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UnMod.org • View topic - The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

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The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

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SKIN?

ORIGINAL MOTHERFUCK
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CRISPY
9
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ERM I A FAGGOT AND LIKE ROTISSERIE
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Total votes : 17

Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Buttercup on Fri Jan 14, 2011 7:51 pm

pwb, I didn't get through the whole list, but I got as far as East of Eden. Like Ace!, there's a lot I want to recommend, but I'm gonna stick with these:

DUNE.
DUNE.
DUNE.
East of Eden.
DUNE.
The Brothers Grimm.
DUNE.

Seriously, read Dune. I've read that book about a dozen times, it blows my mind every time. And I mean that. That book could quite easily be in the number one spot on my top five favorite books of all time list if I wasn't so scared of committing to a top five favorite books of all time. It's one of the only books I own in hardcover aside from the complete collection of The Brothers Grimm, Arabian Nights, and The Chornicles of Narnia.

Honestly to everyone here, I simply cannot recommend that book enough. Gah! I wanna start reading it right now, just thinking about it! But I promised myself I wouldn't read more than one book at a time right now, because I have a bad habit of not finishing books if I read too many at once.
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Buttercup on Fri Jan 14, 2011 8:30 pm

Also, I joined that site, cause it looked neat. However, it has helped me realize I read far too much sci-fi...
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Ace! on Fri Jan 14, 2011 9:47 pm

Agreed. Neuromancer is really hard to get into, but literally every other Gibson book is great to amazing.

Also, because I don't think anyone's talked about it around these parts for years and because I'm going to start reading it again here soon, House of Leaves.


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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby mobilisq on Fri Jan 14, 2011 10:14 pm

ive recently come into possession of both of vonnegut's collections of short stories, and its wonderful to see where he got his start

unready to wear, from welcome to the monkey house, is the story that got me interested in him in the first place. such peculiar ideas he had always had
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Smasha on Fri Jan 14, 2011 11:38 pm

Some comments for pwb.

For Descartes, don't just stop with the Discourse on Method and the Meditations on First Philosophy. Make sure you also read the "Objections and Replies". And if you want to continue reading modern philosophy or 20th century philosophy, also read his debate with Hobbes.

The Alchemist is beautifully written and hugely compelling. But thematically and morally, it has almost nothing going for it. It is sweet-tasting poison. It is new-age schlock. Spend your time reading something better.

A Brief History of Time is pretty out-of-date. Try one of Hawking's newer books on the same stuff. Or just don't read Hawking at all, since he isn't as clear and elucidating as everyone makes him out to be.

Mythologies is not a good place to start for literary criticism, structuralism, post-structuralism, or narratology. Read other things first. Maybe an anthology of many authors, including articles and selections from books. Such anthologies are typically how literary criticism is taught in universities, at any rate.

Get the latest edition of The Elements of Style, not the one you have listed.

I am of the opinion that a good personal library (or a good humanistic education) requires some works on doing math right, not just doing writing right. Unfortunately there aren't many math books that are suitable for the average person. Try Pólya's How to Solve It, though maybe only parts 2 and 3 will be relevant. You also might want to try Huff's How to Lie With Statistics. But have a quick look at it first to make sure you don't already know everything in it. It is pretty basic.

Don't read Shakespeare unless your edition is annotated by a respected scholar. The best annotated editions are more expensive than the poorly or non-annotated ones. Unless you will be reading online, it might be cheaper to buy the complete works rather than separate books for each play, especially since Shakespeare tends to suck you in, drawing you to read more of him than you anticipated.

Read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man before Ulysses. Also probably Dubliners will be helpful preparation for the challenging Ulysses. And of course you need the Odyssey, which in turn means you need the Iliad.

I've read almost nothing of Tolstoy, but I doubt that Anna Karenina is the best place to start.

Lawrence's short stories are quite highly recommended. The best of them sent me into an impressively deep gloom.

Dune is good, but don't get carried away. I would stop at God Emperor of Dune. Heretics of Dune jumps the shark. Don't touch anything written after Herbert died.

You won't fully appreciate Montaigne's Essays unless you have read some ancient texts, maybe especially Seneca's Moral Letters. I'm reading Montaigne right now, actually. A delight, but one that is really straining my limited knowledge of ancient texts.

Last edited by Smasha on Sat Jan 15, 2011 4:11 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Ace! on Fri Jan 14, 2011 11:58 pm

I think calling The Alchemist new age schlock is a little much. His other stuff, certainly, but the Alchemist is a beautiful little fable and if you want to read anything into it, what can be read is not a bad way to live your life. Chasing your dreams and all that.


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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Smasha on Sat Jan 15, 2011 12:11 am

The book tempts you with wrong beliefs about how nature is organized and shoves you toward a dangerous set of values. This is after you digest it as an allegory, not only before.

If you somehow manage to completely ignore everything about values and nature the book says and suggests and instead focus on whatever else is in the book, the only thing worthwhile you will find is the writing. The language is remarkably powerful, yet understated and graceful. Certainly the plot and characters are nothing special. If you pursue the symbolism you will just end up at the values and cosmology that are so offensive upon reflection.

