Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reading Goals for 2015

Reading goals for 2015?  Do better than I did in 2014.  That's obvious.  I need to read a minimum of 24 books in a year.  I could probably pick some simpler material, but I always find myself gravitating back to a lot of the more cerebral stuff, which of course takes more time to read.  While fully realizing I probably won't keep to this at all in 2015, here are a few books I would like to read in 2015.

The Fellowship of the Ring is still on my list.  I mentioned it in my 2014 reading goals, and then promptly forgot all about it.  I'm not exactly sure why it's not one that comes immediately to mind, especially when it's the basis for most fantasy, a genre I've enjoyed in the past.  Perhaps 2015 is the year.  Some other works of fiction I wouldn't mind tackling are Orson Scott Card's Earth Unaware and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.  I'm always on the look-out for the next diamond in the rough that doesn't get much attention but is excellent nonetheless.  Furthermore, I'm willing to take a chance on books I know little about. 

My non-fiction reading list continues to grow and grow and grow.  These are the more cerebral books I mentioned earlier, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish one.  I would love to finally get to Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrel and Patrick Robinson and Principles for a Free Society by Richard A. Epstein.  The latter will be far more taxing intellectually than the former.  (Richard A. Epstein is a force of nature when he speaks and debates).  Beyond that, Nudge is still on my list, as it was last year.  My interest in many of these books ebbs and flows, but usually when it's at its peak I am already in the middle of another book, which is why I usually don't get to them. 

Again, my main goal for 2015 is to read 24 books, if not more.  I read for the love of reading, of course, but I also read to eventually reach my lifetime goal of 1,000 books.  I currently sit at 350.  All things considered, it seems like a small number, and it is, but it also represents a lot of time, a lot of cranial effort, and a lot of knowledge and entertainment gained.  It was all worth it, and I'm looking forward to this next year to discover what else the world of books has to offer.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reading Goals for 2014: A Review
Reading Goals for 2014

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflections: Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration

I have a new Brow-Bruising Read.  John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration is one of the most influential works of political philosophy ever published.  It's also quite a slog to get through. 

Without a doubt the most brutal part of Two Treatises is the first treatise in which Locke provides an exhaustive refutation to Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha.  The biggest issue I had with the treatise is not necessarily how it is written, although I did find it redundant and overwrought, but how irrelevant it is.  The thrust of Filmer's argument is that monarchy or political rule is derived from the first man, Adam.  No one is arguing this point in our day.  The debate feels more like a product of its time than any other political philosophy argument I have read thus far.  Often times these kinds of books provide first principles which are still being debated, albeit they have taken on a different outward appearance.  Locke's first treatise doesn't really do that.  It's a product of a particular place and a particular time, and it is so far removed from our current experience I found very little benefit from it. 

Locke's second treatise, however, does strike at the heart of many of our ongoing debates.  John Locke was certainly an influence on the founders of the United States and the political culture, traditions, and structure they designed.  (The extent of Locke's influence is debatable, of course, but his influence was present).  Locke's work is most interesting when you can see his commentaries intersecting with the considerations of today.  His explanations of socially and naturally important topics such as private property and political representation are fascinating and compelling.  It must be said that his writing is not terribly accessible.  Unless you love political philosophy and have a need to read one of its most influential works, I would steer clear of this book.

Lock's letter concerning toleration is probably the most enjoyable of this collection.  It's a skewering indictment of inquisition-like Christianity and the forceful expansion of any religious faith.  He asserts forcefully and persuasively the private and sensitive nature of religious faith and devotion, and the necessity for magistrates to protect religious liberty for all members of a society.  As a deeply religious person, I found Locke's observations on the matter poignantly instructive.  There is much to be admired in his prose, however obtuse it can be at times, and much more to be admired in his conclusions.  Locke has a powerful understanding of the spiritual and transcendent nature of mankind, and much of his political philosophy reflects that.

I'm so glad I can say I have read Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration.  It is an indispensable part of a political science enthusiast's collection and understanding.  It was also brutal to read.  I didn't enjoy much of it, but I'm glad I stuck through it. 

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections: Democracy in America
What Every American Should Read

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best Books of 2014

2014 was a really, really good year for my non-fiction reading.  I read some excellent non-fiction books, such as: Rough Stone Rolling, Too Big Too Know, and The Worst Hard Time.  When trying to select the best non-fiction I read in a year, I base my decision mostly on how the book stuck with me.  Did I keep thinking about it after I finished?  I find most non-fiction interesting, but I don't find all non-fiction memorable.  (Abigail and John is a good example of a book that was interesting but not very memorable).  Yet, even with this standard, I still find it difficult to select just one non-fiction from this year as being the best.  Alas, a selection must be made, and here it is.

Non-Fiction: Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys

Kay Hymowitz's book--Manning Up--is a truly provocative read.  It clashes harshly with many existing and accepted social norms and politically correct standards.  The book highlights the unintended (and perhaps intended) consequences of the feminist movement(s) on modern society.  While reading the book I couldn't help but think what a mess it would have created in many of my classes at Rollins College.  Coming from the background I do and having the convictions I do, I would have loved being a part of those conversations and debates.  On some levels, I enjoy being a contrarian, and this book gives you a reason to be one. 

Reading Manning Up pulled back the curtain on a world I simply do not understand.  With the changing of gender roles in society and the liberalization of sexuality, I am most certainly not aligned with today's accepted moral standards.  While reading Manning Up I was both shocked and enlightened because it highlights many of those standards that are so alien to me.  I feel more educated and more capable in speaking to important societal issues regarding gender roles and sexuality in modern society.  That's a big win and a big reason for reading any non-fiction book.  Furthermore, I believe Manning Up is compelling enough that even those in disagreement with what the books posits could learn a thing or two about their own viewpoint by reading it. 

Manning Up is memorable.  I have already mentioned it to several of my associates and will no doubt continue to do so throughout the years.  Even though I loved Rough Stone Rolling and Too Big to Know, I don't think those books will come up in conversations as much as Manning Up.  It's not a perfect criteria to judge a book by, but it works for my purposes.  Manning Up was the best and most memorable non-fiction book I read in 2014.

Fiction: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Unlike picking the best non-fiction book I read in 2014, picking the best fiction book is extremely easy.  Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read and one of the best books as well.   

I want people to read A Canticle for Leibowitz because it accomplishes a few things.  First, it proves, even to my skeptical mind, that modern literature can still be profound.  Ray Bradbury was not the only 20th century author after all who still could write genuinely beautiful and profound prose and not just the illusion of it.  (I exaggerate, but you get the point).  Canticle has just as many important ideas as A Tale of Two Cities or To Kill a Mockingbird and expresses them in a subtle but meaningful way.  Real literature is not dead in our modern age, although it can be hard to find, and Canticle proves it.

Secondly, A Canticle for Leibowitz deals with no-joke ideas and issues.  Its final chapter gave me more than enough to ponder and debate for a long, long time.  I realize many readers are readers to escape, but in this case they need to be educated.  The didactic virtue of a book like Canticle cannot and should not be overlooked.  High School students should read it and discuss the cyclical nature of history and the consequences of historical events. 

Reading Canticle reminded me why I love books so much.  I live for those moments when a story, in whatever form it comes, enlightens me in an unforgettable way.  I love being moved, enlightened, and entertained by a story.  I like big, important ideas and the discussion of them.  Canticle was that for me.  It is, like everything, a variation on a theme; however, it is a singular variation that produces a singular effect.  It's an outstanding book, which ought to be read by many.

Other Topics of Interest:
Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2012
Best Books of 2013: Non-fiction
Best Books of 2013: Fiction