Friday, August 31, 2012

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
(David Foster Wallace, 17:59)
At times, pretty good, but never does it seem to offer the consolation DFW claimed was the entire point of writing. His angsty attitude toward diversions, low (Illinois State Fair) or glitzy (the nadir of a luxury cruise ship), gives DFW room to romp about and critique culture and self-indulgence. But I can't believe that there will be a need to read these essays decades from now. I have to admit that I didn't see any reason to listen to DFW's perseverations on David Lynch's films and TV; who can really care about his fretful relationship to watching?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Mezzanine

The Mezzanine (Nicholson Baker, 6:28) As an audible book, the book's temporal length contrasts vividly with the puniness of the time recounted, which transpires as the narrator ascends an escalator (the up & down, described as "a pair of integral signs swooping upward.") I didn't love this as much as my recollection of encountering it the first time, after hearing Marvin Minsky praise it in one of his Society of Mind rambles. I am still of fan of Bakerian longueurs, with maximalist zooming in. Yet, and yet. His voice, while distinctive, is not as endlessly enchanting as I'd once supposed. The other aspect, not foregrounded when I first read NB, was that even in his first book, he cops to being a weekly consumer of pornography, and having an awkward ritual encounter with the person behind a convenience store counter who sold him his weekly dose.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dear Philip, Dear Kingsley

Dear Philip, Dear Kingsley
(Philip Larkin + Kingsley Amis, 0:56)
A brief selection of letters exchanged by these 2 famous friends. The beginning and ends of their lives are preserved, but the letters from their vital years were lost. Perhaps the most memorable remark was Larkin's astonishment and certainty upon meeting Kingsley Amis that his talent was superior to his own.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lionel Asbo: State of England

Lionel Asbo: State of England (Martin Amis, 9:49) Shards of brilliance in a flaming bag of feces. The title character, who intentionally changes his name to hearken his record-setting string of violations that trigger "anti-social behavior order." Christopher Hitchens' praise of Amis for his capacity for hyperbole came to mind numerous times. I enjoyed the bits of this book, but it was so full of hatred for the British lower classes that it reminds me of Bellow's Mr Sammler's Planet, another unhappy vociferation against the decline of modern culture. Amis's latest is better than Bellow's worst, but I can't say I wanted to follow this novel all the way down. I did finish it, and found the finale rather unexciting.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Design is a Job

Design is a Job (Mike Monteiro, 136 pp) Simply great. If you need to learn how to stick up for your own value, this is the go-to resource. Monteiro bristles with succinct, pungent advice, backed up by his honest account of instances where he made every mistake he's telling you how to avoid. I enjoyed every page, and laughed at the closing remark in the acknowledgments: "And thanks to everybody who skipped right to this page looking for your name. I hope you learned something either way." I was surprised that the man Merlin didn't get a nod; there was an early, cutting remark that this book was not going to have you go out and buy 43 index cards. When I once met Mike Monteiro, I asked him how it felt to be the famous friend of Merlin Mann. He said something along the lines that it was his fame rubbing off on Merlin, rather than vice versa. It was in that same conversation that I asked him about the meeting tokens he was attributed with having introduced at his design studio. He told me that they never did create them, and that besides having quibbled with the production value of the tokens, he dismissed the premise that limiting the number of meetings was as important as simply safeguarding large enough blocks of time to get the work done. Next time I come across Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek, I'll nab it, since Mike Monteiro indicated it was a valuable guide.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It all adds up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future

It all adds up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future (Saul Bellow, 15:27) I've been gnawing on these essays for months, and the fact that I didn't race through them indicates how different they are from Bellow's novels. There are sparks of insight, but there's also a lot of heaviness, hand-wringing about culture and its decline. The last pieces were organized around memorial essays of colleagues and friends, as well as a long interview. The autobiographical aspects were more interesting, but I'd rate this as not an essential read even for the millions of Bellow fans.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Occupy Handbook

The Occupy Handbook (ed Janet Byrne, 16:39) Initially, I was excited to have found this as an audible book, but the early essays dragged me down. Eventually, I returned, and found some of the essays of value, others so wildly idealistic that they deserved to be listened to (Graeber's theory of anarchy, e.g.). Shiller, Rogoff, Reich, Krugman were all too familiar to deserve close scrutiny, but this as a whole went down well, like listening to NPR if it were hijacked by KPFA.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hologram for the King

