Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Montessori Method
(Maria Montessori, 11:51 -- stopped halfway)
A librivox rough diamond. It's interesting to hear the description of Montessori's method from the Grand Dame herself. The emphasis on listening to the children, and observing where their interests and abilities lie, is very compelling. There's some kookiness about food (e.g., never feed young children raw fruit or vegetables). To make the listening more exciting, the first chapter's reader consistently pronounces pedagogy as it must be said in Russian or perhaps Italian, with such an outre sound that it makes for extra fun.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Handwritten : expressive lettering in the digital age
(Steven Heller & Mirko Ilić, 192pp)
Interesting examples of the expressive use of hand drawn script in the past 20 years.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
(Sue Johnson, 320pp)
I just skimmed this, and it struck me as a little thin/brothy, yet I did find at least one of the exercises to be useful on categorizing partners' action-reaction cycles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book of Pirates
(Howard Pyle, 8:01, quit halfway)
Hemingway liked this, but I didn't. The pirates are described as villains, but most of the attention is focused on their activities/exploits, so the value-laden terms don't blind Pyle to the many merits of being a bunch of men on the sea. Even though it's assumed they're all scoundrels, there are passages which recognize the compact that worked efffectively to bind many to act cooperatively in decisive battles. The punishment of "marooning" a man sounds dreadful (whereby a ship would leave a man on an island with just a few days provisions.) It's not clear how frequently this was actually imposed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Radical Empiricism
(William James, 6:45)
Another Librivox recording. Even though I'm a fan of William James, it may be a symptom of my time in life that I didn't find these essays riveting. The last one is untranslated French, so I can be excused for skipping it. Some good thoughts, but at bottom, I didn't really feel engaged by the disputes he addresses.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

(Larry McMurtry, 5;37)
A life dealing books, with nice autobiographical flourishes, starting with the box of 19 books young Larry received. His "Cadillac Jack" apparently channelled his collecting passion for books and transformed it to antiques because he felt book collecting was too bloodless. The difficulty of conveying the specialness of a book does end up forcing a compression into the shorthand of "bought for X, sold for 1,000X."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture
(Kirk Varnedoe & Adam Gopnik, 464 pp)
This book plays seriously with the topic of how demotic/low brow stuff has fused with high art. Much of the acheivement traces to Picasso, who collaged in ordinary crap. One of the more surprising cascades: the elevation of sans serif type in modernism (think Futura and Helvetica) is traced to the tendency of Picasso (and Braque) to paste in lowbrow ads from newspapers. Their quotation of the typically vulgar ads used sans serif type, and over the next 15 to 20 years, that association helped elevate the esteem for this kind of typography with the austerities of modernism. On a sentimental level, the authors Varnedoe and Gopnik shared a great friendship, with Varnedoe as director of MOMA, and Gopnik his student and apprentice. Gopnik wrote alternating chapters to this compendious museum catalogue (e.g., the chapter on comic books).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Face to Face with Gorillas
(Michael Nichols, 32pp)
Delightful children's book, with accurate information about the behavior and threats for mountain gorillas. Very good pictures

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jewish Philosophy as a Guide to Life -- Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas, Wittgenstein
(Hilary Putnam, 136pp)
This brief book, built from 4 lectures that Putnam delivered, was a pleasure to read. I was not familiar with Franz Rosenzweig, the founder of the original Lehrhaus. Putnam devotes most of 2 chapters to this interesting personality. Chapter one treats Rosenzweig's book, Understanding the Sick and the Healthy, which I'd like to read soon. One theme running through the book is that religion is not true or false, but only perceived through the choice of living in accord with its principles. Putnam jokes about covering "3 1/4" Jews (Wittgenstein had interesting ideas about mysticism and religion, but his Jewishness was seriously repressed/denied by his family.) The Buber chapter incisively opened a way of looking at his I-Thou relation that I'd not considered. Putnam made Levinas easier going than I've found by trying to read him, although I did not come away feeling as if I ought to read more of him just now.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twilight of the Idols
(Friedrich Nietzsche, 4:43)
Another Librivox recording, and Nietzsche has always been an author I've been pining to re-read since I devoured his work in college. This is the original (rather than the Kaufmann translation), but plenty of the pungency and pith is there. I was more embarrassed this time by the bluster and misogyny. Still, as a psychologist, Nietzsche has penetrating insights, and it was a pleasure to review this text.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Savage Detectives
(Robert Bolaño, punted within 2 hours)
I thought I liked this, when I had it on paper. But in fact, I just don't care for Bolaño. His passions don't absorb me. It is now completely obvious to me that unless the writing's funny, I'm 10X more likely to punt.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vices Are Not Crimes
(Lysander Spooner, 1:16)
This was my first Librivox recording, which are all in the public domain. The narrator had a wonderful reading voice (Australian accent?), and the author, Lysander Spooner, is a 19th century libertarian theorist I'd always wanted to read. The book argues forcefully that every person should be able to determine for themselves what vicious habits they need in order to live a full and happy life. I find this tolerant and liberal line of reasoning appealing, but I am not persuaded that we should decriminalize highly addictive drugs (methamphetamine, crack and heroin are the ones TV has taught me to fear).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rumi, Haffiz, and Lalla
(translated by Coleman Barks, 1:12)
Rumi is intoxicating. The other two poets, less well known, also have beautiful images to evoke the unity of the world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Man Who Knew Infinity
(Robert Kanigel, 17;26)
I've been aware of Ramanujan at least since reading, as an undergrad, Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology. Until I listened to this book, I didn't know that the pronunciaton of R's name was ra-man-u-jan (not, per my Kansas accent, Rama-NOO-jan). This was a fascinating book, although the life of Ramanujan has a tragic dimension to it. The zeal and intimacy with which he played with numbers is well discussed here. One example that I recall was a story about a little puzzle that was published weekly in the newspaper, where the number of a house was exactly half the sum of the numbers on the street, with the highest valued house being 500. Almost as soon as Ramanujan was told this puzzle, he dictated a formula of a repeating fraction that covered, not simply the case of the specific puzzle, but for the entire class of possible solutions. The book describes well the life of the Siva-ite Brahminical class to which R. belonged, with an interesting discussion of the value that mental development and aspiration played. The rigorous dietary proscriptions also played a key part in the culture, and those 2 aspects together make for a common, perhaps even cliched comparison, between Brahmins and Jews as analogous ethnic cultures. While Hardy claimed that his greatest mathematical discovery was Ramanujan, this book makes clear how difficult R's position was, once he moved to Cambridge. Collaborating with Hardy tapped and developed his math, but it all but neglected every other side of his personality. One anecdote reveals how fragile R's proud personality was: He cooked a meal for a South Indian friend who was engaged to be married. After two servings of his soup, the bride-to-be declined a third bowl. R disappeared, and it turned out later that he had fled his room at Cambridge, and taken a cab to Oxford. When he had returned after 5 days absence, he said that he'd been insulted at the refusal to take another bowl of soup, and needed to absent himself. Toward the end of his life, R. suffered from tuberculosis, and eventually, he traveled home to India, only to die shortly afterwards. He had been made a Fellow of the Royal Society, perhaps the first Indian to do so, and was greeted with reverence upon his return. It is mind-boggling to imagine how well oiled his brain was to dance with numbers.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bicycle Diaries
(David Byrne, 320pp)
Great topics (bikes, cities, and a bit of art), but very flat writing. Byrne mentions in the foreword that he aspired to echo WG Sebald, which may have helped him sit down to write this, but it doesn't help the reader. Some things are just left out by his impersonal tone (e.g., what kind of folding bicycle did he use? Apparently, it's a Montague CX).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The art of Harvey Kurtzman : the mad genius of comics
(Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, 241pp)
A great tour of Kurtzman's body of work, with a nice synoptic discussion of how Kurtzman was driven to start MAD magazine purely out of a drive to get greater control. He probably was a bear to work under, since he had such a precise vision of how he wanted everything to go. There's an impressive collection of velum oversheets for one comic story that show his process of sketching out the flow of each cell/frame, and then the completed comic reveals just how closely the final realization follows that first sketch. I would definitely like to track down Humbug, and especially Help! (the latter a magazine he worked on with Terry Gilliam as his assistant, and R. Crumb as one of the cartoonists).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bellissima Venice
(Michael Setboun, 192pp)
Although the book is handsome in its layout, I did not find the photos themselves to be particularly evocative of the city of Venice. I continually looked for some angle or perspective that would trigger a spark of recognition. I only visited Venice for several days, in the fall, back in 2006, and I picked this book up with hopes that I would be able to savor the memories of that visit. For reasons that elude me, I never felt any particular affection for any of the photos here. I also can't believe that anyone who hasn't been to Venice would be able to experience the fascinations of that marvelously decadent and endlessly intricate world.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The ten cent plague
(David Hadju, 11:50)
I resisted reading this for a long time, because I really loathed his elevation of Richard Farina over Bob Dylan in his book, Positively Fourth St. It turns out that if he's writing about something I don't know first hand, he can manage fairly well. It's a little long on the conflict America experienced in fear of comics. For a history, I would still place Men of Tomorrow as more fun and well-rounded, without so much attention to the angst of 1950s booboisie.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The best American nonrequired reading 2003
(Dave Eggers, editor, 3 CDs)
I loved the intro by Zadie Smith, and I listened to the entire foreword of Dave Eggers. I didn't find any of the other essays particularly worth the time.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment
(AJ Jacobs, 256pp)
Very fun. The best chapters are the last (on doing everything in accord with his wife Julie's wishes for a month), and the one on radical honesty. Another fine piece is the one on Outsourcing my life (which was excerpted by Timothy Ferriss). There were only 2 chapters I didn't enjoy much: 1- Emulating George Washington (it turns out in the appendix that the 200+ rules that GW copied out were from a French abbot, rather than distilled from his own experience); 2- Being totally rational (a litany of cognitive biases flow by). It's untenable to imagine that being aware of the "availability bias" or even "the sharpshooter paradox" could enable a person to completely avoid such pitfalls. More to the point, there's no program to follow, which, as in the Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs throws himself into with gusto.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Through the Children's Gate
(Adam Gopnik, 9:06)
These essays of Gopnik's are suffused with his "trademarked comic sentimental tone" (promotional copy that is almost too absurd to not quote). There are some very nice sentiments about enjoying your kids grow up, as a parent strains to give children the orbit to feel free, but not so wide a path that they can do real damage. I enjoy his perspective, and this book includes two essays I fondly recall from the New Yorker, esp'ly Bumping into Mr Ravioli, as well as another on his mistakenly interpreting LOL as "lots of love." There's some 9/11 angst, and I find he's best at capturing the details of human interaction, and a little gauzed over and vague when reaching for summative accounts of how it all fits together. In a strange coincidence, I heard Ben Rubin speak about his Listening Post just hours before I heard Gopnik describe his own visits to this selfsame art installation during the days following 9/11.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Love and other impossible pursuits
(Ayelet Waldman, 11:20)
Opens strong, with a tale of a woman who's coping, in a very flawed fashion, with her losing a baby to SIDS. Having read her Bad Mother before coming to the novel, I can't help mapping the details into the confessions she poured into the essays. My ultimate take on why the book is not quite right: Waldman wrote eloquently about her grief at terminating a pregnancy due to diagnosed genetic risks. These emotions are cathected onto the character, Emilia Greenleaf; instead of lavishing love on this damaged perspective, she never truly accepts the self-pitying neediness. It's difficult watching her beat up this voodoo doll. One fascinating dropped detail, which could well be autobiographical (given that Waldman went to Harvard Law with Obama): "There was a guy in my orientation group in law school whom I probably would have married but for his conviction that marrying a white woman would ruin his chances of being elected to public office (he and his mocha-colored wife just moved to Washington, D.C., representatives of the Nineteenth Congressional District of New York)." p30

