So, What Are You Freakin' Well Reading Now?

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N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development by Michael Lebowitz

"At this historic moment, when the limits and insanity of capitalism are especially clear but an intimidating sense of fatalism militates against a response-neither an alternative to capitalism nor a way to get there seem ‘realistic'-Lebowitz has produced the must-read book for those still clinging to hope. Highly accessible without setting aside the complexities involved, Lebowitz provides a desperately needed framework for linking vision to action to self-and-social transformation. The radicalism that has been so commonly written off as impractical becomes what is in fact the truly ‘practical' in today's world."

Sam Gindin
York University
Former Research Director, Canadian Auto Workers


George Victor

CBC Radio listeners heard Barbara Kingsolver interviewd last night on her new novel, The Lacuna, in which she sets out partly to explain how the United States weapped itself in its flag and has since "refused new ideas." As one reviewer puts it:"The Lacuna is a gripping story of identity, connection with our past, and the power of words to create or devastate. Crossing two decades, from the vibrant revolutionary murals of Mexico City to the halls of a Congress bent on eradicating the colour red, The Lacuna is as deep and rich as the New World itself."


Kingsolver is the author of The Poisonwood Bible. I'm calling the library this morning.


N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Muriel Rukheyser wrote about US culture, moral choices and how that country lost its chance for greatness at the end of WW2. This is an old theme. She was a great poet and a greater critic. Read her after Kingsolver ... if you dare.


I have just picked up Simone de Beauvoir's The Mandarins at the library book swap.  (In English.  It would take me too long to read in French.)  I hope to be the better for it. 

Diogenes Diogenes's picture

Ma belle-mère recently gave me Yann Martel's What is Stephen Harper Reading?  It' was a project (or maybe a political statement) in which, every 2 weeks or so, Yann Martel sends a book and a personal review of that book, to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Tucked inside the book was a press clipping from La Press about a thank you note Mr. Martel had received from U.S President Obama for the novel Life of Pi. He wrote it after reading the book to his daughter. As a seque, the press clipping mentioned the What is Stephen Harper Reading project and book. I have since passed on the book, complete with press clipping, to my youngest son.

Read the book and you will realize that Mr. Martel promotes and praises this practise.

WISHR is a good read, unlike the Life of Pi, which was absolutely brilliant, and one of my favorite books of all time. After reading What is Stephen Harper Reading? I then had to read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Wow. One thing leads to another and For Whom the Bell Tolls is now on the bedside table.

Other favs from the last few years:

Robertson Davies - The Deptford Trilogy and The Cornish Trilogy - I found a paperback edition with both trilogies- and than I gave it away! Doh!

Margret Atwood - The Blind Assassin

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

Mistakes were made (but not by me) - Carol Travis and Elliot Aronson

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins

Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse - Jared Diamond

My favorite novel of all time has been The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, who is my favorite writer of all time. I had read everything in the collected works except (regretably) The Importance of Being Ernest. Fate had it that I would visit his grave in Paris (searching, with the boys, for Jim Morrisons grave) and then, purely by chance, walk by where he lived in London. One of those blue heritage plaques marked the spot. It was like walking on the zebra crossing in front of Abbey Road studios. I digress.


The current non-fiction project is The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I am actually enjoyng reading this, in small doses. It's an amazing history book for one, and remarkable in its examination of trade, wealth and economy. Some things change, some remain the same.

Mr. Martel, if you ever read this, as far as I'm concerned, you never have to write another novel again. Your Life of Pi is a Catcher in the Rye, and in my mind, you are in the same company as Oscar Wilde. I have selected 5 other books from your WISHR reading list to read, and if I were Stephen Harper, I would have been deeply honoured by your gift.

Cheers and success and thank-you.


I read about Jack Fisher, namesake of Fisherville and Mt Fisher, who discovered gold on Wild Horse Creek near Fort Steele.

Then I read "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot smaller" by Jeff Rubin [Chief Economist for some big bank for 16 years]. It almost completely SUCKED... but I read it all anyway. The premise is that when this recession is over, oil will return to "triple digit prices", and that oil has peaked and will therefore stay at high prices. From that comes the end of globalisation, esp. in that international trade will halt due to transport costs. So will air travel, and even a lot of car travel.

He barely mentions the alternative energy gig, or that electric cars could stabilise the electric grid, or using sails on big ship to cut fuel use, or any of the other fixes that are possible when we start to end the age of oil. When those alternatives takes the pressure off of oil as our only source of energy, the demand will be reduced and prices will fall accordingly... but he doesn't mention any of this.


