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In a just city, would robots be treated as slaves?

December 31, 2015 by Reader's Connection

The RepublicIn Jo Walton’s 2014 novel The Just City, the goddess Athene decides to see what would happen if a new city were set up along the rules that Plato put forth in The Republic.

That Plato was such a nutbar. The Republic is described by our library catalog as a utopia, but to lots of modern readers the work comes off as dystopian fiction along the lines of Divergent.

There is state-scheduled sex for purposes of reproduction, and the elimination of what we normally think of as families. The state must “hide away in a secret and unknown place” defective children, or those of inferior parents. (This may or may not mean that these children are left out to die.) There will be rampant censorship.

The Just CityBut Athene says, hey, let’s give it a shot, and she travels through time, gathering teachers and worthy youngsters; and robots to do the heavy lifting. The god Apollo has himself turned into a human, and comes along to see how things go.

They don’t go well. As kids get older, they tend to engage in unscheduled sex. And when Sokrates is brought on board, against his will, to teach the young folk rhetoric, he gets to thinking that the “workers” (that’s what robots are called) have souls, and shouldn’t be treated as slaves.

I’m reading W. H. D. Rouse’s translation of The Republic, which is no longer in the library’s collection. It’s a yellowed old paperback that a dear niece gave to me decades ago. The library has many translations, though, in different formats, and if Walton inspires you as she did me, you can go to the catalog and see what you retrieve with plato republic as your search terms.

The  Philosopher Kings

 

In 2015, Walton came out with The Philosopher Kings, which continues the story. I’ve read reviews but will shut my trap for fear of giving away too much about the mix-ups in The Just City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The InfinitiesBUT HEY, WAIT. MAYBE YOU’RE NOT A “NOVEL-OF-IDEAS” PERSON, AND NEITHER THE REPUBLIC OR THE JUST CITY APPEALS TO YOU–AND YET, THE IDEA OF GODS MESSING AROUND WITH HUMANS GIVES YOU A CHARGE . . .

If this is the case, then I recommend John Banville’s The Infinities.

This 2009 novel is soulful, lyrical, and more sensually real to me than The Just City or–oh, puh-lease–The Republic.

However sensually real it may be, the tale is set in an alternate universe, one in which, way back when, Mary, Queen of Scots had “the treasonous Elizabeth Tudor” beheaded, and in which a modern-day mathematician, Adam Godley, can look back on “the early days of the great instauration, after we had exposed the relativity hoax and showed up Planck’s constant for what it really is.”

The fruit trees and furniture and human bodies all seem real, despite this world’s oddity. Adam is dying, and the god Hermes has appeared to lead him away. A couple of other gods are afoot, observing–or interfering with–Adam and his family.

At the start of the novel, Hermes enthuses about the wonder of dawn on Earth:

Of the things we fashioned for them that they might be comforted, dawn is the one that works. When darkness sifts from the air like fine soft soot and light spreads slowly out of the east then all but the most wretched of humankind rally. It is a spectacle we immortals enjoy, this minor daily resurrection, often we will gather at the ramparts of the clouds and gaze down upon them, our little ones, as they bestir themselves to welcome the new day. What a silence falls upon us then, the sad silence of our envy. Many of them sleep on, of course, careless of our cousin Aurora’s charming matutinal trick, but there are always the insomniacs, the restless ill, the lovelorn tossing on their solitary beds, or just the early-risers, the busy ones, with their knee-bends and their cold showers and their fussy little cups of black ambrosia. Yes, all who witness it greet the dawn with joy . . .

I have clipped out the paragraph’s closing barb because 2016 is upon us, and the words of Hermes should be allowed to welcome everyone to a glorious dawn. Happy New Year.

The Just City is also available as a downloadable e-book.

The Infinities is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.

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The world’s most versatile ingredient to be discussed at Glendale

December 30, 2015 by Reader's Connection

On Monday, January 4th, from 6:00 to 7:45 p.m., eggs will be the subject of Glendale Library‘s Cooking Chats.

The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night

 

The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park

 

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman

Egg is also available as a downloadable e-book.

 

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites

 

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque

 

 

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There are lessons for long-term relationships in the way that Manet approached asparagus.

December 29, 2015 by Reader's Connection

asparagusI’m quoting Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, the authors of Art As Therapy.

