#book roundup

In the absence of anything better to do (Friday night boredom…), I thought I might as well update y’all on my reading habits.

1) Robert Graves – The Greek Myths: The Definitive Edition 

This book was new and revolutionary in the ’60s, which (I think) just goes to show how slowly things actually change in the classics world… This edition was reissued in 2011. Considering Graves admits to taking hallucinogenic mushrooms in the intro, it’s definitely a book ‘of its time’. Not to say that people don’t do that any more, but I guess back then it was a way of being outrageous while also being a male, white, classicist (or, as he likes to call h11646320imself, mythographer). I guess you could give Graves that title – he seems to have gathered as many fragments of similar myths he could find and mas
hed them together. Admittedly, some of his sources (and lack of citation) are a bit shady, but it’s an interesting read, especially if, like me, you thought myths were just stories people made up to explain the formation of the universe (a sort of ‘Brief History of Time’ without the complicated science). Through comparing historical accounts, myths, and actual anthropological/archaeological finds, Graves makes a huge endeavour to attach meaning to and demystify every single thing about Greek mythology. It’s a great effort, but reading into everything through the historical filter kind of kills the appeal. Still, it’s nice to know why there was so much violence and male promiscuity (while the goddesses generally aren’t sexually promiscuous).

Basically, don’t read it if you’re worried about spoilers. Sometimes stories are better as just stories.

2) Jean-Luc Nancy – L’intrus

Back in the early 2000s (if I’m not mistaken), French philosopher Jea3339283n-Luc Nancy underwent a heart transplant. In L’intrus (literally translated, that means ‘the intruder’), he explores his condition (heart failure) and the way medicine deals with it. He doesn’t go into excruciating detail about medical procedures, but actually talks about the self, and where the definition of ‘I’ lies when any part of you is transplanted. Also, he considers the effects of technology on humans – not in a 1984 way, but rather in terms of what it means if people can be granted extra years (or better years?)… Strangely reminiscent of Frankenstein.
According to him, a heart that no longer functions properly as a heart has betrayed its purpose and thus becomes an intruder. For obvious reasons, I can sympathise  – and find that a lot of thoughts he’s written down are things I’ve contemplated also (such as the way doctors kind of play God by deciding who gets a transplant and when, and what happens to ‘me’ and my identity after a transplant). I’m actually really hoping – nay, aspiring – to translate this slim volume into English or Greek because it’s worth reading.

3) Aristophanes – Peace (Ειρήνη)

17408558In 421 BCE, Athens and Sparta decided to stop fighting each other and sign the Peace of Nicias (also known as the Fifty years peace, although it only actually lasted six). Ten days prior to the validation of the peace treaty, Aristophanes presents his play Peace. It’s hilarious – featuring his quick wit and sharp critique on the corrupted society he lived in (of course, he didn’t know how little people would actually change!). Not as much satire of his contemporaries, but it was his chance to revel in the celebration for peace. While it still contains some of his vitriolic humour, it’s also greatly scatological. Literally. The entire prologue is built around the feeding habits of a huge, greedy dung beetle that is to take our hero Trygaios to Olympus. Of course, it wouldn’t be Aristophanes without the dirty jokes.

Admittedly, I think I enjoyed Wasps more, not quite sure why… Meanwhile, this play has made me hungry for figs with honey (yes, I’ve been craving them for the entire week!).


What are you reading?


#Friday #book roundup – late again!

It would help if my regular features were actually regular! Maybe I should make this a Saturday roundup..

Anyhow, as the pink glow of sunset casts its eye on Saturday, this is yesterday’s roundup.

Books I’m wading through:

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I’m not sure this book even needs an introduction! I’m still on the second chapter, as I’m trying to finish others I started at an earlier date first. I saw itCrime-and-Punishment as a play (when I was back in Glasgow) so I know what’s going to happen, but I just wanted to read it. I thought it might be interesting to see how much was lost when it was translated to the stage (I’m sure that chunks were lost simply in translation from Russian to English, let alone across genres!).

The reason I started it? I’ve been following the series War and Peace (yes, based on the book by Leo Tolstoy, which I’ve also never read…the shame!) and it kindled a curiosity for Russian literature. I didn’t feel prepared to tackle Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky seems to write about characters who feel easier to identify with (or is it just me?). Plus, there’s been quite a bit of Russian theatre going around Athens, which begs the question: why is it so popular?

Also, I have a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov I have yet to read. More on that soon, I hope!

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

I’m in the third part of the book (51CDTKBPNPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_peculiar, as I thought there were only two parts) with only a few pages left to go! The first part delves into his autobiographical tale about surviving the prison camps, while the second explores his psychiatric (or psychological?) method – called ‘logotherapy’. This comes from the Greek word logos, here meaning ‘reason’ or ‘purpose’ rather than ‘word’ or ‘speech’. He basically postulates (long word, eh?!) that people who are depressed, aggressive, addicted, neurotic, or even psychotic can achieve a more dignified existence when they find a solid purpose to strive towards. Furthermore, he points out that the empty feeling of meaninglessness of life can actually have physical manifestations, like your body collapsing when you lose hope.

Admittedly, I don’t think this stuff is particularly new as a concept, but both as a narrator and academic researcher he provides ample explanation and research to back up his ideas. Which after all, seems to be what we look for when we embark on a search for a new philosophy – something that works for us, and perhaps has a proven ‘success’ rate.

Poetics – Aristotle (translated by Joe Sachs)

Finally finished!