Okay, so on to the really good stuff: I just picked up, from my local library, Mel Hurtig's "The TRUTH About Canada". We SUCK!! Canada is no longer what we think it is. We rank so low on education, health care, and other social indicators - mostly to the benefit of Big Business, which is making out like bandits. Financial equality is bad and getting worse every day as the elite wealthy control government and the economy [to their benefit only].

Happy Reading!!



Papal Bull - I took your recommendation for Timequake [Vonnegut] and placed a request with my library for it. Thanks for pointing it out.

I love love love reading the Gut. I read Deadeye Dick just a few years ago, and long ago I was heavily influenced in my teens by a new book at that time called Breakfast of Champions, with others in between.

remind remind's picture

Eat, Pray, Love.


 Eat money, Pray to non-existent gods, and don't you just Love to go shopping at Walmart?

  - or is that a book title, Remind?


Its a book title of a best selling book and now a movie with Julia Roberts *sigh* which Im sure makes the author sigh as well, tho not a happy sigh

George Victor

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City.   Autobiographical sketches that help you to understand the country's history and development as well as the author.   A wonderful find...thanks for the author, skdadl. 


The Mists of Avalon because it is such a wonderfully lush summer book.  I can't recall how many times I have read it, perhaps three or four,  but each time I am impressed by how she illustrates the mysteries that have been lost to us in the name of Christianity and in doing so reminds us that there are deeper mysteries than we know. 



N.Beltov wrote:

I'd be curious to know if the author thinks that parts of The Song of Solomon were written by a female author. Others do.

Which reminds me of Harold Bloom's [i]The Book of J[/i], which I loved when I read it years ago - will have to dip in again to see how I view it now.

[url=]Here's an article[/url] about it.



I'm reading Nineteen Eighty-Four these days and pondering whether to inflict it on students next year.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Zamyatin's "We", or even Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" might be worthy of consideration as well. Depends what you're aiming at.


Heck would have to  freeze over before I would consider Atwood.

I'm aiming at studying language use and recognising propaganda in everyday life.  Orwell would be replacing Dickens' Hard Times, which I use to reinforce the idea of class struggle.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

One prof I know used Zola's Germinal for some depiction of class struggle. What about using film, such as Matewon or The Salt of the Earth or ... ?

ETA: of course, there's always Balzac. But the class he was best at depicting was ... the rising bourgeoisie.


Well, I'm technically not teaching class struggle, but I like to be able slide a few concepts in whenever I can.  Matewan contrasted with a film version of Germinal (the one I know has Miou-Miou, Renaud and the ever-present Gerry Depardieu) would be an intriguing idea.  Then again, it's not a film class.

I've shown bits of Oedipus Rex as background to Antigone, and Apocalypse Now to provide some context to Heart of Darkness...and I've even tried using the Calista Flockhart version of Midsummer Night's Dream to help the students imagine Shakespeare. 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

OK, I see. Language and propaganda in everyday life ... hence Orwell. Edward Herman wrote an excellent follow-up piece to 1984 (especially in relation to Orwell's supplement at the end of 1984 ON language, etc) on the ocassion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Orwell's famous book ...

From Ingsoc and Newspeak to Amcap, Amerigood, and Marketspeak.


Fences and Windows by Naomi Klein. Her description of the Left in 2002 sounds much like the Left in 2010, so far.


I'm reading a collection of Emma Goldman's writing called Red Emma Speaks.

remind remind's picture

ennir wrote:
The Mists of Avalon because it is such a wonderfully lush summer book.  I can't recall how many times I have read it, perhaps three or four,  but each time I am impressed by how she illustrates the mysteries that have been lost to us in the name of Christianity and in doing so reminds us that there are deeper mysteries than we know. 

Hmmm, am going to have to get it in at the library if they do not have it, just finished reading the Secret of Shambhala, that mr remind had picked up at the trade shack a few months back.

Interestingly, at least to me, he spoke of things that Yogananda spoke of about Babaji.

It was an easy 101 read.

there is a women's circle here that practises some of the deeper mysteries lost to us through churchianity. The former mayor tried to run "those witches", even though they are not, per se...out of town.

We do have a ordained "shaman" from Lynn Andrews' Mystery School though. :D  Gobsmacked about that actually.

George Victor

Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna is a wonderful romp through the politics of Mexico and the United States of the 30s and 40s and ending with the sickness of McCarthy and an America where saluting the flag became mandatory for every citizen.  Kingsolver told a BBC/CBC late night audience that she had wanted for some time to look at the historical runup to the current tight-assed America...which preceded 9/11.

