- Author: Blaise Pascal
- Title: Pensées
- Published: 1670 (incomplete at death)
- Language: French
- Edition: Le Livre de Poche ISBN 978225316960
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- Difficult, difficult..very difficult to read in French!
- I realized the edition I had was more than just Pensées.
- Of the 736 pages I read the first part (pg 5-257)
- …and that was enough!
- But, no matter how difficult this book was
- …I never gave up.
- I knew there had to be some ‘gems’
- of wisdom waiting for me.
- Pascal was a genius in his time.
- He excelled in science and mathematics
- …before his turn to religion.
- Pensées captures his insights in elegant
- pithy (difficult) phrases.
- His words at times went over my head (existential)
- …but at other times his words went straight to my heart.
- I will end with one of his most famous quotes:
- “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point”
- The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.
- Yes, I had thoughts….about Pascal’s thoughts!
- Here are a few things I jotted down while reading.
- This is a #Classic…and I am glad I can
- …say I have a general idea what it is about!
Humor: (pg 51)
The causes and effects of love:
… if Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter
….it would have changed the face of the world!
Faith: …beautifully said! (pg 55)
Faith is in our heart and
makes us NOT say I know….but I believe.
Chiasmus: (pg 66)
The sentence is grammatically the same, even when it is reversed!
Peu de chose nous console parce que
Peu de chose nous afflige
A few things console us because
A few things distress us
I skipped a few long discussions
about imagination vs reason….it was just too long
too complicated. (pg 66-73) Forgive me…
pyrrhonism – I skipped pg 113 – 119… Forgive me…
disproportion of man – I skipped pg 161 – 171… Forgive me…
These are not ‘short thoughts’ (pensées)…they are small essays!
that are difficult in English…not to mention in French.
Pascal uses (…what I call) 1-2-3 — 3-2-1 logic!
The words are reversed to give another meaning.
This ‘redoubles’ its complexity!
I have to read these fragments very slowly and let the thought sink in!
Here is an example:
Il soit force (1) d’obéir (2) à la justice. (3)
Il soit juste (3) d’obéir (2) à la force. (1)
It is forced to obey justice
…it is just to obey force. (pg 93)
Amusement (pg 121)
Men attempt to forget their misery
rather than find true happiness.
Only amusement permits him to flee
…his tragic existence.
Religion: (pg 151)
- There are a few true Christians.
There are those who believe
- …but through superstition.
There are those who do not believe
- …through the lack of moral restraint.
Few are in between
Religion: (pg 154)
Faith says what the senses cannot say
not the contrary of what they (senses) say.
Faith is well above…and not against.
Thought: (Pensée) (pg171)
Our dignity is contained in the mind (pensée)
It is there that we pick ourselves up again….
Try to think.
- Author: A.J. Liebling
- Title: Just Enough Liebling
- Published: 2004
- Trivia: A posthumous collection of Liebling’s writings
- Finished: 19.09.2018
- Genre: non-fiction
- Rating: F- (..can I go any lower?)
- List of Challenges 2018
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I cannot for the life of me understand the high
scores this booked has accrued on Goodreads.com
Reading books that numb my soul
teach me to appreciate how
a good book can change a life!
This books wins the prize.
Worst non-fiction I read in 2018
and here is why…
- If you have the time….here are my notes.
- If you decide to skip this review
- …I understand completely!
At Table In Paris:
- Liebling studied in Paris 1925-1926 and
- traveled around Normandy etc.
- The stories are filled with references
- to buildings and streets he knows well.
Paris the First:
- Liebling describes his visit to Paris with his parents in 1911
- He was 7 years old…and I wonder if a child is a reliable narrator.
- While Liebling’s parents dine on French food and wine “en ville’
- …he was firmly in the care of a dreaded nanny ‘fraulëin”
- This chapter was quaint but awful.
- It was an overblown narrative about childhood memories and
- fantasies with nanny and family in Paris.
- I lost interest about half way through the story.
