Thursday, January 31, 2008

J. Allyn Rosser

J. Allyn Rosser’s new collection, Foiled Again, won the 2007 New Criterion Poetry Prize. Her previous books are Misery Prefigured, and Bright Moves. She has received numerous other awards for her work, among them the Morse Poetry Prize, the Peter I.B. Lavan Award for Younger Poets from the Academy of American Poets, the Crab Orchard Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood and Frederick Bock prizes from Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, the Ohio Arts Council and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Rosser currently teaches at Ohio University.

I recently asked the poet what she reading. Her reply:
By my estimation, there are 2,684 devastatingly original, truly astounding novels that I have not yet read (not including those not yet written.) I’m currently reading one of them, Balzac’s Illusions Perdues [Lost Illusions] about whose protagonist Oscar Wilde said: “One of the greatest tragedies of my life is the death of Lucien de Robempré.... It haunts me in my moments of pleasure. I remember it whenever I laugh.”

Every night I’ve been reading David Copperfield aloud with my husband and 11-yr-old daughter.

I’m translating (rereading) Olivia Rosenthal’s On n’est pas là pour disparaître, a very good experimental novel involving Alzheimer’s disease by a Parisian writer. Find me a publisher for its English version and I’ll send you a free copy and a box of Pierre Marcolini chocolates....

I’m reading Robert Pinsky’s new collection, Gulf Music, which is stunning in the traditional Pinsky way and in some brand new ones. Several poems I can’t get over: “Louie Louie,” “Poem of Disconnected Parts,” “Pliers.” One of the very few contemporary poets who can write about political matters unstridently, and whose content and form are in constant conversation.

Beside my favorite reading chair, books by three strangely underrated poets: Josephine Jacobsen’s In the Crevice of Time, Chase Twichell’s Dog Language and Claire Bateman’s Clumsy. On the same table is one of those books I can pick up any time and slip inside anywhere, happily: Barbara Hurd’s Stirring the Mud, whose sagacity and refreshing perspective provide great mental ventilation.

Recently I stumbled across an intriguing novella (using the term loosely) by the Turkish writer Bilge Karasu, The Garden of Departed Cats. I’m not sure that I like the book, but I just can’t stop reading the thing, alternately irritated and charmed. It contains a series of fables that interleave the fragmented narrative. Had he been reading Lydia Davis, Calvino and Borges, some of my favorites, while composing this? but was he also having digestive problems?

I am pathologically still reading Don DeLillo’s wonderful Falling Man (pp. 96-100 about the poker games: perfect), though it came out almost a year ago. I have slowed to a few pages every other week, because I don’t want to face again that terrifying void separating DeLillos: how long will it be before his next? I think in the coming centuries we/they/the robots will be reading DeLillo to try to understand how we got ourselves into this mess and how we coped with it.
Listen to J. Allyn Rosser read her poetry, and read (or listen to) the poems "Strange State, Wrong Highway, Cold Night," "Unthought," and "Fourteen Final Lines" at Slate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Caroline Tiger

Caroline Tiger is a Philadelphia-based freelance magazine writer and author of a few books, including a new and improved edition of The Long-Distance Relationship Guide: Advice for the Geographically Challenged and How To Behave: Dating and Sex.

She also writes the Philadelphia design blog, design-phan.

Earlier this month I asked Tiger what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm having a Francophile moment right now having recently read Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette followed by Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. I didn't think I needed to read Weber's book after finishing Fraser's very thorough tome, but then I saw Weber speak at a local Alliance Francaise event, and the first thing I did when I got home was order her book. It was very much worth it -- she goes into fascinating detail about how the queen's clothing choices influenced her fate. The book reads like a novel written by a fashion junkie.

