Books! What are you currently reading or just finished?


#542

Recently finished:

  • “Why Nations Fail” by Acemoglu and Robinson. An incredibly thorough examination of the success and failures of nation formation and stabilization. Of course, it has to be said that their ideas of what constitute failure modes are built from a Western academic background and successes are thus self-perpetuating liberal democracies. However, I cannot find much fault with their thesis that a society that organizes itself in a mode of self-governance by democratic processes will fail if a certain threshold of political exclusion is reached. One could wonder about how the current redrawing of electoral maps and court rulings on politically and racially motivated gerrymanders fits along the timeline toward failure. Further, as a parallel track toward failure, a nation that orients its economic activity away from inclusive attitudes with regards to access to a market and democratized practices with respect to capital distribution will create ever growing subclasses with righteous resentment toward the supraclass. All of that is probably obvious to some, but the authors use a tremendous amount of historical data solidify their theory of institutional causes.

  • “Why Liberalism Failed” by Deneen. I cannot say this enough: This book is awful. I wanted to find kernels of arguments that I could engage with through to their end. The author starts with an observation that liberalism as conceived in the 17th and 18th centuries is conceived as a maxim of total self-liberation, which is not quite true, and then engages with some perverse, almost Randian, version where self-liberation only leads to pure self-interest that destroys a sense of community. The author then spends the rest of the book turning his inner David Brooks up to 11 with a moralizing screed against modern personal romance and the decay of the family. His solution to all of this is in essence Christian based Feudalism. Pure dreck. As a side note, the praise on the dust jacket from Cornell West is quite amusing given Mr. Deneen spends a lot of time backing up his claims with quotes from, of all people, Charles Murray. Astounding.

  • “Capital in the 21st Century” by Piketty. This has been on my list for a while, and I am glad that I waited until now to read it. It is massive, thorough, and innovative. While the author spends some time getting bogged down in restating the point in any given chapter seemingly without end, it is surprisingly enjoyable to read. The author takes a look at basic states and the dynamical backgrounds for capital distribution, valuation, and its ability to generate income from the late 18th century to the present day. It is an exhaustive look at some of the so-called laws of economics that still seem to be used today despite being posited in the 19th century. His examples of are clear and illustrative, and he builds a convincing case for his proposed solution to what he sees as a dangerous re-emergence of the importance of capital in the likely low-growth future: a progressive tax on capital and radical transparency of the global financial system. It is something that I will likely revisit as long as I have it on my shelf.


#543

Omigosh. I now have to find SBF. If only because the bear has fingers.


#544

I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite reads: The Musical Life by W. A. Mathieu. In the spirit of Oliveros or Schaffer, but a bit more expressly inward-looking and with an unabashed joy in a child-like playing with sound. A good, grounding inspiration.


#545

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a truly wonderful read. The name that I produce music under (& my name here) comes from one of the chapter titles of this very book. I also worried that I’d have nothing to read post-Murakami, but it just makes each new book he puts out even more special when you have finally made your way through the back-catalogue (I have been up-to-date since before 1Q84 came out).


#546

I just read Pinball, 1973 and Hear the Wind Sing for the first time (apparently he really wasn’t keen on the idea of these being re-printed, and I can see why, but they’re also a nice window into early Murakami style). Anyway, now I really should re-read Wild Sheep Chase after getting a bit of the expanded background.


#547

Yes, it’s interesting how his writing has evolved. I think most of us would probably be hard-pushed to describe Wind/Pinball as his best work, but you still get a glimmer of the brilliance to come here & there when reading these.


#548

I will put this on my list! capek’s war with the newts is one of my favorites newts


#549

I will check this out. my day job is designing business games – this looks like good conceptual fodder.