- I hope the dispatches from the WW II years will be better.
The War and After:
- Unfortunately the reports written during Liebling’s time in Europe
- during WW II were disappointing to say the least.
- He is still gushing about food and wine and not
- enough storytelling about the people. Unbalanced.
Letter From Paris June 1940:
- Clinical tone…I expected more emotion describing the dread of
- invasion of Paris after Holland and Belgium’s swift collapse.
- The images I remember from Suite Française (I. Némirovsky)
- …are still vivd in my mind.
- Liebling did not come close to
- describing the angst the Parisians felt with the
- Germans standing ready to pounce on the city.
- Trip from England in convoy sailing to
- …Port Arthur Texas during WW II.
- This story was just pointless
- …waste of my reading time.
Quest for Mollie:
- This was not a WW II dispatch…..it was a novella!
- I just cannot understand the praise given to
- Liebling’s WW II correspondance.
- His stories are too long…and I cannot find a moment
- the hook ” that captures my attention.
- This is yet another chapter that I have started in good faith
- …and ended up being disappointed.
Days with the Daydaybay:
- Long description of Liebling’s
- ….walk around the streets of the Sorbonne.
- He recalls his student days there.
- Long description of Liebling’s entry into liberated Paris.
- The narrative includes his fellow reporters from other
- newspapers: Jack Roach and A. Morrison.
- This was one of the better stories….but still too, too long.
- Details, details and more details that numbed this reader.
The Hounds with Sad Voices:
- Liebling returns to Normandy (1957) and is
- searching for a chateau. All he can remember is
- the sound of hounds with sad voices near the building.
- But as always Liebling’s days end in restaurants.
- This is yet anothr gastronomic exposition….ho-hum.
- It is no surprise that Liebling loved his food and drink.
- He drank and ate excessively and reached a weight of 250 lbs.
- He sufferd gout in the later years of his life.
- He died at the young age of 59 yr.
City Life: The Jollity Building …and the rest of the stories
- The last half of the book describes
- …colorful promoters, boxers, trips to the
- ….Place Bar & Grill.
- Liebling loved the horses so we also
- read about the Turf & Field Club and Belmont Racetrack.
- Eating again…
- Libeling wrote for The New Yorker magazine so
- we can assume he was a good writer.
- But in my opinion the stories were too long and
- the pace was slow because of downpour of
- details that inundated this reader.
- Liebling’s vivid descriptions of boxing matches
- and other sporting events are of a bygone era.
- It did not interest me at all.
- In truth…I read 60% of the book…then skimmed the rest.
- I was glad when I could close the book.
- Reading books that numb my soul
- teache me to appreciate how
- a good book can change a life!
- This books wins the prize.
- Worst non-fiction I read in 2018….so far!
- Author: Seneca ( 4 BC – 65 AD)
- Title: Letters From a Stoic
- Published: 124 letters written at the end of his life.
- Trivia: Letters were written to Lucilius a CFO in Sciliy in 65 AD
- Topic: how to become a devoted stoic
- List Challenges 2018
- Monthly planning
- Classic Club Master list
- For more information about Seneca and Stoicism
- …I refer you to the links in the header.
- This book is perfect bed-time reading.
- Tone is casual.
- Focus is on practical moral advice.
- Your mind can relax after a hectic day and let
- Seneca bring you back to basic thoughts about:
- mercy, anger, kindness, fate, happiness, and peace of mind.
- Strong points: writing style is full of brevity and sparkle.
- There are so many quotes that have lingered
- …too many to sum up.
- At the end of the book…the last letter (letter CXXIII)
- Seneca left me with these thoughts I use daily:
- Nothing is burdensome if taken lightly
- …nothing need arouse one’s irritation so long as one
- …doesn’t make it bigger than it is by getting irritated!
- It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants
- …but he has it in his power not to wish
- …for what he hasn’t got.
- And as a person who struggles with an aching lower back
- Seneca spoke to me with these words:
- I’m deriving immeasurable satisfaction from the way my
- …tiredness is becoming reconcile to itself.