It's also a wonderful look at Mexican art (Diego Revera) and history, and Trotsky's sad end, alone ini a mad, ignorant world demanding solidarity under Stalin, more than a year before  U.S. entry into the war.  Kingsolver tells it with lots of use of data from the time.  Mexico's nationalization of U.S. oil is a wonderfully revealing look at an essentially nationalist revolution...on the heels of Pancho Villa, and with the trappings of a worker's revolution.  It certainly had the support of all but the large landowners.

And it is all put together with the incredibly inventive wit of the author of the Poisonwood Bible.   Her portrait of people living in the Smokies of North Carolina and their language is worth the read in itself. What an ear she has! It has just come out in paperback and I may break down and buy a work of fiction. 

Papal Bull

Welp, over the past week I got the hankering to read. So I finished up Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Then I read Childhood's Dream - a suggestion from Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Tom Wolfe's book is great and all, but Childhood's End was a far better read. 'The stars are not for man'.


I just one shot Farenheit 451 - just like I did with Childhood's Dream. I don't know how I had never read that one til' now.


Now what does the future hold?!


Has reading Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test piqued your interest in reading about Neal (I think of Dean Mo-ri-ar-ty) Cassady?

Papal Bull

I HAVE been meaning to read On The Road...Pity the local library that has it is under renovations and acquiring said tome will be problematic for at least another month.


I'm reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" right now.  (I read "We The Living", and liked it so well I bought "Anthem", loved it so much that when I was only half way through I bought "The Fountain Head" and "Atlas Shrugged".)




Mods alerted.


To bad taste in literature?


Why yes.

This Yibpl scoundrel is obviously trolling the book thread.

I'm highly offended and...I think...I'm going to...cry.

Papal Bull

I won't cry. But I found attempting to read Atlas Shrugged was a lot like trying to read a boring version of Fellowship of the Ring. Lots of whining, orcish monsters and really long, boring sets of pages that you can happily grab and skip without losing a beat.

Papal Bull

Oh, lately I've been going through some Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 edition source books. Been reading the Dungeon Masters Guide and Player's Handbook. And the ever fun Monster Manual.


I've been reading We, by Gino Zamiatin, but had to put that aside since I have a library copy of The Jazz Age: Popular Music of the 1920s by Arnold Shaw that I want to finish before its time runs out.

A while ago I read George Woodcock's Orwell's Message: 1984 and the Present as well as Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.


Papal Bull wrote:

I HAVE been meaning to read On The Road...Pity the local library that has it is under renovations and acquiring said tome will be problematic for at least another month.

Before you start reading that there tome, you must get hold of  Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray's "The Hunt" as well as as many Slim Gaillard recordings as you are able.  Then it's imperative that you injest some tea, spin said records and generally get your kicks while reading sad old Jack's novel.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture


Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif

Publishers' Weekly wrote:
Originally published in Beirut in 1984, this multipage epic brings to life many of the political issues that have plagued the Mideast for most of this century. Set in an unnamed gulf country that could be Jordan sometime in the 1930s, the novel relates what happens to the bedouin inhabitants of the small oasis community of Wadi al-Uyoun when oil is discovered by Americans. Seen through the eyes of a large and varied cast of bedouin characters, the upheaval caused by the American colonization is shown in various manifestations, from the first contact with the strange foreigners ("Their smell could kill birds!" observes Miteb al-Hathal, who later leads a rebellion of Arab workers when the village of Harran has been made into an American port city) to confused and suspicious descriptions of the sinister "magic" tools brought by the Americanswhich are in fact bulldozers, automobiles, radios and telephones. The story unfolds at a stately pace over a timespan of many years and provides an endless stream of characters and events, each connected to the next by many threads of plot. Theroux's sensitive translation conveys the subtleties of ambiguity and nuance inherent to the Arab language and culture. Banned in several Mideast countries including Saudi Arabia, this is the first volume of a planned trilogy by a Paris-based Jordanian novelist who holds a law degree from the Sorbonne and a Ph.D. in oil economics from the University of Belgrade. Despite the Lawrence of Arabia setting, Munif writes from a unique vantage point; English-language readers have been given few opportunities before now to look at this situation through native eyes.


The books can stand alone but is, I think, the first of 5 volumes - 4 of which have been translated into English.


I've just finished Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land. A moving and inspiring short book, created under the ribs of death. Judt calls for a return to politics and civic engagement, to communal effort as the key to improvement. He decries our obsession with wealth, celebrity and the unregulated market. He is quite open in his advocacy of social democracy. He sees it not as some half-hearted compromise between capitalism and socialism, but as the power behind the years the French call ‘les trente glorieuses', that between 1945 and 1975 produced an unparalleled flowering of equality and opportunity. Judt criticizes the right, as might be expected, but also doesn't spare the left. Too often, he says, the left has been in such a hurry to embrace new utopias that it has failed to properly appreciate the considerable achievements of those who went before. As an historian, he reveres men like Beveridge and Keynes, who were able to tame the wilder excesses of capitalism and create a more equal society than had been possible a few years earlier.

