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.