- What was brought on by exertion
- …rest is taking away.
Travailleurs de la mer
- Author: editor J. Hiddleston
- Title: Victor Hugo, Romancier de l’Abîme (essays)
- Published: 2002
- List Reading Challenges 2018
- Monthly reading planning
- Here is the list of the French Books Read.
- I have included reviews of books 2017 – 2018.
- Perhaps you can find a book you’d like to read!
- If you are interested reading any books by Victor Hugo
- ..it is always nice to have some back round information
- …you might not know!
- I’m reading Les Miserables at the moment
- …and want to read Hugo’s
- Dernier jour d’un condamné
- Travailleurs de la mer
- Here are a few notes I made after reading these essays.
Structure: 11 essays
7 essays in French
4 essays in English
Ch 2: Dernier jour d’un condamné
- Victor Hugo abandons ‘romanticisme noir’
- …in Bug-Jargal and Han d’Island.
- ..for romantic realism in Dernier jour d’un condamné.
- Hugo creates a character
- who presents arguments against capital punishment. (voice of V Hugo)
- Hugo uses the first person narrative.
- Trivia:…character never reveals the crime committed
- Trivia:…character reveals sarcastic bravoure
- ….rather than remorse for his crime.
Ch 6: Travailleurs de la mer
- In this chapter Delphine Glees draws my attention
- not only to Hugo’s writing Les Travalleurs de la mer
- but also to the drawing he made to accompany the book.
- Drawings do not represent the reality
- …but the fluctuating conditions of the sea and ships.
- Hugo stresses the impossibility of remaining stable in the world.
V. Hugo was also an artist
Ch 8: L’Homme qui rit
- This was a difficult chapter to understand
- because I have not read Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit.
- In this work Hugo uses costumes to reflect
- the personalities of the characters
- …and at times a sense of danger.
- Clothes are iridescent, opaque, white, black
- …and at time sparkling with lies!
- Themes Hugo often uses are:
- Gullibility (crédulité) of people (easily fooled)
- Poke fun at the grotesque – Quasimodo- in
- Notre-Dame de Paris …to forget their own misery.
- Manipulation of the aristocracy
- …sometimes court jesters are smarter than the king!
Ch 10: Barriers
- Hugo is fascinated by barriers…they are
- fragile, arbitrary and at times not ‘watertight’. (étanché)
- Barriers of the elements: Travailleurs de a mer
- Barriers of the social classes: Les Mis and Quatrevingt-treize
- Barriers that keep things out and keep thing in: Les Mis
- These frontiers exert pressure on the exterior and interior.
- The struggle between these frontiers will help humanity to advance.
- Hugo is interested in the shells people wear…their homes,
- their geographical shell (land of birth)
- …that may reveal their true identity.
- Hugo spends a great deal of time describing shells:
- constructions, edifices, scaffolds, walls, clothes that people wear.
- Shelters with barriers can be found in Les Mis:
- Gorgeau’s shack, the Petit-Picups convent, the house on rue Plumet
- …and ’l’éléphant de la Bastille.
Ch 11: Suicide
- Suicide is widespread in Hugo’s novels…
- …with the exception of Dernier jour d’un condamné.
- Some say Hugo’s obsession with suicide
- stems from the trauma of his brother’s suicide.
- Javert: commits suicide in Les Mis
- Valjean: places himself in a potentially suicidal position ( on the barricades)
- Trivia: Dante places suicides in the 7th circle of hell:
- … above Judas but beneath heretics and murderers.
- Suicide: the character is in an intolerable position
- no other way to make amends
- no other way of fulfilling a patriotic duty
- no other way of remaining faithful to one’s principles
- no other way of avoiding dishonour
- Javert: suicide represents
- the triumph of the spirit against the letter of the law.
- the triumph of humanity and love
- …against the blind and rigid principle.
- This book was like a box of chocolates
- …you never know what you’re going to get!
