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Darius Kazemi

Joined 11 months, 3 weeks ago

This is where I track and comment on what I'm reading. #nobot

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The enchantment of modern life (2001, Princeton University Press) No rating

I spotlight sites of enchantment in order to intensify the experience of them and thus perhaps to erode the belief that an undesigned universe calls above all for a cold-eyed instrumentalism. Such ontological cynicism, it seems to me, is one of the streams that feed political cynicism--liberals who see disenchantment as clearing the way for reason and tolerance come to be cynical about a political sphere that refuses to realize its historical potential, and communitarians who decry disenchantment as the dawn of homesickness come to doubt the ability of politics to induce the kind of spiritual and cultural transformation required to restore the world as a home. But what if the contemporary world is not disenchanted?

The enchantment of modern life by 

The enchantment of modern life (2001, Princeton University Press) No rating

A world capable of enchanting need not be designed, or predisposed toward human happiness, or expressive of intrinsic purpose or meaning. It seems that there is a musicological support for this kind of enchantment, for "chant is a modal music, which means that it doesn't have the powerful drive that much of modern music has to arrive at a final harmonic destination." Moreover, the world that I describe as enchanted is not confined to structures, entities, and events in nature; there are also literary, machinic, and electronic sites of enchantment.

The enchantment of modern life by 

This tells us that we do not need to have an anthropocentric world view in order to feel enchantment. In fact we can feel enchantment at feeling insignificant, for example.

The Art And Method Of Approaching Your Boss To Ask For A Raise (Paperback, 2017, Verso) 3 stars

A long-suffering employee in a big corporation has summoned up the courage to ask for …

Early generated novel

3 stars

This is a 1968 novel by Oulipian Georges Perec. It was authored based on a flow chart (included with the book) and it's in the category of "random walk" style generated novels, with lots of repeated looping sections. It's kind of a slog to read but it's a really cool example of some early generative fiction.

The enchantment of modern life (2001, Princeton University Press) No rating

If popular psychological wisdom has it that you have to love yourself before you can love another, my story suggests that you have to love life before you can care about anything. The wager is that, to some small but irreducible extent, one must be enamored with existence and occasionally even enchanted in the face of it in order to be capable of donating some of one's scarce mortal resources to the service of others.

The enchantment of modern life by 

A Memory Called Empire (EBook, 2019, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover …

Fun political intrigue

4 stars

I quite enjoyed this book! A fun narrative about a young diplomat from a remote space station who finds herself appointed ambassador to a Big Evil Empire. The book takes place in the imperial capital and thematically does the whole "man, giant empires really do suck a lot" thing, and does it well. The one Big Weird Sci Fi idea (basically multiple people cohabiting in one brain) is pretty cool and also the author manages to portray it without being offensive to people with, say, dissociative identity disorder. I feel like it dragged a bit at the end and sort of fizzled out, and ultimately I found myself reading a book set on the main character's home space station than at the heart of this big scary empire. I live in a big scary empire so it all seemed pretty standard to me. Still, totally recommend the read.

Travels in Persia (Hardcover, 1972, AMS Press) 4 stars

In this remarkable account of his second sojourn in Persia, the author paints a splendid …

One of the better 17th century books I've read

4 stars

So, I read the first book of this multi book series by a Huguenot jeweler recounting his time traveling to Persia in the 1680s. The first half of the book is about his time passing through modern day Turkey and through Georgia and Armenia before getting to Azerbaijan and then into Persia proper. It's incredibly readable and breezy for something published in 1691, though you have to get Used to Randomly Capitalized words and Shoddy Orthography and typesetting where s and f look the same.

The book is half day to day diary, and half digressions on politics and religion and economics and geography. Chardin has reasonable command of English and Persian in addition to his native French. (This book was originally written in French but he collaborated on its English translation.) His understanding of history and etymology is pretty good for someone of his era though there is a …

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Paperback, 2016, Tor Books) 5 stars

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home …

Didn't want to put it down

5 stars

Wow this was one of those "can't put it down" books for me. It's hard to review without spoiling but basically it is a fantasy novel with extremely interesting and incisive things to say about how imperialism works. Most of the action takes place in a federation of dukedoms that is currently being occupied by a big bad Empire. When I looked at the map at the beginning of the book I thought "there is no way I am ever going to remember who these dozen different dukes are and where they sit politically" but by the end of it I was like "oh my god I can't believe Duke So-and-so decided to ally with Duke Whats-her-face! That will have horrific ramifications for petit bourgeois craftspeople!"

Anyway this is one of the best books I've read in years. The human drama is really gripping and it also has left me …

If Then (Hardcover, 2020, Liveright) 2 stars

The Simulmatics Corporation, launched during the Cold War, mined data, targeted voters, manipulated consumers, destabilized …

Lots of potential but less than the sum of its parts

2 stars

I am a total sucker for learning anything and everything I can about the mid 20th century think tanks and defense contractors that helped invent American technocracy. And yet I find myself lukewarm on this book at best.

The weakest part of the book is its core thesis: it attempts to make Simulmatics, a short-lived company that was far more bark than bite, into a harbinger of the modern data-driven, democracy-destroying privacy nightmare we live in today. The author fails to do this. Oh, she makes the claim that it is a harbinger, many times, but she doesn't show the work, seemingly expecting the reader to go "oh, that sounds similar enough that it must be the same thing."

Simulmatics was a shambles of a company run by a bright-burning PR hack and staffed by scientists who did not seem to be very good at their jobs. They never owned …

Black Buck (2021, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company) 5 stars

An unambitious twenty-two-year-old, Darren lives in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing …

A bitterly funny depiction of racism in white corporate America

5 stars

This is a satirical novel about race and America, using tech companies but specifically the sales side as as its lens. If I had to be cute about it I would say it's like Sorry to Bother You meets American Psycho.

It's genuinely funny and thought-provoking in parts, and made me cringe (in a bad way) in others. I think the author's pen is its sharpest when he's depicting startup life and its intersections with race. I've been the only non-white person in the room in many, many startup meetings and offices. Askaripour doesn't quite push things into the magical realist sci fi of Sorry to Bother You -- instead he takes things right up to the edge of absurdity, but not over it. Ultimately all the racism he depicts from the well-meaning and clueless to the consciously vindictive is stuff that I've witnessed first-hand. I have been in …

From a Persian Tea House (Paperback, 2007, Tauris Parke Paperbacks) 3 stars

The tea parts are good

3 stars

This was... okay. It's a travelogue of an Englishman in Iran in 1953. I have a specific interest in this period because it's when my father was a child in Iran, so it aligns to some extent with the stories of Iran I grew up with. Even so I found the book a bit of a mixed bag, sometimes incredibly tedious and other times insightful or laugh out loud funny.

The author is of course a clueless English traveler. I'd say he is about 50% aware of his status as such. There are some times when he talks about his own behavior in Iran that I think "wow what an asshole", though mostly he comports himself well and has reasonable empathy for the people he encounters.

The best part of the book is the very detailed depiction of a single tea house in Isfahan and its regulars. This makes up …