Saturday, March 20, 2004

Cosmopolis: A Novel
(Don Delillo; unabridged, 5 CDs)

I listened to this novella at least 5 times. Each time, the shiny sentences had the strange appearance of reprocessed plutonium. Delillo's syntax could have been spun smooth in a centrifuge. Each incidental remark sounds so clever that just understanding them made me feel smart. How could I listen so many times? This tight little book is on beyond poetry.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (Barry Schwartz, 288pp)
A nice enough popularization and review of the field, which I read to prepare for my own talk on 'Strange Tales from the Lab.' I came to understand these popularizations, not to praise them. Tom Gilovich is funnier and sharper, but I will find myself mentioning this title for people who don't have time to read the original psych and economics literature. (It is not a comprehensive review, but more of a starter course).

Sunday, March 14, 2004

America's Queen: A Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Sarah Bradford; abridged, 8 CDs)
Embarrassing to learn this much about Jackie O, but it's comparable to the store of gossip I harbor about Barbra Streisand or Edie Sedgwick. Hated her sister, Lee Radziwill (who slept with Onassis before he married Jackie O), adored her philandering father, and was resigned to male infidelity, which she coped with in the White House years with JFK by punishing him via massive purchases. She spent over $100K/year on clothes in the early 60s, which would be equivalent to about $1K/day. Once the Kennedy years pass (which includes her close relationship to RFK), the book flags. Very little about her relationship with her kids

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Someone to run with (David Grossman; paused after 85 pp)
The tale's unfolding requires an actual shaggy dog to weave the themes together. Assaf is "a stories-child", mesmerized by tales, lost in day dreams; Tamar has another quest, which is much scarier.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (Weldon Owen, 240pp; 1999)
This is a very lucid, well organized, and fascinating book about whales and other cetaceans. This has been around the house since before we whale-watched in February, and it's been great to dip into. Fun fact: Francis Crick hypothesizes that cetaceans have huge brains because they don't have REM sleep, and so need to hold a lot of garbage that gets flushed nightly by our brains.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Sister Wendy's 1000 Masterpieces (512pp)
Concise writing with great pictures to page through. The reproductions are vivid. Since the Sister organized the images by artist's last name, there's incongruities, a few family lines (the Brueghels), and a clump of Masters of X, Y, Z.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Al Franken; 7 hours, digital file)

Not everyone can be as smart or funny as Al Franken, so it's not fair to say that our opponents often sound dumb. This book exposes the inexcusable extent to which the right's spokespeople (Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan, O'Reilly, et al) are lazy, deceptive, and stridently hypocritical. Not every conservative is an idiot (read David Brooks, e.g.). I was not keen on rehearsing the injustices suffered since the hijacked election. Franken opens with an evenhanded and objective chapter, "Ann Coulter is a nut-case". Her bald lies, slandering opponents in *Slander*, exemplifies "irony of the unintentional sort." He and Team Franken perform strenuous research to catch the lies (for example, reading a Time Magazine article to catch up Condy Rice's denial that she was briefed on terrorism). The most surprising chapter covered how seriously Clinton took terrorism, and how criminally negligent the Bush-Cheney gang was before 9.11

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Blues City : A Walk in Oakland
(Ishmael Reed; abridged, 3 out 4 tapes heard)
I learned things about my home town, esp. concerning the history of the Black Panther Party. After a while, I felt as if I was reading a local newspaper that didn't like Jerry Brown, and then I stopped. This series, writers on cities, coughed up Chuck Palahniuk's take on Portland, which I tried to read, but couldn't figure out how to cut through the cant. Ishmael Reed does a better job, but still doesn't outdo Lonely Planet for urban info/background.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Case for Israel (Alan M. Dershowitz; 9 hours on cassette)
A very concise and lucid history. Dershowitz's scrappy reputation precedes him; is he trying to defend the "Claus von Bulow" among nations? Dershowitz makes a well-reasoned case that Israel has managed to maintain a nation ruled by law in a climate of terrorism. The evidence shows tragically that the Palestinian people have been victimized by their political leaders, who have bet on the wrong side of virtually every war in the 20th century: they backed the Germans in WWI, their leader was pro-Nazi in WWII, and then Arafat threw in with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. The consequences of such bad bets do not mean that the Palestinians should be dis-enfranchised, but their political leaders should bear the weight of choosing such bad company. Although there is a presumption among academics (taking their cue from Noam Chomsky) that Israel is a bully state, the evidence reviewed in this book powerfully refutes that facile presumption. Israel has a strong Supreme Court, one which outlawed the use of torture over 2 years ago. The US, France, Spain, and certainly every Arab country, cannot claim it has responded with as much clarity of principle.