- Not having read all the works of Victor Hugo
- …some of the references went over my head.
- But I did manage to lean one or two things.
- The tone of the book is academic.
- Personally I think some of the
- illustrious authors still need to ask themselves:
- Is this really good writing?
- Chapter 9 by Yves Gohin was an example.
- His analysis is impressive
- …but his style of writing left much to be desired.
- Gohin creates never-ending sentences that are
- impossible to read and grasp his concepts.
- He uses too many independent clauses.
- Gohin had something worthwhile to say
- …but his thoughts ramble clumsily from one to other
- …using sentence fragments that
- left ‘this reader’ exhausted and confused.
- Author: Zadie Smith
- Title: Feel Free (31 essays)
- Published: 2018
- List Reading Challenges 2018
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- #DealMeIn2018 Bibliophilopolis
Fences: A Brexit Diary
- This essay is about a topical issue: Brexit.
- But was written in August 2016 and much has happened since.
- The facts: The UK will leave the EU by
- automatic operation of international law on 29 March 2019.
- The UK government does not know what it wants
- …and there is no UK Brexit policy worth the name.
- Working-class Brits voted without understanding the stakes
- …and fell back on their inherited fear of England’s invasion by foreigners.
- Despite the fact that many people in London there are
- …multicultural and cross-class aspects in their lives
- …...that is actually represented by their staff —
- nannies, cleaners, people who pour their coffee and who drive the cabs.
- The painful truth is the fences are being raised all over London.
- Smith lambasts wealthy London.
- ” We walk past ‘them‘ very often in the street and get into their cabs
- …and eat their food in their ethnic restaurants
- …but the truth is that more often than not they are
- …NOT in our schools, social circles, and very rarely enter our houses
- …– unless they’ve come to work on our endlessly remodeled kitchens.”
- Excellent essay
In the Audience (very good!)
- Generation Why? – review of the movie “Social Network” (Zuckerberg and Facebook).
- Seems surreal to read this review by Zadie Smith while
- Facebook is in the midst of turmoil (Facebook vs Cambridge Analytics scandal).
- Zadie Smith quit Facebook 2 months after she started.
- She admits FB has been the greatest distraction from work she has ever had.
- In FB life is turned into a database and this is degradation.
- We use the FB software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others.
- We know what we are doing ‘IN’ the software
- ….but we don’t know what the software is doing to us?
- Zadie Smith quotes Lanier a software expert:
- ” be attentive to the software into which we are ‘locked in’.
- Is it really fulfilling our needs?
- When a human being becomes a set of data on a
- …website like Facebo0k, he or she is reduced
- …our networked selves don’t look more free
- …they look more owned.
- It is scary reading this essay published in November 2010
- …8 years ago…and feeling it could have been written today!
- It does not matter who you are, as long as you make ‘choices’.
- Zadie Smith gets nostalgic at the end of the essay
- “I’m dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of
- person who no longer exists” …a private person.
- NOTE: I have DELETED Facebook and TWITTER
- …a waste of my reading time!
The House that Hova Built
- Starting The House That Hova Built. (2012, New York Times Magazine).
- Reading this in 2018 we already know Jay-Z
- will have an extra marital affair (2013 – 2015).
- His wife made the 6th best selling album
- …by a woman in all time “Lemonade” in 2016.
- Beyoncé reveals explicitly her progress through the discovery,
- detonation and aftermath of the affair.
- Album is divided into chapters: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Forgiveness, Redemption.
- Rapper Jay-Z mentioned in an interview with Zadie Smith:
- And when it comes to talent,
- ‘You just never know– there is no guage.
- You don’t see when it’s empty.’
- IRONY: Speaking about his then 4 month old daughter, Ivy Blue,
- “She doesn’t have to be tough […]
- …she has to be respectful and be a moral person“.
- Hmm…just like her daddy!
Brother from Another Mother
- I had to look up who Key & Peele are.
