Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shlepping the Exile
Michael Wex, 150pp
A fun and funny novella, by the author of Born to Kvetch. The story is touchingly autobiographical, although my sense is that the success in getting a girl, and avenging the abuse of bullies, is wish fulfillment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning Parts I and II (Teaching Company Great Courses)
(David Zarefsky, 12 cassettes -- Only listened to 2)
I admire Zarefsky as a teacher: he taught the best history course I took as an undergrad. I am also intrigued (still) by his mind: he ran the debate camp I attended my last summer in high school. The deep respect others held for him made me want to study him for the source of his charisma. In spite of his inscrutability, I realize he systematically misunderstood certain ideas. He elevated his interpretation of Thomas Kuhn's Scientific Revolutions into an absurd game he labeled hypothesis testing, and there's even a brief mention of his understanding in these tapes. This particular course is truly odd. Z's lectures have titles such as "Moving from Cause to Effect" or "What Makes a Sound Argument?" I couldn't fathom listening to such topics, but I did hear the first and last tapes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

(Christopher Buckley, 9 CDs)
This started well, in a wonky way, but it began to lose focus before the half point, and after that, the story was a frenzy of shark jumps.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Kid Stays in the Picture
(Robert Evans, 6 CDs)
Fantastic tales told by a supreme womanizer and Hollywood operator. Toward the end, the disintegration of his life is echoed in the bizarre doggerel that attempts to describe the motives of the 'seducer'.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist
(Tyler Cowen, 245pp)
Tyler Cowen is an economist, aptly self-described "curious intellectual nerd polymath," and a gifted blogger. His new book is the only one I've ever pre-purchased through Amazon. This in itself is a tribute to Cowen's capacity to mobilize appropriate incentives: He secreted a second blog, and advertised on Marginal Revolution that access was available only to those who wrote to say they'd pre-purchased a copy of DYIC. I spent this afternoon reading the book, and my overall impression is that "Sometimes, a bunch of appetizers does not make a meal." Because Cowen's brain brims with creative ways to approach life from an idiosyncratic angle, his blog has marvelous little jags, lists, apercus gleaned from his vast reading. This book is not quite a blook, but it would have greatly benefited from a co-author whose strength was more inclined to thoroughness. While he admits that his habit is to "stop writing just a bit before I have said everything I want to. I find it better to approach the next writing day 'hungry'..." (123), I was left hungry for more detail or resolution on almost every topic. As a troubling example, he introduces the concept of the "Me factor", and deploys it in several instances, but the only explanation provided was this very skimpy account, that focusing "our attention on ourselves ... is in fact our favorite topic. Me, me, me. ... [T]he 'Me factor', as I will call it." (52-3) There are tons of ideas broached here, and the chapters on Art and Food are particularly stimulating. The defense of self-deception felt self-indulgently sketchy, and the final account of how to deal with torture piffles into "Quite simply, it is hard to show other people, in a convincing manner, that we are telling the truth. In the meantime, file this problem under 'Difficult to Solve' and stay out of the wrong cities." (104). If truth in subtitles were enforced, it should be noted that Cowen offers very little to help survive your next meeting, nor do his thoughts on motivating your dentist inspire much confidence. My attention was not held at all from Chapter 8, Avoiding the 7 deadly sins (or not), onward.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

(David Halberstam, 4 CDs)
I listened to this, in part to know more about Halberstam, who recently died, and also to learn more about firemen, since my cousin is training to join their ranks. Since the story is about a firehouse that was wiped out in 9/11, it has a very sad undercurrent. The writing conveys a lot of the camraderie and masculine impulse to protect and save that forms the core of the fireman's duties. As an instance of the incredible poignancy of the language, I quote the following passage, which even now causes me to feel emotional: "I'm your brother," he said to the barely conscious Shea, using the phrase by which firemen refer to one another, "and I'll be with you until we can get you out of this." (The exact reference was reached through Google books on Page 112.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
(Daniel Tammet, 256pp - stopped at the halfway point)
I became aware of the author by viewing a BBC documentary, where DT demonstrated his capacity to learn a language (Icelandic) in just 7 days. Available here on youtube. This book is his own internal account of his upbringing, the difficulties he faced as a boy, the teasing made tolerable only by his indifference to other's opinions. This book has many interesting descriptions of the author's synesthesia, his predilection for primes, and the work he's invested in learning to combine his compulsion for precision with the world of others.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation
(David Kamp, 416pp -- decided to buy it, returned this to the library after first 165pp)
This is a lot more racy than the Alice Waters bio published earlier this year. It's fascinating, super gossipy, and a pleasure to read.

Friday, August 03, 2007

World party : the rough guide to the world's best festivals
Not terribly interesting. Mostly a list of bacchanals. The one festival I'd not been aware of, that I am now interested in: Fiesta de Santo Tomas, Chichicastenango, Guatemala, in the 7 days leading up to December 21st.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The 10 Best of Everything: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers (Passport to the Best)
(Nathaniel & Andrew Lande, 480pp)
I have a weakness for this sort of absurd list-making. It's naked balderdash in vastly multi-dimensional matters such as the 10 best wines, and even in an area such as the best chocolate, there's no real surprises. Best paged through in a dash giving the book under an hour of attention. Nevertheless, here's places in the Bay Area that were added to my radar: Miette - 3rd greatest patisserie, in the Ferry Building (take it to Sausalito). Victorian Home Walk 415.252.9485 and San Jose Flea Market Sundays 408.453.1110
Elsewhere: Venice-Simplon Orient; ExpressSierramadreexpress.com; and for tips, PassportNewsletter.com.