Thursday, January 31, 2013

Being Wrong

Being Wrong
(Kathryn Schulz, 13 hours)
I thought I was missing out for years, since this has been praised by all the right people. In retrospect, how can a book cover all the ways that we're prone to be wrong. I knew almost everything in advance of reading Ms Schulz's droll re-packaging. I just can't finish this.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins
(Jess Walters, flagged after 1/2 of 13 hours)
Kind of interesting, but I couldn't overcome the sense that Walters has deliberately packaged a delivery vehicle of find its way onto the best seller list. Richard Burton, CinqueTerre, Hollywood. But this just didn't hook me the way Financial Lives of the Poets.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lenny Bruce: The Berkeley Concert

The Berkeley Concert
(Lenny Bruce, 1 CD)
Some pathbreaking geniuses so transform the dominant culture that it's virtually impossible to recover what was fresh. The old saw about Shakespeare just being a string of popular quotes comes to mind. I was intrigued by the opportunity to hear Bruce live, in Berkeley, in Dec '65. The CD was produced by Frank Zappa, so this has real hipster bona fides. The language Bruce uses is so beat that it's almost parodic; money is always "bread," people are always "cats," and all the argot of beatnik hipsters is in full display. Unfortunately, I felt no sense of discovery. His homophobia was off-putting, his analysis of religion and legal convention did not strike me as particularly insightful, and his language in its totality just sounded absurd. One after-effect: I decided to listen to CDs of Robin Williams' Weapons of Self-Destruction, and Sam Kinison's Have You Seen Me Lately? Robin Williams is tickishly funny, and SK is just bent.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
(Katherine Boo, 8:21)
This book transports the reader to a slum of Bombay/Mumbai, which sprang up by the airport, and is continually facing threat of being bulldozed. The most amazing sentence was Boo's claim that for the city's poor, "where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained." The second half of the book is not quite as enthralling, since after setting the scene for the trashpickers and recyclers, Boo then has to follow one family into the tedious law court fight over a wrongful accusation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kevin Kelly's recommended image treasuries

I was excited by Kevin Kelly's list, which he published at the end of Dec '12. You can find the annotated list here:

These are the books I tracked down owing to his tip

Open Here (not news to me, but still, it's a complete ref to infographics in the 90s)

The Deep (Claire Nouvian) pretty awesome. Lots of diverse jellyfish

Art Cars (Harold Blank) - echt Berkeley

African Faces (not listed by KK, but available at library) - Amazing

Alas, not even interlibrary loan could roust up a copy of Parallel Encyclopedia
Batia Suter, 2007, 592 pages

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Golden Key

The Golden Key
(George MacDonald, illustrated by Maurice Sendak)
Praised by Auden, adored by Tolkien, this old-timey fairy tale is too verbose to hook my 6 year olds. Even the illustrations, tasteful as they are, don't compel the reader to love Mossy and the crowd that emerges from this enchanted forest. I was hoping to flash on the longed-for desire to recapture the experience of reading Peter Beagle's Last Unicorn, but this book can't do that for me. I didn't find Auden's afterword very affecting, either.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Creator's guide to transmedia storytelling

Creator's guide to transmedia storytelling
(Andrea Phillips,  288pp)
Fascinating window onto a world I've been ignorant of: tie-ins, worlds of blended advertorial to supplement a game-movie-web narrative. The book is written as a trade manual, and as such is quite interesting. Ms Phillips claims that the "benefits of transmedia marketing are not in drawing in a completely new audience, but in hooking a peripheral audience more deeply and keeping it around longer."

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


(Neal Stephenson, stopped after 21 of 43 hours)
Interesting in 17 ways (Turing, crypto, WWII, Manila, international cable infrastructure, dotcom-mania, role-playing games, etc). I was surprised that I didn't really begrudge the first 10 hours of the book's wandering threads; in the 2nd decade of hours, I found myself asking if the rewards were commensurate with the time demanded. And then, after completing 21 hours, I realized I just didn't care enough to keep going.

Friday, January 04, 2013

One Click: Jeff Bezos and The Rise of

One Click: Jeff Bezos and The Rise of
(Richard Brandt,  unabridged on 8 CDs)
Even though not one sentence was artfully written in this business biography, the topic is so interesting that I wasn't put off by the pedestrian prose. The origins and various winding steps in's corporate life are recounted, in a flat-footed way that never impresses the reader. Yet, there's probably no one who's had a greater impact on retail in the past 100 years.  Inside Apple (Adam Lashinsky's masterpiece) stands as an exemplar of the company bio; Disney Wars spotlights so much veniality and arrogance that it was a pleasure. Bezos is not nearly as charismatic as Jobs. Yet the impact he's had is undeniable, as he's run his business like a philanthropic venture for consumers funded by the financial community (my paraphrase of an Yglesias witticism).  Every chapter taught me something, even though the book may have just been glued together from vintage magazine stories.