Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
(Scott Adams, unabridged, 6 cassettes, narrated by Norman Dietz)
Rancid cynicism. This book is no more fun than getting a back street gall-bladder transplant to mainline Scott Adams' bile. I jumped around and listened to about a 1/3 of this. If my iPod weren't in the Apple shop, I would have punted after 30 minutes.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Minority Report and Other Stories
(Philip K. Dick, 6 CDs)
Interesting, but... Most of the stories have an Escherian reverb that makes it possible to anticipate the twisted endings. Apparently, Dickians claim that the novels are the best place to trip over his mind's unique fears.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Getting to Yes
(Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton; unabridged, 5 CDs)
I was surprised, while listening to this book, to realize that I have not mastered many of the techniques just because I'd already read the book 20 years ago. In fact, throwing tantrums and hissy fits are not even recommended as tactics. Perhaps this omission underscores the ways in which the tone of this book is a little *too* even-handed. E.g., these pie-expanders say something like "many people feel that genocide is wrong." Nevertheless, their exalted perspective articulates an emotional outlook that would be the ideal state to aim for when entering a negotiation.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Andy Warhol: A Penguin Life
(Wayne Koestenbaum, 224 pp)
Although this author's literary flaired nostrils occasionally get in the way of the story, there are many interesting stories about Andy Paperbag. There's almost nothing about the Velvet Underground, and I skimped over the first 30pp, and jumped in at the point of his late 50s book about pussy (cats). Given how "abstract" sex, people, and most social settings struck Warhol, he ought to be nominated to the Asperger hall of fame.
(Chris Matthews, 240pp)
A quick tour of politics told through a stream of anecdotes. Without being superficial, it's pop-Machiavelli, illustrated almost entirely through funny stories about post-WWII politicians. Since the author worked for Tip O'Neill, he can speak with authority about how the game is played. There's a maxim that goes back to Benjamin Franklin, that's always mystified me: "If you want to make a person your friend, ask him for a favor." This book treats this in more detail, and helps illuminate how to build support for your own cause by making others your patrons.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Body and soul
(Frank Conroy, abridged to 3 hours, but I stopped after 90 minutes)
I heard about this book while watching the Stone Reader, a documentary paean to a middlebrow's Pynchon. Enthusiastic readers cannot make a bad book better. I was profoundly grateful that this little dud had been harvested from an originally much fatter thud.

Monday, July 19, 2004

(Daniel Ellsberg, unabridged, read in parts by the author)
Even after one concedes that Iraq is not Arabic for Vietnam, this autobiography is compelling: Ellsberg was a brilliant Harvard Fellow who joined the Defense Dept in the early 1960s and received almost unlimited clearance to secret documents. His first day exposed him to the original cables reporting the Gulf of Tonkin incident. To seek better grounding, he traveled through Vietnam in a Jeep, at a time when most American troops where too scared to go anywhere without helicopter coverage. (A detail that evokes deja vu.) At every stage in his participation in the war, he reports his shock at peeling away the secrecy, to discover that even more confidential reports had pessimistically (and much more accurately) assessed the Vietnam war as un-winnable. Ellsberg speaks clearly about the allure of being in the loop. In contrast to the Wisdom of Crowds, here is the sad story of the idiocy and dangers of being ruled by secretive cabals. His stance, to heroically seek to unmask the emperor, triggered the Nixon plumbers to break into Ellsberg's shrink's office. Thus began the unraveling of the previous dirty trickster.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Hollywood Animal
(Joe Ezsterhas, unabridged, 28 hours -- started jumping around after 4, read about 7 hours)
Better stories than Bill Clinton's autobio, but also massively more self-indulgent, lacking in structure, and completely haphazard in presentation. This big fat cheeseburger hides inside itself juicy anecdotes, but should only be read in toto by dweebs who hope they can grow screenwriter cojones by imitating the master of macho. The tone is beyond self-parody, and so, is perhaps deliberate. E.g., wouldn't you love to hear some movie type brag that his Malibu house is better than neighbor Bob Dylan's, "because I have my own exposed cliff"? Ezsterhas treats his craft of screenwriting with respect, and although I haven't seen any of his movies, it is admirable to hear him say that he demands to write in solitude, submit his work as completed scripts, and refuse to be sucked into servicing producers and directors by allowing them to decompose his words.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Getting Things Done Fast
(David Allen, 12 cassettes)
Drucker recommends learning how to manage your time, consistent with your own personal style. I am not atypical in finding the task of project-managing the 10 claims on my time to be a battle field. Much of this stuff is profoundly obvious (write lists, step back to ask whether you should NOT do a task, create work structures that push things out of mind and onto paper). It's still worth reading, since I am not a 'black-belt' in mastering time. Because these tapes are aimed at "businessmen", it's a little tough to digest: Jazzy upbeat music which must have been OSHA-approved for keeping traveling salesmen awake, peppery anecdotes, down-home-isms that seem too varnished to be sincere. But the tips are worth the travel.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations
(James Surowiecki, unabridged, 9 hours)
A pretty straightforward idea described in a compelling way. It overthrows the naive idea of a tipping point, and substitutes the statistical concept that the average notion of a dumb crowd is a smart bet. Hence, this book will not be nearly as popular as Malcolm Gladwell's. There is some re-treading of the New Yorker articles that Surowiecki publishes regularly on economics, but in this venue, they seem better developed and more cogent.
Pure Drivel
(Steve Martin, 2 CDs, unabridged)
Although some of these little notes struck me as funny when they ran in the New Yorker, I found it impossible to listen to them without feeling impatient.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Plan of Attack
(Bob Woodward, abridged, 6 CDs)
Is he tactful or just a sycophant? Either way, it's obvious that Woodward has the formula for gaining access to power. The book assiduously aims to report facts, without judgment. Every description refrains from drawing what seem to be inescapable conclusions about the Bush team's rush into war. Woodward even documents (or is it just CYA?) that he wrote a story for the Post about the lack of intelligence pointing to WMD. He says something like "maybe I should have pushed for this to be on the front page." The report of hours mingling with 'rock star'-like titans (Rice, Cheney, et al) reveals very little reflective discussion. Wolfowitz, the intriguing personality in the pack, has almost no mentions..

