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Read The Books You Should Have Already Read

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Re: Read The Books You Should Have Already Read


Post by Leopardi » September 3rd, 2019, 12:01 am

I finished Working and, once again, Studs Terkel hits one out of the park with a fascinating dive into how people across a broad spectrum of the working world feel about their jobs. It was compiled at a very interesting time, the early 70s: Women were moving into the workforce in greater numbers, racial integration was (often slowly and grudgingly) taking effect, and jobs were just beginning to disappear in noticeable numbers (in some industries) during the infancy of robotics. The interviews are candid and insightful, and it's astounding how easy it is to become invested in a person over just a couple of pages; a few times I went so far as to google the names of the interviewees to see if I could find out more about them. There are often multiple perspectives from different people in the same industry, same company, same assembly line. We're treated to a wide variety of American jobs: We hear about the grueling life of miners and sharecroppers. We hear from a retired president of a conglomerate, a yacht salesman. We hear from a few names known in cinematic circles (Rip Torn and Pauline Kael), three paperboys, two telephone operators, a piano tuner and a bathroom attendant. And I found them all fascinating, every one of them.

Terkel is a master of the oral history, and this book will (or should) give a deeper respect for the countless jobs you'll never have firsthand experience with, and may never have given a second thought about. It will probably be the best book I'll have read this year, and comes with my highest recommendation. Looking forward to picking up more from him when I have an opportunity.

I'll choose Voices of Victorian London: In Sickness and in Health for myself next, keeping to the theme of working class life in 19th/20th century Britain and America.
1. Connections (James Burke). "In this highly acclaimed and bestselling book, James Burke brilliantly examines the ideas, inventions and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological advances of today. With dazzling insight, he untangles the pattern of interconnecting events: the accidents of time, circumstance, and place that gave rise to the major inventions of the world." (from the back of the book). I loved the television miniseries way back when, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick this book up.

2. The Last of the Wild Rivers (Wallace A. Schaber) A book devoted entirely to the Du Moine watershed, the last of the ten major Quebec tributaries of the Ottawa River to resist hydro and mining development as well as colonization, according to the back of the book. Some local history for a waterway that's about a five minute walk from where I live (the Ottawa River, that is, not the Du Moine).

3. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (Mary Roach) A lighthearted look at what we know about death and the afterlife from a scientific (and pseudo-scientific) perspective. From the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

4. Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns) In 1903 there were only 150 miles of paved roads in the entire nation and most people had never seen a “horseless buggy”—but that did not stop Horatio Nelson Jackson, a thirty-one-year-old Vermont doctor, who impulsively bet fifty dollars that he could drive his 20-horsepower automobile from San Francisco to New York City. Here—in Jackson’s own words and photographs—is a glorious account of that months-long, problem-beset, thrilling-to-the-rattled-bones trip with his mechanic, Sewall Crocker, and a bulldog named Bud. (from book jacket). I loved the documentary and this has been sitting on my shelf for almost 15 years, I bet, so it's due to be read.

5. The Printer's Devil (Bill Fairbairn) "Bill Fairbairn started as a printer's devil in Scotland setting up newspaper headlines by hand 60 years ago. His vagabond reporter years in three continents followed in quick pursuit. This tale outlines some of the people and events he encountered in Canada working for newspapers, radio and magazine." I met this fellow at a book fair a few years ago and picked up his book since he (and it) sounded interesting. Time to give it a try!

6. George & Rue (George Elliott Clarke) "A masterful blend of fiction and reality from one of Canada's most daring and original writers", Clarke takes us to the ghettos of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and paints a miserable and suffocating portrait of mid-century Africadian life. Mr. Clarke was Canada's former Poet Laureate, a winner of the Governor General's Award for poetry, and has been at the Ottawa Antiquarian Book Fair the last two years. He seems to have a friendly and dynamic personality and I'd like to read this, his first novel, before I speak to him at next year's fair (if he's there, and if I can build up the courage to).

7. Nonlinear Fiber Optics (Govind P. Agrawal) This title belongs on the list perhaps more than any other. It's considered the Bible of modern fiber optics (one of them, anyway), which is the field in which I work, so I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read it yet, even though it's been sitting on my shelf for years now.

8. Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Norman Davies) "Europe's history is littered with kingdoms, duchies, empires and republics which have now disappeared but which were once fixtures on the map of their age. What happened to the once-great Mediterranean 'Empire of Aragon'? Where did the half-forgotten kingdoms of Burgundy go?...This original and enthralling book peers through the cracks of history to discover the stories of lost realms across the centuries." (from the back of the Penguin edition)

9. Restoration London: Everyday Life in the 1660s (Liza Picard) "Making use of every possible contemporary source diaries, memoirs, advice books, government papers, almanacs, even the Register of Patents Liza Picard presents a picture of how life in London was really lived in the 1600s: the houses and streets, gardens and parks, cooking, clothes and jewellery, cosmetics, hairdressing, housework, laundry and shopping, medicine and dentistry, sex, education, hobbies, etiquette, law and crime, religion and popular beliefs." (from Goodreads)

10. Dr. Johnson's Lichfield (Mary Alden Hopkins) "A portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson, focusing on his life before the publication of Boswell's Life of Johnson, in his home town of Lichfield. Several historic figures, including James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, as well as Richard and his daughter Maria Edgeworth, are also featured." (from Goodreads)

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Post by sebby » September 10th, 2019, 11:17 am

Spook for Leopardi, if only bc I've heard Mary Roach on so many podcasts and interviews over the years. Her PR team is fantastic. Maybe her writing is as well.

