quarta-feira, dezembro 26, 2018

2018: My Reading Year in Review



And the year ends once again...

Without further ado, my crème-de-la-crème was the following:





Links for some of the above-mentioned reviews (in no particular order):



Follow-up on ∂S/∂t + H = 0: "Reality Is Not What It Seems" by Carlo Rovelli
Fuck-Spaces: “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger
Shut the Fuck Up and Calculate (Or Not): "The Nature of Space and Time" by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose
dAction/dx = d/dt(dLagrangian/dv)-dLagrangian/dx = 0: “The Theoretical Minimum - What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics” by Leonard Susskind, George Hrabovsky
Gravity Curves Space-time. That’s It: "On Gravity: A Brief Tour of a Weighty Subject" by Anthony Zee
Lagrangean Systems: "Levels of Infinity - Selected Writings on Mathematics and Philosophy" by Hermann Weyl, Peter Pesic
Smelly Socks:"Gravitational Waves - How Einstein’s Spacetime Ripples Reveal the Secrets of the Universe" by Brian Clegg
The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI): "The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III - Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family” by Peter Byrne
Eigen-stuff Applied to Buridan's Ass: “Dichronauts” by Greg Egan
(Count-of-Self) = 0: "Superintelligence - Paths, Dangers, Strategies" by Nick Bostrom
Ancient Greek Cynicism: "The Father of Lies" by K. J. Parker
A Real Sense of Otherness: "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid
The Gentle-Slide-into-Decrepitude-Concerning-Sex-in-Old-Age: “The Elegies of Maximianus" by Maximianus, A. M. Juster (Translator), Michael Roberts (Introduction)
Gambler's Fallacy: "One Human Minute" by Stanislaw Lem
Et ego in illo: “Baltasar and Blimunda” by José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (Translator)
Brontosaurus Shit: "On Bullshit" by Harry G. Frankfurt


A long time ago, and as a form of self-imposed discipline, I decided to keep a list of the books I started to read, followed by a list of those I finished. We’re talking 1980 here (before there was a thing called Internet as we know it today). Unfortunately, and despite all this information, I don’t have the faintest idea how many books I read since 1980. I have notebooks, one for fiction and one for non-fiction in which I keep my lists and mark each book out of 10 - I haven’t read anywhere near the number of books I should have since we are talking many eons here, but I find it helps me remember books and spurs me to complete some I would otherwise give up on.
If you ask me how many books I read in 2018 I can answer that: I recently finished the 107th book. I'm not sure why keeping a list like this has helped my reading, but it has, and I've abandoned only a few books in all these years. I also don’t have the foggiest on which years I read the less. Why? Because I’m still updating my book portals (Booklikes, LibraryThing, etc.)  Looking at the statistics, the best years have been 2018 and 2019 with 122 books and 144 respectively. I remember those years as being years of eclectic reading, the diversity of which may have helped to maintain my interest.

Why did I kept on doing it till now? In today's age there is so much energy sucking distraction, and we do not have the chance to read very often, we get out of practice and reading becomes less automatic and more conscious effort. Trying to read a complicated book, especially for me certain non-fiction books takes a lot of effort and sometimes the effort seems too much. Maybe that’s why, but I can’t really say for sure.

In 2018 I tried for the first time to be more consistent with my Audio-books reading. I “discovered” Audio-books let me make use to otherwise dead time by “reading”. Audio-books also allow me to take energy that you otherwise would use to hold, turn pages, and concentrate on the process of reading and use that energy to follow and think about what you are hearing. It also makes it easier to re-read parts of a book you might not re-read because it is too much time and energy. Listening to the audio-book version of Dante’s and Pinky’s book "Inferno by Dante" was where I realized this, where I finished it and through it was one of the most informative books I had read (I had read it previously in print format), and a friend had a hard time getting through it and did not get as much out of it.