The book is as bad as The Secret.
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Ace! on Sat Jan 15, 2011 12:49 am

Now I'm curious. Could you elaborate? I read it years ago and loved it for its language and simple storytelling. What in the values that it is teaching is dangerous?


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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Smasha on Sat Jan 15, 2011 3:59 am

This is all off the top of my head.

The biggest problem is in the message repeated several times to the protagonist. If you try to follow your dream, the whole world will help you reach it, even when it doesn't seem like it. This message is very much not true. It isn't true that nature or the world has some agency that will help you out, and nor is it true that the actual agents - people and their societies - will necessarily help you. Worse, the message is insulting, and obscures a much more valuable insight. For a moment, think of all the people who had their lives cut short because they were following their dreams. Think of all those dreamers who, for decades, were oppressed through violence and stigma by people who were aware of the dream and who were directly trying to sabotage it. Think of all those people who try hard to achieve their dreams only to fail due to dumb chance. People and nature will not necessarily reach out to help you. A much more useful spiritual message about dreams is that you should try to reach your dream no matter what, even though you probably won't actually reach it. But this message is obscured by The Alchemist. People get fixated on the bold cosmological claims - nature has an agency and wants to see success from the people who are brave enough to follow their dreams.

Maybe the message about nature helping dreamers is itself an allegory for some other message. The message pointed at by the allegory is that you should pursue your dreams as if the world will help you out. This might obscure less the better message, the message that you should pursue your dreams even though you probably won't achieve them. But still, this allegorical approach cannot be taken. The new message remains insulting to all those people who couldn't realize their dream despite much hope and effort. Worse, it makes the story of The Alchemist irrelevant. What reason do we have for thinking that actual dreamers are anything like the characters in the story, if we reject any cosmic agents willing to help us? What reason do we have for believing we should try to reach our dreams as much as we would if there really was cosmic help for us? There is a good answer to this question, but it isn't found anywhere in The Alchemist.

The second biggest problem is all the superstition. The superstitious characters in the story are always the wise ones, who offer the best advice to the protagonist. Their wisdom and their superstition are presented as being tightly related, as maybe even the same thing. This is far from what the real world is like. While there are lots of wise people who are superstitious, and the relationship between superstition and wisdom might even be causal in an important sense, the average superstitious person is not wise, and looking at the superstitiousness of a person does not provide you with a good way of predicting how wise the person is. The novel glamorizes superstition in a way that is difficult to justify, not even in terms of the need to draw in readers or the need for sensationalism. That is, the glamorization of superstition is hard to justify the same way we do the glamorization of depravity and violence in many books. The superstition isn't just colour to keep us interested in the story; it is part and parcel of what the book is trying to say to us.

The protagonist is on a quest for treasure he thinks is at the pyramids. Despite what he thought for most of the story, the treasure isn't there. At the pyramids, the protagonist gets robbed by some guys. One of the robbers reveals he had a dream about a treasure buried in a specific place in a faraway land, which the protagonist recognizes as the very place he used to tend sheep. The implication is that if the robber followed his dream, he would have got the treasure, but since he did not, the dream and treasure was made available to the protagonist instead. This suggests one or more startlingly immoral beliefs and values. First, dream-following is a zero-sum game, or is at least competitive. You only win your dream because someone else lost his or hers; if you win a dream, there is one less available for other people to win. Second, people who don't follow their dreams are violent and immoral - in this case resorting to robbing.

The protagonist seeks a treasure of gold, strangely materialistic for a text that is supposed to offer spiritual insight. The gold is perhaps meant allegorically. The use of valuable metals as a stand-in for spiritual insight goes way back; it is in Plato's Phaedo and Republic, for instance. But it isn't really clear what spiritual insight the gold stands in place for, or why gold is the best stand-in for it. Keep in mind that the gold remains the dream of the protagonist even after he learns how to call on nature to help him, and how to magically communicate with his love over huge distances. Many readers will be left with an incomplete message, or an incorrect message: "whatever it is you desire, be it materialistic or shallow, this book will help you get it." But spiritual insight needs to go deeper than that. It cannot bottom out on a way of achieving riches or fame or whatever. In spiritual insight, you are supposed to transcend your old desires. You are supposed to scrutinize them, not take them for granted. What you desire matters, not just what spiritual tools you have gained in order to reach what you desire.

A big, though maybe idiosyncratic, reason I have for discouraging people from reading The Alchemist is that its suggestion that meaning is found everywhere and that seeming-coincidences are actually fated encourages people to think in a way that, on a whole, our society does to excess. We need to learn to accept coincidence, or we will be prone to exploitation by people who provide false but convenient answers. Some people seek so hard for meaning they get hung up on questions with no answers or ruminate excessively, and this sort of thing can lead to psychopathology. Some people reject natural science since they don't want to part with all their friends in nature, the anima. Many problems are only solved by going to the small-picture, by forsaking questions of how the world as a whole works or how things are connected, and instead by focusing on context-less details.
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Ace! on Sat Jan 15, 2011 9:56 pm

That's an interesting perspective. I've felt that way about Cohelo's other work that I've read, that it's very much focused on relaying a message about his spiritual beliefs, how he achieved his dreams by doing things a certain way, but I didn't see that in the Alchemist until now.

