Posts Tagged ‘Books’

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty. 

     Once again I find myself indebted to our intrepid and resourceful leader, Mr. Michael Stelzer Jocks, this time for coming up with the idea of a Beach Book List, and also for weighing in on the type of book he favors for such a List.  Indeed I’m emboldened to confess I’m in perfect agreement with his idea that beach books should be DEEP and challenge the mind, or body, or spirit, or gestalt, or personhood, self-image, mindset, or paradigm.  Of course this doesn’t mean I mean you can’t read trash or trivia; it’s simply to say work on supplementing trivia with a challenging tome or two—like Michael and me. 

       So here’s my list.  I must point out, however, that all the books have in common that I’ve read them before, yet now feel strongly I should read them again, mainly because, sad to say, I don’t remember very much of what’s in them. 

       “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara is the first book.  It’s about the battle of Gettysburg Imagerelying heavily on letters written by several of the generals who participated in the war.

        Image“The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin is the second book on my list.  It’s not for biologists, but historians who wonder whether historical events are primarily matters of fate or free will.    

          “The Birth of Tragedy” is by Friedrich ImageNietzsche is my third book.  The title gives a good indication of what it’s about, though I’m fairly sure there’s a lot more in it as well.

         Image  “The Art of the Novel” by Henry James is my fourth and last entry.  Here too the title tells what the book’s about though James’ use of the word “art” seems a bit misleading for in that short three letter word most important issues pertaining to literature eventually get raised.

              My last entry should probably include a prayer rather than another read for I’m fairly certain I’m going to need some outside help to make sure I do indeed read the above list of books.  I say this feeling compelled to acknowledge that to date I can’t remember a single summer when I’ve managed to read all the tomes I placed on my halcyon summer’s Book List for the Beach.       

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

Students who take classes with both of us usually agree: MSJ = smart and serious, JJS = smart and not-serious. I’m not so sure about the “smart” part, but they’ve pretty much got us pegged as far as teaching styles, music, books, general disposition, and overall proclivities. While MSJ provides the straight dope on historical subjects like WWI, slavery, and the Holocaust, I teach lit with as much sex and cursing in it as I can get away with (Don’t hate. It can be done smartly and hilariously to a delightful affect). While he reads NON-FICTION (read in a big, deep, serious voice), I read hip-hop journalism for my class and contemporary fiction with my book group (read in a “Yay!” voice). While he listens to what we affectionately refer to as “sad bastard music,” (you know, Bon Iver on heavy rotation), I’m always getting in trouble when one of my downloads comes up on our iTunes shuffle with the kids around (What? DMX isn’t appropriate?). Unless it’s JT. Then, we get down.

So, when it comes to the whole “beach reads” discussion, I’m with him on the “read something smart” tip, but I’m so NOT with him on the “read something serious” tip. Here’s what I’ll be reading in the beach chair next to his:

  • Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her”. Did I mention that I like smart and hilariousImage cursing? I also like stories about people doing the wrong thing. Diaz’s narrator (and, probably, alter ego) Yunior (whom I met in the also-awesome “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”) is a lying, cheating mother-f’er, and I love him. THAT’S how good Diaz’s writing is.
  • ImageKRS-One’s “The Gospel of Hip-Hop: The First Instrument”. Because how can I claim any kind of street credibility (in hip-hop OR in philosophy) without reading The Teacha’s treatise? I’m following this up with The RZA’s “Wu Tang Manual,” because, why the F not?
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.” I know, I know: “But, that’s a ‘guy’s Imagebook’!” “But, it’s so violent!” and, “But, his depiction of women?!” The same is said of Fincher’s film which, quite possibly, is my favorite movie. Dudes, chill. This book is FEMINIST, y’all: it’s a comment on excessive machismo, and it’s also super anti-consumerism and supremely shit-disturbing, which I LOVE. Plus, you’ve got that image of Brad Pitt (sans shirt) beating the crap out of someone. That’s the stuff for a beach chair.
  • ImageAnais Nin’s “A Spy in the House of Love”. Seriously, forget “50 Shades.” The first book was fun but, after that, WAY too much authorial effort went toward the plot. We all know what we’re reading it for. It’s summertime.  It’s hot. Get yourself some real erotica. While Henry Miller gets all the props for the books you’re not supposed to read, Nin’s got the chops. Her diaries are great, too, but, in this novel, Sabina gets to do the stuff that Miller only lets men do.

