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.