Thank you. It's been sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, but I'm finally in and mostly unpacked. The greatest part is that I can walk to and from work, and eat at home instead of fast food -- I lost 16 pounds in the first two weeks. The downside is that my reading has suffered and I'm even farther behind on all my reading projects, and my Shelfari group reads and challenges. Anyway, this is what I've read in the first two months of the summer (Is it already Labor Day!?):
Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire [1938, tr. 1964] 215 pages
I discovered this fascinating little book more or less by accident.
Gaston Bachelard is somewhat of an anomaly; in the great schism of modern philosophy early in the twentieth century, the (Austro-)Anglo-American tradition took as its "portion" logic, language, and philosophy of science, while the Continental tradition largely took social philosophy and metaphysics, but Bachelard was a philosopher of science within the Continental tradition, almost the only one.
His philosophy of science is naturally very different from anything else I've read; while the A-A-A philosophers at the time were essentially concerned with normative issues of logic and epistemology, with how we "ought" to do science -- later with Kuhn and company it turned toward sociological and socio-political description -- Bachelard was concerned with psychological apects of scientific investigation, what he describes as "the psychoanalysis of objective knowledge."
His point is that the scientists' theorizing is influenced by pre-scientific "complexes" derived from the experience of "reverie", which must be subjected to a form of "psychoanalysis" to be able to free oneself from these complexes and observe phenomena objectively. In this book he focuses on the various ideas relating to fire, and identifies pre-scientific groups of ideas which he calls the "Prometheus complex", "Empedocles complex", "Novalis complex", and "Hoffman complex", and traces them in early modern physical and chemical theories of the nature of fire.
While I wouldn't want to evaluate his overall theory based on such a short book, his discussions of the various ways that people experience fire, and the use of fire in mythology and literature is quite interesting and full of insights.
Lowell Dingus, Hell Creek, Montana: America's Key to the Prehistoric Past  242 pages
The subtitle, the picture of the T. Rex skull on the cover, and the fact that Dingus is a palaeontologist all led me to believe that this would focus mainly on the dinosaurs found at Hell Creek; but in fact this is only part of the book, which is about the history of the region. It begins with the Lewis and Clark expedition, goes on to the aftermath of Custer's Last Stand, then discusses the finding of the Tyrannosaurs by Barnum Brown, and finishes up with the Freemen siege and the Big Open proposal. While all of these episodes are interesting and written about in an interesting manner, none of them is presented in much detail (the Freemen episode in particular was very superficially handled) and all can be found elsewhere in more depth. I would have preferred a focus on the fossils, which is after all Dingus' field. But given what the book is, it was an enjoyable quick read.
F.A. Barnes and Michaelene Pendleton, Canyon Country Prehistoric Indians: Their Cultures, Ruins, Artifacts and Rock Art [rev. 1995] 255 pages
I'm taking a couple hours on my way to the Shakespeare Festival to look at the Fremont Indian petroglyphs, so I wanted to read some background, but I couldn't find many books on the subject. This is a fairly basic guide book, with a general summary of the Anasazi and Fremont cultures and their artifacts, as well as the rock art. It is about half text, half photographs.The biggest downside was that it was last revised almost twenty years ago, so it is probably out of date on the archaeology, and in keeping with the date the illustrations are all in black and white.
In a way the book was rather sad, as it documents the ongoing destruction of the remains both by "development" and outright vandalism, with little enforcement of the Antiquities Act. I hope this has changed in the last twenty years -- but I doubt it.
Sally J. Cole, Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region  340 pages
This is a more academic work which focuses on the Rock Art rather than other aspects of the cultures. It is divided into three parts, one on the hunter-gatherer art from the earliest period, one on the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) art, and one on the Fremont art, with a brief epilogue on the art of the early Eastern Shoshone who followed the Anasazi and Fremont in the region. Within each part, the discussion is geographical. The detail was almost too much to deal with. The book is very well illustrated with color photographs.
C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism  143 pages
C.S. Lewis is an intelligent and perceptive critic, and this book is well worth reading. He proposes the "experiment" of considering the way readers read a certain book (or are "invited" to read it), rather than the text as such, as a way of "evaluating" a work, thus becoming a "precursor" of today's "reader response" criticism, and anticipating a principal concern of writers such as Calvino and Eco.
