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The Lonely Sea: Collected Short Stories
Alistair MacLean
Her Benny
Silas K. Hocking
Vedere din Parfumerie
Silvia Kerim
Mysticism and Logic (Western Philosophy)
Bertrand Russell
The Analects of Confucious
Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
William James
Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Unsettling, Witty Answers to Questions You Never Thought You Wanted to Ask
New Scientists Books Staff, New Scientist
Mutual Aid
Pyotr Kropotkin
City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
Olivia Fraser, William Dalrymple
The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories - William Saroyan I find the stories simultaneously too tidy (e.g. true) or too depressing, but I admire the breakfast-length story formats. Extra star for the 5 star title story, but then, I didn't read them all...


Demian - Hermann Hesse I was prepared to crucify this short and tedious work as a kind of Celestine Prophecy for a far dumber age, until I saw that it was written at a time of high stress by a recently converted Jungian. At any rate, none of my friends rated it well either, so excoriating it no longer seems quite so necessary.

Perhaps Hesse was a dedicated pacifist, but this book would be as effective as a pistol against a tank in WWI or any war. I can't honestly find the pacifism in the book, except possibly as a subdued alternative to the usual German hysteria of its time, and if young Germans at the end of WWI were drawn to this updated take on German Romanticism, well, being goaded to let their personal will overcome all obstacles, to the point of killing your (metaphorical?) tormenter if necessary hardly sounds like pacifism to me.

I have a hard time accepting that the character of Demian is based on a Nobel-prize winning pacifist. The character comes across as some kind of messianic Hitler character, to be followed without being understood, and his advice makes total destruction of Europe sound necessary and possibly even good, so that those with "the mark" will survive, despite the fact that they join the initial destruction too.

I believe that Demian's secretive whispers to the effect that the world is nothing except what our individual will makes it is a reminder that German idealism, springing from Kant?, is what Bertrand Russell probably considered the dangerous German? drive to war.

The book seems in fact a study in symbols that appealed to young Germans for all the wrong reasons.

The only redeeming feature, and this of high quality, is the genuinely emotional portrayal of Hesse's quasi-religious youth. Later, more simplistic Hesse was popular with a man I know who is naive, a little stupid, and quasi-German. He read Hesse when he was 14 of course, when a combination of heartfealt naivete and a jumble of meaningless symbols appeals to the wrong people.

I almost wonder if the cult of teenagers in the US has its origins in a Germanic search for unmoderated impulse. Someone should have told those teenagers and and 20th-century Germans, and Hesse that, frankly, "you arent't that deep."

Spotlight on English-Speaking Countries

Spotlight on English-Speaking Countries - N. Timanovskaya I was prepared to be amazed by the breadth of understanding and learned tone, covering 5 large countries in comparatively few pages, until I had to add this book's record manually and saw the publication date.

I'm not saying its source is Wikipedia, since it's far more concise than Wikipedia, but its breadth as a foreign publication is slightly less impressive now that it seems that it was written far after the end of the Soviet Union.

The writer, a Russian? woman? based on the name, has a tight control of pertinent information and novelty, even if she? spends the least amount of time on the U.S.A.

Trivia that seemed the most interesting:
-- The Native Americans who sold Manhattan for a bundle of beads had no claim on it themselves and thought they'd made just as much of a bargain.

-- Wall Street was named after a wall that existed there to protect the Dutch settlement.

-- Las Vegas was named after the only oasis of green found on the land.

-- The Puritans were Protestants who wanted to rid Protestanstitism of all vestiges of Catholicism, and they helped sparked a civil war deposing the British king before finally being driven out to America themselves.

-- The term "Hippies" refers to the fact that drugtakers in Asia would lie on one hip while taking Opium

-- N. America is generally colder than Europe

-- 1/6 of Americans will be over 65 by 2020

-- Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world

-- Canada appears to have a relatively low population of secondary school and university educated people compared to the U.S.

-- Something like 40% of Canadian companies are US-owned.

-- Grizzly bears can't climb trees.

-- The UK had to move their overcrowded prisons to Australia shortly after they lost America to revolution. Just how punishing a society was 18th-century England, anyway?

-- The UK has no written constitution

-- UK Parliament gets 17 weeks of vacation a year

-- The word "Tories" is an Irish word for "thieves"

-- Brits typically don't sign Valentine's Day cards

-- New Year's "First Footing" tradition in UK

-- Pancake races while flipping pancakes in pan, UK

-- The dummy on Guy Fawkes Night is called a "guy"

-- The kilt did not become popular until the beginning of the 18th century.