Now I'm reading The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication and Glamour by U. of Penn prof, Joan DeJean. I'm actually working on an article about the Paris flea markets, and this topic led me to DeJean's book. The professor traces the genesis of the very current appetite for luxury products to a single moment in French history under Louis XIV.
Tiger's mini-autobiography from design-phan:
I'm a Philadelphia-based freelance magazine writer and author who's written for lots of different magazines, including Philadelphia, Philadelphia Home & Garden, Boston Home & Garden, Town & Country, Real Simple, Fortune Small Business, Marie Claire, Budget Living (R.I.P.), and New Jersey Life. I've always been a generalist with a strong interest in architecture and design. In my scouting, research and reporting of design-related stories, I often come across objects, ideas, news, links, people and places that don't necessarily fit into assigned magazine articles but which I'd still like to write about and record. There's so much going on right now in design in Philadelphia, it's hard not to spread the news.
Visit Caroline Tiger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein is the author of historical fiction for young adults.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I am the type of reader who's always got about a dozen books going at the same time. But I also belong to a book group, and every month I have to drop everything else so I can get through the "assigned" reading in time. Our latest is Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg, which reminded me so intensely of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights that when I described the plot to my daughter she thought I was talking about Pullman's book (a sort of darker, more violent and grown-up version set in our own world, and with a grown-up heroine).

But Smilla's an exception. Mostly I read children's fiction. This is partly because I think it informs my own work and partly because, well, I tend to prefer it. I'm in the middle of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party (heck of a title!) by M.T. Anderson. This is a truly brilliant period crafting of the life of a young slave at the time of the American Revolution. Octavian is raised as a human experiment to try to discover whether blacks are as intelligent as whites (Octavian, it is clear, is considerably more intelligent than most of either race). I'm also in the middle of Corydon and the Island of Monsters by Tobias Druitt — a pen name disguising the mother-son writing team of Michael Dowling and Diane Purkiss. The Corydon books are based on Greek myth, but cast from the point of view of the underdogs — the outcasts, the so-called monsters, sphinx and minotaur and gorgon. I love the way this imaginative twist reframes familiar myth in a dark mirror.

Also in the children's fiction department, I guess, is manga — Japanese and Korean pulp fiction in comic book form, translated into English. This week's shopping trip supplied us with three Shakespeare plays in manga form — Romeo and Juliet (illustrated by Sonia Leong), Hamlet (illustrated by Emma Vieceli) and Richard III (illustrated by Patrick Warren). They are edited by Richard Appignanesi and published in a series called, you guessed it, Manga Shakespeare. They are just WONDERFUL. The text is heavily cut from the original Shakespeare but not altered. You'd normally do that to a play, and since these are so visual and interpretive — Romeo and Juliet is set in modern day Tokyo — I think of these as "performances" rather than definitive texts. They're a great introduction to Shakespeare for a young reader, and hugely entertaining for a hopeless Shakespeare aficionado (I read the last fifty pages of the Romeo and Juliet through a haze of tears).

Finally, I should mention some of the non-fiction I'm in the middle of: my annual dose of Ethiopian history. I'm reading both The Barefoot Emperor by Philip Marsden, a biography of the ambitious, tragic, crazed Tewodros II of Abyssinia in the 19th century, and The Ark of the Covenant by Roderick Grierson and Stuart Munro-Hay, which attempts to trace the Ark from its biblical origins to its supposed modern home in Aksum in northern Ethiopia. Most of my own books are set in sixth century Ethiopia, in the ancient kingdom of Aksum, and as well as maintaining an insatiable interest in the land and its fascinating millennia of history, I am always on the lookout for new story ideas.
Elizabeth Wein, on her books:
I write fiction for teens based on Arthurian legend and early African history. I was intrigued with archaeological and scholarly evidence suggesting there were major events going on in the ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum at just about exactly the same time as the historic Arthur existed, so I've imagined a genial relationship between the two kingdoms. My young hero, Telemakos, is the son of an Ethiopian noblewoman and a British prince. My fifth book, The Empty Kingdom, will be published in April 2008. It is the second part of a duology called The Mark of Solomon. My previous books are The Winter Prince, A Coalition of Lions, The Sunbird and The Lion Hunter (which is the first half of The Mark of Solomon).

