Reads

the books i am reading or have read recently


Albert Camus: A Life

Author:

Olivier Todd

CIRCA:

January 2022

in progress

Obviously I am reading this


Personal Writings

Author:

Albert Camus

CIRCA:

January 2022

in progress

Recommended by a friend. These are mostly essays that show a more personal side of Camus – they are dope! He's all about like, life is so great in the sun and shit


Jazz: A History of America's Music

Author:

Ken Burns

CIRCA:

January 2022

in progress


Orlando

CIRCA:

January 2022

9/10

Didn't think I'd like this but I really did. The writing style reminded me a lot of Garcia Marquez and Kundera. The last 20% seemed like it might have been written at a different time / state


The City We Became

Author:

N.K. Jemisin

CIRCA:

November 2021

in progress


The Wall

CIRCA:

November 2021

in progress

i believe short stories are a better medium for "philosophical fiction" than novels are


Nausea

CIRCA:

October 2021

7/10

probably should have started with short stories. this was relatively long for what it was, and a tough read as there's not really a plot of any kind. but I eventually got over it. Roquentin is pretty much in a similar phase of life as me right now, and him grappling with The Nausea is hyper relevant. If The Stranger is dealing with extreme cases of where existentialism lands you, this is dealing with the day to day, and for that, it is great. feeling like The Nausea is now a term with associated emotional baggage that i can use, and i am better for it.


Stories of Your Life

Author:

Ted Chiang

CIRCA:

September 2021

7/10

solid. if i was good at math i'd probably have liked it more


The Trial

Author:

Franz Kafka

CIRCA:

February 2021

6/10

this was the plague of kafka novels, longer and harder to read and not sure if you get much more out of it than the shorter works. lots of great memes for modern bureaucracy though


The Metamorphosis

Author:

Franz Kafka

CIRCA:

January 2021

7/10

this was also great. part of what i'm liking about Kafka is that he creates these very "extreme to the point of explicitly philosophical" situations, like a man waking up as a giant bug, and then writes entire novels that simply don't deal with the implications. it's basically an entire book about the logistics of the thing. Gregor literally never pauses to think "well shit, this sucks" - he kind of just keeps going. which must be the point.


In The Penal Colony

Author:

Franz Kafka

CIRCA:

January 2021

8/10

this was great. a couple of things that stuck out to me (as i believe was intended): the timelessness of the novel, communicated via namelessness and just descriptors (The Officer, The Traveler, etc.). and the digs on bureaucracy via incredibly complex machines that don't work, and despite that fact, their creators living so much by their inventions that they'll sacrifice themselves on them.


The Myth of Sisyphus

Author:

Albert Camus

CIRCA:

January 2021

7/10

tough read but rewarding to get a more direct line of reasoning from Camus. before this I had only read his novels (the stranger and the plague). sisyphus is now literally tattooed on my leg lol


Tales of The City

CIRCA:

January 2021

in progress

just a light, lovely book. love reading books that take place in cities you've lived or currently live in.


The Plot Against America

Author:

Philip Roth

CIRCA:

December 2020

8/10

my 5th Roth book (lol). very good, a lot more plot driven than any of the others i've read. does a great job (as always) touching on the complex duality that is being jewish and being american (which applies to all immigrants), and each character handles it very differently.


Ficciones

Recommended by:

@xaelophone

CIRCA:

December 2020

7/10

cool book. took a while to get into (the first few stories are very confusing and very dry) but it was worth it. Borges's writing style can be painfully academic. sort of felt like Calvino (in that each story is an independent cultural unit that you want to remember and use) but more usable because the stories are longer.

thematically, Borges is focused on two crossing axes (most of the time) - knowledge, and infinity. some examples:

in The Library of Babel he describes this infinite (maybe) library with all books that could ever be written, i.e. every combination of letters and words possible. most of the story is exploring what that would mean and whether it can truly be called "infinite."

another example is Funes The Memorious, which describes a 19 year old kid who, after a horseback accident, loses the ability to move but starts to remember every detail of everything ever. the story explores what that would be like in practice and what the bounds of limitless knowledge would do to a brain. good stuff.


All The Names They Used For God

Recommended by:

@xaelophone

CIRCA:

November 2020

9/10

this was a great book

a much more straightforward type of magical realism - each (short) story centers around one major reality violation, instead of small ones that are almost irrelevant to the storyline, which is marquez's style. girls who can control the minds of men, an angel who writes stories with a blasphemer, a fisherman's life ruined by a mermaid, etc. these stories are also a very good length (15 mins or so), long enough to create and develop characters but short enough to represent a nicely packaged "thing."

one of my favorite stories (Robert Greenman And The Mermaid) is about a guy who loves his wife very much, but sees (and meets) a mermaid on a fishing expedition. and this mermaid - though they can't communicate verbally - basically makes him fall out of love with his wife, and just get generally kind of depressed. because everything outside of the mermaid is just dull. i'm coming off of a book about love, so this notion of the circumstantial-ness of love, and how what we consider to be eternal can often just be a product of circumstance or a lack of context, is top of mind i guess?

"Learn to smile in the daytime and write your heresies by candlelight, or you'll live to regret it."


