Books, Books, Books

Ender's Game - Continuing my recent interest in sci-fi novels, I picked up Ender's game because it tops several "all time best" lists and is being made into a movie sometime in 2013.  Very fun read.

The End of Eternity - Another great book by Isaac Asimov. This one was not quite as good as the foundation trilogy, but if you enjoy time travel I highly recommend it.

The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate - Runaway winner for the most pretentious book title ever. Still found some good words, such as these listed below.  Puerto Rico has callipygous autochthons.

autochthon (aw-TOK-then) noun, plural autochthons or autochthones (aw-TOK-the-NEEZ) an aboriginal inhabitant of a place; an earliest known inhabitant of a place.

callipygian (KAL-i-PIJ-ee-en) adjective, also given as callipygous (KAL-i-PI-ges) having shapely buttocks.

dipsomania (DIP-se-MAY-nee-e) noun an uncontrollable craving for alcoholic drink.

Grundyism (GRUN-dee-IZ-em) noun 1. a narrow-minded adherence to conventionality, combining propriety and prudery in matters of personal behavior. 2. grundyism, an instance of such conventionalism.

The Way of Zen - Above average book by Alan Watts, whose writing I enjoy. Favorite passage:

According to convention, I am not simply what I am doing now. I am also what I have done, and my conventionally edited version of my past is made to seem almost more the real “me” than what I am at this moment. For what I am seems so fleeting and intangible, but what I was is fixed and final. It is the firm basis for predictions of what I will be in the future, and so it comes about that I am more closely identified with what no longer exists than with what actually is!

1001 Smartest Things Ever Said - Some very smart/wise quotes were indeed included, notably:

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering. -Saint Augustine
Happy the man, and happy he alone, He who can call today his own: He who, secure within, can say, Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today. Be fair or foul or rain or shine The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine. Not Heaven itself upon the past has power, But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour. -Horace
Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. -Susan Ertz
He who angers you conquers you. -Elizabeth Kenny
We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. -Anais Nin

Freedom from the Known

Below are a few favorite passages from the refreshing book "Freedom from the Known" by Krishnamurti.  I really enjoyed this book, and I appreciated Krishnamurti's frankness with the reader.  He can come across as hostile, but I love that he does not mince words and he really challenges the reader to think differently.  Don't say, act.  Don't try, do.  

For centuries we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, our saints. We say, ‘Tell me all about it—what lies beyond the hills and the mountains and the earth?’ and we are satisfied with their descriptions, which means that we live on words and our life is shallow and empty. We are second-hand people. We have lived on what we have been told, either guided by our inclinations, our tendencies, or compelled to accept by circumstances and environment. We are the result of all kinds of influences and there is nothing new in us, nothing that we have discovered for ourselves; nothing original, pristine, clear.
The primary cause of disorder in ourselves is the seeking of reality promised by another; we mechanically follow somebody who will assure us a comfortable spiritual life. It is a most extraordinary thing that although most of us are opposed to political tyranny and dictatorship, we inwardly accept the authority, the tyranny, of another to twist our minds and our way of life. So if we completely reject, not intellectually but actually, all so-called spiritual authority, all ceremonies, rituals and dogmas, it means that we stand alone and are already in conflict with society; we cease to be respectable human beings. A respectable human being cannot possibly come near to that infinite, immeasurable, reality.
The question of whether or not there is a God or truth or reality, or whatever you like to call it, can never be answered by books, by priests, philosophers or saviours. Nobody and nothing can answer the question but you yourself and that is why you must know yourself. Immaturity lies only in total ignorance of self. To understand yourself is the beginning of wisdom.

Most of us are not sensitive even physically. We over-eat, we do not bother about the right diet, we oversmoke and drink so that our bodies become gross and insensitive; the quality of attention in the organism itself is made dull. How can there be a very alert, sensitive, clear mind if the organism itself is dull and heavy?
Violence is not merely killing another. It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person, when we obey because there is fear. So violence isn’t merely organised butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper, and we are inquiring into the very depths of violence. When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.