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
(Henry David Thoreau, 13:27)
This is not as good as Walden Pond or his essay on Civil Disobedience. I believe Thoreau wrote it while living in that shack near the pond. He took a two week trip on the water with his brother, and then compressed it into a week's journey. There's a level of impersonality in the writing that sounds antiquated to our era of oversharing. His love of nature is concomitant with a prickly tendency to distance himself from others, and although I'd hoped to get closer to Thoreau by reading this, I can't say it spoke to me. One note about this "books on tape" edition that I listened to on my iPhone: The narrator, James Killavey, is very old-school, super nasal, and as far from Thoreauvian transcendence as a voice can be. Because I've been listening to books for almost 15 years, the reedy sound of the narrator brought me back to the distant time, when I'd drive around Palo Alto with a GE tape recorder in my lap.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The primate family tree : the amazing diversity of our closest relatives
(Ian Redmond, 176pp)
Very handsome book, well organized, with a chapter on each species (or cluster of species) among the prosimian, monkey, and ape species. Learned a lot, as for example, that the Barbary macaque is a tailless monkey. I formerly believed that all monkeys had tails, and that all apes lacked them (hence, Curious George has to be a chimp). But lo, there's an exception here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Manhood for amateurs
(Michael Chabon, 8:08)
Ayelet & Michael comprise my Brangelina couple, and now I know far too much about this Berkeley couple. I am almost the same age as Chabon, although I haven't published a raft of great novels-- If I started tomorrow, my publishing career would trail his by at least 21 years. I definitely enjoyed these essays, as each topic is turned over with subtlety, astute reflectiveness, and tact. The last term (tact) explains why if I had to choose between this and Bad Mother, the latter is the tastier snack. I was glad to see that one of the final essays works to salvage the term "amateur" as rooted in love. I was provoked by his discussion of his fondness for the Christmas pageant, and his unusual defense of sending his kids to St. Paul's episcopalian school in part leaps from his delight and fascination with all forms of mythology.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0
(Sarah Lacy, 294pp)
This was published 18 months ago (May '08), so many passages suffer from a certain forward-looking future tense that has now lapsed, without it companies having IPO'd. E.g., what's become of Slide (Max Levchin's post-Paypal baby)? This magazine article on steroids is not a tell-all, since Ms Lacy clearly relied on friendship with Randi Zuckerberg, Kevin Rose, Marc Andreesen, Peter Thiel, and their cohorts to gain access, and she portrays somewhat insider-y perspective, without spilling the real beans.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (abridged)
(David Foster Wallace, 4:17)
Some of these pieces are read by the author, and I'd be interested in learning more about when/how they were recorded. I never made it through all these stories on paper, and I'm dismayed that my favorite story, "The Depressed Person", was omitted. There's too much attention to the horrific, and instead of insight into human psychology, DFW generates glimpses into his own obsessive anxiety about being human.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Losing Mum and Pup
(Chris Buckley, 272 pp)
I've read some of Chris Buckley's humor, and I've derived guilty pleasure from his father's prose style. This book is a pretty sad tale: 'Christo' (his father's nickname for the author) apparently hated his mother and angled his whole life for the love and approval of his father, surely a good recipe for screwing you up for life. The prose in this book shows every flaw of his writing for humor: stiff formulaic phrasing, bombastic comparisons between some little life perturbation and geopolitical or thermonuclear catastrophe, and a thick slather of WASPy mayo. The gossipy stuff kept me going, and I was particularly intrigued to learn about his father's abuse of drugs (Rits was the nickname for Ritalin, probably always in the plural).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Getting Unstuck:Breaking Your Habitual Patterns & Encountering Naked Reality
(Pema Chodron, 3:27)
Great tips from a Tibetan nun on how to treat your own mind compassionately. It's pretty simple, and requires a lifetime of practice. This set of talks was passed over to me by a good friend. The collection was published by SoundsTrue, and I have to confess that I've always been almost addicted to the voice of the person who does the intros and outros, with its deep calm timbre. It turns out that person, Tami Simon, is the founder, and although her blog isn't always as full of light as these dharma talks, I'm very delighted to find the name to match with this soothing voice.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War
(Tom McNichol, 6:29)
This was a good book on Edison, in his battle against AC (with Nikolai Tesla guest-starring, and revealed to be a former Edison employee). The biography of Edison I read this summer had none of this dirty business, for example, the dogs and other animals (including a Coney Island elephant) electrocuted in pseudo-scientific experiments aimed to demonstrate that DC was safer. That particular part was too gruesome to endure. The story moves quickly, and even includes an epilogue discussing current standard wars, e.g., DVD vs. Blu ray. The author explains that Sony's BetaMax lost to VHS because it couldn't fit 2 hours on one cassette.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

