Archive for the 'non-fiction' Category

Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin

Friday, June 6th, 2008

“…so far as you prefer those rapid and ephemeral writings to slow and enduring writings — books, properly so called. For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction — it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time. I must define the two kinds before I go farther.”

Sesame and Lilies
by John Ruskin

Sesame and Lilies is a collection of lectures by Ruskin that I’ve just added to my to-buy list. I found a promising edition by Yale University Press (ISBN: 9780300092608) that includes a number of essays commenting on various aspects of the text.

Here’s a good general introduction to John Ruskin and here’s the extensive section on him at the Victorian Web.

If you find yourself in the Lake District, you might want to visit Brantwood, the house where he lived for the last 30 years of his life. (Then again, you might not. It’s entirely up to you. I’ve never been, so I can’t vouch for it.) Also in Coniston in Cumbria, is a Ruskin Museum whose website has some information about a startlingly direct method of contraception for sheep — with photos! These are, of course, the famous Lake District sheep known as Herdwicks.

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Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading by Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Hearty recommendation of the day:

“Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading”
by Ursula K. Le Guin
published: February 2008 in Harper’s Magazine

… but the tone of the AP piece was remarkable for its complacency. Quoting a project manager for a telecommunications company in Dallas who said, “I just get sleepy when I read,” the AP correspondent, Alan Fram, commented, “a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify.”

Self-satisfaction with the inability to remain conscious when faced with printed matter seems questionable. But I also want to question the assumption—whether gloomy or faintly gloating—that books are on the way out. I think they’re here to stay. It’s just that not all that many people ever did read them. Why should we think everybody ought to now?

A very interesting and thoughtful response to the whole furor that erupted over the NEA’s “Reading at Risk” survey.

As well, there is a little of the history of literacy, the “social function of literature” (delightfully illustrated by that favorite anecdote of Dickens’s “Little Nell”) and the fact the reading requires effort. It is also very informative on the subject of the state of the book publishing industry today: the tragedy of neglected and abandoned backlist titles, the scourge of multimillion dollar advances, the treating of books as though they were commodities.

You have to be a subscriber to access it online, or you could (gasp) get you hands on a paper copy at your local magazine seller or library. Thanks to So Many Books for mentioning the article’s existence.

Happy reading!

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The Onion

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Here’s an interesting article that talks about why The Onion is a much needed newspaper.

One of my favorite things about it (other than the fact that it can be funny as hell) is that it’s usually more true than most real news sources. “Despite its ‘fake news’ purview, its an extremely honest publication” as the above mentioned article says. Everyone is so almighty terrified of offending that serious events are watered down, glossed over and neutralized or just not mentioned, while celebrities are hyped into the stratosphere. Offhand, I can only think of the name of one honest, knowledgeable and unafraid-to-pull-punches newspaper reporter: Robert Fisk. That’s crazy.

It’s not easy writing edgy humor. And when nothing is sacred, I think eventually pretty much everyone who feels strongly about something is going to be offended sooner or later. But that’s okay. What I do have a problem with are the undercurrents of misogyny. My theory is that whenever the right is in power, misogyny comes back. It certainly seems scattered about everywhere in a way that it wasn’t ten years ago. The strange thing is that it’s across the board politically: left and right.

And The Onion does seem to get a little too “college frat boy” in its humour sometimes. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of insight into the human condition there too.


The Rash Adventurer by Imogen Grundon

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

I haven’t read this! I’ve just run across an intriguing review and added it to my list. (How will I wait a whole year for the paperback??)

How could I never have heard of John Pendlebury? He sounds magnificent. And he was in charge of excavations at Tell el-Amarna (Akhenaten’s city!).

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