Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How doctors think
(Jerome Groopman, 9 CDs)
Great attempt to humanize doctors' treatment by recognizing the tendencies they have to cognitive biases. One area that didn't seem fully explored is what kind of world we'd live in if every doctor were pushed to second guess her diagnosis, and the pressures to re-think might lead to more over-testing or false suspicions. Even so, I found the writing engaging, the stories interesting, and the honest attempt to find an improved approach to interacting with clinicians admirable.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
(Julian Barnes, 11:30)
"Irony may be defined as what people miss," a comment thrown out by a character in an early chapter, expresses the delights accessible from reading Barnes' drollery. The shipwreck is the guiding image, starting with Noah, and wobbling back and forth across many different contexts. I found the book longish, and while some of the treatments had a certain zing, the book seemed more of an exercise than a jaunt.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Jewish Book of Why
(Alfred Kolatch, 7:53)
I listened to the 2nd book of Why first. Since it was narrated by Theodor Bikel, the book seemed profound and moving. Listening to the first one, read by a much more pedestrian voice, I was struck by the the book's limited orbit: A string of facts and short historical glosses, crammed together for those who would otherwise not encounter any contextual accounting for many Jewish practices. If this book focused on a field about which I had extensive previous knowledge, I would arrogantly disdain such a list-approach. But I enjoyed receiving quick glimpses into the evolution of many diverse habits and practices. For instance, I'd never heard that the reason 2 candles are lit on shabbat is that on other nights, it was permissible to carry the lit candle from room to room, but not on shabbos, so on that night, 2 candles were lit.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
(Gertrude Stein, 252pp)
Gertrude Stein was the Judith Butler of 100 years ago, intimidating the world with her formidable intellect and inscrutable prose. This book reads easily, under the conceit of being the ventriloquized voice of her partner ABT. She praises her friendship with Picasso, and it's likely true that they were bosom buddies in the early years of Pablo's career. The comments about Hemingway are all snarky, so he was on the outs by the time this book was first published in 1932. The third genius (besides Gertrude and Pablo), Alfred North Whitehead, hovers but never lands.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just Say Nu
(Michael Wex, 6:38)
A strange but interesting sequel to Born to Kvetch. Instead of philology, this book generates a sequence of instances of Yiddish expressions. Nice to listen to, but not the sort of thing that could lead me to understand or speak the language.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rockaby and Other Works
(Samuel Beckett, 88pp)
I can't recommend this. Late Beckeroni eludes me in this short theater pieces.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Lay of the Land
(Richard Ford, 20 CDs, stopped after 7)
My esteem for Ford jumped to a very high level after reading his Independence Day. I punted a third of the way through this novel, although I did listen to the interview with Ford on the last CD. Ford describes his commitment to the reader as aiming to deliver one good sentence after another. He clearly lives up to this standard, but I found myself unable to sustain interest in a man suffering prostate cancer, who incisively pegs each person in his life world, with scarcely a tad of true love for anyone around him.

Friday, November 02, 2007

(Peter Carey, 8 CDs)
Enjoyable Australian tale of an artist who slides far from the success of his 30's, when he was an abstract expressionist touted in Oz (is that how people say that?). The painter has a mentally retarded brother who shadows him, and speaks in every alternate chapter.