Tuesday, January 5, 2016

George Cotkin

George Cotkin is a Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. His books include Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick, William James, Public Philosopher, Reluctant Modernism: American Thought and Culture, 1880-1900, Existential America, and Morality’s Muddy Waters: Ethical Quandaries in Modern America.

Cotkin's latest book is Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I really wasn’t prepared to make the commitment. The hoopla about the book had been substantial, but I felt immune to it. Then one day, while wandering a bookstore’s isles, I came upon it. Take a peek; no problem. Within a couple of pages, I was hooked. The 900 page plus book was now my constant companion. Even if it sagged a bit in the middle, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire was compelling in many ways, especially for a first novel. The characters were numerous and diverse, intersecting ingeniously, with personal and political themes interwoven. City on Fire was, in the end, about living in New York City at a particular historical moment, when punk rock was rocking and the investment sector was both reaping it in and being swept down below.

Benjamin Taylor’s Proust: The Search is a brief book about a much longer work, In Search of Lost Time, and its author, Marcel Proust. Although I have never finished Proust’s opus, the book’s author has always fascinated me. Taylor is a sure-footed guide, knowledgeable about Proust, his work, and cultural context. His writing style is elegant and direct, blossoming throughout with insight.

In a very different vein, I read The Groucho Letters. I had recently viewed, via YouTube, Groucho on the Dick Cavett Show. He had all of his humorous marbles, even at age 79. To prolong the Groucho experience, I turned to his letters – agog with wit, puncturing pretensions (his own and others), and commenting on the world. He was self-educated, sometimes conservative in his tastes, but intellectually alive.

Philosopher Richard Polt’s The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century is only in part a nostalgia trip – and a delightful one at that. The book is a manifesto in favor of using a typewriter as a more thoughtful and slow mode of writing - a shift key into a freedom denied us by the computer screen. With humor and depth, Polt also gives us a finely tuned history of the machine, and much more. The book is lavishly illustrated and even includes an embedded bookmark that looks like, what else, a typewriter ribbon, without any danger of smudging.
Learn more about Feast of Excess at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Dive Deeper.

The Page 99 Test: Feast of Excess.

--Marshal Zeringue