de Botton – How to Think More About Sex

How Think More About Sex How Think More About SexAlain de Botton; Picador 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I read de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex on 1-2 November 2014. It was not quite what I expected; I also expected more. Then again, I gave a mixed review to The Architecture of Happiness, which suffers from some of the same issues.

But first, the contents:

I. Introduction

II. The Pleasures of Sex

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

III. The Problems of Sex

     1. Love and Sex

     2. Sexual Rejection

     3. Lack of Desire: Infrequency, Impotence, Resentment

     4. Pornography: Censorship, A New Kind of Porn

     5. Adultery: The Pleasures of Adultery, The Stupidity of Adultery

IV. Conclusion

Homework

My comments and excerpts:

de Botton writes in an overly generalized fashion, he considers few alternatives, he is quite probably contradicting himself on a couple occasions, he is often anthropomorphic and reifies to no end, and he seems to have written this book from a healthy, Euro-skinned, heterosexual of reasonably decent (or better) looks perspective. Gays, transexuals, asexuals, whatever do not appear. Do not get mention. Nor do the vast majority of people who are of mediocre appearance at best. Apparently, the only ones who should be thinking more (clearly/intelligently/humanely) about sex are healthy good-looking heterosexuals. Not.

I know this book is short but it leaves so damned much out. And that is perfectly fine and certainly expected. But if you are leaving out that much of the human experience of sex without even mentioning that you have no space for it then you do not deserve to name your book How to Think More About Sex. It really is that simple.

Based on this alone, one probably ought skip this book. But it is short and it has great moments. There are things of import to think about that he brings up. Some of his offerings for ways in and/or out of things are fine and some are bunk. But he is trying to intelligently discuss sex. I appreciate the hell out of that! But this only hits on occasion and it misses by so damned much in its general approach to ignoring much of the world’s population’s individual experiences.

Let’s dive in.

I. Introduction

I really liked this bit in the Intro. The end of that first paragraph is a bit over the top but I can’t argue really with that full one after it. He does a decent but succinct job of showing how messed up our “thinking” is about sex and, thus, why we may need to think/talk/act more intelligently about it.

“…. We [are] bothered by sex because it is a fundamentally disruptive, overwhelming and demented force, strongly at odds with the majority of our ambitions and all but incapable of being discreetly integrated within civilized society.

     Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.” 6-7

II. The Pleasures of Sex

He leaps right in trying to show that sex is messy and great and vengeful and loving and …. He does a good job showing that we truly are less in charge than we think when it comes to sex. This is also a bit thin for someone new to it (I am not) but he’s on the right track. Evolutionary biology can only explain so much (if it does at all) and one has to bring other theories to bear to explain more than mere biological sexual attraction for reproductive purposes. He does. Are they the right ones, or at least highly useful?

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

          “It could sound disgusting — and that’s the point. Nothing is erotic that isn’t also, with the wrong person, revolting, which is precisely what makes erotic moments so intense: at the precise juncture where disgust could be at its height, we find only welcome and permission. The privileged nature of the union between two people is sealed by an act that, with someone else, would have horrified them both.” 22

          “Sex temporarily liberates us from the punishment dichotomy, well known to every one of us since childhood, between dirty and clean. Lovemaking purifies us by engaging the most apparently polluted sides of ourselves in its procedures and thereby anointing them as newly worthy.” 37

On fetishes:

          “In a clinical sense, a fetish is defined as an ingredient, typically quite unusual in nature, which needs to be present in order for someone to achieve orgasm.” 38

          “In this wider sense, fetishes are simply details — most often related either to a type of clothing or to a part of another’s body — which evoke for us desirable sides of human nature. The precise origins of our enthusiasms may be obscure, but they can almost always be traced back to some meaningful aspect of our childhood: we will be drawn to specific things either because they recall appealing qualities of a beloved parental figure or else, conversely, because they somehow cancel out, or otherwise help us to escape, a memory of early humiliation or terror.

          The task of understanding our own preferences in this regard should be recognized as an integral part of any project of self-knowledge or biography. What Freud said of dreams can likewise be said of sexual fetishes: they are a royal road into the unconscious.” 39

Tying our fetishes to issues of values and the good life which he’ll bring out later:

          “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy’, the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” 44

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

          “A consensus emerges about which sorts of faces we find most appealing. From these studies [cross-cultural], evolutionary biologists have concluded that a ‘sexy’ person of either gender, far from being an unclassifiable abstraction, is in essence someone whose face is symmetrical (that is, the right and left sides match precisely) and whose features are balanced, proportionate and undistorted.” 81

          “The discipline [evol biol] absolves physical attraction of the charge of being purely superficial. While conceding that we judge people by their appearance, it holds that appearances themselves are anything but trivial and indeed point towards some rather profound qualities.” 84

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

          “Evolutionary biology confidently predicts that we will be drawn to people on the basis of their evident health, but it has not put forward any truly convincing theories about why we should prefer one specific healthy person over another.” 63

But what about people who clearly are not “healthy” who find love and are attracted sexually to others?

