So You Want to Read… is a monthly feature here on eclectictales.com in which I recommend books by particular authors to readers who have never read a book from certain authors and would like to start. I’m always happy to recommend books and certain authors to my fellow readers and bloggers! 🙂
I was pondering for a while as to who to feature for this March edition of “So You Want to Read…” I sometimes schedule posts based on the time of year, what holidays are coming up, etc. It took a bit of pondering, but in the end I decided to go with Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and writer from the 19th century. I first encountered his works when I was in Grade 12 high school and took a philosophy course. It was his concept of the leap of faith that solidified my interest in his works, and since then had been slowly getting around to reading his works. The list might not appeal to everyone has his works can lean heavily on spiritual philosophy and what people nowadays see as an early form of psychology, but nonetheless I find he quite acutely pinpoints some realities about the human condition in an eloquent and rational way.
So, to anyone interested in reading a bit of philosophy for a change and have always wanted to check out Kierkegaard’s works, here’s my recommendation on where to start:
- The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion (review) — Possibly the most easily accessible of all of his works, this particular work of his is especially timely in with the current political climate as he discusses about the mass media and its role in shaping society and the public’s response to information. There is a latter essay included in this collection, “Of the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle,” which may initially strike readers as an odd addition but it does make sense as to why it was paired with “The Present Age.” Anyhow, I strongly recommend starting here for first-time Kierkegaard readers to get a flavour of his writing and thought processes.
- Either/Or (the first part at least) — This book is actually a collection of essays and writing fragments. I recommend reading the first bit as they’re merely a collection of thoughts that Kierkegaard has about life, the human condition, love, etc. They’re interesting and incredibly astute; I found myself nodding my head for much of this segment as I agreed with many of the conclusions he came to about life.
- The Sickness Unto Death — Okay, it was a toss-up between this book and Fear and Trembling. Both I think are equally famous when you think Kierkegaard but while the latter is shorter, The Sickness Unto Death may appeal more as his discussions serve as some predecessor to psychology and a deep analysis of the self, of despair, of the human condition and the mental process. Like most of his writings, a lot of his ideas are still deeply rooted to Christian theology but his conclusions are nonetheless interesting and the material he uncovers along the way fascinating.
And that’s my list! I hope it helps if you’re interested in reading something by Soren Kierkegaard for the first time! 🙂
The Twelve Caesars
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
‘Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there. Caesar did not utter a sound…’
This vivid, racy account of the men who wielded absolute power over ancient Rome – including maniacs, tyrants, warriors, sadists and murderers – is the source for nearly everything we know about one of the most dramatic periods in history.
This was one of the new titles that were recently included in the Pocket Penguins line-up and as I had never read this book, and it looked quite shiny amongst the other titles, I decided to pick it up. I had been reading this book to and from work but alas, my book met quite the accident when my water bottle leaked all over my knapsack and drenched most of the book. The stuff of a bookworm’s nightmare O_o The remainder of the book was still readable but it’s all cold and wrinkly and messed up now 🙁
The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War
By: Arkady Ostrovsky
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
By tracing the history of modern Russia from Mikhail Gorbachev to the rise of ex KGB agent Vladimir Putin, Arkady Ostrovsky reveals how the Soviet Union came to its end and how Russia has since reinvented itself.
Russia today bears little resemblance to the country that embraced freedom in the late eighties and gave freedom to others. But how did a country that had liberated itself from seventy years of Communism end up, just twenty years later, as one of the biggest threats to the West and above all to its own people?
The Invention of Russia tells the story of this tumultuous period, including the important role played by the media, and shows how Russia turned its back on the West and found itself embracing a new era of Soviet-style rule.
Having studied the history of the country from its earliest times up to around events of 2008/2009, this book naturally piqued my interest the minute I saw it shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for books 2016 (and later won).
Probably the last batch of mini book reviews for this year? I read most of the following books months ago, but anyway…Included in this batch are:
Death at La Fenice (Commissario Brunetti #1)
By: Donna Leon
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.
But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape–a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one. . .
I had been eyeing this series for such a long time, it always crops up whenever I’m looking up crime mystery series to check out. Well I finally picked it up as a book to read whenever I was on break at work and it certainly didn’t disappoint: Guido Brunetti is an interesting character, smart and good at what he does. A different side to Venice comes to life in this novel as Brunetti investigates the death of a well-known conductor, plunging the commissario into the world of music and art and the shadows of the Second World War. It was interesting to follow Brunetti in the case as he navigates through an intricate cast of characters from Wellauer’s life and work, figuring out who had the motive to kill the maestro. I don’t know if I’ll get around to read the rest of the books in this series (as it’s a bit of a long one), but this book was an excellent introduction to Guido Brunetti, his life, his Venice, and his mode of case-solving. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into this the crime mystery genre and you like your mysteries set in Italy.
Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in a Gulag
By: Orlando Figes
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
“I went to get the letters for our friends, and couldn’t help but feel a little envious, I didn’t expect anything for myself. And suddenly—there was my name, and, as if it was alive, your handwriting.”
In 1946, after five years as a prisoner—first as a Soviet POW in Nazi concentration camps, then as a deportee (falsely accused of treason) in the Arctic Gulag—twenty-nine-year-old Lev Mishchenko unexpectedly received a letter from Sveta, the sweetheart he had hardly dared hope was still alive. Amazingly, over the next eight years the lovers managed to exchange more than 1,500 messages, and even to smuggle Sveta herself into the camp for secret meetings. Their recently discovered correspondence is the only known real-time record of life in Stalin’s Gulag, unmediated and uncensored.
I have a bit of a long history with Orlando Figes’ works. I was introduced to his work in undergrad when my undergraduate Soviet History supervisor recommended his book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia for my undergrad independent paper (for this interested, my thesis was on private life at the height of the Great Terror of the late 1930s). Not only was that book immensely useful for my research but it was one of my inspirations to continue my studies into Soviet Russian history at grad school. Another one of his books, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, was incredibly useful when I was working on my Master’s research. Suffice to say I highly recommend his books, the topics are fascinating but they are also quite accessible; you don’t have to be specialising in the field to understand what he’s writing about.
Anyway, I was greatly interesting in this book when it was released: much of it took place in the immediate postwar period (ka-ching! My area of study), it had to do with surviving the gulag (very tough subject) and the fact that it’s uncensored means we’re bound to get a very frank view of exactly what is happening there.