Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Idle Kings

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know me not...
This round, our topic is people who achieved greatness early in life. Sometimes it's art, sometimes business, sometimes war, but there are certain people who always live after their greatest moment. What happens to them later in life? Who makes it? Who is never the same? We'll look to books to find the answer.
Much have I seen and known: cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy...
Like both Tennyson and his subject, the author of your book may be dead. But this time, you may also read a living author, so long as your subject is dead. Post any ideas you have here in the comments section, to help others who are looking for topics.

There's no location planned yet, but we're working on getting one, after which we'll have a better idea of a date too. At this point we're looking at early June. Enjoy the reading. We're trying to revive the presentation system this time, so try to think of a creative way to share the insight your book provided on this topic, so as to keep providing something worth showing up for. The book club has been around for awhile, but unlike our subject this month, still probably has good days ahead of us, so come on out and join us.
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods...

Monday, February 13, 2012

More Book Suggestions for Mid-Twentieth Century Gender Relations

I do think it would be nice to focus on gender roles during the mid-twentieth century so the discussion doesn't get too broad.
  • The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimor - this book was the inspiration for the theme so it would be nice if a few people read it.
  • The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood 1967 [the seminal work (ha, seminal!) that put Atwood on the map]
  • The Power of the Positive Woman by Phyllis Schlafly 1977
  • Man and Marraige by George Gilder 1993 [George Gilder's Men and Marriage is a revised and expanded edition of his 1973 landmark work, Sexual Suicide . He examines the deterioration of the family, the well-defined sex roles it offered, and how this change has shifted the focus of our society.]
  • Women's Magazines: 1940-1960 Gender Roles and the Popular Press

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Suggestions for Mid-Twentieth Century, Gender-Themed Book Club

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Consider Her Ways by John Wyndham
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
Gwendolyn Brooks
Gloria Steinem

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mediums of Exchange in Sci Fi

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, I found the Trader's assertions that they weren't after money interesting. It seems like that IS Hober Mallow's ambition. He ends up wealthy in a swank house with the intention of buying power. His trial made buying power unnecessary but he still ends up a wealthy man. His strategy for peace and dealing with the Seldon Crises was based on simple exchange and trade, but people don't want to trade for the sake of trading. Even traders have an end goal. There is a basic human desire to accumulate wealth as a means to each individual's ends. Mallow takes advantage accordingly. I'm interested in reading the subsequent books to see how civilization evolves past the need for currency.

This also got me thinking about other sci fi series and their mediums of exchange...

Star Wars used Galactic Credits, a fiat currency. From Wookiepedia: "From its inception, the credit was backed by the immense wealth of the planet Muunilinst and the InterGalactic Banking Clan (IGBC). During the Clone Wars, the IGBC backed the currencies of both sides, as it would do again decades later for the New Republic and Imperial Remnant."

The Stargate series centers around the production, use, and trade of naquadah, "a rare, super-dense metal element used by a wide number of different races. Its most basic use is as a weapon: naquadah greatly amplifies energy, making it extremely potent if paired with explosives." I haven't watched enough to know if it was actually used as a currency though.

The twelve colonies in Battlestar Gallactica used cubits even after the apocolypse of their home planet. I found it interesting that they still made bets and would buy things despite the meager circumstances and since it was unlikely the fiat currency of cubits was backed by anything since the colonies were destroyed.

My fave sci fi series Firefly used credits on the core planets and precious metal coinage on the frontier/border planets where Malcolm and his crew spend most of their time stealing and exchanging goods to make their not so honest living.

Star Trek didn't use money. I now want to hunt down the episodes that do deal with trade and the mention of money to ascertain why this is or how they claim to have evolved past the need for currency.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kim and the Great Game

Many thanks to Kate and Jana for the scrumptious Indian food on Saturday as Jeff enlightened us about the Great Game and we discussed Rudyard Kipling's Kim!

One story I forgot to share regarding the book. I always find it interesting to find a rich history behind such a simple concept as Kim's game - the memory game he practices to become better at intrigue and spywork. I often played this game as a child and as an adult I've played a variation of it at bridal showers. You tell the bride to leave the room and pass out pens and paper to the guests. You tell the guests we are about to play a memory game and to be very observant, they will have 60 seconds. You then have the bride come in carrying a tray with an assortment of items and walk around the room for one minute and then leave again. Then you tell everyone to write down everything the bride was wearing! Groans and giggles erupt as people realize they were tricked.

John and I will send an email soon about hosting the Count of Monte Cristo at the end of September!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Poverty: Structural Constraint or Moral Failing?

In our discussion of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn it was apparent that few of us are used to reading about poverty in a contemporary urban context. In the book, a loosely-fictionalized memoir of author Betty Smith's own experience growing up in a poor section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Francie continually confronts her impoverished situation. Her day to day escapades are often rooted in scrounging for scrap metal, pleading for deals from local shopkeepers, and dreaming of a world without the constraints of finances.

Francie's story has a happy ending, though it stands in sharp relief to the stories of countless others that Francie encounters in her Brooklyn: those who, despite their best efforts, cannot rise above the grip of poverty.

Smith depicts poverty as a structural obstacle, ever resistant to success and there to inundate whole families for any misstep - a lost job, an unexpected pregnancy, an ill-timed death. Though Smith does attribute a certain amount of agency to individuals, Francie's escape from Brooklyn is not wholly a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches celebration of pluck and talent. Certainly Katie's insistence that her children devote time and attention to reading from a young age bettered their chances, but it was largely Lady Luck who saved the Nolans: Katie's resilient beauty into middle age and the kindness of an old tavern-keeper are equal parties in their survival.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Do Psychopaths Dream of Electric Sheep?

Lately, I've been hearing a lot about psychopaths.  I think it all started Jarred Loughner and his deadly shooting rampage at Rep. Gabby Giffords constituent outreach event. Loughner sits in prison and said to be mentally ill with psychopathic tendencies, thus he is unable to stand trial. Then, I heard an episode of This American Life called The Psychopath Test and learned that one of the common traits of psychopathy is lack of empathy and remorse. This test - the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) - asks a series of questions about a person’s history. Through the responses one is supposed to be able to tell whether or not a person is a psychopath. This test is often given to criminals involved in murder cases. If the test results show that the person is a psychopath, their chances of ever getting parole are greatly diminished. There is a belief (with some supporting evidence) that those who score high on the PCL-R have no chance of recovery - they cannot change their destructive and un-empathetic behaviors because they were born with them.  

I got an eerie sensation when I realized the PCL-R was very similar to the Voight-Kampff test in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – a former Dead Authors Book Club pick.  It is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that asks a seemingly simple question "what does it mean to be a human?" In the same way, our criminal justice system gives the PCL-R to possible psychopaths, the police and bounty hunters in Electric Sheep give the Voight-Kampff test to potential androids.