My Summer in Books

Taking inspiration from a couple of blogs I like and follow (cupcakesandmachetes and wordaholicanonymous) I’ve decided to share a bit about what I’ve been reading and what’s in my ‘to read’ pile every once in a while on here. I was thinking of doing monthly, but I read some books I really enjoyed over the summer and thought I would do a catch up first. If there’s anything I’ve been reading you have any comments about or if you have any reading recommendations, do let me know!

April

Wilding — Isabella Tree 5/5

I absolutely loved this book. Wilding tells the story of the rewilding of Knepp, how rewilding works and it’s benefits. At the same time it is a lovely memoir of the journey and of life on the farm as it transformed, with beautiful details about the wildlife that was introduced or returned. Knepp is now somewhere I plan to visit one of these days and I have been keeping an eye on their progress, with white storks nesting and breeding successfully there for the first time in 600 years being one of this year’s highlights.

Conversations at the Edge of the Apocalypse — David Jay Brown 4/5

A very interesting book to have been reading at the beginning of this year! It was one I’d been meaning to get around to for a while. There is even a chapter in which the possibility of a pandemic is discussed, but it is almost humorous that asteroids and various other phenomena seem more focussed on. It’s a very enjoyable read overall, but it seemed more structured for dipping into than reading all at once. The main theme is an okay guiding thread, but the pace changes so much with so many different voices and attitudes I felt a little thrown around, and I didn’t come away from it with any particularly strong voices or ideas standing out.

May

Altered Carbon — Richard Morgan 5/5

I read this book years ago, but was curious to give it another go after I watched the Netflix adaption. This confirmed my suspicion that the book is definitely better. The show is good for fan fiction, but: it opened up plot holes that don’t need to be there, turned the intellectual adoration of a philosophical figure into a romance that doesn’t really make sense, and turned a villain who makes perfect sense into one who doesn’t. The book is solid, fun, violent sci-fi, and boy does Richard Morgan know how to write a great sex scene.

Hounded — Kevin Hearne 4/5

I am not one to easily go for long series, as I tend to get hooked, but I’d heard a lot of good things about the Iron Druid books for a while and decided it sounded like it would at least be fun. Hounded is a good, strong start to a solid urban fantasy series. The main character, Atticus, is interesting and likeable enough, and the world itself is the kind of setting I have found myself enjoying quite often – like this world but with a hidden magical otherworld underlying it, one that we everyday mortals do not usually see, full of gods, sprits and other supernatural entities. The story is well paced, full of humour and action, and I adored Oberon, Atticus’s Irish Wolfhound, who can speak with Atticus via magic and often acts as comedy relief sidekick. You can read this first one without being lured into the rest of the series, as it all wraps up quite nicely by the end. Well worth a read if you enjoy urban fantasy.

Broken Angels — Richard Morgan 5/5

As Hounded is the first of an at least nine book series, I decided to finish the Takeshi Kovacs books first, as there are only three. Of the three, Broken Angels turned out to be my favourite, mostly because we get to find out more about those mysterious Martians. I do appreciate properly alien aliens in a sci-fi, and found the Martians pretty satisfying on that front. As with Altered Carbon, Broken Angels is a good mix of violent action, dark humour, sex and mystery.

June-August

Woken Furies — Richard Morgan 4/5

Fun, if a little confusing at times in terms of character motivations. I enjoyed the exploration of Kovacs as fundamentally damaged, but still striving to do his best for those he cares about. I didn’t enjoy where things go with Falconer, though I think she is an excellent figure throughout the books and I could really get into Quellism. “Face the facts” is pretty much my philosophy of life anyway. The end of the book is fitting, and that is all I shall say about it.

Iron Druid Chronicles 2-9 + Short Stories — Kevin Hearne 4/5

And here’s where I got completely hooked on the Iron Druid books, as I suspected I would. If you don’t want to commit to reading the series you’ll find it hard to stop after Hexed. I’m not going to review each individually as I found them all to be equally good stories, well paced and engaging, taking us onward to a looming final conclusion. Other characters are added as the books move forward, and this is a good thing, as Atticus, interesting as he is, could start to get a bit wearing without some other points of view, especially as counterpoints to his way of seeing and doing things. There are plenty of spirits, witches, vampires, werewolves and other entities to keep an urban fantasy lover happy, with various pantheons of gods and their planes also big features. If you want to binge some good urban fantasy this series may be for you. The short stories are also fun.