The writing is masterly: urgent without being rushed, assured without being arrogant. He never yields to the temptation of overstating his case or shrieking condemnation. He maintains a grave, lapidary style fuelled by moral fervour. His spacious, cosmopolitan habits of mind and immense learning shine through. I was moved to find Judt quoting the great Leveller Colonel Rainborough: "The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he." I remember thirty years ago my father was near his own far too early death. Like Mr Judt, he "held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better". He wasn't a scholar but was widely read and had run across the Putney Army Debates somewhere. He quoted that line to me, marvelling at the greatness of ordinary men seized by a cause. Judt's book may be an act of filial piety for the social democrats who built the modern world.



at the cottage had  a mouldy copy of John le Carre's The Looking-glass War novel about,  briefly, a superannuated WWII spy found and retrofitted 20 years later to go over the Wall and find out about a Russian missile ... the anti-James Bond, for sure, with lots of seedy but realistic details about 1950s/60s era UK espionnage

otherwise,  I skimmed relentlessly , and at the country library were a number of unusual volumes I took down out of curiosity,

including Conrad Black's Duplessis, which is in fact his McGill master's thesis beefed up by access to Duplessis family archives, but includes some irreplaceable photos, for example 1950 federal-provincial conference at Quebece City with inter alia Tommy Douglas, Duplessis, Louis St Laurent, Joey Smallwood et cie in attendance -- what a gallery of characters

Looked also at Ignatieff's Isaiah Berlin, out of interest in the latter above all, but wanted to confirm that anecdote about Churchill inviting Irving Berlin, rather than Isaiah, to a dinner and sure enough, there it is in the section on WWII; adds to controversy about who knew what when about the Holocaust as Berlin was truly shocked to grasp the scale and methods of the genocide, as late as 1944-45...

 Now back to some actual reading after all that skimming, with esp. French political philosopher Pierre Rosanvallon's book about "political legitimacy", and how legitimacy is created through unmediated relations to the leader through symbolic acts (presence at a disaster, personal intervention in social dramas) in the new media age 



Catching up on my reading, I noticed a very perceptive review of Ill Fares the Land (see post above) in the Times Literary Supplement. I can't give you a link because Murdoch has decided that the Times group will be the guinea-pigs for his paywall experiment. The review is by the American sociologist Richard Sennett, a truly wise man who has upheld the virtues of public life and craftsmanship in previous books. He traces Judt's intellectual odyssey and his commitment to public thinking and speaking.

Here's the part that arrested me: "I have, however, one quarrel with Judt's testament. At its very end he declares 'socialism was about transformative change...socialism--under its many guises and hyphenated incarnations--has failed'. Historically this is certainly correct. Looking forward, his disillusion may ill serve us. There were socialisms before Marx, and alongside its deadly reign, and there will be socialisms in the future--micro-socialisms, if you like, from communal workshops to mutual benefit societies to food co-ops and job exchanges. These micro-socialisms have dwelt on co-operation rather than conversation [?], emphasizing the social in socialism; as micro-societies they have represented one way to deal with the capitalist beast--not to slay it but to resist it; in future they might be constituted online rather than face to face."


Yibpl wrote:

I'm reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" right now.  (I read "We The Living", and liked it so well I bought "Anthem", loved it so much that when I was only half way through I bought "The Fountain Head" and "Atlas Shrugged".)


- interesting - I read the Rand books when I was in my late teens, early 20s, and was quite inspired myself - it was only when I got a bit older and wiser I realised how adolescent they all were - "Me Tarzan!! Look after self!!' and etc - in reality, in human communities, we look after one another, or the predators take us, as we realise as we get a bit older and see how the world really works. As Rand's modern neocons are currently stealing everything from us.

- by the way, Rand's book was The Fountainhead - who wrote this 'Fountain Head' you refer to? Can't seem to find any mention of it anywhere - your copy must give some more info ...


I just finished reading a biography of Sir Francis Walsingham, by Derek Wilson.  Walsingham was Principal Secretary and chief spy-master to Elizabeth I, and as such was blessed to live in interesting times.  A relentlessly hard working, brilliant, and quite ruthless man, he really set up the first modern gov't counter-espionage bureaucracy.  Reminded me a bit of James Angleton.  They each would have fit quite well into eachothers times.  Actually, give Walsingham a bit of computer upgrading and he could fit into his old job quite well today.


