Books read, May 2011

Last month was both busy and tiring, so not nearly as much reading got done. Most of these have their own posts, too, so this entry will be short. (Short enough, in fact, that I’m not going to bother with a cut.)

Stopping for a Spell, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed here.

Dogsbody, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed here.

Winter’s Heart, Robert Jordan. Discussed here.

Witch’s Business, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed here.

Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, trans. William Scott Wilson. This is a translation of selections from a rather famous seventeenth-century Japanese text on how to be a samurai. But it dates to the early part of the Edo period, which means it comes from one of those points in time where what being a samurai meant was in flux: Japan was (relatively speaking) at peace, so now the expectation was starting to be that samurai should be Confucian gentlemen as well as warriors. Furthermore, Yamamoto — the guy whose sayings are collected here — had not seen much war (at least by the standards of the period immediately preceding his), so you have to weigh that into the balance with his declarations about how it’s grander to throw your life away for your lord than to kill the enemy for your lord. (I found myself raising an eyebrow at him a lot.) A lot of what’s in here comes across as flat-out crazy to a modern American mind, but trying to understand the mentality behind it is a very interesting exercise.

The Ogre Downstairs, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed here.

The Dragon-Seekers, Christopher McGowan. Research for A Natural History of Dragons, and many thanks to elaine_thom for recommending it. This is a social history/collection of biographies about English fossilists in the decades leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species. There were a few things in the introduction I looked askance at; the writer is a paleontologist rather than a historian, so the context is occasionally a bit weak. But I appreciated the reminder of how people of this kind all knew each other and worked together (or at cross-purposes), and I very much appreciated McGowan’s attention to the role played by quarry-workers and other non-specialists, without whom the fossilists would not have been supplied with things to study.

0 Responses to “Books read, May 2011”

  1. pentane

    My favorite part of Hagakure is how he points out that kids these days are a bunch of whiny spiled brats with unscarred thighs. I tend to mention that when people start Millenial bashing.

    “Oh, how original, people have only been complaining about the younger generation since the 1600s.”

    • moonandserpent

      “What is happening to our young
      people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They
      ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
      Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” –Plato

    • Marie Brennan

      The unscarred-thigh thing is entertaining. <g>

  2. moonandserpent

    “Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, trans. William Scott Wilson.”

    Hahahahah. (Jack is never without this book on hand as it is the code by which he functions.)

    Fascinating book hampered by the fact that it is essentially a treatise written by a non-combatant middle-manager who was trying to rationalize why the Samurai needed to exist in a setting rapidly making them obsolete. But you know all that.

    Best modern-day use of the Hagakure is in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai which is a wonderful meditation on honor and obsolescence.

    (Also, half of Jack’s inspiration.)

    • Marie Brennan

      That, and Yamamoto comes across as a guy without any particular talents, painstakingly building a philosophy that argues it’s better to be devoted and talentless than one of those clever people.

      Kyle bought the book because of you, but he hasn’t read it yet.

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