September

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails — Sarah Bakewell 5/5

This book has rekindled my love of early Sartre, Husserl, existentialism and phenomenology; it also sparked new loves of de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty, who I had never given direct consideration before. Given the current culture wars, I think society could do with a large dose of existentialism and phenomenology right about now; individual responsibility combined with a determination to see things as they are in the here and now would cure much of what ails us. Bakewell does an excellent job of situating thinkers and their ideas in their historical context in a way that brings both the thinkers and their ideas to life, giving greater depth and perspective to the concepts under discussion. She is even handed and there does not appear to be any drastic misinterpretation or reinterpretation. If you’ve ever been curious about existentialism and its roots this is an excellent overview, though you may, like me, find you need to wade through the first few chapters involving Heidegger to get to the more central themes. Heidegger is important for context, but, in my opinion, little more, and it would have been a shame if I had put the book down and not come back, as I nearly did, as the focus seemed to be so much on him at the start.

One I will be reading again, as I found a lot to be inspired by, as an artist and a writer, as well as a human being.

Currently Reading:

The End of Gender — Debra Soh

Irreversible Damage — Abigail Shrier

I was impressed enough by Joe Rogan’s interviews with both Soh and Shrier to want to read their books. Gulag survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned us we should not live by lies. History is littered with stories of the victims of ideology. I am interested in the facts of this debate, not in people’s feelings, delusions, dogma or word games, and these books seem to have plenty of facts.

Planning to Read:

The Madness of Crowds — Douglas Murray

Heaven’s River (Bobiverse #4) — Dennis E. Taylor

Plan for the Worst (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #11) — Jodi Taylor

21 comments

  1. My to read list these days is so huge that at times I wonder if I will ever finish it in this lifetime!😂That said, I keep adding new ones anyways through other blogs, and this post is no exception to that rule.
    I really enjoyed the first season of Altered Carbon, but honestly didn’t even know it was based on a book! Nice, and it’s even better to hear (as well as no real surprise) that the book is even better than the series😀 The Iron Druid series is the kind of book series I could get hooked on myself as well…so despite knowing that I will add those to the list too. Thanks for sharing these!😊

    • My pleasure 😄 Very good additions to your list!

      If I wrote up my actual to read list we would be here all day! This is just what I’m hoping to manage by the end of November and so far so good 😊

      • Haha, I think if I would ever write up my to read list we might be here all month😂
        Seriously though, it’s always nice to discover new books, so no complaints from me! 😀

  2. Hi Janice, thanks for this great post – I’ve really enjoyed it. I definitely need to get my finger out and read the books which I have got sitting around, including Wilding.

    At the moment I am really grabbed by The Overstory, Richard Powers – although I’m only in the second chapter. Worth looking up!

    Victor

  3. “Gulag survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned us we should not live by lies.”

    It’s mostly all lies these days. John Lennon was complaining about this way back when:

    “I’m sick and tired of hearing things
    From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth
    I’ve had enough of reading things
    By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth”

    People have figured out that we humans take for truth whatever the rest of us hold up as truth, in which case truth can be dictated by those with power and influence to suit their own needs and desires. I find much of what I see from the popular media to be an attempt to socially engineer me, and pull me to this or that dominant belief system. There’s precious little that’s dedicated to unveiling the unadulterated truth. Rarely does the truth suit this or that self-serving agenda.

    • It’s a mind war. Absolutely an attempt to socially engineer the masses. How we expect the same institutions that are being increasingly radicalised and censored to also produce cures for the pandemic and solutions to all our other crisis’, remains to be seen. The values of the enlightenment seem to be systematically under attack and without them we are becoming scientifically illiterate and culturally barbaric. Truth then just equals whatever makes us feel good, or at least not bad.

