Saturday, December 31, 2016

My reading list

These are the books at the head of the queue now that I don't have to focus on course materials. 

I'm taking a semester off from my liberal studies program this January, so it's been interesting to be able to choose my own reading material for awhile. But somehow, the course is accompanying me into freedom -- three of the four books I've started in the last few weeks are suspiciously relevant to what I've just been studying! Here's what's on my nightstand now, and why they're interesting:

Quentin Bell's Virginia Woolf A Biography. From the very start, Bell writes, Virginia was "incalculable, eccentric and prone to accidents." She gained the nickname "The Goat" for incidents like one in Kensington Gardens when she "lost, or at least lost control of, her knickers. She retired into a bush and there, in order to divert public attention, she sang 'The Last Rose of Summer' at the top of her voice."

Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This 1961 book by the activist and urban-planning critic explores what makes cities work and what city planners do to prevent them from working. Jacobs celebrates the ballet of the sidewalk, the eyes on the street -- the idea that neighbourhoods that work are full of people coming and going, of a diversity of businesses that serve and draw them, and that people and businesses work together to form an organic community. Tearing up these neighbourhoods and replacing them with massive housing projects guarantees they will be impersonal, unsafe and unlivable, Jacobs believes. I'm interested in Jacobs' ideas about communities; they may be topics I will deal with later in my program.

Arthur Herman's The Cave and the Light is about the competing views of Plato and Aristotle, and the resulting impact on western civilization. Plato sees the world through the eyes of  the religious mystic and the artist; Aristotle observes reality "through the sober eyes of science" and sees logic and analysis as tools of human freedom. This may sound strangely like school, but I skipped too lightly over these two major figures in my first year of the program, and feel some remedial work is required.

Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend. This is my "escape" book -- an Italian author's novel about the lifelong friendship of two women in Naples. How can you not be intrigued by the book's beginning? One of the women disappears and the other understands completely: she knew her friend "wanted to vanish; she wanted every one of her cells to disappear, nothing of her ever to be found."

1 comment:

  1. They do all sound interesting. I put a hold on My Brilliant Friend and we have the Woolf biography. Amusing anecdote about the knickers...didn't know she was known as "The Goat". I think I read the Jane Jacobs many years ago. I've always felt the West End of Vancouver is rather like what she described as an ideal community. Just saw a bit of snow falling but it lasted little more than the earthquake in PS...