What are you reading?


What are you currently reading?  

41 members have voted

  1. 1.

    • Rand's Fiction (Atlas, Fountainhead, etc.)
      2
    • Rand's Nonfiction (Capitalism, ITOE, etc.)
      2
    • Something about Rand or Objectivism
      4
    • Nathaniel Branden
      1
    • Unrelated Fiction
      11
    • Unrelated Nonfiction
      21
    • Not reading anything
      0


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Let's start this up with a poll. What are you reading? Probably more than one book, right?

In Objectivism, there is so much to read out there. I know I have barely scratched the surface. The last couple of books I have read were *horrors* not by Ayn Rand, but her "enemies," namely Nathaniel Branden and Michael Prescott. Taking Responsibility and Dangerous Games are wonderful books by people who have been associated with Objectivism.

I'm reading Ayn Rand Answers and The Romantic Manifesto now. Although she makes many good points and observations, I have some issues with RM as I feel her views on the creative field are too narrow. Are her tastes in art, music and literature part of the philosophy of Objectivism or just her tastes? In other words, fact or opinion, cognitive or normative?

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I had just finished Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent on Monday, and I went back yesterday to reading Fred Seddon's Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the History of Philosophy. Seddon's book is very expensive, but I got a used copy on the Internet. It's quite well worth the read. He knows his stuff, and apparently Rand and Peikoff did/do not know theirs, especially about Plato, Hume, and Kant. (I just finished the two chapters on Kant's epistemology and ethics last night.)

REB

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I'm reading Ayn Rand Answers and The Romantic Manifesto now.  Although she makes many good points and observations, I have some issues with RM as I feel her views on the creative field are too narrow.  Are her tastes in art, music and literature part of the philosophy of Objectivism or just her tastes?  In other words, fact or opinion,  cognitive or normative?

While Rand made many important points in TRM, the book has also a lot of weak points. I think she is at her best when she writes about literature, the field where she was of course a master herself. But her views on fine art and music are far too simplistic. She was obviously an amateur and quite out of her depth in those areas. I think that she was at least somewhat aware of this with regard to music; AFAIK (correct me if I'm wrong) she never published her bizarre ideas about the "malevolence" of Beethoven or what was "wrong" with Bach and Mozart. I think she must have realized that she was on thin ice here. But she had no inhibitions when writing about fine art, producing such howlers as calling Vermeer a representant of "bleak kitchen Naturalism", condemning Rembrandt for belonging to the "painterly school" and dismissing all Impressionists as "silly". I cannot but wonder how many of their paintings she really had seen in her life (there is a parallel with her knowledge of the writings of other philosophers, which seems to have been very superficial, Aristotle probably excepted). Apparently her idea of a positive sense of life in painting is equivalent to a detailed realism, bright colors, blue skies, skyscrapers, and people in ecstatic or heroic postures. Everything else must be the result of a malevolent sense of life. In fact there is here a strong reminiscence of the principles of Soviet realism and Nazi art (Arnold Breker for example), with their emphasis on heroic and exalted realism. I think this is a very narrow and stifling view which greatly detracts from the value of the book, making it much more difficult to be taken seriously by the "outsiders".

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I'm reading a delightful book, "Woe is I: The Gramaphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," by Patricia O'onnor. It explains such things as when to use "who" and when "that" -- when to use "who" and when "whom"-- why "myself" gets the booby prize -- whether "couple" is singular or plural -- and deals with a host of other grammatical issues in a non-technical and often hilarious manner. The book is especially useful for me because I never properly learned official grammar at school; my knowledge of grammatical usages comes solely from rather wide reading. But the problem is that if, at some point, I'm not sure what is correct, I have no means of figuring it out. "Woe is I" now gives me the means.

I'm also reading "Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior," by Helmut Schoeck. I've always thought that many people exaggerated the problem of envy in society, that it was only a minor issue in the lives of most people. I'm not far into the book, but it's making me wonder if the problem is not more significant that I had known. I'll report on what I find when I've read more.