#550

It is pretty good at a high level, and yes, conceptual fodder. Not as ‘immediate hands on’ as the Schell’s Art of Game Design or Koster’s Theory of Fun but I did enjoy it. I also just finished Miguel Sicart’s Play Matters from the same series and it was less useful - more of an academic work for academic readers (those who don’t make games study those who make games?)…


#551

I read 1Q84 recently and overall I didn’t really like it. There were definitely some good parts but it was far too weird for me and not in a good way. More like disturbing and uncomfortable, mostly things about the young female character, basically. At this point I’m not even sure I want to read more of his books, and I’ve been reading his books for more than 15 years.

Also, I just finished Autonomous by Annalee Lewitz, as is often the case, based on a recommendation by Warren Ellis in his mailing list. I really liked it. I’ll quote him as he’s better with words than I am :

AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz. Possibly the best introduction all year: a designer drug pirate in an invisible submarine. How fucking cool is that?

This book is a great pleasure. Newitz tosses out gorgeous imagery like it’s easy, while delivering a propulsive story about copyright gone mad, profiteering gone worse, insanely great drugs that are just great at driving people insane and an absolutely fascinating consideration of robot gender and AI “emotion.” And the law. A big part of this is about law, and about the questions we will need to ask ourselves as we move forward into the future of pharma, economics, and, speculatively, upscale machine-learning systems and consciousness emulation.


#552

I had very mixed feelings about 1Q84, but re-read it (probably even a post above somewhere about it), but I’m glad I did give it another try because I found it much more cohesive and a stronger book the second time. Not his best, but an interesting and darker turn.


#553

I’ve been wanting to read another Murakami book. I’ve only read one: Kafka on the Shore. What would you recommend as my 2nd? From the looks of it, NOT 1Q84…


#554

I went on a Murakami bender last year. I’ll recommend South of the Border, West of the Sun as the one that ‘stuck’ the most.


#555

I think the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favorite (I’d maybe say I prefer Kafka on the Shore, but since you’ve read it). However, as a directionless 20-something male, I think I was an ideal audience for the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So I’d be curious for other’s takes on this.


#556

I have the exact same experience!


#557

He excels at the short story, so maybe a collection of these? The latest, entitled “Men Without Women” is well worth your time. Also, second the suggestion of “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” if you’re more in the mood for a longer read.


#558

After reading a heap in 2017, I’ve been reading very little so far this year, or at least reading a bunch but not finishing much. I finished reading two books in February:

Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile (2010), a short graphic novel about a woman who discovers a mysterious mobile library whose librarian seems to know a lot about her. It looks like a kids book, but it most certainly isn’t. It was originally serialized in the Guardian. It’s still online there, but I read it as a hardback from the library.

Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016). The first book I’ve read by this primatologist, and I was blown away. The title summarizes the subject pretty solidly. The term “triadic awareness” (a kind of social intelligence) he introduces in this book led to a recent Disquiet Junto project.


#559

I’m currently reading William Hope Hodgson’s “The Night Land” Great eerie atmosphere but the language takes a little getting used to…


#560

For all the Murakami fans out there, there’s potentially lots of surrealist (magical realism?) fiction that might also appeal, if you haven’t gone down that road before. Also, not many Murakami fans I’ve met have read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is personally my favorite novel of his.

For other fiction that has similar bent (although with different writing styles and cultural contexts), check out Italo Calvino & Jorge Luis Borges. There’s a ton of stuff to dive into with just those two authors, but Cosmicomics by Calvino is my all-time favorite book.


#561

Yeah, I’d definitely recommend Italo Calvino too. It’s been a while since I read his books (mostly from the time when I was really into OuLiPo and went to their monthly lectures in Paris) but I only have good memories of them.

The Baron in the Trees, The Nonexistent Knight, etc.

Also, depending on the quality of the translations from French, I’d really recommend some Raymond Queneau (Le Chiendent, Les Fleurs Bleues for example) and Georges Perec (La Vie Mode d’Emploi is great book but anything by Perec is pure gold).

Sorry, I don’t have the titles in English or other languages for these but there should be a number of translations…