Thursday, December 30, 2010

(Keith Richards, 22:30, read by Johnny Depp)
Amazing window into the life of one of my favorite musicians. The last 4 hours even include huge lengths read directly by Keith Richards himself. Before listening to this, I'd assumed that Mick Jagger was the real brains in the stones. It is still true that he writes most of the Glimmer Twins' lyrics. But all the catchy riffs, powerful melodies, and the witches brew of blues and country traces to Keith Richards' gnarled hands. The opening part of the book, about his childhood, was the least interesting, and I skimmed after a while til 1963, the early months of which gave birth to the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards is a fascinating person, who disarmingly describes so much as his life as simply seeking the sound that feels right. His words compel you to recognize the authenticity of his drive. He has a few quirks, such as a tendency to just stay with friends for extended stretches of time. The first time this defined his later course was when he was hanging with Brian Jones, watching that supreme cad abuse his then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. Richards describes how, without really trying, he won her over, and they fled to Morrocco. He has also spent extended stays with Ronnie Wood, Gram Parsons, and of course, the whole gang he hosted when they were tax exiles in the South of France recording Exile on Main street. His account of using heroin is non-glamorous, and although he went cold turkey multiple times, he kept hooking back in, until he finally went clean in 1979, while he was fighting a court case which threatened serious prison time in Canada. His commitment to his friends shines through, and when he describes the acrimony that has emerged between himself and Jagger since he quit heroin, it's quite persuasive that the enmity is due to Jagger's drive to hold all the control. Further proof of his charisma is that some of the most loyal people in his retinue came through his association with Jagger, and they jumped to stay with Richards. Every description of the music shines with such love that it should never be accepted second hand. The master speaks, and so often, gives so much of the credit to the fuzz of the low-tech sound recording equipment. I think he does this because what else can you say about visitations from the muse. For extra credit, if you don't know what a malaguena is, click that link. He chose to play a malaguena when first meeting the family of his wife (now of 27 years), and also to his mum on her deathbed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences
(Kristin Luker, 75 out of 320pp)
Bought this because Tyler Cowen praised it so highly as "one of the best books on the philosophy of the social sciences." To me, it read much more like a support manual, reminding grad students and fledgling researchers to do some exercise, and approach their practice as a praxis. I have long since realized that Tyler Cowen reads at least 5X faster than I can, so his recommendations are invariably moot. I don't disdain this book, but I'm not its target demographic.
Here Comes Everybody
(Clay Shirky, 248 out of 344pp)
Read last fall, but I was already way behind the curve reading this 2008 book at a time when it's been so thoroughly digested into the zeitgeist that it is almost impossible to distinguish betwwen Shirky's clever extended metaphors and the shared hallucination that comes from drinking water in Silivalley. I stopped reading simply because it didn't hold any surprises, although I have to agree with the blurb from that his book "is really good." What I actually want to read right now, but haven't got my hands on, is Jaron Lanier's You are not a gadget.
Signifying Rappers
(Mark Costello & David Foster Wallace, 29 out of 140pp)
Poked at this around the time that DFW suicided (Sept 2008). It's a period piece (first published in 1990) mainly of interest for spelunking DFW, rather than for any profound insights into "rap and race in the urban present." Mark Costello was his college roommate, and they lived together again in Boston before Infinite Jest erupted.
