Category Archives: Books

“Market Democracy’s” Secret Side

photo of money under mattress

In a new book about Wall Street, Walter Mattli explains that the major banks and investment firms call the shots, but do so in the least transparent way possible. In short, the markets are not driven by supply and demand, nor by equitable forces, but by subterfuge:

“Dark pools” is a term used to describe a venue where trades are made without displaying “price order or order size information.” The volume of dark trading “tripled in less than a decade to about 37 percent of all trading in 2017.” Mattli hastens to point out their potential usefulness since dark pools are intended primarily for institutional investors, whose bids might otherwise overly disrupt the market. The spread of dark pools points to two facts: first, the increasing size of investment firms large enough to handle enormous transactions internally, and two, our collective participation in the very world that Mattli is describing.

Auction with Literary Bent

Books to Nourish is holding an auction. Many interesting items up for bid, though for those who aren’t residents of the UK, you might want to verify that non-UK bids will be honored. Signed copies of books are on the block as are offers from literary agents to provide commentary on your writing.

image of Books to Nourish

Return of “The Thursday Murder Club”

Having made my way through the novel, I want to point out a passage in the acknowledgments: “I first had the idea for this book a few years ago, when I was fortunate enough to visit a retirement community full of extraordinary people with extraordinary stories.” Richard Osman’s book is a fictional tribute to those colorful grey folks who have been verbally euthanized by the government. Instead of depicting seniors in care facilities as proto-corpses, Osman conveys the energy, cleverness, tenacity, and improvisational skills of adults over 50. Osman focuses on his characters’ attunement with justice, revealing the paucity of mystery novels that dwell mainly on puzzle solving.

Osman’s characters know that at any moment one of their actions could be interpreted as an indication of decline, deterioration, foolishness. The police officer Chris feels the need to remind Elizabeth, one of the adults over 50, of her place: “You didn’t think Donna and me might have been interested at this point?” asks Chris. Elizabeth: “Firstly, Chris, it’s ‘Donna and I.’ And secondly, who knew what the bones were? We didn’t want to waste your time until we knew for sure what we were dealing with. What if we’d called you out and they were nothing but cow bones? Wouldn’t we have looked silly old fools then?” (231)

cover of Spanish version of The Thursday Murder Club book

Sometimes Your Hero is a Twit

Someone who knows something about modern music, Lester Bangs, has this to say about Jim Morrison, a figure Lester says some people think is a “modern-day god.” I cite it here as an example of Lester’s competence as a writer.

[T]he authors go on for almost four hundred pages, amassing mountains of evidence almost all of which can for most readers point to only one conclusion: that Jim Morrison was apparently a nigh compleat asshole from the instant he popped out of the womb until he died in a bathtub in Paris.
p. 216, A Lester Bangs Reader

A Tuesday Take on “The Thursday Murder Club”

photo of Richard Osman and book cover

As Samantha Irby says, “Leading people on is a hate crime.” When it comes to book reviews, it’s at least an economic crime. If another person buys a book on someone’s inflated recommendation, give Samantha the inflater’s home phone number. Anyone can avoid this fate by picking up a copy of The Thursday Murder Club at your local library. Decide on your own whether it was worth the trip. Richard Osman won’t be hurt by that circumstance. His cozy mystery is a hit sales-wise, and it’s abundantly clear after reading only a few chapters why this is so.

Here’s a taste of the impish fun inside. Elizabeth and Joyce are two of the mature characters in the book who are part of the murder club at the retirement community. They take a bus trip to another town, but Elizabeth hasn’t informed Joyce of Elizabeth’s hidden agenda.

