Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Two typos in the first 87 pages makes me decide to stop reading this. The premise is interesting, some of the bits good, but not worth subjecting my eyes to misspellings (“convwersation” on page 16 and “aother” on page 87).
Premise is that barter only existed for people trading with others they didn’t know well, but that credit among societies was in existence forever. Cash was invented later, with states creating markets.

1984

1984 (Signet Classics)

Terrifying account of an inhumane society focused on power for power’s sake, stripping away basic intellectual desires like love, curiosity, objections, history. Bureaucracy abounds, keeping the Outer and Inner Party busy.

Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite old files to match the current state of affairs. If a person disappears, it’s his job to eradicate that unperson from the history of Oceania. He suspects he is the only sane person, his mind not conditioned to doublethink. He hooks up with Julia, a rebellious sort whose primary interest is in following the big rules in order to cut corners on other rules and enjoy sexual freedom. Winston is the brains of the piece, battling back with O’Brien as he attempts to recondition Winston’s mind. Room 101 is where the worst thing that you as an individual could endure takes place; in Winston’s case, this is a cage of rats, which he betrays Julia for, demanding that they be set upon her instead.

I read this, as most people did, before I was eighteen. To require this as reading in school is an injustice, because then one can say “Oh, I’ve read that book,” but not really. You must read this when your brain has completely formed, when you’ve had a few years under your belt out in the cold world of work, shuffling papers, to give it the full breadth of meaning.

Thanks to Murakami’s 1Q84, which I initially picked up and then decided to postpone until I’d given 1984 a thorough re-read. Another trivia bit I picked up? George Orwell was a pseudonym for Eric Arthur Blair.

Rules of Civility

A book for book nerds, Mr. Towles knows his audience, reeling us in with bits of Dickens, Thoreau, Christie, Plato, Tolstoy. I was absolutely mesmerized by the book for the first half, and then took a peek at the back flap, to see who this “Amor Towles” (pseudonym? A-Mortal?) was who was wrapping my eyes with spellbounding words. The spell broke as soon as I read the author blurb… the head of an investment banking firm who lives in NYC with his wife and kids. For some reason, since that revelation, the voice of the narrator as a spunky, fierce, intelligent woman seemed a little off, the dialog seemed anachronistic to the year 1938, the drama seemed overblown.
Katey Kontent and her roommate Eve go out on New Years Eve 1937 to ring in the new year at a Jazz club, quickly blowing their wallets on drinks and it not being 10pm yet. In breezes Tinker Grey, all monogrammed and well dressed, looking for his brother but ending up joining their party. The three of them become fast friends, then Eve gets thrown from the car in an accident where a milk truck hits them from behind, scarring her face for life and with permanent limp. Tinker insists she move in with him to recuperate, then they eventually become an item. When Eve moves out of the boarding house and into the wealthy stratosphere, Kate quits her legal secretary work and pursues a well known editor for a job. She ends up working on a new magazine at Conde Nast, long hours but adores the work. She lives alone in a crappy apartment she can barely afford, plays 4 hands of bridge by herself, drinks gin and wine and reads a lot. She dips in and out of the social circle, meeting various folks through Eve/Tinker or work. An ill-fated “romance” with Wallace, Dickie, countless others. Tinker proposes, Eve runs away, Tinker becomes a stevedore on the docks. Wallace dies in Spain. The overwhelming maudlin quality of the last half had me skimming for plot points.
Tragically disappointing, considering the rapture I began it with.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

I read this book in eight minutes. Not because it was short or one word per page, but because once I got it from the library, settled in and started to read, I realized I’d already read it, serialized, in Vanity Fair over the last year. He starts with Iceland, the land where inbred dudes seriously went haywire, and the ladies are leading them out of it. Then he travels to the wealthy monastery in Greece. Next up is Ireland, land of over-speculation on housing. A detour into the country saving Europe’s bacon and yet obsessed with shit, Germany. Then winding down with a fun glimpse at California.
I’m a Michael Lewis fan, but there’s no way I’m re-reading this collection of articles. Especially since he was the sole reason I got a subscription to Vanity Fair, which has been sucking.

Status Anxiety

I would like to book a vacation to tour de Botton’s brain. It would be a clean, well-kept, orderly, climate- controlled treasure trove of information. For example, the table of contents to this book:

Status Anxiety: Contents
Causes:
* Lovelessness
* Expectation
* Meritocracy
* Snobbery
* Dependence
Solutions:
* Philosophy
* Art
* Politics
* Religion
* Bohemia

My oversimplification of his work is that once meritocracy replaced aristocracy, we were no longer sheltered from the pain of being the losers at the bottom of the status ladder. It was up to us, and our fault alone, that we were not on top. Crushing weight of expectations. The ultimate cut is to not be acknowledged by the world, and the world ignores the mass of humanity that is not “great” (e.g. in monetary wealth currently, but previously in noble blood, or selfless gestures).
How do we pull the weight off ourselves, rise above? To be bathed in the clear cold mind of philosophy, to lose ourselves in art, to demand change in what matters via politics, to become religious, or to encourage Bohemian lifestyle of uplifting the mind über alles.

Nature didn’t tell me: “Don’t be poor.” Nor indeed: “Be rich.” But she does beg me: “Be independent.” — Chamfort, Maxims (1795)

The Red Parts: A Memoir

A poet who has just written a successful book about her aunt’s murder finds out the case has been reopened after thirty years and they have a suspect. She goes to Michigan for the month-long trial with her mother, mourning the loss of a recent love. Definitely well written, but I found myself wondering why I was reading it.

The Lover’s Dictionary: A Novel

A love story told in dictionary bursts. From the first date through moving in, through cheating and death and all that life throws at you. Well done, easily consumable in an hour and well worth the time.

autonomy, n.
“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.
belittle, v.
No, I don’t listen to the weather in the morning. No, I don’t keep track of what I spend. No, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Q train would have been much faster. But every time you give me that look, it doesn’t make me want to live up to your standards.
Breathtaking, adj.
Those mornings when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word.
exemplar, n.
You love my parents, I know. But you never get too close. You never truly believe there aren’t bad secrets underneath.
quintessence, n.
It’s the way you say thank you like you’re genuinely thankful. I have never met anyone else who does that on a regular basis.
recant, v.
…I want to take back the time I said you were a genius, because I was being sarcastic and I should have just said you’d hurt my feelings.
suffuse, v.
I don’t like it when you use my shampoo, because then your hair smells like me, not you.
taciturn, adj.
There are days you come home silent. You say words, but you’re still silent. I used to bomard you with convesational crowbars, but now I simply let the apartment fall mute. I hear you in the room — turning on music, typing on the keys, getting up for a drink, shifting in your chair. I try to have my conversation with those sounds.