Prisoner's Dilemma: John von Neumann, Game Theory, and the Puzzle of the Bomb
(William Poundstone, stopped at p258 of 294)
Great book, full of details on the interesting backstory of game theory and the MAD world von Neumann. I read this in May of 2008, at a wedding in Southern California, but now have to admit that I won't likely make time for the final 30pp. Highly recommended, although not before one first takes time to read Poundstone's Priceless.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A heart breaking work of staggering genius
(Dave Eggers, 13:30)
I read this when it came out in hardback, around Feb 2000. Ten years later, it's finally available for dyslexics and audiophilic readers. Once, at a Roddy Doyle reading/interview with DE, I asked in the Q&A if Doyle cared about the audio versions of his books, since Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is my all time favorite. Both Doyle and Egger made faces that could not have been less disgusted if I'd hit them straight on with a colostomy bag. But I'm here to say that the audio book of AHWOSG is pretty damn good. I was going to fault it for lacking the prefatory remarks which were so winning/disarming/reflexive, but for some reason, the editors just moved them to the end, which makes phenomenological sense, since skipping over a chapter is so damn hard in audible books. When I read this in 2000, Berkeley was terra incognita, so I didn't really have an image of the house that they lived in at first on Spruce straight up Marin. The amazing interview he pitched to MTV (around p188 in the hardback) does drop out the phone numbers of his friends Marny, K.C. and Kirsten, but that occurred with the release of the paperback, when it was revealed that 6 of the millions of readers had called the numbers. (I was one of those nosy bastards; I just re-tried the 3 phone numbers, and all three are now out of service.) "I can tell you the names of my friends, their phone numbers [elided] but what do you have? You have nothing. They all granted permission. Why is that? Because you have nothing, you have some phone numbers. It seems precious for one, two seconds. You have what I can afford to give. You are a panhandler, begging for anything, and I am the man walking briskly by, tossing a quarter or so into your paper cup. I can afford to give you this." As this shows, the tone is pitch perfect, and for a brief sparkle of time, the reader gets to actually feel cool. In the 10 years since it was published, we've all become self-exhibiting narcissists, without the talent or the personal tragedy to justify the self-enamorment. I have also been influenced by the snarkier than thou N+1 critique that hits on the regressive quality of the "eggersard" movement. In my private confession, I cop to sharing Eggers' feeling that hanging out with a young kid makes you feel more important and beautiful than anything else can possibly be. Combined with the entitlement that comes from surviving a tragedy, it was impossible not to feel that my life was better than any movie yet made.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stinky Smelly Feet: A Love Story
(Margie Palatini (Author) & Ethan Long (Illustrator), 48pp)
My kids love this stinky smelly love story. A keeper
(Lucy Cousins, 120pp)
The illustrator/painter/author of the million Maisy books breaks into the well-tilled field of folk tales, to reprise 8 stories such as Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. I'm a fan of the brutality and horror. The main thing that annoyed me was her painting in big black letters a quote from the story, which is a kind of ilustration, but it's very easy to accidentally read it out of sequence. Not great, not even Maisy, but I'm happy for Ms. Cousins, who frequently kvetched in the back boards of her Maisy books about how hard it was to inspire herself to do her work.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Mind's Eye
(Oliver Sacks, 8:40)
The genial neurotic neurologist reviews cases covering alexia (inability to read) and agraphia (inability to write), as well as loss or recovery of stereo vision. The most intriguing chapter is narrated by Sacks himself, as he recounts his own cancer, an ocular melanoma. Given his earlier description of his membership in the NY stereopsis society, he can joke about the risk he runs of becoming its only monocular member. He reveals that he uses cannabis, amphetamine, and occasionally psychotherapy. Not his most interesting book, but this may be due in part to having succumbed to fighting cancer after his last book, the fine Musicophilia.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Anthology of Rap
(Adam Bradley & Andrew DuBois (Editors), 920pp)
Nice follow up to The Anthologist, didn't immediately connect this volume to the reinterpretation of how to conceive of poetry living in the present age.

I didn't get much more into new lyrics than I have previously succeeded in enjoying more than a few rap artists.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Philosophy: The Classics
(Nigel Warburton, 4:53)
Succinct, interesting quick tours of major philosophers. The only favorites of mine that are missing would be Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, and I suppose the latter is too contemporary to count as "classic." Nothing truly original here, but pithy and quick summations. I esp'ly enjoyed the discussion of Kierkegaard.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dynamic Judaism
(Menachem Creditor, 4:40)
Not a book, but a set of recorded lectures on how to wrestle with significant issues facing modern Judaism: What's the role of denominations? What can interpretation do to redress harsh passages in the Torah? Why not eat oysters? Quite stimulating, and chock full of interesting ideas. Not connected to Mordecai Kaplan's book on reconstructionism with the same title (not that I've read the latter, but Rabbi Creditor mentioned that he picked the title for its muscular associations, and only realized there was a same-titled book by Kaplan while preparing his notes.)