Visit Elizabeth Wein's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Shira Nayman

Shira Nayman is the author of Awake in the Dark, published in 2006 by Simon & Schuster. She has a master's degree in comparative literature and a doctorate in clinical psychology, and has worked as a psychologist and a marketing consultant. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Boulevard.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
This is what I am (and have been) reading:
  • Joseph Roth Job
  • James Salter A Sport and a Pastime (rereading)
  • D.H. Lawrence Lady Chatterly's Lover (rereading)
  • Nellie Hermann The Cure for Grief (I blurbed the book for Scribner; out in August. Really excellent book well worth reading)
  • Maupassant Collected Stories
  • John Williams Stoner (One of the best books I have ever read, reissued recently by NY Review of Books Press)
Read an excerpt from Awake in the Dark and visit Shira Nayman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Marcus Sakey

Marcus Sakey is the author of The Blade Itself and At the City's Edge.

A couple of weeks ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I can only read one book at a time. It's a compulsion for me -- I need to be able to wrap myself in the world, to take in the whole of the story and theme. If I'm reading a couple at once, they get jarbled in my head, and I start drawing parallels between David Mitchell and Mitchell Smith, which, okay, is interesting, but also kind of overwhelming.

Right now, today, I'm reading Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem. It's one of those that was recommended to me so many times that I started to resent it, and so held off reading it out of sheer stubbornness. That was a mistake; it's great. Ostensibly a literarily-styled detective story, it's really an exploration of the mind, of the way that we assemble the world according to our own perceptions. It also manages to be at once funny and heartbreaking, a tougher trick than people realize.

I recently finished Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell, the story of the battle for heaven, Yaweh versus Satan, supported by a
whole host (sorry, couldn't help myself) of other angels. Besides being a fun read, it's a sophisticated political allegory, an examination of free will and the duty to rebel against good ends that require evil means.

The last book I read that really blew my hair back was probably Michael Cunningham's Flesh and Blood . Graceful, subtle, and astonishingly empathetic. I think Cunningham is one of the finest novelists working today. Better still, while all of his books are excellent -- and some are staggering -- I think his masterpiece is yet to come.

you're interested in what else I'm reading, I go through about 80 books a year, and post about the best on my website.
Sakey's first novel, The Blade Itself, was featured on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR, and chosen a New York Times Editor's Pick, one of Esquire Magazine's "Top 5 Reads of 2007," and made January Magazine's "Best of 2007" list. Rachael Ray loved it, too. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's production company has bought film rights for Miramax.

Tess Gerritsen said "At the City's Edge crackles and sears like a rip-roaring fire," and Library Journal's reviewer wrote that "Sakey's conspiracy and corruption scenarios twist together in startling ways in this ambitious thriller. It's fast paced from the get-go and just as good as Sakey's stellar debut."

The Page 69 Test: The Blade Itself.

The Page 69 Test: At the City's Edge.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard is Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at Oregon State University. His books include Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport (2007), King Football: Sport & Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies & Magazines, the Weekly & the Daily Press (2001), and Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle (1993), all from University of North Carolina Press.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The best book on football that I've read this fall is Sally Jenkins's The Real All-Americans, which nicely balances a Hollywood-ready triumphal tale of college football's ultimate underdogs, the Carlisle Indians of the 1890s and early 20th century, with a nuanced portrait of the school's superintendent, Richard Henry Pratt, a genuinely altruistic and rightly beloved father figure who nonetheless believed that the best thing he could do for his Indian students was to exterminate their native languages and cultures.

With a new day job in recent years as an associate dean instead of a professor of American literature, I have been reading impulsively outside my discipline in the evenings: Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel; Charles Mann's 1491; Walter Alvarez's T. Rex and the Crater of Doom; Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. I found Judt's nearly 900-page tome continuously engrossing, for reassembling the fractured map of post-Soviet eastern Europe but even more so for bringing home to me, over and over, the powerfully attractive alternative that western European social democracy poses to American capitalism -- and how neither system was inevitable but rather the consequence of political decisions made over the past half-century.
Learn more about Michael Oriard and his more recent books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Brendan Foley

Brendan Foley is a writer, producer and director.