          Wilhelm Worringer’s theory on art appreciation; essay, “Abstraction and Empathy,” 1907 64-8

          Worringer’s theory applied to sexual attraction 69-72

          “We then declare people ‘sexy’ when we see in them evidence of compensatory qualities, and are repelled by those who seem prone to drive us further into our extremities.” 70

          “We need both art and sex to make us whole, so it is not surprising if the mechanisms of compensation should be similar in each case. The specifics of what we find ‘beautiful’ and what we find ‘sexy’ are indications of what we most deeply crave in order to rebalance ourselves.” 72

III. The Problems of Sex

This section attempts to offer possible remedies, or at least ways in, to mitigate some of the many problems with sex. Of course, only a few are covered in the short space allowed. I am not sure how effectively he deals with some of them either.

     1. Love and Sex

          “It’s time for the need for sex and the need for love to be granted equal standing, without an added moral gloss. Both may be independently felt and are of comparable value and validity. Both shouldn’t require us to lie in order to claim them.” 79

Amen! The data on this–and he does provide some; there is much more–show what a damaging idea modern love (and marriage) truly is. Maybe someday perhaps the two can be pulled apart in a more sane and sensible way but I have my doubts.

     2. Sexual Rejection

          “We don’t have to take sexual rejection as a sure indication that another person has looked into our soul and registered disgust at every aspect of our being. The reality is usually much simpler and less shattering than that: for whatever reason, this particular individual just can’t get turned on by our body. We can take comfort in the knowledge that such a verdict is automatic, preconscious and immutable. The one doing the rejecting isn’t being intentionally nasty; he or she has no choice.” 82

If we could already use reason in regards to love and sex then this probably would be less of an issue than it is. Realigning our views on the issue, as he suggests, would be useful but quite unlikely to be of use to more than a handful of people, statistically speaking.

     3. Lack of Desire:

          i. Infrequency

               “The solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before.” 97

               “While going about their quite different types of business, the lover and the artist nonetheless come up against a similar human foible: the universal tendency to become easily habituated and bored, and to decide that whatever is known is unworthy of interest. We are prone to long for novelty, kitschy romanticism, drama and glamour.” 99

               “We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine.” 102

          ii. Impotence

     Argues that this is a “symptom of respect.” Not buying that for a second, except in some percentage (I’m going with small) of all cases. And the reason why is all the bullshit he says about men in these paragraphs. Again, overly generalized beyond all possible acceptance. Gamergate and #teamharpy, along with way too many other things today show us that most men have not “evolved” as de Botton seems to think.

          iii. Resentment

               “By overwhelming consensus, our culture locates the primary difficulty of relationships in finding the ‘right’ person rather than in knowing how to love a real — that is, a necessarily rather unright — human being.” 121

Yes. This bit is quite valuable. Again, shows the utter destruction caused by the currently prevailing (by those in power) views of love and marriage in Western society.

     4. Pornography:

          i. Censorship

I. Just. He seems to accept, and argues, that pornography is extremely dangerous to society and that some form of censorship is necessary. He is writing in particular about the Internet. Yes, indeed, let’s let nanny-state governments censor the Internet so we can get back to work. Jackass! There are so many intermediate steps.

I should explain that my vehemence here is he because he made no real argument for pornography being an immense destructive force; just assumed via anecdata.

          ii. A New Kind of Porn

I. Just. Don’t. But now he wants a new kind of porn. “Virtue porn.”

“Yet is is possible to conceive of a version of pornography that wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue — a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.” 139

OK. This might work for a few folks; he should go back and re-read his discussion of fetishes though, as a first caution. And some of his examples later on make some sense; again, for a few folks. But his discussion. Oy! His example to lead us into pornography that might support our virtues is Sandro Bottticelli’s The Madonna of the Book, c.1483.

Seems to be contradicting himself in these two sections also. Porn must be censored. Oh, look, a new kind of “virtue porn.” Make a choice or choose a middle ground, sir.

     5. Adultery:

          i. The Pleasures of Adultery

               “However, the real fault in the situation lies in the ethos of modern marriage, with its insane ambitions and its insistence that one person can plausibly hope to embody the eternal sexual and emotional solution to another’s every need.

