When I was a green college student in Indonesia, I attended a talk by a well-known Indonesian economics professor, an Ivy-League graduate, an ex-activ...moreWhen I was a green college student in Indonesia, I attended a talk by a well-known Indonesian economics professor, an Ivy-League graduate, an ex-activist. Impressed by his credentials, I asked him about good books to read, books that liberate the mind and break the claustrophobic, one-sided liberal economics we read in class. (Mind you, this was during Suharto's "golden" period).
To my chagrin, he sneered at me, and with a look of derision barked, "Anda kan mahasiswa! Harusnya anda tahu buku-buku apa yang harus anda baca!" (You are a college student, you should by now know what book to read!). So much about revering an ex-activist. And what is more depressing is that I used to believe him!
Michael Dirda's "Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments" proved him wrong. This is a book that gently guides you to what books to read and why. And since Dirda is a voracious reader, he can direct you to less-known -obscure even- but wonderful books that cater to your inclinations and leanings no matter what they are, and no matter who you are. In my case, I have been wondering about Western Canon that I should read (Harold Bloom's book is on my shelf, but his style of writing is a bit of a put off. At least for right now). He recommends Iliad, St. Augustine's Confession, Dante's Inferno, and a lot of Shakespeare arguing that they provide the basic plots and structure much imitated by later writers. On a lighter side, I found P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves adventure through him (well, my significant half mentioned that earlier, too). He even listed 100 titles for those in search of hilarity (and of course, Wodehouse is first on the list).
"Readings" consists of forty-six chapters taken from Dirda's weekly column in The Washington Post. Each chapter addresses various themes and topics ranging from romantic scholarship to his laments on required summer reading for high school students in Washington DC. This book is unique in that in each chapter, Dirda offers a list of readings as an alternative to best-sellers list which less literate people like myself tend to consult when picking a book to read. I have already dedicated a pocket notebook to jot down some of his suggestions. As a result, I am reading Right-Ho, Jeeves at the moment (He suggested five Wodehouses).
Dirda writes well. His essays are crisp, clean, witty, and sympathetic without being too instructive. Looking back at the "barking professor", I learn from Dirda: You can be an authority without having to bark at a timid, young college student. (less)
I came to this book by way of Ann Stoler's "Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power." Stoler highly praises this book, and after reading it, I can underst...moreI came to this book by way of Ann Stoler's "Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power." Stoler highly praises this book, and after reading it, I can understand why.
The Social World of Batavia reveals how European families in the VOC's East Indies were anchored by and interconnected through the female lineage. Boys and young men would be sent back to Europe to "become" European even though they were mixed blood, courtesy of their Asian mothers, while girls and young ladies were kept back in the colony and would be married off to "fresh" incoming European bachelors. Whether a young European man would make it or break it in the colony depended on who he married. In essence, Taylor argues, Batavia at this time was a matrilineal society.
Taylor narrates how intermarriages between European men and Eurasian/Asian women resulted in a hybrid Indies culture. For example, wives and daughters would be seen chewing betel nuts, and slaves followed them around with a spit box (that is not a typo, my friend). Only after the Dutch monarchy took over the East Indies were there efforts to "purify" Europeans' lifestyle and control their their domestic life. (This is where Ann Stoler's book picks up, complete with sexy Foucauldian analysis of Power/Knowledge).
Four star due to originality (the book was published in 1982, long before analysis of the everyday became hip) and for the fresh insights into Indies society.
Ini buku baru dibaca bab 1 nya saja, dan sudah harus dikembalikan ke perpustakaan. (Emangnya gampang, baca buku berbahasa Belanda nggak pake kamus? :P...moreIni buku baru dibaca bab 1 nya saja, dan sudah harus dikembalikan ke perpustakaan. (Emangnya gampang, baca buku berbahasa Belanda nggak pake kamus? :P).
Ini buku kumpulan kenang-kenangan orang-orang Indonesia yang pernah merasakan hidup di jaman kolonial. Saya baca karena perlu referensi, seperti apa sih kehidupan orang-orang Indonesia menengah-atas masa itu, terutama kehidupan para intelektualnya.
Kebetulan bab 1 itu mengenai kehidupan masa kecil Mien Soedarpo. Ibu Mien 'candid' sekali menceritakan bahwa orang tuanya bercerai ketika dia masih kanak-kanak. Seterusnya... belum selesai. Heheheheh....
My God!! This book is supposed to be very good, but I am stuck in the introduction section, cringing at the big words the author uses. I understand th...moreMy God!! This book is supposed to be very good, but I am stuck in the introduction section, cringing at the big words the author uses. I understand that an academic needs to use precise vocabularies. However, the author could have used more humble words to communicate her ideas faster, and better.
Judging at some of the names she thanks in the acknowledgment section, I shouldn't be surprised. They seem to share this peculiar style of writing.
Still stuck at introduction section... Sigh sigh sigh.....
Updated 09/2011: never got beyond halfway of introduction, but I scanned the section on colonial education. I expected something more solid than what is offered.(less)
I became curious of Evelyn Waugh's writings after reading a lengthy review of a recent biography of the Waugh family by his grandson in the New Yorker...moreI became curious of Evelyn Waugh's writings after reading a lengthy review of a recent biography of the Waugh family by his grandson in the New Yorker.
This book started off as rather funny, and I was fooled into thinking of it being in the trail of P.G. Woodehouse's Wooster and Jeeves genre. Halfway through, I realized it is darker than I thought it was, and zooming through towards the end, my heart sank.