How does my reading compare with the way I read back then? I think there are two aspects to it. One is enjoyment, and one is a suddenly closed mind. I recall as a young reader I could read more or less anything, was completely open to all kinds of difference in literary style. Even Ulysses did not seem difficult. Then came a middle period. Spoilt by Dostoevsky, I tried Beckett and Kafka, and failed to read both as having - so it then seemed, if not today - compared to the Russian psych-dramatist lifeless barely conscious characters. I managed short Bellow, but struggled with long (Herzog excepted). Then later Bellow suddenly became an effortless read, and an earlier liking for Updike as a Russian master's more pacific apprentice paled making re-reading the great short stories a struggle. Later Kafka and Beckett became grown up Wodehouse and a delight to read, the finest dark comedy so fitting for the 20th C that was. (Throughout however Tolstoy alone remained ever green and quite the same, the exception that proved the problematic rule.) Years later I tried to re-read “Finnegans Wake”. Impossible to get past 1/4 of the book, like someone who once did 60 quick push-ups and now struggles three times at arm’s length. As Zhuangzi said long ago, and through a mere acolyte to a master sage, "you are not the person now sitting on your desk today you were sitting there yesterday". Change, and unfathomable calibrations of internal and external contingencies ever escape us. So what are “boring books”? No idea, but I don't this "boring books" crap. Boring books are the ones we put down. And interesting and entertaining books the ones I finish. Clearly in my case, far from one reader throughout the one life, there are many, and from decade to decade even great books can be like dice. However, recently, in dotage, there seems a return to that early phase of being able to read almost any style and form so long as it be literary - good - enough (so obviously no E. L. James or Dan Brown).

I have reached the age now where I know my own tastes and don't often embark on a book I can't finish, though some may take a while due to various distractions. But if something's a dud I don't hesitate to ditch it, life is too short and they keep on publishing things I might want to read! These days if a book hasn’t got my attention within a hundred pages it goes to the charity shop. I also set the threshold at a hundred pages. Some books need to warm up a bit first, and to quit on them after just 30 or 40 pages, however hard-going, would be to do them a disservice. One example that particularly stands out is “Wolf Hall” (yes, ThemisAthena, I finally read it; I'm not writing a review...probably no review ever…): I found it very hard to get into, especially with the author's habit of always referring to the protagonist as 'he', never as 'Cromwell', but after a certain point - probably between a third and a half of the way in - things just clicked, and I devoured the rest in a twinkling.

2018 was finally the year I found the gumption to publish 300 of my retro-reviews. Between the stuff I recovered from my BBS disks and some other IDE and SCSI disks I've got in the loft I was able to scrounge up these 300 "gems" from back in the day. There's much more reviews where these came from...Will I have the Will to publish them? That's a different story altogether...

2018 was also the year I wanted to read more Physics books. I've read same absolute crackers! (see pictures and links above)

2018 was also the year I wanted to return to my SF days. Meaning, I wanted to catch up with the genre. Unfortunately I didn't read all the stuff I wanted. 

In a nutshell:


Physics = 29

SF = 40
Crime Fiction = 9
Mundane Fiction = 16
Computer Science = 9
(...)

On with the rest of the numbers:


· Number of words written in the 108 book reviews (*): 117512 (average 1088 words per review)
· Number of words written in the 31 non-book chronicles/essays: 22916 (average 739,3 words per chronicle/essay)
· Number of words written in the 139 reviews and non-book chronicles/essays: 140428 (average 1010,3 words)

Not written in 2018, but in a way belonging to 2018 because I published them this year,  the number of words written in the 300 retro-reviews: 185896 (average 619,7 words)

Number of books and pages read: 



Number of Books Read Per Publication Year (1900-2018): 



Reading Chart Per Month (2018): 



Ratings Distribution (2018):





My 2017 Reading Challenge:




Reading Challenges Per Year (2018): 



My All-Time Booklikes' Profile as of the end of 2018 (888 reviews since 1980):


My All-Time Goodreads' Profile as of the end of 2018 (901 reviews in total):


Number of followers and Follows on Booklikes:


Number of followers on GR (yep, after what happened to Leafmarks one can't be too careful...):


2018 Average Rating:




NB: 3.7 in 2017.

All-Time Most Popular Pages from My Blog:


NB: What a surprise! My Shakespeare pages still comprise my TOP3. And my musings in German still in 4th place! Wonders will never cease...

