Sunday, September 26, 2004

Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography
(Charles Chaplin, 12 cassettes)
I love Charlot; it's fascinating to hear his account of how he grew into the great actor/director. There are early glimmers of his derailment toward pretentious melodrama when he mentions how delighted he was to discover that he could make people cry. His response to the shift to sound is a parable in the crisis of being the best: He knew he was the supreme master of silents, and he couldn't see how to become just one more movie-maker. Another aspect of his book that's totally dated: His defense of the Soviet Union, especially Stalin, does not seem terrifically enlightened at this later date. Strange, esp. for an artist, that he expressed acceptance of censorship as socially necessary.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Man in my basement
(Walter Mosely, 6 CDs, unabridged)
I didn't really groove to this, although it was well-written. What level of plausibility can be assigned to the notion of a person paying to be imprisoned in another man's basement? This story-line had the surrealist tinge that resembles Paul Auster; it also has the same sort of crafted quality; this combo doesn't always click for me.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Great Fire
(Shirley Hazzard, unabridged, punted after 1 cassette)
This threads together Australia, China, and other stuff I never got into.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The bastard on the couch : 27 men try really hard to explain their feelings about love, loss, fatherhood, and freedom
(edited by Daniel Jones, 320 pp)
From the title to the last page, this set of essays is superb. It achieves a high level of quality by talking about things that matter: men's partnerships with women, how these are negotiated in the battle ground of love. One Mr. Mom's essay was nebbishy, but almost the next story was about a husband and wife who alternate weeks as the Man in the House.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
(Robert McKee, 480 pp)
This book is almost a joke, made funnier because people in Hollywood take this seriously. The movie, Adaptation, shows the seminar built on this book. Absurdly, a middle brow guy lays out how stories "work", as if he could design a journeyman's guide to moneymaking.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Boys' Crusade
(Paul Fussell, 4 CDs, unabridged)
Great discussion of how WWII (and "war") were experienced by the boys who fought.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dry: A Memoir
(Augusten Burroughs, unabridged, 7 CDs, quit after one)
Who wants to read about an alcoholic who works in an ad agency, spending his days spewing cynical bitterness, his nights drunk, and his words full of therapizing self-reproach? Well, not me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Inventing Japan
(Ian Buruma, unabridged, 5 cassettes)
Succinct, nuanced, fascinating history of Japan from Perry's invasion through the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It was such a breeze to listen to, and the scope was carefully focused on a period of great significance. Next stop: Study the emergence of the avant-garde art movements, who reacted to the affluence that Japan chose as a way out after WWII, when their economy grew an average of over 10% per year.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"
(William S. Burroughs, 192 pp)
After seeing Robert Wilson's Black Rider, my interest in Burroughs suddenly bumpt up. This particular work is fascinating. Originally published under a pseudonym, it's prose is boiled as hard as Jim Thompson's novels. Burroughs' gives an account of being hooked on H that is frank and direct. Since he entertains rather unusual ideas about how addiction makes a person perennially youthful, it can't be called factual. The book was originally an Ace double, bound with *Narcotics Agent*, and sold over 100,000 copies. This edition comes full with footnotes, introductions to earlier editions by Ginsberg and others, and textual indications of where the Ace editors had been timidly driven to asterisk the "non-factual" aspects. It's unclear whether Burroughs claim that it takes a month, minimum, to get hooked on a needle, is as far off as his ideas about how Orgone boxes might help an addict quit.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)
(Richard Pipes, 5 CDs)
This may seem as unnecessary as reviewing refutations of medieval alchemy. Yet, Pipes concisely documents how the Communist Revolution in Russia went wrong from the outset, and records the profound suffering that millions endured for almost the span of the 20th century. Lenin, despite his aura of intellectuality, was seen by his peers to be more ruthless than even Stalin. Today the world continues to be endangered by the enormous nuclear build-up that the Soviets undertook, since the leaders recognized that brute intimidation could substitute for political legitimacy. To explain the intensification of fervor that led to purges and worse, Pipes quotes Santayana's definition of a fanatic, "a person who doubles his speed when he has lost his direction."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Goals: How to Get Everything You Want-Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible
(Brian Tracy, abridged, 3 CDs)
While not ground-breaking, listening to this was a helpful exercise to guide my formulating a clearer sense of my long term approach to making God laugh. This book is not dumb. Inspiring quote: "Your success in life is directly proportional to the amount you do, after you fulfill what you're required to do."

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate
(Richard Condon, unabridged, punt after 1.15 cassettes)
I listened to more of this than I could bear to watch of the re-made movie. The first cassette quaintly describes a world where tiny little menacing Chinese collaborate with cruel Russian brutes in devising a method of ultimate mind control. Hypnosis with a long puppet string.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker
(James McManus, unabridged, 12 cassettes)
The author, sent by Harper's to cover the 2000 Poker World Series, dived in as a "participant observer" who gambled his way into the championship. When his musings bend to 'sociobio-philosophy' the ideas are half-baked. Yet he is superb at describing the scare 'em down psych outs deployed by big stakes players of *No limit texas hold'em poker.* It's surprising to hear how much irrationality even championship players indulge in (E.g., Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead while holding what's now called "the dead man's hand", 2 pairs of aces and eights, and many pro's automatically fold when they get such a hand.)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

God is my broker
(Christopher Buckley, abridged, 4 cassettes)
Droll. Not quite as fun as the Stuart Smalley satire of 12 stepping, but that's because Deepak Chopra is his own best parody.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
Ray Kurzweil (abridged, 2 cassettes)
Just about the right length of time to be exposed to a man mesmerized by the power of computing, who forecasts that raw power alone will boot us into the era of immanent intelligence. Since Kurzweil invented OCR, it would make sense that he would be awed by what computers can (and therefore, will, and MUST) do. The tone of this book is captured in Kurzweil's solution to the Turing Test: in the last half of the 21st century, computers will pass the TT. Predicting the future vindication of his perspective spares him the need to argue it himself. A great counterpoint to this science fabulism is Bruce Sterling's talk to The Long Now