The Atheist in the Attic
I am a huge fan of the work of Samuel Delany and I’m convinced that a hundred years from now, he’ll be one of the most studied writers of our time. This is a minor work made of two pieces, a short novella that imagines the conversations between two great rationalists at the dawn of the enlightenment, the polymath scientific genius, Gottfried Leibniz and the excommunicated Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza. The book imagines the conversations that occurred between these two luminaries from very different worlds and is, in the intellectual tradition of some of Delany’s other non-science fiction works.
Its not his best work, perhaps because it seems unpolished, more a thought experiment than a fully formed work, but the for the fan like myself it illuminates an aspect of Delany too often overlooked – the historian of philosophy and western thought.
This little book is rounded out by an interview Delany did about his recent work, including the monumental Through the Valley of the Nest of the Spiders. As always, Delany is a careful, elucidating interview subject and for the fan, this book is worth picking up just for this.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
A slim, early volume by one of my favorite working poets. You can see the visceral power and honesty here, (some of the poems here are repeated in the more comprehensive Don’t Call Us Dead) but perhaps it isn’t as fully developed as I think it is in his later works.
There’s many wonders to poetry, some of which are just opening up to me in middle age, but one is, frankly, the brevity. It allows you to quickly dive deep into a writer, and with someone like Smith, who’s published relatively little, almost immediately read his collected works and see his development as a writer.
I was blown away by “Don’t Call Us Dead” and you can see the roots of that brilliance in Black Movie. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
American Sonnets to My Once and Future Assassins
Another gut punch of a book of poetry by a black man. Viscerally moving sonnets about race, love and America. Most pointedly what its like to reflect backwards, and think ahead, in Trump’s America.
For many years, I didn’t read much poetry, but lately, I’m drawn to it. There’s only so many tweets you can read, so many Washington tell alls you can consume, before it all feels the same and you need someone brilliant, like Terrance Hayes, to capture the moment in a perfect turn of phrase, the reflect back the world to you in a sonnet that leaves you staring at the page long after you’re done reading.
Perhaps now, more than ever, we need poetry and poets to give voice to what its like to live today.
The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ
Daniel Boyarin is one the most interesting scholars of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity working today. He’s also, usually, an incredibly dense and academic writer. I read, and loved, his book Borderlands, but I’m also not sure I understood it.
The Jewish Gospels is Borderlands for normal people. It posits the same hypothesis – that Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity developed, at least in part, in conversation and competition. When Paul was Saul he was a student of the school of Gamaliel, after all.
The time, and subject, covered here is of deep interest to me, but much of the writing I’ve found (especially that covering the Rabbinic side), often assumes a level of learning I do not have. Very pleased to have found this accessible book to give me a toe hold in this world.
If clear thinking on the early development of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism is of interest to you, I can’t imagine a better place to start.
Kind of a business tell all book, but in the end more a book about hubris, greed, and insane spending sprees. This is a book about Jho Low, an overweight soft-spoken Malaysian who would, with the help of various Goldman Sachs bankers and shady government officials steal billions of dollars from Malaysia and live a life of excessive spending that was obscene even by the standards of the new rich.
I generally enjoy business tell all books that involve a lot of complicated accounting, insider trading, or calculated business risks, but this one, like Bad Blood is just about fraud and theft. Indeed, what Low did is even more simplistic, really, than what Theranos was trying to pull off as chronicled in Bad Blood.
He very simply stole the money. How he stole it is moderately interesting, but not all that complex. What he did with it was unbelievable. Incredibly lavish parties, casino free for alls, super yachts, fine art, models, and, incredibly, the financing of the Wolf of Wall street.
This is a quick read and entertaining enough if you want a glimpse of how the very very richest live. But all in all a surprising vapid story for such a big heist.
Recommended for the Enthusiast.
If literate, smart, fast paced thrillers are your thing, you should pick up every Olen Steinhauer novel as soon as it is published. He is without a doubt amongst the best in the business. This thriller about a leftist social movement (or is it a terrorist organization?) which one day tells its members to pick up and leave is exactly the kind of mind candy I can’t put down. I finished it two days, staying up far, far too late
Some thrillers manipulate you into reading more with a cliff hanger at every chapter. Steinhauer doesn’t go for anything so pedestrian. He keeps you reading by keeping the pace high, the characters compelling, and the ideas complex enough to ensure that you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time.
Make no mistake, this is entertainment, but its top-flight entertainment and if this sort of dad airplane book genre is your thing (and it is definitely my thing) Middleman is not to be missed.
The Cure At Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ PhiloctetesSeamus Heany
I learned about this initially from Bill Clinton’s contribution to “By the Book” in the New York Times, a place where I’ve found scores of books to read, though none perhaps as powerful as this one. Here, Heaney retells the story of Philoctetes, who on the way to war suffers an injury and is abandoned by his fellow Greeks. He’s left to live along on a island until the Greeks return, first to trick him, and then to beg him, to returning with them to Troy to finish the war.
Will Philoctetes wallow in his righteous anger or will he mitigate his hatred for the good of his country? These are the issues Heaney struggles with in this short, deeply moving play about what it means to forgive, atone, and move on, and whether any of those things are really possible. Beautifully written and with so much to think about in such a short work, why wouldn’t you pick it up?