45 Books

Book 13

I guess the story of my reading this book goes back to October when S & E came down to Memphis from New Jersey over Halloween. S is a chess lover and he and Darling sport at least one game each time we've seen one another. S bought The Immortal Game for Darling and I as a gift with the added note that this book is the reason S wished to take up chess in the first place and, if I was interested in chess at all, this book would provide a very compelling introduction (many thanks!). 

The Immortal Game is a fascinating and quick read. It begins with the earliest known origins of the game whose rules have hardly altered for 5 centuries and continues to baffle and intrigue us, giving its players insight into everything from (as the title indicates) war, science, the human brain, and teaches the player about herself. Why Chess? Why this game? Chess takes place at the meridian of absolute freedom and unlimited possibilities and total structure:

"It all starts out simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options ... Black has the same possible twenty moves with his first response. But with chess the number of legal moves is only a small part of the equation. Because while there are only forty possible first moves per pair of players, there are actually 400 possible board positions inherent in those moves... Think of it as chess chemistry: each player moving just once can yield any one of 400 distinct chess "molecules," each with its own special properties. In the second move, the number of possible chess molecules shoots up almost past belief: for every one of those 400 positions, there are as many as 27 options that each play has for a second move ... the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is 71, 852 ... After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions. Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion...The number of unique chess games is not literally an infinite number, but in practical terms the difference is indistinguishable ...10 to the 120 power ... In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games. By way of comparison, the total number of electrons in the universe is, as best as physicists can determine 10 to the 79 power. 

Mind blowing, right? Bobby Fisher, Benjamin Franklin, Chess Geniuses and the mental illnesses, paranoias, and deterioration they suffer, multicultural, ancient, it's really very fascinating. And although chess seems more intimidating than ever, the book definitely sparks the interest to start playing some "real" chess. Darling and I have talked about becoming decent chess players and making it a point to play in public when we travel. How neat to experience the kind of personal vulnerability, scheming, communication, and wit with complete strangers without verbal communication in Amsterdam, Budapest, Tokyo, Reykjavik or wherever we find ourselves?! An astounding universal language... 

Book 14

A friend on goodreads wrote this review:

Bloom presents short notes on poetry, plays and novels. Shakespeare. The book is Shakespeare fast paced. It provides an intelligent laundry Shakespeare list of classics. I enjoyed his "hows" of reading a lot more than his "whys." Shakespeare. His encouragement to read difficult works deeply and to memorize poetry gave me Shakespeare a renewed vigor. I may yet tackle Paradise Lost. I was a little surprised by the modern novels he chose to feature, as most are favorites: Moby Dick, Blood Meridian, As I Lay Dying and the Crying of Lot 49. Have mentioned that he brings up Shakespeare about 17 times per page? Shakespeare. It becomes rather distracting.

Bloom is obsessed with Shakespeare to say the very least. (I'm not saying it's not justified... just stating that it's an overwhelming obsession.)

I thought there were a lot of smart, astute observations although Bloom, possibly being the most well-read person alive today, has no qualm with telling you exactly what he thinks is good and what is garbage and what you should read and why and how you should read it. All this sounds nosy and elitist but I didn't find it off-putting. I actually found a lot of great insight in his short explications. More than any observation about a work in particular, it was Bloom's personal experience and observations that I found most intriguing.

Bad writing is all one; great writing is scandalously diverse, and genres constitute authentic divisions within it. 

This notion makes me think of a lot of the food literature I've read in the last two years. All fast food is the same. It's all processed corn, but real diversity and delicacy comes from species variety in local and heirloom farming, careful preparation, and mindful consumption. 

(Add this to the transcendental laundry list I've kind of started forming here and there throughout this blog... I feel as though I'm beginning to stumble upon a marvelously useful universal "truth" (of sorts) on my own, through my own reading, writing and observations, and conversations--which, although possibly just young and lofty, feels really good.)

"[It] makes me wish I could be more myself. But that, as I argue...is why we should read, and why we should read only the best of what has been written."

Good literature makes you wish you could be more yourself. The number of books an individual can read (no matter how avid) is finite much like the number of meals you can eat is finite... three meals a day for (x) number of years... If you only get (x) amount of books, food, or whatever shouldn't we consume mindfully? Do and have and be and read only the best we can while we're still doing it?

I also posted more of Bloom's great quotes here

"We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are. Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading of the now much-abused traditional canon is the search for a difficult pleasure..."

"To read in the service of any ideology is not to read at all."

Here, Bloom assumes a lot about your literary background, but even if you haven't read most of the books he speaks about, don't be intimidated! He really does give great advice about how to approach literature, the power of memorization, the power of rereading, personal education, and bettering one's self.

1 comment:

Samuel said...

I am pretty sure, though not positive, that I bought that chess history book for YOU. Albeit to share with your Darling if and when he should have the time it takes him to read a book. Which, at the time, I doubted would be the case. Although, my deeper motivation was to spark in you an interest in the game that would complement his. Which I suppose is more a gift for him. However, the martial reason for this altruism was so that when the four of us are old and wrinkled and lazing away in San Padre or something, we could switch back and forth as opponents. It seems that most of my gifts to others are really gifts to a future me. However, since presently I share few similarities with him, I hate to think of the motivation as selfish.