The main objection I had to the book is that his examination of ways of reading is very normative; he divides readers into two disjoint categories, one "higher" and one "lower". Much of his distinction I find hard to accept; for example, that the "lower" (or "unliterary", to use his term) reader doesn't ever re-read, doesn't discuss the book with others -- by these criteria I suppose Twilight readers would belong to the "literary" group? Also, "unliterary" readers don't ever read fantasy (?!) Perhaps this was the case in 1961, or perhaps he says this because he wrote fantasies? I think his basic distinction is more correct -- that the "unliterary" reader reads for the story, the narrative, "the Event", only, to find out "what happens", where the "literary" reader looks more at how the story is told, focuses more on the "style" of the narration. He makes the good point that the "unliterary" reader prefers clichés and bad writing because they make it easier to get at the Event, while good style makes one think about things which are not necessary to "what happens", distracting from the Event. True, I think, so far as it goes -- but is this all the "literary" reader looks at?
Wikipedia informs us that reader response criticism is "the absolute opposite of the New Criticism", but it seems to me that Lewis' "literary reader" is essentially -- a New Critic. He tells us that the "literary" reader looks at how the story is told, "rests in the work itself", but drawing conclusions about the world, looking for a "philosophy of life" in the work, is "using" the work in the "unliterary" way -- what is this but the New Criticism applied to readers rather than texts? In justifying non-realistic writing against those who consider realism the only good type of literature (probably a strawman in any case) Lewis says, "if we do that, we shall have against us the literary practice and experience of nearly the whole human race. That is too formidable an antagonist." But the same can be said about ignoring the extra-literary intentions of texts -- authors from ancient times on have always been considered -- and considered themselves -- as moral teachers; the idea of "art for art's sake" is entirely recent, and a minority position even in recent times. The same objection, in other words, could be made to Lewis as to the New Critics, that they focus attention on textual matters of style to avoid discussing matters of content and intention which were uncomfortable or dangerous to discuss in the fifties and sixties.
Beyond the problem of what constitutes "literary" or "unliterary" reading, I think the dichotomy, as two kinds of reading rather than a matter of degree -- which is what he considers the basic improvement in his approach -- may not be right. Perhaps there is a continuum? Is it possible to move from one to the other by a series of small steps, rather than as he says a "conversion" experience? Perhaps he was influenced by the clear distinction in his times between "realist" and "modernist" fiction, fiction intended for the first kind of reader and fiction intended deliberately to exclude the first type, through leaving out or deliberately distorting narrative. As Eco explains in his Postscript to The Name of the Rose, his intent (and that of the postmodernist school, as he understands it) was to provide a bridge between the two forms of reading, to provide a narrative content which conforms to the genres and styles which are "popular", but with opportunities to go beyond the simple way of reading -- but for Eco this second way involves reflections on philosophy, on epistemology and semantics as well as ethics, which to Lewis would be ways of "using" rather than "receiving".
So much for my objections. There is much in the book which is very good and thought-provoking. (Even what I objected to was though-provoking.) In particular, I liked the way Lewis distinguishes "realism of presentation" from "realism of content" -- my objection to Wood's How Fiction Works, which I read and reviewed last month, focused on his confusing of that very point. I also liked the way Lewis points out how present-day teaching of English Literature in the schools encourages precisely the "unliterary" style of reading. (I would go even further in this, but that's another discussion.) His explanation of why modern poetry is not popular is also very much to the point (although he considers only written "literary" poetry; like most academics, he doesn't seem to notice poetry in its oldest form --as song lyrics -- is still probably the most popular form of literature.)
Daris R. Swindler, Introduction to the Primates  284 pages
This is a very good summary of the anatomy and taxonomy of the living primates, with one chapter on the fossil record and a very brief chapter on conservation issues. The information on anatomy, which is the major subject of the book, was very detailed for a popular book, and I found it a good introduction to the subject. The only problem with the book is that it was written at the end of the last century and so the evolutionary section is undoubtedly quite out of date; but it is at least a baseline for what I will be reading in more recent books on specific topics.
Ronald M. Nowak, Walker's Primates of the World  224 pages
Although I read it through, this appears to be designed as a reference. It is very comprehensive, giving descriptions, classification, distribution, information about diet and habitat, reproduction, and conservation status for all living or recently extinct genera of primates. Most genera are illustrated with (black and white) photographs. There is also a very long and useful general introduction putting the descriptions in context.
