Books

Professor Jayasinhji Jhala

PinkBapaCurrently, I am reading the Autobiography of an Archive: A Scholar’s Passage to India by Nicholas Dirks, which was published earlier this year. The book explores how the disciplines of history and anthropology have grown closer as historians pay more attention to social and cultural factors.

I have also enjoyed The Circle, a novel by David Eggers and continue to enjoy In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.

A staple continues to be Hala Jhala ra Kundaliya, a poem in medieval Gujarati and Marwari by Kavi Isardas [1564 A.D.].

This poem describes a battle and the valor of warring Rajputs, between my ancestor Jhalesvara Rayasinhji I of Halvad and his maternal uncle Thakur Jasaji of Dhrol. Translation by Dr. Menaria.

Hala Jhala ra Kundaliya is a poem that describes a battle and valor of warring Rajputs, between my ancestor, Jhalesvara Rayasinhji I of Halvad and his maternal uncle, Thakur Jasaji of Dhrol.

— Jayabapa

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Author Thomas Christensen

TChristensenWhen I was honored with an invitation to join the Bored of the British Toast Rack Society, and to share some of what I am currently reading, my first thought was that it was time I got started on some good books.

That’s because I have been most occupied of late in intensive research (in newspapers and online forums) on the subject of a squad of professional hoop specialists dubbed the Golden State Warriors.

Still, I have found time for dabbles in other areas. I’m currently finishing Henry Kamen’s Philip V of Spain, which I picked up at Paper Nautilus in Providence, Rhode Isand—a cluttered bookstore of the old school, which was a delight to discover. (Next I plan to take up Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian: Writing on Indian History, Culture and Identity, which comes recommended.) While the book is too detailed on the War of Spanish Succession—in which at this moment I can muster only a casual interest—to place among my favorite Kamen titles, I now know a good deal more than my previous next to nothing about this subject.

It is an interesting period. Philip’s story has led me to go a bit further into the world of his time (the early eighteenth century), so I’ve been reading up on France under Louis XIV in books like Alastair Horne’s La Belle France, Ian Dunlop’s Louis XIV, and Antonio Fraser’s Love and Louis XIV. Along the way I’ve been dipping a little into Corneille and Racine.

Providence also provided me with a copy of John Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, which I thought quite good and would recommend to the Bored.

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Providence also provided me with a copy of John Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, which I thought quite good and would recommend to the Bored.

– Tom Christensen

It emphasizes the development of the concept of separation of church and state by Williams (the founder of Rhode Island). The tight-assed puritans up in Boston are more or less the villains in Barry’s story. From this same region, I’ve been reading up on the Blackstone River Valley textile mills, which were key in introducing both the industrial revolution and labor organizing to the U.S. The collapse of the mill economy—a consequence of cheaper Southern labor)—is still evident in distressed mill towns like Woonsocket. I picked up a book on that subject, New England’s Disharmony: The Consequences of the Industrial Revolution, edited by Douglas M. Reynolds and Katheryn Viens, at the Slater Mill store in Pawtucket.

For the Hong Kong Maritime Museum I’m reading in manuscript a collection of scholarly essays on the Selden Map of China, which languished mostly unnoticed in the Bodleian Library since its arrival there in 1659, until being effectively rediscovered in 2008. The map is the earliest surviving Chinese merchant map of East Asia.

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For the Hong Kong Maritime Museum I’m reading in manuscript a collection of scholarly essays on the Selden Map of China, which languished mostly unnoticed in the Bodleian Library since its arrival there in 1659, until being effectively rediscovered in 2008. The map is the earliest surviving Chinese merchant map of East Asia.

– Tom Christensen

Usually my reading is not quite so weighted to history as all of this seems. As always, I’m reading literary essays for Catamaran Literary Reader, an art and literature magazine published out of Santa Cruz, CA, where I’m nonfiction editor. Among my favorites from the current (Summer 2015) issue is “Meter to the Black” by Neal Snidow. He details his obsessive photographing, amid crumbly L.A. beach houses, of “details of the suburbia in which I had grown up: apartment facades, back yards, bits of parks and schools, as well as odd, anonymous objects—railings, fences, electric meters.”

Yet despite such literary escapes this might just be a history year for me. Next spring my book 1616: The World in Motion will serve as the template for a three-day symposium at Rhodes College, and I will be required to deliver a keynote, among other things. Gratifying as that is, it means I have to relearn a lot of material I’ve forgotten since the book was published in 2012. So, once more into the early modern!

I assure the Society that wherever my reading takes me I remain attentive to any and all appearances of toast racks, which I shall duly report for the delectation and edification of my esteemed colleagues.

Deep Sehgal

companyHilary Mantel – A Place of Greater Safety.

