“Whose entire body of work is worth reading?”

Reading Marginal Revolution brings up interesting questions every now and then. Tyler Cowen is a person with a very wide range of interests, and these are well reflected in the wide spectra of posts that can be found on MR. So, with interest I opened up a post with the same title as above, thinking: “What has Tyler written now?”

That original post can be found over here, ‘Whose entire body of work is worth reading?’. It might be interesting to acquaint oneself with what Mr Cowen has said for I think I wish to differ in my opinion.

Yes, I’ll grant that historians are an easy pick. Or, at least, an easier pick than any fiction writer. But there’s a reason for that and I am not entirely confident that the reason is that high quality history is always substantiated by top research. And, even if it is, it is not the research but the author’s readability which is the important part in reading a historical book. And, being very good at research means very little in immediate writing skills gains so there must be more to the puzzle.

My theory on the historians would be that historians who have the knack for writing come out better in the general readability of their tomes. If they know how to write well instinctively, they have an easier time writing for having to worry less about making the story into a single cohesive unit. And, yet, I would dare not name any names. I don’t think I am familiar enough with the works of any single historian to bring him/her out in full.

Overall, then, this question comes down to style for me. But, if I concentrate on the problem, is it possible that any writer has kept their style from the very beginning to the end without pause so that it is uniformly strong and infallible?

I don’t think so.

In effect, I would go so far as to say that all of the names that Mr Cowen brought up in his post are names that I would not dare mention. In which case, what names would I bring up?

That’s a trickier one to answer, partly because I feel like I would want to name a few people, but I am afraid that their originals read worse than the translations that I have read. It might be a fortuitous event that I’ve probably read Arthur C. Clarke most extensively, probably covering the majority of his published works, but even that list is a few titles short of a full collection. And no matter how good the ideas present in the books I’ve read, Mr Clarke has had a few weaker books.

Henryk Sienkiewicz would probably come second, and again the question of translations has to be present. Assuming that Sienkiewicz’s style in Polish is just as clear and strong as it was when I read it in English and Estonian, I would be happy to say that all of his work is worth reading. If, however, some parts of it were a fluke of chance or an edit of the translator, then maybe the reader has been deceived. [Note that a lot of the sentiment present in Mr Sienkiewicz’s works is something I might consider worthy of reading to understand the past rather than the present.]

Of other names, I would bet on Ryotaro Shiba. Again, I have only read him in translation, some of which was not the top quality work I was expecting, I do say myself, but I think that his style in the original is likely to be so much better. So, there’s another unsubstantiated claim that I cannot prove.

On the philosophers: why would I cross off Plato and the rest mentioned in Tyler’s post above?

I am not certain that their works carry the worth of reading throughout. The thoughts of philosophers naturally vary over time and space, and I would not find it difficult to believe that the heavy style we have attributed to Plato and Nietzsche is stronger in some of the books than in the others. And if that is the case, then with the style of the author faltering how can the author himself be consistently skillful?

Indeed, if I were to guess of a type of people who would have put down the most to paper that is all worth reading, I think I would lean towards a playwright or a poet. Maybe Pedro Calderón de la Barca is a good guess, but I’ve only read one title by him so I cannot comment in full. Yet, Calderón de la Barca sounded as if he had something to say. Likewise, I would probably prop J.R.R. Tolkien up there if only for all of his poems, although that is shirking the question slightly again…

So, those are the names that I would put forward. I didn’t think much on where to get them from, nor did I spend an inordinate amount of time on them, but I think that’s something for a start (I’d be interested to see what any of my readers say). I dare add that this is probably one of those questions which are better left unasked in general, although it is also always fun to throw names around and see which ones stay in the air. But, for now, I’ll keep to the poets…

Reading in Pubs

Seems to be a part of this nice pub-culture that every now and then, a man walks in with a book in his hand, sits down, orders a pint and food, and then reads. Every time I’ve seen one such at work, I’ve thought that they must be brilliant minds to think of such a good plan of action.

