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February 26, 2012

Sunday Book Thread

I bought a couple of new books over the past week in violation of my self-imposed "no new books until I finish my backlog" rule. I'm always concerned that if I don't pick the book up when I'm thinking about it, I'll just forget about it and it will disappear into the flowing river of Time. (Also, the Kindle makes impulse-buying dreadfully easy.)

The first book went right to the top of my list: Charlie Louvin's The Devil is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers (co-written with Benjamin Whitmer). If you're any kind of fan of country or roots music, you know who the Louvin Brothers are: they were the premier country music "brother act" in the middle part of the 20th century.

Normally I'm not a fan of biography, but in this case the subject matter is an interest of mine: I love old country and bluegrass music, and as musicians Ira and Charlie Louvin (Loudermilk) blazed a lot of trails in both the mainstream country and bluegrass genres. (They're still the best close-harmony duet in the history of country music, I think.) But there is an added dimension to their story: Charlie was a relatively straight arrow while his brother Ira was a violent alcoholic. Modern rock stars' antics have nothing on Ira Louvin: married four times, his third wife shot him four times in the chest for beating her, and he was known to smash his mandolin on stage while drunk. (One has to wonder if a young Jimi Hendrix was watching and taking mental notes.) Ira was also notorious for telling a young Elvis Presley that he shouldn't be playing "that n***er trash" on stage -- advice that the young Elvis fortunately ignored.

One thing I find interesting about the Louvins' history is that their lives encompass a time of great change in America, both culturally and musically. The brothers recapitulated a story already familiar in the annals of country music: born the sons of a dirt-poor cotton farmer in the south, they eventually escaped into the world of music and made fortunes in the great postwar boom of country and bluegrass music. Born in a time when automobiles were scarce and only the wealthy had electricity and indoor plumbing, they saw America turn into a military and technological giant in the 1940's and 1950's. And finally they saw the rise of youth culture in the 1960's, as their own trailblazing ways began to be seen as old-fashioned by the new generation of young people. One brother -- Charlie -- would survive his journey; the other would not.

The second book I picked up on a recommendation from a friend: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This book is an exploration of how human beings think: the "fast" way, which is intuitive, instinctive, and emotional; and the "slow" way, which is more deliberate and logical. Each system of thought tends to bring along with it biases and common errors in judgement, and this book is an attempt to explain how these modes of thought developed in the human species and how a synthesis of the two modes of thought compromise our mental models today. I haven't begun the book yet, but it sounds very interesting indeed. (The topic is similar to Stephen Pinker's How the Mind Works, which was a pretty interesting book.)

EDIT: I almost forgot to add links to two interesting essays.

The first is a piece by Victor Davis Hanson, entitled "So Why Read Any More?".

The second is a longish essay by Roger Kimball entitled "The Great American Novel".

Both essays touch on issues we've talked about ourselves in previous book posts: the present and future of literature -- particularly popular fiction -- in America.


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If you have any book suggestions or recommendations, please send them to aoshqbookthread AT gmail DOT com.

Roland Hess sends several tutorial titles on the "Blender" computer software: Blender Foundations: The Essential Guide to Learning Blender 2.6, The Essential Blender: Guide to 3D Creation with the Open Source Suite Blender, and Tradigital Blender: A CG Animator's Guide to Applying the Classic Principles of Animation.

George Milonas sends his zombie novel My Last Testament.

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posted by Monty at 08:55 AM

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