My All-Time Rating  Distribution (3.3):



My All-Time Physical Properties (Number of Pages Distribution):



How High is My Book Stack:



NB: My value at the end of 2018 was 350,6 metres (1150.2 feet). Higher than the Big Ben and the Washington Monument! The Eiffel Tower was finally conquered...The Empire State Building is just around the corner with 381 metres (1250 feet)...

If all the pages in all my books were laid end-to-end:



Weight:

(Almost 900 Kg of books...but still far from one elephant...)

My All-time Author Gender:


My "Dead or Alive" When it Comes to Authors:



Number of Books Read on My Bookshelf:


Number of Books Read per Year:


 
 

Number of Pages Read per Year:




2018 Shortest, Longest Books (and average): 


2018 Most and Least Popular:


2018 Average of Pages Read : 

All-Time Blog Hits Around the World (BookLikes):


Most Popular 100 Reviewers in Portugal:


Most popular 100 reviewers in the last 12 months in Portugal:



All-Time Blog Hits Around the World (the blog you're reading now):


2017:

2018:


Around 66 K new hits in 2018; 5487 hits per month in 2018. A very pronounced increase when compared to last year's stats (around 38K new hits in 2017 when compared with 2016's stats; 3167 hits per month in 2017).

The increase from 2017-2016 (38K) to 2017-2018 (66K), resulted in an 28K hits jump.

All-Time "My Map of the World":


2017 (1280 places):


2018 (2480 places):


NB: 1200 places added in 2018.

All-Time Number of Posts Written Between August 2006 and December 2018:




Coda:

Because this is my final post ever, a coda is in order.

There pretty much isn't a single character in the novels of Thomas Mann, for instance, who wasn't someone he'd met. Der Zauberberg was based on his wife's stay at a sanatorium in Davos, the main character is his alter ego, and all the other characters were either patients at that sanatorium, or people Mann knew. Tod in Venedig was based on a holiday stay in Venice. Tadzio existed for real, except that he was called Vladzio. On and on. He really never made anything up, he embroidered on his own experiences. And of course there is another classic author of "autofiction" novels, Marcel Proust. I could go to my bookshelves and pick dozens of novels off the shelves (and I don't have all that large a library), starting from the 19th century onwards, that were almost wholly "autofiction". The most famous novel in Dutch, Multatuli's (1820-1887) Max Havelaar, is an account of the time he spent as a colonial official in the Dutch East Indies, and his second most famous book, Woutertje Pieterse, are his childhood recollections. The entire oeuvre of the great Belgian, Dutch-language writer Willem Elsschot (1882-1960) consists of novels closely based on his own life experiences. That's why my reviews always go on a tagent. They almost always remind me of something...Meaning: they're based on my own experiences.

Why did I keep on reviewing until now?

The review is an artefact that is continually evolving, espousing and reacting to the real as seen and mused over by many writers - some are examinations of the bloggers's own experience of life, some come from a retold story or piece of gossip or an incident reported in a book, some are fantasies around anthropological, mythological, historical or philosophical issues told through the social and political milieu in which life events of a real or imagined character occur, delving into the psychological dimensions, motivations and intentions of that character and those around her/him. It is a contemplation of an individual and the personal qualities and events and actions that impact upon human existence in a particular set of circumstances.

I'm just gonna stop writing book reviews and let the world burn in peace. It took something more - like study - to learn to read on a deeper level and be able to do a book justice. I'm gonna go back to reading in a passive sort of way - I think the technical terms are lisible and scriptible reading.

I'm off! Take care.


sábado, dezembro 22, 2018

Self-Reflection: "Thumps - Reviews and Essays 2016" by MySelfie






NB: I’m the author of this book. And this is not a review. So don’t you start huffing and puffing about me rating it…

The silver-foil room and the 1977 aesthetic ... Things howl on the frontier, not just the wolves ... And the dustpile ... The 21st Century howls I thought ... but a Portuguese publishing marketing person? ... An EXCEL spreadsheet? ... Then I thought: Clammy handshake, unedited ... You can smarten yourself up with twenty five Euros and a visit to PRIMARK ... I don't know what I am on about either ... a desert of dung, preserving mediocrity ... This is not a quote ...

