Sunday, 19 February 2012

Three essential reads

I have been asked to take on this meme, but have been finding it a bit tricky. I am a decided "digital immigrant" (though probably quite a competent one) rather than a "digital native" so I don't actually do Kindle or i-Pad, or Blackberry, or anything else of that ilk.

However, here are my three essential reads.

1. News of  the latest "must have" invention, which is essential reading if you want to understand the features of Kindle et al. I do sometimes wonder what answer young people would give to the question, "What is a desk top?", and it would be quite illustrative of whether or not they understand from where much of today's IT terminology originates. I am a decided lover of having a solid object, made of pages that you can turn and mark (I have taken to using post-it notes to mark pages I want to remember) - well, in reaility, a lover of perhaps more like one or two thousand such objects! I must count at some point ...

2. One could download Biblia Clerus from the site of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy. If you maximise your choice of download options, you get the texts of Sacred Scripture in different versions/languages and a wide range of commentary material from the Fathers, from Popes and from the Councils of the Church. I think it should go on i-Pad, am doubtful that it goes on Kindle.

3. For my last choice, I have run up against the distinction between "essential" as "must have out of very principle" and "essential" as "what I personally could not do without". I think I have gone for the first of these definitions, and I am looking to suggest a book that could represent the 20th century to the people of the 21st century. Two suggestions: firstly, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, full three volume edition rather than the abridged one volume edition so that you gain a sense of the sheer scale of the book. I am not sure whether or not it is still in print, but it can be obtained via Amazon's marketplace. I have a particular memory of the account of the construction of an important canal, a major engineering feat, using slave labour. The official papers record that the number of workers employed on this task was the same at the beginning as at the end, but Solzhenitsyn points out, based on eye witness testimony and with a touch of sarcasm, that this does not mean that the same workers were employed at the end as at the beginning. Many died because of poor conditions and forced manual labour. The First Circle might be another Solzhenitsyn choice, as it suggests how scientific research in Soviet Russia depended on prisoner labour. My particular memory is of research into voice recognition technology, so that the state could listen in to communications and identify those involved, which provides a particular cultural significance to the more benign developments such as automatic audio and image recognition systems used today in CCTV based systems. My main second choice here would be Eugenio Corti's Il Cavallo Rosso (english translation The Red Horse). This is a biographical novel telling the story of an Italian family, reaching from the tragic involvement of Italy in the Russian campaign of the Second World War, the switch of sides with its poor leadership that led to sad events in Cephalonia since made famous by Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and to the partisan campaigns against the Germans; the campaign by Catholics against Communist influence immediately after the war and against the legalisation of divorce in Italy, which has resonance to contemporary discussion of secularisation; and eventually telling the story of a brother who moves to Africa to found a mission hospital. Many years later, in real life, the hospital being referred to in the novel would undertake a particular mission in treating HIV patients, and, with the death of the hospital's medical director and some other staff, play a heroic role in responding to an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

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