Books

I really love books.

And I also love reading.

Those two loves are connected, but they really aren’t the same thing. My love of reading is about expanding my knowledge and creativity. It is a way to fill my mind with magic and science. Reading allows me to fill my intellectual quiver with new arrows as I battle my way through life. When I read a book on one subject I can usually use that knowledge for another… a book on Buddhism hints at the polyamorist idea of compersion, a business book can relate to ethics, a fantasy novel connects to religion, etc.

Books, on the other hand, serve a different purpose. In today’s world, I could easily (and more cheaply) read using a Kindle or on my computer. Technology allows me to read just about anything and glean knowledge from the works of millions of people. Books are not necessary for reading, but they are something I value.

Having a full bookshelf is not necessarily about what I plan on reading. If I’m being truly honest, I’ll probably only really read half of the books currently on my shelf, and I’ll probably buy dozens hundreds more in the future. Books are about signaling and sharing. My shelf is a signal to my guests what my interests are. It shows that I love science and mysticism, sex and economics, psychology and poetry, the classics and modern literature. The books on my shelf relay a message about the subjects that I’d rather be discussing instead of the weather or small talk. My bookshelf tells people that yes, they can ask me about my thoughts on sexual fetishes or God or anarchism. (And yes, you can borrow any book)

And I think that’s okay.

Books are not holy artifacts that should be hidden away. They shouldn’t be elevated above the very human need to communicate our interests and advertise our passion. Books allow us to connect with humans quickly and easily, to signal that we have similarities or that we are educated on some subjects. The social benefits of the bookshelf can’t be found with a Kindle or online resources.

I love having a full bookshelf and books are probably the one thing that I will continue to buy as I move around the globe. There are boxes of my books in at least three cities right now and hopefully I’ll get them back… but if I don’t get them back I hope my friends put them on their shelves, even if they don’t agree or know about the subjects, because that is a little piece of me in their life. I may not be in pictures on their wall but if there is my copy of Urban Tantra or Why Is The Penis Shaped Like That? on their shelf that will make me smile.

Books are beautiful, amazing, tools that help us humans relate to each other through space and time… and so is reading.

Post Script: I also enjoy the act of reading a book over a Kindle and I find it easier to take notes and retain the information… but that doesn’t take away from the social aspect of book ownership.

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Books

When I have some privacy, one of the first things I do when I arrive at a new host’s house is check out their book collection. I love books. Reading the words of another person is like sneaking a peak into their soul. Books are the source of personal growth and it is the technology that has allowed our species to move from being an agriculture based species to where we are today. I think there is a lot you can learn about the books on a person’s shelf, even if they haven’t read them.

I have boxes of books scattered across the country. Every time I stop for a winter or something I end up buying tons of books, it is the least minimalist thing about me, and I have a hard time parting with the books. Unfortunately, I have probably only read 10% of the books I own. Despite my best intentions, I can’t help but purchase a book that seems interesting to my interests, even when I lack the time to dive into it. Also, Amazon One-Click ordering is dangerous after a couple beers.

I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing. Books, like most things in live, serve a multitude of purposes. Yes, the primary purpose is to share the words inside… but I could get that with Kindle books (something I’ve tried to dive into several times but I keep breaking my Kindle). I think purchasing books and displaying them is a secondary purpose that has value, it is like purchasing a piece of art. It is a way to share your interests with others in a passive way and provide them with an opportunity to break the ice about subjects they are interested in. It is a way to find common interests, even if neither of us has read the actual book on display.

Of course, I want to read the books, but sometimes I find my concentration and patience are too weak to really dive into a book, particularly non-fiction. I think school killed my passion for reading and learning, and I am just now finding ways to get it back. Which is unfortunate, I used to read a lot more, but after 16 years of being forced to read what others selected and being asked to analyze it from their point of view the idea of reading is sometimes off-putting. I do still read, I see the value in it and I get a lot out of each book I pick up, but there isn’t the enjoyment that I once had.

Things are getting better though. I’m finding the discipline to put down books I’m not enjoying (and that doesn’t serve some sort of further purpose like preparing for grad school) and getting more pleasure out of it. It, like so many things in life, is a combination of practice and reward. Sometimes a book is just practice, preparing for something else, and sometimes a book is a reward unto itself.

Dark Force Rising

I just finished listening to “Dark Force Rising” (the second book in the Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy) and oh man, I fucking loved it. I haven’t been listening to a lot of books lately, partly because I’ve been on a podcast kick and partly because there is a weird sort of guilt that I feel for listening to a lot of fiction. I feel some need to counter it with non-fiction even when I’m not in the mood for that. A lot of my Facebook friends consume non-fiction like animals and I kind of feel like I am wasting my time with fiction. Even as I write that I realize how shitty that argument is and I should just do what I want.

