The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell by Edith LaGraziana

Introduction into the
Science of Thinking

As long as I can think back, philosophy strongly attracted me, and yet, I never really bothered to learn more about it. In high school I was taught some basics, but the subject didn’t leave many traces in my memory except that the lessons, the text-book and even the teacher were mind-numbingly boring. After nearly thirty years I decided to give it a new try. Of course, I couldn’t just plunge into matters unprepared, so for a start I picked a cursory introduction into philosophy. The book of my choice was The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) who received the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”.

Although the author published the book in 1912 to introduce some of the most important concepts of philosophy to the uninformed reader or undergraduate student, it’s far from an easy read. Already the first chapter dealing with appearance and reality is a bit of a challenge because it doesn’t forgive a single moment of distraction. The question dealt with is one of the best known of philosophy: what is a table? Does it exist separate from the individual’s perception? Is it what it appears to be? Or is it necessary to distinguish between reality and apparition? Is the table I see the same as yours? The most famous philosophers of all times have discussed it in depth as well as at length, thus it suffices to say that my mind was spinning when I finished the chapter… and it turned out to be the most accessible of all fifteen less the last! It’s true that I’ve often engaged in similar mind games as the philosophers whom Bertrand Russell cites, but I never was very consequent and thus never even guessed how far they can be driven, nor how controversial they actually are. I learnt a lot about philosophy and eventually couldn’t help wondering why highly intelligent people waste their time on problems that have no relevance whatsoever for daily life. The author foresaw this reaction and closed his introduction with a chapter about the value of philosophy that sort of reconciled me with the science of thinking.

I experienced The Problems of Philosophy as a demanding and interesting read although I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy it because it was too cursory and quick-paced. As a matter of fact, I believe that I might have taken more pleasure in a thorough philosophical work on just one of the problems. Kindly Bertrand Russell appended a bibliographical note with special recommendations for further reading to learn the basics of philosophy because he too thought that it made more sense than studying handbooks. I fully agree with him.

The Problems of Philosophy - Bertrand Russell

Original post on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion:

Download September @ReadNobels Wallpaper featuring Anatole France's Our Children

It's almost September! It's time once again for our new calendar for Read the Nobels.

If this is the first time you're hearing about this, these calendar wallpapers are a fun monthly project I cooked up for myself and is a sneaky way of promoting the Read the Nobels Reading Challenge for 2016. I select an author who has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, a book cover, and a quote.

This month, I am featuring 1921 Nobel Prize Laureate Anatole France. I noticed that on Read the Nobels, there was only one book reviewed. I'm going to keep this simple, let you gawk at the vintage cover, and click on the links below.

You can read some of his work here:
Download this September Read the Nobels wallpaper!

Right click image, download, and set as your desktop wallpaper. Voila! #ReadNobels makes an appearance on your computer! (Note: Wallpaper for personal use only.)

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Have you ever heard of Anatole France?

Past wallpapers:
Get some Nobel Prize winning literature in your reading lists! All it takes is one book for the entire year. Click to join the challenge RIGHT HERE!

Read the Nobels 2016

Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle) by Harry Martinson

Harry Martinson is a Swedish Nobel Prize Laureate, receiving the prize in 1974 together with another Swedish writer Eyvind Johnson ”for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos”. He also wrote poetry, and is one of the best known ’proletarian’ writers in Sweden. I have finally got around to read one of his most famous and auto-biographical books, Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle).

It is about the boy Martin (Martinson’s alter ego), 7-11 years old during the story, and whose mantra is ”my father is dead and my mother is in California”. Martinson lost his parents at a young age; his father died and his mother left him to move to Portland, USA. He spent his earlier years in foster care. It has certainly influenced his writing in general and is specifically present in this novel.

We follow Martin from when his father dies and his mother leaves the children behind to emigrate to California. Times were dire, especially for a widow, with several children. The children were placed in foster care through the municipality, according to the norm; the family who demanded least money could have the child. It is terrible to think of how these children must have suffered.

Although Martin in the novel does not physically suffer very badly, although there are some beatings occasionally, it is the mental part that is most difficult for him to handle. He is missing his mother, love, closeness to a family member. His beloved older sister died young and that was the last person he loved. He is taken from one foster home to the next and in the end (at least of the book but not his life) he arrives to a home for older people with mental deficiencies. He helps out with the inmates and feels that the lady in charge is a surrogat mother for him. Then something happens.

Harry Martinson’s novel lingers between reality and dreamlike story telling. It is written from a 10-year old boy’s view, but the wisdom of these views belong to a much older man. ”Martin is described as a selfish, stupid, childish, self pitying, obsequious, coward and false.” I don’t really agree to all of these characterisations. His situation is of a vulnerable kind. A child that, in principal, has lost his family at a young age. Living in five different homes during as many years, with people he does not know that well. When he gets attached to people, it is time for him to move to another family. In those harsh days, parents did not have time and energy to give love to their own children, less to an orphan child. Maybe the description above is only natural for a child in his situation.

The story is a good description of the situation for the poor in Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century. It is written in a wonderful, easily read prose with dreamlike sequences and beautiful descriptions of nature, woven into the sad story of Martin. Harry Martinson has managed to delicately balance his story, and make it trustworthy. And, being a Nobel Prize Laureate book, easily accessible. An enjoyable read.