So, last two Mondays I’ve done the same. I have to say, I enjoy it. There’s a certain pleasure to sipping Aspall’s while reading a good book… I think it might be the mind, which due to the surroundings emphasizes the unknown and less familiar, bringing it to the front in the mind.

On Science

Due to science factoring in on nearly every aspect of what there remains to be done, I’ve decided that I’ll branch out once more and create a hard-science side to this where I’ll try to be as scientific as reasonable, exploring some of the topics I enjoy reading about (along the lines of : benthic mysteries ; ocean – ice sheet interaction ; river dynamics ).

The philosophical discussions of science (as often, or not, as they have occurred) will still be in the jurisdiction of this branch — therefore, the add-on will be meant as a full scientific exploration of some topics (most likely short reviews of what I read and find interesting enough to share).

I’ll try writing something up later today as an introductory remark (most likely about marine ice sheet dynamics unless my current sedimentology papers prove to be an easy read that I can explain immediately).

A Wish to Write

Indeed, having just finished two letters to good friends of mine (in case you happen to ever read this, a chance is you’ll know who you are) and thought to continue on a good note over here… after all, I’ve been waiting this week to start writing on so many different ideas (including a review on ‘A Dance with Dragons’ which I finished on Monday) but I’ve been completely disorganized. And I now have a wish to buy an alarm clock, preferably mechanical so that it can’t break down due to ‘electrical difficulties’.

‘Never trust the northern wind.’

I’ve also had the odd rewish to reread the wonderful works of Tolkien, and not in a lazy way as I did last year but in a more thorough one — which means adding ‘Hobbit’ and ‘Silmarillion’ (or the books I and II from ‘The History of …’) and possibly the ‘Unfinished Tales’ as well. The ‘Dance’ only heightened those wishes — quite possibly since that is another of the few books I would consider rereading.  Seems I’ll need to wait a bit longer before this turn though, don’t have the books anywhere but on my computer atm, and my computer time is unfortunately spent on… well, not reading books — more educating in film history (including watching Stieg Larsson’s trilogy which was a very good recommendation that I fortunately followed!) and such.

I also had the odd thought of having another, by the name “imp”.  Might not be the best idea right now though. Oh well.

 

Also, 2011 : seems that the predictions you would be not the friendliest of years continue to come true.

To Spend Time On…

… reading. Lately, I’ve read quite a bit — science fiction mostly, the rest would fall under the genre of philosophical writings. I’ve also got my hands (finally, around six-seven years after starting with the first book!) on ‘Noble House’ and ‘Whirlwind’ which means that when I wish to continue reading about British arrogance and commerce in the Far East I can freely continue doing so. Clavell is a bit too good to miss out, so I’m planning to take it up as one of the next (not the next though: first I’ll make sure I’ve got all of the New Republic Era //all == as much as I can and have// read; after that a bit of Mahan, and then, I guess, onwards to the Clavell books). 

I started using an interesting web-site called GoodReads.com. Seems to keep a list of what I’ve (you’ve) read — something that I consider rather useful. I have tried to keep such a list in the past but it never works out; on the computer/online it should amount to something better though. 

Reading the New Republic Era has made quite an impression though: with the previous ten-odd books by J. Marsden (on Australia and such) and now a whole lot by different authors I’ve seen how there’s a difference between styles, and what that actually means. Just to bring out a few, then if we look at Matthew Stover (Natalie would probably cringe just on hearing his name) then he often starts long discourses about things not-that-directly related to everything else. Yet, it suits me well since I see the relevance of the things he poses and it creates a deeper background; Roger MacBride Allen on the other hand uses deeply comical situations along with fast-paced action which has made me like the overall depth less though the few scenes that are in all of them do make a sort of impression as well as the characters he creates; Timothy Zahn is just great, of his creation is the tactical genius Thrawn and I believe that (much like John Howe in his newsletters) Zahn allows himself to dedicate the entire art-ful being that he projected into Thrawn into the entire action of his writing — the books simply flow and while not as funny as MacBride Allen’s they still offer a sense of completeness and thoroughness; finally, John Marsden