The material is partly based on the sixth edition of Walker's Mammals of the World. Unfortunately neither the general book nor the primate book have been updated since 1999; there were only eight years between the fifth and sixth editions of Walker's Mammals of the World. Nearly every family description here begins by explaining that the genera, classification of genera into higher groups, which species belong in which genera, number of species in each genera, which taxa are species, which are subspecies, or some other aspect of classification is controversial; many species have only recently been found or described, and of course the conservation status is continually changing, so after thirteen years it definitely needs a new edition.
This was a good orientation to the primates, although the descriptions can be somewhat technical; I wouldn't have followed some of them without having read Swindler's Introduction to the Primates (also in need of a new edition) first.
Alison Jolly, Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madegascar  310 pages
Although this book was classified as about lemurs, it's really more a combination of a personal memoir and a social and economic history of modern Madagascar, especially in the extreme south of the island. The focus is on the Berenty reserve where the author did most of her famous research on lemurs, and the de Heaulme family which established it, but she puts it in the context of the history of the region and its Tandroy as well as French inhabitants from the 1600s through the various conquests, rebellions and revolutions up to the droughts of recent years.
Unlike many conservation-oriented books I have read, Jolly has a real understanding that conservation is often a colonialist or neocolonialist endeavor carried out by foreign interests at the expense of the poorest native inhabitants, and that to last over the long term it must gain the support of the local population and involve considerations of sustainable development for the local economy.
Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man [1971, rev. 1988] 297 pages
This is probably Jane Goodall's best known book, telling the story of the first ten years of her research at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve. The stories of the chimpanzees she studied are fascinating. Later work has modified some of her conclusions, but the descriptions of the chimpanzees and their behavior are fundamental. I read this years ago in the original 1971 edition; I reread it in the 1988 revised edition, which seems to be the same except for a new introduction by Stephen Jay Gould and a short epilogue which basically is an ad for the sequel she was writing at the time (presumably the 1990 book Through A Window which I am reading next.)
Jane Goodall, Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe  268 pages
The sequel to In the Shadow of Man, this takes the story of the Gombe chimpanzees from 1970, when the earlier book was written, up to 1990. Much was learned in that period about chimpanzee territoriality and agression, among other things. Anyone who read the first book should read this as well.
Thea von Harbou, Metropolis [1926, anon. Eng. tr 1927] 220 pages [Kindle]
Coming off my summer vacation, I've started a new watching/reading mini-project on German Silent Cinema. Several books on the period in general I'm working on chapter by chapter as I watch the films chronologically (from the library, Internet Archive, or You-tube -- most of the important films are available free, even if sometimes terrible quality prints,) so I will finish those all more or less at once when I reach Die Blaue Engel, the first important German sound film. Meanwhile, I'm finishing books on individual films.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis is one of the best-known and controversial of the German silent films. Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, wrote both the screenplay for the movie, and more or less simultaneously, this "novelization". The basic plot of both film and novel is this: a high-technology city, Metropolis, built and owned by Joh Fredersen, is divided between the rich oligarchs living in the high towers and the exploited workers living under the ground level. Fredersen's only son, Freder, falls in love with a working class girl named Maria, who turns out to be the leader of a clandestine, semi-religious worker's movement, which awaits the coming of a "Mediator" to improve their position. Freder, after switching places with a worker named Georgi (but known officially as 11811) decides to take on the job of "Mediator", but is discovered by his father and the villainous inventor Rotwang. Rotwang creates a kind of android with the form of Maria, and kidnaps the real Maria. The robot replacement turns the movement violent, and Metropolis is virtually destroyed in the resulting fighting, until Freder and Maria, reunited, manage to get control and reconcile the workers with Freder's father. Lesson: "The Mediator between Head and Hands is the Heart."
The interest of course is not in this simple plot, but in what it is supposed to "mean" (and in the case of the film the technical and artistic means by which it is presented. The novelization diverges somewhat from the film both in the incidents depicted and in their order. More importantly, it heavily emphasizes a religious (part Christian, part pagan) symbolism which is present but not emphasized in the film, thus presenting a somewhat different "meaning" from that projected by the movie.
Of course, nearly all novelizations fall short of the movies they're based on, but this book is totally awful. Thea von Harbou's writing is terrible, trying to be profound and poetic and achieving only a sort of absurdly pretentious melodrama. The almost illiterate anonymous translation doesn't help any, and I suspect the Kindle edition has introduced even further typos. This is a book you only want to read if you are really interested in the film.
Thomas Elsaesser, Metropolis  87 pages
A volume in the British Film Institute's Classics series, this short book deals with Fritz Lang's 1926 silent film Metropolis. There is some discussion of the origins of the film, and an interesting summary of some of the sources of the plot and the imagery. Most of the book discusses the "reception history" of this controversial film, from contemporary reviews to the cult-film remake by Morodor.
