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The Omnivorous Reader - July, 2022


The Omnivorous Reader

August 5 · Issue #17 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam

I abandoned a bunch of books this month. Here are a few that were worth finishing along with a new poem that I loved.
Why you’re getting this: I’m Chris Cunningham, and this a newsletter with reading suggestions. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it.
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"I Won't Be Your Sap"
Dashell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is one of those classics that I’d heard about vaguely–mostly through Looney Tunes references, I think–but had never picked up. It’s up there with Chandler’s The Big Sleep in terms of hardboiled detective classics, and has all the tropes you’d expect. In some ways, it reminded me of the detective sequences from Calvin and Hobbes:
Still, it’s a classic for a reason, and I found it easy enough to get past the private eye tropes that it invented and just enjoy following detective Sam Spade through the streets of 1930s San Francisco.
Magical Realism
I took a break from The Stormlight Archives series after finishing the third book and gave one of Brandon Sanderson’s other series a try instead. Mistborn, one of his earlier works, was a terrific read–it had all of the hallmarks that I enjoyed in The Stormlight Archives in about half the length. In it, Sanderson demonstrates a real talent for creating detailed fantasy worlds and coupling narrative suspense with satisfying resolutions…all while leaving room for the next volumes in the series.
One of the things that Sanderson does best is create what might best be described as physics for his magic and mysticism. It always bugged me in the Harry Potter series that, although Hogwarts is a school for magic and witchcraft, they never really explain to the reader how the magic works most of the time. Ok, so “Potions” were basically magical Chemistry class but classes like “Charms” seemed to hinge on memorization, correct pronunciation, and wand movement…and that was it. Rowling didn’t really explain why some people were better at magic than others–did Neville just struggle with his pronunciation?
In both The Stormlight Archives and Mistborn, however, Sanderson creates systems of magic that have internal and narrative consistency. Sure, it’s still magic and that might not be your jam. But if it is, there’s something deeply satisfying at someone who plays fair and establishes actual rules for the fantastic scenarios they create.
Tennis, anyone?
I picked up W. Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis after listening to Michael Lewis’s terrific podcast Against the Rules. One of the episodes focused on coaching, and I found that The Inner Game of Tennis has a lot to say on the subject of teaching and learning, in general.
At the core of the book, Gallwey’s thesis is that learning and development hinge upon “the art of relaxed concentration,” a focus free of self-judgement and criticism. Gallwey posits that each person is composed of two “selfs,” which I couldn’t help but compare to Kahnman’s System One and System Two from his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The Inner Game of Tennis predates Kahnman’s work by 30 years, however, and is mostly focused on learning and teaching physical activities.
Gallwey persuasively discusses how one “self” internalizes the judgements and criticism we receive from others and ourselves and how that gets in the way of our ability to allow our other intuitive and automatic “self” perform. The book uses tennis as a medium for the discussion, but the “inner game” that Gallwey focuses on has much broader applications for all sorts of human endeavors.
And now, a poem:
“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say "bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead–you first,” “I like your hat.”
- Danusha Lameris
I hope you’re doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest–and I hope that you quickly abandon it if it turns out to be something that’s not for you. And if you come across a book that you’d recommend, please let me know.
Take care,
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