Saturday, February 22, 2014

(Another) Book Meme

Life has been busy of late (3 kids, dissertation, and all) and as you've probably noticed posting here hasn't been so much a thing.  Which is, I think, alright - not desirable, but acceptable and allowable.  Since my creative juices are being directed into working on Ye Olde Dissertation, what you'll get here is another book-related meme.  However much things change, the massive amount of time I spend reading remains relatively constant.

1) What book are you reading now?
"Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" by James McPherson.  I realized that I knew frightfully little about one of the most formative American wars and, to remedy this ignorance, started hunting around for a good book.  Histories of the Civil War are prolific and it's the sort of historical event that almost cries out for a multivolume work to begin to address adequately.  Having insufficient time/interest to read a multivolume work, I came across numerous sources commending this book as the best single-volume history of the Civil War now available.  $9 on Amazon (for the Kindle; $15 for the paperback) is quite a reasonable price and so far I'm about 20% of the way through.  It's been very readable, engaging, and does not require a specialist's background in order to understand or appreciate the book.  So far I've particularly appreciated McPherson's emphasis on the fact that, although slavery played a large role in the conflict, it was the focus point to which there were many subsidiary causes.  As such, he's painted a more nuanced picture than the extremes of "The Civil War was about slavery" or "The Civil War was about states' rights".  Can't wait to read the remainder of the book.

2) What book did you just finish?
"The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard" by Stephen Jimenez.  This was of some personal interest since I lived in Fort Collins while doing my M.A. degree and I knew that Shepard had spent time there.  (After being found by the police, he was taken to the Poudre Valley Hospital which is located right by where I'd park my car to walk to campus.)  The author's thesis, overbriefly, is that Shepard wasn't killed by two men in a "gay panic" (as is commonly believed) but rather for more prosaic reasons involving meth.  As such, the book is work in the investigative journalism/true crime genre.  I found two parts of the book most interesting: First, apparently the author encountered persons who, for various reasons, didn't want Shepard's murder to be de-martyrized (if that's a word) from its perception as an anti-gay hate crime into a (no less tragic) drug-running crime.  Since I'm a philosopher, and philosophers pursue Truth, it is disappointing that some persons wouldn't want the full truth to be uncovered if it conflicted with their preferred narrative - disappointing, but perhaps not particularly surprising.  Second, I appreciated that, when witness accounts substantially conflicted (as they inevitably must in a 10+ year investigation involving hundreds of interviews), the author took pains to specify why he believed one account over against another.  Although I don't know much about investigative journalism, I hope this is a standard practice; regardless, it's a habit I'm glad the author integrated into his book.

3) What do you plan to read next?
Probably "The Sign of the Cross" by Francis de Sales.  I've a great fondness for de Sales (his "Catholic Controversies" was significant in my own conversion) and this is a new English translation of a short treatise he wrote on what the gesture we do before, during, and after the Mass means, its historic origins, and a defense against those Protestants who'd reject it.  (Its rejection is by no means universal among Protestants - I remember growing up in the Lutheran church that some persons during the service would do it frequently.)  Can't wait to read it; any time I've spent reading de Sales has never been wasted.

4) What book do you keep meaning to finish?
Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina".  I've got the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation (which is, for the record, excellent) but I just can't seem to slog my way through the story.  It's been a good few years since I've touched this book so at this point the odds of my actually finishing it are basically zero.

5) What book do you keep meaning to start?
This is a lame answer, but there aren't actually any books I've been consistently meaning to start.  If there's a book that's worth my time, it gets read in relatively short order (particularly since I'm a fast reader).  But there aren't really any outstanding books I've been putting off starting; if it's going to get read at all, it's in the queue and constant progress through the reading queue is being made.

6)  What is your current reading trend?
Ebooks, actually.  Of the last dozen books I've purchased, ten of them have been ebooks.  The Rollins were very kind and gave us Kindles which I've been making great use of.  I don't tend to do academic reading on them (notetaking abilities are pretty minimal and legible PDF rendering is pretty spotty), but in terms of pleasure reading it's nearly all been done on a Kindle.  Bonus: I can now take dozens of books on vacation in a reasonable amount of space (and the 2+ week battery life means I can rely on its lasting for the duration of a trip).  In terms of academic readings, I've been getting a lot better at using Dropbox to keep them all organized and accessible whenever and wherever I'm doing dissertation writing.