Saturday, January 01, 2005

Discretionary reading

Since I have a terrible habit of reading whatever's within arms reach, I tend to be more of a parallel than a serial reader, with 2-5 ongoing books at any given time. Somehow I managed to keep up this pace even during the semester, as my reading time consists of snatches of five minutes here and there - while the baby naps or eats, at three in the morning when I can't sleep, when I'm "in the office" (sure, I'll cop to my bathroom reading, even though I'm somewhat conflicted about reading a book from the library on the family throne), and during countless other fragments of leisure that would otherwise be lost to daydreaming or games of the unbelievably low-tech but surprisingly addictive Sugar Bowl II on the cellphone.

Here's what I'm working my way through right now:

Eastern Tides, by Frank Dagineault. I've had a fishing book jones ever since the end of striper season, and Dagineault's entry - a collection of reminisces about his family making a living catching striped bass back in the 60's and 70's (when there were enough of them to be caught commercially from shore) - is the next best thing to being out on the water.

The Atlantis Syndrome, by Paul Jordan. A thoroughly enjoyable debunking of the Atlantis myth that is as readable as it is erudite. Jordan demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the supposed lost continent is nothing more than a fiction devised by Plato, but he nevertheless relishes the crackpot tradition which has mushroomed around varioius misinterpretations of the Ancient Greek's parable. An excellent book to recommend to your friends when they start up about the Knights Templar and the Da Vinci Code.

Burial at Thebes, by Seamus Heaney. Just picked this one up, a fresh translation of Sophocles' Antigone by the celebrated Irish poet. I don't know why Ireland does the Classics so well, but it does, and Heaney is the master. He's supposed to be a friend of my employers at The Greek Institute, so maybe we can induced him to come and speak sometime to promote the new book.

Islam in European Thought, by Albert Hourani. A collection of essays by the eminent Arabist. I actually stumbled upon this book after encountering an Arabic translation of Homer's Iliad by Suleyman al-Boustani in the Widener stacks. Enchanted that such a work existed, I discovered that Hourani had dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the occasion of the poem's translation at the turn of the last century - the first time Homer had been rendered into Arabic from the Ancient Greek! The other essays are equally enlightening, especially considering the state of the Muslim world as Hourani saw it circa 1991 (when the book was published) and today.

Reading and the Reference Librarian, by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb. Okay, maybe a little professional reading over the holidays. Dilevko and Gottlieb bemoan the recent trend towards the deprofessionalization of library reference - specifically the outsourcing of ready reference work to the ever-expanding call center industry - and seek to demonstrate that Google or no Google, there is still no substitute for personal interaction with a well-read reference librarian. I'm happy to find that I fit the authors' ideal, which makes me think that perhaps a career in reference (while it still exists) might just be the thing for me to do.

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