(Philip K. Dick, 7:08)
This is now my favorite Dick novel. It doesn't always make sense, but it certainly gives a great trip around the space time warps. (It's future takes place in 1992, when people travel to Mars, and psychics are significant workers). Very humorous-- read only as directed.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace
(Ayelet Waldman, 200pp)
The wife of Michael Chabon, Waldman is his shadow: Where he is endlessly genial and too-good-to-be-true, sensitive and wistful, her great strength is speaking the stuff that's off-putting, awkward, effortfully grating. Her prose is light and well-phrased (e.g., her succinct description of her female friends' having "more education than they can currently use.") I gobbled this up, and found her discussions very piercing. I particularly liked the last chapters, which touch on how she wrestled with aborting a baby diagnosed with genetic anomalies, her fear of being crazy and passing that on to her kids, and the troubles experienced in having kids with learning disabilities. Footnote: Here's the article from March 2005 where she confessed to loving her husband more than her kids.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Confessions of an opium eater
(Thomas De Quincey, 3:30)
The ur-Junkie tale. It's not proto-Burroughs, but there's still a dedicated attempt to tear away the pretense of politeness. Some interesting psychology, and well balanced speculation, but not enough about life on the skids.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Invention of Air: A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America
(Steven Johnson, 6:06)
I'm a big fan of the way Johnson writes, and the topic of Joseph Priestley's life makes for a great bundle of interesting strands: Enlightenment experimental science, the conviviality of the coffee house, the critique of supernaturalism that drove Unitarianism, as well as the way America managed to be a refuge for JP when he was ostracized in England for his religious and political views.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hiding Man: A biography of Donald Barthelme
(Tracy Daugherty, 592pp)
I've been noshing on this for the last few months, and it really delivers a vivid picture of the life of one of my favorite writers. The author was a student of DB's, and the comments he makes about significant stories and the novels are very penetrating, without ever being pedantic. DB's life was sad, and the alcoholism laid him low before he was 60 (he died of throat cancer, which neither smoking nor drinking could have helped). The book studies with great insight his relationship to the New Yorker: he worked steadily to give it golden eggs, and even still, he was often in arrears, owing the White Man money for advances. His editor, surprising to me, was Roger Angell, and at times, his pieces were rejected. There's a great sense of the sadness, and the charisma. I personally wish there'd have been a little more psychodrama on the quality of his tense relationship to his father, but that topic wasn't skimped, just treated with tact.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Neutral Color Schemes
(Alice Buckley, 256pp)
I thought this might be a bone I could throw my wife, who lives in a more subdued esthetic realm. I'd much prefer Mediterranean palettes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Women
(T.C. Boyle, 18:23)
Very engrossing, but like 2008's less involving Loving Frank, the tactic of portraying Frank Lloyd Wright involves not directly looking at his face. By refracting his genius through the women he loved, there's less hubris (only Ayn Rand aspired to outstrip FLLW with her fictional Roark). The motto that opens this book is a very apposite aphorism: "Early in my life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility; I chose arrogance." This is one of Boyle's better historical novels. My favorite of his remains The Road to Wellville, but he displays a great talent for exploring the snarls of romantic attachment. The narrative approach here is somewhat akin to the path inside the Guggenheim that I ended up taking during the recent exhibit about Wright. I went up to the 6th floor, and strolled downward, starting at the end of his life and moving back toward the origin.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Inherent Vice
(Thomas Pynchon, 14:31, stopped after 10 hours)
Not bad, and even somewhat interesting to watch Pynchon do a lighter, less heavily structured novel. There's some amusing pot jokes, a vibe of the 1960s (haunted by Manson family allusions). In many ways, it feels like a THC version of the LSD tinged Lot 49. I didn't quit this novel, I just stopped returning to follow the shaggy tail.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tough times, Great Travels
(Peter Greenberg, 182pp)
Worth a scan, but not presented in an order/organization that makes the tips accessible in just-in-time fashion. There were some tips on flying alternate airline connections (e.g., fly from LAX to London on Air New Zealand). In Sausalito, look for Caledonia street.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Adderall Diaries
(Stephen Elliott, 224 pp)
I didn't read all of this but I jumped around, looking for the naughty bits. Since my understanding of the S/M scene is not based on first hand experience, I wanted to learn more about how that subculture works. I was also hooked in by the connection to the sociopath, Hans Reiser. This book was sent to me in a round-robin of postal mail sharing of an author's pre-press copy, and that personal connection made reading this more fun.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Culinary artistry
(Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, 426pp)
Like the Flavor Bible, a more recent work which I read before tracking down the earlier 1996 tome. This has a similar organization, a thesaurus of flavors, with "flavor pals" and "flavor enemies" getting the same typographic layout for suggesting themes, rather than simply algorithms. It's a "pattern library" for foodies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