I self-publish because my writing doesn't fit a particular genre. I write across age groups and styles (i.e., I write book reviews). I don't write 'mainstream'. I am what I am and therefore I cannot box myself in for the sake of money. Thus, I write what I want, self-publish, shrug my shoulders if there are editorial errors, (it's not like I don't edit 1000 times, & all my work, even that which I've already published, is under constant revision, editing & upgrading). This way I can publish & be damned (ideal for the impatient creative such as myself), I can maintain my integrity and my originality plus I don't get demoralised waiting for someone in circles I rarely move, to sanction my work. I think this is the “modus operandi” of all gorgeous and wonderful writers worth their salt. Many of our great literary names published their own works by setting up their own printing press. Self-publishing is nothing new & it's very odd that it should be looked down upon. I largely think it is looked down upon by two types of people, the snobs & the insecure. Writing is not really a performing art, and therefore attracts people who have something important to express to the world, but who also wish to keep a "safe distance" from the audience to whom they wish to convey their stories. As can be seen in the comments every time I publish a book of mine with some reviews, there are a range of personality types, from the shyest to the most gregarious. I think the former would prefer the perceived security of a traditional publisher, while the latter will believe sincerely in getting themselves and their books "out there" and making it all come together through their own industriousness. Both extremes are valid.

The vast majority of authors likely fall somewhere in between. There is a lot of self-published dreck out there though, and there is also a lot of traditionally published dreck out there too (one should take a swing at 30 or so pages of anything by Dan Brown; but no more than that. 50 pages of Dan Brown's prose imperils your very literacy. But it's hard to beat for duffness...) - what does that prove? If it is good enough, then it will achieve the merit it (and the writer) craves.

For many what is writing without an audience? Even if a small one. The reality is that for a writer who has something valid to say and who can say it well enough, JUST DO IT. The many other naysayers about elitism are also valid. Frankly I hate 95% of modern literary fiction that goes through a 'proper' publisher. About the same percentage of self-published fiction that I also dislike. Which doesn't stop me reading either category.

How I wish that we would spend more time seeking to better each other, share more of our talents, worry less about the things we cannot change, and help those who want more reach for it, regardless of our own preferences.

I love writing. Much in the same way as I can lose myself as a reader for hours on end, I can do the same while writing stuff. Yes, I'm a book review writer and, no, I will never win the Booker prize. But, as clichéd as it sounds, I'm living the dream.

I'm behold to no-one. I'm not following market trends. I'm not thinking about making money, or how wonderful I am for managing to compile a book or two with my reviews. To begin with, I don't even tell anyone what I'm doing in my closed circle of friends. I'm just enjoying myself and writing what I feel like reading. I don't write because I want to be rich. I write because I enjoy writing. I have ideas for a 'literary' novel which maybe one day I'll write. It won't sell many books but it'll appease my soul.

There are a lot of bad self-published books out there. There are a lot of annoying self-promoters. But the indie industry is maturing day by day. Authors are becoming better at what they do - and more efficient. Readers are becoming better at finding the books they want to read. And there are a lot of very good self-published books out there. Snobbery abounds but is it really so wrong that most people would rather read Fifty Shades rather than Ulysses? Reading is entertainment, after all. I might be writing the Argos equivalent of a Chippendale cabinet but that doesn't make my books 'bad' any more than in the manner a James Bond film might not stand up next to a Federico Fellini masterpiece.

Ten years ago, I could never have imagined having this opportunity. Now, everyone can write a book and doesn't need a publishing house behind them to get it out there for others to read. There's more choice for readers - and that can only ever be a good thing.

Literary is nothing more than words on a page, just like any other writing. The only thing that sets it apart is that it conveys a message that goes beyond the trite and the mundane. It's a beautiful craft that engenders thought and self-reflection.

As many people who have been reading my stuff know, my preferred genre is SF, and genre fiction creates worlds in the imagination and remains with us, for many from childhood. I know. It happened to me. It influences my worldview in a core way, sets up my prejudices, breaks down my stereotypes, riles my hormones, and defends my weaknesses. Some go beyond the expectation and create those beautiful themes and bits of imagery that make the literary readers quake with thrill. It is no better than or than literary fiction--it is writing, pure and simple. Just like book reviews.


quinta-feira, dezembro 20, 2018

Ancient Greek Cynicism: "The Father of Lies" by K. J. Parker




“’What are you? I mean, what do you do?’
I was sleepy, the way you are afterwards. ‘Oh, not much.’
‘Ah, A gentleman.’”

