Friday, April 30, 2004

The Purpose-Driven Life
(Rick Warren; 8 CDs; bailed after 30 min)
It's not implausible that someone could write a valid self-help book from a Christian perspective; Steven Covey's 7 Habits, e.g., isn't useless. But after listening to the first few 'days' of guidance, I could not soldier on with exhortations to see humans as the point of the entire Universe, with my own self as the cherry on top.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family
(Patricia Volk, 7 CDs; quit after 1 hour)
Not at all interesting. It falsely claims to be focused on restaurant life, when it turns out to be as close to the NY world of foodies as a small dry cleaner stands to high fashion. Before I quit listening, Volk had covered her own adult sibling rivalry, and recycled disorganized anecdotes w/o any point or true pungency.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

1968: The Year That Rocked the World
(Mark Kurlansky, 17 hours, unabridged)
Rag-tag whirl around the world: the Prague Spring seemed the most revolutionary, but there was also the Chicago demonstrations led by the Yippees, the Mexico City Olympics, Paris, the precursor Berkeley Free Speech Music from 1964. Running around the planet doesn't illuminate what was the spark that made this year a peer of the 1848 Revolutions.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Fear No Evil
(Natan Sharansky; 464 pp; 1998 edition)
On Friday [April 16], Sharansky visited Berkeley Hillel, and we heard him speak about his experience fighting for human rights. His humor and intelligence were so powerful; I knew I would read his life story. Last Friday [April 23], I stayed up all night reading Fear No Evil.
Sharansky focuses on the 9 years [1977 to 1986] spent in prison and labor camps (over 400 days in solitary confinement, and over 200 days on hunger strikes). The Soviets signed the Helsinki human rights accord in 1975. Sharansky, as a founding member of Helsinki Watch, openly called for them to go beyond lip service. For this, he was accused of treason (a capital crime).
Once arrested, Sharansky formulated precise principles that safeguarded him from falling into negotiating with his interrogators. The KGB diligently worked to maintain all formal appearances of being legal (e.g., investigators claimed they had no influence the prison conditions, since that was under a separate administrator). Yet, at the moments of truth, the KGB resorted to threats, harassed and attempted to humiliate him. Sharansky responded by framing the encounter as a chess game, an absurdist theater performance, but also, fundamentally, as an expression of his own freedom.
The 1998 edition has a brief afterward on Sharansky's life as an Israeli political leader. Because he holds a hardline on negotiating with the Palestinians, few in Berkeley see him as a hero. Yet his refusal to bend to the Soviets marks a moral triumph on a par with Frederick Douglass's Autobiography of a Slave.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Anatomy Lesson
(Philip Roth, 6 cassettes)
Apparently, in 1983, carpal tunnel was not yet well-known enough for Nathan Zuckerman to receive the apt diagnosis. He suffers an inverted menorah, radiating down his neck into his shoulders. An interesting probe on pain. Pain sucks by being so boring.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Native Speaker
(Chang-Rae Lee; 8 cassettes, 11 hours)
Very well written, which may explain why it held faint echoes of Motherless Brooklyn. At the beginning, i also thought of the Emperor of Ocean Park, although the tone of the Emperor was off-putting for me. A fascinating account of one man's tae-kwando bout with his own Korean-American identity.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Chrysler Building : creating a New York icon, day by day
(David Stravitz)
Most of the photos are interesting, showing the start before the Crash, and its continual progress. The centerfold of the New York sky line is spectacular. For some reason, the NYC skyline looks even more impressive, more Gothic, in the 1930s, than it does today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

River Town : Two Years on the Yangtze

(Peter Hessler; 11 cassettes, unabridged)
Fascinating trip to Fuling, seen through the eyes of Peace corps volunteer a few years after Tienamen square. Great term: "Capitalist roader" (i heard it as "rotor", which would be even more of a put-down.)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Sandy Koufax : A Lefty's Legacy
(read by Jane Leavy (Author) & Robert Pinsky (poet); 4 cassettes, abridged)
Great story, with beautiful descriptions of the way Koufax used his mind to guide his body. His refusal to pitch the opening game of the 1965 world series on Yom Kippur makes him not just a great pitcher, but a legend. Yet his lack of religious observance meant that he just spent the day in his hotel room.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

About Schmidt (Louis Begley; 7 tapes, unabridged)
Ndugu does NOT inhabit this book, even though he was my favorite character in the film! Schmidt's entire life is haunted by ghosts of his own anti-semitic impulses. It's surprising how easy it was to listen to a novel about an old man w/o humor, locked inside his resentments.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War (Peter Maas, unabridged, 9 tapes)
I had read pieces of this before, but never concentrated long enough to absorb the entire book. This strips away the illusion that Clinton's involvement in Bosnia was anything but a fancy form of appeasement.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Meaning of Everything : The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (Simon Winchester, 7 CDs, ripped for iPod)
This story has just the right scope, with a wide ranging themes, including a major role for the Earth's favorite language. This biography of the OED is far better than the Professor and the Madman, even though the madman makes a walk-on, and both books were written by Winchester. It's surprising how many insane obsessives supported the development of the dictionary. [On my latest trip to the East Coast, I flew solely with my iPod. There were problems (battery ran out w/o my use; static that continues]