They feel that we approach art all wrong. As their book’s title implies, artworks should be tools that will help us get through life, aiding us psychologically.

The seven functions of art, they say, are to help us with:
Remembering
Hope
Sorrow
Rebalancing
Self-Understanding
Growth
Appreciation

Art As TherapyAnd they’ve offered a new floor plan for the Tate Gallery in London. If you go to the (negative) review of the book in The New York Times, you can have a look. (I clicked the magnifying glass that appeared when I hovered.) Up above the gift shop and the café, there’s a Gallery of Suffering, a Gallery of Compassion, a Gallery of Fear, a Gallery of Love and a Gallery of Self-Knowledge.

I’m enjoying the book, but might not like it so much if I knew more about art. Many of the images are new to me, and it’s fun to have the authors talk about the ways in which works can be helpful. I’m not really sure, though, that I’d want to visit a gallery with the layout that they propose–for the same reason I don’t like some poetry anthologies that shoehorn their poems into different subject categories–or to be asked psychological questions before or after my visit.

 

agony2

To the left is a horrible photograph of a lovely window at the Chapel of the Holy Cross (which attendees still think of as the Church of the Holy Cross) at the corner of Ohio & Oriental Streets in Indianapolis.

This is a depiction of the agony in the garden, one of my favorite moments in the Gospels, when Jesus, who is supposedly fully human and fully divine, actually behaves like a human. He prays (three times, according to Matthew) to not have to go through with this crucifixion plan.

The angel in the window doesn’t belong there. Jesus should be alone with his dozing apostles. Only in the Gospel of Luke does an angel minister to Jesus during his agony, and a footnote in my (Catholic) bible makes it clear that Luke himself didn’t do the angel. A later editor, in a sympathetic swoon, made the addition.

To be fair to the angel, his/her head in the window doesn’t look like a light bulb commercial.

In their book, de Botton and Armstrong discuss “the sorrowful mysteries” which were the basis for works of art commissioned by the church in the Middle Ages.

Since this canon is framed within a very particular set of religious beliefs, its power is dimmed in a secular age, but it offers inspiration for a neglected , albeit potentially very rewarding endeavor: the deliberate and systematic harnessing of art to our inner sorrows . . . Consider just some of the essential sorrows we face: the inability to find love, panic around money, unhappy family relations, frustrating work, adolescent uncertainties, mid-life regrets, anguish in the face of one’s own mortality and unfulfilled ambitions.

One of the sorrowful areas is relationships, yet surprisingly few artworks in current circulation focus on this major theme.

Photographer Jessica Todd Harper was commissioned to create a work based on the authors’ description of a couple having a bad evening. The result was her picture The Agony in the Kitchen (click and look at the upper left).

I’m wary of commissioned art based on anyone’s ideas about anyone else’s emotional needs; and I’m not sure these emotions aren’t already being dealt with in the arts. But I like Harper’s picture, and in my brain this morning, on my way to work, praying that mystery, I set her photo alongside Holy Cross’s window.

***

Copies of Édouard Manet’s Bunch of Asparagus are in the public domain. The picture above is from Wikimedia Commons. If you’re mystified by this blog post’s title, here are de Botton and Armstrong:

To rescue a long-term relationship from complacency, we might learn to effect on our spouse much the same imaginative transformation that Manet performed on his vegetables. We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine. We may so often have seen our partner pushing a buggy, crossly berating the electricity company or returning home defeated from the workplace that we have forgotten the dimension in him or her that remains adventurous, impetuous, cheeky, intelligent and, above all else, worthy of love.

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Ingmar Bergman & Rob Lowe & Janet Leigh & Derek Jeter, together at last

December 28, 2015 by Reader's Connection

How to Watch a MovieThe year is rapidly approaching its end, and I’m supposed to read a couple of self-help books as a part of the Read Harder Challenge. I read David Thomson’s How to Watch a Movie over the Christmas holiday, and in the last chapter, Thomson admits:

You came into this book under deceptive promises (mine) and false hopes (yours). You believed we might make decisive progress in the matter of how to watch a movie. So be it, but this was a ruse to make you look at life.

There you go. It’s a self-help book. Or close enough.

