What I read in 2021

1/18 Selena Montgomery, Deception

Sequel to Reckless, also both romance and thriller. There are three best friends in the first novel, so naturally this one is the second of a trilogy. As far as I can tell, though, the third book hasn't been published. Perhaps the author has been busy with other things lately.

1/16 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (tr. D. F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness)

A translation from 1961, with the 1922 introduction by Bertrand Russell from the first English translation.

Wittgenstein wasn't a logical positivist, a member of the Vienna Circle, a logician, a philosopher of science, or a deconstructionist, but all of those groups, and more, learned from him. At least some of what he writes seems very right. One of the things I found useful is the emphasis on precise analysis of language, and the observation that some well known problems of philosophy are really non-problems because it's impossible to formulate them in a coherent way.

I'm glad I read Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction before reading this book, though. I was sometimes banging my head over parts of the book wondering exactly what Wittgenstein meant. What did he mean, for example, by an object? (der Gegenstand) Is this a coherent concept, and do objects, in the sense he meant, necessarily exist? It was helpful to know that nobody, including Wittgenstein later in life, thought that the views expressed in the Tractatus were correct, and that when something seemed like it didn't make sense then maybe it didn't. The outline structure, notation, and austere style make the book seem more precise than it really is.

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.

1/15 Selena Montgomery, Reckless

The author is better known, at least in my circles, under her real name: Stacey Abrams. Selena Montgomery is the pen name she uses as a romance novelist, when she isn't busy serving as an elected official or saving democracy.

Reckless is a romance novel and also a mystery/thriller: what initially keeps the couple from coming together is arson and murder. I found the writing a little clunky, alas, but I'll want to read the sequel; it ends on a cliff-hanger.

1/1 Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

A fantasy novel inspired in part by fairy tales, most obviously Rumpelstiltskin. As the main character says on the first page of the book, the real story isn't so pretty. As a Jewish moneylender herself, she notices that the story is really about getting out of paying your debts.

The country the tsar and his boyars rule isn't called Russia or Muscovy, and none of the villages or cities in it appear on our maps, but it's recognizable enough that we've got a pretty good idea of what it means to be a Jewish moneylender in this world. Jews and Christians alike, meanwhile, fear the unearthly Staryk (old ones, perhaps? from старый?), who take what they like from mortals in the sunlit lands and are bound only by their own incomprehensible notions of obligation, which aren't ours.

There are several narrators, several young women who are forced to take on serious responsibilities and make very difficult choices, several unwilling marriages. There's also more than one case of learning that even monsters have reasons for what they do, not necessarily the ones one might expect.

Matt Austern