               Taking a step back, what distinguishes modern marriage from its historical precedents is its fundamental tenet that all our desire for love, sex and family ought to reside in the selfsame person. No other society has been so stringent or so hopeful about the institution of marriage, nor ultimately, as a consequence, so disappointed in it.

               In the past, these very distinct needs — for love, sex and family — were wisely differentiated and separated out from one another.” 152

          ii. The Stupidity of Adultery

This section brought out how also very middle-class and above focused it is.

IV. Conclusion

     “When every contemptuous but fair thing has been said about our infernal sexual desires, we can still celebrate them for not allowing us to forget for more than a few days at a time what is really involved in living an embodied, chemical and largely insane human life.” 175-6

I can certainly agree with this view, but while he did a decent job arguing this, if it was what he truly meant to argue then I suppose it would have been a somewhat different book. Or perhaps not.

Homework

This is the sources section.

Conditionally recommended is what I am going to say. That is, if you want to think more about sex. Then again, if you want to think more about sex then I would recommend this book [any edition would be fine], even if the focus of each is not the same.

Administrivia:

I had to create a record at Open Library so I could use John Miedema’s OpenBook plugin. I had hoped I was done with adding so many records there but is good to be writing again. And it is a nice record.

Variations on a theme – book spine poems

Earlier today I composed some book spine poems—all variations on a theme—once I found a good “punch line.”

Perusing my long list of book titles, compiled during DigiWriMo 2012, I came across these two in the midst of the list:

The way it is
In the next galaxy

I decided then and there to riff off of that. This is a kind of nice as these are two of my favorites out of our poetry books [both Sara’s].

I still like the first one I chose to be the set-up best, though [bottom]. Here are a few of them, while there are a total of eight in my Flickr album for DigiWriMo 2014.

Whether or not you check out the others, you should consider composing your own book spine poetry, and I would love to see comments in Flickr or your own photos suggesting additional titles that would make good opening lines. Comment here or in Flickr.

And, no, this isn’t really a joke. My main thrust—at least of those I prefer—are more of the “The grass is greener,” while the others are more of the “Oh. My. The Other” category. I am sad though that I couldn’t put my hands on George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation because I truly like that thought. Far more positive.

Tastes of paradise. The way it is In the next galaxy.

Tastes of paradise.
The way it is
In the next galaxy.

Tastes of paradise.

The way it is
In the next galaxy.

Slaves of the Machine. The way it is In the next galaxy.

Slaves of the Machine.
The way it is
In the next galaxy.

Slaves of the Machine.

The way it is
In the next galaxy.

There's treasure everywhere. The way it is In the next galaxy.

There’s treasure everywhere.
The way it is
In the next galaxy.

There’s treasure everywhere.

The way it is
In the next galaxy.

DigiWriMo 2014

I have committed to participating in Digital Writing Month 2014, more commonly known as DigiWriMo, this November. I did it its first year in 2012 and made my goal of 50,000 digital words. Most people who know November as a writing month know it as National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. There is also Academic Writing Month, AcWriMo. Wikipedia says there’s an Academic Book Writing Month, AcBoWriMo but that’s a new one on me. Well, on Twitter there is no #AcBoWriMo but there is plenty of #AcWriMo.

I have been driven to write lately—perhaps driven by the mysterious and as yet undiagnosed illness; which is neither here nor there. I have so many ideas and there are tons of old ideas not finished, or ever even fleshed out, to work with.

Preparation has involved recording these ideas as they occur and corralling old recorded ones too, prepping my Scrivener project file (my writing tool), and spending more time learning to use it well.

This year my goal is ≥ 1k words/day, with a total of ≥ 25k words/November. Yes. I am aware of the missing 5 days. I am trying to be gracious with myself. [If this illness can possibly help teach me that idea then, OK, I’ll take the rest. I’m not counting on this being an actual lesson, though.]

I do not know how much I will do with the, thankfully, re-expanded DigiWriMo folks’ official efforts but I will be “playing along at home” at a minimum. I certainly hope and plan to interact a fair bit. I just have to manage my stress triggers and adding a #digiwrimo twitter search window to my already overflowing two twitter accounts for a month ….

I also recently acquired a new phone making the leap from an iPhone 4S to a 6. I had been eligible for an upgrade for well over a year and $200 was the most they were ever going to give me anymore for my 4S. Or that anyone was going to give me. For a lot of hoops and a delay of several weeks, I got to pay roughly $100 and a $35 activation fee to move from a 16GB 4S to a 64GB 6. I took that deal.