Thomson writes about Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona (“a film that probes the nature of reality and our part in it as closely as any work of art I know,” but he also writes about watching it on YouTube, where he allows it to be interrupted by a DirecTV ad featuring Rob Lowe (“Lowe is an intriguing figure. We don’t need to recount his checkered career, or the aura of scandalous incidents. Let’s just say that in these DirecTV ads, he does astonishing work, unexpected, witty, and for everyman.”)

meninas2Psycho and Citizen Kane are dwelt upon, but so is the painting Las Meninas (c. 1656), by Diego Velázquez (and you can see why, with those rectangular screens and that lighting and Velázquez with brush in hand, like Alfred Hitchcock showing up in his own movies); and so is Derek Jeter’s Gatorade commercial.

Thomson talks about cutting, about sound, about watching a movie with a crowd of strangers, while really watching alone. He’s funny about the implausibilities of the TV series Homeland, and about the way Unforgiven tries to be a different sort of Clint Eastwood movie, with an older, fumbling Eastwood–but reverts to the classic Eastwood form in its last few minutes. This has always annoyed me, much as I love the film.

When Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven (in 1992) he surely was warned that Westerns were passé. But he had the confidence nonetheless to make that fine script, and to balance its elements of a new, doubting Western with the reassuring prowess of the old. So [the character William Munny, whom Eastwood plays] was too old, too slow, with his nerve shot. It was an impressive and painful maturity, but then, just to be on the safe side, Clint allowed us to see the angel of death restored so that he could execute nearly everyone in the room. He had his cake and he ate it, a Hollywood habit.

You either enjoy Thomson’s musings-all-over-the-place or you don’t. Let’s move this blog post to its closing credits–or rather, to Thomson’s comment on that form of info barrage.

So if you want to know who made the film, you can read the credits. But that’s a wearying task now. [Another viewer] could be home and making tea with you still in the dark processing the crawling roll of credits, in which we learned who trained the dogs, who negotiated the completion bond (though the exact and delicate circumstances of that evening are still in the dark), who drove whom to the set every morning. You can be put into a comatose state by this amount of information so that you might not recall that there were no dogs in the film–but still trainers were credited. “Oh sure,” you learn later, “they cut the dogs. In fact, I believe they sold the dog footage to another picture.”

How to Watch a Movie is also available as a downloadable e-book.

Copies of the painting Las Meninas are in the public domain. The one used here is from Wikimedia Commons.

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Book Discussions January 2016

December 25, 2015 by Reader's Connection

We have inspirational fiction, inspirational nonfiction, true crime, a murder mystery, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, the return of the Duncan family and more.

And this isn’t even the whole list. When I quit fooling with the eggnog and dust myself off, notices will be posted about a monthly book discussion at Spades Park (as opposed to the weekly shared reading there).

Until that time:

On Monday, January 4th, from 6:00 to 7:45 p.m., eggs will be the subject of Glendale Library‘s Cooking Chats.

The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night

 

The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park

 

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman

Egg is also available as a downloadable e-book.

 

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites

 

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque

 

 

Joanne Huist Smith’s The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library on Monday, January 4th at 6:30 p.m.

The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas MiracleFor readers of Richard Paul Evans and Greg Kincaid comes The 13th Gift, a heartwarming Christmas story about how a random act of kindness transformed one of the bleakest moments in a family’s history into a time of strength and love. After the unexpected death of her husband, Joanne Huist Smith had no idea how she would keep herself together and be strong for her three children–especially with the holiday season approaching. But 12 days before Christmas, presents begin appearing on her doorstep with notes from their “True Friends.” As the Smiths came together to solve the mystery of who the gifts were from, they began to thaw out from their grief and come together again as a family. This true story about the power of random acts of kindness will warm the heart, a beautiful reminder of the miracles of Christmas and the gift of family during the holiday season. — Baker & Taylor

The 13th Gift is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and an audiobook on CD.

 

 

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, January 4th at 6:30 p.m.