Generally, most critics were impressed by the technical aspects of the film, but considered the story to be silly; the Communists considered it proto-Nazi and the Nazi's as Communist propaganda. (Personally, I think it was most similar ideologically to H.G. Well's The Time Machine, in its "Fabian" argument that the capitalists should find a mediator with the workers before the workers are tempted to take things into their own hands and use violence against the capitalists. But Wells hated the film, because of its absurd science-fiction aspect -- the machines that don't seem to make anything, that are hard physically to operate, the city which goes up vertically instead of sprawling into the suburbs, in short, the symbolic aspects of the film.)
To complicate matters further, although this is an entirely symbolic film, which doesn't make a lot of sense at a realist level, the American distributor (Paramount) decided to cut the symbolism out, as well as the entire subplot relating Fredersen and Rotwang, and the (fairly realistic) part of Fredersen's spy Slim, and the later versions (even in Germany) were based on that American "cut" version, about 25% shorter than the original film, which was itself destroyed. Much of the recent history has been the attempts to "reconstruct" the original film from outtakes, promotional stills, reviews of the premier, the censor's cards for the dialogue, and the musical score with cues. The book ends with an interesting discussion of the 1984 Giorgio Morodor version (which, tinted and with a rock soundtrack, has been compared to a long music video) and other modern (post-modern) adaptations.
The book was written before the complete original version of the film was rediscovered in 2008 (something the author predicted would never happen), so the discussion of the film itself is out of date; it's surprising that BFI continues to reprint this (last reprinting 2011) rather than replacing it with a revised version based on the complete film.
Sigfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film  348 pages
This is the classic study of the early German cinema. The book is organized more or less chronologically, divided into four sections, "The Archaic Period, 1895-1918" on the earliest silent films before and during World War I, "The Postwar Period, 1918-1924", "The Stabilized Period, 1925-1928", and "The Pre-Hitler Period, 1929-1933", which is also the period of the earliest sound films. Most of the important films, or at least those which the average person with an interest in cinematic history will have seen or heard of, are covered, though with differing degrees of emphasis. The expanded 2004 edition also contains an epilog on the Nazi propaganda films of World War II.
The critical introduction by the modern editor, Leonardo Quaresima, should probably be read after the book itself; it gives the false impression that the book will be very academic and require a familiarity with the Frankfort School and various other authors who are influences on Kracauer. In fact, his account is quite straightforward and self-contained, and whatever German historical background is needed to understand it is included in the text -- it was, after all, written for an American audience.
This is not to say that the book is simply a description of the films; Kracauer, writing during the Second World War, was attempting to use the films as raw material for understanding the psychological conditions for the rise of Hitler. For example, he makes the interesting point that in the immediate postwar period, after the unsuccessful Revolution of 1919, the German middle class, unhappy with the lack of real freedom in the Weimar Republic but afraid that any resistance would lead to their losing their political and economic position to the socialists, avoided any real analysis of their historical situation but projected their feelings of oppresion into the supernatural, with a vogue of horror films such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Nosferatu. (Parallels with the current vampire craze, anyone?) His psychological analyses of the general tendencies I found quite convincing, but like most authors with a general thesis he pushes it too far and applies it too immediately in analyzing specific films.
Anyone with an interest in the early cinema needs to read this book, if only because every other book on the subject takes it as the starting point, whether they follow his thesis or polemicize against it.
Dietrich Scheunemann, ed., Expressionist Film: New Perspectives  302 pages
This is a very academic book, in the negative sense; it is more concerned with defining positions relative to other books on film than with the films themselves. In particular, it is a continuous polemic against Krackauer's From Caligari to Hitler and Eisner's The Haunted Screen, the two most significant books on early German cinema.
The book begins with two general articles, one by the editor, Dietrich Scheunemann, and the other by noted film writer Thomas Elsaesser (significantly titled "Krackauer and Eisner Revisited".) Scheunemann dismisses Krackauer's book as totally misguided; he accuses it of ignoring form for content (unfairly, since Krackauer discusses technique quite a bit for a book which is explicitly a Psychological History of German Film, not a general history of a history of technique), while he himself ignores content (or rather insists that the content of the films is simply about their own technique, turning them all into early twentieth century post-modernists.) He spends more time dealing with Eisner, arguing that most of the films of the Weimar cinema are in fact not "Expressionist" at all (which makes the choice of the title of the book, Expressionist Film, somewhat odd.)