It was particularly tempting as I use both TextExpander and 1Password on my computer. They have also both been on my phone but were basically useless. Finally iOS 8 allows them both to be useful. [Sadly, I will not be putting iOS 8 on my iPad 2. It is struggling already.]

The point of all this is that having those 2 programs actually doing good work on my phone may let me use it to do just a couple more tasks than I would’ve before. Also, the bigger screen isn’t to laugh at with my old eyes. They will also allow me to more productively write digitally even though what I “write” on my phone will still be pretty damned minimal.

Some of what I write will be public, much as now although even more will be. Much will be kept private. I really want to start doing a better job of journaling, in a couple senses of ‘journal.’ I hope DigiWriMo will spur me to do so, or at least take advantage of the illness’ urging me to do so. I hope to get a few more blog posts up here and definitely more written on By the barrel.

Poetry, 2015 goal planning, book reviews, tweeting, and all sorts of other writing endeavors are on the docket. Some of the topics I hope to address, whether public or not, include Facebook, gender labels (as language), gender on labels (as in depiction of on beer labels), sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, body image, altered consciousness, and many others. We will see what happens.

If any of you are participating in some kind of writing month in November let me know if you would like some support and hopefully we can find a mutual venue.

What’s up so far in 2014? Home buying, it seems

[N.B.: Mostly written 6 January with minor updates over next 2-3 days. Current follow-up follows.]

So what’s up in 2014 so far? 2014 got off to a great start. For one day.

Sara and I do a kind of annual review, along with a semi-annual review and weekly reviews using assorted tools such as calendars, OmniFocus and some text documents. Neither of us do resolutions but we do want to have goals for the year, and to check up on them now and again so that we might have a chance to actually accomplish most of them. We entered 2014 with this year’s annual review pretty much done. Mine was primarily complete except for final formatting as a document in Scrivener.

Then on the 2nd of January the mail was delivered. Our place was recently bought by some out-of-towners and we got notice that our rent was going up 15%! We are already stretched pretty thin and that is just ridiculous. We immediately jumped into “can we buy a house” mode. We have been considering that anyway but we figured it was at least 6 months to more like 2-3 years in the future for us. Nope. [We need to find out right now whether we can get a loan for enough to buy a house here in Bend or we need to find a cheaper place to rent until we can qualify for said loan. If we can get a loan then we need to be seriously looking for a house that meets all of [ok, much of, hopefully]  our criteria.

Either way, (update to follow)] almost everything I had planned for this year has now been indefinitely placed on hold. My 2014 annual review/plan has been scrapped by the second day of the year. Yay, me!

Thankfully a lot of stuff is still in boxes from when we arrived here in August 2012. That will make moving somewhat easier. But we also have not weeded out near enough stuff that we were supposed to have gotten rid of by now. And we have probably acquired more stuff than we have gotten rid of. My surgery in May put in a big damper on my weeding which I had hoped to do this past summer. Sara’s full-time job has prevented her from making any progress on her stuff.

I have jumped into weeding pretty heavy the last couple of days and hope to continue. We’re donating a bunch of stuff to the Humane Society Thrift Store, some of the better books to the public library, and recycling a crapload of stuff. There is, sadly, plenty more to go through though. As we free up a bit of room by getting rid of stuff I have a bit more room to get at and sort through even more. So I guess one can say it’s looking up.

It is, though, extremely demoralizing to have just committed to and documented one’s goals for the year and to then have to toss it all away on January 2nd.

So what were/are some of my plans for 2014?

  • Read 75 books http://marklindner.info/blog/2014/01/01/reading-goals-2014/
  • Wrangle our ebooks into some kind of order, usability, etc.
  • Do some more beer tastings
  • Help with Central Oregon Beer Week
  • Do another book talk this year for Central Oregon Beer Week
  • Meet some of the beer folks in Bend who I haven’t been able to yet
  • Do some beer trading
  • Finish my “article” on Prohibition in Bend
  • Perhaps work on my Cicerone certification
  • Blog some book reviews that I am way behind on
  • Learn to make better use of Evernote, OmniFocus, Scrivener, etc.
  • Meal planning
  • Get my new tattoo started
  • Track down a citation for that damned Paracelsus quote or show that it is not attributable to him
  • Exercise more and get back into some semblance of shape
  • Visit some places in Oregon: Broken Top, lava tubes, Crater Lake, etc.

23 January update:

We found a house, put in an offer, got their counter and accepted. We have the inspection set for Saturday a.m. and are meeting with the mortgage broker tomorrow morning to do more paperwork and get VA appraisal scheduled. If all goes well with those we’ll be moving late winter / early spring.