Love in the Time of Cholera

CIRCA:

October 2020

7/10

my second marquez book. like 100 years of solitude, the first 50 pages were great, the next 200 were rough, and the final 50 were the best. i feel like with his novels, he buries you in this irrelevant context throughout the book - it's a slog to get through, but without it, all of the action (i.e. the final 50 pages) wouldn't hit as hard.

one thing i liked was that this is the opposite of what i'd call the traditional love story, where two people love each other and then grow old and die (usually one without the other, which is the sad part). in the book, florentino's entire life is basically ruined by this love he can't shake, and only in his very, very old age does the whole thing work out.

the book explores a lot of what love means. from the perspective of florentino, his "true" love is fermina, while he spends most of his life sleeping around, even for years at a time with the same person, it's not "real" in the sense that marquez wants you to think of realness. for fermina, her love with her husband dr. urbino is also not "real," but because she seems to just dislike everything in the universe, him included. so her "not real" is very different than florentino's. which is to say that marquez sees one "true" type of love, but many (fake) alternatives that we busy ourselves with.

one commonality, though, is that both characters did "love" their "fake loves" for short periods of time, sporadically even, which i think is a central theme of the book: love can be a product of environment and circumstance.

using his characters to test the limits of how we define love reminds me a lot of kundera in the unbearable lightness of being, where all of the characters relate to their affairs very differently. tereza is this weak dependent who needs "traditional" love from one person and one person only. franz is cheating on his wife, but fundamentally views love in the same way (which is why he's so insecure about his own affair). sabina and tomas, on the other hand, view things much more lightly. and when people like these end up mixed together, the lightness can be unbearable for the one who views it all as the heaviest thing we have.

"Fermina, he said, I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love."

"He was still too young to know that the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past."


Lincoln in the Bardo

Recommended by:

@justinmduke

CIRCA:

September 2020

4/10

I liked tenth of december (also from saunders) but didn't really get this. it was really hard to read format wise (it's a combination of reports, letters, dialogue, etc.) and i'm not sure i understood any interesting or thought provoking motifs. it wasn't plot driven, which is fine, but i don't know what the reader is supposed to take away here?


Tenth of December

Recommended by:

GZF

CIRCA:

August 2020

8/10

this was a solid book. a couple of very memorable stories - my favorite one was "escape from spiderhead", where prison inmates are "used" to test new chemicals that alter emotions and memory in a very directed way, e.g. a chemical that makes you fall in love with someone. definitely a classic sci-fi motif, but the book does a good job of exploring it. saunders has a funny and irreverent style that i like


Invisible Cities

Recommended by:

@singareddynm

CIRCA:

June 2020

7/10

unusual and thought provoking read, i wish i could remember all of the little stories

i've grown up and lived pretty much exclusively around or in cities (and lived abroad for a while). so a book that's basically about analyzing cities and their character was pretty cool. each little section is about a city with some extreme, magically unreal quality that Calvino uses to make a point about some of the cities we're already familiar with. tons of quotes i'd love to have in the back of my head

"The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls."


Neuromancer

Recommended by:

@singareddynm

CIRCA:

May 2020

6/10

this was a tough read, pretty difficult to follow.

i think some sci-fi writers to a better job than others in easing their reader into the worlds they've created - i.e. snow crash was easy to read, Dune was not. either way the world was vivid and thought provoking. more of a plot driven book than one that made me think or feel something

"There is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is inately media-related. The Panther Moderns differ from other terrorists precisely in their degree of self-consciousness, in their awareness of the extent to which media divorce the act of terrorism from the original sociopolitical intent..."


The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

Author:

Ken Liu

CIRCA:

March 2020

6/10

definitely less memorable than the first Liu book i read, The Paper Menagerie. but still pretty good.

one of the recurring themes is this notion of uploading your consciousness to "the cloud" - if we could do that, what would life look like? a few of the stories are variations on this theme, where society falls apart because what's the point of living when you can just exist as data and experience the same freedom. reminded me of Interstellar aesthetically

"We travel millions of miles to seek out fresh vistas without even once having glimpsed inside our skulls, a landscape surely as alien and as wondrous as anything the universe has to offer."


The Consolations of Philosophy

CIRCA:

January 2020

8/10

great book! and not just because i have a soft spot for people who explain complex topics well!

this is a book that walks through major philosophers (socrates, montaigne, etc.) and explains their basic shtick in a friendly, practical way. i had been looking for something like this for a while, because i can't be bothered to actually comb through these ancient texts etc. it's told in the format of a novel (basically) so it didn't break my 2020 fiction rule.

the name is a riff off of Boethius's "The Consolation of Philosophy" (around 524).


Ender's Game

CIRCA:

December 2019

6/10


The Idiot

Author:

Elif Batuman

Recommended by:

@singareddynm

CIRCA:

November 2019

7/10


The Road

CIRCA:

November 2019

5/10


Slaughterhouse-Five

CIRCA:

October 2019

6/10


The Color Purple

Author:

Alice Walker

CIRCA:

August 2019

7/10


The Sirens of Titan

CIRCA:

July 2019

8/10


100 Years of Solitude

CIRCA:

July 2019

9/10


Snow Crash

CIRCA:

June 2019

8/10


The Three Body Problem

Author:

Liu Cixin

CIRCA:

June 2019

5/10


The Plague

Author:

Albert Camus

CIRCA:

May 2019

6/10


The Stranger

Author:

Albert Camus

CIRCA:

May 2019

9/10


Pachinko

Author:

Min Jin Lee

CIRCA:

May 2019

7/10


The God of Small Things

Recommended by:

@singareddynm

CIRCA:

April 2019

8/10


The Human Stain

Author:

Philip Roth

CIRCA:

April 2019

6/10


I Married A Communist

Author:

Philip Roth

CIRCA:

March 2019

6/10


South of the Border, West of the Sun

CIRCA:

March 2019

6/10


Foundation

Author:

Isaac Asimov

CIRCA:

February 2019

6/10


The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Author:

Ken Liu

CIRCA:

February 2019

8/10


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

CIRCA:

February 2019

10/10

this is the perfect book


Dune

CIRCA:

January 2019

7/10


American Pastoral

Author:

Philip Roth

CIRCA:

January 2019

8/10


Goodbye, Colombus

Author:

Philip Roth

CIRCA:

January 2019

9/10