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.