Aristotle was an impressive man. His obsess9781585101870.3ion with definitions and putting everything into categories makes for frustrating reading (especially since he repeats it every few chapters – just in case you missed it the first ten times!), but it’s possible to recognise in his writing a man trying to grapple scientifically with what he sees, feels, and experiences. I’ve not read piles and piles of classical Greek literature or philosophy but it’s clear modern scientific method can be traced all the way back to this kind of attempt to understand the universe. Sure, he got a few things wrong, like claiming the Sun revolves around the Earth, but for a time of such ‘limited’ technology, this must have been such an advancement in human thought. Nowadays, we kind of take them for granted, but maybe we shouldn’t. Of course, at the same time, shouldn’t forget this kind of stuff was written in the Athenian ‘democracy’ that was built on inequality – women, slaves, and a bunch of other discriminatory and oppressive customs of their time.

And still, he was such a fanboy. Pure loved Homer! (And Sophocles)

No quotes from the books this week. Sorry, peeps! However, I do have one stuck in my head that I keep going back to:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

That are dreamt of in your philosophy

Hamlet, Act I, scene V, l.167-8




#Friday #book roundup

[Technically we’re one hour into Saturday in my current timezone, but to abuse the famous quote: it’s always five o’clock somewhere – in this case, on a Friday, so THERE!]

So… reading. Well, this week has been a peculiar one. Between researching a subject for my potential PhD (which seems to be turning into a Master’s – just to improve my chances of actually completing a PhD if and when I want to) and my morning reading, I’ve ended up with a strange mix.

Books I’m currently thumbing through:

51CDTKBPNPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

This isn’t what you’d call a cheerful read; Frankl tries to deal with his experiences in prison camps during the Holocaust through the scientific lens of his profession (he was a professor of neurology and psychiatry). At the moment, he’s describing the three major phases the prisoner (in this case, he) went through – the initial shock of camp life, the self-preservation and maintenance phase once it became a habit, and finally the post-liberation phase. I’ve not made it to the last one yet, but so far, I’m quite intrigued by what Frankl has to say. While not a strictly sterile, scientific text, it’s fascinating to watch his attempt to divorce himself from his own experiences and break them down in a way that could be useful to anyone – without actually becoming preachy! It does get kind of mushy – which is expected, I mean, it’s about trying to make sense of extremely traumatising events. OK, I’ll admit, as someone who’s recently been near death (in a completely different way), it’s possible I’m biased.

Still, I think even if you’re not looking for hope as the cover would have you believe or seeking your life’s higher purpose, it serves up an interesting slice of insight into what life was like in a prison camp, alongside some refreshing philosophical ideas about the choices we can or can’t make. I’ll confess I was skeptical at first (I generally am with regards to any book that claims to be ‘life-changing’ or meant to help you reach some sort of realisation) but he’s slowly changing my mind. Damn him.

As an added bonus, Frankl quotes loads of other writers and philosophers (mainly Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky). Here’s my favourite quote from the book (I mean, that he’s not quoted from someone else) so far:

it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

Poetics – Aristotle (translated by Joe Sachs)

Where to begin with a book that has influenced people who think about art and philosophy for so many millenia? Legend has it the Poetics are a collection of Aristotle’s lecture notes. To put it simply (and rather crudely), go9781585101870.3.jpgod ol’Aristotle is having a long, complex rant about his favourite kind of performance. What makes a tragedy a tragedy? What makes a ‘good’ tragedy good? And so on… Of course, Aristotle just declares his opinion as if it’s a fact. Art is imitative (he got that from Plato, who possibly got that from Socrates…), and of all the kinds of performance there are, tragedy is the one he fancies the best (admittedly, I don’t blame him – the ancient Greeks did write some great ones). In His opinion, tragedy should deal with the imitation of persons of a greater moral stature and try to move audiences through pity and fear to a sort of emotional cleansing. On the other hand, comedy isn’t worth bothering with because it’s not serious.

Once you get used to the arrogant-sounding tone, Aristotle does make some interesting and valid points. Some of them are so obvious that you’d think it’s ridiculous someone felt the compulsion to write them down, but they are actually things that performers today still have trouble with. I’m thinking specifically of his ramble about the magnitude (length/duration) of a tragedy, which according to him should suit the action, and not end up dragging on. Unfortunately, he’s got a point there.

I must confess I’m reading this as an e-book, so I hadn’t seen the fancy cover (although I do have a different translation in Cyprus). I’ve also discovered Aristotle is ridiculously difficult to paraphrase, perhaps because he’s so precise about everything! I’m sure he was the pedant in the friend group…

Oh yeah, and he totally loves Homer (not Homer Simpson – I mean the other guy who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey). A blossoming (one-sided) fanboy bromance there.

Here’s a quote (if I’m not mistaken, Aristotle used it in the Metaphysics, but it is mentioned somewhere in the text):

wonder is only the beginning of philosophy

Kafka On The Shore – Haruki Murakami

This book 4929is completely different to the other two. I’d go so far as to say it’s not like any other book I’ve ever read. I’m not sure how much of the plot I want to give away, mainly because Murakami has this amazing style that drips with lyricism and poetry while not becoming tiring or excessively flowery (does any of this make sense?). It starts off with 15 year old Kafka who runs away from home. Also, I peeked at the next chapter (I read one chapter per day, usually) and it seems to have a talking cat in it. No idea how that’s relevant, but hey, it’s Murakami!

I just wish I had one millionth of the talent (and guts) he does! I can live with the delusion of grandeur and in vain hope. 😛

That’s all I’m going to say for now.

A big chunk from this one, because it’s insanely difficult to not lift all of the book and stick it here:


Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.