This has been a roller coaster two-month stretch of reading. Two BIG books and one decidedly philosophical, though wholly a fiction. Last year was The Year of the BIG Book, yet so far in 2013 I’ve luxuriated in some whopper-length stories and just completed a long-but-oh-so-accessible survey of Western Philosophy (and for anybody who likes philosophy, it’s a winner; for the philo-phtoowee people, you could do a lot worse — and probably have, in which case has determined your aversion ratio).
TUNC by Lawrence Durrell
Durrell has fun with this “novel of science-ideas” in that he plays with language in a way that you wonder if your leg is being pulled from the get-go. This isn’t the case, although the footing which the reader stands upon is moving. Ostensibly, the story follows an applied engineering inventor, Charlock, and his relationship with a worldwide company, the ubiquitous Merlin. To work for Merlin is to be set for life: steady income that grows to real wealth, keeper of your own patents, prestige, freedom of thought and work. But Charlock is a skittish sort, and he wants to know Why? all this must be so wonderful. Thus begins the ride.
2666 by Robert Bolano
Bolano gave us five short novels as he prepared to die (look him up on Wikipedia). The estate-cum-publisher decided to sandwich them, thus presenting a massive tome. But there is not just one story, so that’s okay, too. Each section follows different people, though there is a loose connection between the stories, and sometimes the odd character (or main one) appears in another story. The last story, “The Part About Archimboldi”, was for me the most coherent. Where the others left of as if Bolano died before he typed the last page, the story of Archimboldi is as complete a picture of a human as a reader could hope to get. Really heartfelt stuff, in a world of uncompromising treachery, delivering himself from evil with no help from north or south, and living by his wits.
The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant
This classic survey of “the world’s greatest philosophers from Plato to John Dewey” is such a fascinating read because Durant brings reasoned thought, intellect, wisdom, and humor to a whole ship-full of good prose. I’ve always disliked reading (or slogging through) the actual texts of many philosophers (Niezsche is brutal; Russel is obscure; Kant is dense as twice-baked cheesecake) but I thoroughly enjoy having a mature philosopher to pull out the best (and readable) bits from all those guys. Durant does this so well that I wanted him to give me the delineation on all the included philos’ works; alas, such an undertaking is “voluminous.” Nevertheless, we learn about the men behind their works, which partly explains the reasons they came to their … um … reasoning. And what I came away with this time, at this point in my life, is that most of the major philos were lonely, had been pushed down by society (or gov’t), rejected in love, hounded by peers, and in this built a view of life that, amazingly, captured the attention of those same people and society and gov’t that dumped on them.
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.