Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Year of Reading

2015 was at least a good year for reading. Herewith, the books I’d recommend the most:

Nabokov in America, Robert Roper: Forget trying to gain a fuller understanding of Vladimir’s novels and just take in the tale. From their close call path to America—the Nabokovs lived in Berlin in the ‘30s, wife Vera was Jewish—to the son’s extraordinary, non-literary pursuits this book could easily be turned into an extended cable series.

Notebooks; 1922 – ’86, edited by Luke O’Sullivan: On his death one British paper tabbed Michael Oakeshott as the greatest conservative political philosopher since Edmund Burke. But Oakeshott was more philosopher than political philosopher. Beginning with notes as he read other philosophers—Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza—and moving on to whatever caught his eye, these aphoristically inclined entries are both interesting and delightful. “It is impossible to get happiness by following a plan. Everything about us, and we are ourselves change continually. To attempt to capture happiness and keep it is foolish.”
Poetry Notebook, Clive James: This slim volume put me on a bit of a poetry jag and in search of authors who I’d never heard of, which is all that needs to be said.

Romanticism; A German Affair, Rudiger Safranski: Somewhere I recall seeing the line that “Lord Byron was too much of a romantic not to float some balloons, and too much of a realist not to puncture them.” There may be a lot of mischief in romantic ideas but after reading this book it’s hard not to conclude that there is also something essential in it and that a ‘correction’ to the Enlightenment was necessary, or at the very least, likely.

Leisure; The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper: The aforementioned Michael Oakeshott observed the horror of the mono-modal man. In our time this is most commonly manifested in the person who runs everything through the criteria of usefulness. Like Johan Huizinga’s man the player, this is an argument for recognizing the importance of all that fails the test of practicality. In a time and place of great wealth and smart phones, Pieper’s “the proletarian is the man who is fettered to the process of work” is a caution worth ruminating on.

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