Thursday, December 24, 2015

Spin Review of The Known World

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

The Pulitzer Prize winning novel of 2004, set in the years prior to the Civil War in fictional Manchester County, Virginia, describes the rich tapestry of characters and events that take place after the death of black slave owner, Henry Townsend.  Purchased out of slavery during his youth by his parents, Townsend goes on to later purchase land near his former master, with whom he retains ties of esteem throughout his entire brief life.  Educated by a local freed-woman teacher so light-skinned she could go north to “pass,” Townsend does not follow the path of his free father, but rather purchases slaves to become a master himself.


Throughout the novel, Jones unflinchingly reveals the little known history of black on black slave ownership, as well as the subtle racism of lighter skinned versus darker skinned blacks.  Townsend’s widow, Caldonia, is beset by the pressures of running a plantation in the antebellum south, without the full backing of the law, which only supports freed blacks when it is convenient to do so.  Jones’ depiction of the lives of the Townsend slaves, as well as those of the local sheriff and slave catchers, creates a compelling tale that masterfully weaves in and out of time and place with touches of the surreal.  Things do not always develop as one might expect in Manchester County, some people are better than you would think, and others behave very badly indeed, and sometimes the crazy are proved to understand it best of all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spin #19 - The Known World

Oh no, I tried reading that one before and gave up!  I'll have to try much harder this time.

The Known World is by Edward P. Jones, and won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner.  It is my lucky #19, which I will endeavor to read before February 1, 2016.  Wish me luck.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Spin List for December 2015

Here is my spin list for December 2015.  All titles are taken from my list of 50 in 5 years.  I eliminated most of the books I did not think I could complete in a single month, though some of these would be really challenging as well.

  1. "Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus, 14 pp., c. 480 BC
  2. "Medea", "Electra", "The Orestes", "Andromache" 
    • & "Iphigenia Among the Tauri"
  3. "The Clouds", "The Birds", "The Frogs" & "The Lysistrata" 
    • by Aristophanes
  4. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, 244 pp.
  5. The Annals by Tacitus, 188 pp., c. 109 AD
  6. The Confessions by St. Augustine, 128 pp., 398 AD
  7. King Henry the Fourth by Shakespeare, 69 pp., 1596
  8. King Lear by Shakespeare, 1608
  9. Pensees by Pascal, 184 pp., 1670
  10. The Social Contract by Rousseau, 52 pp., 1762
  11. Faust by Goethe, 294 pp., 1808
  12. The Essays of Emerson, 262 pp., 1841
  13. Barchester Towers by Trollope, 476 pp., 1857
  14. Middlemarch by Elliot, 831 pp., 1871
  15. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, 935 pp., 1875
  16. Sons and Lovers by Lawrence, 366 pp., 1913
  17. Brave New World by Huxley, 237 pp., 1932
  18. The Reivers by Faulkner, 305 pp, 1962
  19. The Known World by Jones, 388 pp., 2003
  20. The Sea by Banville, 195 pp., 2005

Monday, November 30, 2015

Plato's "Crito"

Plato’s “Apology” and “Crito” are nearly always assigned to be read together, which makes perfect sense because they are so closely related. In “Apology,” Socrates gets sentenced to death; and in “Crito,” Socrates’ buddy, Crito, tries to convince Socrates to fly the coop before the sentence can be carried out.  There is no time to lose, since the ship from Delos has arrived, signaling that Socrates will be put to death very soon.

Socrates is reluctant to flee his own doom, but he agrees to listen to Crito, and to put to the test his arguments in favor of escape.  Crito loves Socrates, and he fears that others will believe the disgraceful idea that he would not spare the money to save Socrates’ life.  He points out that Socrates is deserting his own children, and appears to be taking the easy way out.  Crito is also concerned that Socrates fears that anyone who helps him to escape will get into trouble with the authorities, which they both agree is a possibility.

Socrates argues that the fear of what others will think should not be a consideration because the “doctrines of the multitude” are invalid, and only the opinion of the one person with complete understanding should actually be consulted.