Last night I started reading the Qur'an, just for the heck of it.  I understand I have a good translation, it's by  Abdullah Yusuf Ali, and is the most commonly accepted English translation.  God, I'd hate to see a bad one.  With all respect, the Prophet, PBUH would have been well served by a better editor.

George Victor

Thank you for putting forward Ill Fares the Land, FP.  The immediate postwar period of growth of social democratic values was also a period of economic growth making it all possible.  Does Judt go into the political economy of the period? 

Unfortunately, our blessed library does not carry the book, and I would want to know the depth of Judt's analysis before springing for the purchase of a copy (Hardcover only?)


Hi, George Victor. Judt skates over the political economy--he is more concerned with the habits of mind that made the postwar consensus possible. He is at pains to point out that even right-wingers saw the need for a strong public presence in the market. Contrast that to our own times, when Americans with the IV of public money steadily dripping into their veins and financial death averted only by firm public action gather at Tea Party rallies to proclaim their rugged independence.

Don't know how your finances are, but Judt's book is meant to be an account of modern times without an ounce of spare flesh. It's a bit like a thoroughbred horse, grand for its purpose, but unsuited to hauling heavy cargo. If your library doesn't have it, you could try Inter-Library Loan, though that's sometimes a low priority for the pared-down staff at public libraries. Are you in the central SW? Hamilton Public Library has several copies. If you live in a contiguous area (Brant, Waterloo, Haldimand, Halton) you can borrow a copy using your reciprocal borrowing privileges. Might be your best bet.

George Victor

Yes, I just got a lazy chap on the library's information desk from the looks of it, FP.  I'll tell him about Hamilton,  Thank you.


Updated:  Turns out there's no inter-library service on a book less than two years after its publication. It better serves the purchasing library's patrons and authors.

autoworker autoworker's picture

Louise Brooks' autobiography: Lulu in Hollywood (1982).  A candid and literate reflection on the life and times of an unabashed hedonist, and the coterie of friends, acquaintances, and hangers-on that the silent screen actress and dancer encountered, in her blithe and obdurate celebration of the decadence that nearly consumed her.  A veritable 'pandora's box' (pun intended) of revelation, and honesty; a woman who I'd love to have met, at my peril.

remind remind's picture

The Book of Strange - Sylvia Fraser


Am going to read her prior books when done, especially My Father's House.




Susanna Moodie's Roughing it in the Bush

Highly Recommended! It is the account of her life in the wilderness of Canada during the 1830s, after coming over from England with her husband and infant daughter. The sections on Aboriginal people are very interesting especially. She uses the language of the time, but has great respect and friendship for them and is not racist herself. (She actually met her husband at an anti-slavery meeting in England in 1830). 


re. al-Qa'bong; LOL!  Laughing


re. siamdave; pobodys nerfect. Tongue out


Now I am reading Churchill and The Jews by Martin Gilbert.





Vout, Yibplmacscoutie.


I'm about 3/4 of the way through The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel these days. His comments on Adam Smith ansd his false imitators are purdy good, but the rest hasn't been terribly edifying. I had expected more.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life by Michael Dawson

The Consumer Trap blows the lid off the trillion-dollar-a-year big business marketing industry, explaining how it soaks up economic and environmental resources while dominating our personal lives. Flouting conventional mainstream and radical thinking about consumer culture, Michael Dawson provides a step-by-step account of how big business marketing campaigns penetrate and alter the lives of ordinary Americans. Michael Dawson is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Portland State University. A volume in the series The History of Communication, edited by Robert W. McChesney and John C. Nerone

"Big Brother is alive and well and working for Madison Avenue. Michael Dawson tells us what the media won't, how Big Business brainwashes citizens into consumers and undermines democracy. Everyone who fears the Thought Police should read this brilliant expos." -- John Stauber, coauthor of Toxic Sludge Is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry

Noam Chomsky wrote:
"Michael Dawson's meticulous and illuminating research into marketing theory and practice lays bare some of the most important developments of the twentieth century: the ways in which the sophisticated and self-conscious 'class coercion' designed by and for business leaders passed beyond meticulous management of the workplace to 'manipulating people's off-the-job perceptions and actions.' The goal is to ensure, as far as possible, that the lives of the 'underlying population' (in Veblen's phrase) will be in the hands of the masters of the highly concentrated private economy. Dawson adds new insights to expose still further the mythology of 'consumer sovereignty' and 'free markets,' and sketches directions for a humane alternative to domination by 'corporate overlords' and the state power to which they are closely linked."


The author has a brilliant blog as well.


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