So, friends of MSJ and JJS, when you’re heading to the beach (or, in our case, the pool, where we claim to be hanging with our kids, but, really, we’re just lazing in the sun with our books), you could get all serious and learn lots with him (which is totally cool, really), or, you could get all not-serious with me, and read stuff you’re not supposed to.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Art as Experience, by John DeweyImage

When I look at something extraordinary that has been made by a human (or humans), I think, wow! People are capable of remarkable things. Art amazes me, and I want to know more about it. Also, I find Dewey’s work exceedingly readable.

ImageThe Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, by Epictetus

I never tire of Greek philosophers because when it comes to the essential truths of human experience, 2,000 years seems to be no time at all.

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.Image

I studied primarily British Literature in college and graduate school, so I never read much Faulkner, and feel I ought to correct that oversight.

ImageHouse of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski,

Two of my favorite students have vehemently recommended this book. Since they both read the texts I assigned, it is about time I return the favor by reading something selected by them.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This book is on my 16-year-old nephew’s summer reading list, and he’s asked me to read along with him. This is the right nephew for me to have, to be sure! I am thrilled by the opportunity to discuss literature with Alexey!

Book club selection, TBD.

I belong to an outrageously fantastic book club. Known affectionately as “The Lady Woolfs,”we are nine ladies, six local and three long-distance members. If you have the opportunity to join a preposterously perfect book club, by all means, take it.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Last week, I wrote a Turtle post calling for a ‘Beach Read Revolution’. In that blog, I made the contention that “beach reads” should not be fluffy, forgettable works, but instead entertaining contributions to literature that make the reader ponder life and humanity.  Naturally, I thought we should follow this call for revolution up with some Turtle beach read ideas.  Hence, each day this week, the Flâneur’s Turtle ‘Hall of Fame’ bloggers will be providing their own personal beach read lists.

For my list, I would like to point out that I am going about this in an unorthodox way. Most beach read lists are made up of books that have already been read.  Mine will center on books that I plan to read this summer.  You, dear reader, will also notice that my revolutionary beach read list has a theme as each book is either a family chronicle, or a series.  So, without further ado, here we go:

  • The Family Moskat by Isaac Bashevis Singer – I have been wanting to read something by Singer for a couple years, and this is his novel that intrigues me the most.  It is the story of a Eastern European Jewish family 220px-TheFamilyMoskatliving in Warsaw during the 19th and early 20th century. I am fascinated by the Eastern European Jewish experience during the modern era, and Singer was a novelist who powerfully explored that experience. I am excited to start this one.
  • 9780307834317_p0_v1_s260x420The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima – The Sea of Fertility is a cycle of four novels (Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of  Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel), centered on the changing world of Japanese society from the early twentieth century to the post-Second World War occupation.  I read Mishima for an undergrad class years ago, and instantly was taken by his powerful, yet beautiful style.  Though I don’t agree with his political outlook, his poetic language is second to none.
  • The Red Wheel Cycle by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn – I believe there are four novels in this cycle, but only two have been translated into English; August 1914, and November 1916.  Both august1914books investigate the Russian experience during the First World War, and the Russian Revolution of 1917.  I am going to give Solzhenitsyn a second chance this summer. In undergrad, I read his famous work One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and was underwhelmed.  With a better understanding of Russian history today, I think I will now appreciate his work.
  • images (13)The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning – I will admit, I know nothing about Olivia Manning or her novels.  I just stumbled upon these recently, and I was intrigued.  The trilogy is the tale of a family living in Bucharest during the beginnings of World War II.  I find the mid-twentieth century history of Central and Eastern Europe enthralling; I have come to appreciate that this history has greatly shaped the world we live in today.  So, why not give this classic series a try?


Well, that should keep me busy for the summer months.  Perhaps in September I will revisit these books with reviews for you, dear readers.  Perhaps.  Now, off to the beach with I. B. Singer!

