Chad Perrin: SOB

10 January 2010

The 2009 Haul, Part 2

Filed under: Geek,Lists,Miscellaneous — apotheon @ 03:06

In Part 1, I mentioned that my two Christmases got postponed, and listed my book score from the first gathering. In the second Christmas gathering, with one person fewer attending than at the first, I got one book fewer.

Three of us do a used book exchange each year, and what we receive tends to be a surprise because unlike the rest of the books that get gifted each Christmas the selections are made by the givers without any input from the recipients. Other books tend to come from Amazon wishlists. The second gathering was where we gave each other the used book exchange gifts this year.

Without further ado, the following was my book haul for Part 2. . . .

  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

    I think it was one of the SigO‘s coworkers that once told her that Robin Hobb’s books were “intelligent” fantasy. Since then, we’ve been kicking around the idea of reading something by Hobb. I guess, to make sure something actually happened with that, she decided now was a good time to give me one of Hobb’s books. This book in particular is part one of the Farseer series — a trilogy, I think. I also think this may be Hobb’s debut novel.

  • Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity by Lawrence Lessig

    Lessig’s statements in favor of “free culture” have always struck me as a little utilitarian (I specifically subscribe to the anti-copyright approach served by copyfree policy, for reasons derived from free market principles), but regardless of any potential disagreement I might have with the principles that lead him to his policies — and the resulting policies — he is probably the single best-known advocate for free and open licensing outside of the narrow niche of software licensing. It’s about time I give this book a read, so I’ll have a more direct knowledge of a very influential book in the “free culture” movement (in fact, the book that probably gave the movement its name). Someone picked it out of my wishlist for me this year, and I’ll probably read it before the book Lessig endorsed that was in my Part 1 haul, Steven Levy’s Hackers.

  • Hamilton’s Curse by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

    On the front of the book, I see the words “How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution — and What It Means for Americans Today”. With the promise of a thesis statement (or TL;DR summary) like that, I can’t possibly resist this book. Interestingly, there’s an endorsing quote on the cover from Ron Paul that reads “I recommend this book to my fellow Jeffersonians.” My personal take is that Jefferson was damned near perfect in principle, and tended to fold like a house of cards when faced with opposition from erstwhile allies — which, of course, in no way detracts from the value of the principles themselves. In any case, I expect to find the book a thoroughly intriguing read.

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

    I have not actually heard much about this book, but I know it’s a “classic”. It’s also apparently very short. This was my other used book exchange gift this year, along with Assassin’s Apprentice.

  • The Wealth of Networks: How Social Productions Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler

    This book’s title certainly lends to the notion that it may be a good companion volume to Wealth of Nations for “The Information Age” (do people still use that term?). Given my belief that a free (as in speech) Internet is essentially the last bastion of intellectual freedom in the world these days, regardless of how much I may agree or disagree with what this book presents, I expect to find it interesting.

Well, that’s all of it. Unless I get something wholly unexpected, that’s the end of my Christmas 2009 book haul (though the loot was actually pillaged in January 2010). I’m already looking forward to more books at the tail end of this year — but I have some great reading material to absorb my attention in the meantime.

11 Comments

  1. I found “Heart of Darkness” to be insanely boring. But I do I have a fairly funny story about it. I was supposed to have read it for a class in college, but I forgot to. We were quizzed on it, a little one question quiz, asking what Col. Kurtz’s last words were. I had not clue, so I just put down something as a joke, one of those phrases you pick up here and there and can’t remember what it’s actually from. Well, the person in front of me was writing in HUGE letters on his paper, I couldn’t help but to notice what he wrote. It looked good. Mind you, never once in my life had I cheated at anything. But what they heck, you know? So I copied his answer and we all turned our papers in. The teacher gave us the answer, and in a bizarre twist of fate, my original “joke answer” was actually right! Now, I had just turned in this weird answer that would have made it obvious that no two people could have it without someone cheating. To make it worse, the guy actually raised his hand and said, “Are you sure it wasn’t XYZ?” So now it was pretty clear who copied who. I spent the whole class dying inside, knowing that I could be expelled for this. I decided to ask for my paper back. At the end of class, the professor got mauled by students asking questions about the upcoming exam, and he had left the stack of papers on the desk. I rifled trhough it, found mine, and took it out of the stack. The next week, he asked me where it was, since he knew I was in class, I told him that I had simply not turned one in because I didn’t read the book.