In "The Father of Lies" by K. J. Parker


“’I’ve done a lot of bad things.’
‘Define bad.’
He looked at me, then nodded. ‘A lot of illegal things,’ he amended. ‘I’ve told a lot of lies, defrauded a lot of people out of money, cheated, stolen. Never killed anyone—’ I cleared my throat. ‘Deliberately,’ he amended, ‘except in self-defense.’
‘That’s a broad term,’ I said.
‘No it’s not. I got them before they got me.’


In "The Father of Lies" by K. J. Parker



Stories: 

The Things We Do For Love  
Downfall of the Gods
The Last Witness   
The Devil You Know  
I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There  
Heaven Thunders The Truth  
Message in a Bottle  
Rules  
Safe House   
The Dragonslayer of Merebarton  
Told By An Idiot   
No Peace for the Wicked


All my life I've had the attitude I have now, although it's not out and out cynicism. Maybe that’s why I love Parker’s fiction so much.

Cynics, Confucius, Buddha and Lao-Tzu (Taoism founder) all lived at about 500 BC, and were all of a view that we should dispassionately view the world as it really is, and act upon it in a helpful way, whilst living a simple life. They said that the dissatisfied human state is the result of our actions which are often self-centre, to become satisfied you have to become other-centred. Very hard to do/be. A modern cynic thinks that other people act cynically, which is fine, the problem arises when they get righteously indignant about it, making themselves out to be saint like which it is unlikely they are. So they're end up endlessly winding themselves up. The optimist can't be bothered thinking that everyone is up to no good because they might not be. The only solution is for the modern cynic to become as disciplined as those dudes from 500 BC. But then that is very hard to do/be. In fact the reason for the definition of the word changing is that people tried to be just that and failed or others just pretended to be that so they could get an advantage.

I am the only one that get the "Snowden on cover joke" a cynical way of drawing in the reader. I think it is a time thing- the old "You can fool me once" or a few times - but sooner or later you start to cotton on- you get silver tongue orators (Blair, Obama) who will you in- then suddenly you look back and realize it was all a con- but this often takes a few years and a few history repeating itself before you get it- then after a while you realize the world is not such a nice place and is probably not going to change- then when you are a bit older you read some history and realize that this has been going on for centuries - then you become cynical- ( am I that old already? ) - all kind of liberating as you no longer have to try change the world.

We live in a forced happy, and crappy (clappy?) culture; its smile or die. Facebook is a perfect example, the constant status update desperate in the attempt to project a positive and successful lifestyle to others. If I want to get depressed I'll take a look at Facebook. I remember reviewing projects to focus on at work. There was a list of 8 on the table, and in my professional opinion I had suggested none of them were relevant for this particular client. My boss told me I was being negative. I responded by saying that there is nothing more negative than working on things that I consider irrelevant for my client. Obviously not gone down too well, and I was labelled as difficult to work with. Screw him. I just moved on to another job.

Some modern scholarship fails to distinguish between skepticism which is a healthy suspicion of facts or truth claims based on wisdom and experience and cynicism which is distorted and negative view based on a lack of faith in human nature. Cynicism is almost always a nasty and destructive force which is often used as a weapon to crush the human spirit and put down ones rivals. It is unhealthy and has little to do with wit, satire or irony which is what I think the writer is trying to suggest.. Au contraire. I think people confuse cynicism with nihilism or simply hopeless misery.I always define a cynic as an experienced optimist, there is a lot to be cynical about in the modern world, the hard part is not to let it get you down.

I have been cynical for years, long before my forties. People sneer and say 'oh you're so cynical', as though it's a bad thing. They're right I am cynical, but that doesn't mean I am a heaving mass of gloom. I could pretend I am a realist, but that's just dressing it up. I simply look below the surface and don't take everything at face value. I think years of working for public services reinforced my attitudes!

Or am I a sceptic?