60 Stories
(Donald Barthelme, 16:46)
What a sublime treat, to ramble around in the beautiful world of Barthelme's select stories. This comes recorded from a new series (Audible Modern Vanguard), which records lapsed work from two of my favorite authors, B & B (Barthelme and Bellow). I listened to this collection twice, and virtually within each story, I encountered demonstrations of how perfectly his ear was tuned for the felicities and infelicities of our language. I have a deeper sense for how revealing he actually was, encrypting his life on a sandwich board that he paraded up and down the Village streets; for the last month or so I've been reading his biography, Hiding Man, each night before bed, and it heightens my awareness for how much of a struggle his work was. He crafted so many beautiful objects, each a jewel to behold. Of course, there's anger, hurt, frustration, but even when the mood is dark, the language is lambent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind (abridged)
(Daniel Tammet, 10:54)
Gifted with an amazing mind, and a gentle spirit, Daniel Tammet discusses a wide range of interesting psychological topics. His expository style is very lucid, and even when he criticizes another writer, he does it with kindness. One real keeper (worthy of being added as a node in wikipedia) concerns his treatment of Oliver Sacks' story about autistic twins (which fed directly into the Rain Man script). According to Sacks, the twins mainly spoke to one another by exchanging 4 digit primes. He recorded their miraculous subitizing of the entire contents of a matchbox, which when it was knocked to the floor, caused both twins to shout "111." Tammet points out how nearly impossible it would be to accurately count this many falling matches; it's much more plausible, he notes, that the twins had primed the box by keeping only 111 matches in it, since that number is so "match-like" to Tammet, and quite plausibly, to the twins as well. Rather than the miracle of counting the sticks instantaneously, he gives a much better explanation. He also raises a serious question about Sacks' veracity in claiming to have brought a book to the twins that contained 10 to 20 digit primes. For those who enjoyed this work, as well as Tammet's autobiography, Born on a Blue Day, I'd recommend a scan of Tyler Cowen's recent Create Your Own Economy, which sustains a very attractive vision of what we can gain from respecting neurodiversity.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Create your own economy
(Tyler Cowen, 7;37)
This is the second consecutive book of Tyler's that I've pre-ordered on Amazon, and I think it is even better than his last book. The unifying themes seem to mystify many who attempt a description of the wide ranging coverage, but I'd hazard a summary thus: 1- Neurodiversity, with particular attention to the Asperger continuum, suggests that many cognitive styles come with special advantages; while there's no exact description of what characterizes Asperger-ish styles, the tendency to generate an order on some specialized domain is key. 2- From the vantage of interiority, the subjective experience of feasting on information, there's a huge win today in the generation of nuggets mined and distilled to brief moments. 3- With great compassion and equanimity, Tyler advocates a kinder re-assessment of the drift toward info-gluttony (he uses the term 'infovore', although I wish he had adopted George Miller's older neologism 'informavore'). For those seeking more information about how an Asperger mind perceives the world, read Daniel Tammet's new book, Embracing the Wide Sky.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The crying of Lot 49
(Thomas Pynchon, 6:19)
I often recommend this as the entry drug for getting to appreciate Pynchon. I've long enjoyed the "rich chocolatey goodness" of this psychedelic trip. It is a little thinner in its hooks than my memory had made it, but it is still a fun spin, and a warmup lap for the new Pynchon that's just out but unread.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Only 127 Things You Need
(Donna Wilkinson, 380pp)
Magazine pabulum parading as an instruction book. It's not even concise, so that it fails to live up to its claimed inspiration, a brief notice in the New Yorker about how to simplify and streamline the preparation of a summer wardrobe. There's nothing insightful or original. On diet, e.g., who would think the USDA food pyramid should be consulted for guidance? The importance of stress reduction and good sleep habits are repeated in several different places.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Extreme Ice Now
(James Balog, 120pp)
Scary photographs about the absconding ice caps, and a fascinating narrative about the work this National Geographic photographer has done to set up and observe the Extreme Ice Survey(EIS).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Amerika: The Missing Person
(Franz Kafka, 9:37)
This is the new translation by Mark Harmon. It definitely has sparks of brilliance (for example, the Stoker, which is the opening chapter, and was published as a stand alone story in 1913). But it is not nearly as intensely involving as either the Trial or the Castle, both of which are truly sublime. This work seems more akin to juvenilia, although I don't know the whole back story of where it stands in relation to his other works. (Go trek off to Wikipedia to learn more than I know about this.)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Novel destinations : literary landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West
(Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon, 368pp)
Fun, and sort of interesting, but not sufficiently nerdy. Sure, it covers Bloomsday in Dublin, and points to Bath for Jane Austen, but I wish it would go crunky (or is that crunki-pedia?) and detail things such as PKD's birthplace, and where to find places mentioned in Gravity's Rainbow. Or even, Mrs Dalloway's walk. Still, this book turned me on to the Dashiell Hammett tour, and SF literary walks. As the authors appear to be staff on National Geographic, their tastes are middle-brow. The Dickensian (with only one K) was pretty rich.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (33 1/3 series)
(Jim Fusilli, 2:47)
Given that the album (not a CD when published in 1966) is just an hour long, it's odd to listen to a rock critic perseverate for almost 3 hours about how significant this work is. I did like this summation, "The writer Nik Cohn once called Pet Sounds a collection of 'sad songs about happiness'" (p107) Rock criticism is probably the most depraved line for earning an income (and David Hadju gets the innermost rung for being a stinker), but I found this halfway engaging. There was too much about the author -- I asked myself more than once while listening to this, Who the hell is this no name? But, on the eve of Tisha B'av, I did finish this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
(Haruki Murakami, 4;25)
This book was wrapped up exactly 2 years ago, and one year ago, I heard Murakami talk during his recognition for the Berkeley Prize. The most memorable lines from his Berkeley talk were about his physical exercise regime. This collection of essays about his training, running, and participation in triathlons contains some interesting thoughts. Most pithy: "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." I find Murakami's personality somewhat blank, presenting a visage similar to that of an anime character.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Edison: A life of invention
(Paul Israel, 23 hours)
Very interesting. Edison was a work-horse, with a great deal of curiosity, whose mind was wide ranging enough that he earned the nickname "Hugo" as a kid for reading the novels of Victor Hugo. He had indefatigable energies, as well as a great deal of confidence in his ability to invent his way out of any corner. This book documents his capacity to set up the first industrial research lab, his attitude toward building an industry (rather than an isolated invention), and his role in electrifying America, the invention of the light bulb, phonograph, and moving pictures. Some of the author's choices mystify me; the book opens with a discursus on Edison's attitude about the deity, and there's also not a single word about Tesla. Nevertheless, the book has a great topic, and much of the writing is lucid and exciting. Here's some memorable quotes:
At the core of his strategy was an abiding faith that he could produce technology superior to any competitor's and thus beat anyone in the long run. This was particularly evident in his views on patent infringement suits; he consistently aruged against bring such suits as they 'would require me to give my personal attention to the matter & take me off other far more important work, besides involving us in a great deal of expense & giving our opponents a notoriety which it is hardly desirable they should gain at our expense... When they affect our business then we shall reason to sue them but so long as their work is conducive to their own ruin I see no reason for attacking them." (p209)
even so simple an instrument as an unproved flat-iron involves a certain amount of explanation by an 'expert' before it can be intelligently introduced into domestic use (p287)
Edison listened by placing his head against the phonograph and by biting into the wood with his teeth to hear faint sounds... It is striking that a man who had become extremely hard of hearing would set himself up as the sole arbiter of the artists and music to be recorded for his discs (pp435-36)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation
(Helen McCarthy, 240pp)
Published in 1999, this book is a primer of Miyazaki's pre-Millenial work, and covers Nausicaa and Totoro. I paged through this, to learn more about the Master in advance of his interview, which was held Saturday night following his recognition by being handed a bag of bucks for the Berkeley Prize. I can't say this book made me want to see Nausicaa, nor did it re-interpret Totoro to overthrow my own doubts about the work's capacity to appeal to me (although I did learn that Kurosawa listed Totoro as one of the 100 greatest films (Score one for the internet-- I just located Kurosawa's entire list).

Monday, July 20, 2009

100 words almost everyone mispronounces
(editors of the American Heritage dictionaries, 118 pp)
Even though there are no amazing boners revealed here, it's fun to scan the etymological spelunking that uncovers a preferred pronunciation. Add to that the notes on how the tide changes over time, and you have a fun little book on pronunciation.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Asterios Polyp
(David Mazzuchelli, 300 pp, read half-- About a month later I finished this, but the 2nd half didn't change my view of the book.)
I went to MOCCA this night and listened to the author discuss his work. After a while, my lack of expertise in the world of graphic novels drove me to slip away from the fan base, and I stood in a corner reading the first 150 pp of this book. There's definitely some visual rewards, and there's an allure in the conceit of the central character as a "paper architect" who has never had a single building constructed. I found the verbal exchanges not as sharp as I'd want from a novel, but then again, who'd trust Helen Keller as film critic?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The flavor bible : the essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most Imaginative chefs
(Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, 392pp)
This book caught my eye, since it offers good combinations, rather than recipes. I paged through, and was esp'ly interested in foods I eat frequently (blueberries, as one example). There's a list of dozens of flavors that chefs across the country have combined with blueberries. When a flavor is bolded (as cinnamon is for bluebs), then it is a recurrent favorite. A very interesting way into experimenting with taste combinations. The one limitation of the book seemed to be that many chefs would make almost the same comment, showing what a small world the culinary universe actually is.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

(Chris Anderson, 6:58)
Worth every penny, and more (since the audiobook was free). This is much more interesting that Anderson's blook, The Long Tail, which failed to be more than a magazine charticle. Free tours the range of ways that businesses have already dealt with falling prices, and methods that enable cross-subsidies to sustain the free business. The details are quite thought provoking (e.g., there's a store in Tokyo's Harujuku neighborhood where shoppers get everything for free, but you have to join a club to shop there, and most businesses extract valuable market research reactions from the people who get free items there).

