Lockdown survival guide 5: reading material

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Part 1          Part 2          Part 3         Part 4

It’s come to this: people are looking for books to read.

This is my second collection of random, short book reviews.  The first can be found here.

These are books that I liked, but didn’t have enough to say about to justify a whole review post about them.  Hope you find something enticing.

Poor Folk, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is the first novel by Dos.  It is a series of letters between two poor people, each struggling in their own way, and not only with a lack of money.  He loved writing about simps before it was cool.  Obviously this is not as accomplished as his more mature works, but even Dostoevsky’s least important works are far better that most books you could read.

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

I first heard about this book when reading Intellectuals.  Dashie hated writing, but managed to spit out one of the greatest detective novels nonetheless.  He then stopped writing and became an alcoholic full-time after tethering his wagon to Lillian Hellman.  She seemed to inherit his writing powers, perhaps through his advice, while his own motivation ebbed away with the arrival of enough royalties to keep himself royally sloshed.

If you like detective novels, you really should have read this one by now.  If you don’t like detective novels, and only plan to read one more in your life, make this the one.  I’m in the latter category and found it highly entertaining.

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The History of Rassellas, Prince of Abyssinia, by Samuel Johnson

Written in the 1700s, this book’s tone is remarkably modern.  Sam imagines life in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), which was pretty much unknown to Europe at that time, except that it existed and was rumoured, correctly, to be a long-lost outpost of Christendom.

In this imaginary world, the princes are kept in the ‘Happy Valley’, a place of perfection, and are not allowed to leave unless they are called upon to be King.  The servants and entertainers also must remain once they’ve elected to move there.  They are also not allowed to speak of the outside world except to say that it is terrible.

Life in the Happy Valley is full of delicious food, beautiful gardens, wonderful music, and every delight known to Man.  However, all the servants who have known life outside, after a long honeymoon period, eventually long to escape.

The Prince and his sister, overcome by curiousity, manage to escape by ingenious means and make their way to Cairo, then the world’s cosmopolitan capital.  They try out various modes of life in order to achieve happiness.

It is interesting that at this time, as Europe was emerging from centuries of bitter poverty, thinkers had the time and inclination to actually consider happiness.  Prior to that, as in Boethius’ Wheel of Fortune, Stoic toleration was the best they could hope for.

Run Guts Pull Cones, by Adam Piggot

The sequel to Pushing Rubber Downhill, this is a continuation of Adam’s adventures as a globe-trotting, cone-smoking, ho-poking, booze-choking, river guide.  This time he’s in Italy, battling dodgy owners, low water levels, fat customers, and his own poor fashion sense.  If you enjoyed the first installment, you’ll like this one just as much.

For those looking for an entertaining, contemporary read to keep them going over our unexpected break, this and Maltese Falcon would be your best bets.

The Daughter of the Commandant, by Alexander Pushkin

If you’d like to read something by Russia’s most celebrated writer, start with this work.  Pushkin has a brilliant sense of how to put a story together, how to build the tension, and how to reward the reader.  It’s fairly short, but highly entertaining.  It’s so old you can find it for a buck as an e-book.

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The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

This genre is called ‘romantic realism’ or something like that.  It is a romance, but written by a red pill man who sees things as they are, and is not afraid to say it.

Julien is born poor, but would do anything to improve his lot – and he does.  He takes his love affairs with classy women as proof of his ascension.  However, it all falls apart in the end.  This sounds like exactly the sort of novel I would have no interest in, but I found it engaging and, at times, touching.  Stendhal is a master storyteller, making us sympathize with the protagonist no matter what awful thing he does.  Kind of like Zuckersperg in The Social Network.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

If you’re looking for something to really keep you going a long time, if you’ve lost your job or something, this and The Red and the Black would be your most suitable options.

Tolstoy was a soldier himself, so his battle scenes are highly detailed and accurate.  You can almost hear the shells falling, feel the excitement and terror.  This is interspersed with Jane Austin-style social melodrama.  Tolstoy is a bit of a self-important waffler.  When he goes on about his theory of history, flick freely.

I’ve now read his two Big Novels – this and Anna Karenina, and cannot understand why he’s considered one of Russia’s great writers.  Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky – yes!  Tolstoy – meh.  For me, he doesn’t rise much above entertainment plus a history lesson about long-ago battles.

Candide, by Voltaire

These days, ‘social criticism’ has a bad reputation with the kind of readers I have, mostly because it is conducted in bad faith.  However, Voltaire is exactly the sort of critic and troublemaker that a healthy society like 1700s Europe desperately needed.  He pokes fun at whoever needs poking, and here he gives a serve to all sorts of ne’er-do-wells.

The story gives us an insight into European life just before they began to dominate the world, and are still being terrorized by the Ottoman Empire.  Highly entertaining.  He was the Paul Joseph Watson of his time.  If you enjoy it, you might want to get his collected works and read more.

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That’s it, kids.  Remember: don’t check the news or your finances all day.  That will drive you nuts.  Just check the headlines in the morning to see the latest, then find something else to do.  If you need to read, read a book.

Oh, that I could follow this advice myself.  I can’t help checking to see what’s going on.  My area’s just been put under ‘enhanced community quarantine’, which means that if Duterte catches you out and about he’s gunna shoot you.  No more walks on the beach.  I’ve followed my own suggestion from Part 1 and put together a very strict routine for each day.  Hopefully I’ll get some serious work done over the next two or however many weeks.

I wish I could spruik my own book, but there’s always one more thing to do.  Right now I’m finalizing the cover, getting it proof-read, and figuring out how to enter bank details on Amazon that will work (I’m with a small bank that uses an intermediary, can’t just get another bank account because I’m stuck here).

I have no idea whether the current restrictions are worthwhile or not.  I’m not qualified to answer that.  In any case, if I reached the negative conclusion, what would I do?  Whether you’re right or wrong in this increasingly bitter online argument, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is keeping fit and staying sane.  Reading was a brilliant distraction during my troubled time in Africa.

Read ye books while ye may.

 

3 comments

  1. luisman · April 4, 2020

    Reblogged this on Nicht-Linke Blogs.

    Like

  2. dickycone · April 4, 2020

    Russians I talk to are almost always surprised and bewildered at how popular Dostoevsky is among Americans who still read books. They find him too dark and favor Tolstoy, and I can’t recall encountering any exceptions to this opinion among them. It surprised me at first because although I like Tolstoy more than you, I also find Dostoevsky far more interesting. My guess is that Dostoevsky taps into some kind of inherent despair in the Russian soul that got magnified by all the disasters they suffered through in the 20th century and now hits home too much for comfort.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Lockdown survival guide 6: entertainment | SovietMen

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