Sunday, September 25, 2011

eReadings (1)


Ever since I've had my Kindle, I've been doing more reading that I may have done all my life, perhaps excepting when I was going to college or medical school, but required reading is quite different. 

The Kindle or some other e-reader lends itself, of course, to frequent reading, since you can switch it on and pick up where you last left off. It also allows you to easily skip from one book to another. At first I started out just reading a book, finishing that, then starting another. This is okay for some riveting novel like Moby Dick or Tale of Two Cities, but there's is only so much I can take of some others, with their thick prose, heavy ideas, or maybe they're just not so interesting.

Project Gutenberg
This is my main source of books. I've bought a couple from Amazon, but my personal view is that there needs to be a pricing shake-up with eBooks. They're way too expensive. These days they're hardly less expensive than a physical book, and all I really have is a license to read them. I can't give them to someone else or sell them, at least legally.

The good thing about Project Gutenberg is that there is a very large number of books to be had, and another good thing is that Kindle versions exist. On the other hand, unless you're looking at list arranged by author, you are staring at a veritable sea of titles. There seemed to be a fledgling effort by PG to make an area for book reviews, but it looks dead, with no updates since 2006. You are of course not getting recent books with PG, since they are by definition out of copyright.

The Magic Catalog
Until I found this, I was looking at books in HTML, then downloading the Kindle version, then uploading to my Kindle. With the Magic Catalog, I can turn on the wireless on my Kindle, then go through the catalog like any other book, click on a title, and have it directly downloaded to my Kindle (only take a few seconds at most). Usually I download them in bunches. This way I worry less about whether I might like them. If something is uninteresting, I delete it and move on to something else. The Magic Catalog is searchable, but in its raw state is a quite jumbled up list of books. At first I found this bothersome, but for someone who doesn't have such a command of information about authors and books, it's not actually bad on a practical level, but you do have to cultivate a sense of adventure and just try things out.

A Couple of Reviews

What I want to begin is to give some of my own impressions of things I have read, partly for my own interest, but also in case someone else might find these reviews helpful in some way.

The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
I knew roughly what this was about, but since I never had it as a requirement in college I never read it. Back in the 60s there were a lot of references to it on campus, probably largely by those who hadn't read it either.

It's a book full of jargon, and I have to confess it took me a while to understand the bourgeoisie (bad guys) as what we might call the upper middle class, the shop owners, and in general those who were making the capitalist system work for them. The book is of course addressed to the proletariat, the peasants, the manual laborers who were paid and treated poorly, who generally had no property, living in some place owned by their masters/employers, with no hope of ever being able to climb out of this.

I suppose it's possible to read this book word for word, but I certainly found the repetitiveness led to tedium, and I could get the message scanning and skipping along. It's easy to see the appeal of the idea for its intended audience, the proletariat, even allowing for the fact that many of the proletariat were illiterate. The message was, "You have nothing, therefore you have nothing to lose. We will take the property and riches from the bourgeoisie and give it to you."  Also quite specifically spelled out is that replacing capitalist institutions will be The State, and now that we have a century of Communism to look at, we understand all too well what The State became. Left out is any mention of what you might be allowed to do with your land once it's "yours".

Ten Days that Shook the World - John Reed
This was a serendipitous selection, picked out some weeks after The Communist Manifesto. I thought the title sounded interesting, so I downloaded it.

This is a first-hand account by an American Socialist journalist, who happened to be in Russia in late 1917 when dramatic upheaval there culminated in the Bolshevik revolution. Something which becomes readily apparent is the shallowness of the history of the Communist revolution as taught in this country. The number of different people, the number of factions involved, the number of plots and subplots, attempts at subverting someone else's plan are quite astounding. One can also see that a big part of what fuelled the revolution is that 80% of the Russian population were peasants. This is of course an outsider's point of view, but the access that he had to factions and leaders on various sides of the evolving quest for power is rather amazing. There is also a great battle of propaganda going on, which I suppose now we see as puny in comparison to what goes on with the media and the internet, but clearly one sees how absolute control of the press came about in communist Russia. We also can see the transition from the ideas the Bolsheviks had to have a peaceful transition of power led to armed conflict and bloodshed.

One of the things I've taken to doing, and that I would recommend, is online research about authors, usually after I've read their work. John Reed was born in Oregon, eventually sent East for his education, and became involved with the various unions' struggles of that time, in the process becoming a Socialist. Like a number of people in the Socialist movement, and the Russians themselves, there was this abiding idea that sooner or later workers of the world would rise up and follow the Russian communists' example. Even though ostensibly one needed governmental approval to travel abroad, especially during WWI, it apparently wasn't so hard to simply find a way to travel to Europe and go wherever you wanted. Finland was a way to get to Russia, and even though he was periodically held in custody on the way back, eventually someone would get him released and he'd be back in the US until the next time. All this travel through impoverished areas led to his death at 32 of spotted typhus. He died in Moscow and is buried in the Kremlin.

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