Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What I've Been Reading

I get asked pretty frequently about what I've been reading. I'd like to think this because everybody thinks me to be really well-read, and always seeking to better myself verbally & intellectually. But, the truth is, everybody knows I'm unemployed, and you can only spend so much of your day pouring over Careerbuilder and forging reference letters. Anyway, I've gotten into a really bad habit lately of starting too many books. I have them planted all over the apartment. One in each of the two bathrooms, one next to the bed, a couple on my desk, and one somewhere within groping distance of the couch.

In the upstairs bathroom, I have a copy of Cormac McCarthy's Suttree. Unfortunately, I only ever use the upstairs bathroom to shower and pee. So, I've only gotten through the italicized meditation that takes up three pages. So, no review to offer. In the downstairs bathroom, I generally keep Thomas Pynchon's massive, 1,100-page Against the Day. I'm about halfway through it, and I'm still really liking it. It's definitely not for everybody, so I can't say everybody should dive in. For me, though, I find that I love to sit and read the prose out loud. I've yet to find a dull section, even with the ever-shifting narrative and writing styles. My IM away message is even from it: "It was the U.S.A., after all, and fear was in the air."

On my desk are two books, one I've just finished and the other I've just started. On Monday I finished reading George Monbiot's Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning. I can't recommend this book enough. A very quick read, Monbiot approaches the issue of climate change from a British perspective. Which is to say, he approaches it from a perspective that is a) unafraid of science and b) isn't committed to finding minority voices in the scientific community to call into question generally established findings, contrarian voices who happen to be heavily funded by the likes of Exxon. Monbiot, more or less, in short, takes it as a scientific given that our carbon emissions have the potential to kill a lot of people due to rising temperatures. Instead of making the argument that there is a problem, he describes the actual problem itself. That is, by 2030 the world's temperature will likely have risen 2.3 degrees (celcius) above pre-industrial levels (1.4 degrees above what it is now) -- which is the point at which really bad shit will probably start happening ... granted, mostly to people who are already poor and/or already neglected. This last part kind of gets in the way of his call to arms against global warming: a 90% decrease in Britain's carbon emissions by 2030. He very capably shows how this might be possible, but in the end concedes that the political & psychological obstacles actually to do so are enormous. (This is even more true for the U.S., where a 97% decrease would be necessary.) BUT, in spite of this, it's a really great book. Monbiot offers an enthusiasm and fresh perspective to things, and his cynicism is always tempered by, not really hope, but a willingness to show that there is another way even if we don't take it.

The other book on my desk, which I've only just started, is Philip Goodchild's Theology of Money. For me, Goodchild is one of the best thinkers out there right now. This is a really difficult, often very technical book. But, I think it can be translated, and at some point I hope to do so here. From what I gather, about fifty or so pages in, he is looking at money as the force by which we order and identify our individual lives and our political/governmental entities. Money is not just something that resides in your wallet, or in your bank account -- it is the mediating element of what passes for reality. To change ourselves or our collective will, we have first to identify how money does this. Only then is an alternative even thinkable.

Next to my bed is Donald Barthelme's disturbing book, The Dead Father. I'm only about ten pages from finishing this short book, but I've not really read in bed for a while. Fortunately, it is remarkably easy to jump in at any point, and know exactly what is going on. The title says it all. The father -- God, authority, creator -- is dead, kind of. The process of getting rid of the dead father, however, is a bit more difficult.

And in the living room, Gary Giddins' Visions of Jazz. Basically just a collection of Giddins' essays and reviews about the classic jazz greats, from as far back as the '20s, to more brief discussions of contemporary acts in the early '90s, this book is a nice one to read when I get a chance to load whatever new CD I've discovered, and just get into the vibe of things. I learn something new each time I flip through it.