Posted by: Dan | January 8, 2012

December Books

Rushed due to being overly busy and tired these days…

1. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown.

This book traces the impact of white settler expansions into the West, as the United States grew and developed, from approximately 1860 until Decemeber 29th, 1890, the date of the Wounded Knee massacre, where Blackfoot and his companions were slaughtered as they were surrendering their arms.  Not surprisingly, it is a tale of misrepresentations, lies, treaties set (by whites) that were never intended to be followed (by whites), massacres, displacements, betrayals, and on and on it goes.  Essentially, it is a document of certain period of the genocide targeting First Nations people (a genocide that continues to this day).  The perpetrators?  Primarily white Christians with a sense of manifest destiny.

Required reading, I reckon.

2. No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism (Book One) by Daniel Guérin.

I was already familiar with a fair bit of the content in this volume — particularly the material related to Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin (who dominate this volume) — but I thought it would be good to refresh a bit on some of it and also discover some new (to me) anarchist voices.  Kropotkin is really my first love when it comes to anarchism and I fail to see how any can read him without seeing this as an expression of the way of Jesus being practiced in a different context.  I also enjoyed the section on James Guillaume, whom I had not read before.  Really, however, I am most looking forward to reading Guérin’s second book which contains a number of anarchist voices whom I have not yet read — most excited to read Malatesta, Makhno and the Kronstadt sailors.

3. Russian Fairy Tales collected by Aleksandr Afans’ev, translated by Robert Guterman, illustrated by Alexander Alexeieff.

This was a fun volume to slowly chip away at over the last year (the tales are short — from one or two paragraphs up to about eight pages — so it’s easy to pick up and put down).  I always enjoy reading old stories, it’s fun (for me) to think about the contexts in which these stories were first told and to then think that I am reading them now.

I was thinking a bit about James C. Scott’s work on “hidden transcripts” and “public transcripts” when I was reading these folks tales.  Some of the stories were obviously told in order to reinscribe and affirm the dominant social order of the day — talking about the miraculous power of Christianity, or talking about how the women should never lead men and that what such women need are a good beating, which will transform them into faithful loving wives (there were a fair number of tales like this).  However, the tales that were told about So-and-So “the fool” or So-and-So “the sluggard” were interesting in that they encouraged and rewarded those who “dropped out” of the roles assigned to peasants, refused to work (and hence were seen as foolish or lazy) but who, in the end, became wealthy, respected or masters of themselves and others.  These stories are, in some ways, much more subversive.

Definitely an interesting collection for those who are into this sort of thing.

4. Omensetter’s Luck by William H. Gass.

I read this book thinking I was going to participate in the book reading group being lead by Brad Johnson over at AUFS.  However, due to a mixture of busy-ness and lack of inspiration I ended up dropping out of that (which was just as well because the contributions that were made were way out of my league).

I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed reading this book.  Just not the sort of writing style that I find aesthetically pleasing, as far as my personal tastes are concerned.  The whole “stream of consciousness” thing (from Joyce to Pynchon) doesn’t really excite me.  Plus, looking beyond the structure and the prose to some of the themes developed by Gass in the story, well, none of them seem mind-blowing to me.

This is not to say that there was no parts that I enjoyed — I actually liked the opening and I found some of the ramblings of Furber to be pretty exciting.  So, hey, if you’re into this kind of literature, I’m sure you’ll love it.  As for me, well, I enjoyed Gaddis a lot more.

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Responses

  1. I read this book thinking I was going to participate in the book reading group being lead by Brad Johnson over at AUFS. … the contributions that were made were way out of my league.

    Seconded. I enjoyed the book, but it’s definitely not a favorite. I found Furber’s frustration with Omensetter’s naivety (it’s a fallen world, damn it, act like it!) striking.


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