Sunday, June 27, 2004

W.D. Sebald (298 pp; 6 CDs)
This is the first book I've encountered, unabridged, that should have come with an explicit warning that something crucial was lost in the read-aloud version. Sebald weaves a world around photos that is less arbitrary than Philip Greenspun's method; frequently, the text mentions details, such as the gaze or hairstyle of a person, which must surely have been written with the specific photo as its object. At times, the tangential worlds made me nostalgic for Flaubert's Parrot.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Million Little Pieces
(James Frey, 8 CDs)
Someone who teaches high school addicts recommended this book to me as the most realistic account of addiction. The narrator opens the book at the point when he found himself on a plane he can't recall boarding, with his four front teeth knocked out from an ugly fall. Americans have a difficult time imagining a fate worse than bad teeth. But who can fathom the pain of root canals and crowns inflicted without pain killer (refused to him while he is in drug recovery)? Vivid language, which at times can sound like the muscular prose that comes from popping steroids. It's mostly focused on the life of rehab, and the arc of one tough guy's path toward full acceptance of responsibility for his decisions. (Note added in Jan 2006: Since Oprah's picked this book up, the documentary evidence for most of the tall tales has evaporated. The publishers have decided that the term "non-fiction" can be extended to cover dream sequences, Hemingway-style bragging, and better-than-life tall tales.)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Best American Short Stories of the Century
(Updike edited this; many readers. Abridged to 8 cassettes, so many stories don't survive this 2nd winnowing, although each story read is entire)

Heard the 2nd volume of 4 cassettes first, and then flew over the first half of the century. 'The Things They Carried' read by the author, Tim O'Brien, was the most memorable of the lot. To choose Barthelme's 'A City of Churches' struck me as a bit arbitrary, and it tags the impossibility of a project to select THE BEST. Listening to Raymond Carver tales is more addictive than drinking, and still it's fun to just uncork one, 'Where I'm Calling From'. I still haven't figured out Lorrie Moore, although I mildly enjoyed her 'You're Ugly, Too'.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

(Rem Koolhaas and the gang, 1344 pp)
Beats me what this book is about, but it does touch on the topic of SIZE as a degenerate aspiration for architecture. There's flecks of ideas inside that are of interest. I didn't like it as much as the more recent Content; it felt less dense, more Wired, generally profane.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

(James Joyce, 30 sound cassettes, 42.75 hours)
I didn't spend Bloomsday reading this, but let me point others toward this phenomenally rewarding reading. Avoid the reading by Frederick Davidson for Blackstone Audiobooks. This is the richest, most accessible, and most amazing trip you can take to Dublin. Make sure that Donal Donelly is the main narrator! Discover the oral pleasures of Joyce's prose!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

My Experiments with Truth
(Gandhi, 3 CDs, abridged, read by Frederick Davidson)
Mahatma is not my main man-- he is so austere, so priggish. But it was fun to hear him intoned by the ultimate snide reader, my main man Frederick Davidson, who also reads under the pseudo-audio-nyms, David Case, Edward Raleigh, James Nelson, and Ian McKay.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

American Rhapsody
(Joe Esterhaz, 12 cassettes)
A story about Bill Clinton and Monica would not seem to be a sizzler, but Joe Esterhaz crawls right inside the mind of "my President" (er, at least, into the mind of his penis). I only listened to the first 4 cassettes, and then jumped around trying to find good parts afterwards. It's never dull, and if the people who "played" the voices of Monica and Linda Tripp not been so irritating, I might have read more than half the book.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Fighting Terrorism
(Benjamin Netanyahu, 4 CDs, unabridged)
I listened to this (written in '95, but more relevant in the noughties), hoping to hear what a hard edged realist might say about how to respond to terrorism. Unfortunately, there's not enough here to improve the picture one harbors, where the world is passing through a very trying time, exposed to the threats of terrorists. Netanyahu does not offer more promise in responding to this than Ashcroft.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
(Michael Lewis, 8 CDs)
A good story, with a terribly misleading title. I thought this was about the unfairness of baseball salaries, and how it's ruining the game. So, I had little interest, until someone explained that it was about statistics, and how Billy Beane used math to exploit inefficiencies in scouts' estimations of talent. This is not as compelling as Lewis' Liar's Poker, but a lot of the tale's value comes in telling about the triumph of a nerd. Inspite of being about statistics, it has almost no real math in it, just the results of using math.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 13
(edited by Chris Ware, 264 pp)
Great gobs of depressive comics! Chris Ware, assisted by Ivan Brunetti, has collected the whole funhouse. Lynda Barry's piece on 2 questions ("Is it good?" and "Does it suck") was great. Every underground comic writer I've ever followed is in this volume: Adrian Tomine, Ivan B., July Doucette et al. Why are comix so prone to diary entries of self-loathing and despair?

Friday, June 04, 2004

(Saul Bellow; 8 hours on cassette, unabridged)
Delightful memoir of friendship for the first 2/3, and then a pasted on mini-memoir of Bellow's own close brush with death. The life of Alan Bloom, raging humanist and homosexual, is well drawn, though the tale focuses almost entirely on his last years.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Mr Pine's Purple House
(Leonard P. Kessler, 61pp)
After 30+ years of mis-quotation, I have finally tracked down this locus classicus. It is not the superb little book my memory had written about a man who had to re-paint his house multiple times to overthrow his neighbors' copy-cat impulses.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Secret Garden
(Frances Hodgson Burnett; punted after one cassette)
Positively pissy little girl, surely destined to bloom later, but I couldn't see any point in watching her grow.
Mary Poppins
(P.L. Travers, unabridged, 3 cassettes; stopped half way)
I'd become interested in children's books, after visiting a house displaying an entire library of classics. Mary Poppins is definitely worth sharing with a child, although her starchy touchiness is not quite as snappish as Willy Wonka.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

(Saul Bellow, 18 hours unabridged; stopped after 10)
A great story of a man with a PhD, who may be the modern Don Quixote, lost in books, crushed by love, attempting to align his messy life by organizing a campaign of letters. This was not the time in my life to read this, so I stopped half way to jump into a fresher Bellow.