‘Identity: The Demand For Dignity And The Politics Of Resentment’ By Francis Fukuyama


I have grown to have some respect for Fukuyama over the years. While I  never read the book upon which his popular reputation was built, I did read the essay it was built on and his ‘End of History’ thesis is better than its caricature and well worth reading.

And he seems to be properly appalled by how he has found himself lumped in with the neoliberal movement, particular the xenophobic, alt-right academia wing personified by Samuel Huntington (though he also inserts a somewhat jarring and brief defend of Huntington towards the end, where he also manages to y’all about the ‘Protestant work ethic’ without ever mentioning Weber, which strikes me as almost impressively sloppy).

The thesis, which puts the Greek concept of thymos front and center – the need for recognition – and its two iterations, one focused on the personal desire to be treated with equal dignity as others and the other on the personal desire to be treated with greater respect than others. He also has some fascinating ideas about Martin Luther’s theory of grace leading to what become identity politics.

But he undermines every good point he makes with some too timely concern trolling of the contemporary left. He begins by writing a fascinating book with a potentially long shelf life, but then turns a glitter gun on it, only it’s not glitter, it’s the aforementioned concern trolling (which, one suspects, will seem passé if not meaningless in a few years, in its specifics) and short chapters for the short of attention span.

The Seventh Sword Trilogy


I read the first book, The Reluctant Swordsman, five years ago and recently got an opportunity to read the rest of the trilogy (and a fourth book, but I haven’t done so). I gave The Reluctant Swordsman a middling review; enjoyable but not great. But someone commented and encouraged me to give the rest of the series another try.

And I still think they’re middling. Not bad. Far from great. Far from bad, but closer to bad than great. The plot and character development got increasingly unbelievable (I never could figure out what was causing the hero’s jealous mood swings in the final book), without ever becoming so bad that I had to put it down.

But the real problem – which was exacerbated by the longer format of a trilogy – was that the world building was just inadequate. I just couldn’t believe in this world. The economic and social structures were complex without ever feeling like realistic, within the logic of the world. In a single book, where the premise is that a middle aged man gets his fantasy of being placed into the body of a buff and handsome swordsman, that can be overlooked, but not if you drag it out into two more books.

The Man In The High Castle


The missus and I have become fans of the Man in the High Castle television series and it seemed just wrong not to take advantage of the hiatus between the third and fourth season to read the book.

So, I got it from the library and was once again reminded of how deeply weird Philip K. Dick really is. I was also reminded of how much writers like William Gibson were influenced by him. Not just in Dick being porto-cyberpunk, but in how changes to the world and to technology change language.

The antiques dealer, Robert Childan (also one of my favorite characters from the series, which, in case you have only experienced one and not the other, is, like almost everyone else, wildly different from the man in the tv show), and the way he tries to adopt and interiorize Japanese modes of thinking deeply changes his language and even his inner monologue and that, and other similar adjustments, are the most fascinating part of the book.

‘Fear’ By Bob Woodward


I almost never read this kind of book, the sort generally classified as ‘current events.’ I read the newspaper and follow the news pretty carefully, so I have never felt reading six month old news to be very interesting.

But these feel like… different times, don’t they.

Fear reads very weirdly. Woodward is necessarily very diligent in his use of quoted and language, which means you have a conversation where half of someone’s sentence is in quotes (meaning that he feels 100% confident of the exactitude) and the other half is not.

The book roughly covers Bannon taking over the campaign through Down quitting the president’s legal team. Trump is not actually portrayed very much at all, but the portrait emerges through the chaos around him.

But it feels weird. Rob Porter of wife beating accusation fame comes across as the almost hero of the book. When he quits over (multiple) accusation of physical abuse, it gets short shrift, possibly because Woodward wasn’t covering that story. And the people who he goes gently on – was it because he decided that Porter, Lindsey Graham, and Rex Tillerson truly were comparative heroes or because they were his best sources and he doesn’t want to burn them?

I don’t know and it taints the reading.

Gore Vidal’s State Of The Nation


To read Gore Vidal’s essays published in The Nation is, for the most part, to read those of his writings least likely to have stood the test of time. His politically minded writings of the last twenty years of his life do not, to my mind, read as particularly prescient; instead, they feel as naive without necessarily being idealistic. Some are not even very enjoyable to read for his inimitable style.

But, there are always nuggets on insight and joy.

I had forgotten that Jerry Brown – who should have a monument erected in his honor for his last two terms as governor of California –  ran for president in 1992. Rather than spend his time writing about the then almost certain nominations of George Bush, père, and Bill Clinton, he sees something vital in Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan.

I wrote that most of the essays do not feel prescient, but this one felt positively eerie in its foreknowledge.

His interpretation of how Brown and Buchanan represented the true and beating hearts of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, seem to almost exactly match the current transformations of them today. He couldn’t have known it, but Vidal’s Pat Buchanan is a proto-Trump: racist, isolationist and intent on dismantling what Gore called the ‘American Empire’ on those terms.

Brown is similarly depicted as ‘post-imperial,’ but on the grounds that we must focus on humanity and the people writ large.

Corot: Women


Even if the National Gallery of Art were not closed due a government shutdown (thank you, Trump), you couldn’t see this exhibition because it closed just before the shutdown. So you can feel… better about it?

Anyway, here are some cool pics from Corot: Women

Women Reading in the Country

The Repose

Reading, Interrupted

The Poppy War


This book got a lot of attention and good press and I was genuinely excited to read it. To add some extra the spice, the author is from right here (Washington, DC; though I guess she has since moved). It lauded as a move away from western-centric fantasy and through some interesting, drug based ‘magic.’

But… aside from the Asian names, it did not actually feel that different from a traditional fantasy (poor girl goes to super school, turns out to be even more super than most, becomes a great shaman, which is to say, a sort of wizard). There were some references to the Journey to the West and other allusions to more classical Chinese culture, but even more thinly disguised references to the 20th century wars between Japan and China, as well as the Opium Wars (the name was barely changed) – so thinly disguised that they felt heavy handed rather than allusive; cheap rather than enlightening.

Just because it’s what I do, I may read the second book when it comes out, but I can’t deny that this one was a disappointment.