The second article, by Elsaesser, is perhaps the best in the book. Rather than concentrating on attacking Krackauer, he accepts his general outlook and tries to fill in the areas in which Krackauer is weak. Unfortunately, at one point he becomes rather bogged down in discussing a feminist analysis which he doesn't present at all clearly, retreating into postmodern jargon for a few pages.
The remainder of the book consists in "new perspectives" on about a dozen specidfic films or directors. These are very uneven; some really did give me a new perspective on the films, while others were rather disappointing, and three or four I couldn't really judge because I hadn't seen the films (unfortunately these seemed to be among the most interesting). They also differed in the amount of postmodern and film-crit jargon they contained; not surprisingly those which were the least perceptive about the films had the most jargon. All were distorted by the need to begin with an attack on Krackauer; I wish they had forgotten his book and just presented their own perspectives on the works.
After reading this book, I was tempted to go back and add another star to my review -- of Krackauer's book.
Ian Roberts, German Expressionist Cinema: The World of Light and Shadow  132 pages
A short, non-polemical introduction to the German silent cinema. This consists of two general chapters at the beginning and end, bracketing analyses of six films by five directors from Wiene's Das Cabinett der Doctor Caligari to Joe May's Asphalt. The first chapter gives a brief historical background and a description of "Expressionism" in German art and theater before World War I; the analyses each highlight a different aspect of expressionism in the films, as well as providing a short biography of the director, and the final chapter sums up without trying to fit the films into any general theory.
Heinrich Mann, Professor Unrat oder Das Ende eines Tyrannens  236 pages(?) in German [Kindle]
Heinrich Mann's novel is best known today as the book on which the film Der blaue Engel was based, but the novel is very different from the film and much deeper. It is a psychological study of a "tyrant" -- in modern parlance a "control freak" -- Professor Raat, known to his present and past students -- and referred to throughout the book -- as "Unrat" (filth or garbage), and his obsession with three of his rebellious students, Lohman, von Erztum and Kieselack.
In pursuit of these three students, Unrat visits a harbor beerhall called The Blue Angel, where he meets and becomes enamored with "the Artist Rosa Fröhlich", whom he marries. He is consequently dismissed from his position as Professor in the Gymnasium. Up to this point, the film loosely follows the novel; but then adds on a very different, rather cliché ending. (This is not really a criticism of the film, since the achievement of this and most other films, like most operas, is not in the trivial plot but in the artistic presentation.)
In the novel, the Unrats after their marriage have no further connection with The Blue Angel or show business, but live a very different sort of life; the story is not about Prof. Unrat's degradation in show business, but about his sophisticated revenge on society through introducing corruption at all levels of the community.
In the end, his downfall is brought about by one of the three students, who in a reversal of roles now represents bourgeois respectability against the anarchism of Prof. Unrat.
In addition to the psychological study of Unrat (and to a lesser extent, Rosa and the three students) the novel is also a radical satire on the class structure and mores of Wilhelmine Germany.
S.S. Prawer, The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel)  79 pages
A volume in the British Film Institute's BFI Film Classics series, this short book discusses the making of the film and various aspects of its structure, especially the use of sound (it was one of the first sound films to really make use of sound in an intelligent way, rather than simply relying on dialogue to tell a story.)
Barbara Kosta, Willing Seduction: The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich, and Mass Culture  195 pages
A study of Der Blaue Engel in the contexts of the German debates over art vs. mass culture, tradition vs. modernization, the role of the "new woman" and marriage, and silent vs. sound film. The thesis of the book is that the film, while quite different from Mann's novel, was not merely trivial entertainment but a serious comment on these various debates. The book was well and understandably written with a minimum of jargon, unlike some of the other books on film I have read lately. Many of the arguments are expansions of those in the book by Prawer. Kosta also discusses the reception of the film and the image of Dietrich in post-unification Germany.
David Robinson, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari  79 pages
Another volume in the BFI Film Classics series, this describes the origin of the film with a concentration on the comparison of the finished film with the screenplay, which had recently been published when the book was written. The discussion of the film itself is not particularly good; Robinson seems to want to diminish its importance and originality.
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game [1985, rev. 1991] 324 pages [re-read]
This was required reading for a course I'm taking (ALA Reader's Advisory Service class.) I read it back in the eighties, when I was still into science fiction as a genre. It is one of the better science fiction novels of the period. This is the book that launched Card's career as a science fiction writer.
