Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations is a series of writings by Roman Emperor and philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (famously portrayed by the incomparable Richard Harris in Gladiator). Essentially his nightly diary, Meditations is an incredibly introspective look into both his personal and political lives. Through his relationships with colleagues, subjects, family, friends, and teachers, we see an honest, humble depiction of the often mythic Aurelius: he was a simple man, a lifelong learner, and a Stoic who just so happened to be the leader of the entire Western world.

These private notes–never meant for publication–are mostly centered on the Stoic philosophy (made famous by Socrates), which sees happiness as the acceptance of every moment as it happens. The goal of a Stoic is to stop being ruled by his/her desire for pleasure and fear of pain. It is about treating others fairly and working together in pursuit of justice.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

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7 Mini-Reviews, Largely Because I Worked Out Today for the First Time in a Long Time and I’m Feeling Tired, So Deal With It

I’ve had a pretty good start to the year, volume-wise. More than I’m used to, more than I’m prepared to write about in depth. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some good stuff happening behind the scenes in 2018.

So without further ado, here are 7 Mini-Reviews of some books I loved and absolutely didn’t love in January and February.

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Icefields by Thomas Wharton

IcefieldsI’m often asked why I write about books in my free time (and for free, no less). For a long time, I struggled to come up with a concise answer. Writing about my reading comes with a lot of positives–community, encouragement, inspiration, challenges, exposure, reinforcement–but I’ve always stopped short of saying these were reasons that Another Book Blog exists.

After reading Icefields by Thomas Wharton, I thankfully don’t have to. Suddenly, after five years of doing this, the reason for this blog has become very clear.

There’s a moment in Icefields where two characters are talking about poetry and journalism, and the moving target that is writing. With each field, the goal is never perfection. The best a writer can do, they surmise, is produce something that simply approaches what he or she really feels. That’s because even getting close is incredibly hard.

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Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

In university, I took a Literary Traditions course that featured Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times. It tells the story of Coketown, a fictional, industrial mill town in the 1850s where buildings are bland, sooty, carbon copies of one another. Things are overseen by factory owner Josiah Bounderby and rigid, hard-nosed educator Thomas Gradgrind. Gradgrind’s job is to stamp out any and all creativity from the town’s schoolchildren, thereby creating useful automatons for Bounderby’s factory. The workers get married, have families, and put their children in Gradgrind’s care. Thus, the cycle never ends.

In our first class about the book, the professor asked us who we thought the protagonist of the story was. Since most of the characters are given equal weight, we gave a variety of answers. Most thought it was Thomas Gradgrind, some thought it was his daughter, Louisa. A few thought it was Bounderby, others guessed Stephen Blackpool, a lowly worker in Bounderby’s factory.

Then there was the guy who sat next to me, who gave what would go down as the worst answer I heard in my six years of university. With the embarrassing esotericism that only self-conscious suck ups can muster, he said, “I think the main character is Coketown.”

This answer was stupid for two reasons: 1) he just wanted to appear like an interesting, philosophical contrarian (he was the type to wear a huge scarf indoors in September and glasses without a perscription), and 2) no matter how fleshed out a city is, settings cannot, by definition, be characters (which are, by definition, people).

I bring this up because I just finished reading China Mieville’s setting-rich sci-fi novel Perdido Street Station. Then I read some of the reviews, seemingly written by other non-prescription-wearing, scarf-toting poseurs and my life flashed before my eyes.

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Acknowledgments: February

Every month I wrangle up some of the more interesting things around the blogosphere and present them to you in a neat and tidy package. But first, a diatribe about Shakespeare as a potential fraud…


In his novel The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips had the audacity to challenge the infallibility of Shakespeare. He put the Bard on blast, then aimed the gun at the thousands of automatons critics who willfully, stubbornly, and perhaps even negligently evangelize the following dogma: Shakespeare as an irrefutable deity.

As it is taught, Shakespeare is perfection, he is without fault, blemish, or equal, and as a result, to challenge his greatness is to not understand him, to reveal one’s own incompetence, because, surely, he did not make even a single mistake.

Yet, his body of work–which supposedly captures the entire human experience in less than 40 plays–contains hundreds of strange turns, missteps, and jokes gone awry. As Phillips pointed out in his novel, Shakespeare is far from perfect. Was he brilliant? Of course he was. Was he infallible? No one is.

But for some reason, people have been covering for him for hundreds of years. Phillips points it out like so:

“…you have a weak spot where Will’s not thinking very clearly, and the character rambles on, and Will sticks in a joke that he like about flowers that look like wieners. It plainly doesn’t belong there. Any editor would cut it. It breaks the rhythm and the logic of the scene. And your sweet old Gertrude noticed it and rightly points out the weak spot. Anybody else, we’d say, ‘Whoops. Not buying it, Will.’ If I wrote it, they’d send me home to rework it. Instead, what do you all do? You all talk it out until you make it make sense for him. He wrote it, so it must be right. You six very intelligent people form a committee to offer him your help, and when you’ve done the best you can, consulting old books of other would-be helpers, when you actually come up with some very clever solutions, you marvel at him for composing such a subtle moment.”

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