I gave Why We Sleep the ol college try but couldn't finish it. I found it too tedious fact-checking and seeing what kind of cherry-picking was going on and at some point I realized I didn't find the underlying premise interesting enough to continue on. I've given up on more books this year than in any other. By quite a margin. Not a banner year so far.

01 the sportswriter / r ford
02 the largesse of the sea maiden / d johnson
03 otis redding: an unfinished life / j gould
04 goodbye stranger / r stead
05 liar and spy / r stead
06 american pastoral / roth
07 deep water / p highsmith
08 empire of deception / d jobb

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Post by Leopardi » September 15th, 2019, 2:58 pm

I've finished Voices of Victorian London: In Sickness and in Health, a work similar to Terkel's Working in that it focuses in large part on the working life of poor, but colder and somehow smacking of exploitation a bit (I don't think this was Mayhew's intent, mind you, more the editing job of this digest version). It sells books but I, personally, didn't come away feeling a connection to the interviewees, just a relief that I wasn't born in Victorian London under their circumstances. An interesting read, definitely, and it made me want to get my hands on Mayhew's original, much larger work, London Labour and the London Poor, which I think and hope will cleave to Terkel's spirit in a way this book didn't quite.

Sebby, I'll choose American Pastoral for you. I haven't read anything by Roth but the book does look interesting enough. Here's my list:

1. What's Bred in the Bone (Robertson Davies, 1985). The second novel in Davies' celebrated Cornish Trilogy, this series, and Davies' writing in general, so affected my sister that she actually got a tattoo of the title quote some years ago. Shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize.

2. Mysteries (Knut Hamsun, 1892). "Mysteries is the story of Johan Nilsen Nagel, a mysteries stranger who suddenly turns up in a small Norwegian town one summer - and just as suddenly disappears. Nagel is a complete outsider, a sort of modern Christ treated as a spirit of near tragedy...But there is a sinister side of him: in his vest he carries a vial of prussic acid..." (Penguin Classics description). A much-lauded work by one of the creators of the modern novel.

3. Count Roderic's Castle (Anonymous, 1794). "With a fast-paced plot that features many of the elements for which the Gothic novel is known--brave heroes and detestable villains, ancient castles, dark dungeons, and a vengeful spectre--Count Roderic's Castle (1794) was one of the most popular of the early Gothic novels issued by the famous Minerva Press." (From the book jacket of the Valancourt edition)

4. The Landslide (Stephen Gilbert, 1943). "Will my poor book ever be read by anyone? It is about a dragon and a sea serpent, and a kind of prehistoric dog and an old man and a boy and a priest. I sent it to a publisher last July and it has been lost ever since. I know it is good...It is unlike any story that has ever been written before." (from the back of the Valancourt edition). An early work by the author of Ratman's Notebooks (the book on which the film Willard was based)

5. A Traveler at Forty (Theodore Dreiser, 1913). "[A Traveler at Forty contains] the pregnant observations of an old hand at looking, the sharp remarks and annotations of the creator of Hurstwood, Cowperwood and Pete Gerhardt. The book rises completely out of the commonplace, and becomes something new, illuminating and heretical." (H. L. Mencken) One of my favourite writers offers one of my favourite literary sub-genres, the travel book. This will be more than 900 pages of pure gold, I have no doubt.

6. The Mysteries of London (George W. M. Reynolds, 1844-1848). "The government feared him. Rival authors like Charles Dickens, whom he outsold, despised him. The literary establishment did its best to write him out of literary history. But when George W.M. Reynolds, journalist, political reformer, Socialist, and novelist, died in 1879, even his critics were forced to acknowledge the truth of his obituary, which declared that he was the most popular writer of his time....The Mysteries of London is a sprawling tableau, seeking to depict life as Reynolds saw it in mid-Victorian London and expose what he viewed as gross injustice toward the poor." (from the back of the Valancourt edition). A massive tome (volumes I and II together are more than 2300 pages), and an astounding literary tour de force from publisher Valancourt Books.

7. The Discourses (Niccolò Machiavelli, 1513). "In this book Machiavelli enshrines his most complete political treatment: his fundamental attachment to republics...For a political republic, he says, is liberty's best bastion, if only its people maintain their civic virtue." (From the back of the Penguin edition).

8. On the Eve (Ivan Turgenev, 1859). "A love story with a tragic ending, On the Eve (1859) portrays the everyday life and scenery of a Russian country estate with the consummate descriptive gift for which its author had already become famous. Much of the novel's pleasure lies in its humorous sketches of the gentry; and its sadness, in Turgenev's fluid and exquisite sense of love's emotional weather." (from the back of the Penguin edition).

9. The Letters of George Gissing to Eduard Bertz 1887-1903 (George Gissing, 1887-1903). "Collection of 189 letters and post card to his German friend Eduard Bertz which provide a record of a part of Gissing's strange life about which there has been speculation and doubt, because they reflect his personality and give a clear picture of how he developed the ideas for his books, how he wrote them and how he was treated by the publishers of the day." (from YesterYear Books). I'm a big fan of The Nether World, one of Gissing's early works that Bertz no doubt influenced, so I'm eager for an inside look into their friendship.

10. A Child's History of England (Charles Dickens, 1851-1853). "The historian as optimist – but not so much for his subject as for its recipients. Fed up with the way British history was presented to children in the mid-nineteenth century, and well-acquainted with the theories of Mr Gradgrind (still with us), Dickens determined upon doing the job ‘for his own dear children’ all by himself." (from Books For Keeps) "Dickens confessed that he was composing the book so that he could prevent his children from embracing 'any conservative or High Church notions.'" (from Wikipedia)

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