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

As the weather warms, and the sun becomes radiant, I know what is coming: ‘Beach reads’.  NPR will do a story about the best ‘beach reads’; Facebook friends will share lists of  the ‘hottest summer reads’;  bookstores will John Lavery (Irish Painter, 1856-1941) Girl in a Red Dress Reading by a Swimming Pooldisplay the most scorching books of the summer.  Well, I am here today to proclaim ‘ENOUGH’!  I have had it with the ‘beach read’ status quo. We need a literary revolution.

Let me be clear, I have nothing against bringing books to the beach.  I myself have a book with me at all times. When I go to the pool, I bring a book.  When I go to the playground with my kids, I bring a book.  And yes, when I go to the beach, I bring a book.  So, it is not the idea of ‘beach reads’ that irks me.  What annoys me is the notion that ‘beach reads’ must be mind-numbing, poorly written pap. ‘Beach reads’ have become the reality television of the literary world.

I ask myself, why do Americans willingly waste hours and hours of relaxation reading books that are turned out by authors who are formulaic and, as most will admit, absolutely forgettable? I realize the answer that most give to this question: ‘Beach reads’ should be entertaining and should allow the reader to ‘lose himself’.  I understand, I really do.  But, this points to the central kernel of why a revolution is necessary.  Though publishing houses, bookstores, and our mass media disagree, entertainment is not the antithesis of quality.  Unlike the deadening ephemeral nature of today’s ‘beach reads’, great literature lives and breathes beyond the three months of summer because it is so entertaining. Don’t believe me? Pick up Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby this month, and feel the life pulsating through the pages. Grab Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in July, and discover the definition of a ‘page turner.’  In August, just try to put down Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

As with all revolutions, this one has a utopian undercurrent. I hope this summer, millions of Americans will be laying on the beach, lost in Phillip Roth, or Richard Wright, or Yukio Mishima, or Toni Morrison and gain insights into humanity.  What better time to be meditative on the human condition then when you are lying under the scalding sun, breathing in the scents of summer?  Perhaps Franz Kafka can be our revolutionary forebear? Over a century ago, Kafka wrote to a friend that:images (12)

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy…? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”

Okay, maybe Kafka goes a little far, but the basis of his idea is correct.  Books should stay with us after we close the cover.  The ‘beach reads’ of today are the opposite of this ideal.  They are particularly marketed as the art of the forgettable.  Like so much else in our society, ‘beach reads’ are intended to be disposable.  So, I say, let’s dispose of them!  Bury your latest Faye Kellerman in the sand!  Toss your Richard North Patterson into the waves!  It is time for a revolution, and this revolution will not be reality-televised!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m moving at the end of May, so I spend a small amount of time each morning packing a box or two. I am not going far; I found another apartment Logan Square, approximately seven blocks away. Nevertheless, the process of moving has been revelatory. The first observation for all movers is the same: I have more stuff than I thought.  As I slowly pack, carefully wrapping things and nestling them according to similarity of purpose and placement, the boxes have begun to pile up, and I still have more stuff. I don’t even own much, really. I certainly don’t own things of much value, except the sentimental kind.  Moving forces individuals to confront their relationship with their possessions, and I am pleased to see how my things beautifully align with the life I have chosen.

Like most American women, I own entirely too many articles of clothing. However, the clothes I own are inexpensive, enabling me to rationalize buying more than I need and buying from thrift stores ensures that no one else will be wearing the same thing. I have already packed most of my considerable scarf collection. There are two segments of the scarf collection, the winter variety, at least fifty scarves that range in size, color, and pattern, including special scarves handmade for me by Ruthie, my brilliant friend from graduate school; Jackie Couch, my best friend’s mom; and other crafty friends Ingrid and Hanna.  The non-winter variety includes another fifty whimsical, colorful bits of fabric, many gifts from friends who recognize scarves as my accessory of choice because they are unique and appealing and make any outfit infinitely more fabulous.

A growing number of boxes are filled with items for cooking, baking, and entertaining. Even though I live alone, I have (mismatched) service for 12 or more in order to feed as many people as will fit in my modest apartment. I grew up in a crowded, rowdy house, and can think of no better definition of home than a small space overflowing with people and laughter. My incomparable book club cycles through my place twice per year. I host brunches and dinners for my Urban Family on designated holidays and birthdays, and just for the hell of it. I cherish oddities, a fair amount of serving “fish dishes” and accessories shaped like fish (I like rhyming). The best example are gifts from Leah, twin fish salt and pepper shakers, and a completely adorable and utterly inaccurate set of fish-shaped measuring spoons that are the mysterious secret behind my perfectly salty chocolate chip cookies.