Monday, July 05, 2004

Independence Day
(Richard Ford; unabridged, 18 cassettes)
Not a false note in over 400 pp. (It's double bad luck for the author that his last name can easily be confounded with the other Ford, Harrison, and the title of the book may be misunderstood as a blockbuster screenplay. ) The narrator is edging into his 50s, trying to make sense of his relationship to his adolescent son, his ex-wife, his life in New England during the summer of Dukakis' sad run for the Presidency. The one solidity in his drift toward death may be his job as a real estate salesman. The book has many gems about the way people struggle to cope with the momentous obviousness of the way their home purchase will circumscribe and define their lives. In a tone of wistful sadness, Ford deftly handles the perils that a father and son face in trying to understand one another. I tried to read Chang Rae Lee's *Aloft* several times this year, since it seemed quite promising based upon the topics it floated over; in the end, I was forced to punt because it was just too dreary. Independence Day manages to touch most of the very same themes with a voice that is mesmerizing.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Harvard Design School guide to shopping
(Rem Koolhaas and GSD students, 800pp)
This is my favorite Koolhaas. Apparently each book he releases re-purposes earlier work, perhaps to instantiate archeological ruins; SMLXL quoted from Delirious New York, and Content reprinted the interview with Venturi that appears in this book, on Relearning from Las Vegas. Like the other Koolhaas' excesses, this contains weirdly visual infographics (fun fact: the retail space on the planet in 2000 equaled the surface area of 33 Manhattan Islands). The articles here are legible, informative, and full of fascinating takes on 'marketing research.' As one instance, there is more about Paco Underhill's research in here than I've been able to glean from looking at Underhill's own books.
Finding Her Voice: The saga of women in country music
(Mary Bufwack and Rober Oermann, 1993, 594 pp)
This is a great resource-- I read about half the pages, and although the first mentions of the Carter family are skimpy, there's just the right amount on Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and tons of 2nd tier singers whose descriptions intrigued me. I wish there were a boxed set follow on to this.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

My Life
(Bill Clinton, abridged to 6 CDs)
The original book is over 900 pp. Only audio readers can get his brothy self-assessment boiled down to a reasonable size. You may still want all the details for the 'climax' that opens on p800 in the unabridged paper version, but this account, read by the man himself, is a great listen. Like Hilary, I fondly recall when he was 'my president'. The stories usually move smoothly, and it is amazing how much happened in those great 8 years. For example, Newt Gingrich was fined $300K for inappropriate use of government money (how quickly I'd forgotten). The book is wrappered with allusions to Alan Lakein's *How to get control of your time and your life*. He opens the book with a story of being right out of law school when he took time to write up his A-list goals. The book closes with a rather platitudinous mention of his desire to keep motoring on.