Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Meme

A book meme, which I got from Miriam.

1. Favorite childhood book?
C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. But it's tough competition -- Wilson Rawls's Where the Red Fern Grows, Daniel Manus Pinkwater's Lizard Music, Caroline Rush's Tales of Mr. Pengachoosa, and a number of others are in the running.

2. What are you reading right now?
Tolkien's The Hobbit, Edith Stein's Potency and Act, Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette, and a few others.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

4. Bad book habit?
Reading large numbers of books at once.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
None at present. I find more and more that I tend to read library books in the library unless I need them for research or they look interesting and I don't have the time to stop and read them at that moment.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Strictly speaking, I prefer reading one book at a time, but in practice I jump around among several books at once. I have found myself on occasion in the middle of more than a dozen books.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
No, although I occasionally pick up reading recommendations from other blogs.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
There was one by Charles Stross whose title I can't remember, about virtual robberies. Excellent premise, which Stross then spent three hundred fifty pages making as boring as possible. Having looked into several other Stross books, I think this is probably his usual writing method.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
If by this we mean 'read for the first time', then probably either Michael Flynn's January Dancer or Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
It varies a lot.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Science fiction and philosophy, I suppose.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yes. Do to schedule constraints, I don't ride the bus all that much these days, but books that I have read entirely on the bus include Zane Grey's Nevada and Antonio Rosmini's Conscience.

14. Favorite place to read?
Usually on the bed, although anywhere I can stretch out is quite nice. I used to read quite a bit on the floor, but my apartment is a little crowded for that at present.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I do so a fair amount.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Very, very rarely, and even then usually only if I have several copies of the same edition.

18. Not even with text books?
Not even with text books.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English. I like Spanish and French well enough, but as my reading pace is much, much slower in them, I find it a bit harder to attend to what I'm reading.

20. What makes you love a book?
I think loving books is like a lot of loves: you only really love a book if you love it for reasons unique to it, or at least unique to your reading of it.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Someone expressing interest in the topics relevant to the book; that's pretty much it.

22. Favorite genre?
Science fiction. Well, strictly speaking, fantasy, but I find I'm so picky about it that I have little patience for most works written in the genre.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
I like mysteries, but for some reason I just never get around to reading them.

24. Favorite biography?
I don't know that I have a favorite per se. I find that I tend not to like biographies, except, for some reason, biographies of poets, which I almost always find interesting. Juliet Barker's Wordsworth was pretty good.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Several, but they tend not to be memorable.

26. Favorite cookbook?
My mom once gave me a cookbook titled Help, My Apartment Has a Kitchen, which probably is the one.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
I never know what people mean by 'inspirational' when it comes to books; sometimes it sounds like what you find in any decent book, and sometimes it sounds like something I've probably never experienced. I just honestly don't have a clear idea what people mean by it.

28. Favorite reading snack?
Dark chocolate. But I usually just drink tea.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I tend to find Hemingway's books well below what everyone says of them; I've never read a work by Hemingway that did not disappoint. I don't think that this is entirely Hemingway's fault. But it has nothing on The Catcher in the Rye, which is the sort of novel that could only appeal to the world's most narcissistic generation.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Not very often. Friends are better on books than critics, usually.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
You can't be in philosophy if you're scared of giving negative reviews. But people have a bad habit of thinking that positive reviews are less valuable, or, even worse, that if you write a negative review that automatically means that you haven't written fluff. The writing of negative fluff is the single worst critical sin, being simultaneously an act of arrogance and stupidity. This goes for any sort of negative comments, by the way.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
There's part of me that sometimes resents the fact that I cannot read them all: so many beauties and brilliancies hidden away where I will likely never find them. The Tower of Babel is in many ways a more tragic story than the Garden of Eden. If I had to choose one, it would be Finnish, probably, although Classical Chinese would be cool. I do sometimes wish I could read Polish, because of the excellent philosophical work that's locked away in Polish.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Heavily mathematical works are always intimidating; often even if they are trying to be elementary. Lawvere and Schanuel's Conceptual Mathematics comes to mind (but I liked it, and intend at some point to read it again).

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I can't really think of anything.

35. Favorite Poet?
Probably Christina Rossetti.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
When I have them checked out, usually no more than ten (and usually less than six).

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Probably fewer times than I could count on both hands.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Fanny Price in Mansfield Park. You won't find many people saying that, I'm afraid, but she's not to be dismissed lightly.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Tito Melema in George Eliot's Romola: the single best depiction of villainy I've read, I think, since he enters the book extraordinarily likable and, without changing at all, for all the reasons he's likable, turns out to be a villain. I'm tempted, though, by Miriam's answer of Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair; perhaps for broadly analogous reasons.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Usually I bring philosophy on vacations, but in terms of fiction, I'll often bring a book by Diana Wynne Jones -- Fire and Hemlock has had several vacation readings.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Recently, probably not more than a day or two. When I was younger, though I was often without a book.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Pamela Kaufman's Shield of Three Lions. I actually have it, since I've inherited a number of works; and it apparently has a lot of fans, but near the beginning I was so sickened by the rape scene that, sampling later parts and finding nothing better, I've never picked it up again. I am very seriously inclined to say that anyone who likes this book is morally depraved.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Not much.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
I don't know if I'd call it my favorite, but it's the one that strikes me most definitely offhand -- I really liked The Jane Austen Book Club; somewhat better than the book, actually (which I bought after watching the movie, because I liked the movie). But I think it's a very adaptable book.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
I'm pretty generous with movies in general, and tend not to judge adaptations by the original books, but there are some that are just all around disappointing. The Herek The Three Musketeers, for instance. Dude, how can you turn Dumas into an awful movie? He has sword fights! Larger than life heroes with foibles! Creeping machinations and byzantine plots! Period clothes and breathtaking scenery!