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Return of Depression Economics
(Paul Krugman, 6:33)
Pretty interesting tour of some of the ways that the Asian crashes and Japan's crunch were not just a fluke, as they provide insight into what we are going through this century. Even though Krugman uses the Baby sitter pool as an intuition pump, I still feel that most of the problems ripping through our economy right now remain ill-understood.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Night of the Gun
(David Carr, 10 hours out of the 13:28)
Kind of interesting, but really, just another drugged narrative. As one of Carr's friends told him, Sure, that story's been told before, but not by you. I read a lot of this because I wondered if it would hit some shit storm of intensity. I can't recommend this, although my interest was held for most of the tale.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Nobody Move
(Denis Johnson, 4:24)
Tight, fascinating, and the Johnson-ian (Denisian) approach to losers, scum of the earth, and the way that the lives of the same shimmer. The first sentence invokes what it must feel like to be in war (a light nod to Johnson's last book, the amazing Tree of Smoke). This was great. I have to get and read Jesus Son.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically
(A.J. Jacobs, 14:33)
Great and truly funny tour of what would be entailed by living according to the literal tenets of the Bible. Jacobs opens with a great line, that his family was Jewish in the same way that the Olive Tree is an Italian restaurant. He undertakes a year long quest, spending the first 8 months in accord with the Hebrew Bible (making him a sort of nonce Karaite, since he is not Orthodox, ignoring the rabbinical tradition). He aims to live by all the precepts and explicit exhortations, including those from Psalms and anything else in the Bible. The last 4 months, this descendant of the Vilna Gaon explores Christianity, not so much by believing in it, but trying to see what they see.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rudyard Kipling
(Andrew Lycett, 30 hours, flagged after 8)
Somewhat interesting to know about this little man, but not so compelling that I could make it through.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(Roberto Bolaño, punted after 7;47 -- full length is more than 30 hours)
I was tempted by the paper bolus, Savage Detectives, but here's the latest as an audible book. Tyler Cowen praised this highly, but he reads faster than I do, and even teaches Saramago's Blindness, which I found unpalatable. Bolaño is literarily mad, and apparently believed that literary movements were worth thinking about, forming, and devising plots that incorporate such high brow frats. I didn't find the tale sufficiently engaging, didn't care much about the characters, and couldn't bring myself to slog on after the first audio blob was ticked off.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

(Winifred Gallagher, 7;50)
As someone who wrestles with his careening attention as it collides with its own omnivorous curiosity, I gobbled this up. I even listened to the good parts twice. The essence of stoicism (esp'ly as updated by Albert Ellis) is the thesis that you control what you attend to in your experience. I enjoyed every chpter, except the one devoted to Ellen Langer, whose later research I have less than zero confidence in, since I know her to be very opportunistic and un-principled about how she spins her tales. Nevertheless, even the Langer-ian tales support Gallagher's general argument that it's crucial that we learn to master our attention. In her chapter on ADHD, she tosses out the idea that it may have as many different underlying diseases as epilepsy, which she reports can be caused by over 200 distinct causes. (Wikipedia says "There are over 40 different types of epilepsy", but either number highlights how we can be tricked to call a heterogeneous class by a single term).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

San Francisco art deco
(Michael F. Crowe and Robert W. Bowen, 100pp)
More Arcadia press, and rather un-even. The collection of photos is worth paging through, but there's no strong sense of a curatorial vision, and no cumulative impact. The spread on Coit Tower is interesting, with details on the WPA murals within.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Life Imitates Chess
(Garry Kasparov, 6;41)
Interesting enough to listen to on a cross-country flight. This book tries to finesse a hard problem, namely that surely almost everything known by the highest rated Grand Master in chess is so technical that it would be impossible to convey without a vast amount of detail about the game. Kasparov opts for a very high level summary, and the tales of his epic battles with Karpov give a lot of psychologically compelling detail, without diving into the intricacies of the board. I admire him as a critic of Putin, and since this book was completed in 2006, it closes with comments on the dark political climate in Russia.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Big Rich
(Bryan Burrough, 19:52)
Pretty enjoyable tales of Texans who got super rich, before Saudi oil made the whole enterprise of drilling in the US unprofitable. The Hunt family is surely the most "colorful": the founding father (HL Hunt) was a bigamist, who kept his second wife in complete ignorance of the fact that he hadn't legally married her before siring 4 children with her. He spawned a third family with his mistress, whom he legally married after the death of his first wife. Prone to paranoia, he funded a lot of right wing media, and one of his 14 children, and another of his grandkis, were clinically schizophrenic. The winding up, with wild cat strikes of great good fortune, are not quite as fascinating to me as the bumpy road down hill. In particular, the 2 Hunt brothers (Nelson Bunker & William Herbert) managed to lose an estimated $5 billion in their crazed project to corner the silver market.

Monday, May 25, 2009

(Michael Herr, 8:33)
I've been looking at this book since the US entered the Iraq war, as it is widely viewed as the best writing about Vietnam. Until it became audible, however, I had never mobilized the vim to complete it. Herr's writing is quite vivid, direct, and gives a sense of how sad and scary Vietnam felt. In the final chapter, he describes his preference for sitting by an open helicopter door, with the claim "I didn't go through all of that not to see." (p256)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Just In Tokyo
(Justin Hall, 68pp)
I re-read this while we stayed in Shibuya, and it was a pleasurable and pithy discussion of the thrills of living like a pachinko ball. Although the currency conversion is dated by its 2002 publication (130 yen to the dollar then, now more like 108), most of the observations are still relevant. Here's a fine representative quote: "If you order and consume natto in a Japanese restaurant, you will never have to prove your courage in any other way." (p49)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Assistive Media readings of magazine articles
(12 hours, miscellaneous authors)
I don't quite understand the model here, but amateurs read articles (from the New Yorker, Atlantic, Scientific American, and elsewhere). There's not a very deep pool, only about 100 articles total, and most of these are from the late 1990s. I selected about 20, and enjoyed the way the narrators read them. My favorite was revisiting the piece by Jay McInerney from the New Yorker about Fat Possum records, "White Man at the Door."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Japan (Eyewitness Travel Guides)
(416 pp)
I read only the parts about Tokyo, and skimmed the introductory 50 pp about the background and history of Japan. This was useful as a guide to neighborhoods, in the way that a helicopter flyover would be. Not a guide for nitty gritty, but useful for seeing the contours of the greatest hits.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How Fiction Works
(James Wood, 5:50)
Tightly written, perhaps in imitation of the Tractatus, since the points it presents are given in numbered paragraphs. Worth attending to, as this famous critic works to distill what he appreciates about reading. His love of Bellow is easy to share, his annoyance with Nabokov mirrors some of my own irritation with the limpid eyeball, and his general assessments repay the attention demanded of the reader.

