In a World of Words

You can be too rich and too thin, but you can never be too well read or too curious about the world. Tim Gunn

Three books from the past. Or goodbye, February:

Let’s start with the largest book on the list – Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Are you aware that the octopus is the closest alien you can meet on Earth? Do cuttlefishes feel pain? Why do cephalopods need so many neurons and a highly developed nervous system? The book is a mix of scientific research, philosophical ramblings, sea poetry, cool experiments, private investigations, and fun facts.

You’ll follow the author on his journey of trying to understand why color-blind octopuses and cuttlefishes need an exceptional camouflage. There’s a possibility that they communicate with each other (and the world) through colors/hues, brightness, light reflections. Ah, just imagine what it would be like to see or speak with the help of your skin! By the way, next time you see a squid on your plate or in the aquarium, remember they have a visual language, with grammar – nouns, adjectives, and so on.
Also, the arms of an octopus are partly self – they can be directed and used to manipulate things. But from the central brain’s perspective, they are partly non-self too, somewhat agents of their own. Truly fascinating, don’t you think? 😀

The saddest info in this book:

  • A female octopus breeds only one clutch of eggs and then dies. Life for one single ‘get-a-mate’ season? 😒
  • We are programmed to decay, but each of us in a different way. Decay will appear on a schedule… So, don’t you worry – there’s a plan. Enjoy your time on the Earth! 🕺
  • William Hamilton (English evolutionary theorist) would like to be buried (after his death) in Brazil’s forests: laid out to be eaten from the inside by an enormous beetle. 😱

Book #2 is a short book by Vladimir Nabokov (only 138 pages) about the oddest author of Russian Literature Nikolai GogolWhat can I say? It is a delightful, exhilarating, and original non-fiction work from the author of Lolita. It doesn’t matter if you read Gogol’s novels/plays or not – no one writes like Nabokov: always fresh, stylish, intriguing, classy. And a little bit pissed off… because he believed too many English and American translations are “murdering” the real Gogol.

Gogol’s books are a poetry in action, and by poetry, Nabokov meant “the mysteries of the irrational as perceived through rational words. True poetry that provokes not laughter and not tears but a radiant smile of perfect satisfaction, a purr of beatitude.”
I don’t think this is a secret – Nabokov believed that no one in the whole world wrote like Nikolai Gogol. 

Gogol’s writing style specialty: he’d write very long sentences, often a page long, in which he’d breed people, situations, feelings, and then he turned around, without finishing the sentence, sort of moved back, like in a closed circle, continuing to breed again – feelings, situations, people.

In this book, Nabokov tries to explain the meaning of the Russian word “poshlost” (which he calls poshlust). There’s no English word to describe it, but it is something between trivial, trashy, smug, false, and wonderful. Something similar to the happy advertising on tv, but you know it’s only a lie.
“Poshlost” is the purchasable human happiness when that purchase somehow ennobles the purchaser. Of course, you are going to say: “I know it’s all made up by the seller!” The amusing part is not that it is a world where nothing spiritual remains except the ecstatic smiles of people serving and eating cereals, but that it is a world in which neither seller nor buyer believes in the joy they produce.

!! NOTE: Poshlust doesn’t mean pulp fiction or “yellow” literature. The biggest danger of poshlust is that it can belong to the highest level of art because the sham is not obvious. I hope it is clear that poshlust is not the obviously trashy, but rather the falsely important, falsely beautiful, falsely clever, falsely attractive.
The “beautiful” novel is often “beautifully” reviewed, kind of like this: A singing book, compact of grace and light and ecstasy, a book of pearly radiance… – and the circle of poshlust is complete.
By the way, Superman is undoubtedly poshlust, adds Nabokov. 😬

Quote from the book: “The trouble is that sincerity, honesty, and even true kindness of heart cannot prevent the demon of poshlust from possessing himself of an author’s typewriter when the man lacks genius and when the reading public is what publishers think it is.”