He is the writer and producer of Johnny Was, a feature film action thriller starring Vinnie Jones, Eriq La Salle, Lennox Lewis, Roger Daltrey and Patrick Bergin, and writer-director-producer of The Riddle and Bog Bodies.

His books include the WWII bestseller Under the Wire.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm just finishing a third movie in three years so I'm just getting back to reading at last. I'm rereading Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, set so far in the future that society is just returning to the hunter gatherer versus farmer stage, after some long forgotten cataclysm. One of the greatest books ever penned.

On a lighter note, I'm reading The Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson's very funny account of growing up in 1950s America.
Visit Brendan Foley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nick McDonell

Nick McDonell is the author of the novels Twelve and The Third Brother.

Alex de Waal, who taught McDonell at Harvard and is a recent contributor to Writers Read, told me that McDonell was with him "in Darfur in November... reading E.M. Forster's Passage to India in between [their] sojourns in the Arab nomads' encampments."

I asked McDonell about what he was reading in Africa and recently. His reply:
I was indeed reading A Passage to India out there, but left it in the hands of one Lt. Col. Moto on a dusty army base, and thus haven't finished it. I think the first half, at least, is some of the best writing I have ever read, fiction or non, about the colonial enterprise. And funny too, great awkward stuff with old British ladies accidentally wandering into Mosques and so on.

I just finished Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, which describes the libel/fraud lawsuit brought by convicted murderer Jeff MacDonald against Frank McGinniss, who wrote a book (Fatal Vision) about his murder trial. Malcom's book dissects the relationship between journalist and subject and comes to absolutely horrifying conclusions. It manges to be a page turner and a book of moral philosophy at the same time. It's dense, elegantly written, and short, which I always like. Reminded me of Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, which I am re-reading as I try to write about the war criminals in Darfur. Also am enjoying Murakami's Kafka on the Shore before I go to sleep at night.
Read more about McDonell's novels Twelve and The Third Brother at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gary J. Bass

Gary J. Bass is Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
It's a ways afield from my work, which is on human rights politics, but I'm reading Nathan Glazer's From A Cause To A Style: Modernist Architecture's Encounter with the American City. Glazer is a national intellectual treasure and it's a pleasure to read him. His subject here is something obvious to anyone who looks around a big city: since the 1950s, modernism has left us with a series of massive concrete eyesores. Worse, these were political projects. The modernists thought that were allies of people in the fight against extravagant or traditional architecture. In the name of slogans like "ornament is crime," the modernists contemptuously rejected historical styles -- which we unenlightened slobs thought looked nice. As Glazer writes about modernism's hulking buildings, even fifty years from now, "we won't be eager to preserve it, and we won't find it powerful or beautiful or interesting: we'll be sorry it's there, and we'll wonder how it got there, and how can improve it or replace it." Modernism, like a lot of other -isms that claimed to speak for the people, hadn't actually taken into account how real people live and what we like. And that's why the stuff is so disliked today.
Bass works on international security, human rights and war crimes tribunals. He is the author of Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals as well as articles and book chapters on international justice. His new book, Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, is due out in August 2008 from Knopf. Before joining the Princeton faculty, he was a reporter for The Economist. He has also written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, and other publications. He has won the Stanley Kelley teaching prize in the Princeton politics department.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thomas Dixon

Thomas Dixon is Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London, and the author of the forthcoming The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain and Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Two brilliant books I received as Christmas gifts are at the top of my current pile of books – Roy Porter’s London: A Social History and Vic Gatrell’s City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London. I love Gillray’s caricatures and political cartoons, and Gatrell’s book is lavishly illustrated with literally hundreds of satirical prints by Gillray, Rowlandson, and others.

The novel I read most recently was Julian Barnes’s Arthur & George – a gripping historical tale based on a real-life mystery involving a solicitor accused of mutilating animals, and which brings to life all sorts of interesting Victorian and Edwardian themes, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s professional and private lives and his interest in spiritualism.

