100 PHI Socrates Café

I took a single philosophy course over the entirety of my education: It was a basic 101 class and the only reading that I recall were The Republic by Plato and Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes. The latter has left a nagging hole in my conception of the universe that continues to linger. I was fine with the whole process of tearing down step by step what we can’t know, but I felt (and still feel), that the leap from knowing nothing to knowing that there is an actual existence was not convincingly argued.

Still, my education (both formal and informal) has touched on the philosophical along the way and coming at this book was a way to greatly refresh the idea of philosophy to me. Phillips views the philosophical project as being essentially Socratic in nature, always being willing to question any assumption that we make. This can, like in the case of Descartes, leave us with nothing if we keep digging in the same direction for too long, but in the situations that Phillips describes, where he describes discussions taking place mostly in coffee shops and elementary schools, can illuminate the questions in helpful ways.

I did spend a lot of time wondering how Phillips was able to do things like pay rent and buy food given that he does these events for free. At one point in talking about “ivory-tower philosophers” he seemed as if he was going to address this question, but instead ducked it entirely, taking the easy way out. I still wonder about how he supports himself.

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Beautiful sentences

Jack glanced up at her blandly, not quite smiling, touching his fingertips together as if there were no such thing in the world as a hint.

Marilynne Robinson, Home.

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Beautiful sentences

I didn’t want to go home. My wife was different than she used to be, and we had a six-month-old baby I was afraid of, a little son.

Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son

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Beautiful sentences

When the pie was done and the roast was in the oven and the biscuits were made and set aside and the old man had nodded off in the warmth of the kitchen, Jack went upstairs and Glory sat down to read for a while.

Marilynne Robinson, Home

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098.3 KAT Literary Hoaxes: An Eye Opening History of Famous Frauds

This seems like it should be a fascinating area to write about: From the fabricated Shakespeare documents that took in Charles and Mary Lamb in the 19th century to James Frey’s “memoir” in the twenty-first century, there’s a lot to write about. As it turns out, though, most of the stories aren’t that interesting. JT Leroy’s story is interesting to read, but despite his fame, James Frey turns out to be not that interesting. Clifford Irving’s Howard Hughes memoir hoax was another interesting story, although better told by Irving himself in The Hoax, later made into a film with Richard Gere. Overall, the book could have been better executed had Katsoulis been more selective in what she chose to include.

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081 REQ Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed and Found Items from around the World

Found magazine is one of those concepts that I wish I’d come up with: publishing the strange and unusual artifacts that end up as the detritus of civilized life. In this case, Rothbart, the editor of Found canvassed assorted celebrities and civilians (as near as I can tell, this designation is for those people who are well-known writers who don’t quite rise to celebrity status) for their best stories of found objects. In a few cases, the responses are fiction (or even poetry). In a couple instances, one piece responds directly to another which left me wondering how exactly the compilation process worked, particularly with those responses (did the authors of those pieces say, “what else have you got? I’m stumped”). 

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2014 in reading

I set out this year to make my reading a bit more diverse. I fell a tad short of my goal for women writers making only 39.6% when I was aiming for 40% but had 13.5% non-white. I ended up choosing my next book to read 10.8% of the time in pursuit of these numbers. I had 9.9% of my reading written by dead white men and 30.1% by non-US authors.

69.8% of the books I read were by authors new to me, and I’ve met 10.8% of the authors of the books I’ve read. 60.8% was fiction and 5.9% was poetry. 3.9% was in translation and 1% was in Spanish.

And now, my top books of the year:

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Great short stories by a master of the form. 

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim
Magical realism and brutal realism in contemporary Iraq 

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford 
I read this in college 25 years ago, coming back to it, I still love it. 

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
A great account of a mystical experience. 

The Instructions by Adam Levin
A work of pure genius. Once I finished, I went back to page one to read it again. 

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
A lyrical tribute to libraries of all kind. 

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong
An alternate version of the Superman story done brilliantly. 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A great investigation of identity and deception, 

The Year of What Now: Poems by Brian Russell
A beautiful depiction of painful experience through poetry, even more impressive in that it’s fiction!

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2014 in rejections (and acceptances)

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2014 apparently ended up being the year that I got the most pieces out thusfar (although the general trend has been upwards). My personal rejection rate is up to 25% from 20%, a new record and this year’s acceptance rate came out at 3.1% (three acceptances versus 93 rejections). 

My plan for 2015: Finish draft 11 of the novel, get another story sold, do one last revision of the novel and then queries.

070.92 THO Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Some time after college, I realized that drunk and stoned people were not all that fun or interesting to be around. This, in the end is the big problem with Hunter S. Thompson’s book. On the flip side, the narrative voice here is so compelling that it’s hard not to read on. The second part of the book, where Duke and Gonzo are covering the National District Attorney’s conference, is by far the stronger part of the book, with some genuinely entertaining commentary on how the “straights” viewed the drug culture.

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051 GRO The Receptionist

When the current craze for memoirs struck, I kept finding myself wondering who these people were and why we should care about their lives? It seemed to me that having done something notable with one’s life was a prerequisite for a memoir being worth writing, let alone being read.

Janet Groth falls on the edge of this classification in my mind. Her life seems to be largely notable because she’s lived her life on the margins of the lives of other notable people. In particular, she happened to work at The New Yorker in the midst of the William Shawn era, which to my mind, was when the best writing was published in the magazine (please don’t get me started on the Tina Brown period which is when I stopped reading the magazine).

Being on the margins means Groth’s own story is marginal. At times she’s wonderfully informative, for example, when writing about her experiences freelancing for Muriel Spark (who is inexplicably identified by the jacket copy as a playwright). At times she is a bit gossipy and some of her attempts at disguising the identities of the people she writes about are laughable in their failure.

There’s almost a good book here, but I feel like for that to happen, it would have needed to have less Groth and more of her environment in the telling.

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