Category: Books

What is a Perfect Piece of Knowledge?

An allegory of sorts:

I once read the following (the source escapes me):

Our surroundings call forth certain behavior. We tend to act like students when we step in a classroom, and we tend to act like shoppers at the mall. This is . . . the logic of ‘ecological psychology’: I am not a wholly separate entity from my surroundings, but rather, my [surroundings] and I form an interdependent behavior setting.

I loved it. “Ecological psychology.” Whatta concept. It told me why I’ve always insisted on having a study/library in my house, where the kids’ clutter doesn’t roam and the kids themselves are vowed to civilized behavior when they enter. It explained why I reserve the room for calm reading, thought, and writing. It explained why I want to drink when I’m in a bar.… Read the rest

How to Listen to The Great Courses

Well, gardening season is here.

And that means one thing: I need lots of listening material.

I’ve mentioned it (quite a few) times: One of my favorite activities is to listen to lectures, podcasts, and audiobooks while I garden. My favorite source: The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series. (Caveat below.)

I spent awhile reviewing the various options for acquiring these splendid lectures. I believe there are four (besides just buying each lecture independently at enormous cost):

1. Subscribe to Audible through Amazon. $15 per month. You get a free book once a month, plus offers. It appears the entire Great Courses catalogue is available.

2. Subscribe to Audible independently with its Audible Plus Plan. For $8 monthly, you get access to its “Plus” catalog, which is a misnomer. It means, “Our 500,000 audio selections, minus 489,000.” Only 11,000 titles. There are very few Great Courses books, but there were dozens of audible books that greatly interest me (including a big selection of C.S. Lewis and Thomas Sowell). With this plan you can listen to any of them at no additional charge.… Read the rest

I Almost Became an Anarchist

A mini-review of The Essential Rothbard by David Gordon.

Murray Rothbard almost made me an anarchist.

I had read some of Rothbard’s stuff and had delved into various areas of anarchist thought (mostly through this this somewhat difficult, very thick, often fascinating volume). I’ve abandoned such notions, but my six-month foray was worth it. The anarchists make you ask questions that every person concerned about things public (the republic) should ask: What is the origin of government? How exactly do wars happen? How can a country surrender in a war if it has no government? If the State exists by violence–actual or the threat of–does that tend to make society more violent?

I’ve come to view Rothbard as a great economist, a good historian, and an amateur but unique philosopher. He has his flaws (he tends to indulge in false dichotomies), but he raises questions that the American people ought to ask a lot more frequently.

Gordon’s volume is a great place to start.

Oh, and why didn’t I become an anarchist? Simply because of natural law. We desire to live among others, either for self-preservation or because we are social animals. Once we come together, a hierarchy will naturally develop and from there, government will form.

Anarchism, simply put, isn’t natural.

Read the rest

This Might Be the Best Book of the 21st Century

Look Homeward, America. Bill Kauffman. ISI Books, 2006.

Strong,  deep, readable, desperate, fun. All those adjectives—even those that trip over one another—fit this book. It’s such a good book, it made me want to quit writing. “If someone like Kauffman, with his erudition and talent, isn’t a household name, what makes me think I can scratch together enough publishable words to cover my underwear budget?”

I’m not saying it’s the best book ever, not even the best book of the past 15 years. Indeed, when I went back through it for this piece, I almost put it back on the shelf: it simply doesn’t have the drunken chimp-like markings of other books I love. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it’s such a pretty book, with good binding, that I felt bad marking it up.

Regardless, Kauffman’s is a real message. Partially Quixotic, partially crucial . . . and there’s considerable overlap between those. I don’t know if the passages reproduced here will convey the deep current under Kauffman’s light-skipping prose, but I hope they do. If not, buy the book. You won’t be disappointed. Kauffman’s display of his prodigious vocabulary alone is worth the price.

I’m pretty sure Kauffman has the biggest vocabulary since Samuel Johnson.

Unique words found in Look Homeward, America:

  • mottle
  • pavid
  • bumptious
  • martinet
  • scarify
  • nonce
  • terrene
  • descant
  • manque
  • phiz
  • clochard

Select Passages

Here are choice passages from the books, with my commentary where I think it might be entertaining and/or useful.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a pithy and fun biography. It’s packed with entertaining facts that paint a vivid picture: “The guru of the libertarian paleos, the combative economist and joyful iconoclast Murray Rothbard, was a gnomic 5’3” nonbelieving Jew who adored cathedrals; championed the Black Panthers while also Read the rest

How to Write for Surfer Dudes

fashion art coffee macbook pro
Photo by OVAN on

I spent last summer, taking digital essay lessons. They were part of a series that I call, “Learning to Write for Morons,” by

I learned a lot, but I can condense the lessons into one premise: If you’re writing online articles, you have a split second to keep the reader’s attention and you have, maybe, three split seconds to keep his attention. Tell yourself, “You’re writing for surfer dudes, almost literally. They have the attention span of gnats. Engage them.”