A paperback is quite expensive, but the book is full of research (Nabokov analyses the letters of Gogol), and it gives a glimpse into the minds of two geniuses of the world’s literature. Ah, the conversation at the end (with the publisher) is a real joy! 📚😏

Book #3 is a random book of poetry – Cobalt: Poems of the Sea by George Tsakraklides. Two weeks ago, I read his poem called Sin here, on WP, and I liked it. That’s actually the whole story! 🙃 The website/blog of the author on WordPress:

Right now. Soon. Or hello, March:

It’s almost spring. Pablo Neruda (a magical poet) once said: “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” That means you should check your dusty bookshelves – time for a spring reading fever!!

In March 2021, Ray is reading the 630-pages-long book about Leo Tolstoy, in Russian. The book is called Escape from Paradise, written by Pavel Basinski – one of the most influential and highly acclaimed literary critics in Russia.

As you know (or don’t, which is absolutely OKAY), Leo Tolstoy left his home at the age of 82. He ran away from his wife, family, novels, fame, with only one bag behind his back. What was the reason? Why did he wait 25 years to make this happen? He dreamed of separating from his wife, quite a hysterical woman, many years ago, but he never did because she was the one who helped him with:

a) writing,
b) work on the Yasnaya Polyana estate,
c) 13 kids (pregnant – 117 months or 10 years),
d) and much more.

The House of Leo Tolstoy

The book is based on his personal diaries, letters, and documents. Tolstoy was too famous in Russia… I’m not sure it was fun for him to be THAT famous at the age of 82. People from all over the world tried to meet him. Just imagine, he had at least 30 meetings daily, year after year (mostly peasants, poor people, petitioners, fans). With each one he had to spend at least 10-15 minutes! And here we are, talking about how little time we have to read, write and work. 😉

One interesting fact: Tolstoy kept 2 separate diaries, one – for his family and the world, the second – for himself. Unfortunately, even diary #2 has been studied by hundreds of critics, friends, and journalists after his death (somewhere on God’s-forgotten-train-station). As you see, people like Tolstoy can’t get any privacy even after their death!

!! NOTE: The diaries of young Leo are mostly about girls, gambling, sex (he had gonorrhea twice), and vodka – the reason Tolstoy had been called an erotomaniac in his younger days. He did change his views with age… His philosophy of “non-resistance” is well-known to the world.

Here’s more info to check (for the curious):  Tolstoy’s Christian Non-Resistance

Book #2 – I am planning on reading How to Avoid A Climate Disaster: the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need, by Bill Gates. I’m a bit skeptical we can turn it around… We, humans, are the bad omens for this wonderful rock called Earth.

Book #3 – finally, March is a perfect time to relax with The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, by Sophie Hannah, a new crime mystery from Poirot himself… Damn, I want to be his secretary so badly! 😂 

What are you reading? I’ve heard on Quora that a lot of people are fed up with books, mostly because of lockdowns and Covid… I guess, everything should be in moderation. We have to save time for doing nothing, too. 😉

Ray’s personal news:

  1. I’ve finished the third draft of my thriller – 65k. I have to revise it 1 more time (the final draft) in June. There’s a big possibility that the book will be published in September 2021.
  2. I’m a member of AAAS /American Association for the Advancement of Science/ – AAAS Home for a year. My next hero (a crime novel, planned for 2022) is a scientist, so I have to start some research…
  3. The Story of Harmless Bullet will be published as a book in December 2021.
  4. I have to organize my bookshelf (create a catalogue for 700+ paperbacks). Yeah, yeah… Exactly when I have to translate and revise my novel The Secrets of A-Ria. Plus, the new furniture has arrived. 🤔 And I have to groom the dog. 😀 Oops, let’s not forget about the garden! Haha 😂

Well, I’m going to finish this LONG bookish blog post with the words of Joseph Delaney:

You can’t just be reading books all the time and leave the writing of them to others.




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46 Responses

  1. I read your ‘news’ wow you have a lot of good stuff going on.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      yes 🙂 this spring is very busy. I have a lot of plans for my garden too ☀️😀

      • Yes! I love gardening too. I planted some bulbs and roots this winter and they are doing really well now that the temperature is warming up a bit. My beet roots have real leaves and they are about 8 CMS tall. My garlic didn’t do so well. But my potatoes are thriving! We are going to have fun this spring, that’s for sure!