Hologram for the King (Dave Eggers, 7:57) As a McSweeney's fanboy, huge admirer of AHWOSG, I have not been much interested in Eggers' novels post-AHW. No longer, though, since this book is pitch perfect, a precise laser beam light show of the anxieties and uncomfortable self-doubts attacking Americans in our country's middle age. The main character is a salesman who hurls himself to Saudi, hoping to exploit a semi-random connection to one of King Abdullah's nephews, in order to help pitch a Cisco-like IT behemoth's hardware for the KAEC (King Abdullah Economic City). While a few pages are devoted to exposing many of the dubious qualities of schizophrenic values inside Saudi, the far more interesting work revolves around the collapse of manufacturing in America, and the uncertain future we now behold. As funny as Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision, without requiring a nod to socialism as the salvation at the book's closing. Every paragraph illuminates the dank collapse of American industry, the feeble tools that sales people cling to as a salvation (jokes, planning your work, working your plan, etc), and the sheer pointlessness of much of what's left to hustle for.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Mercury (Lesley Ann Jones, 12:17) Let's just bite the big bad truth at the outset: This is a gossipy tattle sheet about Freddy Mercury & by extension, Queen. I was initially quite irked by the author's voice, which is that of a self-loathing hack journalist whose greatest ambition is to gawk at famous people. She boasts of having "worked as a columnist on The Sun, The Daily Mail, The News Of The World and The Sunday Express." I was about to bail on this, when I suddenly realized that I was getting direct access to a personality I've never myself encountered, and although I can't say she's at all attractive, she does channel the British underclass obsessions and anxieties. Armed with this realization, I kicked back into enjoying this guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, the book doesn't give a great deal of insight into Freddy Mercury, who remains rather enigmatic. But there's lots of quotes (the audiobook's additional quirk is that multiple actors voice the different persons quoted). There's some interesting info about Queen, e.g., that they're the only band to ever have more than one #1 single written by each of the 4 members (so, there, they're better than the Beatles, and indeed, Ms Jones states that Queen has sold more albums than the Fab 4). I was fascinated to learn that Freddy developed a close relationship with Barbara Valentin, an actress in Germany who'd been in several Fassbinder films. I ended up enjoying this romp, although it's not at all a well written book.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The classic National Lampoon 4-CD box set

The classic National Lampoon 4-CD box set (The gang, 2:32) Quite funny at points, channeling the voices of Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner et al. Some of the humor is pretty dated, esp'ly the jokes about homosexuality. Still, the records give little glimpses of the mad brilliance. Here's a better than average joke: the claim that Hamlet's father must've been Piglet.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (Stanley Booth, 18 hours) This is justly praised for being an honest and compelling picture of the Stones, as they went on the 1969 tour, culminating in the anti-Woodstock free concert at Altamont. The only thing that undercut my interest is that, since this book was published in the Reagan '80s, Keith Richards has written an even more powerful and immediate account of the ontogeny and biography of the Stones. I enjoyed the writing, and marveled at the level of access Stanley Booth managed to sustain, without apparently falling into lackeydom. The inevitable wipe out, in Altamont, is too well-known to be a source of suspense. While the book isn't utterly obsolete in the shadow of Richards' autobiography, it's hard to imagine someone reading this before starting with Keith Richards' story, and once you've read that, it takes absolute fan-dom to want to visit it all again from a third person perspective. Brian Jones, wanker extraordinaire, does get more coverage in this book than in Keith's, but that's not such a compelling course.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Wendy & the lost boys

Wendy & the lost boys (Julie Salamon, 15:49) Pretty delicious gossip, although it could've been compressed into 1/2 the length. I had the inescapable sense that Ms Wasserstein was a chazzer incarnate, lazy and too needy of approval to write cutting drama. Yet, her social powers and family connections make for an interesting read. I still have never seen any of her plays, but I did see her cameo on a 1980s soap opera that shows her and playwright Chris Durang as awestruck movie star fans. I read a little of her brother Bruce's Big Deal, to get more purchase on her family.