I have been in full-on moving prep mode for about a week now. I am so damned sore. But. I am much closer to being ready. I have a good idea of what is packed, more stuff was topped off and packed and many binders and articles were packed, it is mostly segregated from other stuff, and the inventory is updated. More books were weeded.

We should have a couple weeks to move in. It kind of comes down to when we close and the 30-day notice we give our landlord. Current estimated closing is March 17.

My only big concern is weather. Well, and will my aging body hold out: preferably for it to treat all the labor as weightlifting and other “good” exercise. Seriously though, moving in the rain or a snowstorm or having ice/snow on the ground are the worst for moving. So far our winter has included almost none of any of that, which is not good. We need snow, at least outside of town.

It is all moving so fast. Which, of course, has deepened even more the feeling of upended plans. Not all is a loss, though. I am reading some and not quite as slowly as I suspected. I am helping with Central Oregon Beer Week as a member of their team this year. If you need me for any Central Oregon Beer Week business feel free to email me at mark@centraloregonbeerweek.com. I am trying to figure out what I want to do as Bend Beer Librarian for COBW; not up for another book talk for this year. Considering things and talking with people but need to decide soon to save 15% as a returning sponsor.

I met a few more Bend beer people, including one I wanted to meet in person, but, intriguingly, we met them in Portland. We attended the 1st Big Woody put on in Portland and a boatload of Bendites were there as attendees, volunteers, brewery folks representing, and event organizers/staff. That was nice and I finally met Matthew Ward (Bend Brew Daddy) and his wife Lisa. Definitely hope to hang out more with them. We also got to spend some time with non-Bendite but extremely nice guy Christopher (PortlandBeer.com) at Hair of the Dog. So possibly future trading and/or nice bottle swaps as it sounds like his are the kind of quality we are looking for. Maybe we can get Christopher to Bend, although we explored so little of Portland last weekend.

Blogging and other forms of writing have been practically non-existent, book reading is way down, research for either major topic of current interest is on hold, and most other projects listed above or not are pretty much forgotten about.

I hope this place works out and we can get settled in quickly. I’d like to get back to some of my projects recently put on hold and others, many of which have been a long time coming.

It is an adventure, and so far easier than expected, but its timing seems a little sudden.

 

 

Reading goals for 2014

For reading goals in 2014, I have decided to set myself up a short list/challenge. I will probably set my goodreads 2014 challenge number at 75 books since this year’s was so low. My TBR shelves are overflowing to no end but I pulled together 26 books of which I hope to read 12.

That’s my goal for 2014: read 12 of these 26 books plus whatever else comes my way for a total of at least 75.

Beer and Brewing

  • Beer: The Story Of The Pint: The History Of Britain’s Most Popular Drink – Martyn Cornell
  • Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers (Brewing Elements) – John J. Palmer and Kaminski
  • Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home – Sam Calagione
  • The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food – Garrett Oliver

Language and Related

  • Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks – Keith Houston
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English – John H. McWhorter
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention – Guy Deutscher
  • Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything – David Bellos

Literature and Literary Theory

  • Why Read the Classics? – Italo Calvino
  • The Literary Mind – Mark Turner
  • Tolkien on Fairy-Stories – J.R.R. Tokien
  • Imagination in Place: Essays – Wendell Berry
  • Dog Songs: Poems – Mary Oliver
  • Maidenhair – Maikhail Shishkin

Western World History

  • The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community – William H. McNeill
  • The Creation of the Modern World: The Untold Story of the British Enlightenment – Roy Porter

Assorted/Too Lazy to Classify

  • Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction – Susan Cheever
  • You Must Change Your Life: Poetry, Philosophy, and the Birth of Sense – John T. Lysacker
  • Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight – James Atlee
  • Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants – Wolfgang Schivelbusch
  • Information: A Very Short Introduction – Luciano Floridi
  • Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling – Alan Jacobs

Philosophy

  • Real American Ethics: Taking Responsibility for our Country – Albert Borgmann
  • Tragic Sense of Life – Miguel de Unamuno
  • The Power of Ideas – Isaiah Berlin
  • How Philosophers Saved Myths: Allegorical Interpretation and Classical Mythology – Luc Brisson

That’s it. Try to read 12 of these books, several of which have been on other lists before. It would be nice to read (at least) one from each grouping but whatever. As always, more books than I can possibly read will come my way and my TBR shelves will continue to grow.

 

Books Read in 2013

My book reading goals were modest for 2013. According to last year’s books read post I had committed to 50 books read on the annual goodreads challenge “because that ought be easily doable.” Well, yes, that was. It seems I even met part of another goal: I read a bit less than half as much poetry, but I believe I failed to do any reading about poetry.