In order to do this, you need to follow these two rules:

1. Write great titles for your pieces (many authorities say you shoud spend as much time on your headlines as you do the article itself, which strikes me as ludicrous, unless perhaps you’re cranking out P.o.S. articles).

2. Lots of white space.

The second rule breaks down into a series of sub-rules: break your articles into sections, each section should be no longer than 300 (preferably, 250) words, use sub-headings, paragraphs should only be two or three lines long (it’s that last one, I think, drives traditional writers mad . . . I know it irritates me, but I use it as motivation to do the bulk of my reading from books).

The first rule also breaks down into a series of sub-rules, but the overarching rule is: Grab the reader’s attention so he’ll click on it.

Ever since reading those rules last summer, I’ve been working on my headlines (maybe you, dear TDE reader, have noticed my sensationalist edge?). I’ve also been noticing the outlandish headlines I see online.

Maybe it has always been this way, but I think that, as more and more people follow the rubrics of online writing, the headlines have become increasingly outlandish. This one from yesterday … Read the rest

Faulkner, Foote, Percy, Percy, and Kauffman, P.C.

A snapshot of the southern literary tradition in the early 20th century

Photo by Emily Corley on Unsplash

I think Bill Kauffman has more literary anecdotes than any man alive. If you go to the Quote Machine on the front page of this site (lower right corner), the top four quotes currently are all from Kauffman’s relatively-unknown Poetry Night at the Ball Park.

I ran across this passage last night while recovering from a migraine and just flipping through my random notes:

Among my favorite interviewees was novelist and Civil War epicist Shelby Foote. I showed up at his stockbroker-Tudor home in Memphis about noon. Foote, long-haired, wearing ratty pajamas, answered the door and drawled, “Ah wuz jes’ fixin’ ta go ta thuh whiskey stoah.” He had more cool in one grey hair than every Southern expatriate writer in Manhattan combined.

I don’t know much about Shelby Foote, but I remembered that he was friends with Walker Percy and they both admired William Faulkner, especially Foote.

When he was about 22, in the summer of 1938, Foote and Percy decided to drive to Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi. Foote concocted a reason to contact Faulkner: He wanted to get a copy of The Marble Faun, which was the first book Faulkner published (a collection of poems).

When they got there, Percy refused to get out of the car. “I don’t know that man and he doesn’t know me and I’m not going to bother him.”

Foote went up to the door by himself, and Faulkner apparently received him graciously (they would go on to be friends). At the end of this first conversation, Foote said that a relative of Will Percy’s was in the car and asked if he wanted to meet him.

Will raised Walker … Read the rest

Oh Mighty TDE Seer

I can usually sniff ’em out before they come out

Okay, I’m no seer, but I was pleased with myself when I found these notes from 2009 that I wrote after reading James Martin’s My Life with the Saints:

“I wasn’t bowled over by the book, and Fr. Martin is, I fear, a leftist (but of the sincere and well-meaning sort), but it deserved to be finished. It’s splendidly-written, fun, packed with interesting anecdotes. The list of saints alone should be enough to entice you to buy a used copy: Therese Lisieux, Ignatius Loyola. Bernadette, Mother Teresa, Aquinas, St. Francis. Of course, he throws Pope John XXIII into the list of saints (the leftism at work), but I came away with more respect for the reforming pope, so that’s a good thing.”

Ok, so I botched the “well-meaning” part, but otherwise, I sniffed him out like a German Shepherd on Cheech and Chong (sorry for the sarcastic bravado . . . I’ve been drinking a bit this evening). … Read the rest

One Vicious Author

You remember the 1987 movie, Throw Mama from the Train?

I learned last night that it was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 movie, Strangers on a Train, which was in turn based on the novel by the same name.

The author of the novel?

Patricia Highsmith, a nasty woman whose biography makes Ellen Degeneres look like Maria von Trapp.

“[S]he was a predatory lesbian, in addition to being a professional homebreaker; a nasty drunk; an emotional sadist; and an equal-opportunity bigot who seems to have detested every group except the American and European gratin. Arabs, Jews, the French, Catholics, evangelicals, Latinos, blacks, Koreans, Indians both dot and feather . . . the list goes on and on.”

When I read that, I was like, “Wow. She didn’t like Catholics?! That bitch!”

So I had to keep reading.

(New TDE readers, please note: my prose occasionally lapses into irony.)

It turns out she had a rough childhood. She was an abortion survivor (her mother tried to terminate the pregnancy with turpentine) and a divorce survivor (her parents divorced when she was six months). She speculated later that she was sexually assaulted as a child but couldn’t recall, or didn’t divulge, details. For her entire life, she was filled with murderous rage.

But she could apparently write: 22 novels and numerous short stories.

And when she wasn’t writing, she was traveling and trying to get married women to have lesbian affairs with her. She loved to break-up marriages.

Like I said, she was an awful person.

Anyway, if you want to read more about this awful person, check out this review of Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires, a brand new biography about Patricia Highsmith released a few days ago.… Read the rest