Ah, John Marsden’s books… I have to say, it might have been the first young adult (or whatever-nonsense they call that) series that I ever read, but it was good. Enjoyable. The language, as has been often noted, was exactly that — deeply in line with the intended audience. The books — content — is not that wonderful in the Tomorrow and Ellie series but it is still an interesting question to wonder about, especially given the war is a simple background setting to the larger problem of human interaction. I do deeply recommend reading Marsden and not for the same reasons for why people should read either J.R.R. Tolkien, J. Clavell, W. Somerset Maugham, or Kawabata Yasunari. No, the reason to read John Marsden is to read about becoming human/inhuman, growing up — no, not exactly that: I cannot place my hand (paw?) on what it is that is there, but there’s something worthwhile… it is not the beauty of the style nor any other obvious literary quality, but something less tangible perhaps (or therefore, instead, more tangible?).

I did also want to say a word about a few of the characters that have struck me as wonderful as few can be from the New Republic era books that I’ve read, but I believe I’ll keep that for another time now.
 

“Blood and Oil”

Today I walked in the dark cold forest. I went to one of the finest places I know here. I regret that it is a cloudy day. The moon could have made it an amazing sight. It was still great, but it could have been better.

It can always be better? Perhaps. Perhaps. And no. There will be something that is the apex of greatness. I do not know when, I do not know what it will be. I do know that it will be magnificent.

I have looked into the eyes of Muammar Qaddafi. If the people succeed against him, he has indeed lost the Mandate of Heaven.

Individualism.

I gave out good advice today. I wish I followed the advice that I so readily share. I know it’s correct, I know it’s the way I should do things. Yet, I find it easier to say so to others than to do it myself. A pity it is that single topic which always fails me.

I have imagined I’ll reread this all again someday. I do not know when. I do know it will be a great read, an interesting read. I hope I’ll be able to listen to all of the music pieces while I read it to make it even better.

A Passing Moment

 It is an amazing feeling to sit in my room, looking outside at the drizzling rain while listening to good music and reading about the exploits of men of steel and the cowardice of those who were afraid to do their duty. Svanstrom’s ‘A Short History of Sweden’ is the book I’m handling at this current moment in the hopes of finding reference to a very obscure military manouver. It is most interesting.

Why should I bother with Probability? Or RSF coursework? Indeed, if I can deal with topics that are interesting and fun to read about then ArcGIS proves to be no good alternative… at least on this moment.

It is worth mentioning that the rain stopped for the exact time that it was supposed to be dry. Odd. Now I hear it again, falling slowly against the roof and windows.

And I’ll continue my reading…

Thoughts Reimagined

 What is this life… 

.. And this would likely make the day … if I continued with William Henry Davies. ‘Leisure’ is, after all, an excellent piece of poetry. However, what I wished to say today is not in reference to ‘Leisure’ (With the possible exception of purposefully misquoting him and saying "What is this life if, full of care, We have no time…") for what seems to be lacking lately is time. Nothing else, but time. And I’m not speaking mainly of myself — I am speaking of everyone and no one, and this tells me that something is wrong. I actually made a (very short) note before writing this and that reads as:

"A life of interest.
A vain person. To make
friends is nearly not as easy
as keeping them."

[Original spacing preserved for excellence.]

I’m sure that many will draw their own conclusions from the previous (indeed, an experience that more people should follow — thinking, after all, is a most useful experience!) but those are likely to miss what I meant to say.

So, what did I intend to say?

I think I’ve managed one thing I wished to accomplish, though it was by no means on the top of my to-do list. What I feel most strongly is that I’m growing more distant from Estonia with every passing moment. (That should be no surprise to anyone). What indeed I hoped would not happen was that I have not found much reason to keep going back there. I know of one upcoming trip, and I suspect another… but to spend a summer there, again? Even though summers in Norwich are likely to lack what I except (a warm sea) then it will most likely be a more interesting and enriching experience (especially if I’ll be able to do more than be in Norwich). As I see it now, I’d expect a visit back "home" in June and then August, or it might be possible indeed that I’ll have to accommodate the two important summer-time birthdays which would mean July (in which case August would be outright foolish). Oh well, I’ll see how it turns out. Whatever happens, it will be interesting. 😉