I can thoroughly recommend Jon Ronson’s journalism – an addictive combination of humour, politics, and a keen sense of the bizarre. I bought his latest – What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness – for several of my friends for Christmas. His earlier book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, is also fantastic.
Thomas Dixon earned a degree in Theology and Religious Studies (Cambridge), has an MSc in the History and Philosophy of Science from Imperial College, London; his PhD (Cambridge) was a study of the history of theories of passions and emotions.

He has pursued three related strands of research: the history of theories of passions and emotions; the history of debates about ‘altruism’, especially in Victorian Britain; and, more generally, the history of relationships between science and religion. Two of his essay-reviews for the Times Literary Supplement are available online: one is on the philosophy of emotion, the other on science and religion.

Learn more about his Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Thomas Dixon's faculty webpage to learn more about his other publications and research interests.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Alex de Waal

Alex de Waal is a researcher, writer and activist on African issues. He is a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative, Harvard; director of the Social Science Research Council program on AIDS and social transformation; and a director of Justice Africa in London.

He is most recently author of AIDS and Power: Why There is No Political Crisis Yet and, with Julie Flint, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War.

Last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Bloomsbury 2007). My wife bought if for me for Christmas and — as to be expected from the title — the whole book is an extended joke. But it also has a serious point. Inevitably, when we talk about books, we talk about our recollections of them, rearranged in light of our current circumstances. Bayard compels the reader to reflect on how he (sic: the text is resolutely non-PC) sifts and interprets books. For the writer, he conjures up that bittersweet experience of meeting a reader of one’s own work, whose laudatory description doesn’t at all match the writer’s own recollection of what one has written. The writer even becomes a stranger to his own earlier writing — surprised (pleasantly or otherwise) by what he had forgotten he had written years before.

(Incidentally the publishers have done the author a disservice with a blurb that implies it’s an upmarket bluffer’s guide to the classics — it’s nothing of the sort.)

I am also reading the third part of an ethnographic trilogy on the Uduk people of southern Blue Nile, a frontier area of northern Sudan that abuts both southern Sudan and Ethiopia. This is Wendy James’s War and Survival in Sudan’s Frontierlands: Voices from the Blue Nile (Oxford 2007). In the interests of full disclosure, Prof. James was my supervisor when I was writing my doctoral thesis on Darfur twenty years ago. Her first two books on the Uduk were classic anthropology in the tradition of Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard, one of the founders of the discipline in Britain. This third and (one assumes) final volume recounts in vivid depth the ordeals undergone by a remote community that found itself in the frontline of Sudan’s civil war, whose members were scattered north, south and east (to Ethiopia), in some cases displaced violently multiple times, and who fought in several different armies — at some points, on opposing sides in the same battles (an opposition that didn’t prevent them communicating).

It’s both a personal account of what it means to live and die during such trauma, and a historically and sociologically informed ‘thick description’ too. Some of the incidents sound as though they could have come from the days of turmoil and enslavement of the 19th century, such as the story of one Uduk boy who with his younger sister, rolled down an escarpment while his family was fleeing a gunbattle. The two children were presumed dead and abandoned, but in fact the boy survived and was brought up as an adopted son by a family from the Bertha ethnic group. Years later, he was determined to discover his real — but wholly unknown — identity, with the sole clue to his origin consisting in a wooden back-board (like a rucksack) which Uduk children use to carry their infant siblings. James’s account breaks off just before he was reunited with his mother.

War and Survival is a treasure trove for those wanting to understand what wars in Sudan (such as in Darfur) really mean. One of the themes that emerges strongly is that the Uduk people tend not to assess an individual by which side he took in the war, but by his personal behavior — decency or cruelty when he had the power of life or death over people in his charge.