Seems I started 147 books and finished 141. Three came into 2013 as being read but they were all really on hold and never got touched in 2013. I am still reading 3, have 1 on pause and have given up on 5.

Of those books started, two were read and re-read this year but only counted once, and one was a re-read of something from a previous year.

For assorted reasons, none of my lists are perfect but I hope to simplify things in the future. I keep a spreadsheet of all books read (“definitive” document), a goodreads account which gives me a list by default, a shelf at Open Library, and a folder in Zotero. Here are this year’s goodreads and Open Library shelves. I have 138 things in goodreads, 142 in Open Library, 144 in Zotero, and 155 in the spreadsheet.

Neither is perfect but they give a great feel for what I read. The only things missing from both are a short graphic novel in pdf and a pdf about WordPress and responsive design.

Category-wise:

  • Fiction: 82
  • Nonfiction: 41
  • Poetry: 15
  • Graphic novels: 67 (most are also F, but several are NF)
  • On-pause: 1 NF
  • Gave-up: 5 (2 NF, 2 GN/F, 1 F)
  • Currently reading: 3 (1 ea P, NF/translation, NF)
  • Together: 11 (6 NF, 3 F, 1 F still reading, 1 NF on pause)
  • Same author: Charles Bamforth 3 + 1 re-read + 1 edit + 1 co-edit; Michael Lewis 1 + 1 co-edit; Gail Carriger 2 F; Michael Jackson 2; Carolyn Edwards 1 NF + 1 F; K.W. Jeter 2 F (Excludes graphic novels/comics)
  • Translations: 5 (4 F, 1 F/GN) (+1 NF/Ebook on pause, 1 NF currently reading)
  • Ebooks: 7 finished (Kindle 3, PDF 3; Overdrive 1; Together 2 + 1 OH; 1 on pause; 1 still reading)

Things learned:

In goodreads if a book has a begin and end date then it is considered read if on any home-made exclusive shelf, such as gave-up. (Not tested if only has ending date.) But even if you have a start date, if you don’t have or clear the end date then it doesn’t show up on the provided yearly reads shelve (see Stats page).

Open Library is doing a lot less maintenance or importing of records, so I keep having to add more and more of what I read. Much of it. It has grown tiresome. Sad to hear coming from a cataloger, if I say so myself, but it’s the solid truth. I am probably not worrying about Open Library next year.

There’s no grand lessons from any of this or from my reading. I have gotten a lot out of many of the items I read (and perhaps re-read) this year. I guess this post is just a continuance of something I have done for a while now.

Previous Books Read posts

What are my reading plans for 2014?

I have decided to try a little “challenge” of my own for 2014. Although, honestly, it is more like a nudge in a general direction than like an actual I care whether I achieve it or not. See next post for details.

[Updated several minutes after posting}

Beer and Brewing: Realized I ought comment on this as it was a large part of my leisure reading and personal and professional learning reading this year. I finished 24 books on beer and brewing across diverse angles and approaches. One was an Overdrive ebook from the public library, one was fiction (also from DPL), one was a re-read of a book from late last year, two were re-reads of books first read this year. One other I am still reading, and two others were given up on.

Gelman, Dark Times Filled With Light

Dark times filled with light: the selected work of Juan GelmanJuan Gelman; Open Letter 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder
Saying that I enjoyed this book is true but also must be expanded upon. Juan Gelman, of Argentina, has been writing poetry for decades and, according to the introduction and back jacket is regularly “on the short list of Nobel Prize candidates” (xi).

His early poems were the ones I liked the most and they are small commentaries on life, love, the act of poetry, and the typical mundane aspects of life. His middle and later poems are more focused on the Argentine reign of terror and the “disappeared” and his decades of exile in Europe. These are powerful poems that address a heinous period in Argentina’s and its people’s history that needs to be known more widely. His poems of exile are especially powerful. I marked all four included poems from Under Foreign Rain (footnotes to a defeat) (1980) as ones that spoke to me in an utterly heartrending manner.

The poems come from 26 different books and, I assume, give a good idea of his writing across time. Some of the books only had one poem in here and sometimes I found myself wishing for more if what was included particularly resonated with me.

Thank you Open Letter and the University of Rochester for these wonderful poems in translation. If you have any interest in reading (and supporting) literature in translation—all kinds of lit from all over the world—then do yourself the favor of looking into Open Letter. I have a subscription to them and have enjoyed the couple I have managed to read so far, with the added bonus of having several other translated works sitting at my fingertips when I am ready to dive in.