      “The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.” — Thomas Sowell

      • Both sides are attempting to socially engineer us. The conservatives are looking better than ever compared to the liberals right now, because the libs have gone off the looney rail, but both sides are science deniers.

        The liberals deny science when it comes to sex, and I believe most the anti-vaccers who brought back the measles were liberals. The conservatives are almost universally climate change deniers. Both sides absolutely deny reality in favor of their feel-good beliefs and selfish, self-interest.

        While the conservatives are winning most the debates on YouTube, they are the worst enemies of science becasue they oppose the entire international scientific community and every significant scientific body when it comes to human-causeed climate change.

        Thomas Sowell, for example, while he might be good at disecting some of the insanity revolving around race, is himself a climate change denier, and his arguments regarding it are piss poor.

        There’s a bit more sanity among the “dark intellectual web” who would tend to believe science across the board: people like Bret Weinstein, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson… but they have their limitations as well.

        It’s very, very difficult to get at any truth, because everyone tends to one kind of belief system or another. We want to belong to some group and not be isolated. The result is that almost any information we see is really trying to pull us into this or that camp.

      • Couldn’t have put it better myself.

        The science denial on both sides is insane. The horror of it for me personally has been that although conservative friends have not shunned me, much as we have butted heads over climate change in particular, and I have not shunned them for the sin of a different point of view, liberal people I once called friends have. My sin? I refuse to deny what I am having a basis in biological reality and find myself very sceptical of the belief that all and sundry can literally transubstantiate into whatever they claim to identify as by acts of word-magic – with the possible exception of the sacred cow of race. Though people of colour, like Sowell, can be somehow kicked out of even that one for a difference of opinion, so who knows?

        If I had any faith in humanity or progress it has pretty much evaporated in the last few years. We seem highly irrational creatures, doomed by an intense need for comforting lies and tribalism. But at least I can, for now, as an individual remain as interested in reality and the uncomfortable truth as possible, although increasingly privately, along with many other people in my position. The only reason I’m still talking online at all is that I no longer care about being “outed”, otherwise I would have disappeared a while ago.

      • I didn’t know if you were going to agree with me. Yes, the conservatives are less hostile to non-believers than are the lefties, who take no prisoners. The obvious irony there being that the left is now more intolerant than the right.
        Are people excommunicating you over the gender/sex debate? If sex/gender is up to the individual, then how can we be expected to accept whatever gender one declares oneself to be as definitive? So, for example, if someone was born with a male anatomy, but considers himself a female, we are told we should accept that he is a female because gender is a construct.
        If sex is a construct, then so if his femaleness, and not something inherent. We could only be expected to accept that his femaleness is a mental construct, and not an inherent and definitive quality. That’s the part I don’t get. If it’s a construct, it’s not real, but we must accept it as real if they say it is. It’s a bit like saying there’s no such thing as witches, but if I say that I am one, you’d better accept it as the truth.
        All of this misses the much greater point, which is that the conscious mind is a shapeless, colorless, bodiless, immaterial entity. But I find that most people can’t or won’t understand that consciousness is immaterial, or that it’s our core shared nature. So, if someone wanted to argue that they were biologically this or that, but that they transcend it in their imagination to some significant degree, I can easily go along with that. How else do the best novelists flesh out their characters (ex., George Eliot), if they aren’t able to imagine being someone else?
        If the left wants to argue that we are not defined by our biology, there’s a lot of merit to that. I would certainly go onboard for “we are not limited by our biology”. But when it comes to race, they go all biological determinist on us, and insist that if you are a certain race, you necessarily have all sorts of deleterious qualities which must be re-educated out of you “by any and all means necessary”. Quite the double standard, but they are perfectly blind to hypocrisy.
        I would say that you are born with this or that sex, and you may belong to this or that race, but you are not defined or limited by it because the conscious mind matters infinitely more than the biological body. It’s what separates us from most, if not all other animals. Roaches have race and gender. Are we limited and defined in the same way?