I just finished Ayn Rand's "Ayn Rand Answers." Much of it is a great pleasure, although I suspect that despite the fact that the answers contain many of her accusations of dishonesty directed at questioners, the answers are s over-edited and much material is excised in favor of presenting a balanced and temperate Rand. I suspect it, because I was present at so many of her question periods, and I know the kind of thing that occurred.

There are a few issues that troubled me in Rand's answers, although I'm not certain it's quite fair to judge her full view on the basis of necessarily short responses to questions. For instance, she states that she would not advocate legalizing euthanasia, (although she sympathizes with a doctor who helps a suffering patient to die) because unscrupulous doctors might join with unscrupulous relatives to kill someone who is not dying and is not in pain. I think this dificulty could rather easily be handled by a law authorizing euthanasis only under certain very rigid cicrumstances.

In another answer, she appears to sanction the state as the arbiter of what constitutes legal marriage. Today, many people argue -- and I agree -- that the state should not be in the marriage business at all.

But these and other such objections are rather minor. Rand is often delightful in her bluntness, as when, in answer to the question: "Could you comment on the current status of literature?" -- she responds: "No. I don't have a magnifying glass." Or when, in answer to "How does one translate the desire to write into the will to write?" -- she responds: "Try hard." And, of course, she is almost always brilliant: see her discussions of why a clever ganster is not rational, or why one cannot use reason to prove that reason is valid; these are only two random choices among a wealth of responses that make this book eminently worth reading and eminently enjoyable.

Barbara

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Hi, Dragonfly!

You mentioned comments about painting by Rand in The Romantic Manifesto, and you wrote:

While Rand made many important points in TRM, the book has also a lot of weak points. I think she is at her best when she writes about literature, the field where she was of course a master herself. But her views on fine art and music are far too simplistic. She was obviously an amateur and quite out of her depth in those areas. I think that she was at least somewhat aware of this with regard to music; AFAIK (correct me if I'm wrong) she never published her bizarre ideas about the "malevolence" of Beethoven or what was "wrong" with Bach and Mozart. I think she must have realized that she was on thin ice here. But she had no inhibitions when writing about fine art, producing such howlers as calling Vermeer a representant of "bleak kitchen Naturalism", condemning Rembrandt for belonging to the "painterly school" and dismissing all Impressionists as "silly". I cannot but wonder how many of their paintings she really had seen in her life...

It might interest you to know that I have written a bit about this in an essay for Reason Papers No. 23, Fall 1998. The essay was "Kamhi and Torres on Meaning in Rand's Esthetics," of which I'll quote just a brief portion here.

I fail to detect the inconsistencies that Torres and Kamhi claim to see. They suggest, for example, that these supposed contradictions explain instances in which Rand failed to grasp the real abstract meaning of certain paintings by Vermeer, one of her favorites. I would alternately suggest that her disappointment at the lack of heroic motifs in said paintings and her excitement over his style which she found so admirable combined to interfere with her ability to focus on what was embodied in Vermeer's subjects. These factors may well have encouraged her mistaken judgment that his subjects were banal and his style everything (relatively speaking). As strong as Rand's allegiance was to the idea of the centrality of the subject in esthetics, her real love obviously was for style. It's not unreasonable to suggest that she probably had an overly narrow view of what subject matter would be appropriate to the execution of a particular style. (Otherwise, why speak, as she did, of such apparent mismatches between subject and style as an "esthetic crime"??)

If you are interested in reading the entire essay, it is posted at http://members.aol.com/REBissell/indexmmm.html. As you may know, I have a fairly substantial bone to pick with Torres and Kamhi and their book on Rand's aesthetics, What Art Is, which I nonetheless gladly recommend, for its comprehensive and stimulating coverage of Rand's ideas. (It should be supplemented by reading the various pieces on their book and on art, music, and architecture that were published in Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, some of which are also posted on the above web page.)

