Monday, 12 November 2007

What I've been reading

I haven't posted for a while, so here's an update on what I've been reading.

I have about three more letters from Meditations on the Tarot to blog about, but they take a little while, so I'm waiting until I'm finished my online shop for (That's what I've been working on in my spare time lately.)

While we were in LA I bought several books at Brand Books, an excellent little second-hand bookshop in Glenfield. One of them was New Techniques in Behavior Therapy and Hypnosis: Including Advanced Techniques in Sex Therapy by Arreed F. Barabasz, written while he was lecturing at Canterbury University (30 years ago, so the "new" isn't applicable any more). There's some good stuff on migraine which I'll make use of (basically you teach people to warm their hands, since that shifts blood flow away from the head, and too much blood flow in the head is part of the problem). There are also some useful ideas on systematic desensitization for phobias. The sex therapy material is mostly either things I already knew or things that would require me to be a doctor to put into practice, but there's also a section on sleep disorders with one or two useful points.

I'm partway through John Crowley's LITTLE, BIG; I've kind of got bogged down in the tragic story of Auberon and Sylvie. It's one of those books that's really well written but I don't necessarily enjoy all of. I've read it before; I don't remember whether I finished it then or not. Possibly not, since all I can recall is the very early scene where Smoky and Daily Alice go off on their honeymoon walking trip. I'd forgotten how much sex it has in it, and forgotten that there were drugs in it at all (no rock-and-roll, though). I've been stalled on it for a while, reading other things, but I do intend to finish.

A book that does include rock-and-roll is Russ Haines' Digital Audio: Record | Rip | Edit | Mix | Master | Burn | Stream, which although it was published in 2001 is still a very valuable resource, because unlike so many technical books it gives underlying principles, not specifics of using rapidly outdated tools. In fact, he emphasizes that the (software) tools you use don't particularly matter; there are several of them, find one you like and learn to use it well, they're much of a muchness as far as the basics are concerned. I want to summarize this one fully from the perspective of voice recording and post the results to my hypnotherapy site (since this is why I got it from the library: to learn how to make better recordings that I can sell in my new online shop). I'm waiting for a device he recommends, an analog-to-digital converter, to reach me from Australia, and it's taking forever. (Australia Post were slow when I lived there 17 years ago, and apparently are still slow. You'd think that for $9 they'd be able to move a small package 1200km in less than two weeks.) Once I have that I'll go through the book again.

On the spiritual side, two things. I've finally got round to Sister Mary Margaret Funk's A Mind at Peace, which I must have had in the "to-read" queue for over a year. It summarizes the teaching of John Cassian, who collected a lot of sayings from the Desert Fathers in the 5th century, on meditation and dealing with the "eight thoughts": food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia (spiritual weariness), vainglory and pride. Andrew has been using it in his Centering Prayer workshops for a while now. The writing itself is not tremendously well organized and is quite poorly edited, but the ideas are useful. I just finished the Sex chapter this morning, and already the book is making a difference. The basic principle, as with Centering Prayer, is to be aware of the eight thoughts (thus making them mindful rather than mindless), and then "renounce" them, or as Centering Prayer more helpfully says, let them go, so that they don't carry you where you don't want to go. It has a handy appendix with a number of different practices listed and briefly explained.

And speaking of Centering Prayer, Andrew lent me his copy of Love Is Stronger Than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls by Cynthia Bourgeault last week. I didn't quite finish it before I had to pass it on to Julianne, but it's interesting. We've been reading her books in reverse order, first Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, which borders on being orthodox (albeit in a slightly unusual mode), then The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart, which is definitely esoteric, and now this, her first book, which is very unusual indeed. She believes (and may be correct in believing, I'm not in a position to say) that she still has a powerful, living connection with her late teacher, a hermit monk with whom she shared a (non-physical) love affair which surprised both of them. Together they formed a "second body" which, she claims, persisted and continues to develop after his death.

Finally, I'm currently reading, and very much enjoying, Charles Stross's Glasshouse. Damn, this thing is good. Future society, nanoassemblers, ability to upload yourself, change your body, and - this is important - change your mental "state vector", i.e. the contents and pattern of your mind. Someone infected all the assemblers with the Curious Yellow information virus, which censored everyone's memories of the past as they went through the assemblers (to change bodies, heal, de-age or whatever) and made them vectors of the virus to the next assembler. A major war was fought to destroy Curious Yellow and "clean" those affected. During this war, people did terrible things, some of which they then had memory surgery to forget about. One such is the protagonist, who along with others in a similar situation volunteers for a sociological experiment, a recreation of the long-gone society of the late 20th/early 21st century, as best it can be reconstructed from fragmentary records - which is kind of 1950s suburbia (with strongly defined gender roles) plus a mixture of technologies from various eras. All, though, is not as it seems...

For its handling of gender alone, this novel deserves an award (in fact, I just took a moment to nominate it for the James Tiptree, Jr Award, and I'll be surprised if I'm the first to do so). (EDIT: I wasn't.) But it's also incredibly well written and gripping, real mind-expanding "what if" science fiction. Stross is finally learning to keep his tremendous intellect and immense knowledge in the background, dialled down to a level where lesser beings can still understand - something like what Connie Willis and Neal Stephenson have learned to do - and it makes it even better than his earlier books, because for almost all of the time I know what the hell he's talking about. It has the disturbing presence and depth of Neil Gaiman, than which I have no higher praise to offer.

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