Crito further argues that the law that condemns Socrates is unjust and should not be upheld; however, Socrates is concerned that in leaving the prison he is doing wrong against the state.  Socrates contends that he should value and obey the state which “nurtured and educated” him above even his mother and father.  He rightly points out that he had every opportunity to leave the state during his lifetime, and was even offered exile as a possible punishment during the trial, but categorically refused.  Furthermore, why would any decent state welcome a known felon such as himself?

In the end, Socrates decides that he would prefer to “depart (the world) in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws but of men.”  He tells Crito, “Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below.”

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Plato's "Apology"

I just finished reading Plato’s breathtakingly unapologetic “Apology,” on the trial of Socrates.  Socrates is on trial for his life, which (spoiler alert) he loses, yet he cannot bring himself to treat the accusations against him as anything more than an interesting logic puzzle.  The charges against Socrates are two-fold:  he is accused of being a man “who speculated about the heaven above, and searched in the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause”; and “is a doer of evil, who corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state, but has other new divinities of his own.” Both charges, apparently, being capital crimes in 399 B.C. Athens.

Now Socrates, at over 70, is hopelessly arrogant.  In his youth, the Oracle of Delphi prophesized that he was the wisest of all men.  He has spent all the intervening years attempting to prove the gods false, failing miserably in the process, and alienating half of Athens while he does so.   He spends all his time quizzing politicians, poets and artisans on their respective levels of wisdom, and always finds them wanting.  He found the politicians not wise at all; the poets could not even explain their own poetry; and the artisans, while knowledgeable about their craft, made the mistake of thinking that they were wise about things they knew nothing about.  To be fair, Socrates’ enemies always thought he was putting himself forward as being the wisest of them all, but he claims nothing could be further from the case.

“…for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is … that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing, … he is only using my name by way of illustration.  He… is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.”

Socrates answers the second charge by pointing out that it would be foolish to corrupt a man, because in all likelihood, the corrupted man would harm him in turn.  His insistent questioning of his accusers brings them step by step to agreement with his thesis, thus angering them even further.  He appears genuinely confused that he is accused of not believing in gods at all, and also of believing in other gods; a charge he believes only serves to identify the illogic of his accusers.

Through the entire trial, Socrates has little to no consideration for the final verdict.  He feels that a good man should not calculate the cost of doing the right thing, even if the cost is death.  After all, no one knows if dying is a good or bad thing, so doing something bad to avoid death is clearly not wise.

Socrates is convicted, of course, and refuses to be exiled or to promise to stop his offending behavior.   He believes that death is actually either just a nice long rest, or that the gods (of whom he was convicted of not believing) shall care for him in the afterlife because he has always attempted to do their bidding.  He reminds us that avoiding unrighteousness is far more important than avoiding death, especially since death comes to all men anyway… and he’s already old! 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Books I have read again and again

These are the friends I turn to when I want a familiar world that has welcomed me before, and I know will welcome me again.

  1. Watership Down - Douglas Adams
  2. The Plague Dogs - Douglas Adams
  3. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
  4. Little Men - Louisa May Alcott
  5. Jo's Boys - Louisa May Alcott
  6. Eight Cousins - Louisa May Alcott
  7. Rose in Bloom - Louisa May Alcott
  8. An Old Fashioned Girl - Louisa May Alcott
  9. Ragged Dick - Horatio Alger
  10. Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen
  11. Sense & Sensibility - Jane Austen
  12. Emma - Jane Austen
  13. Persuasion - Jane Austen
  14. Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
  15. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
  16. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  17. Hotel du Lac - Anita Brookner
  18. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
  19. One of Ours - Willa Cather
  20. A Lost Lady - Willa Cather
  21. The Song of the Lark - Willa Cather
  22. The Professor's House - Willa Cather
  23. Alexander's Bridge - Willa Cather
  24. Lucy Gayheart - Willa Cather
  25. Shadows on the Rock - Willa Cather
  26. Five Stories - Willa Cather
  27. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  28. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  29. The Return of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  30. His Last Bow - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  31. The Casebook - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  32. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  33. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  34. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
  35. Out of the Silent Planet - C.S. Lewis
  36. Perelandra - C.S. Lewis
  37. That Hideous Strength - C.S. Lewis
  38. Excellent Women - Barbara Pym
  39. Some Tame Gazelle - Barbara Pym
  40. An Unsuitable Attachment - Barbara Pym
  41. Crampton Hodnet - Barbara Pym
  42. Jane and Prudence - Barbara Pym
  43. Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym
  44. The Sweet Dove Died - Barbara Pym
  45. A Glass of Blessings - Barbara Pym
  46. Less than Angels - Barbara Pym
  47. A Few Green Leaves - Barbara Pym
  48. A Very Private Eye - Barbara Pym
  49. An Academic Question - Barbara Pym
  50. Civil to Strangers - Barbara Pym
  51. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
  52. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
  53. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
  54. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fifty Books in Five Years