Welcome, and best regards,

REB

P.S. I heartily concur with your comments on Rand's opinions on music, and I will simply add this philosophical footnote: arrrrrgh! :?

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Right now I am reading:

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. (My fianc...hey it's actually wife now!...assigned it in her Contemporary American Lit class she is teaching.)

Breathing Lessons by Ann Tyler(my WIFE likes her writing style and asked me to read this novel).

The Art of Fiction. No, not that one, but the one by John Gardner.

Just finished Ayn Rand: Q&A. And yes, Barbara, despite editing, her sometimes bafflingly viscious nature still shines through.

And last but not least, I am almost finished with a detailed reading and study of two books that have been forced recently to go hand-in-hand, which I intend to say more about later. One is a brilliant biography. The first biography that I have read that has made me say wow regarding it's writing style. In biography, we seldom mention characterization, but in this one, the author does not tell us, but shows us the character. My wife and I have our living room walls, and our bedroom walls lined with bookshelves which contain some great writing. They are not full of pulp and bodice rippers. This biography will go down as one of the greatest pieces of writing about one of the greatest figures in history that I've ever read.(Now you might accuse me of being so glowing about this biography because I just finished the rather dry autobiography of Dr. Edward Teller, but I assure it was not merely thirst that has led me to savor this book so.)

The other work I'm studying along with this one, is a work whose author repeatedly TELLS us what truth is, and then proceeds to prove it through one non-sequitur after another. It's a horrible piece of writing, a horrible argument, and the silence is about to be broken.

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Jody?

You? Can? Read???

Never woulda' guessed it from all your nay-sayers on other sites! (Ohhhh noooo, you never pissed anyone off, did you?)

I guess that'll teach me not to believe all that I read!!!!WINK...WINK...WINK!!! :wink:

Anyhew, I'm now working on "Objectivism for Dummies!" :lol:

I'll let you know how it goes.

gw

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If you are interested in reading the entire essay, it is posted athttp://members.aol.com/REBissell/indexmmm.html.

The link didn't work until I discovered that I had to delete the period at the end...

I fail to detect the inconsistencies that Torres and Kamhi claim to see. They suggest, for example, that these supposed contradictions explain instances in which Rand failed to grasp the real abstract meaning of certain paintings by Vermeer, one of her favorites. I would alternately suggest that her disappointment at the lack of heroic motifs in said paintings and her excitement over his style which she found so admirable combined to interfere with her ability to focus on what was embodied in Vermeer's subjects. These factors may well have encouraged her mistaken judgment that his subjects were banal and his style everything (relatively speaking). As strong as Rand's allegiance was to the idea of the centrality of the subject in esthetics, her real love obviously was for style. It's not unreasonable to suggest that she probably had an overly narrow view of what subject matter would be appropriate to the execution of a particular style. (Otherwise, why speak, as she did, of such apparent mismatches between subject and style as an "esthetic crime"??)

I tried to write a reaction, but I've been continuously rewriting the text and now it's such a mess that I'll leave it at the moment, I'll have to order my own thoughts first if I want to produce something coherent... Just one brief comment

I think we should make a distinction between Rand's theoretical exposé and her concrete examples. In the first she doesn't confuse the external subject matter with the ultimate content; she even explicitly warns against it, but as soon as she writes about particular examples she does fall in that same trap. Not with regard to literature, but definitely when she discusses concrete examples of art and music. So for those particular examples I tend to agree with Kamhi and Torres.

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Gary-

That did say READ didn't it. So I can't count those books on tapes thingies?

Good to see you here. What's a good Lemberger recommendation?

And I'm sorry to have to beg to differ with you, but I never pissed anyone off! ;)

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Barbara, writes:I'm reading a delightful book, "Woe is I: The Gramaphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," by Patricia O'onnor

Barbara, I got the book. I hope my grammar will improve. :oops:

To learn requires a lot of courage!

