How to Live

How to Live- A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an AnswerI’d wanted to read How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer but kept putting it off. It just seemed outside of everything else I was doing. But then I was given it by a friend, read it in only a few days and was astounded by it.

First, Montaigne himself is endlessly interesting. Engaged in his world and cut off from it too. Social, friendly, loving, but introverted and solitary too. Sophisticated but common. Second, his essays are magnificent. I’ve always been put off by the very first one every time I’ve tried to read them. The form and the context were simply too distant to be casually accessible and I’ve only ever tried to read them casually. But Bakewell works through them in a way that makes them inviting and essential. I come away from this book desperate to read these essays. Finally, the history of Montaigne’s reception is more interesting than it has any right to be, and reading about it, I picked up a quick history of modern France that I was sorely lacking.

Any one of these would probably have made the book worth reading, but it offers all three and–and this is the astounding part–it offers them in a carefully but lightly and beautifully written prose that is a pleasure to read.

Reading, I couldn’t help noticing that Bakewell writes the kind of book that I wanted my dissertation to be but was unable to pull off. Memory was the ingredient that was missing and holding me back–and that in fact suggests that intensity of work was the problem: I worked too slowly, too much in the corner of my life to remember as carefully as I needed to to write what I aimed to write.

I loved this book.

Life Is a Miracle

Life Is a MiracleI admire Berry and enjoy his essays. He is a conservationist in the way I wish more environmentalists were (cf. A Sand County Almanac).

A part of what I admire is that Berry veers off into places I won’t go. If I can read your entire book saying “yes,” then either I’m not thinking or you aren’t. Berry is always a challenge. I would like to live like he does, and I most decidedly would not like to.

This is the first long work I’ve read by him. It’s interesting, and I certainly agree with his argument against the mechanization of life. Ultimately though his focus is too specific for me. He’s essentially rebutting a book I don’t know by an entomologist I don’t know, taking it as representative of a general tendency. Fine, but I’m too cut off from the source to be moved here.

End This Depression Now!

End This Depression Now!Paul Krugman is a public intellectual of the first order. It’s good to see that the type isn’t lost to us the way it seemed it might be in the late ninties. (It bothers me that our new public intellectual is an economist and not a belles lettres-ist, but we don’t live it that kind of world anymore. So much the worse for us.)

I’ve been reading Krugman’s columns since arriving in Montreal and his blog since he started it. These writings–along with the other blogs I’ve picked up along the way through links and pointers–have provided me with a basic education in economics. Without that, I’m not sure what I’d make of (or even how I’d make something of) the mess that is the world today. Together this amounts to a kind of intellectual debt. And I’m grateful to him for it.

Now this book comes out–a blook really in that it transforms the blog of the last few years into book form. (In this it’s like You Are Not a Gadget but different in that I suspect he consciously used the blog as a space to draft and work through presentations of ideas.) It’s well done and readable. I suspect that many people won’t read it though and when they do, they’ll read it like something they know they are supposed to disagree with and will. Such is the world we live in. So much the worse for us.

Shortchange Edition

So I’ve seen a series of movies recently, all of which deserve more attention than I’m going to give them here. But I have three book logs waiting in the wings that refuse to write themselves. So what am I supposed to do?

So a few quick notes:

  • Winter’s Bone was really a great movie. The landscape was beautiful, the characters and scenes appropriately gothic, and the photography gorgeous.
  • The Avenger’s was debated among my friends. I’m the outlier: I like it. They object that the invasion is so perfunctory. I think the invasion is all denoument. The plot goal here is to make a team. The invasion is there only to show that team off. The aliens are placeholders. One of the best Superhero movies I’ve seen in a long while. And very well written.
  • Prometheus seems squeezed in here and deserves no better. It is fear transformed into myth, a transformation that kills it. Space is both opened (become vistas) and reduced (to the suit). This is a rule movie that breaks the rules: “We can’t breath this air!” but they all take their helmets off all the time because, well, they can. Geek exercise that creates spaces for geekdom and lore.
  • Contraband. I still like Whalberg, and this is him doing his thing. Ordinary ok movie. Not boring, not interesting. Claire’s creepy boyfriend from Six Feet Under has become a handsome, only-somewhat-creepy man.

True Blood Season One

A couple weeks ago, I rewatched this season on a tear. Now I’m not saying it’s any good, but it is absolutely entertaining. And engrossing.

I’ve marked all of the second season episodes as “unwatched” in preparation for my next visit to Beau Temps.

Side note: the theme song is one of my favourite theme songs of all time. I never skip it. Ever.

Second side note: if Angel and Lavern and Mr. Jefferson could have spin-offs, then Eric deserves one. Seriously.

Like really, I’m serious!