The Walk
Evans’ latest inspirational novel is the first in a planned series about a man who sets out to walk across the country in the wake of a personal tragedy. At 28, Alan Christoffersen is the head of his own successful ad company, and madly in love with his wife, McKale. His life seems truly charmed, until McKale has an accident while horseback riding. She is left paralyzed, and to stay by her side, Alan leaves his business in the hands of his partner, Kyle, which proves to be a terrible misstep when Kyle cruelly betrays him. Then McKale dies. Bereft, Alan throws off the trappings of his old life and, with little more than a backpack and a tent, sets out to walk from his home in Bellevue, Washington, all the way to Key West, Florida. The idea of a man leaving on a soul-searching cross-country trek is an intriguing one, and the pages turn quickly. Future installments will prove whether Evans’ concept holds up, but this initial offering is definitely a journey worth taking. — Booklist

The Walk is also available as a downloadable e-book and an audiobook on CD.

 

 

Central Library will host a discussion of David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers on Tuesday, January 5th at 6:00.

The Wright BrothersTwo-time Pulitzer Prize winner McCullough exhibits his artist’s touch in re-creating the lives of the Wright brothers, their father, and their sister Katharine from historical documents. Mining their letters, notebooks, and diaries, McCullough shows the Wright brothers (snubbed by the British as mere bicycle mechanics) for the important technoscientists they were. With only high school educations, they personified self-reliance and ingenuity, making their own calculations and testing their mechanical skills as they experimented with gliders. Their solution to controlling the gliders’ flight was wing warping, enabling the gliders to bank like a bird’s wings. As early engine designers and mechanics, when they couldn’t find a light enough engine, they designed one that their mechanic built in six weeks. A few days after Langley’s $70,000 failure, the Wright brothers made several powered flights–for less than $1,000–to prove that humans could fly. When the US military rejected their services, the Wrights signed a contract with a French syndicate. From 1910 on, the brothers were much occupied by business and patent infringement lawsuits. Wilbur contracted typhoid and died in 1912, but Orville lived until 1948. The brothers were remarkable for their analytical minds, their skiIl as early pilots, and their brilliance as experimental scientists. This work is their great, eminently readable story. — Choice

The Wright Brothers is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.

 

 

Still Life, a mystery by Louise Penny, will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, January 7th at 10:30 a.m.

Still LifeThe residents of a tiny Canadian village called Three Pines are shocked when the body of Miss Jane Neal is found in the woods. Miss Neal, the village’s retired schoolteacher and a talented amateur artist, has been a good friend to most of the townsfolk, so her loss is keenly felt. At first, her death appears to be a tragic accident–it’s deer-hunting season, and it looks a stray hunter’s arrow killed her. But some folks are suspicious, and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Montreal Surete is called in to investigate. Accompanying Gamache are his loyal assistant Beauvoir and Yvette Nichol, a new addition to Gamache’s team. The trio soon finds that the seemingly peaceful, friendly village hides dark secrets. The truth is both bizarre and shocking, even to the jaded Gamache and his team. This is a real gem of a book that slowly draws the reader into a beautifully told, lyrically written story of love, life, friendship, and tragedy. And it’s a pretty darn good mystery too. — Booklist

Still Life is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and in large print.

 

 

The Portrait of a Lady

I announced about a month ago that the Shared Reading Group at Spades Park Library  had finished what they were reading, and would begin something new in January.

Come and listen to the group members read from The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James on January 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.

If you wish to read aloud, you’ll probably get a chance. If not, not. Refreshments are served.

 

 

 

The Family Business 3

 

The Flanner House Library will host a discussion of Carl Weber’s The Family Business 3 on Monday, January 11th at 6:30 p.m.

The aforementioned Duncan family makes its third appearance, and reviews on GoodReads are enthusiastic.

The Family Business 3 is also available as a downloadable e-book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, January 14th at 1:30 p.m.