CD.

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Lets see: I had jury duty for a few weeks late Nov and early December, during the breaks I read "Genome, The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters" by Matt Ridley, 1999. It was pretty good, well written. I suppose a determined determinist could make some hay out of the very predictable effects of certain gene mutations on our personalities and memories and cognitive abilities. There is even a chapter entitled "Free Will". I liked it, and recommend it. Amazon.com has it for $10.50 paperback, I checked it out of the library. If anyone knows of a similar book, more recent I'm interested.

I received several books on my wish list for Christmas!

1. "Einstein's Cosmos" by Michio Kaku, I'm enjoying it, I love Einstein. This is a good biography, Michio Kaku is a professor of Theoretical Physics himself and obviously admires and respects Einstein a great deal.

2. "Ayn Rand Answers" Haven't started it yet, but soon.

3. "The Girl Who Owned a City", by O.T. Nelson. This was reviewed on the old Solohq site sometime earlier this year, I don't remember what everyone said about it but I marked it as "really like to read". I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

4. "Secrets of Power Negotiating" by Roger Dawson. This was also reviewed on the old solo. I dunno but I like books like this. Sort of like to beef up the old interpersonal relationship immune system.

5. "Freakonomics" by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I saw one of these guys on CSPAN a couple of weeks ago and I liked what he had to say. I think it was also reviewed on the old solo.

6. "The Art and Science of Analog Circuit Design", edited by Jim Williams. I just love this kind of stuff. Jim Williams is a analog circuit geek guru. My kind of guy. Recommended if you're the kind of person who dreams in circuit diagrams.

That's the most recent batch. Kind of a cross section of what I like to read. I used to read a lot of sci-fi, but I've gotten away from it the last couple of decades. I wouldn't know what to buy now. I was strongly influenced by Heinlein, Arthur Clark and Asimov as a kid, especially Heinlein. As and adult, Larry Niven, William Gibson are a couple I remember.

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Jody,

No I haven't. I've just read the review on Amazon and it looks great. And it was just released last month. Thanks Jody! I've added it to my wish list. A couple of other books by Abraham Pais look good also. Have you read any of these books?

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Mike,

I have read Inward Bound, which I would also recommend. It is an autobiography for the most part, but an invaluable one for anyone interested in the people and developments of 20th century physics.

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Jody, how do you like Pat Conroy's book? He is one of my favorite writers (and is profoundly influenced, as he is the first to say, by Thomas Wolfe.) I have a great affection for many Southern writers, such as Conroy, Wolfe, William Styron (whose Sophie's Choice I consider to be one of the few masterpieces of the 20th century), Tennessee Williams -- but not, I hasten to add, William Faulkner.

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Barbara-

I'm glad we see eye-to-eye about Faulkner.

As for Conroy, he certainly has an incredible way of portraying the south and those who grew up in it. I had mixed emotions about him at first. When reading The Prince of Tides, I felt that his prose was too exaggerated, what creative writing people would call "purple prose", i.e. prose that reeks of sentimentality and ambiguous but emotionally charged language and overt decoration. His narrative at times almost seems to commit something along the lines of the faux pas "She said dreamily" type of writing. So I started reading Beach Music as well, and find it to be better written. I think that Beach Music is a better novel when it comes to character development. Though both novels are written in the 1st person point of view, in Beach Music, the other characters are better developed and seem less distilled and interpreted by the narrator. In both novels however, his sense of plot and conflict is as about as good as it gets, and when his writing approaches it's best, it approaches the best writing of the latter 20th century.

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This is probably heresy for Objectivists, but one of my favorite Southern writers of all time is Erskine Caldwell. I can't even think about the titles of his two most famous books without cracking up (God's Little Acre and Tobacco Road), despite the tragedy in them. I come from hillbillies, so this probably hits me harder than most.

The way those hillbillies gradually wreck a brand new car in Tobacco Road is one of the funniest sequences I have ever read.