  2. That was a very broad selection of books. Poor octupus.

  3. Sorryless says:

    If I eat squid, will the octopi come for me? Or will they send their cuttlefish goons?

  4. masercot says:

    “A female octopus breeds only one clutch of eggs and then dies”… So, she only has to go through PMS once in her life?

  5. Do you speak Russian Victoria?

  6. librepaley says:

    A great ‘smorgasbord’ of books. Love how you drew some common themes, the poetry of life and ephemeral reality of life and nature. I had no idea Nabokov had written on Gogol. Of his stories, The Overcoat and The Nose are hilarious but touching (‘murdered’ translation or not).

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      🙂 thank you … Wanted to share more about the books (at least some brightest thoughts/ideas) bcz I understand that we all r very busy & probably will never read them 🙂 I haven’t read 2 last books (Gates & about Poirot) yet… starting next week📚🫖
      And love Gogol’s stories, too. “Dead souls” was boring, tho – I read it in school (15-16yo)… & when you r THAT young – all you want is to read about love (Romeo & Juliet kinda-style) 😂 or something funny 🙂

  7. Speaking as one – can’t wait to see how you see a scientist! And if you’d like to sound out your ideas you’re more than welcome, Victoria.

  8. Super post, VR. I am so impressed with all your activities. Shoot. I can nearly manage to put out a blog once a day and write books. Oh yes I read. I’m currently reading H.M.S Lanternfish by Craig Boyack. A fun book. It is interesting that Tolstoy died at 82. It must have been shortly after he left home. Poshlust is a fascinating concept. Thanks for the introduction. 😁

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I’m mostly planning… plan after plan after plan 😉 a note after a note 📝… & so on 😅😂
      Plus, even if I can’t do “everything” – I can at least do “something” 🙂 I’m happy with any results at the end of the day 😇🥳
      Also, don’t forget, I don’t blog daily as you does. It saves me time for other stuff … I’d like to blog more, but have to prioritize.
      Yes, Tolstoy died at some train station 🚉 I think 10 days after he left his house/wife. Poor woman, tho… I’m reading about their relationships & all those years of pregnancies & her constant pains & nursing -> & ALL THAT bcz Tolstoy thought that sex is dirty & there’s only 1 right way to justify “the process of penetration” =>>> the child 👶! Hm.
      Poshlust* is something we see a lot nowadays. Sad but true.

  9. Eilene Lyon says:

    That is quite a selection. I am getting a different book about octopus next week. There seem to be many animals that breed only once before they die. I managed to make it zero.😁 Impressive all your various language skills – are you a spy? I know, I know – if you told me, you’d have to kill me.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Haha 😂 been asked many times if I’m a spy 🙂
      I love reading about animals, plants, trees & insects (in general, natural world) – very relaxing 🙂 & exciting too. Is it nonfiction book, the one you r planing to read/get?

  10. kinkyacres says:

    Enjoyed the read! Thank you for sharing!!

  11. draliman says:

    Tolstoy sounds like quite the party dude!

  12. I love what you wrote here, everything. Sad indeed abou the female octopus, and about the word “poshlost”, very interesting.
    “We are programmed to decay, but each of us in a different way. Decay will appear on a schedule… So, don’t you worry – there’s a plan. Enjoy your time on the Earth! 🕺” —- I have to quote you on this one. I love it. It is so true. I never put it this way. It makes so much sense and it gives me peace.

  13. Simon says:

    So many facts about things here, I’ll never look at a squid and the same way and the poor Octopus. As for Tolstoy I think I would leave home if there was 13 children, but then he’s not blameless. lol

  14. It’s amazing that you don’t burn yourself out.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Lol Also, I have to add to that 5-6 books I couldnt finish… I started & after 30 pages I knew I didn’t like them 🤨😒 I allow myself to stop ✋ reading if I feel I don’t like the book (we all should). I also trying to resale it as soon as I can 🙂

  15. Hi. In re octopuses: There’s a very good documentary on Netflix called My Octopus Teacher.