      • Yes, it’s the sex/gender debate I’ve been excommunicated for. Those are all valid and useful questions you ask about it, and were you to ask them in certain public formats you would be excommunicated too. It’s an ideology, not a debate, and I would advise not trying to make much sense of it, because it doesn’t make sense and I’m not convinced it’s supposed to. It seems to be more about gaining power for certain groups and individuals so they can do as they please without consequence. “X group can do no wrong because we say so”, “I am Y because I say so”, “Z is true because I say so”. The politics of petty tyrants.

        However, if we can accept the lie that a biological male saying he is a woman turns him into a biological female while at the same time we are banned from talking about or defining woman or female, and if we can accept people being punished for disagreement with this and carry on as if everything is fine, then certain conceptual boundaries have been fundamentally breached to the point that great abuse is possible. The emperor is naked, but if you say so the mob may destroy your life. So now the emperor can claim anything he wants to be true and the mob is invested in it being so.

        If it were a case of arguing “we are not limited by our biology” I’d be fine with that as well, but it isn’t. It’s more like they’re saying biological limits apply only where it grants them power, do not apply where this grants them power too, and objective reality and consistency don’t matter because reality is defined by power. Reason or consensus and other such concepts are labelled “white supremacist”, because those words still have the power to shut down a conversation. But now words like “Nazi” and “transphobe” are increasingly referring to large numbers of concerned parents, women and scientists, it’s all starting to sound a little hollow.

        I’ve finished Soh’s book and will be posting about what I understood from it. We have some real biologically determined limits, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to us. I tend toward the notion that we are receivers of consciousness rather than producers. My consciousness is to my body what the internet is to my computer: non-local. So notions like transcending the body or having a shared nature in consciousness seem reasonable to me.

      • The thing I don’t agree with you on, by the way, isn’t even politics. I think we are fairly in alignment there, remarkable as that is these days. But, what I’m saying about the mind and consciousness isn’t at all controversial or spiritual or new age, etc. The “mental” isn’t “physical”, and I think people know that, hence expressions like “mind over matter”. Consciousness is a state of awareness – self-awareness to be more precise – and hence is not a physical object with weight, mass, and a location in space. Everyone should agree on that. So, consciousness doesn’t need to originate someplace non-physical in order to itself be non-physical. If we view the brain as an antenna, that raises a whole spectrum of questions about where the transmission comes from, when the only thing we know of in the universe capable of manifesting consciousness is large, organic brains.

        So, the immaterial nature of consciousness should not be a problem, nor, IMO, that it originates is a highly evolved, very large, and infinitely complex brain. What gets interesting and philosophical is what the implications of an immaterial mind and identity are (including what they are in an immersive virtual reality situation). A really significant one is what that means in regard to free will. Many, many smart people argue that free will is impossible because we are physical beings, and all matter must obey the laws of physics, of cause and effect. Therefore, they argue, we have no choice and only act out what is the inevitable consequence of previous events. However, because the mind is immaterial, and it thinks using abstract logic, the decisions it makes are not bound by the laws of physics, hence free will is eminently possible.

        What all these ideologues tend to crush is the sanctity of the individual. And if you define the individual not as the mass of inert flesh, but as the immaterial, thinking, imagining, mind, than the limitations and deleterious qualities they would automatically assign to the individual because of biology are purely imposed and arbitrary. Thus, when someone says you or they are a [insert race here] + [insert gender here] they are saying nothing at all. As I said in one post, we are not the avatar, we are the player. To confuse the two, and favor the former is not only not the least progressive, it’s kinda’ stupid, me thinks. I digress. You’ll have to excuse me.

      • “We are not the avatar, we are the player. To confuse the two, and favour the former is not only not the least progressive, it’s kinda stupid, me thinks.” I can agree with that, as it makes a great deal of intuitive sense to me. Though there’s always plenty of quibbles to be had on the topic of consciousness, when it comes down to it there does seem to be something both highly individualised yet shared. I think we’ve chatted about free will before, in which case I have likely already said it doesn’t make sense to me to say that free will is impossible, but it does make sense to say it is more or less constrained by context. The idea that the conditions consciousness finds itself within grant more or less free will makes most sense to me, with a little free will gained making it possible to gain more, within the limits of the context. In this way certain practices of discipline and restraint can actually grant one a degree of freedom.

      • Well said.