And the old-lady preacher, Sister Bessie, bribing Jeeter Lester's youngest son, Dude, with that new car to marry him (but praying to God for permission first) reminds me of something somewhere...

(ahem...)

There is a very funny quote from that novel. I can't find it on the Internet, but I remember the gist very well. I think Dude had run into a horse drawn wagon and killed the black driver. Then, after a person had confirmed that the black driver was dead, a young girl said something like, "That's the trouble with darkies. They just won't stop dying and there's nothing anyone can do about it."

When I'm feeling raunchy and canine, a quote by Ty Ty Walden from God's Little Acre always comes to mind (talking about his pretty daughter-in-law, I think):

She just makes a man want to get down on his knees and lick something.

The way Ty Ty moves "God's Little Acre" around on his property in his mind due to his gold fever is a wonderful metaphor for most people's morals. (He digs holes all over his property but never finds any gold. He has reserved a choice acre for God where he will never dig, but if he gets an idea that gold may be there, he moves the acre to another spot by moving the boundaries over in his mind. His friend called him a "man of action" for doing that.)

On a down note, probably the most disturbing image in all literature for me came from one of his books, but I cannot remember the name right now. In a typical misunderstanding between father and son, where son seeks approval that is not forthcoming, the son goes out back and shoots himself in the heart with a shotgun. After the father finds his body, in a state of shock, he takes the gun and fires it once more through the hole in his son's chest.

Dayaamm!

I can't figure out what that image means, why it is so powerful, but it has haunted me for years.

Michael

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I come from hillbillies, so this probably hits me harder than most.

Well now, Michael, that explains some of why I like you so much...

Both sides of the family, all the way back- Ozarks. Mountain View, to be precise, which is hillwhack ground-zero, being that that is where the Ozark folk center was built. :) I wonder if we are related- do you ever feel the need to chase your housepets or siblings around when you are feeling randy? Thank Gawd<tm> they got out of there before they had me, or I fear my life would involve either being bent over logs, or banjo playing rather than guitar.

Reading, yes... Ken Wilber's The Marriage of Sense and Spirit, right now. In between I continue my quest to finish the collected works of William James.

Vivian has a copy of Christiane Northrup's Mother Daughter Wisdom that she is devouring.

Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By

Picking through sections of Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy only because I used to have it and I found a pristine hardback for 5 bucks.

The Gnostic Scriptures, the first two days involving learning how to read translator markings

Weird Ohio, which is a very fun book I got for Xmas (they have one for every state, and let me tell you, this is big fun when you don't want to get all heavied up.

I think that's about it...

rde

effed up the bold face, but too lazy to change it right now.

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Jody: "when his (Conroy's) writing approaches it's best, it approaches the best writing of the latter 20th century." I emphatically agree. And I also agree that Beach Music is a much better book than The Prince of Tides.

I must confess that I am by no means immune to purple prose. And I know, about my own writing, that my tendency -- which I fight against and usually manage to edit out -- is never to use one adjective when three will do.

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Barbara-

As for purple prose, you managed incredibly well in PAR. I've been reading PAR these past few weeks, reading and re-reading and starting over and going forward with it, and it is on of the greatest biographies I have ever read. I mean that in ALL sincerity. I've read several biographies over the past few months, including someone who won the pulitzer(Edmund Morris's Dutch, though he won the pulitzer for his biography of T. Roosevelt), Edward Tellers autobiography, Robert Graves autobiography as well as others, and yours stands out. So often in biography/autobiography, people seem to forget or ignore the phrase "show, don't tell". PAR is probably the best example of a biography "showing" that I have read. You did an incredible job with it Barbara. You're writing deserves much more critical acclaim than it received. The Pulitzer winner Edmund Morris pales in comparison. And again, this is not idle praise. I am not the typical objectivist when it comes to an assessment of someones artistic abililities. Horrible writing is horrible regardless of it's theme, or purported influence by Ayn Rand, and I will be the first to call it horrendous if it merrits that designation. The modern powers that be in the literary world commit the sin of assigning value to that which most closely mirrors their ideologies. I look at(am overwhelmed actually) by talent first, and then I seperately assess the ideological merrits. I even recently quoted T.S. Eliot here, whom I despise ideologically, but DAMN! he can sure turn a pharase and bring language and it's rythm to life.