-- Central and Western Australia weren't explored by Brits for some 50 years after the first penal colonies established in New South Wales, and most of the explorers going east to west or north to south seemed some of the least fleet of foot and brain in their failures to do so.

Ecstasy Through Tantra

Ecstasy Through Tantra - Jonn Mumford, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke There was a time when I thought my family tree included Alistair Crowley. The truth is far worse, an extremely remote and strange cousin, and that would be the best way to describe this book, which begins with a reference to Crowley and a first recommendation to use a catheter to absorb one's own fluids. It does say that certain fluids are known to make a woman's face softer, etc., but here too, and possibly only, you'd better consult a doctor. STIs are just one of the possible issues. True believers on Alistair Crowley's gender line might try applying their own fluids to their face, after the catheter of course, but I for one wouldn't want to read the coroner's report.


Bulgariana - Randall Baker MINI-UPDATE: he says that moving from America to Bulgaria made an entire shelf of anti-depression drugs unnecessary. I can't speak to that, although I know that going from the Carpathian mountains of Romania to certain places in Sofia was a similarly refreshing grounding in reality.

I'm going to shock myself and say that the low ratings aren't quite accurate. I'm thinking it's only because I'm reading it as a foreigner in Bulgaria.

Let's get quickly to what's good, because it's quite hard to find:

-- It is an accurate depiction of how your typically self-centred, unconscious expat might view Sofia.

-- The generalizations about Bulgarian culture, when they come, come at an appreciable level for an expat staying a few months longer than normal. That's not to say that the ideas that Bulgarians can be pessimistic or that they are struggling psychologically with a history of foreign oppressors are insights that any Bulgarian couldn't tell you on your first day.

-- Unlike Theroux, who Baker suggests typifies the popularity of complaining travel writers, his day-by-day account is mostly positive or neutral, with brief, unemotional asides about what's bad, in the Bulgarian style.

-- His asides about how broken social and financial life are in the U.S. are telling, although he appears to be talking mainly about the city of Indianapolis.

-- His stated aim is to be funny, and several zingers and one anecdote "The Night of the Flying Banitsa" are hilarious. The anecdote is on page 287. You won't find it otherwise, because there's no table of contents or index.

His choice to fill the book with 2 or 3 years of diary entries means you have to flip through a lot of pointless nonsense to get anything of value. He says that he's both disorganized and despises the sausage making and/or number crunching in university publishing, so my comment isn't going to change his thinking. Somehow he spent many years working as a professor in the German-American heartland of the U.S., so clearly he once knew how to play the organization game.

As a matter of fact, it's not clear what sort of business studies he teaches. I have a slight hint that he teaches about Organization, but my real guess is that he teaches Marketing, because this book is a lot of pointless self-aggrandizing and little substance. It's hard to see how his style won converts in Bulgaria, but the students who drifted in and out of his class must have learned something about American-style success, which dispenses with Slavic or any other rationality.

Despite his professions of loving Bulgaria, you'd sometimes think that he has a kind of contempt for Bulgaria or possibly his readers. He has been visiting Bulgaria for 20 years, teaching here, and finally moved here wholesale, yet he doesn't speak Bulgarian and couldn't even recognize when new graduates were chanting countdowns to 12 in the Bulgarian language. The tone of the book still treats Bulgarians as a kind of alien race after 20 years. It also shows an indifference to things Bulgarian. If a government official in Bulgaria offers to talk politics, he ignores the offer and asks the whole group to read his novel instead. If a Bulgarian professor tells him the real reason Serdika (the old Roman name for Sophia) got its name, he doesn't bother to put it in the book, but quickly claims that he loves Bulgarian history. He only sprinkles his diary with tiny historical snippets, and maybe that is even a sort of kindness to Bulgarians or to readers, in his mind.

What's valuable is trying to understand why a professor from Wales, who teaches in the U.S. and has a wife in Paris, chose Bulgaria of all places to live. He claims that no one has friends in the U.S., whereas it's easy in Bulgaria, where he has either 3 or "many."

Ignoring the fact that he arrived in some position as a western "authority", which gave him access to the highest echelons of Bulgarian society, along with friends who do virtually everything for him, I think there is even more appeal for a certain kind of expat.