Monday, May 11, 2009

House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
(William D. Cohan, 25:16)
This massive book documents the death spiral of Bear Stearns, a firm run by a CEO, Jimmy Cayne, who chose to devote all but 3 hours a day to playing bridge. As Bear Stearns went down, Cayne was unreachable because he was in the finals of a bridge tournament. The narrative definitely shows what leveraged companies can go through as confidence in their positions evaporates. The biography of a firm, with detailed accounts of power struggles and posturing, is the testicular version of a People magazine, and I can consume these stories forever. I found this book more interesting than Cohan's recent account of Lazard brothers, and even though this book is quite fat, I wished there'd been a sustained discussion of at least 20 pages describing what the world of power bridge is really like. I don't know how Cohan manages to write so much so well; a great deal of this huge book is about events that started just 16 months ago.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Pullman porters and West Oakland
(Thomas and Wilma Tramble, 127pp)
There's some detail about the early stages of Pullman porters (started in 1868), and the insidious fact that Pullman hired blacks because their proximity to slavery made them reliably subordinate and cheap labor to boot. Another focal point is CL Dellums, one of the leaders of the union. Most of the photos are from a small group of private family photos, some of those who worked as Pullman porters. Many of the photos aren't very vivid at suggesting the lifestyle and status of these workers. Shots of people sitting near their cars are captioned with labels such as "two young ladies sit on a new Cadillac car, the ultimate announcemnet of the owner's wealth." (p44) There's not much in the way of sociology, but there are hints of history. I'd rate this as the weakest Arcadia publication of the 3 or 4 that I've read, although it's still worth a scan.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury
(Katherine Powell Cohen, 127pp)
Another Arcadia press title (and there are thousands) focuses on this lively (and frequently degenerate) neighborhood. The most surprising photos are the Haight in the 1970s, when it was extremely sketchy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The white tiger
(Aravind Adiga, 8:07)
This is the first Booker Prize Winner that I've been able to finish in several years (and surely the Life of Pi was the nadir for that award). A very stimulating novel of a low-caste man who strives, and ultimately succeeds, in becoming the much vanted "entrepreneur." Structured as a sequence of letters to a visiting Chinese emissary, the novel at times could have used a slightly lighter touch on political matters, but the voice of the main character deserved to be heard.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cuisines of the world : Japan
(Kiyoshi Hayamizu, Yuhei Hoshino; 144pp)
Lovely guide to understanding what goes into Japanese food. As a bonus, I left this around the house, and my wife picked three dishes labeled "easy" and made a great dinner Saturday night from the recipes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The art of tile : designing with time-honored and new tiles
(Jennifer Renzi, 318pp)
Beautiful, interesting, thought-provoking, and probably expensive to pursue, but based on some of the beautiful things done with tiling here, well worth the effort. The one thing I wished had been mentioned is the generalized topic of "tiling" which I trace to Roger Penrose (by way of being discussed by Martin Gardner).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Redwood City
(Reg McGovern et al; 127 pp)
I'm a sucker for local history, and even though my connections to RWC are just a notch above tenuous, I enjoyed looking through this collection of photos. The publisher, Arcadia, apparently specializes in local history, which involves only a little more than finding a source of old photos, and people from the town who must be eager to caption the photos.
Architecture now! / Architektur heute / L'architecture d'aujourd'hui
(Philip Jodidio, 576pp)
This is a score from Amazon's reader suggestions, since I'd checked out this massive Phaidon resource in Feb, it was too repetitive in showcasing sterile geometric structures. An Amazon reviewer mentioned this book as a compressed set of highlights. It delivers some interesting buildings, as well as some grim "austere" turds. One funny editorial comment was about a very dark, prison like school that seemed to scant "perhaps overmuch" the light and joy that is asssociated with school environments.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Post-American World
(Fareed Zakaria, 8:29)
An interesting and well researched book on how America's going to have to share the planet with China, India, and the Rest. The historical discussion of what kept China backwards is noteworthy. One significant factor that I don't recall reading about before: The plains of Asia enabled one power base to rule from end to end, whereas Europe was broken up into 100s of principalities that encouraged competition and prevented policies from halting progress.) Barack Obama was seen reading this book during his campaign, and it's thesis is well worth thinking about.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Down and Out in Paris and London
(George Orwell, 6:28)
When I read this as a high school freshman (loaned by my favorite English teacher), I found it rather dreary, and never really could figure out what a plongeur did for his grubby wages. Rereading this decades later, it was fresh and interesting, an experiment in poverty that is all the more relevant as we approach our own little econ-apocalypse. Some of the economic thinking seems half-boiled (is it really true that restaurants cause needless drudgery and should not be encouraged?), but the vision of encouraging tramps to stick around and do a little farming sounded positively 21st cent.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Drunkard's Walk
(Leonard Mlodinow, 9:21)
Excellent review of probability and statistics, with exciting discussions of topics as thrilling as chi square and the law of large numbers. I don't particularly share Mlodinow's sense of humor, so when he wasn't writing about math, it wasn't that fun. He also betrays a southern Californian fixation on movie box office yields. While surely that process has a large random component, it wasn't the most interesting domain for me in which to ground his discussions. He frequently referred to movies and stars about whom I knew nothing. Still, as a popular treatment of randomness, this is quite good.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More games to play with toddlers
(Jackie Silberg, 271pp)
Pretty lame, not very useful. Most of the games are very uninspired.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

George Plimpton's Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals
(Nelson Aldrich, 432pp)
This echoes the format that Plimpton established for Edie, the snippets that form a gestalt. There's a claim in the book that Plimpton drew this style from an earlier source, but I think of him as the master, and many comments do say that he was a master of transforming interview transcripts into diamantine pith. A lot of the discussions are about class, the Porcellian Club, and stuff that only WASPs get supremely off on. The best take away quote, from Chris Cerf, is attributed to Mel Brooks: "You like the nose, you buy the face." (p292) The most vivid source was Norman Mailer, who admitted how much he envied Plimpton-- he said George got more than he deserved, and he watched this from a vantage of only getting whatever he had earned, which never seems enough. At the end of their lives, Mailer and Plimpton, along with a woman whose name I don't recall, wandered the globe playing F. Scott, Hemingway, and Zelda.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Ascent of Money
(Niall Ferguson, 11:30)
This book was so compellingly attractive that I re-upped my account at Audible, to be able to listen to Ferguson's timely and incisive account of how finance has been so central to the rise of civilization.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Design of Future Things
(Don Norman, skimmed the 240pp)
Took a poke at this, and wasn't interested in reading much about driving cars, which isn't the world's most pressing question. The contrast imported from horseback riding, between loose rein (letting the horse make decisions) and tight rein control (p70) was nice, and worth thinking about in interaction design. Norman's crabbed discussion of the Newton's handwriting algorithm emphasizes the way that people blamed the Newton for it's "freckled egg" guesses, whereas when Palm's graffito came out, the computer taught people how to talk to it.
Persepolis 2
(Marjane Satrapi, returned to library after 100pp)
Interesting, but not a genre-bender like Maus. It's a picture into the post-Iranian life of the author while she was at a Swiss boarding school. Perhaps the 1st volume is more eye-opening about Iran.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

God Optional Judaism
(Judith Seid, skimmed the 226pp)
Talk about de-racinated. This is a very slim thread to pin participation with Jewish traditions. I didn't encounter any reflective treatment of Reconstructionist approaches to Jewish tradition, nor any deep thought about how Judaism actually is quite accepting of its atheist practitioners.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jewish Stories from the Old World to the New
(Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, 18 hours)
Originally an NPR series, this is a real pleasure. I listened to this on cassettes over 10 years ago, and although I recalled some of the stories, it was a delight to hear them almost for the first time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jane Austen
(Carol Shields, 5;07)
Both interesting and sad: Austen's life was quite cramped, compromised by the impossibility of living independently when she (and her older sister Cassandra) were both spinsters, doomed to live under her parents' thumb. Truly, all that is divine about Austen was captured in her novels. The letters, which Shields quotes extensively, are moe bitter and cutting.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
(Susan Schroeder, 35 hours)
Definitely could have been compressed by 30%, but I love biographies, and didn't mind at all that this was the oversized Jumbo popcorn bucket. I learned a lot about Omaha, about Buffett's eating habits (he has a rule that he won't eat anything that a 3 year old doesn't like), and much more about his single minded intention to accumulate millions, then billions, of dollars. Though he was first an undergrad at Wharton, then got his master's from Benjamin Graham at Columbia, he claimed that his most valuable degree was the course he took from the Dale Carnegie corporation. He is a very earnest and single minded miser, who has done all he can to cumulate an enormous pile of money. His motive is apparently mostly competitive, focused on the numerical metric, although he clearly enjoys the business of analyzing and mastering industries. Side characters of note include Charlie Munger, and Mrs. RoseBlumkin. I also discovered that an early Buffett-follower was Bill Ruane, whose son Billy is a famous impresario in Cambridge MA. One of the more intriguing things about Buffett was his ability to participate in a menage a trois for years, until his first wife died and he married his mistress. This book reveals that it was actually his wife who architected this arrangement, since she wanted to move out of his world to fulfill her own needs. Buffett had always assumed that his wife needed to give, and he reciprocated by always being able to take.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Listening to parents: Listening partnerships for parents
(Patty Wipfler, 47pp)
Useful techniques for focusing attention. It appears to be very influenced by co-counseling, although it never specifically mentions the debt.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The rough guide to travel with babies and young children
(Fawzia Rasheed de Francisco, 224pp)
I found the first half of the book very basic, and so I stopped reading. It's adventurous to travel with young kids, and if you're up for the adventure, perhaps this bulky pamphlet covers all that can be generally conveyed in a book. After all, attitude is the crucial factor, and after you've packed the snacks and toys recommended here, you still have to keep a cheery face on all the curveballs that are glossed over in this summary. I contrast this generic book with the recent NYT article on family traveling to Venice. Only the latter makes me eager to tackle the challenges, rather than anxious about all that's been left unsaid.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It Came From Berkeley
(David Weinstein, 224 pp)
This book handily covers a lot of the history of Berkeley. There's plenty of surprises (e.g., the Jacuzzi family invented the hot tub here in 1915, & the first street curb cut to facilitate wheel chair accessibility was put in on Center & Shattuck in 1972). It's certainly a surprise to read that Berkeley was a heavily Republican town until after Eisenhower left office. Each chapter covers a slice of history. The only significant flaw with this book was the decision to title the chapters in a formula that generated some real klunkers: "How Berkeley Women Grew Uppity" is probably the worst chosen (about anti-pornography demonstrations in the 80s), but "How Berkeley Got Good Taste" is more typical and in its own way, annoying. I've also read Wollenberg's recent history of Berkeley, and I would rate this book as much pithier and generally more entertaining.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to see yourself as you really are
(Dalai Lama, 7 CDs, only listened to the first CDs)
I'm not very receptive to this, although it's amusing to hear someone counsel that since, in the vast number of rebirths, every being has at one time been a parent of mine, I should approach all with compassion and acceptance. I hesitate to point out that I don't even have an easy time being accepting of my actual (non-metempsychotic) parents.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lush Life
(Richard Price, 13 hours)
Dense, very interesting novel about a senseless murder on the lower east side in the early 21st century. Price packs so much street slang & police argot into each conversation that I had to slow the pace down to be able to process more of what was being encoded. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 16, 2009