One of the many poems that particularly spoke to me:

I Sit Here Like An Invalid (from The Name of the Game (1956-1958))

I sit here like an invalid in the desert of my desire for you.

I’ve grown used to sipping the night slowly, knowing
you’re in it somewhere filling it with dreams.

The night wind whips the stars flickering in my hands,
broken-hearted widows of your hair, still unreconciled.

The birds you planted in my heart are stirring and
sometimes with a knife’s cold blade
I’d offer them the freedom they demand to go back to you.

And yet I can’t. You’re so much a part of me, so much alive in me
that if I died, my death would kill you.

Books Read in 2012

2012

In 2012, it appears I started 97 books, finished 86 books, am currently still reading 6 books (some far more actively than others), have 3 “on pause,” and have given up on 2 books.

The two assorted places to find good first approximations of which books I read in 2012:

Open Library has 10 more books and I could go in and pull out those I failed to finish or still have ongoing but I am not going to. As for books I fully finished, goodreads is pretty darn accurate.

Assorted Breakdowns:

  •  Fiction: 13
  • Nonfiction: 12
  • Poetry: 32
  • Graphic Novels: 29
  • Continued from 2011: 1 poetry, 2 nonfiction
  • Rereads: 1 fiction and 1poetry 2x in same year (but only counted once) (Moonstone and Blueshifting)
  • Ebooks: 3 fiction, 4 poetry
  • Still reading: 3 fiction, 4 nonfiction, 1 ebook
  • On Pause: 1 each fiction, nonfiction, poetry
  • Gave Up: 2 nonfiction
  • Books by male authors: 52
  • Books by female authors: 27
  • Books by multiple authors: 7 [too lazy to differentiate this year]

Same author, multiple books:

  • Mike Carey & Peter Gross: 5 graphic novels
  • Gail Carriger: 4 fiction and 1 manga
  • Joe Wilkins: 2 poetry
  • Hubert & Kerascoët: 2 graphic novels
  • mpMann (with different people): 2 graphic novels

Previous Books Read posts

What are my reading plans for 2013?

I really have no idea. I plugged in 50 as the number of books I will read at the goodreads challenge for 2013 but only because that ought be easily doable. I want to back away from so much poetry. I coarsely gave a reason why on my review of Adrienne Rich’s Later Poems at goodreads and I may write about my reasons here. Or I may not. I do want to devote more time to reading about poetry–I have several books I should dip into already–and I should work more on writing a few more poems myself. But reading the poetry of others is doing little for me right now.

This is the first year in several that I am not entering the year already embarked on a specific reading challenge. My physical To Read shelves are literally overflowing and they do not include many others already in our possession that I want to read, nor those in goodreads marked as Want to Read, nor those I will come across, and so on. I really need to get my physical To Read shelf(s) under control so I hope to do a better job at that.

I also have a couple new personal learning projects in various states of formality that I am undertaking so some of my reading will be concentrated there. More on those later.

Otherwise, for now, I have no specific plans for reading in 2013. Except to do it!

Hysteria (movie)

[This, too, is a late DigiWriMo post.]

Thankfully, later after watching The Tree of Life we watched Hysteria, which we have also been wanting to see after seeing the previews a couple years ago. It by no stretch came to conservative Sioux City so we missed it in the theater. We couldn’t even find it in Omaha, although we could be wrong on that count but we had looked repeatedly while it was in theaters. Ninety miles one way is a long way to go for a film but we would have.

After we watched it I tweeted,

Cleansed my movie palate with Hysteria, based on this most excellent book by Rachel Maines http://marklindner.info/blog/2011/02/02/maines-the-technology-of-orgasm/ [tweet]

The next morning, Karen Coyle tweeted to me:

@mrlindner One of my favorite books. See: bit.ly/UYGA8X [tweet]

Check out her review at that link. It is much better than mine.

We saw the preview for the movie in the cinema shortly after I read Maines’ excellent book and I knew that it was (somewhat) based on Maines’ book immediately. It looked hilarious and as The Technology of Orgasm is one of my favorite books of all time—which I had discussed a fair bit with Sara as I read it—we really wanted to see it. It did not come to Sioux City or environs and time went by. We moved and even more time went by. Sara got it from the public library finally and we watched it last night. The movie was as good as we hoped and we are in the process of watching the documentary (actually excerpts from Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm) that comes as an extra feature on the DVD. It is also pretty good and features a lot of Rachel Maines, along with a couple of others, so I am happy to be able to hear her talk about her research also.