Having watched the excellent BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall, I was inspired to dig this out and read it again – apparently it’s next up for the TV treatment. I can’t think of another writer who’s able to conjure the voices of the dead with such startling veracity and I feel slightly guilty whenever I put it down, as if I’ve been eavesdropping in Danton’s parlour.

In fact, I suspect witchcraft.

George Orwell – Why I Write.

These are the essays that say it all. A brief survey of humankind written some 70 years ago, they’re still entirely accurate and resolutely modern – which is perhaps the mark of truly great writing. His economy of expression and clarity of vision are simply breathtaking.

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Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety: I can’t think of another writer who’s able to conjure the voices of the dead with such startling veracity and I feel slightly guilty whenever I put it down, as if I’ve been eavesdropping in Danton’s parlour. In fact, I suspect witchcraft.

— Deep Sehgal

Other books on the shelf in front of me include:

Robert Louis Stevenson – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories

(classic storyteller at top of his game)

Peter Biskind – Down and Dirty Pictures

(no-holds-barred tales of movie producers in Hollywood)

Stewart Lee – How I escaped my certain fate

(a great comedian reveals how he does it)

Aaron Sorkin – The West Wing, Scripts for seasons 1 and 2

(probably the finest TV writing, ever, by anyone)

… and about thirty new drama scripts, some great, some awful, a couple of which might even make it into production, some day…

Professor Jerry Haigh

jerry_haigh 2I am re-reading two or three Terry Pratchett sagas, and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.

More reading, will be material about the Chauvet Caves, bison and polar bears. This is because I am well along with my edits of my own 5th book. I’m not even sure of the title as it will either be The Lion’s False Teeth or The Polar Bear’s Knee. I was involved in fitting the former and made an Xray of the latter, a wild one at Churchill, Manitoba, that had been shot in the knee.

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I’m not even sure of the title of my 5th book, as it will either be The Lion’s False Teeth or The Polar Bear’s Knee.

— Jerry

Maybe I will combine the two titles in some way.

Thomas Thwaites, Member of the Bored

TTtumbleThe Gap by Thomas Suddendorf

Brilliant and often quite funny.

It describes the author’s research in to why humans seem so different and (with apologies to Karim’s elephant friend – please see The Bored Elephant below my book recommendations) cognitively far advanced than other extant species.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough

An amazing work of scholarship (having been floundering around trying to write my current book, which is about a tenth as long and probably a tenth as good too I appreciate it all the more), which manages to tell the story of both the failed French attempt and the later American success, taking in the revolution that begat the state of Panama, in a compelling fashion.

The Book of Dave: A Novel by Will Self 

A London cabbie’s mad rant becomes the basis for a religion in the far future.

I just like the premise.

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An amazing work of scholarship which tells the story of both the failed French attempt and the later American success, taking in the revolution that begat the state of Panama.

— Thomas Thwaites

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

The first in a the series of historical fiction novels which brilliantly explore the birth of the royal society and the scientific method.

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

Excellent science fiction with spaceships.

The Bored Elephant

BoredElephantThe following excerpt on books is from Karim’s elephant interview (click here for the full interview).

I am currently reading The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak.

The poetically tender relationship between the 12 year Jahan, and the baby elephant Chota, resonates with my own heart.

The elephant Chota’s voyage from the Indian port of Goa to the sultan’s palace in Istanbul was an adventure I found most compelling. It was at that particular point in Chota’s enchanting story that you came along and interrupted my reading of Shafak’s book with this tedious interview.

Now, I am bored.

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Before reading Shafak’s recent book, I had just finished reading Vicki Constantine Croke’s Elephant Company. Elephants wading through muddy swamps, as in the book’s cover photograph below, remains an occupational hazard for many of us.

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Elephants often have no choice but to be swamped.

Professor Richard Gombrich

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I don’t get to read many books so I am not swamped for choice.

A history of histories by John Burrow.

I read it aloud to Sanjukta [Richard’s Indian wife] from cover to cover. Utterly fascinating, with some excellent jokes. An ideal gift for almost any fairly educated person.

The Master and his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist (2009).

I have given this to several people and hope to find the time to reread the whole of it myself. Whether or not you agree with his philosophy (I don’t entirely), the presentation of the neuroscience is riveting, and some of the broad brush conclusions drawn really made me think!

The hundred-year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012). The funniest book I have read in years (by a Swede!!) and perfect for the escapism we all need nowadays

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The presentation of the neuroscience is riveting, and some of the broad brush conclusions drawn really made me think!

— Richard

Professor Robert Calder
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Since I started working on an autobiography, as pretentious as that enterprise is, my reading has largely been focused on high school yearbooks and old report cards (and what grim reading they make).

For those wanting to be truly bored, I could recommend my Master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, but that would be cruel and unusual punishment. I’m a huge Ian McEwan fan, and his recent The Children Act is very good.