See How It's Made
(DK Publishing, 96pp)
This was a fascinating little treatment of what goes into the manufacturing of items such as LEGOs, paint, glass, cheese. Each chapter is about 4 pages, treating a single production process. The rope chapter was particularly fascinating, as I've never been clear on how little strands can align to turn into an amazing length. The book didn't nail every particular, but talking about it with a knitter added the last little aspect (that wool, e.g., is directionally faceted, so that it grips when pulled in one direction, enabling different strands to link together across the entire twine).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lincoln through the lens : how photography revealed and shaped an extraordinary life
(Martin W. Sandler, 96pp)
Fun to look at, and although the book's targeted for grammar school kids, I found the text full of interesting and nuanced information.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Phaidon atlas of contemporary world architecture
(editors, 824pp)
Impressive, huge (16+ lbs), and of interest to page through. It's hard to make it through the book. Too many of the buildings look like streamlined boxes, and it would be better to see the funky and interesting curated out of this enormous collection. One chastening fact is how many of these houses were built for less than the cost of a middling home in Berkeley.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Merlin Mann's podcasts
(about 5:30)
Triggered by Merlin's decision to resurrect his podcast, I re-listened to all the old ones. The most piercing one remains The Perfect Apostrophe, but the whole ball of wax is worth the attention it took. (True confession: As with almost all of my listening, I multi-tasked shopping, child-caring, driving and eating).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The World Without Us
(Alan Weisman, 12 hours)
A weird book, whose tone struggles to keep from cheering the extinction of the human race. Thought provoking discussions of the very small number of acres in Poland that remain virgin forest, the environmental resurgence in the DMZ between the 2 Koreas, and the strange ecology around Chernobyl (which means "wormwood" in Russian, by the way). Very stimulating, but also, quite disturbing. The one analytical flaw in the book is the assumption that the Earth's climate is in some sort of equilibrium which it would return to if only humans vanished. I recall listening to an Econtalk podcast which pointed out that there's no evidence the ecosystem is, or ever has been, in equilibrium. But it's also clear that entropy will ravage major technological marvels (oil refineries, nuclear waste storage sites, the Panama canal) that Weisman describes with great vividness.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Peace First: A New Model to End War
(Uri Savir, 7 hours)
I found this very exciting to listen to, even though the prospects for peace right now are quite grim. At times, I felt provoked, since he lumps Arafat in with others he calls peacemakers, but that is a measure of his larger vision. His basic argument is quite attractive: that politicians should not be the owners of bringing about peace, that all of society should invest in and dream of and aspire for peace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Fire Next Time
(James Baldwin, 2:40)
Published in 1963, this is Baldwin's eloquent analysis of his life, with attention to the feelings stoked by being Black. His vivid encounter with Elijah Muhammad leads him to comment that the Black Muslim message is one that everyone assented to, long before Elijah Muhammad formulated it. There was anger in his voice as he described RFK's statement that America could have a Black president in 40 years. Now, 46 years later, that anger is surely still alive, but Obama's speech on race was the next generation's contribution to this discussion.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Holy Days: The World Of The Hasidic Family
(Lis Harris, 300pp)
Dedicated to William Shawn, this book appeared first as essay(s?) in the pages of the New Yorker. The effort of the author to "get inside" the Lubavitcher world is necessarily limited by the fact that she's someone who doesn't understand Hebrew or Yiddish (and she's also limited in her tour by being a woman). She devotes herself to knowing one specific family, a middle-aged couple who are both in their second marriages, the husband widowed, the wife divorced and a baalat teshuvah. I found the chapter on Lubavitch fights with the Satmar most saddening, and it surely demonstrates Freud's concept of the narcissism of small differences. The Satmars come off as thugs. This book was researched before the fall of the Soviet Union; it describes life at "770" when the Rebbe was alive, when the Lubavitch had stickers proclaiming "We want Moschiach Now."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Little Blues Book
(Brian Robertson, with R. Crumb's images, 160pp)
I've been scanning this little volume before bed; at first, it competed with Infinite Jest, but pretty soon, I just gave up on the 1,000 page behemoth, and cozied up with this little snack. The book just threads together snippets of blues songs, and interweaves images from Crumb. The images aren't that well-reproduced, and the occasion of an image does not guarantee that you'll find a quote by that blues singer within proximity of the illustration. Still, it was fun to page through this, and I hadn't known that certain phrases, such as "Bright lights, big city" came from the blues.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Flat, Hot and Crowded
(Thomas Friedman, skimmed the first 12 hours)
There's almost no arguing with Friedman's platitudes, although the value of hearing him voice the NYT-bourgeouis norm is rather thin. I'm glad he's green, it does show that the idea has become the norm. As he himself observed in the book, if everyone's for it, then it's not really a revolution, since an idea that is so universally applauded cannot be specific enough to demand sacrifice and battle. The book is too long, and I listened to about one minute of each 3 minute segment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

(Cory Doctorow, 6:40)
Cory Doctorow talks the talk (quite entertainingly), and then walks the walk: If you follow the link above, you too can listen to his book, read with a high level of skill by one his fans, and made available through creative commons. His arguments do cut through the legalistic view that "rights" are inviolable, and that property ownership should give creators of ideas/sounds/images unlimited ability to swoop in and defend their copyright. Doctorow uses this argument to strong effect: Though the government outlaws gambling, do we want them to surveill and punish people who bet an ice cream cone between themselves? Similarly, most sharing is on that order, and he demonstrates how useful and positive the effect is of his putting his books for free up on the web. The free downloads show up in search results, get previewed like a scan in the bookstore, and generate lots of speaker invitations as well. I wanted to honor his generosity, and he invites readers who benefit from the free reading to send a physical copy to a teacher on his wish list.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation
(Sheila Weller, 22 hours)
I'm a big fan of Carole King's despairing Tapestry, and until reading this, I thought she had written Up on the Roof and The Locomotion by herself (she was actually partnered with her husband at the time, who wrote the words to her music). Carly Simon is of some slight interest (who is the guy that's So Vain?), and Joni Mitchell gets a slight lift from Camille Paglia's claim that her song Woodstock is one of the best poems of all time. Some nuggets: Neil Young's Sugar Mountain was written after he was forced to leave a folk club that only accepted teenagers (hence, you can't be 20...) Joni Mitchell later wrote the Circle Game as her rebuttal about the value of moving around on the rack of time. Graham Nash wrote Our House about his time shacking up with Joni Mitchell. James Taylor, alas, floats through this book like an STD epidemic. I couldn't pull myself away from all the gossip, although the writing's mediocre, and I did skim when the women's lives hit the skids in all too repetitive patterns.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Consumer Reports guide to childproofing & safety
(Jamie Schaefer-Wilson, 200pp)
Somewhat useful, although the ultimate tone is pretty strident and fearful. If a product has been responsible for 100 deaths in the past 7 years, it is treated as a real threat, yet the count there is just a whisker over 10 deaths per year.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

