Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness
(Jeff Warren, 11:38)
Cool, interesting, non-flaky exploration of experiences. The opening chapters on sleep are particularly fascinating, esp'ly the chapter on "The Watch." The watch is a natural phenomenon, all but lost after the transition to electric light, which occurs in the long nights of sleep, when people habitually experienced two segments of sleeping, separated by a prolactin saturated state of wakefulness. Apparently, most traditional societies knew this state quite well, and this would even include people at the time of Shakespeare. Very fun to read. His chapter on lucid dreaming made me re-assess engaging in this sport, although I am still not terrifically keen to develop the skill.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus
(Joel Chandler, 46 mins)
Librivox recording-- not the best collection, and the ones that rhyme are mostly doggerel. Inspite of the pall of racism that hangs over Uncle Remus, I have to defer to Twain's esteem for Chandler's capacity to capture dialect in spelling. When I was a little boy, this non-standard orthography fascinated and mystified me. Now, it's interesting as a fallible document of dialect.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The anthologist
(Nicholson Baker, 256pp)
Superb, enthralling, and delightful. The first Nicholson Baker novel I've devoured since he got all kinky with Vox, and although he regained some equilibrium with the Fermata, I've not read him with an open ear in years. And this is a jewel, so touching, so full of insight, and tenderness.

Friday, November 26, 2010

(Barry Hannah, punted after 85pp)
This set of short stories has been praised by many writers I enjoy. The kindle preview was funny enough for me to take the plunge. But in trying to read these stories, I found my interest flagging, maybe after the fourth or fifth time that a naked woman was referred to as showing "her organ." Each story seemed less charming than the prior (there's some sort of narrative embroidering that might tie them all together somehow but I just punted when it stopped feeling fun). The only thing I'm confident enough in my taste to object to: The chapter headings are in a really ugly bastardized variant of Cooper Black.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Deal: A Hollywood Novel
(Peter Lefcourt, 8:57, skimmed)
Funny 1991 novel of a bum who's on the cusp of suicide when his nephew arrives with a screenplay about Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Even though it's funny, the bizarre world it parodies is not attractive or particularly interesting to me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Art of the slow cooker : 80 exciting new recipes
(Andrew Schloss, 215 pp)
Exciting isn't the half of it! I've already made the deliciously meaty root vegetable soup, and I'm spring-loaded to try the Pumpkin and Chevre lasagna. I read through this entire cookbook, and plan to make at least 5 or 6 of the recipes. Many are meat-based, but vegetarians also get in on the slow cooking scene.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Upside of Irrationality: the unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home
(Dan Ariely, 334pp)
Even if this is not quite as good as his first book, I hope Dan Ariely squirts one of these books out every other year. This one has the same breezy informality, although it dwells at greater length on the experiences surrounding his having burned 70% of his body at the age of 18. The description he gives of finally seeing himself in the mirror, and the continuing self-consciousness he reports feeling even today about his looks, cut through the suave presentation, and remind readers that he suffered gravely, and continues to experience the aftermath of trauma.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The games we played : the golden age of board & table games
(Margaret Hofer, 159pp)
Interesting, but not very penetrating. Most of the packaging promised exciting activity, whereas, in actuality, nearly every game was a version of chutes and ladders, with a teetotum (not quite a top or dreidel) instead of dice. One of the more bizarre genres was structured conversation cards, where people could read both a question, and provide an answer, all from cues.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Healing Powers of Chocolate
(Cal Orey, 302pp)
Kind of yucky author personality, mediocre prose, undistinguished, but it's still about chocolate. This woman's already cranked out books on the "healing powers of vinegar" and "h.p. of olive oil." The only aspect of the recipes that stuck: Mix cacao into lasagna. I'll try that. Even when she's claiming that chocolate has almost no caffeine, her next paragraph caveats that with the observation that the abundant theobromines have a "stimulating effect on the CNS." If this book were better than reading wikipedia (one of her footnoted sources), it should speak to how to compare theobromines to caffeine. The article on theobromine in wikipedia says 10X more than her whole book. Although the book's publication date is 2010, she refers to Scharffen Berger as an independent (it was bought by Hershey in 2005, and they closed the Berkeley manufacturing plant in 2009).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recycling Projects for the Evil Genius
(Russel J. Gehrke, 236pp)
Tons of green ideas fo cleaners/pesticides. Not so much more than that. It doesn't obviate the huge role for East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, nor does this book even guide the reader to ways to use all the junk available through the Depot.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

For Better: The Science of Good Marriage
(Tara Parker Pope, 9:47)
At times, this book descends into cliché sociology, reporting factoids of surprising correlations that beg for some skepticism about the possibility that there's a better explanation than the surface correspondence. As one example, the importance of how a couple tells the "how we met" story is said to be a powerful predictor of whether they'll stay together. While it's plausible that counting "we" vs. "me" statements may catch something, a lot of the longevity of a marriage depends on more than how the meeting story is told. The number, that for every negative statement, a couple needs to generate 5 positive statements to counterbalance it, will stick with me, even if it's a bit coarse. My curiosity about gathering any tips sustained my interest, even if the author was not super acute in her own distillation of this mass of research.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bob Dylan in America
(Sean Wilentz, 400pp - returned before reading the Village era)
Well written, engaging, and this Princeton historian deserves to grab the mantle, since he grew up in the Village at the very time that Bob Dylan's meteoric appearance crashed through the folkie scene. I concentrated on the later albums first, since Wilentz proves his acumen by casting a cold, probing evaluation of some of the more dubious works. The late Dylan album that I revere, World Gone Wrong, receives high marks from Wilentz.