But really, there are so many. Tip to Hollywood: there's a reason classics are classics. By all means adapt them, and change what needs to be changed in order to make them cinematic. But in absolutely everything you do -- respect them.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I actually don't buy much in bookstores at one time -- usually just a book here or there, although I'll often come out of Half Price Books with four or five. I did spend nearly four hundred dollars at once, though.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Sometimes. In general, though, I just read.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Not much. Barring external factors and interruptions, it's usually the rare case of my coming to the conclusion that reading the book is itself morally culpable. My reading tastes being very diverse and quite generous, this is a very rare thing; frivolousness about rape or something similar could very well put a book in this position, though.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
No; except for, in a broad way, keeping authors and series together, I genuinely prefer that there be no organization to my books.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
Keeping them.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

52. Name a book that made you angry.
There are a few; mostly philosophical works in which well-established philosophers consistently say extraordinarily stupid things. Naming names might get me in trouble.

I also, however, and somewhat curiously, get angry at logic textbooks; don't get me started on Copi's Introduction to Logic, which is useful only for beating in the heads of people who use it in undergraduate logic courses. I really do mean it: don't get me started on it. My ire at logical claims is one of my weird quirks; you can set me off by seriously insisting that most natural language conditionals are material conditionals, or that particular propositions necessarily have existential import, or that the predicate calculus is the One True Logic, all of which are starting to get me riled just by thinking of them. It's not just any logical claim that inspires this, and I have no clue where this feature of my personality comes from.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Their titles aren't generally memorable and I wouldn't read them again, but I've on two or three occasions been stuck with only romance novels available for reading material. Many of them are stupid, but no more than in any other genre; and the conventions of the genre are often stupid (although more changeable than in many other genres) but this might also be said of many other genres. Not my cup of tea, but some are not bad.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Alasdair MacIntyre, God, Philosophy, Universities. The first MacIntyre book I learned absolutely nothing from.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Science fiction.


  1. berenike2:54 PM

    I make a living unlocking Polish-language philosophy :)  I'd be interested to know what interests you.

  2. branemrys10:57 PM

    Well, it's hard to know where to start, because Poland seems to have a philosophical history at least as rich as France, Germany, or Britain, but to give two examples, I've often thought that there needs to be more about <span>Eleonora Ziemięcka in English, and I think the (ever-increasing, it seems) ignorance of Polish analytic philosophy (Lvov-Warsaw and the like) among Anglo-American analytic philosophers is a travesty. Others could be added (Tarski's and Ingarden's Polish works, for instance, are rather elusive in any English translation).

  3. Leo Carton Mollica11:12 PM

    Now I'm really curious, though: what riles you about Copi's Introduction?  (The point's not merely academic: I'm an undergrad with little prospect of a decent logic course any time soon and am looking for a good alternative.)

  4. branemrys12:00 AM

    I am very, very serious when I say don't get me started on it; I'll inevitably start ranting, and I don't have time for that at present.

    You can do fine with Copi if you take everything said with a grain of salt. Barwise & Etchemendy is better. But, honestly, someone with your background should set out directly for something at least a little more focused: broad intro logic textbooks are rarely organized reasonably, involve a philosophy of logic that is often not adequately made clear (thus potentially misleading students), etc. The only good introductory logic text is one that is either (a) really a well-argued philosophy of logic textbook or (b) concise and to the point.  (Part of the problem with Copi is that it manages to be about as far from either as it can be.) Since good (a) is very difficult, the best bet is (b). Frederic Fitch's Symbolic Logic is an excellent example of (b).

    If you want a list of books I would recommend, it would be something like the following, in more or less the following order:

    Fitch, Symbolic Logic.

    Tarski, Introduction to Logic. (or Tarski, then Fitch)

    Garson, Modal Logic for Philosophers.

    Halmos, Naive Set Theory (I have heard Enderton's Elements of Set Theory is even better, but haven't had a chance to look at it myself)

    Read, Relevant Logic. (available online, although reading it online would be a bit of a task, because it's dense in parts)

    Lawvere and Schanuel, Conceptual Mathematics.

    None are perfect, but all of them are excellent in their own way; as long as you don't rush through them, and practice what you pick up, you shouldn't have too much problem with them.

  5. Leo Carton Mollica12:05 AM

    Thanks for the recommendations: I think I'll pick up the Tarski book when I have a chance.