Even so, I don't see the Alchemist as a book that's trying to tell you how to live your life, although the allegory can be there if you want it to be, and it is easy to argue that Cohelo wrote the book to push his cosmology. But there are some little, strong details that make the Alchemist stand out in my memory as a book that I want to share (it's been about eight years since I read it, so much of what I'm remembering may be flawed and/or based on what you just said about it).

Regarding the actual quest the shepherd goes on: He leaves his flock to follow his dream, to search for treasure. In the end, he reaches the pyramids only to learn that the treasure he sought was back where he started. What I took away from this was that sometimes the treasure you think you're searching for is right under your nose. But that didn't invalidate his journey. He made the trek, saw the world, met interesting characters and then returned home a changed man. He followed his dreams and it led him where he really wanted to go.

Thinking about dreams as a zero-sum game is interesting, but the robber didn't become a robber because he didn't follow his dream, but didn't follow his dream in favor of becoming a robber. The implication being that temptation leads people astray, which is an old religious idea. But in this case, becoming a robber made him lose his dream, which is true for many not as obvious as "robber", but unhappy, certainly. There are countless stories of people stuck in terrible situations that never get out because they don't dream or aren't allowed to.

I don't remember seeing anything about nature's agency, nothing like The Secret, the idea that if you want something badly enough it'll magically happen. I remember a story about a good person on a (perhaps) selfish quest who succeeds because he's tenacious and because he's a good person, which is true of any fable of a person on a quest. Many classic European fairy tales are about a good person who loses everything and, luckily, finds a mystical creature/person who assists him on his quest. There are hundreds of stories that have magical combs that create forests or rivers, seeds that immediately create thorn bushes, magic spells, genie's wishes, secret names, all gifts that were granted to the protagonists out of sheer, dumb luck.

That's nothing new, and to suggest that a book is "dangerous" because it too tells a story about dreamers and dreams is a little... unfair (although frankly, to call any book dangerous is unfair). I have passed this book along to many people because it is beautifully written and tells a wonderful fable. I don't remember taking anything away from it except that. Now, if people take more than that from it, that's up to them and their cognitive abilities.

As for things like The Secret, I had a lot of Brazillian students who bought into that whole hog, who read it, passed it around and talked about how it changed their lives. It made me sad for the reasons you mentioned, but there are people who need something, anything to believe in and who am I to tell them that they're being stupid?

I won't recommend The Secret (for example), because it's poorly written, dull and purposeless. I love the Old Testament because it's beautifully written and tells incredible stories. I don't think Moses actually split a sea in two or that sacrificing a sheep if I have sex with a menstruating woman is important in order to stay clean. But I love the stories and the meaning that they possess. Many are allegorical and do impart important messages about life and living, but I don't follow it like it's the law.


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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Smasha on Sun Jan 16, 2011 1:29 am

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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Ace! on Sun Jan 16, 2011 3:32 am

I'm also sorry if I implied that you were dealing solely in black and whites. I know that you're not a close minded individual and that your disdain for this book means that you feel the same about anything dealing with dreams and following them. I'm sorry if I gave that impression.

I'm curious to know why you think books can be dangerous. Like ideas are dangerous, therefore books containing ideas are as well? I agree that we should warn people away from books, but only based on our opinion of the book, not unlike what we do here. If I think a book is terrible, I say as much, but I can't think of a book I've read in recent memory (or ever, in retrospect, through the lens of maturity) that I would say is actually dangerous.


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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Buttercup on Sun Jan 16, 2011 3:35 am

I haven't read the book that is being discussed, but I do want to put my two cents in.

Labeling anything other than actual physical hazards dangerous is highly subjective. Specifically books being labeled dangerous disturbs me. Books are nothing more than ideas, thoughts, intangible things that are as much the creation of the reader as they are the writer. I feel books that challenge the manner in which we live our lives, or even frighten us to think others believe these things, are necessary. Without these kinds of challenges, communities can be easily coddled into complacency and eventually complicity. It's also a very slippery slope from naming things as dangerous to eventually censoring those things; censorship is often, if not always, carried out in the name of protection.

Ideas themselves aren't dangerous, it's people and their actions that are dangerous. To warn people from reading certain books you disagree with is equivalent to saying "I know what's best for you, and these thoughts will cause you harm." Clearly you have read this book and survived, others should be permitted to make their own assessments.
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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby Ace! on Sun Jan 16, 2011 3:39 am

Well, that is basically what he said. Warn others away, but don't tell them what they can and can't read. It's the dangerous label that I don't exactly agree with or understand. And, even with a compelling case, I would agree that dangerous books are important, not only to have access to, but to read.


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Re: The Official Book Thread (AWESOMY BOOK CLUB ALERT)

Postby leokef on Sun Jan 16, 2011 11:51 am

Jeez, I thought about reading The Alchemist once but now I'm positively scared of it.
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