Please comment on my new book haul

The_RivThe_Riv Shipmate
For my birthday last month, my lovely in-laws bought me a gift card to our local book shop. I'd mentioned a few times that I'd like to do more reading, and they decided to help. I finally got around to redeeming it a couple of days ago. This afternoon, I revisited my purchases, and had a chuckle about what I'd selected, because it's quite an odd assortment. So, if you want to laugh along, that's fine! And if you think any of these picks are terrible, that's fine! And if you've read any of these, or volumes similar to these, and have a comment, that's fine. Here goes:

Before the Big Bang: The Origin of Our Universe From the Multiverse by Laura Mersini-Houghton -- another book in my small but growing collection about physics and cosmology.

Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield -- a Pan-Asian collection of central teachings. I don't know much about Buddhism, so this is a toe-dipping.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling -- said to be his most important novel. A recent re-viewing of "My Boy Jack" may have influenced this one.

The Mays of Ventadorn by W.S. Merwin -- the author discusses the importance of his study of 12th C. troubadors for developing his own poetic voice. This book checks the "music" box, albeit obliquely.

Arguably: Essays by Christopher by C. Hitchens -- I am a fan of the late, great Mr. Hitchens, and feel lucky to have found this advance copy so long after its publication.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown (poet) -- Mr. Brown won the Pulitzer for this, and my Twitter feed blew up when he did. Late to this party, but definitely looking forward to it.

Comments

  • ArielAriel Shipmate
    "Kim" is one of my old favourites. You can read it as a child, but it works on an adult level too. I think it's Kipling's best.
  • The_RivThe_Riv Shipmate
    Thanks, @Ariel! I read the first chapter last night, so I'm off and running with it! Lots of footnotes in this edition, so I'm flipping to the index a good bit. Hopefully that settles down.
  • TelfordTelford Deckhand, Styx
    I would read Kim but I would ignore anything by Christopher Hitchens
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    edited March 7
    IMHO Kipling’s real strengths were as a poet and as a short story writer. One of the merits of Kim is that in its structure it plays to that latter strength.
  • KendelKendel Shipmate
    I haven't read any or heard of most of these, but it sounds like a great variety. Have fun! Learn lots!
  • The_RivThe_Riv Shipmate
    I will! I mean, none of them are Kierkegaard(!), but I’ll do me best!
  • KendelKendel Shipmate
    Let me guarantee you, I do not read Kierkegaard for fun!
  • cgichardcgichard Shipmate
    Of W.S. Merwin's books, I prefer The Lost Upland. I re-read it every couple of years or so when I'm feeling nostalgic for rural France.
  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    The_Riv wrote: »
    Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield -- a Pan-Asian collection of central teachings. I don't know much about Buddhism, so this is a toe-dipping.
    I am not familiar with this particular volume, but I was curious about Buddhism too. Primarily I was fascinated because it comes from a dramatically different worldview than the Judeo-Christian view I grew up with. There will be references to demigods and devas and various spirit realms....and the goal is to not be in any of them! To not have rebirth in any of the realms. Yet, despite this different worldview, many of the practical day-to-day Buddhist teachings for interacting with each other are highly similar to Christian teachings.

    My favorite intro text is "In The Buddha's Words" edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It features selections from the Pali Canon--the oldest known texts of Buddhist teachings. From the write-up of the book you have, it sounds like that editor is also going to present some of those early texts, but then add texts from later Buddhist from various places. That should be interesting because the beliefs and practices can vary widely as you go from continent to continent. I honestly don't know much in the way of specifics as to the differences between India, Tibet, China, Japan, etc., because I have stayed focused on the Pali Canon. I will be interested in your thoughts once you are done reading.
  • RockyRogerRockyRoger Shipmate
    I've ploughed through 'Before the Big Bang: The Origin of Our Universe From the Multiverse' by Laura Mersini-Houghton. I read a lot of these sorts of books (Philip Ball is my preferred author) and wasn't particularly impressed by this one.
    Could have done without the biographical interludes (they were sorta interesting but should have been in a different book). As to the science, there was some confusion of parallel worlds and the multiverse and, pace Martin 54, I cannot see either as testable theories but more as philosophies. I'm with Feynman here .....
    So two stars out of five I'm afraid.
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    When I got my ex-husband to read Kim, he found to his surprise that he was enjoying it "because it was like a fantasy novel, but it was all real!"
  • Merwin is a marvelous poet and had such a long career that there's really something for everyone in it. I like his transitional period between his "middle" and "late" style work the most, but really all of it is worth spending time with. His late work, given that you have a book on Buddhism, ought to resonate well with that as his Buddhist practices influenced his late writing quite a bit. Jericho Brown is good and I enjoyed The Tradition but I also found it somewhat forgettable. I think his work is in a similar register as Terrance Hayes but, in my estimation, he lacks some of the technical skill that distinguishes Hayes' work.

