Archive for the ‘Reading and Writing’ Category

“To be hopeful in bad times is not being foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of competition and cruelty but of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.” – Howard Zinn

So much promise and hope, and yet so much, still, of all the worst of us. That is, though, the stuff activism is made of, I suppose. While so much is so good, with many dear friends and promising small-scale commons, our little household has also been dealt with a whole lot of shit over the last year, as we came up against a hostile and profoundly aggressive radicalism that seems to be more interested in inventing ever more enemies for itself than in building alternative communities of solidarity, mutual aid and respect. (more…)


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More on the whole Jesus-theme today. Over the past few months I’ve read a couple of books dealing with the Jesus thing – Slavoj Zizek’s The Puppet and the Dwarf and Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith and Revolution: two books coming out of radical secular political traditions that grapple with the meat and potatoes of faith in general and Christian faith in particular, and do so with insight and with respect, both of which are all too rare in leftist treatments of religion. I also picked up Eagleton’s critical annotation of the Gospels – his contributions being an introduction and notes of interpretation and commentary appended to the biblical text. And I’d highly recommend all of these, though for different folks and different reasons. (more…)

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Been spending a bit of time each day with the new book project at http://requiredreadings.ca

As I’ve posted here before, it’s a page on which Meg and I are putting together a list culturally-significant writings across genres – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays. It’s a hell of a lot of work – the list sits at around 700 texts currently, and we know we are missing a whole lot. More, though, the task now is to write brief posts on every single item – not summaries, necessarily, but a couple of paragraphs on why the text is important and how it is had a lasting impact on the general consciousness. They are pretty quick to do, but I am fast realizing that it’s gonna be a long long while before I have everything up to date and can just do ongoing maintenance. I got Tarzan of the Apes up today, following yesterday’s foray into Gregor Mendel’s Experiments on Plant Hybridization and Wednesday’s Romeo and Juliet. But with 11 books down and hundreds more to go, it’s clearly going to be a slog. (more…)

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Just a quick note today. The new book blog is up at http://requiredreadings.ca

Still in progress, of course, and I am welcoming suggestions.

For now it’s primarily just a list, but we’ll be trying to do short posts on a different entry every day.

Read. Debate. Read more.



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A few years back, a zoologist who sat on our union executive recommended a book to me by an author I had never heard of – Blindness, by Jose Saramago. Took me a while to get around to reading it, but when I finally did so I was completely blown away. Saramago did everything so well, and merged social critique and storytelling like no one else. The imaginative premises of Kurt Vonnegut, the political force of John Steinbeck or Margaret Atwood at their best, the intellectual sophistication of Umberto Eco, the magic of Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a brilliant prose entirely his own. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of him before, all the moreso when I realized that Jose Saramago was renowned as a communist social critic and had won the Nobel prize.

It is exciting to stumble across a Saramago, to discover a voice, to rush out and feverishly read anything and everything to have come from that pen, to preach the good news of this find to friends and family. But it doesn’t happen often.

The latest such discovery in our little world is J.M. Coetzee. Another Nobel Laureate, I’d never heard of him until Meg and I started exploring the “1001 Books to Read Before You Die” that has been so much in my blog posts lately. This Coetzee guy kept popping up everywhere, and so we pulled a few books of his out of the library and started reading. (more…)

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I’ve got three novels on the go at the moment: Cancer Ward, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and a weird little gothic mystery that spans several centuries called Hawksmoor, by Peter Ackroyd. Vastly different, all of them, and all a stretch for me in some way. In my younger years I would never pick up Solzhenitsyn – he was the literary darling of the West during the Cold War, as a result of which my younger, more politically naive and ridiculously judgey days  would have nothing to do with him. Hawksmoor is just plain odd, half of it written in 17th century english and telling the story of an architect involved with underground and remotely-satanic rituals, the other half being a contemporary murder mystery set around a number of English churches. And Vonnegut? OK, I confess. I don’t like Vonnegut. Meg suggests I should have read him younger, and perhaps that’s the case, cause so many folks whose tastes I generally share are big fans. But as I’ve only recently delved into his stuff, I find it hard to see the attraction – no plot, no character development, and no great philosophical insight; just sequences that either begin a story that never goes anywhere or attempts to be satiric that come off as just kind of nonsensical and don’t seem to add up to any coherent commentary. I know – blasphemy. Sorry. (more…)

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Yesterday, Megan posted a list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, which I have copied here as a new page. We read alot, both of us, so were surprised at how few of these we’ve actually made it through. But always up for a literary challenge, we’ll each keep track now and see how many of tghese we can plow through. A fun little project, anyway.

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