Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
(John Heilemann, 9 hours of 14)
This book enables news junkies to freebase the back story of the 2008 race. The version I had abruptly ended at the point that Sarah Palin gave her "hockey mom" speech. I'm not sorry to abort in midstream. The icky John Edwards' tale was abundantly quoted in the press at the book's launch. The insanity of Palin, unfortunately, is not something I could look away from if it were available, so I'm grateful that this bag of salty potato chips was dragged away.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

50 Favorite Rooms by Frank Lloyd Wright
(Diane Maddex, 128pp)
Not a success photographically, since very few of the photos of buildings evoke places I've visited (e.g., Robie House, Hanna House, Morris Gift Shop, FLlW Studio and Home). It's probably very difficult to convey the space from the flat image. One other question: Hey, what's with the gaudy coloring that Wright used for curtains in his Hillside Theater? I got to see the actual object at the Guggenheim's 50th, and the color scheme still jangles.

Monday, June 28, 2010

(Bruce Sterling, 120 out of 532pp)
Fascinating little sacks of prophetic insights and observations, wrapped up as a novel published in 1998. The government's broke, the military has to resort to road stop "bake sales" to fund themselves, there's so much biotech knowledge that huge squads of unemployed just rove the terrain, extracting food as they go. Buildings are programmed to almost self-assemble, with just a little help from humans who get directions from the bricks themselves. This is really fun, but also a bit of a vice. The love angle is the least fleshed out/plausible, which is what caused my interest to flag (or did I just succumb to small 'd' distraction?) Here's one little oddment: The main character could be a transmogrified Steve Jobs, and in the novel is a mutant adoptee who's had three bouts with liver cancer. A lot of fun, and I will pack this for future camping trips to fall back into.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Venice Queen of the Seas
(Thomas Madden, 7:43)
Very pedestrian lecturer, with almost no flair for anecdote, psychology, synthesis, or summary. Nevertheless, the city itself is so alluring that I listened to the entire tale. His pronunciation of so many Italian words is so specious that it undercuts one's sense that he actually knows how to speak Italian. Favorite factoid that will stay with me: That the word "Mediterranean" meant "middle of the earth."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Business Stripped Bare
(Richard Branson, 12:23)
This probably isn't the way to be introduced to Branson, but it still shows the manic intensity and zeal for fun he puts into his life. I stopped after 10 hours, because the prose isn't particularly engaging, and the lessons learned start to recur: Be Committed to Give Value, Be Ambitious, Develop a reputation for a superior experience.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Speed the Plow
(David Mamet, 1:21)
An interesting little tour of the rung of hell denominated Hollywood producer. Jeff Goldblum was the head weasel.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

(James Joyce, 47 hours; paused at Chapter 13)
It's been 6 years since I last concelebrated Bloomsday by listening or reading Joyce. This time, I was curious just how much I could enjoy the book sheerly as A novel, rather than THE novel. The characters are rich, the story line engages, and the language delights.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hitch 22
(Christopher Hitchens, 20 hours)
Fairly interesting, esp'ly as it was narrated by the author. I could not listen at double speed, because Hitchens has a sort of low-volume mumbly accent, which made it a challenge to attend to all the nuance at higher than spoken word speed. After all his flips and flops, I don't see why he would trust his own judgment at all. He does have a powerful urge to be pugnacious, a nicely refined wit, and an esthetically evolved capacity to appreciate the absurd. Most of the leftist arguments he espoused seem bizarre to me, no less than the advocacy for militaristic attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. His love for friends, esp'ly Martin Amis, shines through.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Design Disasters: Great Designers, Fabulous Failure, and Lessons Learned
(Stephen Heller, 224pp)
A slender book, without enough specificity on the screwups to make it possible to learn much from. I also didn't encounter any really sharp demonstrations of how the failures or fiascos were educational. I'd recommend hearing Merlin Mann narrate his experience with "The Perfect Apostrophe" instead. Or just repeat Samuel Beckett's lines: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." (Worstward Ho!)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Go Outside!: Over 130 Activities for Outdoor Adventures
(Nancy Blakey, 144pp)
Worth scanning. I experimented through several trials to make the popcorn in tinfoil (p45), and although it was fun, the page of steps was not KlutzTM level of detail to make the output a compelling alternative to just popping on a little stove.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Wittgenstein in 90 minutes
(Paul Strathern, 76 min)
Pretty slim volume. A huge amount of the "90" (ahem, 76 including pointless appendices covering the history of philosophy and Wittgenstein's chronology) is gossip. Granted, gossip about Wittgenstein can be quite fascinating, but devoting so much time to his life does zilch to advance any understanding of his ideas. Not unpleasant, but also not at all illuminating. Note: Wikiquotes has a much better tour of Wittgenstein's quotability at

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee
(Sarah Silverman, 240pp)
A pleasure (guilty? nah) to read, and also a breeze to finish. Her book starts very well, where she opens: "When I selected myself to write the foreword for my book, I was flattered, and deeply moved." Her intelligence shines through, and although she apologizes for never having been molested or incestuously involved with her own father, the revelations are funny and interesting. I particularly enjoyed her philosophy of "Make it a treat" -- "MIAT ... encourages you to keep the special things in life special." (p95) Her quotes from her adolescent diary do justify her aphorism, "If life is a meal, then diaries are the toilets in which we shit out its vile remnants." (p136)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Although of course you end up becoming yourself
(David Lipsky & David Foster Wallace, 10:42)
This book, while annoying at times, was not insufferably irritating, which is how I have to describe some of DFW's own work, particularly Infinite Jest, but also his book on transfinite set theory. The interviewer, David Lipsky, is a douchebag, a whisker less irritating than David Hadju, but still, an asswipe who has actually beefed up his presence in this posthumous transcription of a 5 day interview with DFW. One very revealing statement made by DFW: "I don't mind appearing in Rolling Stone, but I don't want to appear in Rolling Stone as somebody who wants to be in Rolling Stone." Why couldn't he allow himself to take pleasure, publicly, in the acts that privately gave him some pleasure? It turns out, from listening to this, that DFW actually did pose, really did posture, and that he occasionally recognized how distorted he was by his need to appear smart. Ultimately, that helps explain what can be so irritating in his writing, the drive to sound smart; worse, his attempt to overcome it by attributing intelligence to others was a second order distortion, since it's damaging to true empathy to imply that the way to redemptively portray ordinary people is by boosting their IQs. DFW cops to having been obstreperous in his youthful fights with editors, and ultimately, that character flaw is almost sadder than the drive to be a genius which forced him to murder himself.