August 21, 2006

Science Fiction-Free September III

It's that time of year again, when I declare the annual moratorium on reading science fiction for a month, and instead concentrate on books that I've been neglecting or have been meaning to "get around to" for some time. Mind you, it feels a little odd to declare a month free of a genre I've read precious little of, so far, in this calendar year. I actually think this is probably the first year since I left school that I've read more non-fiction than fiction, in fact.

I've decided to limit the reading program this September to two books. This is partly because they're going to be heavy going, as you'll see. But the other reason is that my track record hasn't been all that great at meeting my reading goals. I still owe a half-dozen people the courtesy of reading the Canadian literature they recommended to me last year, when all I managed to get through was a novel and a half. So I've decided to reduce the agenda. However, I doubt that the reading load is actually any smaller. And, finally, as always, I never know what books that I have had on reserve for weeks or months, might become available suddenly, and I'm not going to give up my chance to read them just because I'm working through something else.

I think of this year's theme as "Books With Baggage." By this I mean that the philosophy of each book constitutes a major driving force in some ideology.

The first book on the list is the Quran. The ubiquitous news footage of masked extremists in the Middle East, waving Qurans in one hand and a firearm in the other, ought to make the contemporary relevance of this "holy book" rather self-evident. However much secondary material I've read on Islam, I've never read its primary source. (Imagine wanting a scholarly understanding of Christianity, and getting it only from, say, the books of Hal Lindsey!) I'll be glad to entertain suggestions of a good translation, since obviously I'll be unable to access the Quran in Arabic. If time permits, I might supplement it with some sort of "Islam for Dummies" type book, or perhaps a critical work such as Why I am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq or The Rage and the Pride by Oriana Fallaci, a copy of which should be available to me in two or three weeks.

Second is the 1966 philosophy of history, Tragedy and Hope by Carroll Quigley. This massive tome (1300+ pages!) is a primary source for conspiracy theorists believing that there's a shadowy cabal running things: Quigley argued that the governments of the U.S. and U.K. were controlled by a small network of elitists such as the Council on Foreign Relations. Many conspiracy nuts think that Quigley, being openly approving of their goals, was confident enough of their success to proclaim the Big Conspiracy openly. (It doesn't hurt that Bill Clinton praised him as a mentor, either.) Typically, the nuts tend to go farther in their conclusions than Quigley himself did, as well. But the premise of this book has intrigued me ever since I first heard of it.

And maybe, should I manage to read all that, I'll finish off with some Canadian literature.