    Incidentally, I wasn't aware I had a background, and I'm very sorry for provoking you.

  6. branemrys12:41 AM

    No provocation at all (although I still will refuse to talk Copi!); and by 'background' I meant 'someone who obviously wouldn't be starting from scratch'. You've picked up more than I think you realize.

  7. berenike5:32 AM

    I work for a mostly Thomist publisher - it's good work, but I'd love to get into the whole C19 education movement and the early-mid C20 stuff. Any idea who might want to publish these things in English?

    (Sort of a connection: Ziemięcka was born about ten miles from my parents' place.)

  8. branemrys8:53 AM

    I really don't keep track very well of which publishers are interested in what. But one advantage of <span>Ziemięcka, in particular, is that there's a real demand in English for works by women philosophers who have been overlooked. Almost any academic press is a potential possibility for at least a short work that puts her in context and provides some translations of texts that might be of general interest. Broadview Press, perhaps? Likewise something from Salamucha might potentially have interest for one of the presses that has been developing a reputation for analytic philosophy of religion -- Ashgate, perhaps. But I'm really not the person to ask, unfortunately.

  9. berenike12:19 PM

    Thanks for the reply. I've been asking about publishers when I'm really more interested in hearing what an anglosaxon philosopher has to say on Polish philosophical subjects  - do write up any thoughts that might surface.

  10. Jarrett Cooper12:38 AM


    If I may pester you with a question or two. Have you ever heard of William Gustason's and Dolphe Ulrich's Elementary Symbolic Logic or C. Stephen Layman's The Power of Logic?

    I got Gustason's and Ulrich's book last Christmas, but since then I've been busy and had bought Layman's book (read good reviews and the price was quite low). I thought Gustason's and Urlich's was okay (I didn't complete it), but now I'm starting anew with Layman's. 

    I heard good things about Ian Hacking's An Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic. It's sitting on the bookshelf, but I first want to finish and come to a decent understanding of one of the two books mentioned above.

    After finishing all of the above, I have Kenneth Konyndyk's Introductory Modal Logic. I was directed to it by one guy and then read Trent Dougherty's review on Amazon about the book. 

  11. Catherine Hodge7:43 AM

    Oh, this is a fun meme. I'm going to borrow it.

    Speaking of Fanny Price and books one doesn't know if one will finish: I received Mansfield Park and Mummies as a Christmas present last year, and only last week did I pick it up, on a whim. Yes, it's amusing, ha ha, but you know, I'd rather just read the original. I can only take so much silly mash-up, and the essence of Fanny Price and Edmund have been lost. It's grating.

    On the other hand, I did find Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters to be rather charming.

    <span>frivolousness about rape or something similar could very well put a book in this position, though</span>

    I hate sexual violence above almost all things, and I've actively avoided some otherwise recommended books that I know to have rape scenes. I couldn't finish The Lovely Bones.

  12. branemrys8:27 AM

    I've heard of Layman's, but not the other one; I don't know much about either.

    I liked Hacking's book a lot, but I think it helps to come to it already having some basic familiarity with the subject (it's closer to a well-argued philosophy-of-logic text than a concise and to-the-point introduction). It's been a few years since I looked at it, but as I recall it's quite readable.

    I haven't looked very closely at Konyndyk's book. Judging from what I've seen, I think I would generally recommend that most people go first to Garson's Modal Logic for Philosophers (at least the parts of it not dealing with quantified modal logic), and then perhaps come back to Konyndyk's book for tightening up one's skills. But that's just based on initial glance; as I've said, I haven't had a chance to look closely at Konyndyk.

    Logic is one of those things where you should go with anything you can find that works for you, and throw aside anything that doesn't, at least for a while -- there are infinitely many different ways one can approach the same topics, and thus there's always room for finding an approach that works for you. As with Leo, though, I do recommend that you don't put off too long getting into meatier stuff. Logic is like swimming: there's only so much you can learn if you stay in the shallow end.

  13. branemrys8:51 AM

    I just wanted to leave a comment saying that I'm thinking about this. I'm really not sure I have much to say, though, beyond the fact that it needs to be easier to find things about Polish philosophy in English. If anything comes to mind, I'll put it up.

  14. branemrys9:14 AM

    I've been intending at least to look at those books; as long as one goes into them with the same attitude one goes into a cartoon version of a work, I'm sure there are some of them that are, as you say, charming.

  15. Catherine Hodge9:40 AM

    You'll find that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies gets fairly tiresome quickly. I suspect that the author just downloaded the text and inserted a zombie here and there whenever he felt the action needed plumping up. I was amused by the Bennett girls' Asian training, though.

    The conceit peters out about halfway, and at that point you might as well just be reading Pride and Prejudice itself, instead of half-scanning to see if any zombification has been dumped in. Not highly recommended, on a sheer entertainment level. However, a movie is in the works for 2013 (starring, I heard, Natalie Portman, who's a dead ringer for Keira Knightley and whose acting skills suggest a current level of un-deadness).


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