    That was the first, and last time, I tried to cheat at anything. Clearly, I’m no good at it. But it did spark enough guilt to get me to read Heart of Darkness.

    If you’ve ever seen “Apocolypse Now”, you know the story, it’s based on HoD, but changes the setting to the Vietnam War, which is why certain parts of it seem a bit odd or out of place.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 10 January 2010 @ 07:55

  2. I barely remember Apocalypse Now at all.

    Your “endorsement” of Heart of Darkness isn’t exactly encouraging, but what the hell — it’s really short. I’m sure I can muddle through it anyway.

    Thanks for your perspective on it.

    Comment by apotheon — 10 January 2010 @ 08:02

  3. Not a problem. :) It’s one of those books that, at a technical level I think is successful… characters, plot, etc. But the “spark” was missing for me. But as you say, it’s a short read. As always, when it comes to matters of personal opinions, “your milage may vary.” I know people who swear that “Cryptonomicron” by Neal Stephenson was brilliant, but I had to force myself to read it, despite having enjoyed Snow Crash immensely. I know that they two are incredibly different books, but I felt that Snow Crash was a very good and entertaining book, while I felt that Crypticnomicron was merely “good” without the entertainment.

    I’ve found a lot of the “classics” to be in that boat, notably Charles Dicken’s works. My suspicion is that for so long, there were so few books written and published that anything that was notable was remembered, probably far better than it deserved to be. A lot of “classic films” are like that too, and music too, for that matter… you turn on a “classic rock” radio station, and amidst the truly great songs from the past is a ton of garbage, one hit wonders, etc. that is no better than, say, Britany Spears is today. It’s just that it happens to be “classic” and enough of our parents were doing something interesting when the song was in the Top 40 for them to associate strong memories with a mediocre song.

    Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum. I love Robert E. Howard’s stuff, even thought it’s all the exact same story a million times over with a few minor details different. All the same, I just picked up a collection of Conan stories and I am eagerly awaiting reading it. Then again, I also bought a copy of “Mick Foley’s Christmas Chaos”, illustrated by Jerry “The King” Lawler. My son grabbed it off the discount rack in the children’s section at random, and quite frankly, the idea of two WWE wrestlers writing an illustrated children’s story was too tough to resist. For $4.97, why not? I must admit, it was mildly enjoyable to read, in the all of 10 minutes it took.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 10 January 2010 @ 08:16

  4. As always, when it comes to matters of personal opinions, “your milage may vary.” I know people who swear that “Cryptonomicron” by Neal Stephenson was brilliant, but I had to force myself to read it, despite having enjoyed Snow Crash immensely. I know that they two are incredibly different books, but I felt that Snow Crash was a very good and entertaining book, while I felt that Crypticnomicron was merely “good” without the entertainment.

    So . . . what you’re saying is that I should absolutely love Heart of Darkness! Ahem.

    I liked Snow Crash, and the premise is outstanding, but Cryptonomicon was in my opinion a much better novel. Then again, I’m supposed to be the “security guy” in this discussion I guess, so maybe there’s a difference in topic bias between us.

    I’ve found a lot of the “classics” to be in that boat, notably Charles Dicken’s works.

    Okay, so our tastes aren’t entirely in disagreement.

    I’ve found that quite a few of the “classics” definitely deserve that description — but many of them definitely don’t, too. Books like Catcher in the Rye and 1984 are among my favorites, while Women in Love isn’t fit for kindling.