Original post by Lisbeth @ The Content Reader

The Living Reed by Pearl S. Buck
Reviewed by Edith LaGraziana

With today’s review I’m moving from Israel on the western coast of Asia to the south-eastern edge of the continent, namely to the Korean peninsula. Keeping largely to herself the Kingdom of Korea managed to ward off territorial cravings of Russia, China and Japan for centuries, but modern times introduced Europe and the United States of America into the game. Power shifted continually towards the Japanese Empire and in the early twentieth century Korea was first occupied by and then annexed to her. The Living Reed by Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck tells he fictitious story of four generations of a Korean noble family working for their country’s independence. 

Pearl S. Buck, also known under her Chinese name 賽珍珠, was born as Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia, USA, in June 1892. Her parents being Presbyterian missionaries in China she grew up in Zhenjiang near Nanking. After college in the USA she returned to China and married the agricultural economist missionary John Lossing Buck. As from 1927 Pearl S. Buck devoted herself to writing and brought out her first novel titled East Wind: West Wind in 1930 which was immediately followed by The House of Earth trilogy (The Good Earth: 1931; Sons: 1933; A House Divided: 1935). In 1935 she got divorced and married her editor Richard Walsh with whom she had been involved since 1930. “For her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces” Pearl S. Buck received the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other notable works of the prolific writer of fiction as well as non-fiction are for instance Dragon Seed (1942), The Promise (1943), The Big Wave (1948), Peony (1948), and The Living Reed (1963). Pearl S. Buck kept writing until her death from lung cancer in Danby, Vermont, USA, in March 1973.

The subtitle of The Living Reed immediately identifies the book as a novel of Korea. To be precise it’s a historical novel showing the country’s striving for independence between 1881 and 1945 at the example of the Kim family of the clan of Andong who are rich scholars belonging to the highest nobility of Korea and having a long tradition in the royal service. The story begins in Seoul in spring 1881, when a second son is born to Il-han and his wife Sunia. Meanwhile the older son got angry and broke several young shoots in the bamboo grove in the garden and Il-han explains to him that
“…, they grow only once from the root. The plants these shoots might have been, waving their delicate leaves in the winds of summer, will never live. The shoots crack the earth in spring, they grow quickly and in a year they have finished their growth. You have destroyed food, you have destroyed life. Though it is only a hollow reed, it is a living reed. Now the roots must send up other shoots to take the place of those you have destroyed. …” 
It’s a crucial moment in Korean history because the country is torn between those who like King Kojong and Il-han believe that only opening up to the world, especially to the United States of America, can save the millennia old Kingdom from annexation and those who like Queen Min and Il-han’s father trust in the traditional policy of seclusion under the suzerainty (and protection) of the Chinese Empire. Although neither Il-han nor his father holds an official position at the Royal Court, they are both loyal advisers to the Royal Couple. However, unrest is growing among Koreans and Il-han sets out to travel the whole country to get to know his own people. On his return home Il-han finds Queen Min in his house. She is hiding from the bloodhounds of the former Regent, who meanwhile seized power, and he saves her as is his duty. Some months after her and her husband’s restoration to the throne, Il-han and others are sent to the USA and Europe to learn more about those countries. After the experience Il-han is more than ever convinced that Korea needs the USA on her side and accordingly advises King Kojong. A treaty with the USA is made and first steps towards the modernisation of the country are initiated, but old and new political as well as social tensions are steadily growing over the years. Rebel groups like the Tonghak are attracting members everywhere and as it turns out Il-han’s elder son Yul-chun, who is now a young man attending a foreign school in Seoul, belongs to it. At the same time China, Russia and Japan are heading into war and the independence of Korea is threatened, but the USA don’t intervene as their treaty with Korea proclaims, not even when Japanese troupes enter the country and kill Queen Min. While Il-han’s younger son adapts to the Japanese regime, his elder son fights it and disappears for a long time while a rebel called “The Living Reed” enters the scene. 

The whole story of The Living Reed is told by a third-person narrator, but Pearl S. Buck decided to add a first-person epilogue to explain what inspired her to write the novel and above all to provide a link between the plot that ends with the arrival of US-American troupes in Seoul in 1945 and the independent, though divided Korea of the early 1960s. For a better understanding of Korean history the author also wrote a historical note as an introduction which is quite interesting although I doubt that it made the story any more accessible than it would have been without it. The first part covering the period between spring 1881 and Korea’s annexation to the Japanese Empire in 1910 takes up almost half of the books and is told in great detail, while the following two parts dedicated to the periods between 1910 and the suppression of the Mansei Demonstration in 1919 and the years from 1919 to 1945 are much shorter and seem too cursory by comparison. As regards the descriptions of life in exile and under Japanese rule, I also suspect that they might not be very realistic because they feel strangely light and uncomplicated. An important focus of the entire novel is on change, namely on the individual as well as on the political and social level. Characters are modelled with great skill and narrative foresight although the special traits of Il-han’s grandsons make expect much more of them than the plot offers because the author opted for a rather sudden – and in my opinion unsatisfactory – ending. To tell the story of the Kims and Korea Pearl S. Buck used simple language which is at the same time poetic and sometimes imitating traditional Korean ways of narration. 

All in all I enjoyed reading The Living Reed by Pearl S. Buck and plunging into a world that is so far from my own experience and into aspects of history which have been known to me only rudimentary because they are too loosely connected to what happened in Europe at the time to be taught in our schools. It’s certainly a book that helps to raise cultural awareness and understanding for the historical as well as ideological background of the lasting division of the peninsula into a secluded Communist North and open democratic South Korea. Therefore I believe that it deserves to be read by many more people than it is today.

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

© Read the NobelsMaira Gall