City_Lights_BookstoreI have beloved books, and plenty of them. I love books, but not all books are worth the trouble it takes to lift and lug them across states, or even around the corner. I keep the countless books I have received as gifts, specially selected for me by my tremendously thoughtful friends and family. I buy a book every time I travel, being careful to select a title meaningfully tied to the place. On my recent trip to San Francisco, I visited City Lights Books and bought a poetry anthology from its own publishing imprint. I have inscribed copies of all the books written by Dan Chaon,a phenomenal writer who was my professor in graduate school. Books comprise a majority of my possessions, which seems reasonable to me.

The last major segment of my possessions consists of works of art, relatively inexpensive art, but art nonetheless. As I eagerly anticipate hanging them on new walls, it occurs to me that these things are the most prized. I have wonderful souvenirs from my travels, a Huicholi yarn drawing from my trip to Puerta Vallarta. Austin Kleon’s  work wowed me online, and bought one of his limited edition “Newspaper Blackout Poems.” Chicago festivals are a treasury of local artists, including Jay Ryan. I’m incredibly lucky to know artists. My dear, old friend, Emily made me two fantastic pieces, and gave me one more. I bought a marvelous reclining nude hand-drawn by the wonderfully creative Chas Appleby, my former student and forever friend. Matt Schlagbaum knows he owes me a work of art, too. All this art makes my walls sing.

Despite all the trouble and strain, moving affords the chance to look carefully at the stuff of life. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll discover you are very rich indeed.

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

After a visit to Half Price Books in Orland Park, where I couldn’t walk out without at least three books, I was thinking about how I purchase books and in what format/shape I like them. Let’s break it down:

NEW: New books are clean, untouched. No one else has ever owned them. They have that new book smell. The cover and pages are sharp. They seem like shiny collector’s items waiting to be gently read and then placed on a bookshelf for show. Sure, they are a little more expensive, but – in most cases – any book desired can be found new, if the reader is willing to pay the price.

USED: They are cheaper, sometimes drastically so. Depending on the age of the book, they can have that “old book smell” which is delightful to bibliophiles. They may be beat up, worn out, written on, torn, have slips of paper shoved in them – but that just seems to give the book personality and a sense of history. Depending on the book, it’s not always easy to find a used copy, but on the other hand, used bookstores often offer the opportunity to stumble upon something cool.

LIBRARY (or borrowed): The book is free – except for potential late fees. The reader has zero ownership of the book, which makes it feel like carrying around someone else’s precious possession, thus tacking on the slight burden of eventually returning the book in the same exact condition in which it was received. Libraries, and library sharing, usually make getting any book relatively easy, but there may be a wait involved.

ELECTRONIC: Kindles and other electronic readers offer books (usually) for cheaper or even free, but then there is the initial price of the device. Not all books are available electronically, but plenty are, and getting a copy takes only seconds – no going to the store, no waiting for shipment. Books are owned and can be viewed across multiple devices, meaning I can open a book on my Kindle, continue reading it on my computer, and then read some more on my iPhone. Electronic readers lose the tactile connection to the book and also defeat the sense of “progress” through a text by displaying progress bars and goofy numbers rather than being able to visibly see how far into the book you are. Electronic readers reduce the clutter of having hundreds or thousands of texts sitting around the house, but it also eliminates the collectible, showy aspects of hard copies. And there is no sellback option for those who like doing that.


Personally, I like NEW and USED books. I want hard copies that I own. I like that both of my offices, home and work, are covered in books, and that the coffee table at home also has another dozen or so books on it. My feeling is that the books aren’t just books, but additions to my home/office that don’t just speak for themselves but also say something about me and who I am. I’ve tried the electronic route, but after reading several books on my Kindle, I just couldn’t get into it – and I say this as someone who reads a LOT off the internet. Plus, I like collecting books.

So, with all of that said – readers, where do you stand on this issue?