    I read Arguably when I went through my Hitchens phase and found that I enjoyed many of the pieces. If I recall correctly, they're mostly shorter and generally more concerned with politics. It'd be interesting to see how they've aged, given that they were quite topical.

    A good book haul!
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    This has made me realize that I’ve read and enjoyed a fair amount of Kipling, but not Kim. I need to rectify that.

  • The_RivThe_Riv Shipmate
    edited March 8
    Telford wrote: »
    I would read Kim but I would ignore anything by Christopher Hitchens
    You may now bite your tongue, sir! LOL, I'm a bit of a Hitchens admirer -- at least so far. I believe this volume holds less anti-theism than his later works. We'll see! But I'll understand, @Telford if you don't stick around for a report. :wink:
    BroJames wrote: »
    IMHO Kipling’s real strengths were as a poet and as a short story writer. One of the merits of Kim is that in its structure it plays to that latter strength.
    I'll bear this in mid as I go through, @BroJames. One chapter completed so far.
    cgichard wrote: »
    Of W.S. Merwin's books, I prefer The Lost Upland. I re-read it every couple of years or so when I'm feeling nostalgic for rural France.
    Thank you for this, @cgichard -- I just made a note about The Lost Upland, and will put it into contention for the *next* book haul.
    Hedgehog wrote: »
    The_Riv wrote: »
    Teachings of the Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield -- a Pan-Asian collection of central teachings. I don't know much about Buddhism, so this is a toe-dipping.
    I am not familiar with this particular volume, but I was curious about Buddhism too. Primarily I was fascinated because it comes from a dramatically different worldview than the Judeo-Christian view I grew up with. There will be references to demigods and devas and various spirit realms....and the goal is to not be in any of them! To not have rebirth in any of the realms. Yet, despite this different worldview, many of the practical day-to-day Buddhist teachings for interacting with each other are highly similar to Christian teachings.

    My favorite intro text is "In The Buddha's Words" edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It features selections from the Pali Canon--the oldest known texts of Buddhist teachings. From the write-up of the book you have, it sounds like that editor is also going to present some of those early texts, but then add texts from later Buddhist from various places. That should be interesting because the beliefs and practices can vary widely as you go from continent to continent. I honestly don't know much in the way of specifics as to the differences between India, Tibet, China, Japan, etc., because I have stayed focused on the Pali Canon. I will be interested in your thoughts once you are done reading.
    Thank you, @Hedgehog -- I, too, am drawn to Buddhism's contrast to the monotheisms, and I'm glad to know about In the Buddha's Words -- thank you. I'll see what I can glean and report back -- maybe you can help me with contexts!
    RockyRoger wrote: »
    I've ploughed through 'Before the Big Bang: The Origin of Our Universe From the Multiverse' by Laura Mersini-Houghton. I read a lot of these sorts of books (Philip Ball is my preferred author) and wasn't particularly impressed by this one.
    Could have done without the biographical interludes (they were sorta interesting but should have been in a different book). As to the science, there was some confusion of parallel worlds and the multiverse and, pace Martin 54, I cannot see either as testable theories but more as philosophies. I'm with Feynman here .....
    So two stars out of five I'm afraid.
    @RockyRoger, I have to confess that I'm probably going to appreciate the biographical interludes, especially if they keep the science/philosophy to more digestible amounts. Thanks for the Philip Ball tip!
    Eigon wrote: »
    When I got my ex-husband to read Kim, he found to his surprise that he was enjoying it "because it was like a fantasy novel, but it was all real!"
    This is encouraging news, @Eigon -- thank you! I'm already drawn-in after one chapter!
    Merwin is a marvelous poet and had such a long career that there's really something for everyone in it. I like his transitional period between his "middle" and "late" style work the most, but really all of it is worth spending time with. His late work, given that you have a book on Buddhism, ought to resonate well with that as his Buddhist practices influenced his late writing quite a bit.