        “there does seem to be something both highly individualized yet shared.”

        On the most straightforward level, we can say the underlying nature of consciousness is shared, and the contents of an individual’s consciousness (one’s personal experience and history) are largely singular. We also share mechanisms for how our minds operate, including language, reason, culture, information, and belief systems.

        “The idea that the conditions consciousness finds itself within grant more or less free will makes most sense to me, with a little free will gained making it possible to gain more, within the limits of the context. In this way certain practices of discipline and restraint can actually grant one a degree of freedom.”

        I might, to keep things simple, separate free will from will and will power and freedom. We can say that free will is the underlying ability to choose between available options. We either have that capacity or we don’t. If I can only choose whether to think about one thing or another while being chained in a dungeon, I have free will.

        “Will” is what we choose to do with our free will, and is the constant battle defining the human condition. We can’t not choose to act, so we face thousands of decisions daily.

        “Will power” is the ability to use our will to make the better choice, even if it is more difficult or unpleasant in the short term.

        “Freedom” is the most elusive, and something we chip away at, trying to carve ourselves a bit more here and a bit more there. I don’t know how many people claim to be free who aren’t billionaires who are above the law, or otherwise in a position to fulfill their most ridiculous Earthly fantasies without fear of consequences. But even those people only lack restraints that the rest of us must shoulder. It doesn’t mean that they have positive attributes of freedom. [I had a multi-millionaire boss whose favorite band was “Huey Lewis and the News”, who authored one of my most hated songs, “I Want a New Drug”. While he had astronomically more economic freedom than me, I wouldn’t trade places and have to occupy his mind, and listen to his playlist.]

        When we consider that “freedom” is often equated with not having to do things we don’t want to do, then it also has a conflict with will power. We see that often people with the most economic power become weak in terms of will power, and are victims of their own obsessions and addictions. Jeffrey Epstein and Hunter Biden come immediately to mind. But even the Buddha was a prince who discovered that others suffered, and all would eventually fall to illness and death. Perhaps only the enlightened are truly free, though, since most of them are found out to be frauds, imposters, wannabes, and megalomaniacs, I’m not sure enlightenment even exists.

        So, [in my opinion” and “according to my present understanding”], everyone has free will, and is stuck with the burden of will. We can develop our will power, which is probably an absolute necessity to increased freedom. We can increase our free will with practice, and our freedom over time if we are wise, have will power, and aren’t unlucky.

  4. Thank you for linking me to one of your post again Janice, something went wrong again and i did not get notified that I was even tagged… Luckily I just saw your post as I logged in so was a lovely coincidence. I am interested in the Altered Carbon series, have not yet read the comics or seen the Netflix series, but will get there some time. Also I like your format of doing these bite sized reviews. Seems like a great extra addition to your amazing Poetry and Art posts. Thank you for sharing!

    • You’re very welcome! I forgot to link a post, so that’s probably why it went wrong. My bad 😛 I suspect you would enjoy Altered Carbon, and if you do then definitely read the other two books in the series.

      I wanted to find some excuses to post a bit more and get myself back into the habit of writing for fun, so this seemed like a good way. You certainly seem to have fun with your book posts 🙂

      • Yeah the recaps ive not been doing for so long and the planned reading posts are a nice way of giving books not a lot of people might know some light, even get a few added to their tbrs…

  5. Some excellent picks there, Wilding I really enjoyed and both the Altered Carbon and Iron Druid series are excellent. Reckon you’ll be doing any fan art for any of these? Takeshi Kovacs perhaps? Or how about Owen and Slowmo? Oberon too obviously (oh alright, and Atticus as well!)

    • Good ideas! Kovacs would certainly be a challenge… The Iron Druid lot could be fun. Will see if I find the time and inclination 😉

  6. […] Having spent a very busy summer reading a lot of sci-fi and urban fantasy to just chill out and get a break from the real world around doing my summer job, I turned back to more serious issues when things got a bit less busy and then into some down time. I ended the summer focussing on At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell to get my mind back into more complex topics. I really enjoy a well researched, well thought out and thought-provoking non-fiction book, when I have some space to process. You can see my review for that one [here]. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s