“We’re going to investigate the murder?” [Tony Curran, a local, has been smashed upside the head].
“Of course we are, Joyce,” says Elizabeth. “Who better than us? But we have no access to any case files, any witness statements, any forensics, and we are going to have to change that.” Which is why we’re here. I know I don’t need to say this, Joyce, but just back me up, whatever happens.”
Joyce nods — of course, of course. They walk in.
Once inside, the two ladies are buzzed through a security door into a public reception area. Joyce has never been inside a police station before, though has watched every ITV documentary going, and she is disappointed that no one is being wrestled to the ground and dragged to a cell, their obscenities thrillingly bleeped out. Instead there is just a young desk sergeant pretending that he isn’t playing solitaire on his Home Office computer.
“How can I help you ladies?” he asks.
Elizabeth starts to cry. Joyce manages to control her double-take.
“Someone just stole my bag. Outside Holland & Barrett,” weeps Elizabeth.
So that’s why she didn’t have a bag with her, thinks Joyce. That had been bugging her on the minibus. Joyce puts her arm around her friend’s shoulder. “It was awful.”
“Let me get an officer to take a statement from you, and we’ll see what we can do.” The desk sergeant presses a buzzer on the wall to his left, and within seconds a young constable enters through a security door behind him.
“Mark, this lady has just had her handbag stolen on Queens Road. Can you take a statement? I’ll make a cuppa for everyone.”
“Certainly. Madam, if you’ll follow me?”
Elizabeth stands her ground and refuses to move. She is shaking her head, cheeks wet with tears now. “I want to talk to a female police constable.”
“I’m sure Mark can sort this out for you,” says the desk sergeant.
“Please,” cries Elizabeth.
Joyce decides the time has come to help her friend out. “My friend is a nun, Sergeant.”
“A nun?” says the desk sergeant.
“Yes, a nun,” says Joyce. “And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that entails.”
The desk sergeant sees that this is a discussion that could end badly in so many ways, and chooses an easy life.
“If you’ll give me a moment, madam, I will find someone for you.”
He follows Mark back through the security door, and Elizabeth and Joyce are alone for a minute. Elizabeth stops the waterworks and looks over at Joyce.
“A nun? That was very good.”
“I didn’t have much time to think,” says Joyce.
“If pushed, I was going to say someone had touched me,” says Elizabeth (pp. 54-55).

Blumenberg Gets Arendt Wrong

Thanks to a clever essay by Zeynep Talay Turner in Interrogating Modernity, I think that Hans Blumenberg understood Arendt, but then attempted an unjustified correction. From the particulars of truth myth arises, but it’s a mistake to impose myth on truth that has not reached maturity. The latter is Blumenberg’s strategic but unfulfilled wish for Arendt’s book about Adolf Eichmann. According to Blumenberg, Arendt failed to grasp the potential mythic moment for Israel in its prosecution of Eichmann, depriving Israel of an opportunity to solidify its legitimacy. Eichmann needed to be more than what he was to fulfill his mythic role as representative of Nazi evil. Arendt, on the other hand, stuck to the position that the truth mattered for justice to be done. She had no idea of Blumenberg’s expectations, which didn’t see the light of day until after his death with the publication of Blumenberg’s “Moses the Egyptian.”

The above should be shelved as early reflections requiring a period in an oak cask to obtain the proper flavor and aging. Usually, such thoughts are stored in an underground vault at a specific temperature and humidity, but this week, I’m releasing some things early.

Reading Old Books

The editors of the Bryn Mawr Classical Review have been kind enough to publish my review of Peter Mack’s Reading Old Books. It’s not a book I can recommend. New books about old books do not gain stature by their antiquated content.

A Closer Look at Blumenberg

The editors of the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas have been kind enough to publish a piece that I wrote about what becomes of Blumenberg after his centennial.

photo of Blumenberg holding a rock

How Thinking Stops

In a review of The New Despotism, Gergana Dimova explains how politicians and their enablers seduce people, like academics, into accepting the status quo:

The book tells us that it is quite possible, and even probable, for well-educated, well-travelled and ‘well brought up’ people to give up their ability to think critically for the opportunity to frequent fancy airport lounges, hotels and shops. Instead of inspiring ideals, driving progress and defending the less fortunate, these middle classes embrace cynical morals and fickle pragmatism. In the best possible scenario, they will forsake morals for professional prestige.

Review of Hans Blumenberg Reader Now Available

The journal Critical Inquiry has been kind enough to publish my review of History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader.

photo of cover of Blumenberg Reader