What We Are Reading Today: ‘Pox Romana’

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Updated 20 April 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Pox Romana’

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Author: COLIN ELLIOT

In the middle of the 2nd century AD, Rome was at its prosperous and powerful apex. The emperor Marcus Aurelius reigned over a vast territory that stretched from Britain to Egypt.

The Roman-made peace, or Pax Romana, seemed to be permanent. Then, apparently out of nowhere, a sudden sickness struck the legions and laid waste to cities, including Rome itself. This fast-spreading disease, now known as the Antonine plague, may have been history’s first pandemic.

 


What We Are Reading Today: Out of One, Many

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Updated 17 May 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Out of One, Many

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Author: Jennifer T. Roberts

Covering the whole of the ancient Greek experience from its beginnings late in the third millennium BCE to the Roman conquest in 30 BCE, “Out of One, Many” is an accessible and lively introduction to the Greeks and their ways of living and thinking. In this fresh and witty exploration of the thought, culture, society, and history of the Greeks, Jennifer Roberts traces not only the common values that united them across the seas and the centuries, but also the enormous diversity in their ideas and beliefs.

Examining the huge importance to the Greeks of religion, mythology, the Homeric epics, tragic and comic drama, philosophy, and the city-state, the book offers shifting perspectives on an extraordinary and astonishingly creative people.

Century after century, in one medium after another, the Greeks addressed big questions, many of which are still very much with us, from whether gods exist and what happens after we die to what political system is best and how we can know what is real. Yet for all their virtues, Greek men set themselves apart from women and foreigners and profited from the unpaid labor of enslaved workers, and the book also looks at the mixed legacy of the ancient Greeks today.

The result is a rich, wide-ranging, and compelling history of a fascinating and profoundly influential culture in all its complexity—and the myriad ways, good and bad, it continues to shape us today.

 


What We Are Reading Today: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’

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Updated 18 May 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’

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  • Beautifully written and emotionally moving, it is also a testament to the power of storytelling and reminds people of the deep impact of making personal choices and connections

Author: Genki Kawamura

“If Cats Disappeared from the World” is a novel written by Japanese author Genki Kawamura. The book was published in 2012 and was rated 4/5 by over 75,000 readers worldwide.

Kawamura is a worldwide bestselling author. “If Cats Disappeared from the World” was his first novel, which sold over 1 million copies in Japan and was translated into over 14 languages.

In this novel, Kawamura tells the story of a postman who is diagnosed with an uncurable illness. However, when he accepts his destiny, the Devil appears to him with an unusual proposal. The postman must choose one thing to eliminate from this world for him to live one more day. During his journey, the postman then starts examining the true value of everything he owns.

Kawamura’s writing style is simple yet evocative, inviting readers to dive deep into the layers of their own emotional journey with every page. The narrative provides a delicate balance between moments of happiness and sorrow, using cats as a symbol of companionship and joy.

Moreover, the book allows readers to reflect on the value of relationships and experiences. It raises questions regarding the decisions people make, the legacies they leave behind, and the core meaning of everyday moments, which eventually shape people’s characters and how they think.

The novel encourages people to take a deep breath and reflect on the blessings people have, yet neglect, due to their busy lives.

With Kawamura’s thoughtful message and memorable characters, this novel is a compelling exploration of the human experience, providing comfort and inspiration, and a new appreciation for the beauty and brevity of life.

Beautifully written and emotionally moving, it is also a testament to the power of storytelling and reminds people of the deep impact of making personal choices and connections.

 


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Chinese Espresso’ by Grazia Ting Deng

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Chinese Espresso’ by Grazia Ting Deng
Updated 16 May 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Chinese Espresso’ by Grazia Ting Deng

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Chinese Espresso’ by Grazia Ting Deng

Italians regard espresso as a quintessentially Italian cultural product—so much so that Italy has applied to add Italian espresso to UNESCO’s official list of intangible heritages of humanity. In this book, Grazia Ting Deng explores the paradox of “Chinese Espresso”— the fact that this most distinctive Italian social and cultural tradition is being preserved by Chinese immigrants and their racially diverse clientele.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Bartleby and Me’

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Bartleby and Me’
Updated 16 May 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Bartleby and Me’

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Bartleby and Me’

Writers love to write about writing and none seemingly more so than Gay Talese, the journalist known as a pioneer of the American literary moment called “New Journalism.” This style of writing originated in the 1960s and ‘70s and combines journalistic research with creative non-fiction.

Talese started his career as an obituary writer at the New York Times and, later, as a magazine writer who ended up reluctantly penning the most widely read magazine articles of all time. He showcases some of that editorial wisdom — and reporting mishaps — in his 2023 book, “Bartley and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener.”

Now 92 years old, he writes vividly about his early reporting days and the stories behind the stories; he masterfully weaves in stray strands that somehow come together into a coherent narrative. Talese writes crisp copy. He writes about nobodies and somebodies with equal fervor.

He recalls his time as a young reporter on assignment where, at the insistence of his persistent editor, he attempted to sit down for an interview with the elusive and super-famous star Frank Sinatra. Talese recounts how he repeatedly tried — and failed — to pin down “Ol’ Blue Eyes” while chasing him around California in the 1960s. He eventually published his distinctively titled profile, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” in the April 1966 issue of Esquire. That piece of writing is considered one of the most celebrated pieces of magazine journalism to date.

Talese’s tales are mostly centered around his time in New York. He recalls things in meticulous detail — for example, pointing out the exact address and precise building within a neighborhood to help the reader visualize the space. The city is always a leading part of the story.

“New York is a city of things unnoticed,” he wrote 60 years ago, something that could easily be written today. He recalls the early days of his journalistic career in New York, churning out newspaper copy and still, now, being ever-so-curious about everything. The pages of this book show that we all, alongside him, still have much more to notice.

The title of the book was inspired by American author Herman Melville’s short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” published in the 1800s. This is a social criticism piece about a lawyer who hires a peculiar scrivener or clerk, Bartleby, and the adventures (or misadventures) that ensue.

In his version, Talese shares with us a fresh piece of original reporting titled “Dr. Bartha’s Brownstone,” which is his version of “Bartleby.” This time, however, Bartleby is an unknown doctor who makes his bombastic mark on the city one random summer day. It is a brilliant piece of journalism about journalism.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Proof Stage’ by Stephen Abbott

What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Proof Stage’ by Stephen Abbott
Updated 16 May 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Proof Stage’ by Stephen Abbott

What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Proof Stage’ by Stephen Abbott

The discovery of alternate geometries, paradoxes of the infinite, incompleteness, and chaos theory revealed that, despite its reputation for certainty, mathematical truth is not immutable, perfect, or even perfectible. 
Beginning in the last century, a handful of adventurous playwrights took inspiration from the fractures of modern mathematics to expand their own artistic boundaries.