The novel, which follows Ender Wiggins and other gifted children at "Battle School", can be taken at two levels. On the one hand, it can be read as an action adventure about a young but brilliant child who out-thinks the adults around him and wins a war to save humanity, similar to the Harry Potter books and many other YA science fiction and fantasy novels. It is definitely a well-written, fast-paced novel at this level. Many of the plot devices, such as the extra training which he gives the children outside the official channels, are very reminiscent of the HP books -- and Ender Wiggins came first.
There is also another, more adult level, on which the book is about manipulation -- Ender and the other children being manipulated by Col. Graff, a more sinister Dumbledore; but also the mutual manipulation of Peter and Valentine, and their joint manipulation of the public; and the manipulation of everyone by the government and military and the censored press. Card is concerned with the philosophical-ethical question of free agency in a world of manipulation; Ender, and some of the other children, even while realizing that they are being manipulated controlled and lied to, insist on taking responsibility, deciding for themselves how far they will go in carrying out the designs of their elders.
Interestingly -- and I'm guessing this is one reason why it is reading for this course (which I haven't actually started yet) -- Card followed it with two separate series of sequels, one developing the "adult" themes and the other (the "Shadow" series) treating it from the action perspective for children or YAs.
Orson Scott Card, Ender in Exile  380 pages
Not the original sequel to Ender's Game, but fitted in between that and the original sequel, Speaker for the Dead. It is a good science fiction novel in its own right, but unfortunately seems to be dependent not just on Ender's Game but also on the other YA sequel-series (the Shadow books) which I haven't read and am not really interested in. I can understand that it needs to be consistent with that series, for those who are reading both, but it was annoying that it assumed a knowledge of what happened in those books.
The novel fits in the vacant space between the first two Ender books -- the original adult sequence -- right after the end of Ender's Game. (Actually, it expands on the final chapter of that book.) It is somewhat inconsistent in details with the first book even in its revised form -- very inconsistent with the original version. Of course it was written two decades later.
After the war, Ender cannot return to Earth or live any sort of normal life. Card avoided the unrealistic effect that is made for instance by the epilog to the Harry Potter books; wars, no matter how popular or "justified", permanently affect the people who fight in them, and especially those who grow up in them. Ender is "voluntarily" exiled as governor of the first colony planet, Shakespeare, and the novel describes the trip out and what he does there.
While not as good as Ender's Game itself -- sequels never are -- it is better than most formula science fiction from the period, with some serious ideas worked out.
Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead  280 pages
This is the original sequel to Ender's Game -- although the novel version of that was designed as a sort of prequel to this book. The buggers play a minor role, and another sentient alien culture a more important one, but it is primarily about a human family and the reasons for its problems. I think this is Card's best novel, at least of the ones I have read; it deals with ethical dilemmas in a serious way, and the main character is developed as someone who is tolerant and respectful of different beliefs and tries to understand others rather than judging them. The book focuses on the difficulties of deciding what is right, especially across cultures.
I just find it very hard after reading this novel to believe that this is written by the same Orson Scott Card whose own writings in his own persona, as opposed to fiction, claim to be able to decide for everyone what is right and wrong without any difficulty, and who a year ago spoke at the ALA Convention turning his "book talk" into a long rant against gays.
Orson Scott Card, Xenocide  392 pages
The third book of the original trilogy, this continues the story of the Lusitania colony, but ends with the main conflict, as well as many other strands of the plot, unresolved; so there was also a fourth book (fifth if you count Ender in Exile as the second) called Children of the Mind. Unfortunately, that is missing from the library so it will be a while before I can finish the series.
This book is much longer than the first two, and shouldn't have been -- although it makes no sense as a stand-alone novel without the earlier books, Card spends much time repeating information from the earlier books. The book is interesting, and moves fairly quickly, but often explains things in long discussions which could have been incorporated into the plot; in other words, the author is preaching all too often. (And there is the same contradiction that what he is preaching is frequently the opposite of what he preaches in his own person.) The novel introduces an alternative science which very much reminds me of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead; I don't know whether it is derived from Whitehead or from a common source in Leibniz's Monadology.
Jules Verne, Le tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours  277 pages [in French; Kindle]
The classic adventure of Phineas Fogg; a fast-paced series of episodes in what were then exotic locations, such as Salt Lake City. A fun, entertaining read about the modern progress of the nineteenth century. I read this as a kid in English a long time ago, but this is the first Jules Verne I've read in French.