One of my post-election vows was to read A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. I just wanted to commend myself on my good work in completing this task. It only took me five months! I have to say that it wasn’t easy. The book is 514 pages worth of dense, arid political philosophy that I am ill-equipped to judge. And yet…
I keep thinking about Rawls’s concept of the veil of ignorance:
Imagine that you have set for yourself the task of developing a totally new social contract for today’s society. How could you do so fairly? Although you could never actually eliminate all of your personal biases and prejudices, you would need to take steps at least to minimize them. Rawls suggests that you imagine yourself in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. Behind this veil, you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities, or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes. Behind such a veil of ignorance all individuals are simply specified as rational, free, and morally equal beings. You do know that in the “real world”, however, there will be a wide variety in the natural distribution of natural assets and abilities, and that there will be differences of sex, race, and culture that will distinguish groups of people from each other.
Isn’t that the way we should think about all social policy? Imagine that you don’t know if you’re white or black, rich or poor, male or female, healthy or sick, talented or mediocre, a Muslim or a Catholic or an atheist. How would you think about immigration policy, about health care, about taxes? The veil of ignorance doesn’t give you answers, but it encourages you to ask the right questions.
Amidst all the dispiriting deaths in 2016, that of Richard Adams didn’t get a whole lot of attention. But his Watership Down was a masterpiece, I think. In it, he created a world so vivid, so completely realized, that it rivaled Lord of the Rings. And it was about, you know, rabbits. Forty years later, I still look at a rabbit nibbling on some grass and I think of the word silflay.
I read his second novel, Shardik, and I thought it was just okay. I didn’t bother with The Plague Dogs. But Watership Down is forever.
“Would that the dead were not dead! But there is grass that must be eaten, pellets that must be chewed, hraka that must be passed, holes that must be dug, sleep that must be slept.”
Or maybe he just knows what a boy wants.
I’m already up to page 7! Only 506 pages to go! It’s pretty dry so far, but it’ll probably pick up steam really soon. I’ll start listening to the Brahms today.
Hope Santa was good to you too!
It’s becoming harder to get customer reviews for books nowadays. That’s probably related to the general downturn in the ebook market. Here I mentioned a program, run by my epublisher, to give away ebooks in return for honest reviews. Once you sign up, you start getting a weekly eZine containing a list of books you can download for free. Download a book, read it, and leave a review.
This model seems to be OK with Amazon, which has cracked down on some aspects of the customer review racket. It appears to be a requirement to state that you got the book for free in return for an honest review.
Anyway, the approach is working for my novel Where All the Ladders Start. Most reviews are pretty terse, like this one:
I received this book for an honest review. I loved this book. The plot and characters were amazing.
Well, what more do you need to say? But wait! It turns out that Laura Furuta has more to say! Namely:
When I first started reading this story I was not really sure what to expect. I read the description and was thinking it was just another mystery book. I was wrong! This is a story about a P. I. who works in an America that has been changed. Not only that, also there are forces at work that are determined to see he fails with his latest case. I really enjoyed the story from the first chapter to the very ending page. It has the right combination of mystery and plot to keep you guessing. The characters also really shine as well. The main characters are very well written and even some of the secondary ones you will remember and love. This is one book that I recommend if you love mysteries. It will keep you guessing. I received a copy of this book from eBook Discovery in exchange for an honest review.
Even better! Now all I need is a few more sales . . .
Here’s the cover, in case you forgot what the thing looks like:
After My Name is Lucy Barton I decided it was time for something different, something manly. No one is more manly than Jack Reacher. So I tried the latest in the series, Make Me. I soon started getting that sinking feeling when you realize that the Jack Reacher novel you’re reading is just like all the other Jack Reacher novels. A setting deep in the heartland, far from the police. Personality-free female sidekick. A dark conspiracy that, when finally revealed, makes little sense. A super-villain with no name, no past, no particular motive for his bottomless evil. Complicated set pieces in which Reacher kills or maims multiple foes due to his understanding of firearms, fighting, human psychology, etc.
Maybe I need to go back to the beginning with Jack Reacher. I’ve read about half a dozen of these books, and the best of them was The Enemy, an earlyish novel written in the first person and set back in the time when he was still in the military, before he began his lonely wanderings blah blah blah.
In the meantime I have started re-reading Emma by Jane Austen. No sinking feelings so far.
. . . which is called Terra, you will recall. Subject to further fiddling. Comments are welcome. You will notice that we’re looking for a parallel universe vibe here. What is that ray gun doing against the backdrop of a bas-relief from ancient Rome? Guess you’ll have to read the novel to find out.
I’m glad you asked. It’s called Terra — have I mentioned that? And it’s the follow-up to The Portal. Here’s the marketing blurb I wrote for it yesterday:
Larry Barnes thinks he’ll never use the portal again. The strange device that took him to a parallel universe has disappeared, and he is back living his normal life — until one day a beautiful woman appears and begs for his help. She tells him that the mysterious preacher he met in his travels is in trouble on another world, and only Larry can save him. Against his better judgment Larry enters the portal with her, and soon he finds himself in a desperate battle against a secret priesthood that wants to kill the preacher – and Larry. As he struggles to defeat the priests and return home, Larry begins to sense he may have powers that he never dreamed of, and he begins to understand that his fate is inextricably linked to that of the preacher . . . and the portal.
I don’t like these sorts of blurbs; they seem to suck everything that’s interesting or different out of a book in order to fit it comfortably into its genre. Maybe I can do better. Should I bring in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics? That would probably help sell some copies, don’t you think?