Monday, December 17, 2012

Books and Reading

Hi all,

I spoke with a couple people about a several books over this past weekend.  If you don't care, don't bother reading or replying to the email.

Fun and Fast:
- "A Stranger in the Kingdom" by Frank Howard Mosher (This work offers a fantastic perspective on rural life in Vermont as well as racism.)
-"Disappearances" by Frank Howard Mosher (Rural Vermont life that features tall tale in the time of prohibition.
-"A Man Without a Country" by Kurt Vonnegut (Many consider this to be the closest thing Vonnegut ever wrote to an autobiography.  For that reason alone it is well worth a read)
-Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jewels Verne (Obviously awesome)
-Around the World in Eighty Days by Jewels Verne
-20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jewels Verne
-"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas (a magnificent journey through the human experience of a wronged man. The work contains a fair amount of revenge and reflection)
-"A Day no Pigs Would Die" by Robert Newton Peck  (Depression era coming of age story about a farmer's son in Vermont)
-"A Part of the Sky" by Robert Newton Peck (This is the sequel to the previously listed book)
-"Call of the Wild" by Jack London
-"White Fang" by Jack London

Short Stories
-"To Build a Fire" by Jack London
-"Late Great Works of Leo Tolstoy"  This is a two volume set. It is one of my prized possessions.

General Recommendations
- Anything by Isaac Asimov.  (I probably wouldn't recommend reading everything he wrote, but taking in the Three Laws of Robotics is worthwhile).
-A Study in Scarlet; The Hound of the Baskervilles; Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; The Return of Sherlock Holmes all by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Modern readers will probably be surprised by the similarities to CSI, some of the incredible stereotyping that Holmes undertakes, and the incredible take on Mormonism)

-The Dexter series  (After the first book the written series radically departs from the TV series and is well worth reading.  Despite the appearance of light and air writing, I believe that the writing is actually well thought out and very good).
- The Flashman Series (a comedic series based on the fictitious exploits of a victorian era british soldier)
-Joe Gunther Series by Archer Mayor (Vermont author that writes in the procedural crime genre)

-The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo series by Steig Larson

-The D'Artagnan Romances: The Three Musketeers; Twenty Years After; The Vicomte du Bragelonne; The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (all of these are super fun reads.  None of the language is overly complex, but some may find his storytelling overly descriptive.)

- The Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card. (Child warriors provide a constant sourcing of fascination for many.  There are also themes of bullying, manipulation and family.  The setting is futuristic and lush)
Structural knowledge:
-Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss (Comedic outlook on punctuation in modern english)
-How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish (seriously)

Thought provoking and entertaining:
-White Teeth by Zadie Smith  (She has more fantasticly evokative sentences in this book than I could hope to write in a lifetime)
-Dead Souls by Nikolia Gogol (Gogol is often called the father of Russian literature and rightfully so. I don't think that it is particularly hard to get through and is a great introduction to Russian literature)
-Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand  (Most folks who have selected UVM for their undergraduate education will find many of the ideas she espouses to be absurd.  However, I think that Rand provide one of the few truly thoughtful, moral defense of capital; whereas, there is a sea of articulate capitalist discontents.)
-"Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Written based on Vonnegut's life experience as a GI durring the firebombing of Dresden.  If you are not familiar with that period of history, it is worth a read.  Vonnegut's perspective on the human experience at a time when humanity is no where to be found is humorous and simultaneously chilling)
-"Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut (Vonnegut interviewed real GE scientists to build the foundation of this novel. The book tackles humanity's ability to destroy itself.)
-"Siren of Titan" by Kurt Vonnegut (a perspective on the ability of man to equalize the inequities visited upon each of us by the incident of our birth)
-"The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen (Age, society, madness, perfection and rigid family structure are all served up in this work.  
-"Freedom by Jonathan Frazen (After reading this book I concluded that Frazen was the best American author of the last century.  He successfully wrote the book that every post modernest dreams of writing: the story of moral ambiguity and try to get by.
-To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I am sure you all had to read this at one point in your life, but it is worth re-reading.   I try to make a point of reading it yearly.  The concepts of fairness and equality throughout the book take on different forms as your perspective as a reader shifts with age and experience.)
-Walden by Henry David Thoreau (The first section on economy is only worth reading once you have read the rest of the work.)
-The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (A beautiful story about the transformation of a country and the lives within.  The book is functioning on several different levels simultaneously and occasionally permits interplay between the levels.)
-The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Chabron (A tragic and adventurous novel that relates the story of a comic book writer who escaped Nazi Germany)
-Maus by Art Speigleman (A graphic novel relating the author's father's experiences during the Holocaust.  I am sure that Forrest could tell you more about it.  I always found the imagery of different animals for each of the different classes of people to be especially interesting)
-Night by Eli Wisel (Fantastic)
-Native Son by Richard Wright
-Black Boy by Richard Wright
-Pagan Spain by Richard Wright
-The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sopher (Fantastic look at the revolutionary culture in Iran immediately following the revolution through the eyes of a young Jewish girl)
-War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
-Anna Karinina by Leo Tolstoy