Waugh has a talent of conveying moods through his characters' conversations, as demonstrated in the exchanges between Tony and Reggie in one section of the book. No explanation, but one reads a change in demeanor and resolve through the volleys of sentences there.
Subjective three stars because I can't get over the darkness of this book.
I am glad I read that in bed, I literally rolled over in my bed, laughing hysterically.
Five star for The Old Badge...moreFive star for "Summer of Hot Tubs"
I am glad I read that in bed, I literally rolled over in my bed, laughing hysterically.
Five star for The Old Badger Game It reminds me of why one should not seek tenure track position in the US, more specifically Wyoming.
Five and a-half star for The Contest
Updated: last night I had a conversation with a friend about good books, and this book comes to mind. I revisited my reaction when reading stories of those Wyoming characters, and I felt a warm affinity to them and their quirkiness: their quest for the longest beard in the county (more likely the longest beard among the bar frequenter!), their penchant for hot tub one summer, and their good luck (shifting sand anyone?). I felt like they are old friends that I can't stand sometimes, but to whom I am hopelessly tied to. (less)
Critiques have pointed out how Jane Austen only wrote about circle she had intimate knowledge about. She even mentioned in one of her letters (?) how...moreCritiques have pointed out how Jane Austen only wrote about circle she had intimate knowledge about. She even mentioned in one of her letters (?) how she politely turned down the subtle suggestion of Prince Regent's private secretary to write about the crown prince, because she was not familiar of his (and his circle's) lifestyle. I became curious: how indeed was the lifestyle of the rich (most certainly the aristocracy and the peerage) and famous (and notorious) of Austen's era? A research in the local library resulted in this book.
This book does not disappoint. For those familiar with Austen's scene of country dances and women in hot pursuits, this book renders similar scenes with several magnitude of glamor, grandeur and risque. Darcy made 10,000 pounds a year? The Duke made millions of pounds a year! An attempt of elopement of Miss Darcy? What about a married woman giving birth to a child not of her husband's?
(A couple of months after I read the book, the movie came out. Haven't seen it: I'd rather preserve my own imagination of Georgiana free from visual renderings). (less)
Not so much reading it as I have only read two stories from this book that are already published in the New Yorker (Spoiled Man and In Other Rooms, Ot...moreNot so much reading it as I have only read two stories from this book that are already published in the New Yorker (Spoiled Man and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders).
Both stories explore the psychological contours of individuals entangled in relations marked distinctly by the legacy of the past, i.e. Pakistan's zamindari culture. They introduce me to the intimate life of everyday people in Pakistan, a reality that continues to remain obscure behind other "more newsworthy" stories.
I look forward to this book's launch next year. (less)
As much as I try to buldoze through the verbiage of this book, I couldn't finish it. It took me days and many cups of strong coffee with lots of sweet...moreAs much as I try to buldoze through the verbiage of this book, I couldn't finish it. It took me days and many cups of strong coffee with lots of sweetened condensed milk to go through just three chapters. Caffeine and sugar high, a necessity in wading past theories of postcolonialism.
I needed the help of Rita Abrahamsen's persuasion ("African studies and the postcolonial challenge" African Affairs (2003), 102, 189-201) to accept the necessary evil of convoluted language so that postcolonialist theorists can challenge the power hidden in language.
A summary in one sentence: Mbembe is challenging the bias of European philosoph(ies) that puts and portrays Africa into this particular image we commonly accept.
I am resolved to reread this book and conquer it. (Except for chapter 6 that is simply too ridiculous). (less)
It was 2005(?) when I became aware of this book, due to a lengthy review in the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005...). The point that...moreIt was 2005(?) when I became aware of this book, due to a lengthy review in the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005...). The point that struck me from the review is the hypocrisy of Sartre and de Beauvoir and their cruel manipulations of young women in their lives. Granted that even the most illuminated philosophers are mere human being who are imperfect. But shouldn't consistency between one's claimed philosophy and one personal lives be at least a standard in deciding if such philosophy is to be followed?
This book is interesting in the way it narrates the personal lives of two of the most important philosophers of the last century. One gets the intimate view of the scenes behind the emergence of their "brilliant" philosophies. It prodded me to ponder the relations between philosophy and ethics, and their manifestation in one's mundane, everyday life.
Reading the book forced me to revisit Foucault's thoughts: "If interpretation were the slow exposure of the meaning hidden in an origin, then only metaphysics could interpret the development of humanity." (in Nietzsche, Genealogy, History). It is a playful comment, but the tragedy is that it contains more truth than what Foucault would have acknowledged.
Foucault essentially said: do not take your life's direction from philosophers. Rather, take it from the ascetics. (less)
Tessa Hadley forced me to rethink the idea of "family." Accidents in the Home demonstrates how ex-wives, half-siblings, the child of ex-husband, stepm...moreTessa Hadley forced me to rethink the idea of "family." Accidents in the Home demonstrates how ex-wives, half-siblings, the child of ex-husband, stepmother(s), stepgrandmother, all could melt into a family, essentially defined by this novel as people-accidentally-connected-by-marital-relations-but-are-nevertheless-loyal-to-one-another-and-constant-in-their-loyalty-and-love.
Reading the English version of this book. Fascinating!
Quick trivia: Who would have thought that the Djojohadikusumos has an aspiring Sufi among their f...moreReading the English version of this book. Fascinating!
Quick trivia: Who would have thought that the Djojohadikusumos has an aspiring Sufi among their forefathers seeing how "secular" and "cosmopolitan" the current generation seems to be. Not only that, but that one of their ancestors fought along Prince Diponegoro against the Dutch in 1830s? Spirituality seemed to be the root of their ancestors' elan. (less)