One reason I like to own books even though I spend a lot of my time in a much larger library is being prompted to reread them at chance moments. WhenOne reason I like to own books even though I spend a lot of my time in a much larger library is being prompted to reread them at chance moments. When I was unpacking a carton on Friday and found myself holding my ancient, paperback, $0.25-at-a-library-booksale copy of this work (the day after the 70th anniversary of the bombing), the time seemed ripe for a read.
Dropping the bombs required Americans to dehumanize the Japanese; but Hersey's account is terribly human, empathetic, universal, and seemingly timeless. I realized that my birth is now substantially closer to the date of the bombing than to today--that got me thinking about the status of it as a current-affairs event or a historic one--but I was struck by how Hersey writing so close to the event tells a story that is immediate and humble yet totally aware of its importance. That is to say, he strikes a note that still sounds right today, partly by sticking to personal stories and avoiding larger questions.
I wasn't sure how recently I'd read this after high school, but when I got to the section "Details Are Being Investigated," I was sure it could not have been since 9/11, since I found the behavior of the survivors--entranced and strangely only half-curious about the cause of the explosion--oddly familiar, despite the huge difference in magnitude between the events. ...more
Not-a-review of Anna Karenina, or, I miss the comfort in being bored.
I just finished an intentionally drawn-out reread of Anna Karenina, which I firstNot-a-review of Anna Karenina, or, I miss the comfort in being bored.
I just finished an intentionally drawn-out reread of Anna Karenina, which I first read as a weird high school freshman. I read it several more times in high school and college, but not since, and I wanted to try the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, so I got it in print and read it in ten-page chunks before bed, with a few hundred-page tears on weekend mornings.
What is there to say about this novel, which has a claim on being the great novel? I reread in part because I expected to find it different as an adult either out of maturity or having plum missed the point as a teen (more on A Room with a View another day, perhaps). But it didn't seem very different to me, probably because Tolstoy violates the advice given to modern writers and routinely spells out for the reader what a character is thinking or feeling, and exactly why. I recollected that the book ended with about two hundred pages of Levin messing around on his farm, which is not very accurate; but my memory of his bafflingly implausible second proposal to Kitty held up. The fact that Levin is a not-very-covert avatar of Tolstoy himself still makes him the most fully realized character and as an adult I could see that I'd felt an intense empathy for his longing for authenticity and meaning, or even self-definition, through activity (the farm, the zemstvo, his family). You can see why a teen would thrill to that storyline but as an adult I found it poignant too, even though the storyline is at times tiresome and self-indulgent on Tolstoy's part. I don't think I particularly got Anna when I was younger, but I'm not sure I do now, either: the way she gets boxed in isn't modern, and while her breakdown is compelling, the idea of her suicide being motivated partially out of a desire for revenge strikes me as far less realistic than Levin's suicidal ideations stemming from his obvious mood disorder combined with questioning the cosmic order from his new, fatherly, point of view. I read the whole book again and came away with much the same understanding of it as I did to begin with, only with more life experience to back it up.
Reading Anna Karenina again chiefly made me feel nostalgia for the state in which I'd originally read it, to wit, a near fatal-feeling level of boredom. Most readers of this will be around my age and don't need me to explain it to them: as a young teen, I obviously had no internet; television was mostly dull and even the good shows weren't available on demand; I had no car and no driver's license anyway; I was an only child, and teens don't look first to their parents for company; only one of my friends lived nearby; I could only bike to the center of town, which contained the public library, some pizza places, an ice cream parlor, and The Gap. On Saturdays, my mother and I visited my grandmother and we would stop at a bookstore on the way, where I would pick out a handsome Penguin Classics edition of something or other that was mentioned in the footnotes of the last one. In this way, I'd face a long evening or an even longer weekend day with nothing to do except some homework and reading for hours, and I worked my way through Tolstoy, Pushkin, Kafka, Voltaire, Goethe, Schiller, Brontë, Shakespeare, Austen, Dumas, etc. Thinking back on this time, I realize that almost anything worthwhile that I've ever started arose from boredom, that is to say, a sense of possibility that you might have time to do something and nothing to compete with it--so why not? As a bored teenager, I not only read all those books, but learned calligraphy, and French (having gotten the idea from Tolstoy that an educated person ought to be able to just switch to French anytime), and did sewing and embroidery.
My reread was a pleasurable and thought-provoking revisitation of Tolstoy's families, but the main effect it had on me, this time, was to make me think of boredom in a different way, not as something to be avoided by whatever trivial means are at hand, but actually something to be sought out--even in the light of grown-up chores and responsibilities--as the jumping-off point of things that will, but only at length, be interesting. Even though I used to whine about being bored, this book made me look forward to it and strategize how to carve out time for it: "A whole morning, with nothing to do but finish Anna Karenina!"...more
"Things change fast in the computer business. A year is a hell of a long time. It's like a year in a dog's life," observes one of the characters in th"Things change fast in the computer business. A year is a hell of a long time. It's like a year in a dog's life," observes one of the characters in this profile of a team of engineers at Data General working to create a 32-bit minicomputer. I've re-skimmed this book a few times in the 231 dog/computer years since it came out, and even though the technology has grown in leaps and bounds and today's hoodie-wearers could be the sons of these young hotshots, the culture seems to be much the same. When I first read the book (in high school, in the early '90s) I was struck by the passion and dedication of the team; this time around I was a bit depressed by their sexism and workaholism. I only grabbed this again since I'm waiting for a new book to arrive in the mail, but I realized that my first exposure to quite a lot of computing concepts came from this book: paging, stack overflow, what a 32-bit architecture would be, etc. The book probably seems like more of a routine business profile than it did when it came out, because it was so successful its style was emulated by later writers. Even so, it's a freeze-frame glimpse into a moment of computer history that gets more exotic and interesting with time; you just need to read it with the right expectations.
P.S. The prologue is great--one of the most memorable grabs of your attention I can think of....more