    Comment by apotheon — 10 January 2010 @ 08:57

  5. I loved 1984, but Catcher in the Rye just did not do it for me. Maybe it was a set of incorrect expectations coming into the book (which is entirely possible, given how much people talk about it and what they say about it). I’ve never heard of Women in Love before, but reading a paragraph of the description of it on Wikipedia, I was reminding for Doctor Zhivago. Now that is a book not even fit to be kindling, it would probably put the fire to sleep. It has the distiction of being the only piece of fiction that I ever deliberately didn’t finish (as opposed to, say, something you find in a doctor’s waiting room, get into, and never get the chance to finish).

    My reading of the “classics” is extremely poor and spotty, and I am not sure if I am suffering for it. The “classics” seem so hit or miss with quality that I don’t know if it is worth dragging myself through them.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 10 January 2010 @ 09:05

  6. It has the distiction of being the only piece of fiction that I ever deliberately didn’t finish (as opposed to, say, something you find in a doctor’s waiting room, get into, and never get the chance to finish).

    I learned something like twenty years ago how to give up on a book that was bad enough (starting with Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, I think). Before that, I was pretty much incapable of giving up on a book, and even now I’m pretty stubborn about giving a book a chance. I often give a book far more chance than it deserves before giving up on it, once I’ve started it — but I don’t like wasting time on a book, because there are always so many better books out there. I think it might be a case of the sunk cost fallacy biting me, but my solution is to have learned to do a better job of identifying books I won’t like before I even pick them up. Unfortunately, because Women in Love was a gift, I felt compelled to try reading it. What I discovered before finally giving up on it somewhere between a third of the way through it and halfway through was that it was far worse than what I remember of Death Be Not Proud, the book that was so bad it actually taught me to stop reading a bad book.

    The “classics” seem so hit or miss with quality that I don’t know if it is worth dragging myself through them.

    Just like any other category of books, the “classics” should be judged on their own merits, I think. Dracula by Bram Stoker is another one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who wasn’t a student of literature in some sense — it’s a bad book, really, but influential and at least marginally valuable in terms of what it can teach us about books that followed — but Grendel by John Gardner and Lord of the Flies by William Golding are excellent. It’s hit and miss, as you say. If anything, that probably makes the “classics” better on average than the rest of the world of fiction, but that sure isn’t saying much.

    Let the reader beware, I suppose.

    Comment by apotheon — 10 January 2010 @ 10:15

  7. “Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum. I love Robert E. Howard’s stuff, even thought it’s all the exact same story a million times over with a few minor details different. All the same, I just picked up a collection of Conan stories and I am eagerly awaiting reading it.”

    You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised, since Howard showed plenty of variety in his work.

    Comment by Al Harron — 11 January 2010 @ 06:49

  8. I enjoyed Heart of Darkness as a teenager — I don’t remember much about it now, though, except that Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album made great background music for it.

    Comment by Chip Camden — 18 January 2010 @ 02:48

  9. I just finished that Conan compilation. As a note, it was filled with Howard’s original writings, not the Lin/De Camp edits. WOW! What a difference! Al was right, Howard was a great writer, it is a shame that the versions of his stories that most readers are familiar with are horrible edits that make him look like an unimaginative hack.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 18 January 2010 @ 02:53

  10. Heart of Darkness was alright, to me, the coda when he returns home was the real point of the book and the fact that that wasn’t in the movie underlines how mediocre Apocalypse Now was. Seeing you mention Hamilton, I have to recommend Burr and the rest of the American Empire series by Gore Vidal. If you’re interested in early American history at all, Vidal’s fascinating and highly entertaining recreations of that period, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, aren’t to be missed. :)

    Comment by Ajay — 30 July 2010 @ 05:26

  11. I’ll try to remember to look for Burr. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Comment by apotheon — 14 August 2010 @ 05:18

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