Welcome to Keith's recommendations! Check out what Keith has been reading below.
During his lifetime, the 17th century philosopher Benedict de Spinoza drew the ire of Amsterdam’s religious authorities with his iconoclastic views on theology. Today, scholars are divided over how exactly to interpret Spinoza’s ideas concerning God and religion. Some contend that Spinoza was essentially an atheist for denying the existence of an anthropomorphic deity who makes choices regarding human affairs, while others object to that label and point out that Spinoza emphasized the importance of an intellectual love of God and our participation in divine nature. In this illuminating book, Clare Carlisle constructs a persuasive argument for how we might orient Spinoza’s perspective by magnifying several key, interlocking facets of his system’s ontology and ethics. I found her analysis to be both clear and remarkably engaging, which isn’t always the case in the published writing of philosophy academics. I read Spinoza’s Religion shortly after reading Ethics and found that it worked wonderfully as a companion to the text. That said, I think that those who have an interest in these subjects but haven’t read any Spinoza will certainly find much to appreciate about the book. In either case, it will deepen and refine your understanding of his project. Carlisle has provided a thoughtful reflection on a central component of Spinoza’s work and one potential path for living a balanced and virtuous life.
Krasznahorkai is one of my favorite living writers, and this novella is a slim, jewel-like volume of exceptional beauty. In it, the grandson of prince Genji travels to a monastery in Kyoto with the hope of finding a garden that may or may not exist there. His journey throughout the monastery grounds yields splendid, detailed descriptions of living things, built structures, and various phenomena. In many ways, Krasznahorkai’s experimentation with how consciousness can be sculpted into a shape and rhythm makes him a kindred spirit of the great 20th Century modernists. And what sentences he produces! In many of his books, a sentence is an unrelenting torrent that gouges the muddy banks it passes, glides around boulders and other impediments, gathers momentum and cascades from a precipice, falls hundreds of vertical feet, and then continues downstream sweeping up and carrying along all manner of scattered debris before it reaches its natural end many miles - or pages - later. In the case of this particular book, he’s operating with the same technical style, but the emotional effect seems closer to a gentle but steady spring rain falling on the surface of an isolated pond. As is the case with all of his work, A Mountain to the North… is mesmerizing, hypnotic, and utterly alive.
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is a captivating story of self-discovery as well as a profound exploration of personal and generational pain and the yearning for transcendence. It is filled with complex characters, pitch-perfect dialogue, and exquisitely painted scenes. Time and again, Morrison deftly captures the wonders of both the particular and the universal, the real and the fantastic. Like an ancient myth, magic mingles with the commonplace here, and yet every single note strikes one as being indisputably emotionally true. This is a resplendent and deeply moving novel.
The sheer verve of Melville’s prose will knock you sideways. He had a virtuosic command of the English language, and Moby-Dick features some of the most imaginative, electrifying, rapturous passages you could ever hope to read. It’s also an astoundingly capacious and wise book, brimming with natural history and insightful meditations on the inherent equality of all people, the eternal conflict between personal will and human destiny, and the all-consuming fire of revenge. In short, this is the result of a genius applying his talents to the most enduring of raw materials. I stand in awe of this novel.
As challenging as it is to pick a favorite novel, I think that I’d ultimately have to choose The Brothers Karamazov (followed closely by Tolstoy’s War and Peace). It’s the one that has had the most transformative and lasting influence on my views about art and life. I continue to marvel over the depth of its philosophical exploration, the psychological complexity of the characters and the precision and honesty with which they are dissected, and, most important, the magnitude of the author’s heart and vision on display in its pages. Dostoevsky spent a lifetime plumbing the depths of the human psyche and crafting exacting, unflinching portrayals of our doubts, weaknesses, and vices. However, it’s also in this book that he gave us the lovely and good Alyosha, a character I consider to be among the most beautiful fictional humans to ever exist on the page. In this novel, his last and finest, Dostoevsky left us with an astonishingly powerful work of art.