What I did not however expect was that the idea of Estonia (and what it has stood for) would be so clear in my mind. A discussion on the pros-cons of our policies (not directly, but indirectly at least) of the last twenty years was an example of that. No matter what they did wrong, I am slightly offended by the thoughts that they could have done it better. As it stands, the few names which allowed for the creation of such a state as it is today are still strong and powerful — I wouldn’t want it any other way. And, having grown up in it, I can see the beauty of such a system, as it is. Wanting it in any other way is… [!!]

And, I’ve finally kindled the thought of reading A.T. Mahan in his original [pun intended]. That should be fun… and somewhat more original than the usual book I read.

On Reading and Writing

I think that when I once began this version of my thoughts in the shape of words and paragraphs, I said that I would take pleasure in commenting upon a few authors and their pieces of writing, that I consider excelling in all manners or some.

Now, to begin, I’d first say a few thoughts on writing instead of reading. Writing demands time and passion, also skill. Without skill and style, one may put an infinite amount of words into a sentence, but it will mean nothing and it will be valued as nothing. The song that I have selected as the ‘Current Music’ somehow reflects this complication that I feel about writing, and, more to the point, writing well. Writing well means that there are already concepts that can be developed — I would take the historical backgrounds that Ryotaro Shiba and Robert Graves present us, and compare them to the nationalistic passions that Henryk Sienkiewicz so well materialises… the eloquent style and form of Hermann Hesse, or the grandiose descriptions of John Tolkien and Arthur Clarke, utilized very differently, but still enhancing the bigger picture.

‘And I will start again… Make a wish…’
— Conjure One, ‘Make a Wish’

Writing also demands much other resources — firstly, one cannot simple write since it demands a special mood of sorts that I am at a loss to describe though I am sure that people who do write (occasionally) know what I hereby mean; secondly, the concept should not merely be stating what thousands have already stated, but to try (and to succeed) in putting to paper something new, or, at the very least, something that few others have done well.

Today, I managed to reflect that I have likely not read any non-English or Japanese author in the past two or three months. Oh, sure, I have read Eliot, Clarke, Kawabata, Shiba, Graves, Maugham, Tolkien, and some others. But not a single non-English/Japanese writer in this time-span. Possibly, the last one from other sources that I read was Hemingway whose ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ was, simply put, excellent. To specify, this does not exclude various foreign newspapers (American, Australian, British) and magazines that I happen to read or skim in what detail I can, but a newspaper or a magazine is far different from a decent novel. In any case, I happened to read Plato’s ‘Apology’ today, and I found it compelling. Compelling to think, compelling to be. But, just to further prove my earlier words, I did happen to the library a few days ago (might have been yesterday… but I lose track of such details since they are of no consequence), and who did I lend..? Kawabata (The Master of Go), Graves (Count Belisarius), Maugham (Razor’s Edge), and Clavell (Tai-pan).

Anyways, I think that I wished to say a few words about reading as well. Reading demands attention, even more so than writing, mainly because of the little details or stylistic nuances that writers like to add into their works. Reading books of good style is easy — reading those which are said to be ‘classic’ or ‘superb’ is however a different thing. Indeed, many of these so-proclaimed grand works amount to very little in my eyes. A true good book can be sensed when looked upon, when read. One should not have to exert more than the usual concentration to remain fixed in a book. If that happens, then the book is simply over-worked. The young writer’s (Paolini, might have been) series of a dragon-boy and whatnot come to mind which simply have the English-English dictionary written into themselves.

As a final thought, I’d like to say that what makes for a good read should also make for a good quote. Both Plato’s ‘Apology’, and Robert Graves’ ‘Count Belisarius’ offer for many such instances. I am sure that I need not be disappointed with any other of the books that I lent. Nor in any of the authors I mentioned in the lists before. What about others though?

Edit: 27-11-2010. Fixed an error: I attributed the lyrics present in this text to Enigma instead of Conjure One.