Delany’s Atheist in the Attic


The Atheist in the Attic
Samuel Delany

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.

Delany

Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead


Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Danez Smith

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.

Danez Smith

Wright and Hope’s Billion Dollar Whale

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

 

 

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.

Solider’s Whereas


Whereas: Poems
Layli Long Soldier

Another book of contemporary poetry, this one short listed for the National Book Award. More formally experimental than Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, this one left me feeling a bit cold. While stylistically interesting, I found it a bit cold, and I prefer my poetry rawer, I think.

Still, and all, in the last couple of years I’ve come around to the idea that its important to keep up with contemporary poetry, even if only modestly. Where things are headed, especially in the minds of our smartest young people, can come from reading their poetry and even when it doesn’t resonate, perhaps it is worth the effort.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Kurtz’s Stronger Than Iron

Stronger Than Iron: Not Finishing Was Not An Option
Wayne Kurtz and Stefan Zetterstrom

There are endurance events, like a marathon, or even a half marathon. And then there are ultra endurance events, like 50 milers and hundred milers, and, I’d argue, ironmans. But then there is shit that is just so crazy that’s its hard to even fathom. These kind of events are often lumped into the category of “multi-day” or extreme ultra endurance. They include things like the 200 mile foot races, double ironmans, and things like what this book is about – a triple DECA ironman. Or three x ten times the distance of a standard ironman.

 

For those counting at home, that’s 72-miles swimming, 3,360-miles biking, and 786-miles running.

 

Yeah, a lot more than a half marathon.

 

This is a self published book about the exploits of the very unique brand of athelete who has the drive, time, and means to engage in this sort of craziness. It focused on a single event that occurred in Italy where a number of the top athletes in this world of ultra endurance ironmans tried to take it to the next level.

 

I’m not gonna lie, this isn’t very well written, in fact, its pretty bad. But if you need a dose of inspiration to get out the door for a 5k, it can be inspiring to read about these everyday people who do incredible things.

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Donin’s To Pray As A Jew

To Pray As A Jew: A Guide To The Prayer Book And The Synagogue Service

Hayim Halevy Donin

A detailed discussion of the technical aspects of the rituals and traditions of Orthodox Jewish prayer. Literally a handbook that takes you, moment by moment, through Shabbat and daily services, and prayer at home.

As I’ve written about here before, I’m a convert to Judaism and my wife and I have been more and more drawn to orthodox services. So if, like me, you’re interested in traditional and/or orthodox prayer, but get lost in the complexities, this is a very helpful, if dry, resource. There is little in the way of theology or spiritual discussion here, but much in the way of technical, clear instructions. For example, if you want to know exactly how to put on tefillin in the orthodox manner, this is for you. If you’re looking for a whether or not women should put on tefillin, this isn’t for you.

That said, though I surely disagree with the author on numerous points of practice, I found this very informative and helpful.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Walker’s Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Matthew Walker, Phd.

A truly terrifying book about the long term health consequences of cutting your sleep short. Especially if, like me, you’re the parent of young children, who drinks coffee and alcohol.

Its all around a grim scene, increased risk of all cause morbidity, increase likelihood of alzheimer’s, increased likelihood of obesity. There’s basically no good news. While the book covers a lot of ground (why we sleep, why we dream sleep in children and adolescents, etc.) it was the warnings about consuming caffeine and alcohol (short answer – don’t) and the tips for high quality sleep (shut off the damn phone) that really resonated with me.

Time to cut back on the wine and coffee and shut the light off earlier – I want to live for a long time to come.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Matthew Walker, Author of Why We Sleep

Matthew Walker, Author of Why We Sleep