On my recent trip in Darfur I took along a copy of Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA. (The sunset curfew means there are plenty of hours for reading.) What a compelling and disturbing chronicle of blunders and crimes, of unfettered power deployed so wantonly! This isn’t the place to review it — but let me mention of an episode that Weiner references only in passing. This was Reagan’s Saharan contras — a parallel to the much better known support for the Afghan Mujahideen — namely the joint CIA-French effort to expel Libya from Chad and humble Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. In the 1980s this was America’s biggest covert operation in Africa, supplying Chadian militias and Libyan dissidents with weapons, training and intelligence. They won. The culmination was a battle at the aptly-named Wadi Doum in 1987 when nimble Chadian warriors sped across the desert in their Toyota landcruisers and defeated a vast army of Libyan tanks. This formed the prelude to Darfur’s war — but in this case it was Gaddafi’s defeated proxies that retreated across the open border to Sudan and went on to create the infamous Janjawiid militia. (Which should remind us that the CIA’s adversaries have sown mayhem around the world as well.) In the spirit of Bayard — and perhaps in the best tradition of the CIA itself — my chosen recollection of Weiner’s remarkable book is what isn’t in it.

I regularly review books relevant to Darfur on my blog.
De Waal's books include: Famine that Kills: Darfur, Sudan, 1984-5 (Oxford University Press, 1989), and Facing Genocide: The Nuba of Sudan (African Rights, 1995). He is the editor and lead author of Islam and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa (Indiana, 2004), and most recently author, with Julie Flint, of Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, 2d ed (Zed, 2008) and AIDS and Power: Why There is No Political Crisis Yet (Zed, 2006). De Waal earned his doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford University.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mark Vernon

Mark Vernon is a writer, broadcaster and journalist. He began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England. He is the author of After Atheism: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life, The Philosophy of Friendship, What Not To Say: Finding the Right Words at Difficult Moments, and Business: the Key Concepts. He also writes regularly for the Guardian, The Philosophers' Magazine, TLS, Financial Times and New Statesman, alongside a range of business titles, including Management Today. He also broadcasts, notably on BBC Radio 4's In Our Time.

Late last year I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I usually have a few books on the go at one time - some read for fun, some very thoroughly, some more lightly. At the moment, my 'for fun' book is Moondust by Andrew Smith, about the author's attempts to track down and engage the nine remaining astronauts who walked on the moon. All have fascinating if not strange stories to tell. The book is also great for situating Apollo in its cultural period. And it was 30 years ago that someone last walked on the moon!

A more thorough read is James Davidson's The Greeks and Greek Love, his reappraisal of what scholars have thought about homosexuality in ancient Greece. The standard text has for a long time been Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality which makes a lot of the difference between an erastes and eromenos - the lover who is the active partner, and the younger beloved who was more passive; which is to say that Greek homosexuality was substantially different from modern gay love. Davidson wants to challenge that by showing how modern attitudes towards homosexuality have coloured the interpretation of the Greeks, and by looking at the full range of evidence. 'Tis a big book, but one that will be important for anyone interested in Greek ideas about love. I've already discovered new angles on Plato's dialogues in it.

Then I just reread Huxley's Brave New World - chasing up some quotes on his 'perfect' drug soma for a book I'm writing on Wellbeing, and getting completely absorbed by the whole thing. It is astonishingly prescient, not in details but in mood. The character of the hedonistic, risk-averse, a-spiritual society he describes seems not far off from ours. As the Controller explains: 'People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for the quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since.'

If you want a seriously intellectual pursuit, I've also been reading Heidegger, and trying to decide whether he was right about Plato (in brief, that Plato concealed the presocratic's appreciation of being, which Heidegger believed he was revealing for the first time since). I've some way to go on this one yet! But my feeling is that Heidegger was wrong because he got Plato wrong (nothing unusual in that amongst modern philosophers who treat him as a Platonist - which is like treating Marx as a Marxist or Jesus as a Christian). Heidegger read Plato through Aristotle (the latter being nearly always wrong about other philosophers), and didn't seriously understand Plato's style which, to recall Heraclitus, was to show.
Vernon's new book, scheduled for release in March 2008, is 42: Deep Thought on Life. His Teach Yourself Humanism is due out in summer, and he is working on Wellbeing, which will be one of a new series of philosophy books called The Art of Living, which he is also editing.

Read a sample chapter from After Atheism and a sample chapter from The Philosophy of Friendship.

Visit Mark Vernon's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue