I'm very curious as to what's different compared to the first two volumes. Hard for me to think of what could go wrong. If you don't like the whole project I get it completely, but the story in volume 3 is just a continuation of the first book isn't it? Just more about his early family life, right? Does the style change that much? It can't be the story or flawed characters.

Stephen Mitchell is known for his Tao Te Ching translation. It's one of the most popular because it's the most readable, but it's probably also the least accurate. He freely interprets ambiguous expressions and unfamiliar metaphors. It makes it easy to read, but it's not a good one to read if you want to understand the Tao Te Ching.

#1 - I was looking at reviews on Goodreads for the Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer series (obviously mostly native Norwegian speakers) and "Spring" is an outlier with an oddly high rating (4.3 compared to about a 3.7 for the rest). Gives me something to look forward too.

As for Autumn, I enjoy the essays much more when he deviates to a random story than actually writing about the subject of the essay. Still it flows and I'm used to his writing so I'm enjoying reading. We recently had our first child so I'm extra keyed into the sentimentality...

This recurring type of posting would be better titled "What I'm being paid by publishers to mention on my blog"

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