    Jericho Brown is good and I enjoyed The Tradition but I also found it somewhat forgettable. I think his work is in a similar register as Terrance Hayes but, in my estimation, he lacks some of the technical skill that distinguishes Hayes' work.

    I read Arguably when I went through my Hitchens phase and found that I enjoyed many of the pieces. If I recall correctly, they're mostly shorter and generally more concerned with politics. It'd be interesting to see how they've aged, given that they were quite topical.

    A good book haul!
    I've only ever encountered Merwin via single poems, so settling in with 130 pages of his writing about his writing is exciting. I look forward to branching out into his respective periods afterward, but yes -- a Buddhist link here at the outset seems like a bit of serendipity. I've been seeing accolades for The Tradition for a while, now, and while I wonder if there may be just a bit of J. Brown being the "right man at the right time," I'm really hopeful that it will live up to its reputation. Terrance Hayes -- noted! And yes, Arguably looks to have a lot of shorter things by Hitchens on a wide variety of subjects. Good stuff for sure, at least for the tenor of it. Appreciate your thoughts here, @Thomas Rowans -- thank you.
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    This has made me realize that I’ve read and enjoyed a fair amount of Kipling, but not Kim. I need to rectify that.
    I'm sad to admit that I have the opposite challenge, @Nick Tamen -- aside from "If" and The Jungle Book I have a deficit of Kipling among my Authors Read List. Hopefully this'll begin to rebalance that.

    (ETA code, DT, temp hosting)
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Very interested in @Hedgehog's recommendation of Bhikku Bodhi. I first came across the writings of Jack Kornfeld, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein in the Buddhist zine Tricycle and then in publications from the Insight Meditation Society, an introduction to vipassana techniques and concepts adapted for the West after Kornfeld and others had studied Theravada Buddhism in India in the 1960s, the first generation of north Americans to spend time in Asian meditation retreats. Their work is sometimes described as Buddhism-lite but has had considerable influence on Western meditation practices.

    Kipling is one of the colonial writers about whom I feel considerable ambivalence: his fiction is compulsory reading, brilliant realism about the India of his day, and at the same time, many of the attitudes are racist and imperialist (he coined the phrase 'The White Man's Burden'), associated with the exoticising fantasies of Rider Haggard and John Buchan. Kipling's jingoism came to an abrupt halt during WWI when his beloved only son John died at the age of 18: John had been rejected for service on grounds of poor eyesight and his father used his fame and influence to get John sent to the Front despite this. Kipling never forgave himself and began in his last writings to question much of what he had supported all his life. A complex figure.
  • DafydDafyd Hell Host
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    Kipling is one of the colonial writers about whom I feel considerable ambivalence: his fiction is compulsory reading, brilliant realism about the India of his day, and at the same time, many of the attitudes are racist and imperialist (he coined the phrase 'The White Man's Burden'), associated with the exoticising fantasies of Rider Haggard and John Buchan. Kipling's jingoism came to an abrupt halt during WWI when his beloved only son John died at the age of 18: John had been rejected for service on grounds of poor eyesight and his father used his fame and influence to get John sent to the Front despite this. Kipling never forgave himself and began in his last writings to question much of what he had supported all his life. A complex figure.
    Epitaphs of the Great War: Common Form

    If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied.

    (I note that among the Epitaphs are two for Hindu Sepoy in France, and Native Water-Carrier (M.E.F.) )

    It seems to me that as long as Kipling forgets about the Empire he's brilliant - he seems to write out of a genuine curiosity about people, British and Indian alike. (And in his story On the City Wall, his sympathies seem to lie with the Indian rebels against the British Empire.) It's only when he remembers that he's supposed to believe in the Empire that he starts on the dodgy ideology.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    Having read some articles by Jack Kornfield which I found fascinating I'm going to see whether the library has Teachings of the Buddha

    You've chosen an interesting collection @The_Riv.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    edited March 15
    Dafyd wrote: »
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    Kipling is one of the colonial writers about whom I feel considerable ambivalence: his fiction is compulsory reading, brilliant realism about the India of his day, and at the same time, many of the attitudes are racist and imperialist (he coined the phrase 'The White Man's Burden'), associated with the exoticising fantasies of Rider Haggard and John Buchan. Kipling's jingoism came to an abrupt halt during WWI when his beloved only son John died at the age of 18: John had been rejected for service on grounds of poor eyesight and his father used his fame and influence to get John sent to the Front despite this. Kipling never forgave himself and began in his last writings to question much of what he had supported all his life. A complex figure.
    Epitaphs of the Great War: Common Form

    If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied.

