This month I read a short book called The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by Abraham Flexner. It is an essay by the relatively unknown researcher today, but was reprinted recently as an argument to continue funding sciences and humanities. The idea being that the truly curious minds that make discoveries that push social and cultural change can only do so when unencumbered by what others define as “necessary”. Which in a sense is not a bad idea. Flexner cites Faraday’s work in magnetism, and how utterly useless his discoveries were in his day, but all suddenly became useful once enterprising individuals figured out how to use Faraday’s knowledge to make electricity. In short, not knowing what the future holds, what is worthless today can indeed become worthwhile once we know what to do with it.
Of course, such sentiments breed inane arguments “like the government created the iPhone.” Which seems silly when considering the amount of taxpayer money was flushed down the toilet for decades and none of those research grants actually resulted in an iPhone.
I actually had some small chunks of time, so could read a little bit. For whatever reason, I had never actually read Robert Williams’s Negroes With Guns, so I corrected THAT situation. It is a story from 1962 by the grandfather of the Black Panthers who, living in Jim Crow era North Carolina, experienced racism, the real kind complete with assaults, lynchings, plain old murders, torture, rape… and of course constant humiliation and treatment as a subhuman enforced by law. And hey, it’s democracy, that’s what most people wanted, something I remind Progressive advocates for more democracy and less liberty. In response to his experiences and observations, Williams advocated deterrence through strength, clearly distinguishing aggression from self-defense (a distinction that often eluded the Panthers). The willingness to use armed defense turns out to be a major deterrent. Huh, who would guess that?
Sleights of Mind hits my two deepest intellectual loves, science and magic, simultaneously. The two authors are a married couple of neuroscientists, specializing particularly in visual processing. Through diligence and interest, they managed to spend time and work with some of the greatest sleight-of-hand performers alive at the time of the writing (2011). Their analysis of some classic tricks and WHY they work makes it well worth wading through their cutesy pre-Instagram travelogue bits of writing.
I’m on Book 5 of the Will Robie series by David Baldacci. I kind of backed into this character when Robie made an important guest appearance in Baldacci’s sixth “Memory Man” installment, “Walk the Wire.”
Fun, escapist, adventure fiction with a solid dose of character development thrown in…even if the protagonist is a government agent and I disagree with much of it. Frankly, it’s about the level I feel up to reading lately, although I am about to embark on three more health information management courses, so I’ll be cracking the textbooks soon.
Another month of horror reading for me. I used to save horror for the spookiness of Fall and the bleakness of Winter, but
“Spending warm summer days indoors
“Writing frightening verse
“To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg”
is a depression as well. Morrissey knows all the best ways to be miserable.
Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness (1977), a hallucinogenic trip through late ‘60s San Francisco, a city prone to gathering dark beings through the occult science of “Megapolisomancy.” Quite a bit of inside baseball concerning other science fiction writers of the time and reaching back into the 1930s, as well as Leiber’s struggles with alcoholism. A very interesting work, one of those books that I read and immediately thought “Why haven’t I read this before now?”
Devolution by Max Brooks. A modern, well-written update of the “Bigfoot attacks” novels that were pretty popular in the 1970s. Brooks goes back to some of the earliest reports of Bigfoot attacks for his savage beasts that smell like hot garbage and are anything but cuddly. The novel is also a brutal satire on modern techie smart houses and on-point delivery reliance. The members of isolated community the Bigfeet attack are well and truly fucked when they are cut off and no one has a gun or a guard dog or even a hammer to help build improvised weapons.
A trio of werewolf novels: The Werewolf of Paris (1933) by Guy Endore, Darker Than You Think (1948) by Jack Williamson, and The Nightwalker (1977) by Thomas Tessier. I read them together because they each cover an aspect of the various ways the idea of the werewolf has been represented in fiction. The Werewolf of Paris is the occult-based loup-garou, the transforming beast that desires human blood and flesh, cursed forever by his mother being raped by a priest and being born on Christmas Day. Darker Than You Think is the rationalized science fiction werewolf as a small community of humanoids that co-evolved with humans as a predator species. (Much like the “vampire” species in Whitley Strieber’s The Hunger.) And The Nightwalker is the human wolf preying on the sheep of London. All three are really good reads.
(The Hunger was also made into a pretty good film in 1983. Very 80s, very Tony Scott… but you’ll never understand how badly you wanted to see David Bowie as a vampire until you see The Hunger. And Peter Murphy singing in a cage over the opening credits while Catherine Deneuve and Bowie stalk victims in a nightclub birthed countless goth kids.)