(Jose Saramago, 13 hours, stopped after 7)
Tyler Cowen praises this book, includes it on his Literature and Law syllabus, so I was willing to give this a serious attack. The parabolic tale, of a city where people go blind in a mysteriously contagious form, creates an environment where the sequestered blind people spiral into behaving like pigs. The prose is interesting, and poised, but I couldn't see how it made sense to continue after the women were transformed into chattel for abuse by thugs. How the men who loved these women could cower and accept such abuse exceeded my comprehension.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Octavian Nothing
(MT Anderson, 8 hours, stopped after 2 hours)
This is a somewhat amusing conceit: a rationalistic empiricist in the slavetrading era would devote himself to experimentally evaluating the extent to which a black was human, by contriving to educate said African, while scrupulously keeping records. The form of an 18th century novel supports the author's impulse to lather it on. I'd previously read his young adult novel, FEED, which discussed a planet where everyone was forced to have an implant stuck in their head, continuously exposing their consciousness to a barrage of distractor stimuli. This is another novel of ideas.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Everything he hasn't told you yet : a new way to get men talking about stuff that matters
(Burton Silver & Martin O'Connor, skimmed 372pp)
Interesting to page through, since it appears that many women don't have husbands/partners who do more than grunt in front of a TV. Me, I'm a loquacious multi-tasker happy to talk while surfing on the web. Some of these exercises would not be bad, although others sound like they were lifted from Cosmo.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The sneaky chef : simple strategies for hiding healthy foods in kids' favorite meals
(Missy Chase Lapine, 200pp)
Interesting approaches to pulverizing spinach and blueberries to get kids to eat more healthy foods. Not required for my twins (at this point), but still interesting. Since blueberries are the miracle food, I must be a superhero.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Flag for Sunrise
(Robert Stone, 17 hours, stopped after 8)
I enjoy Robert Stone's paranoid visions. This novel focuses on South America in the late 1980s, as it echoes our Vietnam hangover. At times, I thought of Graham Greene, and also the Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Eventually, those similarities undercut my motive to soldier on.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates
(Sarah Vowell, 6 hours)
I'm a fan of Ms. Vowell's form of historiography, which dives into the tale of the Puritans, with special attention to how we've derived our outlook on them largely from their portrayal in the Brady Bunch. Her discussion of Anne Hutchinson, antinomian, will forever transform my experiences of riding the Hutchinson Expressway, as I think back on how this articulate woman so humiliated John Winthrop in her trial that the powers in charge expeditiously established Harvard to counter the recurrence of such threats.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Eastern Standard Time
(edited by Jeff Yang, et al. 337pp)
A miscellany of articles, culled from A. Magazine, which acts as a guide to introduce Asian culture, which includes India. Fun to page through, but not encyclopedic

Friday, January 02, 2009

The best American essays of 2007
(Ed by DFW, from 100 essays shortlisted by Robert Atwan, 307pp)
DFW's intro wraps around the theme of his deciderizing what to cull. He claims that only Atwan is the real curator, and that with one exception, the essays came from Atwan's list (I'd hazard a guess that the additional essay was Cynthia Ozick's, on a strange book by a man named Baeck). The exposure here made me want to read more Jerald Walker, and maybe someday, I'll track down the collages of Mary Delany, praised so highly by Molly Peacock.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 Favorites
Top 10 Non-fiction
1- The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century [Jan 1]
The very first book I finished in '08 appears to have been the best. Ross's tour of the 20th century, in terms of avant garde music, fascinated and educated me, and also whet my appetite to seek out oddballs such as Stockhausen & Reich.

2- The Audacity of Hope [Nov 6]
I was a fan of OUR PRESIDENT (still a thrill to write that) since I read his first book back in Aug 2005. This book deploys his even-handed tone to discuss political issues, and it was a great pleasure to read this, and then re-read his first book, right after his election.

3- Our Band Could Be Your Life [Jan 26]
Four of the 10 books on the non-fiction list cover music, and I'm not even a music fanatic. This history of '80s punk covers the bands of my youth's passionate enthusiasm: in particular, Husker Du, Big Black, and the Replacements. I also became aware of the Olympia Subpop scene, which I've been poking at for the rest of the year.

4- This is your brain on music [Apr 14]
The exposition and reporting of neuroscientific findings is first rate. Very interesting, and crystal clear.

5- Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain [Apr 1]
Oliver Sacks' story-based thread contrasts with Dan Levitin's analytical treatment.

6- Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency [Nov 30]
This portrait of evil incarnate was something I couldn't face until the election was resolved. The stories are not quite as involving as in Caro's Power Broker, although the consequences of Cheney's rape of the Constitution reach further on the scale of naked power.

7- Team of Rivals [Aug 8]
Given Obama's reliance upon this text as a manual for his cabinet, I might re-visit this. Lincoln's self-confidence, in tapping men who all believed they were superior to him, is awfully impressive.

8- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions [Mar 2]
Dan Ariely is a very gifted experimental psychologist, and even though this book is rather breezy in its presentation, the results of each experiment left a deep impression on my thinking.

9- Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance [May 12]
Physician, wash thy hands!

10- Brother Ray: Ray Charles' Own Story [Oct 6]
Though this isn't very well-written, the language of Ray shines through. I still aspire to say about my life, something like Ray's motto: "When I do a song, I must be able to make it stink in my own way; I want to foul it up so it reeks of my manure and no one else's."

Honorable Mention: The art of simple food [Nov 22]
The first cookbook I've read in its entirety, and Waters' homey approach has kept me in the kitchen trying to emulate her style.

Fiction (It always surprises me that I read more non-fiction than fiction)
1- No one belongs here more than you [Oct 25 and Feb 9]
This book may seem slight, but her twinkling playfulness drew me to read this two separate times this year.

2- Wonder Boys [Aug 20]
I've done a lot of Chabon this year and the exuberance of Wonder Boys was extremely winning. Model City, his early stories, had charms, and the collection, Maps and Legends, revealed a more mature take on his autobiography and golem-ical quandaries.

3- Coetzee's Disgrace [Aug 31]
Including this on my list demonstrates that I only include books with humor in the dominant key. Coetzee might be a man's answer to Susan Sontag, since he perceives almost all interactions in light of their moral significance.

4- Russian Debutante's Handbook [Apr 22]
Shteyngart is so funny, who cares that he has written the same book twice?

5- Tree of Smoke [Mar 25]
Mesmerizing look at the baffle of Vietnam.

6- Pale Fire [Aug 27]
I read this with great delight, and then scanned the prequel Pnin. This experience has won me over to Nabokov, notwithstanding his quirks.

7- Unaccustomed Earth [Aug 6]
Jhumpa Lahiri's gifts at rendering the worlds she knows so intimately continues to fascinate.

8- The Swimming Pool Library [Apr 8]
Hollinghurst's portrayal of the British life before AIDs shimmers in its exactitude, providing a glimpse of a lost world as if through a crystal.

Honorable Mention: Podcasts (NextBook, Philadelphia Free Library, the NY Public library, & EconTalk)
I have discovered several rewarding podcasts which cuts into the time I spend listening to books, and since I've listened to more than 50 hours of author talks/interviews, the number of books I read has dropped to 125 this year. The Free Library of Philadelphia in particular is a geyser of author talks. NextBook focuses on Jewish culture, and EconTalk probes the world from the libertarian perspective emanating from George Mason University.

Progress Report on Infinite Jest: I began reading this after DFW's suicide, and am currently about 200 pp into the mass. Even this far in, I doubt my willingness to do the whole dance. The tone in the footnotes is strikingly different than the text, and although Wallace's obsessions and fears can be quite piercing, his quirks and pedanticism about drugs make the going as tough as my first encounter with this book.