Here is the list of fifty books I would like to read in the next five years, specifically by November 3rd, 2020:
  1. The Iliad by Homer, 179 pp., c. 1184 BC
  2. The Odyssey by Homer, 140 pp., c. 1184 BC
  3. "The Book of Job", 28 pp., c. 550 BC
  4. "Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus, 14 pp., c. 480 BC
  5. "Oedipus the King" & "Antigone", c. 441 BC
  6. "Medea", "Electra", "The Orestes", "Andromache" & "Iphigenia Among the Tauri", c. 431 BC
  7. "The Clouds", "The Birds", "The Frogs" & "The Lysistrata" by Aristophanes c. 411 BC
  8. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, 244 pp., c. 400 BC
  9. "The Apology" & "Crito" by Plato, 20 pp., c. 380 BC
  10. The Republic by Plato, 147 pp., c. 360 BC
  11. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, 329 pp., c. 340 BC
  12. The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements by Euclid, 396 pp., c. 300 BC
  13. The Aeneid by Virgil, 379 pp., c. 19 BC
  14. The Lives of the Noble Grecians & Romans by Plutarch, 876 pp., c. 96 AD
  15. The Annals by Tacitus, 188 pp., c. 109 AD
  16. The Confessions by St. Augustine, 128 pp., 398 AD
  17. The Divine Comedy by Dante, 157 pp., 1472 
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, 196 pp., 1475
  19. The Prince by Machiavelli, 38 pp., 1532
  20. Leviathan by Hobbes, 244 pp., 1658
  21. The Essays by Montaigne, 543 pp., 1580
  22. King Henry the Fourth by Shakespeare, 69 pp., 1596
  23. King Lear by Shakespeare, 1608
  24. Macbeth by Shakespeare, 1623
  25. Paradise Lost by Milton, 242 pp.,  1667
  26. Pensees by Pascal, 184 pp., 1670
  27. Concerning Civil Government by Locke, 60 pp., 1689
  28. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by Hume, 58 pp., 1748
  29. The Spirit of Laws by Montesquieu, 322 pp., 1748
  30. The Social Contract by Rousseau, 52 pp., 1762
  31. The Science of Right and The Critique of Pure Reason by Kant, 330 pp., 1781
  32. Faust by Goethe, 294 pp., 1808
  33. Philosophy of Right by Hegel, 152 pp., 1820
  34. The Essays of Emerson, 262 pp., 1841
  35. Madame Bovary by Flaubert, 348 pp., 1856
  36. Barchester Towers by Trollope, 476 pp., 1857
  37. On Liberty by Mill, 60 pp., 1859
  38. Middlemarch by Elliot, 831 pp., 1871
  39. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, 935 pp., 1875
  40. Sons and Lovers by Lawrence, 366 pp., 1913
  41. Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf, 194 pp., 1925
  42. Civilization and Its Discontents by Freud, 40 pp., 1930
  43. My Life and Hard Times by Thurber, 253 pp., 1933
  44. Brave New World by Huxley, 237 pp., 1932
  45. Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, 454 pp., 1939
  46. The Reivers by Faulkner, 305 pp, 1962
  47. The Sea The Sea by Murdock, 495 pp, 1978
  48. Vernon God Little by Pierre, 277 pp., 2003
  49. The Known World by Jones, 388 pp., 2003
  50. The Sea by Banville, 195 pp., 2005