You say, ‘I will think about it; I will consider whether it is possible to be free from violence or not. I will try to be free.’ That is one of the most dreadful statements you can make, ‘I will try’. There is no trying, no doing your best. Either you do it or you don’t do it. (emphasis mine)

We want to know the truth about reincarnation, we want proof of the survival of the soul, we listen to the assertion of clairvoyants and to the conclusions of psychical research, but we never ask, never, how to live—to live with delight, with enchantment, with beauty every day. We have accepted life as it is with all its agony and despair and have got used to it, and think of death as something to be carefully avoided. But death is extraordinarily like life when we know how to live. You cannot live without dying. You cannot live if you do not die psychologically every minute. This is not an intellectual paradox. To live completely, wholly, every day as if it were a new loveliness, there must be dying to everything of yesterday, otherwise you live mechanically, and a mechanical mind can never know what love is or what freedom is

Sci-Fi Experiment

Needing a break from non-fiction, I decided to experiment a bit by reading two sci-fi series.  

The first, "Wool," is a current phenomenon on I read books 1-5, and thought they were fairly enjoyable, but not that memorable.  I expected more given the phenomenal average rating the series has on Amazon and Goodreads.  Book 1 is really great, but the rest is just 2.5 star material.

The second series, which I HIGHLY recommend, is the Foundation trilogy by Issac Asimov.  I chose this trilogy because it topped so many "greatest of all time" lists.  Asimov was a prolific writer - he wrote 470 books in 9 of the 10 Dewey Decimal categories.  He began Foundation (book #1) when he was just 21, which is incredible given the depth of language and plot in the book.  Foundation and Empire (book #2) was similar to The Two Towers from the Lord of the Rings trilogy - it was entertaining, but lacked the novelty of the first book and the revelations of Second Foundation (book #3).  Second Foundation was my personal favorite, which several  memorable characters and plot twists.  4/5 stars for the series. 

Forgettable Books

Have read a lot of books that aren't worth writing about, so here is a list with ratings:

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel - 2/5

The Dude and the Zen Master - 2/5

Investing - The Last Liberal Art - 2.5/5

Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life - 3/5

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others - 1/5

The Book of Five Rings - 2/5

Rethinking the Equity Risk Premium - 3/5

Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life - 3/5




The Right Stuff

No surprise here, but the book is much better than the movie.  Tom Wolfe’s writing is electric, and his subject matter fascinating.  There are no modern equivalents to the test pilots and astronauts of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I wonder how people of the internet age would react to the constant death defying, or death inducing, stunts like those undertaken by these pilots. These crazy bastards put their lives on the line to test the limits of speed, space and technology.  Imagine volunteering to be a test pilot knowing the following:

In 1952 sixty-two Air Force pilots died in the course of thirty-six weeks of training, an extraordinary rate of 1.7 per week. Those figures were for fighter-pilot trainees only; they did not include the test pilots, Bridgeman’s own confreres, who were dying quite regularly enough….56 percent probability, to be exact, that at some point a career Navy pilot would have to eject from his aircraft and attempt to come down by parachute. In the era of jet fighters, ejection meant being exploded out of the cockpit by a nitroglycerine charge, like a human cannonball. The ejection itself was so hazardous—men lost knees, arms, and their lives on the rim of the cockpit or had the skin torn off their faces when they hit the “wall” of air outside—that many pilots chose to wrestle their aircraft to the ground rather than try it … and died that way instead.

One figure showed that there was a 23% probability of death if you were a part of the program. But the book is about the right stuff, and those with the right stuff didn’t sweat figures like these because “The figures were averages, and averages applied to those with average stuff.”  You have to love the attitude and egos of these men.  Oh and they were always drunk:

Every young fighter jock knew the feeling of getting two or three hours’ sleep and then waking up at 5:30 a.m. and having a few cups of coffee, a few cigarettes, and then carting his poor quivering liver out to the field for another day of flying. There were those who arrived not merely hungover but still drunk, slapping oxygen tank cones over their faces and trying to burn the alcohol out of their systems, and then going up, remarking later: “I don’t advise it, you understand, but it can be done.” (Provided you have the right stuff, you miserable pudknocker.)

I loved Wolfe’s description of astronauts as the cold war equivalents “single combat warriors”

Just as the Soviet success in putting Sputniks into orbit around the earth revived long-buried superstitions about the power of heavenly bodies and the fear of hostile control of the heavens, so did the creation of astronauts and a “manned space program” bring back to life one of the ancient superstitions of warfare. Single combat had been common throughout the world in the pre-Christian era and endured in some places through the Middle Ages. In single combat the mightiest soldier of one army would fight the mightiest soldier of the other army as a substitute for a pitched battle between the entire forces.

If you like American History and/or stories of pushing the limits of human capability and endurance, this book is for you.