Anyway, finishing Dark Force Rising brought two things to my mind. First, I am beginning to understand Star Wars fans anger (fear? hatred? suffering? some path to the Dark Side…) at Disney for turning all the canon novels into “Legends”. Before starting the Thrawn trilogy my only interaction with Star Wars was the films and I didn’t really realize how rich of a universe had been created by so many collaborative authors. Previously minor characters (like Wedge Antilles) get more depth, and established characters become even more humanlike. To have all the adventures you loved, the characters you cherished, and the universe that was a part of your life for decades, wiped out by Disney had to be painful. I am just beginning my adventure into the Star Wars (non)canon and I’m annoyed that the universe of Thrawn isn’t the universe of Rae, particularly since it wouldn’t have been difficult to integrate the movies into the same universe, or even adapt some of the previous material to the big screen.

Second, I always thought Star Wars (and really Sci-Fi and Fantasy in general) handled different species poorly. There seemed to be this idea that an individual could be evil based purely on their species, except for humans who could vary widely in their ethics and abilities. Now that I’ve started reading the books I realize that I wasn’t being fair. The movies may not have the opportunity to dive into much depth for most non-humans (except Chewie and Jar Jar) but the books allow for that The Star Wars universe is made richer by being explored through different artistic means… films, tv shows, graphic novels, books, and video games all provide a different way to explore the art. Destroying that seems to be a terrible mistake.

Putting It Down

I have trouble putting books down. Sometimes, this is because the book is awesome, but often it is the opposite. I keep reading a book because I started it, or maybe because it is a book that I’ve been told that I should read. It is a book that had some sort of cultural impact or is a popular read among some social group that I am part of.

Those aren’t good reasons to keep reading. If I am no longer enjoying a book I need to stop reading it, and not feel bad about it. Books, like relationships or hobbies or jobs or anything else, should be put down when they aren’t creating any value. It is better to put down the book when bored than keep reading it to the point where you are resentful. If you wait too long to put down the book you will never joyfully return and, even worse, you may give up on reading altogether.

So, I am going to try to put more books down, and then pick more books up. I currently have 832 books on my “to read” list… that’s 16 years worth of books if I read one a week and never add any more. My life is too short to read something that doesn’t give me pleasure.

“The Man in the High Castle”

I just finished reading “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick.

It was not what I expected. After watching the first season of the Amazon adaptation earlier this year I was excited to read the book, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the show. Personally, I like “spoilers” for movies and tv shows. If I know the plot before watching the show then I can really appreciate the other artistic additions that are unique to the visual arts. The acting, sets, CGI, etc. are all things that I can appreciate more when I am not worried too much plot.

Anyway, the book didn’t spoil anything. The tv adaptation seems to be only very loosely based on the book. The basic universe (what if the Japanese and Germans won WWII?) is the mostly the same and many of the characters have the same names, but the plot is different and the character’s personalities are different. Generally, I don’t mind when tv/movie adaptations of books or comics play a little loose with the story details. It is a different medium after all, and that requires focusing on different aspects of the story than in a book. I don’t expect movies to stay true to the book and I actually don’t think they should, books are different than movies and we shouldn’t try to tell the exact same story using both formats. The argument about whether the book or the movie is better comes off as unnecessary to me, it is like arguing whether flour is better used as an ingredient in a cake or as batter for fried chicken. They share a common element, but they are different results for different audiences and different occasions.

Okay, sorry about that tangent, back to the book.

The book was okay. It was a decent thought experiment and the anthropomorphized I, Ching was interesting, but the over-all plot and characters weren’t that interesting to me. There were some fairly racist comments and thought patterns, but that could be chalked up to portraying the characters as real humans. It seems possible (probable) that there would be a lot of racist tones in the United States towards the Japanese in the 1960’s if they took over half the country.

There was also a tone of sexism there that seemed more a reflection of the author’s views than an accurate portrayal of how people would act. The one female protagonist is often displayed as shallow, stupid, flighty, and prone to just following emotional whims. She lacks much depth besides a few facts about her physical appearance and her Judo abilities. The males in the story generally view her as superficial and a tool to be used or won back. I guess this was written half a century ago, so maybe I shouldn’t expect much gender equality in the book.

I did enjoy the book a little bit as an Audiobook. It was good background distraction while biking, and it was a pretty quick listen. If someone is interested in exploring the source material for the TV version and don’t want things to be spoiled they can definitely check out the book.

