I take a fair amount of pride in what I deem to be an ability to communicate well through speaking or writing. The math and science of the world has always come second nature to me and I’ve probably taken it for granted, but I can point to a few milestones in my life with regards to speaking and writing: in high school, I very vividly remember writing a paper as a Junior (I think) where the purpose was to take a position on something. In my very egocentric way, I wrote a paper arguing why reading was important but in a style which was very self-centered and really a stand-in for why I am just better than everyone else for seeing how cool reading is. My teacher at the time, Ms. Alwood, was somehow able to get through to a part of me that was able to put aside the part of me that was convinced of my being right and to re-think what I was doing. The technical change was just to reconceive the paper with regards to who the audience was. Okay, that wasn’t hard, the challenge was to get me to re-evaluate what I was doing. I’m not entirely sure, but I sense that there’s a connection there between that ability to communicate and having to weaken one’s sense that one is always the arbiter of truth. It’s a weird notion given how some people, lawyers for example, are explicitly trained to do the very opposite – be artful at explaining why you are correct (at least in an adversarial judicial system). A second milestone was in college where, at least in the first 2 years, I felt like my literature courses were the ones I enjoyed most. My freshman literature course was cool – taught by a very nearly-hippie, stereotypical boomer dude (this was 1982 after all). The class was very wide ranging and able to connect extremely disparate ideas into a cloth of literature that left one feeling that you really learned something. For example, we read Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and we also read the book of Job from the bible. The portion on the Job and the bible was neat because it raised the idea that Christianity and Judaism are at their hearts more ‘Eastern’ religion than one realizes in their attempt to give very non-material, meditative answers to questions about life. The perspective on God in Job is one that posits an entity that is very ‘apart’ from us and leaves us in a continual meditative posture with asking the question about why bad things happen to good people.
Now, what does this have to do with computers? Well, in my inbox was another set of links from a computer/programming-oriented website. The ability to assemble blogs and articles is so omni-present these days that I think it has done good in adding some literacy to many such parts of life. This article included a link to ‘books you have to read in 2018’. But my reaction as I read them was a mix of ‘I know better than to enjoy this one’ and ‘Over-rated’ and ‘can you justify this with anything other than claiming one is better for having read it?’. I think my fur rises in part because I deem the source to be someone who I stereotype as likely good at technical things, but surely they don’t have the literature/arts chops that I do. I have similar feelings though even when people who I know recommend books. And I’ve been wrong! When I lived in a condo in Oak Park in the first years of our marriage, I was loaned a book “Ahab’s Daughter” by our neighbor downstairs. I started it and instinctively wanted to disparage it. In fact, when our neighbor asked me what I thought, my first response (I was about 1 chapter in) was to openly criticize it – I think I said it seemed okay, but there were no male characters, to a fault. I was not only boorish, but possibly misogynistic and I was wildly wrong as well. It ended up being one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past 20 years. Ugh indeed.