- I needed to watch some Key & Peele on You Tube!
- The first two seasons of Key & Peele on Comedy Central
- ..received positive reviews, maintaining a score 74 of 100.
- The third season of Key & Peele received
- …critical acclaim, receiving a score of 82 of 100!
- The series won a Peabody Award in 2013
- “for its stars and their creative team’s inspired
- …satirical riffs on our racially divided and racially conjoined culture.
- THANK YOU Zadie Smith…I finally discovered Key & Peele!
Some Notes on Attunement – very personal, touching
- I loved this essay.
- There was a quote that made me stop and think about
- …my determination to find out ‘What Makes Poetry Tick.
- I think Zadie Smith has given the key I was looking for.
- “Sometimes it is when you stop trying to understand
- …the new art that you become more open to it.
- Put simply: You need to lower your defenses.
Zadie Smith starts her essay “I’m trying to think of the first bits of art I ever saw.” Now that is a good question. My Dad had some prints in his den of Revolutionary War 1776 soldiers hanging around a cannon. I don’t consider that art. But in my uncle’s house there was one painting (print) by Renoir I remember...I liked her hat.
But Zadie Smith in this very short essay tells us which poster she choose to hang in her college apartment: Flaming June by Leighton. From now on she was not going to pinch pennies like her father or take up political commitments like her mother. No, Zadie was going to live for art! “I’m going to spend three years on a sofa thinking about truth and art…” “I was going to live for love and art and food[…]….and sleep, lots of sleep!”
Crazy They Call Me: On Looking at Jerry Dantzic’s Photos of Billie Holiday
- In this essay (New Yorker, 06.03.2017) you inhabit the world of Billie Holiday.
- Zadie Smith is writing the story from the singer’s perspective.
- “…after the clapping dies down,
- …there’s simply no one and nothing to be done.”
- “…you’re grateful for your little dog…”
- “A dog don’t cheat, a dog don’t lie.”
- “This little dog and you? Soulmates. Where you been all my life?”
- “You never sing anything after….’Strange Fruit“
- This song, written by Abel Meeropol and performed
- by many artists (but most notably, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,)
- …is a dark and profound song about
- …the lynching of African Americans in the
- …Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era.
- In the lyrics, black victims are portrayed as “strange fruit,”
- …as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind,
- …and becoming food for crows upon being burned.
- It was a protest song that Billie Holiday
- ..very bravely performed under grave threats and at high personal cost.
- THE BEST ESSAY
- Essay: A Bird of Few Words by Zadie Smith (The New Yorker, 19.06.2017)
- I thought this essay was going back and forth
- ..describing the art of Lynette Yiadom Boakye (British- Ghanaian artist) and
- …then comparing it to the comments of the critics.
- But Smith went in another direction.
- Boakye creates compelling character studies of people who don’t exist.
- The paintings are of people with no name.
- Boakye can finish a portrait in 1 day…
- …and Smith sighs from a novelist’s point of view both the
- ..speed and clarity of Boakye is humbling.
- This painting I found light as if the person was about to take flight!
- But this painting just was full of ‘color politics’ and
- …shows Boakye’s talents and Smith’s insightful interpretation.
- “Mercy over Matter” a man holds a bird on this finger.
- Notice “…the underplumage: those jewel-like greens and
- …purples and reds you can spot
- beneath the oil-slick surface of certain bird-feathered birds.
- …the man’s jacket magically displays this same underplumage;
- …so does his skin; so does the bird.
- He is often thought of as a nothing, a cipher.
- But he has layers upon layers upon layers.“
- Author: Zadie Smith
- Title essay: Dancing Lessons for Writers
- Book: Feel Free (collection essays)
- Published: February 2018
- Chores and grocery shopping are done!
- Now I have time to read…Zadie Smith’s essay before my coffee break.
- Dance Lessons for Writers
- I see directly that this essay is laying the groundwork
- …for Smith’s newest book Swing Time (2016)
- She wants to investigate the
- …connection between writing and dancing.
