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.