I’ve been hard at work trying to catch up on my reading, so this may be long!

I read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for the first time–not sure what I’ve been doing with my life to date.  The Fitzgerald translation is beautiful, though I hear that it’s less of a translation and more of an exercise in Fitzgerald’s own poetic talents.  Either way, I disagreed with most of the philosophy behind it strenuously and enjoyed it immensely nevertheless.  Here, have a little bit:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

I’d always meant to read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, and it seemed as good a time as any.  Machiavelli makes a distressing amount of sense, and if you’re seeking to acquire power and not overly concerned with the morality of how you do it, this is the book for you.  Machiavelli himself didn’t seem to really follow his own precepts; he outlined what had worked, historically speaking, and extrapolated what would work in the future based on that, but he made no claims to rightness.  One can’t argue with his efficiency, even if it is terrifying.

In a glaring oversight on my part, I had never seen the movie The Planet of the Apes or read the book by Pierre Boulle upon which it was based.  I still haven’t seen the movie (I know, I know), but now I’ve at least read the story.  Classic scifi with more than a little social satire is right up my alley, but I’ll admit I found the protagonist annoying; I don’t think anyone really flies into rages quite that often, regardless of their circumstances, and his arrogance was off-putting.  Then again, perhaps that in itself was a part of the satire…hmm.

I read 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff upon the wholehearted endorsement of Sam, and I was not disappointed!  This book is charming.  There is no other word for it.  I’ll warn you that you should ignore the back cover, at least if you have the same edition that I do, or you will be expecting something very different from what you get.  Slightly frustrated hopes aside, I still found this to be completely delightful, and I’m sorely tempted to start up a correspondence with a tiny overseas bookshop as a result of the experience.

Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov is a collection of short stories (nine, as you may have guessed), all in the classic Asimov vein.  Some are fantastic, some are a bit tired and predictable, but all of them have the signature Asimov feel.  I particularly recommend “The Gentle Vultures” and “The Ugly Little Boy.”

While I was on the scifi kick, I read The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, second in his John Carter of Mars series.  There’s not a lot to differentiate this one from the rest of the series: John Carter rescues a lot of damsels in distress (Dejah Thoris can’t make it through a novel without getting kidnapped), battles a variety of Martian monsters, and saves the day seven days out of the week–or however many days of the week Mars has.  These books are a fun excursion into scifi’s history once in a while, but I don’t recommend reading the books too closely together, or you’ll just be bored stiff by the constant action and flat characters.

I’d read an excerpt of My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber before, and I finally got around to finishing it.  Thurber is entertaining, though I think my sense of humor must differ from his just enough that I don’t find him as hilarious as a few of my friends do.  Sorry, guys!  I do like Thurber, though; he had a very interesting life.  When he was a little kid, his brother shot him in the eye with an arrow during an ill-advised (and evidently unsupervised) game of William Tell.  Rough start to life, but one has to admire the kids’ dedication to realism.