If you can’t tell, dear readers, I’m in something of a reading funk — nibbling at many books but not immersed in any. Life has gotten busy recently: I’m now officially on a transplant list, a friend was just married, and I’m studying 3-4 hours a day for Google & CompTia certifications. The only days I’m not absorbed in exercise or lectures on network protocols are dialysis days, when I’m too tired and spacey to concentrate on anything besides the latest episode of Better Call Saul. (Speaking of which: I am bitterly disappointed to learn that Gus Fring wears clip on ties. )
Two weeks ago I started what I trust will be an excellent series, reading James Holland’s The Odin Mission on Cyberkitten’s reccommendation. A World War 2 espionage and small-group action thriller, it’s set in the early days of World War 2 (the invasion of Norway, specifically), and follows a small group of British rangers who were cut off from their unit and then stumbled onto a mission of vital import for the war: guiding a mysterious Norwegian scientist to safety. As the British expeditionary force stumbles backwards in defense, crippled by lost supply ships, German forces envelop the country. We follow Sergeant Jack Tanner and his men as they survive the harsh Scandinavian landscape, made all the more savage by the lingering winter, and work desperately to evade capture by German forces. The task is made all the more challenging by an incompetent French lieutenant who asserts command, and the presence of a traitor within the ranks. I’ve got the other books in the series on order from Britain and hope to dive into them soon.
One of my last RoE reads was intended to be Bandersnatch, a guide to collaboration inspired by the Inklings. The book reviews different aspects of the Inklings’ shared writing lif, like the inspiration and criticism Lewis and Tolkien offered the other, for instance, or joint projects like Lewis/Tolkien’s intended space-and-time travel set. The book attempts to divine tips for successful collaboration from the study of these men, but I was reading it purely for the company: I’m very fond of the Lewis brothers and Tolkien. Thanks to DT, owner of Broad Street Books, for lending me that!
For devotional reasons, I re-read a book I read last year: How to Live, an introduction to Benedictine spirituality. The author, Judith Valente, is a journalist working for NPR who is also an oblate at a monastery. The book is a walkthrough of Benedict’s Rule, and a reflection on how non-monks can infuse their own spiritual lives with its wisdom. A lot of the content is focused on attention and mindfulness: Benedict and Valente urge us to wake up, to pay attention to the sacred in one another and to the present moment, to live in awareness of our own mortality and of the limits of our power. We are urged to create space for contemplation, by dropping out of the sea of noise that is modern life — creating sabbath moments for ourself to meditate, pray, and even sing. Valente also reminds us that the cultivation of virtue within us, the realization of holiness, is a constant battle — and that we must keep in mind that every moment is a choice. Valente also shares insights on the importance of building community, and exercising fair and humble leadership. I’ve been more deliberate in my approach to the spiritual-philosophical life in recent weeks, inspired by this in part: one rule I’ve incorporated is to meditate and go for a walk before I have coffee or turn my computer on, allowing me to start the day focused and energized naturally and not bombarded with stimulation from the word go.
A smaller work I also read was The Tao of Tranquility, an appraisal of the Quinjing Jing, a short work in verse that combines Taoist and Buddhist themes. The Buddhist insights were more obvious and easier to appreciate ( the connection between desire and suffering) than the Taoist ones. I’ve read a commentary on Taoist writing before and still find it a bit mysterious. How to Live often connected Benedictine insights to those of other wisdom traditions, and I found myself thinking again about the overlapping approaches of men like Buddha, Gandhi, and Jesus — and their differences.
Moving from philosophy to the utterly prosaic, I’ve read several books on computers.
Teach Yourself Visually: Chromebooks is a guide not only to Chromebooks, but the Chrome browser and Google’s various services the chromebook relies on – particularly Gmail, GoogleDocs, and GoogleDrive. I’m presently pursuing a Google certification via Coursera, and hoped this would contain something about the Google ecosystem I was unaware of. No such luck on my end, but this would be a good resource for your self-proclaimed “computer illiterate” relation who wants some basic competence at using chromeboooks.
Teach Yourself Visually: Windows 11 was an item I checked out to see if it documented changes from Windows 10 to Windows 11, but the book looks fairly identical to its Windows 10 predecessor: McFedries explains the basics of the Windows userspace, and offers visual guides to using its features and included apps. Nothing for the serious user, but it’s ideal for beginners given the heavy visual guidance. I recently upgraded my laptop (not my gaming PC!) to Win11 to start getting familiar with it. It’s really more of a facelift than anything else.
Windows Command Line Beginner’s Guide by Jonathan Moeller is not a visual guide, because it’s all about learning to use the Windows terminal, also known as the C:\ prompt or the MS-DOS prompt (if you’re of a certain age). I started practicing with this before I even began studying for the CompTia, in part because I was awed by LGR’s fluency in MS-DOS operations and wanted learn to interact with the computer at that level. It also helps at work: we used to have frequent issues with IP conflicts, and then I learned how to use the C:\ prompt to remedy that. (IPCONFIG Release/Renew did the trick.) Although I’m still getting used to the language of the command prompt & powershell (practicing mostly with powershell), I thought the guide especially useful for beginners, because it’s not a list of commands and switches and a terse description of their use. Moeller explains the context of commands, so in the chapter on networking tools, he explains what an IP address is, how it’s assigned, etc. He has a similar book on the Linux terminal which I’ll probably be looking at as well: the current course I’m taking, Becoming a Power User, will test users on basic command line/terminal operations in both operating systems.