The one time I visited Indianapolis, they had a regular shuttle going from the airport to the downtown. The shuttle was a stretch limousine, with a small group of strangers all looking in amazement at each other. No matter how much he says he disliked Indianapolis or the U.S., and he goes back to that topic several times, life there probably had an order that gave him a certain amount of free reign.

But not as much as Bulgaria, where he could be both respected and disorderly. Sophia reminds me a bit of the northeast in the U.S., and not just because it has four seasons. The people are independent because social order institutionalized by industrialization has virtually disappeared, to be replaced by education and business models.

What Mr. Baker seems to have found in Bulgaria is a country with old world order, full of comically pessimistic characters who always find a way to muddle through, in a way that is both independent and acknowledges foreign powers, no matter how ridiculous they are, and yes the Bulgarians even laugh about it.

I am struggling not to make this crude generalization. It's possible being in one's mid-60s produces a kind of inevitable, meandering, anecdotal, apparently self-centred style about depending on others. The fact that he added no update for the 2014 edition is telling.

He goes so far as to even Google himself at one point. Why couldn't he have Googled more details about Bulgaria or at least put this book online so it would be easier to find the insights of value?

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives - Gerald Durrell Mainly because his formerly more famous but less gifted brother Larry was such an idiot and asshole, I came perilously close to just throwing this particular book into a bin. That would have been a mistake, since it contains scenes and anecdotes to rival his first memoirs in Corfu, which I'd still put atop the world's greatest books.

Surely these books inspired a tourism craze in Corfu, possibly more than once. That's why it's so strange to infer that Gerald never settled in Corfu again, whereas someone like Patrick Leigh Fermor walked across Europe and the Balkans but settled in Greece.

It's telling that the only actual Greek on their picnics, etc. is their (paid?) handyman. Given that young Gerald describes going out of his way to hear peasant gossip (without relaying much), perhaps it was just brother Larry's prejudice.

Stories of Erskine Caldwell

Stories of Erskine Caldwell - Erskine Caldwell, Stanley W. Lindberg What I have is another strange little book produced by Russians during the U.S.S.R., so some stories in the description are missing. Caldwell's father was a Presbyterian minister, and the stories I have, to a letter, are morality plays, with an extra serving of melodrama for the hot weather.

Sometimes the message seems so hamfisted, you'd think it had been hammered there by a far more liberal David Cameron. Sometimes you just want to say, in the old country way, "In a pig's ear!", as with the slightly maudlin depiction of an old sharecropper who lives with three healthy sons, worried that he'll have no way to live if he's forced to leave a manipulative white man's land. Caldwell was almost certainly ahead of his time on race relations in the south, so maybe the morality of black and white required a broad brush that looked more like a frayed knot. His altogether predictable morality, even when it's wearing your very teeth, will still produce absolutely haunting results, as was the case with a young man's mistake with a terribly poor girl he courts behind his house.

Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion

Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion - John Sharkey Of the three books about the Celts I've been reading, the others being [b:The Cut-throat Celts|423925|The Cut-throat Celts |Terry Deary|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1310939578s/423925.jpg|413020] and [b:The Celts: A History|256526|The Celts A History|Peter Berresford Ellis|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1436215824s/256526.jpg|248625], this is the one I'll be sending to my quite young nieces. It has all the inadvertent, excessive farce of a hippy would-be artist producing something like [b:Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics|391156|Why Cats Paint A Theory of Feline Aesthetics|Heather Busch|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320511507s/391156.jpg|380763], but the full-colour, full-page photos of decidedly nonCeltic looking stone works gives solidity to its focus on the otherworldy. I've read the end twice without remembering a single word, but any photo of ribbons around a wishing well can almost say it all.

The following claims are less believable than ever. There are close to a dozen examples where I just scrawled "What?" next to the text. As I prepare to type these out, I would surmise that all the translated ancient Celt stories in total are just a little more than the total number of pages in this short book. Why haven't I just read those old stories instead?

