Happy 2010 everybody. I made it through the year, and the 00’s, and almost through my twenties- minus one appendix and four teeth- definitely older and hopefully a wiser man. It took me a few days to get to the first post of the year (what an atrocious hangover!), but I made it. I’m resolving to write more regularly (52 Song for Sunday posts this year!). Before I get into the next decade, I want to look back over 2009, as I did last year with a review of the best books I read these previous 12 months:
1. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy- You all saw the movie. The book is pretty much exactly the same, which is to say, it’s fucking brilliant. Read it. Here’s a review by someone who didn’t like it, the novelist Walter Kirn (a former Mormon, like me). I disagree, but between Oprah and Harold Bloom it’s worthwhile to hear someone buck the consensus opinion on McCarthy (if you want to harsh your McCarthy mellow even more, read the chapter on him in B.R. Myers’ A Reader’s Manifesto).
2. No One Left to Lie To by Christopher Hitchens- I was about to call it a “brief but delicious piece of muckraking” before I realized that I already did.
3. Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth by Ludwig con Mises– The calculation problem was one of the most important economic debates of the 20th century. Hayek still gets more credit than Mises for his contribution to this, but this is an essential text. But don’t think that this isn’t a live issue since the Soviet economy tanked. Mutualist economist Kevin Carson has applied a similar critique to the inner economies of corporations (thus putting forth a theoretical framework for what everyone who has worked in one already knows), as well as setting Mises and Hayek’s arguments against one another.
4. The Western Canon by Harold Bloom– Bloom’s greatest claim to fame is groping Naomi Wolf’s thigh sometime in the early Eighties (that’s a joke). I blogged a bit about this elegy for literature here. As I prepare to obtain a Bachelor’s in the perpetually in-crisis field of English, I’m sure I’ll have further recourse to it, if only because misery loves company, and Bloom is the best miserable company there is.
5. The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche- Nietzsche did not denounce morals. He denounced Christian morals, which he thought fit only for slaves. But he gives no rationally persuasive reason to prefer master morality- particularly for the great bulk of us who do not expect to be masters.
6. The Birth of Tragedy by Fredrich Nietzsche- The great philosopher’s debut work on the aesthetics and metaphysics (always the same for Nietzsche) of ancient Greek tragedy and contemporary German music. Also posits that Western philosophy went downhill after Socrates arrived on the scene.
7. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin- If, like me, you pick up this book knowing only Kropotkin’s rep as a radical communist anarchist and expecting an incendiary tract, you will be surprised to find a meticulously researched and argued scientific work. At the time it was enough to suggest mutual aid as a factor, though one suspects he would have wanted to call it the factor. As enlightening as I found it, I can’t help but notice how he focuses on mutuality within groups rather than between them. I would suggest reading this alongside a much more pessimistic book, Howard (not Harold) Bloom’s book The Lucifer Principle. Despite the latter book’s having Sociobiology’s tendency to reductive scientism, its wealth of information on pecking orders is useful and suggests that internal hierarchies and inter-group conflict are pervasive in the natural world. And read here for a contemporary biologist’s evalutation of Kropotkin.
8. After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State by Paul Gottfried- What does modern liberalism really mean by “democracy”? Not the classical liberal meaning, which included substantial negative liberty. Not what the New Left meant, which included empowerment of ordinary people to have a voice in the decisions which affected their lives. Not what the original Democrats, the ancient Athenians, meant, which included a good deal of both. Modern liberalism means nothing less than compliance on the part of the masses. May I quote Bakunin in a review of a Paul Gottfried book? Why not?
State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class. And finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the State then becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class and then falls—or, if you will, rises—to the position of a machine.
Speaking of whom, that quote is from
9. God and the State by Mikhail Bakunin- The original angry atheist.
10. BFI Film Classics: The Birds by Camille Paglia- There are few things more satisfactory than a close reading of a text by Paglia.
11. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad- This novel of espionage and terrorism has more in common with Henry James than Ian Fleming.
12. You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboo by Robert R. Arthur- See my earlier review,which was supposed to be a two-parter. Hey, who knows what the new decade will bring?
13. Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth- There are two things in which you should never place your hopes for happiness and personal salvation: your own race, and the opposite sex. If you did not already know this from observation of life, you could learn from the case study of the bitter, tortured, eponymous narrator and anti-hero of Portnoy’s Complaint.
14. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy- Psycho as written by William Faulkner. Contains the most precise statement of the McCarthyan theme:
You think people was meaner then than they are now? the deputy said. The old man was looking out at the flooded town. No, he said. I don’t. I think people are the same from the day God first made one.
15. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got To be So Hated by Gore Vidal- I touched on the book in this post back in May. In a saner world, Vidal would have a Nobel Peace Prize, and Barack Obama would be just another Goldman-Sachs employee.
16. What Was Literature?: Class Culture and Mass Society by Leslie Fiedler- A great literary critic meditates on popular and elite conceptions of culture, the changing canon, and the Death of the Novel in the 20th Century, in a startlingly original way that avoids the usual bromides and complaints we are used to from both sides of the literary kulturkampf– and this in 1982. No wonder Fiedler’s influence is today virtually nil.
17. Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar & Gary Dumm- Actually much less cartoonish than most accounts of 60’s political activism. Should be followed up by Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s documentary film The Weather Underground.
18. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy by Kevin Carson– Okay, so epistemological discussions of price theory are still a little over my head. But Carson’s synthesis of Austrian and Marxist economic and political insights is the most potent libertarian brew I have yet imbibed.
19. Confessions of A Mask by Yukio Mishima- Mishima was one messed-up kid. Good thing he had such a grasp on his own delicate and perverse psyche.
20. Create Your Own Economy: the Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World by Tyler Cowen- I can tell you two things about this book. One, I read it in a single night. Two, it’s not really about economics. What it is about I don’t think I’ll say (except that it has something to do with autism), since I’m planning a post on it once I get my thoughts together. In the meantime, read David Gordon’s review.
21. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon- The contemporary writer with probably the most notorious reputation for difficulty writes the literary equivalent of The Big Lebowski that’s a breeze to read. Given the material, which includes drugs galore, the Manson murders, the prehistory of the internet, and the usual Pynchon whacko conspiracy stuff on top of the standard twisted and tangled noir plot, this book actually could have been way weirder than it is. Many of the gags don’t work very well, either. It’s the noir detective stuff that works best here as well as (surprisingly, for Pynchon) the characters. Even though there is so much in Inherent Vice that Pynchon does little or nothing with, even though what Pynchon is saying with this book is either too subtle or too banal for me to get, I would gladly read another Doc Sportello mystery.
22. The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich- Read here.
23. Selected Poems and Four Plays by William Butler Yeats- The name of this blog comes from a line in “Easter, 1916”. Go forth and read.
Best Short Stories read: “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote”, “Funes, the Memorious”, “Death and the Compass”, and “The End of the Duel” by Jorge-Luis Borges; “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov; “The Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol; “The Mappist” by Barry Lopez (at least its Borgesian beginning); “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” by H.P. Lovecraft”; “Gimpel the Fool” by Isaac Bashevis Singer; “The Secret Integration” and “Under the Rose by Thomas Pynchon; and “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor” by John Cheever.
Books I failed to finish: Every Knee Shall Bow by Jess Walter, The Higher Circles by G. William Domhoff, Illuminatus! by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan, Our Posthuman Future by Francis Fukuyama, To The Finland Station by Edmund Wilson, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Organization Theory by Kevin Carson, and Human Action by Ludwig von Mises.