Jan. 26th, 2017

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John Ruskin "On Art and Life" (Penguin)

John Ruskin (1819-1900), gave us impassioned critique of a society obsessed with getting and spending that struck a chord that has continued to reverberate with thoughtful individuals across the political spectrum. Ruskin was a seer in both senses of the word: an acutely perceptive observer of art, architecture, literature, and Nature, and an uncannily prescient Cassandra who warned of developing threats - moral, social, economic, cultural, and environmental - to human life and happiness.

Ruskin's politics were something of a paradox. A forceful critic of greed, the profit motive, the degradation of labour, and economic injustice, he was also a staunch believer in hierarchy and authority.

"John Ruskin, the nineteenth-century British writer with the most wide-ranging influence on contemporary thought, has gone unread for a long time. His ideas have lived through the words of other writers while his own works are ignored. Their style suited an age that found the forty mile-per-hour speed of the railway frightening, that never dreamed of multi-tasking, channel surfing, and sound bites. Reading was then a majestic activity in pace and status, total attention demanded by it and total attention given it. We have lost that patience and those skills, so Ruskin's prose seems difficult, and we avoid it. That is our loss". Phyllis Rose.

Some quotes from Ruskin:

"Of all inorganic substances, acting in their own proper nature, without assistance or combination, water is the most wonderful. If we think of it as the source of all the changeableness and beauty which we have seen in clouds; then as the instrument by which the earth we have contemplated was modelled into symmetry, and its crags chiselled into grace; then as, in the form of snow, it robes the mountains it has made with that transcendent light which we could not have conceived if we had not seen; then as it exists in the foam of the torrent, in the iris which spans it, in the morning mist which rises from it, in the deep crystalline pools which its hanging shore, in the broad lake and glancing river; finally, in that which is to all human minds the best emblem of unwearied unconquerable power, the wild, various, fantastic, timeless unity of the sea; what shall we compare to this mighty, this universal element, for glory and for beauty? or how shall we follow its eternal changefulness of feeling? It is like trying to paint a soul.!

I’m a big believer in reading primary texts. I get a little sick at the idea of studying a philosopher without reading the works of that philosopher, but I’m realistic enough to know that for the general reader, primary texts aren’t always a good option. They’re often too long or too involved for someone just looking for a passing familiarity, and so we end up relying on secondary sources. If this little book from the Penguin Great Ideas series is typical, this series is a great way of filling the need for primary texts for the general reader. Plus, with its lovely embossed cover, this book is a thing of beauty.

The 98-page book contains just two essays by Ruskin: “The Nature of Gothic” from The Stone of Venice and “The Work of Iron in Nature, Art, and Policy,” a lecture Ruskin delivered in 1858. My only complaint is that there’s no actual context or introduction provided. Just a few pages of basic biographical and historical information would have made this a perfect little introduction to Ruskin.

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Ben Aaronovitch "Rivers Of London" (Gollancz)

I started reading this last year and then for some reason forgot about it ,so i reread it again and finished it today.

While watching a crime scene, Probationary Constable Peter Grant, who dreams of being a detective in London's Metropolitan Police, has an encounter with a ghost who has witnessed the murder. What to do with that information - ghosts not really being considered proper witnesses. Together with his colleague Leslie he digs into the evidence to try and come up with a reasonable way of introducing his evidence. As he goes back to the scene to see whether the ghost is still hanging around, he crosses paths with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. He soon finds himself attached to his small unit and pulled into a very different London that he never suspected was there. All this while still being on the force with the usual rivalries and procedures that fit rather badly with the weird nature of the case.

Wonderfully whimsical and very British in style.


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