-- "the oracle stone screamed...during the inauguration of a new king."
-- "female fighters had equal status with men in the Celtic warrior class"
-- "the Celts had no pantheon of gods...but were at one with the elements and the Great Spirit" What? Not true about their lack of gods, btw, and not sure they were Native American
-- The Celtic Otherworld, called Sidh, "embody the halfway state between one world and the next, a vital theme of Celtic art and myth."
-- 'Hag of the ford' - a goddess of death which a doomed hero sees washing his bloodstained clothes.
-- "All sacred wells are protected by the threefold mother goddess"
-- "Twin circles represent the overlapping outer and inner worlds." (what?)
-- "In Greek legend, as in Celtic, the moon is identified with the triple goddess"
-- "Celtic burial, in which the possessions, dependents, and even family were ritually burned with the body of the dead chief."
-- "Celtic belief that human sacrifice was essential to promote human fertility."
-- "As the giver and taker of life, the triple goddess presided over the birth, mating, and death of the king, her earthly consort"
-- "Hercules reappears in many guises in the art and legends of Celtic lands."
-- Irish tales have "hilarious descriptions of godly attributes in terms of food and sex."
-- "The main body of stories, and the most interesting, centre around the warrior incarnation of the Celtic gods."
-- The Dagda had his harp "that can play three airs, the sleep strain, the grief strain, and the laughter strain"
-- "A Celtic context, without the Christian need for a moral duality showing good and evil as separate forces."
-- 'When they dine...they often fall into an altercation and challenge each other to single combat; they make nothing of death'. "For once the Classical writers and the Irish poets had been to the same movie."
-- "Many Celtic coins show a marked resemblance to the Uffington horse."
-- "The famous Irish wakes and funeral games, which ritually re-enacts parts of the ancient burial practices, have always been loud and humorous, with...elaborately mimed phallic rituals...Our present day casual attitude to the death ceremony is probably unique in the history of the planet, and a sad comment upon our barbaric civilization." (HaHa)


#LiveFromSofia - Александър Шпатов Since I've spent most of time in Sofia, I really liked the book blurb which promised to do for Sofia what Bulgaria's more famous short story writers have done for Bulgarian agricultural towns. And, strange to say, the translated version of this collection seems to be aimed squarely at passing tourists like me. The book even opens with a list of landmarks to experience.

However talented the author proved to be, the writing may in fact be limited by its subject. His Sofia seems nearly as mechanical and superficial as mine. I attributed the combination of light and intricate storytelling to 1)the author's youth 2)the likelihood that he himself isn't from Sofia, but I'm just not sure about number 2, and his style became conflated, but in a complimentary way, with some bad Vonnegut I'd been reading. Thankfully, his work doesn't come across as manufactured preciousness in the way his American educated contemporary sometimes writes.

Anyway, the stories are really a collection of fascinating mechanizations in daily life, quite a few near misses meeting women, a few conspiracies, a joke about passing tests to be a true citizen of self-reverential Sofia, one great twist about working as an extra in Sofia's film industry, and one blur of alternative endings, appropriately enough, as the final story at the end. Glad I even found this one...

The Vile Victorians

The Vile Victorians - Terry Deary, Neil Tonge, Martin Brown What adults certainly miss is childhood credulity and curiosity. One without the other is like putting a bag on a plastic mind, although adults would seem to be in the credulity line.

So...this book contains a few unbelievable "facts", which plausibly gain something by being controvertible. I have already found several contradictions to the idea that Queen Victoria killed her husband (although the fact that he had stomach trouble for years now sounds suspicious), but I will list a few of the more outrageous "facts", which I may or may not have confirmed by the time you've read this, in order to jog your senescence, if you have it.

Unfortunately, as a child or adult, most readers are likely to be bored by 4 pages illustrating the typical day of a maid, etc. Not even sure how exciting the pages about Victorian school life would be for students who mostly still recognize same. For such a short book, for such a astonishingly rich literary era, the excerpts and "facts" seem mostly like desiccated lists and filler for a few Victorian poems and songs referred to as "vile".

-- Education in UK only became free for every child in 1891.
-- London's last great medieval fair ended in 1854 because "people enjoyed it too much."
-- Second Baron Rothschild had zebra-drawn carriages, snakes wrapped around his bannisters, and 12 monkeys who attended dinner parties.
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson's most popular poem was "In Memoriam"
-- "The Great Unwashed" referred to the poor who didn't have enough water to both cook and wash.
-- Victorian burials still featured a shroud?