- “What can an art of words take from the art that needs none?”
- This essay was written 29.10.2016 in The Guardian.
- Her book was written in 2015 and released 1 month after this article.
- Dance lessons for writers would include:
- position, attitude, rhythm and style.
- Smith makes a wonderful comparison between
- Fred Astaire (free-floating, aloof, appears to skim across the surface) and
- Gene Kelly (low center of gravity, bends his knees, hunkers down).
- Now Smith lays this comparison over language!
- Gene Kelly: commonsense language, language of TV,
- …supermarket, the advert, newspapers, the government.
- GK- type writer? One whose natural talents are
- ….combined with hard-earned skills. (Raymond Carver)
- Fred Astaire: (poetry in motion)
- FA- type writer? One who barely puts a toe in
- …daily public conversation, prefers the
- …literary language a literal aristocrat. (Vladimir Nabokov)
- Smith goes on to find what the
- …writer can learn from the dance moves of
- Michael Jackson and Prince.
- Prince is an ode...try to capture a passing sensation.
- Jackson is a graphic novel, all very visible
- …and sometimes ALL CAPS.
- But there are many more comparisons
- …this is a essay worth your reading time!
- Twitter: @burns_nancy
- Trivia: List of challenges 2018
- Trivia: #DealMeIn2018
Read: Quarterly Essay, vol. 63; Watson, Don, 16 September 2016 (Australian)
- I’m trying to read a back-log of essays…and this one caught my eye!
- This essay was written BEFORE Trump won the US election.
- This is one TOP NOTCH piece of writing!
- I am amazed how Don Watson (Australian) has written such
- …clever an insightful observations about a
- …complex and chaotic American political landscape.
- Strong point: D. Watson is well read.
- He uses this information…to support his conclusions.
- The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (W. A. Williams, 1988)
- America’s War for the Greater Middle East (A. Bacevich, 2016)
- Strong point: writing style
- Don Watson is cheeky and at times irreverent.
- For example calling John Foster Dulles
- …and his brother Allen door-kickers
- …hitmen for the cause of US world supremacy. (ouch)
- Watson gives us a refreshing look
- at the divides in America (Blue-Red sates)
- zooms in on the ‘purple state’ of Wisconsin,
- the circus we call the US elections,
- the TV news media and the candidates.
- …especially the appeal of Bernie Sanders!
- Strong point: Best chapter: 6
- Watson makes remarkable comparisons between
- Trump’s campaign….and fascism
- …fanning the flames of rhetoric to win votes.
- I am very, very impressed with Don Watson’s essay.
- He is one of Australia’s foremost writers and intellectuals.
- There are so many Australian writers who we must discover!
- After reading this thought provoking essay
- …I think of a phrase I saw on the internet:
- Obama is the America…it thinks it is
- Trump is the America….it knows it is.
Here are a few gems:
- The United States is a concatenation of sulky tribes provincial
- …ignorant and seething with ambition…. [OUCH!]
- US TV NEWS:
- The pundits are not there to judge the quality of thought or action
- …An election is a horse race and
- …no one cares what horses are thinking. [OUCH!]
- TRUMP vs TV NEWS:
- Donald Trump understands the news channels
- better than they understand themselves.
- His “outrageous” tweets push people toward the media
- …and the media towards him.
- He dominates the news.
- He wins every day.
- Even when he loses, he wins! [HOW TRUE….]
- TRUMP vs EVANGELICALS:
- Americans want a president through whom God can act.
- But as well as the right president
- …it must be the right god.
- Trump understands this too.
- [DE TOCQUEVILLE…wonders has TRUMP read my book?]
- Personally…I don’t think Democracy in America is on Trump’s TBR.
- BERNIE SANDERS:
- Sanders never had to worry about an “image problem,”
- …because he didn’t have an image.
- When he appeared on television he did not look like
- …a man in search of a camera;
- …more like a man just retired
- …who stumbled in on a talkshow [LOL]