Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The superorganism : the beauty, elegance, and strangeness of insect societies
(Bert Hölldobler & E.O. Wilson)
Fun to page through, and although I mostly looked at the pictures, I learned more about my housemates, the noble ant.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Enchantress of Florence
(Salman Rushdie, 13 hours, quit after 6)
I kept trying to care about this novel, but my interest could never rally to match the flow of verbiage. I definitively quit once Niccolo Machiavelli was introduced as a teenager, and the character's a mere stereotype. Rushdie claimed that one of his inspirations was to renovate Machiavelli, presumably as a precursor to Salman.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter
(Lloyd Kahn, 256pp)
The first few homes are stunningly beautiful works of art, in locations so remote that one can only be reached in the high water season by a 500 foot swing that crosses the river. Many of the mini-essays are written by the people who've built these homes, and the personalities of these builders is as idiosyncratic as the homes themselves.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lyrics 1964 to 2008
(Paul Simon, 380pp)
I enjoyed reading these lyrics, calling back to mind my experiences of listening to Paul Simon's songs. The book is very spare, with only lyrics, and a couple of brief intro essays by Chuck Close and David Remnick.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion
(Stuart Kauffman, hundreds of pages, of which I read the first 80 or so)
I'm a fan of Stuart Kauffman, and I find his general argument quite engaging: Namely, that the spontaneous capacity for the natural world to generate new orders of complexity is worth re-denominating with a label that makes it capable of awe, adoration, even worship. The world is amazing, and endlessly creative (in our cosmic neighborhood to be sure). I stopped reading because the treatment is less technical than his earlier magnum opus, The Origins of Order, which I devoted significant time to during the last years of the 20th century. I also passed this library book onto a friend, who has never encountered the arguments SK is making. This looks like a good first intro to Kauffman's ideas on the order inherent in complexity

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

(Philip Roth, 5 hours)
This is another memento mori, as Roth apparently feels the need to practice speaking from the grave. The story line is good, the writing engaged me, and the narrative as a whole is succinct. Occasionally, the story seemed distorted by what must be odd anachronisms/wish fulfillment fantasies (a girl who gives the narrator a blow job on his first date, a mom who doesn't harbor any objection to his dating a gentile). Even though the hero gets fellated, he does manifest a 1950s screwed up attitude toward sex in his interaction with her following his good luck.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

(Tom Vanderbilt, abridged, 5;37)
When I moved to California, I was haunted by the refrain from Repo Man, "The more you drive, the stupider you get." I spent the first 6 months biking around Stanford, but it wasn't easy to visit places off campus, especially a dojo in Redwood City. This book sums up a lot of interesting tidbits on safety, driving patterns, and parking propensities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paradise Lost
(John Milton, first 7 of 12 books)
This reading was performed by academics at Christ College, Cambridge, in honor of Milton's 400th birthday. The audio quality is adequate, and the voicing of the dramatic conflict is very fine. I was a big Milton fan as an undergrad, and dived in deep for a class led by Elizabeth Dipple, where I profoundly enjoyed Paradise Lost, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, and Areopagitica, and didn't mind Paradise Regained. Listening now, I still enjoy Milton's grandiloquence, his sensuality, and his vigorous way of posing things. The theological absurdities whelmed me, so that I did not pursue poem to its conclusion. I recommend this particular reading, even though the links make it a bit of work to download the 12 separate files.

Monday, December 08, 2008

(Mary Roach, 9:33 - punted after ~3 hrs)
Way too jokey to make this worth the fun facts sprinkled throughout. The author does raise some interesting questions about the methods of sexologists (at least one of whom reported that he studied the reactions of the vagina during penetration by looking at porn films, since the camera men were pro's at placing the angle of the lens). Her sense of humor is discordant with mine, and I found her lurches for humor off-putting.