GileadThe wait since 1981 and Housekeeping is over. Robinson returns with a second novel that, however quiet in tone and however delicate of step, will do no less than tell the story of America-and break your heart.A reverend in tiny Gilead, Iowa, John Ames is 74, and his life is at its best-and at its end. Half a century ago, Ames’s first wife died in childbirth, followed by her new baby daughter, and Ames, seemingly destined to live alone, devoted himself to his town, church, and people-until the Pentecost Sunday when a young stranger named Lila walked into the church out of the rain and, from in back, listened to Ames’s sermon, then returned each Sunday after. The two married-Ames was 67-had a son, and life began all over again. But not for long. In the novel’s present (mid-1950s), Ames is suffering from the heart trouble that will soon bring his death. And so he embarks upon the writing of a long diary, or daily letter-the pages of Gilead-addressed to his seven-year-old son so he can read it when he’s grown and know not only about his absent father but his own history, family, and heritage. And what a letter it is! Not only is John Ames the most kind, observant, sensitive, and companionable of men to spend time with, but his story reaches back to his patriarchal Civil War great-grandfather, fiery preacher and abolitionist; comes up to his grandfather, also a reverend and in the War; to his father; and to his own life, spent in his father’s church. This long story of daily life in deep Middle America-addressed to an unknown and doubting future-is never in the slightest way parochial or small, but instead it evokes on the pulse the richest imaginable identifying truths of what America was.Robinson has composed, with its cascading perfections of symbols, a novel as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering. — Kirkus Reviews, August 2004

Gilead is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and in large print.

 

 

Joe McGinniss’s true crime book Blind Faith will be discussed at the Lawrence Library on Tuesday, January 19th at 10:15 a.m.

Blind FaithRob Marshall, member of the country-club set of Toms River, N.J., led a freewheeling life of casino gambling, parties and astronomical debt. But Rob was also a civic leader and family man, so his three teenaged sons couldn’t believe it when their father was put on trial for having their mother, Maria, murdered in order to collect $1.5 million in insurance and pursue a sexual affair with a neighbor’s wife. This true-crime book is about the three boys’ crumbling faith in their smooth-talking, high-flying father; on that level, it is often moving and heart-wrenching. It also concerns a suburban coterie’s faith in a you-can-have-anything-you-want philosophy and the social and class tensions within one community. Rob’s mistress was a friend of a high-ranking New Jersey political figure; drug dealing, loansharking and conspiracy were elements in the unfolding courtroom drama that McGinniss skillfully re-creates. — Publishers Weekly, November 1988

Blind Faith is also available as a downloadable e-book.

 

 

portalPortal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group, will begin its 2016 discussions at Glendale Library on Sunday, January 24th at 1:00 pm.

As is usually the case, there is not a specific book to be discussed. Instead, there is a theme: “Drugs, Booze, and Science Fiction: From weak beer to exotic thionite, science fiction and fantasy stories about substances that alter the mind in strange and surprising ways.”

 

 

Cookbooks about soups and stews will be discussed at the Nora Library on Monday, January 25th at 6:00 pm

Fine Cooking Soups & Stews : No-Fail Recipes for Every Season1. Find a cookbook from the library that fits this month’s theme. (The book pictured here is just one possibility. You can search our catalog for soups or stews.)
2. Read the cookbook and sample a few recipes.
3. Pick up a review form, fill it out, and bring it with you to the meeting.
4. Optional: make a recipe from the cookbook and bring samples to the meeting.
5. Join us for an enjoyable discussion of the cookbooks and some delicious taste testing.

Special Guests: Chefs Brad Nehrt and Karen Williams, Culinary Arts Instructors at the J. Everett Light Career Center

Don’t forget to register for the program by calling 275-4472 or by coming into the library and signing up at the Information Desk.

 

 

Jane Smiley’s novel Some Luck will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, January 25th at 6:30 p.m.

Some LuckIn her new work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Smiley (A Thousand Acres) moves from the 1920s to the 1950s as she unfolds the life of Iowa farmers Rosanna and Walter Langdon and their five children: brilliant, mercurial Frank; animal-loving Joe, the real farmer of the bunch; sweet Lillian, who enters into a happy marriage that has repercussions for the rest of her family; iconoclastic, bookish Henry; and baby Claire. As the children grow up and sometimes move away, we get a wide-angle view of mid-century America; a cousin’s experiences with radicals in Chicago and San Francisco also take us beyond the hardscrabble life of the farm, as does the advent of World War II, which leads to Frank’s enlistment and eventually to Cold War rumblings. Told in beautiful, you-are-there language, the narrative lets ordinary events accumulate to give us a significant feel of life at the time, with the importance and dangers of farming particularly well portrayed. In the end, though, this is the story of parents and children, of hope and disappointment, with Frank’s prickly and uncomfortable story the fulcrum. — Library Journal

Some Luck is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.

 

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