This is a good point. The word "cynical" has been co-opted somewhat to mean a sort of manipulative nature - usually followed by the words "marketing ploy". I suppose that such a ploy would capitalise on people's selfish tendencies so it would pertain to cynicism, but the word gets tarred. When McDonalds target their meals at kids, that's cynical but it's also defeatist - it suggests that that is the only thing kids will respond to, without trying to buck the trend.

In Parker's SF, I emphasize the point which should not be overlooked is that if we take people as they are, with all their wonderful ideas, idealism, generosity but also pettiness, greed, revenge you cherish changes more since you know how hard one has to work to overcome this. There are no heroes in this world, no “super humans” only struggling people who try to make small differences. Its the struggle which makes us human, the word “hero” (only used if you succeed) de-humanize this. First move of a new manager is to clear the older deadwood and cynics when they take over, in this case older deadwood and cynics are the same. The older employee has seen it all before, new manager “great new ideas” which are the same old ideas dressed up in new words, if they they had a new way of managing people they would be rich. There is nothing new in managing people. They will leave in a few years leaving a bigger mess behind them, and the cycle of managers repeats itself, saying afterwards “it all worked when I was there”. Now days managers are far more interested in managing there careers than the business organization they are in. Mediocre people are told by business universities that they can be managers when you would not put them in charge of the toilet. Is that cynical enough for you. I agree that cynicism is better than it's reputation, but it all depends on your definition cynicism, ancient Greek cynicism might be quite well defined, but contemporary cynicism can be everything from reasonable doubt to jaded negativity. Personally, I'd say a lasting element of cynicism is rejection of conventions for their own sake, distrust towards traditional values, and nowadays, distrust of absolutist beliefs.

But, people tend to overemphasise single personality traits, no one is exclusively a cynic or an optimist.

I prefer to call myself a realistic pessimist. There are fine boundaries between that and cynicism. In particular situations, particularly negative ones, I never start off from an optimistic point of view. I've never understood optimists. They always expect and want the best outcome from situations, so when things go wrong or don't turn out as planned, some become down or even depressive about it. I always start off with the point of view of "Well what's the worst that could happen?", start of with a supposition that it might happen, then when it doesn't it's a bonus. This has served me well in the past, particularly when I had a life threatening illness and was at deaths door. You develop a black sense of humour. It helps a lot.

Ah, cynicism. Gets such a bad rap. The first thing to say about it is that it isn't synonymous with negativity; as such it is possible to be both cynical and positive. As the article points out, it is more an unwillingness to accept bullshit, and a desire for precision, rather than an aversion to positivism. But to me, that raises an even more urgent question: why does positivism get knocked so much? Many people tend to see it as a sort of intellectual failing. I disagree. It is easy to think that nothing good can happen, and such a view is often humorously done and generally charismatically-presented - cue the Ian Hislops, the Jo Brands, the Jimmy Carrs - such that the message becomes hard to resist. But being hard to resist doesn't make it right. Yes, those guys are funny but I would say they are also positive, otherwise it is unlikely they would do what they do. Why would they bother? Problems arise when people focus on the slightly rock-n-roll idea of negativity without thinking about the positivism that got those people to a point where they could broadcast that message. See? Things aren't binary.

I wonder how many of I wonder how many of Parker's characters could be described as being cynical? Saloninus, Zeus’ daughter, etc. Saloninus is my favourite character. Most of the time he's on the make, driven by his own motivations, his wits, self-interest, greed, hatefulness, and craft. We watch him striving, pulling the strings of his own little puppet show, either in defiance or in ignorance of the broader show in which the rest of the characters are only bit-players. Psychopaths often do very well in Parker's milieus as well - lacking empathy with others means that can make the so-called "difficult decisions"...take greed - taking an irrational amount for yourself and not sharing with anyone - resisting all attempts by the State to try and redistribute it. More money than you could possible know what to with just sitting in bank accounts doing nothing (which actually does not harm the overall Parker's economy in his world-building). Parker is able to explore theories of personality theory to assert why some characters become envious/greedy/cynical in a way I've never seen done in SF.

My own definition of cynicism also involves rejecting oversimplifications and restrictive labels. Just like Saloninus.


And I’m out with a bang!


SF = Speculative Fiction.