The Technology of Orgasm The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual SatisfactionRachel P. Maines; The Johns Hopkins University Press 1998WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder  
Katherine Young (Ph.D. and author of Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine) puts forth the idea that the Copernican Revolution was revolutionary in another way than is typically thought. She had been outlining some long time ideas on human sexuality in that males were thought to be of the elements of fire and air, thus hot and light, and that women were of earth and water, and thus heavy, cold and wet. When the Copernican Revolution replaced the Earth (female) as the center of the solar system/universe with the sun (male) then female sexuality as a topic disappeared from discourse.

It is an extremely interesting idea but I would really like to see some good supporting evidence. If anyone knows of any books or articles that address this idea I would be most grateful. My initial skepticism leans toward the shift having started well before and that the displacement of the Earth from the center was perhaps the final straw. And even if the idea as presented is true, then I imagine it is hingeing on a highly condensed version of reality, in that the Copernican Revolution involved an awful lot of historical, political, societal and religious changes that were highly intertwined and influencing each other in multiple ways. Symbolically this idea is highly interesting, but I imagine the reality of the shift away from a supposedly fairly prevalent knowledge of female sexuality and needs to one that pretty much discounted female sexuality would have to be far more complex than a shift in symbols.

I would love to have my skepticism discounted though so please do pass along any sources you may be aware of that address this issue. [I went back and re-watched that section and got her name and the name of the book she wrote, Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine, which Sara has requested for me.] So, if you are aware of any other sources that address this intriguing topic please do pass them along.

Synopis:

Hysteria: Good romantic comedy based on an excellent and important book.

Follow-up: Tonight (3 December) we watched the full documentary, Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm, which we got through ILL. It was good but it was only 74 minutes vs. the 47 minutes of excerpts on the DVD of Hysteria as an extra. The additional material was interesting but probably not worth going out of one’s way to acquire. You can find more information about it here.

Young’s book has also arrived by this point in time and I look forward to having a go at it, but I am highly disappointed to say that neither Copernicus nor Copernican Revolution are anywhere to be found in the index. I want to know more about this symbological interpretation but am remaining highly skeptical as to its actual explanatory depth.

 

Mathieu, The Museum Vaults

Museum Vaults Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an ExpertMarc-Antoine Mathieu; ComicsLit 2008WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert is an excellent, short graphic novel set in a very Kafkaesque Musée du Louvre. It is volume 3 in a series co-published with the Louvre, which if Goodreads is correct includes 6 titles.

They say that all of these names are nothing but anagrams of the museum’s real name, which has been forgotten. For my part, I’d say that its name hasn’t yet been found, for if it’s true that one only definitively names things that one can grasp, then the museum must be the most difficult to define.” (6)

Contents:

  • Day One: Conservation
  • Day Three: The Foundations of the Summit
  • Day Thirty-Three: Technical Galleries
  • Day Forty-Six: The Flooded Gallery
  • Day Two Hundred Twelve: The Repository for Molds
  • Day Six Hundred Fifty One: The Fragments Room
  • Day Nine Hundred and Sixty: The Restoration Workshop
  • Day One Thousand Four Hundred and Thirteen: The Department of Copies
  • Day Three Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-Five: Painting Storage
  • Day Five Thousand Eight Hundred and Nine: The Archives
  • Day Nine Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty-Seven: The Old Expert
  • Day Ten Thousand: The Frame Depot
  • Day Eleven Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety-Four: Bricabracology
  • Day Fourteen Thousand Five Hundred and Seven: The Icon
  • Day Sixteen Thousand Six Hundred and Ten: The Truly Grand Design
  • Day Eighteen Thousand One Hundred and Thirty-Four: The Final Chapter
  • List of works cited (includes Great Sphinx, “Hammurabi’s Head,” a Piet Mondrian, and others)
  • The Louvre: From a castle to a museum

The Musee du Revolu, as it is now called, hires an expert, Eudeus Volumer, and an assistant, to evaluate the collections. The story follows their progress through the labyrinthine museum, along the way skewering art and art history. Or, as the back blurb says, “Mathieu, an artist who marries Escher with Kafka, brings stinging irony to the pompousness of art history.” All of the various sections comment on different aspects of art, criticism, and art history. Just a few of the tools are anagrams, and other word play, and meta-commentary through the use of the graphic medium and the devices in some of the areas of the museum to comment on some aspect of art. The Mona Lisa is used to make an important point about copies and almost identical works and what the arrival of the daguerreotype means for art. Picture frames poke fun at Piet Mondrian and hint at the coming of the cartoon panel layout. There are others and, no doubt, I missed a few.

All in all, I found this an excellent, and extremely quick, read but one that bears contemplation. I will probably re-read it before returning it and then looking into whether our public library has the other volumes in the series.

Highly recommended.