"In poverty hunger and dirt
Sewing at once with double thread
A shroud as well as a shirt" ("The Song of the Shirt" by Thomas Hood)

-- The Bucklands, father and son, would try any meal concocted of strange (animal) parts, including "The mummified heart of Louis XIV"
-- Sir Francis Galton wrote a mildly insane travel guide where he recommended keeping your clothes dry in rain by taking them off and sitting on them.
-- Contains an excellent, stanza-by-stanza explication of the facts behind the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
-- The Victorian literary monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. -- matched the Jack the Rippers and violent times.
-- The amazing story of "The Man They Couldn't Hang", whose hanging failed three times, until he was eventually reprieved and set free.
-- Sir Robert Peel invented the police in London in 1829
-- "It wasn't until 1856 that the rest of the country had paid policemen."
-- Because of very high infant mortality, the average lifespan for men in Manchester, 1842, was 38 years old.
-- The police had Queen Victoria drive in the same place there'd been an assassination attempt the previous day, so they could catch the assassin making a second attempt the next day.
-- In 1820, in Scotland, a weaver named Wilson was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but was hanged, then beheaded "for leading a march in protest against unemployment."
-- Queen Victoria and her husband preferred portraits where the people didn't have their clothes on.

A Short History of Decay

A Short History of Decay - Emil Cioran, Richard Howard This I bought and started reading in Romania itself, albeit in translation. I balked pretty hard, like an alpha-male chicken, when I saw immediately, right on the back cover, that the author flew into Romania after fascists took power, to congratulate them.

He does read like someone who went to Paris for inspiration, stayed fo the nightlife, only to regress to cynicism when certainty suits him. I'd have liked to read further for the comedy factor, since he follows long nihilistic digressions with bizarre, wholly uncharacteristic praise for frivolity. He sounds like another Hitler-era artist who wants order on his own strange, selfish terms, but I imagine the frivolity would be literally in reading this whole book.

The Beginner's Goodbye

The Beginner's Goodbye - Anne Tyler THAT was a waste of time. True, I was astounded again at Tyler's ability to make absolutely quotidian duty sound thrilling, but 60 pages from the end, it never broached its alleged topic and never would. Hitchcock famously said that if you show a bomb in the first scene, it has to go off by the end, but I really already knew that Tyler would never drop real bombshells, generally just trying to clean up badly untidy lives.

I bought it on a whim because I was expecting more insights into how a relationship might develop after death. Tyler seems to be getting older faster than I am or Baltimore is more staid than I could ever imagine, so this later book seems shorter than her others, with Tyler expressing more impatience with excessive self-reliance, mocked doubly so in brief descriptions of people who pay vanity presses to publish outrageous autobiographies. By the end I was wishing I'd read one of those self-published purple monsters, because, soothing as Tyler once seemed to an impatient soul, I'd rather refocus my interests on something, well, interesting, instead of buying her thoroughly furnished mind wholesale. In proper middling spirit, the book should be 3 stars, but am also deducting a star for bowing to the editor and starting another middle class lovein with a ghost you almost never really see.


Mort - Terry Pratchett It seems to me that I have started reading Pratchett out of order. The first one I read, which left me impressed but wanting more, seems to have been later than this. This one appears to be the book which let Pratchett quit his day job, and by many standards probably contains more interesting twists than I give it credit for, but without the leisure of fulltime writing, he seems to have written something slightly less thick with gimmicks and humanity.

This one got noticeably better towards the end, but it was nothing but duty which made me keep going. Not sure who to ask about something richer, without pure gimmick from Pratchett.

The World's Greatest Short Stories

The World's Greatest Short Stories - James Daley With that title, with this long history of short stories in the world, not a single short story should miss, but several did. Granted, those were written by famous authors, such as Checkov, and, given that the publisher went to the trouble of licensing stories still in copyright, it might just be a matter of taste. I may still be too young for choice bits of stories from second-world parlours. Lost in storage.


Seurat - John Russell Seems to deliver on its promise, to the nth degree, by analyzing every permutation of notable works, the change of angle, addition of boats, etc. I've had a fascination with his one major work, per my notes, but somehow I would have wanted that painting analyzed for its absolute, not comparative merits. If much of the harrowing effect is down to Seurat's development of an innovative colour theory, am not certain the book reveals how that theory works in the specific work, though there was certainly a general discussion. The biographical details were revelatory in showing how meticulous and slightly cold Seurat was as a person and how that might be reflected in his highly structured art. I'd have read it more thoroughly if I hadn't lost it in storage like so many things.

East of the West

East of the West - Miroslav Penkov Lost it somewhere. Bittersweet. Bitter Bulgarian, sweet American, or vice versa. Pity that some say the best stories are the last few, which I didn't get to, but this book seems to be one of the few Bulgarian works which local bookshops carry in translation. Would I buy it again?