The Orenda, a novel by Aboriginal Canadian author Joseph Boyden, is a superbly written and shockingly graphic account of the conflicts between Iroquois and Huron and the colonization by the French in eighteenth-century North America.

Boyden’s novel Six Day Road, published a few years ago, is a gripping novel of the Great War, particularly of the part played by two young Canadian natives. I’m about to read Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Orenda

The Orenda, a novel by Aboriginal Canadian author Joseph Boyden, is a superbly written and shockingly graphic account of the conflicts between Iroquois and Huron and the colonization by the French in 18th Century North America.

— Bob

Marisa Marsey, Member of The Bored

MarisaMKarim, I saw that you mentioned The Algonquin (in Travels) – it’s a favorite of mine, too.

Among the books I’m savoring right now: Wine and War: The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Kladstrup – in preparation for a wine panel I shall soon be on.

The Children Act

I shall second Professor Robert Calder’s vote for Ian McEwan.

I’ve been losing myself most in West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan’s biographic novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years as a screenwriter. O’Nan doesn’t try to emulate him, but rather lets us inhabit him and a gilded, besotted world populated by such as Ernest Hemingway, Bogie, and, yes, Dorothy Parker, which brings me full circle back to this enchanting Manhattan hotel, The Algonquin.

O’Nan doesn’t try to emulate F. Scott Fitzgerald, but lets us inhabit him and a gilded, besotted world populated by such as Ernest Hemingway, Bogie, and, yes, Dorothy Parker.

— Marisa

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I’m not trying to incite trouble or rock our “bored” boat, but one of its many charms is the “Round Tableisms” adorning each door. I thought this one by Ms. Parker particularly pertinent to this site:

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Rick Fitzgerald, Member of The Bored

RickTwo recommendations:

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Lovely, complex, affecting read.

Station Eleven

Dystopian fiction being all the rage these days, this one takes the reader in a radically different direction. No superheros saving the world just a thoroughly insightful vision of survival in a world devastated by disease. Plus, a traveling Shakespeare troupe and insights into the life of a great Shakespearian actor.

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Dystopian fiction being all the rage these days, Station Eleven takes the reader in a radically different direction.

— Rick

James Capon, Member of The Bored

CaponLike our beloved Armchairperson, I’m in the habit of reading multiple books at the same time so here goes… luckily I still prefer paper to Kindle, hence the (bedside table) photo:

Identically Different by Tim Spector: More nurture than nature…

As the world’s leading expert on twins, Professor Spector argues (amongst other things) that we are getting into the habit of blaming a few too many things on our genes and that with some conscious effort we can have a lot more influence on our health and the way we conduct our lives than many of us are led to believe.

Rick, thanks for the Station Eleven recommendation…

The book has arrived and now awaits my elevation from the bookshelf to the bedside table.

— James

Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner is fascinating…

It’s an exposé of processed food but written in a non-emotive way with lots of explanations about why we got to where we are… no big intrigues but lots of examples of the famous law of unintended consequences. Ever wondered why Kraft Cheese slices last forever?

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton: I’m a bit late getting to this award winning novel set in New Zealand, and all I can yet say is that the characters are well described and compelling.

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What about me? by Paul Verhaeghe: My list would not be complete without one Belgian author and he’s a Professor at a local university. As one Amazon reviewer wrote: “the book reads like a critique of capitalist society written from a psychologically-informed observer, which is probably how it was intended”. Indeed!

The Establishment by Owen Jones: This is a very British book although the lessons apply in all countries to one extent or another. He provides a combination of precise analysis together with just enough anger in his dissection of the rather corrupt state that is today’s Great Britain.

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James’ bedside table

Arthur de Cordova III (Ty), Member of The Bored

Ty 2Karim and I often exchange books and discuss books as we both live conveniently across the Golden Gate Bridge from each other in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I recently got him a copy of The Charm School by Nelson DeMille, which I had read a while back and thoroughly enjoyed having spent many years living in Russia.

Karim just lent me The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson.

 

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Karim’s bedside table

Frederick Starr’s Lost Enlightenment is of particular interest to me since my maternal grandfather hails from this historic region which includes Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

— Karim

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The Society’s Founder, Karim Ajania

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The Churchill Factor: Recently recommended to me by a British architect who lives in my neck of the woods – John Ellis – and teaches at the University of California at Berkeley.

A History of the World in 12 Maps: Lovely reproductions and a worthy tribute to cartographers throughout the ages.

Gandhi: Before India: Gandhi’s formative years as a law student at the Inner Temple in London and as a budding activist in South Africa, mobilizing cross-class and inter-religious coalitions.

Lost Enlightenment: Of particular interest to me since my maternal grandfather hails from this historic region which includes Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.