Bookshelf

  1. Cover of Beowulf

    Beowulf

    by Unknown
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Beowulf

    by Unknown
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    As a lover of Anglo-Saxon literature and history, Beowulf is very near and dear to my heart. So when our book club decided to tackle it, I was happy as dragon on gold. I decided that it was time to take a serious look at multiple translations and to try my hand at reading as much as I could in the original Anglo-Saxon as well. Here’s a breakdown of all the versions I read this time around:

    Seamus Heaney

    ISBN13: 9780393320978

    This version is functional as far as capturing the words in a fairly rote way, but feels clumsy and fails to evoke much in the way of mood. It does have the advantage of facing-page original Anglo-Saxon, so it’s what I used for my attempts at reading the original text.

    Thomas Meyer

    ISBN13: 9780615612652

    This one approaches Beowulf as modern poetry and makes some bold decisions about how to present the content. Line breaks, indentation, alignment, and white space are all vital to its interpretation. And the text is less concerned with literal accuracy on a word-by-word level and more concerned with creating an impactful effect, which it does very well. In many ways, I prefer this version to the Heaney, though there are some outright omissions of passages, which I disapprove.

    Gareth Hinds

    ISBN13: 9780763630232

    For fun, I threw in this great graphic novel adaptation I picked up at Half Price Books a while back. It makes no attempt to be a complete representation of the text. But the art and visual storytelling are great.

    Original Text

    My grasp of Anglo-Saxon language is very far from fluent. Mostly, I can bring to bear my knowledge of middle and early modern English, German cognates and grammar, a smattering of Icelandic and Old Norse pronunciation and concepts, and my study of Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures.

    There is a great deal I missed in my reading, but it was worth it for hearing the sound and rhythm of the original poetry and for the linguistic thrill of discovering words that unlocked some linguistic puzzle in my mind.

  2. Cover of American Gods

    American Gods

    by Neil Gaiman
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  3. Cover of The Underground Railroad

    The Underground Railroad

    by Colson Whitehead
    ★ ★
  4. Cover of Stories of Your Life and Others

    Stories of Your Life and Others

    by Ted Chiang
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Stories of Your Life and Others

    by Ted Chiang
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    One of the most amazing and thought-provoking collections I have read in a long time. Ted Chiang has joined the ranks of my most cherished authors of fiction.

  5. Cover of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch

    The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch

    by Lewis Dartnell
    ★ ★ ★
  6. Cover of The Shape Of Things To Come

    The Shape Of Things To Come

    by H.G. Wells
    ★ ★ ★
  7. Cover of Station Eleven

    Station Eleven

    by Emily St. John Mandel
    ★ ★ ★ ★
  8. Cover of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

    The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

    by Jonathan Haidt
    ★ ★ ★ ★
  9. Cover of A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1)

    A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1)

    by Vernor Vinge
    ★ ★ ★ ★
  10. Cover of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

    How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

    by Michael Pollan
    ★ ★ ★ ★
  11. Cover of Alias Grace

    Alias Grace

    by Margaret Atwood
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  12. Cover of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

    Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

    by Steven Pinker
    ★ ★ ★ ★
  13. Cover of Chronicle of a Death Foretold

    Chronicle of a Death Foretold

    by Gabriel García Márquez
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  14. Cover of Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

    Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

    by Dava Sobel
    ★ ★ ★ ★
  15. Cover of How Long 'til Black Future Month?

    How Long 'til Black Future Month?

    by N.K. Jemisin
    ★ ★ ★
  16. Cover of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

    Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

    by James W. Loewen
    ★ ★ ★
  17. Cover of Dark Places

    Dark Places

    by Gillian Flynn
    ★ ★ ★
  18. Cover of A World Lit Only by Fire

    A World Lit Only by Fire

    by William Manchester
  19. Cover of Krampus: The Yule Lord

    Krampus: The Yule Lord

    by Brom
    ★ ★ ★
  20. Cover of Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

    Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

    by Paul Woodruff
  21. Cover of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

    by David Grann
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  22. Cover of Project Hail Mary

    Project Hail Mary

    by Andy Weir
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  23. Cover of The Brothers Karamazov

    The Brothers Karamazov

    by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    ★ ★

    The Brothers Karamazov

    by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    My book club chose this one to read and I was relatively interested to see how Dostoyevsky’s work stands up to my high school memories of Crime and Punishment and fragments of The Grand Inquisitor section of this book. The answer is not so good. The book is rambling in the extreme and most of the plot involves around a quasi-incestuous, middle school style game of he-said-she-said romance melodrama. It does explore philosophical themes, but the central question of whether a person can be moral without faith seems to me (as a humanist atheist) to be pretty well answered and not particularly germane to contemporary readers.

  24. Cover of Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization

    Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization

    by Edward Slingerland
    ★ ★ ★
  25. Cover of Oil!

    Oil!

    by Upton Sinclair
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Oil!

    by Upton Sinclair
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    I really enjoyed reading Sinclair's The Jungle when I was in high school, but had never yet gotten around to any of his other works. Then a few years ago I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant and chilling There Will be Blood, which I learned is loosely inspired by this novel and its seemed like the perfect excuse to get back to Sinclair's work.

    The first thing I have to report is that the writing is superb. Lovely prose, fantastic structure, characters you can believe, sardonic humor, and messaging that is (almost) never heavy handed. I mention messaging because this book is all about capitalism versus labor (and socialism and communism). Written a hundred years ago, all the big questions it asks are still shockingly relevant today. How do we know who's version of events to believe? Where is the line between getting things done and cheating the system? How do you find balance when your beliefs are opposed to those you love most?

    It's a very long book, but one that kept me hooked the whole way through.

  26. Cover of Swag

    Swag

    by Leonard, Elmore
    ★ ★ ★

    Swag

    by Leonard, Elmore
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    This book is three-stars, but that's all it wants to be. It's great at being three-stars!

  27. Cover of The Trial and Death of Socrates

    The Trial and Death of Socrates

    by Plato
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  28. Cover of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

    Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

    by Amanda Montell
    ★ ★

    Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

    by Amanda Montell
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    An extremely shallow look at the idea that language is central to the power of cults and cult-like organizations. It feels like most of the author’s research was done on social media, and most of the content focuses on providing very basic descriptions of different types of cultish groups. Disappointing.

  29. Cover of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    by John le Carré
    ★ ★ ★

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    by John le Carré
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    A solid deconstruction of spycraft and the cold war.

  30. Cover of The Coddling of the American Mind

    The Coddling of the American Mind

    by Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff
    ★ ★

    The Coddling of the American Mind

    by Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    If not for my book club, I wouldn’t read a book with such an inflammatory title, but we’d previously read Haidt’s previous book The Righteous Mind and found it pretty interesting. This one doesn’t at all live up to that precedent.

    The basic point is unarguable–by over-protecting children, we make them vulnerable to fragility and likely to have extreme reactions to disagreement–but the authors seem to be more interested in clutching their pearls about kids these days and in cherry-picking scandalous sounding exemplars than in asking deeper questions about why young people feel the way they do or how the situation might be more nuanced than it seems at first glance. It leaves me with a strong urge to dismiss it with a shrug and an “okay, boomer.”