Ultra heady
-When Affirmative Action was White  (This book examines the impact of the GI bill and the relative ability for African Americans and Caucasians to gain access to education and equity)
-Black Trials  (This is a series of historical / poli sci studies of the leading trials featuring race throughout American history)
-Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault  (This is a fantastic study of devices of  societal control)
-Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucaoult  (After reading this it is hard to think about medication and hospitalization in the same way)
-A History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault
-Two Treatise by John Locke (only the second one is worth reading. The foundational generation of this country relied heavily on this man's thoughts.  There reliance in turn shaped many of our societal institutions, so it is worth working through).
-American Foreign Policy by William Appleman Williams (A crucial piece of writing to understanding the role the United States plays in the world today).
-Milestones by Sayyid Qutb (There are a million different spellings for this man's name.   Often this work is cited as the seminal intelectual work of pan-muslim radicalism. It has been banned in several countries over the years.) 
-The Irony of American History by Rienhold Niebuhr (The preeminent american theologist of the twentieth century. He grappled with America's post WWII role in the world)
-Faith and History by Rienhold Niebuhr
-The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness by Rienhold Niebuhr
-The New Jim Crow (I picked this up but haven't been able to read it yet.  Everybody is talking about what Michelle Alexander wrote, so I think that it is worth reading)
-The Way we Vote by Alec Ewald (I took a bunch of classes with Professor Ewald and think very highly of him.  I found his book to be very good and believe it is accessible to someone without specific education in the area.)

A letter to someone starting a long distance relationship.

For the better part of the last 4 years, I have lived in one place and my partner has lived in another. These places are separated by a 12 hour car trip.  We had dated for about two and a half years prior to this geographic divide.  We gave it a go, almost without thinking about it.  It has been trying, but we still love each other and, I think, we have a strong relationship.  

Another friend wrote to me, facing a similar situation, and asked for advice. While I don't have all the answers, I have the foundation of what made the relationship work for us and thought I would share. Here is my reply, sanitized of their identifying information.

Hi __________,

Thanks for the email. It is good to hear from you. First, congratulations on getting a job and having a partner you care enough about to consider a long-term, long-distance relationship. The challenges inherent in your situation are minute compared to the blessings that brought you there. For me, remembering these blessings is the most important thing. In short, you have a problems but it is a good problem; the problem is the confluence of two strokes of good luck. Second, I get how hard this is going to be.  Emily and I have spent the last 3 1/2 years living 12 hrs apart. There are three main commitments that have carried me through: emotionally commit to the rigors of the situation, make the time to see each other in person on a regular basis, and trust in your relationship and each other.

The emotional commitment to this type of relationship is challenging. People—whether they are close friends, family or co-workers—will always look at you like you are crazy when you tell them what you are doing. The reason is that this is hard,  it seems crazy, and a recipe for heartache. They assume you are young, foolish and don't know realize how little chance your relationship has of succeeding. For me, an emotional commitment to the relationship means that I believe and reaffirm my belief that our relationship is valuable and enduring. This belief is shelter from the unintentional storm of people's sideways looks.   I can't tell you how to fortify yourself, only that you have to do it.

Perhaps the logistically difficult thing to do is see each other in person on a regular basis. Each of us will travel once during a semester. Then, we will also spend our breaks together.  It really doesn't make for that much time together, maybe 30 days during the course of the school year.  Usually, whoever is being visited still has all of their school obligations too. Even with all of those reasons why visits are a hassle, you have to do it; otherwise, it is too easy to drift apart. On a separate note, that much driving is murderous.  I recommend audio books. and both have huge selections. All you can really do is hunker down, do the drives, and not complain too much about it when you get there. Even though it isn't the same as being there in person, speaking to each other by gmail video or Skype on a daily basis is helpful. No matter how busy we get, we always talk face to face at the end of the day - it helps.

Long distance relationships require a solid foundation of trust. There will be a lot of times when both of you are frustrated with our situation.  If you have nagging concerns about the other person's fidelity, then things start to crumble. SOmetimes people get burned. But for the most part, more relationships die for want of trust than do by actual infidelity.

That is the best advice I have for coping with the challenges before you.  Staying positive helps and there is a silver lining to this dark cloud too. There is the old, tired, and very cliche saying, "distance make the heart grow fond." I guess I would modify that a little bit. Now, the time we actually get to spend together feels so mud more valuable. It is now so much harder to waste a day together.  Which, for all of the tribulations of the last couple years, is a very good thing.

Best of luck and don't be a stranger