Current Reading List

Someone asked me the other day, so I may as well make it public. I usually read three books at once, depending on the time of day: One is usually in Japanese, though sometimes I work on Italian for a change; and the other two are usually in English, there being something serious and something less so for the sake of balance. I don't get a chance to read all three every day, but the following three happen to be what's sitting open at home at the current time.

Rinjuuki by Hiroyuki Itsuki

My wife introduced me to the novelist, essayist and philosopher Hiroyuki Itsuki some years ago, and I've been randomly working my way through his books one by one ever since. My introduction to his oeuvre was an overview of his life, in which he experiened a severe depression and sense of emptiness before finding salvation in a Buddhist-based philosophy.

This one explores increasing logevity in the modern age whereby a human lifetime is conceived in terms of a century, which Itsuki divides into four epochs. The 'climax' of a human lifetime is taken to be from age 75 onward. By this measure we should consider all of our experiences, trials and achievements as leading up to whatever comes to us after we've passed the three-quarters mark. I'm only a few chapters into this one.

The Devil's Disciples by Anthony Read

A former friend left me this (and so much else) when he departed for more promising shores, and I decided to give it a wade through. It details the personal lives and back-stories of Adolf Hitler's closest lieutenants and how they interacted with one another.

For the most part I read history to learn how much has been missed out in oversimplification. As I recall (perhaps incorrectly), the way Hitler's rise to power was presented in school was that he came up with hatred of the Jews and a conception of the Aryan Race of his own accord, seemingly from nowhere. What this book drives home for me is that the aspiring politician was riding a wave of anti-Semitism already pervasive throughout Germany at the time, and that he achieved power by exploiting popular sentiment. (The 'Aryan' concept, apparently, was Heinrich Himmler's invention, which Hitler initially accepted without giving it much thought.)

The first gang of 'brown-shirts', the SA, were a rag-tag band of angry young men in search of a target, which they were given in the form of certain unpopular segments of the population. The entire Weimar Republic was in chaos, and the SA had frequent pitched battles with the Communist Party and other groups in the streets.

The Communists were one of the Nazi party's earliest targets, and subject of much of Joseph Goebbels's propaganda, even though he himself favoured total state control of the means of production. According to Anthony Read's analysis, Hitler led Goebbels to believe he had far-left sentiments while simultaneously taking large donations from big business. A popular urban myth holds that that the Nazis themselves conspired to burn the Reichstag and blame it on Communists. In actuality it seems to have been the work of a lone madman who had had links to a leftist organisation at one time, which information the Nazis exaggerated in order to emphasise the Communist threat, enabling Hermann Goring, as head of the police force, to replace the policemen's traditional batons with guns and order them to fire at will.

I find Read's explanation of how the Weimar government operated to be extremely opaque and obstruse. The book might be targeted at specialists in political science (although the bibliographic information instructs that it be filed under 'war'.)

Cold Meat and How to Disguise It by Hunter Davies

After reading serious stuff for such a spell, I have to read something lighthearted, too. I think I ordered this one somewhat randomly from an online bookstore's closeout section.

Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, this one also deals with WWII in the sense of surviving in the attendant wartime scarcity in England. The title comes from a wartime promotional pamphlet, although the book itself was compiled much more recently. Many of the tips and insights the author unearthed in his exploration of the 'belt-tightening' literature of the period is no longer applicable, but it's very interesting from a historical perspective. Moreover, it brings back the spirit of a time that was more self-reliant than our own, when people still made some of their own clothes and did a fair amount of their own repairs on other goods. The zeitgeist of largely disposable merchandise, with any potential repair work remaining forefited to the 'professionals' rather robs us of the power to take care of ourselves (what was once called 'adulthood'.)

One of my favourite tidbits in here is the mention of constructing something called a 'hay box' from gas mask packaging. The assumption was that enough people owned gas masks in those days for this to be a thing. I had no idea what a hay box was then, and I'm still not entirely sure. Apparently one puts some really hot food into this insulated box before its done cooking, and the insulation makes the stuff cook itself, thereby saving on cooking fuel. I think it's a grand idea. I might get some sheet metal and fold it into a box to cook with the sunlight that's bearing down on us now that the rainy season is really, really over. It's been 36 C for the past two days, and rising. A homemade hay box potroast with some eggs frying on the lid might make a lovely weekend dinner.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend any of these tomes to anyone, because I haven't yet finished reading them, but it's been a while since I put myself online like this, and I needed a topic.