Both heart and mind expended on other matters – like trying to facilitate my mother’s rescue from Florida, plus navigating a forthcoming job change – I recorded only one podcast episode between last Wednesday and Monday. That is, between when I found out my mother was in the midst of Hurricane Ian, her first-floor condominium in Fort Myers a mere four miles from Sanibel Island where so much destruction happened, and when things settled down, I produced much less than I typically expect of myself.
Rest assured, she is safe and sound now, and that is well. However, I still feel the need to tell you I was not idle in the meantime, though I was neglecting the microphone.
What I am most proud of, I started and finished listening to five audiobooks while I worked over the weekend, for instance. And now that I am feeling a bit more rested and settled, I should tell you about it, since this was good to get my mind off things I could not control, and you might try it yourself if you find yourself in a similar situation.
If you are wondering, it was fatiguing in its own way. Your suspicions are correct But it was not so tiring to listen as I was feeling tired from speaking for a bit, with all the time spent on the phone for work and with family. So what did I listen to? And what did I make of what I heard? Let me tell you all about it here.
First, I listened to ‘The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity’ by Carlo M. Cipolla. Yet that is not a boast, nor was the work enjoyable. Instead, I found Cipolla’s book, published in 1988, to be mean, unfunny, and condescending. And to think this was billed as a humorous book!
Frankly, this ‘Stupidity’ was too reminiscent of ‘Nudge’ and ‘The Undoing Project.’ Come to think of it, one might call it a cousin to those works. Though it is but a short book, that’s hardly as much a redeeming quality as a mercy. It got on my nerves. The fact that there are so many stupid people is rather too obvious. How we talk about this fact, and relate to it – that should be our concern. And the way the late Professor Cipolla treated the subject left much to be desired.
Yet the next work was better, taking in ‘Beauty: A Very Short Introduction’ by Roger Scruton. Published in 2009, this work by Scruton – esteemed British conservative political philosopher is indeed philosophical, and much more contemporary than Edmund Burke’s work on the aesthetics, which Scruton references several times.
Having reviewed that work also, you may rest assured that it is more likable, as much or more because it is older. But this treatment by Scruton is high-minded, very British, and thoroughly intellectual, as well as more academic in a way that is perhaps less forgivable for having been written in 2009 instead of 1757. And yet it is nevertheless good and worth consideration, and easily recommended to anyone interested in the subject, which should include everyone even when it does not.
Next was ‘The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics’ by Kevin D. Williamson. This work reminded me of Tom Wolfe in Radical Chic and Mau-mauing the Flak-Catchers, but it was not as pleasant a work as either of those. But Williamson is not as good a writer as Wolfe by a long shot.
One of the most annoying features of this book, published in 2019, was the constant pandering potshots at Trump and his supporters – pandering, with great obviousness, to all who hate Trump and so-called ‘MAGA Republicans.’ Yet the final word on Williamson to my way of thinking is that he reminds me too much of the atheist kid in high school trying to mock and argue everyone into renouncing Christianity. To say he is smart and confident feels a half-truth when he is also mean and vulgar.
After that was ‘Science and Technology,’ a collection of interviews with Neil Postman, Jane Metcalfe, Howard Rheingold, Mark Slouka, Andrew Kimbrell, Doug Groothius, Dean Kenyon, Philip Johnson, and Michael Behe. If I have two criticisms of this collection of interviews, it is that they are too short and more thinking out loud to frame the problem than prescribing what we can do about any of it. This is more a chronicle than a tonic, perhaps.
Last, but certainly not least, I read ‘A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,’ by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. And when I say this was not least, what I really mean is that this was my favorite by a good bit of the five books I read this weekend. Written first-hand by both men, then compiled together after their traveling in 1773, this was a charming and elegantly phrased collection of character sketches of the people and places and country.
Johnson comments, for instance, on the migration of Scots to America, for instance. And I know the Acts of Union, plus other related contentions, drove a lot of Scots to emigrate to America. This having been true of my MacFarlane ancestors on my maternal grandmother’s side, he has my undivided attention. Yet it is what Johnson and Boswell do with our attention which is the treat, since they neither abuse nor neglect their audience the way so many do. Instead, they make the listening to them thoroughly worth our time.
Life is too short to listen to awful and trashy books, after all. Yet life lived with excellent books in our library, on the other hand, is all the fuller, brighter, and wiser. Therefore, all who would live a full, bright, wise life should read the best books they can lay hands on, and both as many and as often as they can lay hands on them should they read them.
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