    (I note that among the Epitaphs are two for Hindu Sepoy in France, and Native Water-Carrier (M.E.F.) )

    It seems to me that as long as Kipling forgets about the Empire he's brilliant - he seems to write out of a genuine curiosity about people, British and Indian alike. (And in his story On the City Wall, his sympathies seem to lie with the Indian rebels against the British Empire.) It's only when he remembers that he's supposed to believe in the Empire that he starts on the dodgy ideology.

    This is key to enjoying Kipling, to read him on any topic or theme except sticking up for Empire. It's not always the case with Victorian and Edwardian authors: I'm intrigued by Wilkie Collins who seems to go into some spectral hauntology around what British India signified for the English and returned colonials, as does Conan Doyle in some shorter Sherlock Holmes cases. In contrast, Rider Haggard's exotic/gothic on Africa is unconvincing, especially if you read his fictions next to Olive Schreiner who deconstructs every imperialist trope available. And when Joseph Conrad comes along with Heart of Darkness, the game plan changes and opens up the way for EM Forster's Passage to India. Then you get someone like JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, the Indian Mutiny of 1857 viewed with a modern, ironic (and Anglo-Irish) eye, indebted to both Kipling and Conrad.
  • The_RivThe_Riv Shipmate
    Huia wrote: »
    Having read some articles by Jack Kornfield which I found fascinating I'm going to see whether the library has Teachings of the Buddha

    You've chosen an interesting collection @The_Riv.

    Thanks, @Huia. I'm a couple of chapters into the Kipling, and I'm nearly done with the Merwin, which isn't terribly long, but I've been taking my time (as well as finishing Jessica Mitford's Hons & Rebels). I've really savored The Mays of Ventadorn, and I already want to re-read it. It's far less structurally linguistic than I had anticipated, and much more a memoir mixed with regional and musical-literary history. It's wistful, and at the same time comfortably resigned while always being evocative. If I were ever to write, I hope it would be in this book's example. I haven't yet touched the Hitchens, Brown, Kornfield, or Mersini-Houghton. I'm a little intimidated by the last two, though I suspect I'll choose the Kornfield next.
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    This is key to enjoying Kipling, to read him on any topic or theme except sticking up for Empire. It's not always the case with Victorian and Edwardian authors: I'm intrigued by Wilkie Collins who seems to go into some spectral hauntology around what British India signified for the English and returned colonials, as does Conan Doyle in some shorter Sherlock Holmes cases. In contrast, Rider Haggard's exotic/gothic on Africa is unconvincing, especially if you read his fictions next to Olive Schreiner who deconstructs every imperialist trope available. And when Joseph Conrad comes along with Heart of Darkness, the game plan changes and opens up the way for EM Forster's Passage to India. Then you get someone like JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, the Indian Mutiny of 1857 viewed with a modern, ironic (and Anglo-Irish) eye, indebted to both Kipling and Conrad.

    I'm very pleased to have this list noted down (thank you), and I know I've read Heart of Darkness, though long ago. Seems as if George Orwell's Burmese Days should fall in there somewhere.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Definitely Orwell, @The_Riv. His insights on everything from colonial evils to the cruelty of the death sentence and the loves of the down-and-out homeless in Britain still come across as the conscience of a nation, the 'common decency' that was his touchstone (and Orwell was a flawed and difficult character, not a good husband, typical of his era in some ways).

    Remember though the lines from The Road to Wigan Pier ( 1937):

    "For five years I had been part of an oppressive system (in the Burma police), and it had left me with a bad conscience. Innumerable remembered faces—faces of prisoners in the dock, of men waiting in the condemned cells, of subordinates I had bullied and aged peasants I had snubbed, of servants and Asian workers I had hit with my fist in moments of rage—haunted me intolerably. I was conscious of an immense weight of guilt that I had got to expiate."
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