Thursday, May 28, 2015

Read It, May 2015

The tally of books finished for May, 2015 is:

  • The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes
  • Lexicon by Max Barry
  • Red Shift by Alan Garner
  • Hav by Jan Morris
  • Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides, translated and with essays by Anne Carson
  • Doctor Who: 12 Doctors, 12 Stories by Various Authors [read to my children as bedtime stories]

I did not write detailed notes about Grief Lessons and I don't think I'm going to. Anne Carson is an interesting scholar and poet -- consider this profile from the New York Times Magazine. I will say that these are, I think, excellent translations into modern English. What is harder to translate is the context and meaning of the plays. Herakles has a strange plot, almost a non-plot, and leaves the reader wondering "why?" Hekabe is probably the one best understood by modern readers, since it is a story of revenge. Hyppolytos is another strange story about love taken to the fetishistic point, but it has interesting resonance with modern teachings about "purity." Alkestis also has a very odd storyline, again with Herakles (Hercules) as a character, and seems to be a tragedy that fails to work as a tragedy. It reminded me strangely of the scene in the Wakefield First Shepherds' Play when the shepherds are fed by a miraculous supply of food from an empty bag. I am humbled to read that Euripedes is thought to have written over ninety plays, but only eighteen or nineteen have survived.

In terms of numbers, that's a little better than last month. I was hoping to spend more time on non-fiction. I did spend some time, but it was mostly with books like Conceptual Mathematics: a First Introduction to Categories by F. William Lawvere and Stephen H. Schanuel, and Basic Category Theory for Computer Scientists by Benjamin C. Pierce. In addition, I've been reading, or at least chipping away at, a variety of other papers on similar subjects.

I am hoping to improve my understanding of category theory to the point where the categorical-theoretic aspects for certain constructs implemented in the Haskell programming language -- functors, monoids, and monads, specifically -- are clear to me. I at least partially undertand these constructs in terms of how they work for writing functional programs, and I've used a few of them in programs, but I would like to understand them a little more formally.

I'm not sure I can explain exactly why, except that I am fascinated by what Haskell can do with these tools, and by what some very smart people are doing with them. The future of Haskell and its role in the wider world of practical programming languages is a bigger topic, but maybe it would make sense to say that I am trying to upgrade my brain. I think in some sense I have Ph.D. envy, although at this stage of my life I think a Ph.D. in Computer Science or Mathematics is probably just not in the cards for me.

I am progressing through my shelf of New York Review Books Classics nicely. Four of the books I completed this month are from that series. The series remains really impressive and fascinating. Although I have quite a few of their titles, I really can't hope to read them all. They are publishing them monthly. I could probably keep up with a subscription, reading one a month, but there are, I think, something like 350 books in the NYRB Classics back-catalog. I own 52 of these at the moment, and I've completed 14 (and read bits of a few others). As much as I love this series, I do like to mix them up with lighter, or maybe heavier, fare, and some of them will likely just never be to my taste -- and that's OK.


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  2. I am very impressed at the amount of books you can read. I don't know what the secret is, but that is a skill I don't have. The first paragraph of "The Hobbit" had me glued all the way through the entire Lord of the Rings saga.

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

    I knew this book was for me.

    I think I've read "The War of the Worlds" 4 or 5 times cover to cover.

    I forced myself to read textbooks all through college, but never read any of them cover-to-cover, and I was deemed a scholar.

    In my 20s I feverishly read "Penthouse Forum"... but that probably doesn't count...

    I've made it through about 5-10 pages of probably 50 books in PDF format, until I finally figured out a book needs to be made out of paper, not bits and bytes.

    All of the books - and all my earthly belongings - I currently own are packed in boxes and are snuggled cozily in my friend Tommy's attic awaiting my return to Michigan as I ponder FedEx shipment plans.

    One of my favorite hobbies is to browse books at Barnes and Noble and certain thrift stores. I've bought hundreds of books, and never read even one of them. I love books, but I hate reading. I love to write, but I hate to read. Or at least I think that is the reason I never read my books.

    I lost my laptop due to an electrical storm last year. I didn't have money to buy another one, so I started reading books on Shaolin Kung Fu by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit. I was very inspired by his teachings and made it through three very large volumes that included Shaolin views on enlightenment, Eastern medicine, Chi, ancient Chinese history. They were some of the best books I've ever read in my life.

    Then I got a different laptop, and haven't read a page since... LOL.

    Facebook took too much of my time. I'm actually NOT a social person. My Facebook game name is "Lonewolf." As I think of how I have lived my entire life, Lonewolf fits. When I was 12 years old my last sibling fly the nest and I was alone during all of my formative years. A year later I got a guitar for Christmas. The guitar became a way of therapeutically treating myself in the home of an abusive father. He would be on the warpath and I would pull my dresser in front of the bedroom door and jam out to REO Speedwagon, Santana and Ted Nugent (and others). I spent a lot of alone time with my guitar. My high school girlfriend told me she hated my guitar because I spent more time loving it than loving her. Today she's long gone, and I still love my guitar.

    I imagine my inability to read has some connection to growing up in a highly abusive family.It seems as I delve into therapy, religion, and any other comfort food of social ambiguities, everything points to my destructive dad. Thanks dad.

    But I can thank him for my guitar playing. Because he was such an ass my entire life, I have turned to my guitar to heal my pain for 40 years. One of the reasons I choose to play the blues. Because deep inside of me is the blues. Maybe I should write a book about my life. It might become a best seller and I'd get rich off the royalties. They might even sell a Kindle or PDF copy on

  3. I broke all ties with my sick family last year when I moved to Texas. None of my family knows where I am. I kind of like it this way. I have no plans of telling any of them where I am or what I'm doing. It would only lead to more abuse and certain paternal members telling me I can't do what I'm doing. Like the comment my father had about my college endeavors after graduating with my associates degree. "You shocked the shit out of me, because I didn't think you could do it." He's never once been supportive of any decision I've ever made for 53 years of my existence on Earth. Its always been break me down, tell me I'm worthless, tell me I can't do what I dream to do.

    I play guitar very well.
    I was once one of the best die makers in the country.
    I have seen 37 of the 50 states.
    I am a lifetime member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
    I was the first student at Eastern Michigan University to graduate with departmental honors in the Technology Management bachelors degree program.
    I was the first student at the same college to graduate as a McNair Scholar.
    I am now working as a very gifted field engineer for AT&T.
    And I’m not homeless anymore…

    I am.

    I just wonder how embellished my life would be if I could read.

  4. I am doing my best to be a better dad than that. It's sometimes a struggle. I feel myself getting overcome with anger at something the kids have messed up or broken. I don't always manage to keep my cool but I try. Yesterday we had three cousins visiting our five young children at home and so Grace and I were managing eight. We took them out for a long hike around Saginaw, down to the river and under the Court Street bridge, and all that exercise paid off -- they gave us a little peace and quiet and fell asleep early. But I was exhausted!

    I am glad to hear that you survived the flooding. I was just down in Freeport, Texas on the gulf coast, traveling for work. Inland was pretty unpleasant and humid but the shoreline was beautiful.