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Jody-

Yes, T.S. could turn a beautiful phrase.

It might provide you some additional insight on T.S. if you look at him in context of the Romantics, and what they were trying (in a noble, but ultimately flawed way) to achieve. T.S.'s wastelands, his hollow men, were commentary on the negative aspects of modernity (yes, there are negative aspects to modernity that can be looked at. What he was reacting to was the flatland that was created- things being reduced to empirical "its", the truth of science without the meaning, the strong sense of feeling provided by the interior dimensions. The same with people, who in business were beginning to be referred to as assets rather than individuals.

One place where Romanticism (at least the extreme versions of it) failed was in the solution, which they thought was to revert back to some supposedly better time in past history- the "noble savage" thing. Devolution. Instead of evolving, moving forward, they were looking to revert to a pre-rational state. This is a fallacious approach no matter what stage or type of evolution you are talking about. The obvious proof of that is what happens if you took that all the way back- eventually you would simply be dealing with emergent properties.

The better solution to reclaim the losses that modernity brought on along with its many great gains would involve moving forward. This was what postmodernity attempted, but in the extreme schools, all they did was dissociate from rationality, rather than build off of it. Jeez, Louise!

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Jody,

I wish to second your endorsement of Barbara's style. I have stated in other places, and I reiterate here, that The Passion of Ayn Rand is a magnificent achievement. As you mention, her style is unusually rich in conveying a sense of the reader being able to "see" the events unfolding, not just hear about them from another person.

Other bios of Rand are on their way, as it should be, but this first work probably did more to open Objectivism up to the mainstream than any other effort since Rand wrote her fiction and Nathaniel Branden wrote his highly successful self-esteem books. Part of the success is due to blowing the lid off the affair, of course, but information like that alone in no way can make a best-seller - like this book was.

It also needs to be said that Barbara's success is not style alone. Her research included over 200 interviews with people who knew Rand, all captured on tape. She did a thorough job of backing up her own views with corroboration from others. However, I imagine that many of those who were interviewed requested that their name and/or content be kept confidential because of the irrational and vicious attacks Rand fanatics make against those who criticize her.

For example, in the Branden Corner, there is a thread called, "Statements from those who knew Ayn Rand from NBI & such." (This list will grow much larger before too long.) One of the people quoted actually requested anonymity because he did not want to become involved in all the bickering he has seen. He stated, "I prefer to remain anonymous in a subculture where civility is honored mainly in the breach." I am convinced that he is not alone in that feeling.

But in the end, Barbara's talent is what took PAR to the best-seller list and I am extremely pleased to see other people like you talking about it.

Michael

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Been re-reading the romantic manifesto. On top of that I've been reading as many Sin City volumes as I can get my hands on: "Family Values" "A Dame to Kill For" and "Booze Broads and Bullets" I've also wanted to pick up the extension of the book "shop talk" with nothing but conversations between Frank Miller and Will Eisner. I guess you could call 2005 my "Miller" year. I think it's taught me a lot about the craft and it's really helped me get my head on straight.

And to quote two greats I mentioned above "Inking is Sexy?"

---Landon

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Hey, Landon, I just got the Eisner/Miller conversations for x-mas. When I first started reading Miller back in the 80's I thought he was the first guy to actually use the medium of comix to its full potential since Eisner; to read these two talking shop is a dream come true.

Other books under the tree: A Southern Tragedy, in Crimson and Yellow by Lawrence Naumoff, A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin--oh, and a biography of some Russian-American philosopher from the forties or something. :-$

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