I Cannot Live Without Books…

I’m pretty sure the title for this post was a Thomas Jefferson quote. To be honest, I mostly remember it from playing Civilization and that quote would come on when you build a library or something… man that game was great. Anyway, I just got a Kindle and it has kind of revolutionized my life. I read a fair amount due to my 90ish minute commute each way on public transportation. I also see some weird value in learning what other people like to read. So, I decided to ask 18 of my Facebook “friends” what their favorite book is and what book they think everyone should read. These friends run a wide range from people I’ve known for decades to mostly Facebook “friends” but they are all people who I respect and would love to know more about… basically they are 18 people that I’d love to have in my life forever in some way or another. Ideally we would all live in a big communal house together in Colorado, grow weed, and sell high-end edibles while raising a bunch of cool dogs and maybe a human child or three. Most of them kept to just two books but some of my friends can’t be limited in such a way… another sign they are fucking rad.

To me, reading someone’s favorite book gives you a glimpse into their soul. The list of books below are what my friends answers were and I hope to read my way through them in the next year or so. Oh, and I also put down Stephen King’s and Jay-Z’s favorite two books because they are awesome. (Unrelated: I can’f find my Kindle… I swear it was in my office yesterday. Argh.) In no particular order (and missing a few because some of my friends apparently work doing the day)…

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
  • Conte of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (read previously)
  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (currently reading actually)
  • Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
  • Why Do Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa
  • Girls Guide to Taking Over the World by Karen Green
  • Naked by David Sedaris
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Crucial Conversation: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson
  • Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant
  • The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
  • The Armchair Economist by Steven Landsburg (read previously)
  • Nature of Order by Christopher Alexander
  • Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin
  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenburg and Arun Gandhi
  • Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
  • Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • A Happy Death by Albert Camus
  • Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (read previously)
  • The Good Life by Hackatt Publishing
  • The Golden Argosy edited by Van H. Cartmell and Charles Grayson
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  • The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
  • The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by Sedaris
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walsh
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • House of Leaves by Mark Daielewski
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  • Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison
  • Extras by Scott Westerfield
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (previously read)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (previously read)
  • Steering By Starlight by Martha Beck

Sexy Books

Unfortunately I probably won’t have a lot of time to blog this week. My boss is out of town, our accountant just pushed another baby out, and my office spouse had some surgery that involves her holding an ice pack to her groin for the next few days. Basically, I am the low man in the office but somehow I am in charge of this shit. There is a 50% chance I will accidentally burn the building to the ground… so yeah, I won’t have a lot of blog time.

So, instead of my regular ramblings I thought I would just list some awesome books about sex that my lovely follower might be interested in. As you probably know the subject of sex (and the taboo surrounding it) fascinates me, particularly with the increase of open relationships and polyamory that technology has allowed. I don’t really have an abnormal sex drive or anything, I just find the subject fascinating and enjoy studying it. And without further ado… here are my favorite sexy books (with my simplistic summaries):

Sex At Dawn: Definitely the most sciency of the books. The authors work against the parental investment theory that encourages human pair-bonding and monogamy. They use research into bonobos (our evolutionary cousins) and remaining hunter/gatherer tribes to argue humans are much more polyamorous than we are raised to believe. There is societal pressure for monogamy that is based more on those in power trying to control sex, but this monogamous pull may not be “natural”.

The Ethical Slut: This is the least sciency book in the series and still one I recommend EVERYONE read (seriously, I will buy you a copy and ship it to you… fucking read it). It discusses what sexually open people are and some advice for dealing with the struggles polyamorous and open relationships can bring. The authors are often funny, sometimes crass, but always entertaining. Read. This. Book.

What Do Women Want? This book is a middle ground between objective science and subjective stories. It is probably my favorite out of all the books due to it’s accessibility and tone. The author argues that the traditional story of women wanting a “one and only” lifelong mate does not hold up to scientific inquiry and it is dangerous to tell women there is something wrong with them if they desire sexual variety. The author discusses multiple studies on humans and our mammalian relatives, as well as interviews researchers and women who have cheated, desired to cheat, seek open relationships, and practice polyamory.

American Savage: This is kind of a sex book… it is a collection of essays by sex and relationship advice columnist Dan Savage. Just like his podcast it is funny but honest and there are no taboo subjects. This work is particularly personal for Savage and he discusses his marriage, raising a straight child, growing up in a Catholic home, etc. If you don’t listen to his podcast or read his column you should do that right now.

Bonus – The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers: I’m still reading this so I won’t recommend it strongly yet but so far I enjoy it. It is fascinating to me how common some form of extra-spousal relations happen in the middle class and how varied there are. Very few practitioners of “the lifestyle” participate in orgys, instead most of them just enjoy being in an erotic situation where some sort of voyeurism and exhibitionism is the norm. Some will have multiple sex partners but the lifestyle is more about being open, honest, and participating in something that helps prevent confusion, harm, and secrecy. So far I really like it. This is very similar to my personal experience in the Orgy Dome at Burning Man and intimate experiences with friends… it isn’t about sex, it is about deep honest connections where there is no taboo conversation.