Posted by Jack on 08.20.2008 at 2:49 pm
Hey all, today I’m with the other betterworld.com guys at the Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Jose. I’m rocking the “social media” track and sitting through hour after hour of lectures about twitter, facebook and all the like. A certain book keeps coming up though and everyone I’ve spoken with says it’s a social media bible of sorts: Groundswell by Charlene Li.
I haven’t read it yet but consider it ordered. Anyone read this one?
Posted by Jack on 08.18.2008 at 1:06 pm
[Continued from the last post]
In my quest I even went so far as to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish, The Aeneid in Latin and tried to muscle my way through Dante‘s Inferno in Old Italian (this, admittedly, proved to be too difficult). I was ready. Armed with my library card and Half.com I plowed through books on my hour long train ride and subway commute to and from school each day and in classes and at lunch, but eventually, an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, and that object was Jane Austen.
Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was simply too much to bear. As a 17 year old boy, commuting to school everyday with thousands of others on their way to New York City, I couldn’t make the jump to that era and persona. I could struggle to breathe with Vonnegut in Dresden, I could tackle an enormous beast (and play the cuckold) with Sir Gawain and I could even serve in a field with a Jesus-esque slave, but I could not for the life of me wear jodhpurs and muscle down the clandestine courtship of a big house novel. This would prove my undoing as I would later be derailed by Hardy‘s Far from the Maddening Crowd.
So I ask you reader, at what point do you know to put down a book? I feel that there are too many great books to be read to suffer bad literature, but when is the point where you say “I give up?” Or do you soldier on, looking for the redemptive qualities as your eyes cross and head turns to mush?
Posted by Jack on 08.18.2008 at 12:40 pm
When I was in high school I got on a plane and looked in a SkyMall catalog to see an offer for “digests” of the “Greatest 100 Books of All Time.” The copy said that “you can’t read all these books in a lifetime, now get them delivered to you in an easy to read form and finish them in just a year! Offended highly by this grand display of ignorant idiocy and endeavored on a quest that would change my academic career forever, I was going to read the actual book, all 100 of them, in a the time they said it would take to do the digests: one year. Not only would I prove that it could be done “in a lifetime” but that it could be done with diligence throughout a year.
On the plus side, my education up to that point (it was about halfway through my senior year) had been solid on the literary front and I loved books so I didn’t actually have to cover all 100, probably only about 70 of them. The quest enraptured me though, so I found other lists, differing in selection, to make sure that I had truly read the greatest 100 and not just a crude selection made by a team of marketers and all of the sudden I was up to more than 100. Yikes.
I started taking out 7-10 books each month and soon became well known to the librarians who gave me help with inter-library loan and quizzical looks when I offered my quest.
I was coasting through senior year and the help came from teachers as well. I had gotten into Holy Cross and was killing my classes so most of them let me read whatever book I was working on instead of listening to the lectures in exchange for hearing how it was going or talking with me about the books (thanks Doc Kennedy!).
For the most part the effort was amazing, I opened books I never would have thought to read that I loved (Call It Sleep by Philip Roth, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Federalist Papers, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and others that I loved anyway (Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand) and books with some of the most troubling and engaging characters of all time (Humbert Humbert of Nabokov‘s Lolita, Raskalnikov in Dostoevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, Odysseus in Homer‘s Odyssey).
[Continued in next post...]
Have your say » | Tagged Book Reviews, book reviews, the quest
Posted by Jack on 08.14.2008 at 7:10 am
I don’t know about you, but since the Olympics started you can’t pry me away from the TV for anything. I’m camped out in my parents house on vacation, diligently watching everything from the swimming (wow, Michael Phelps, seriously) to the basketball (Redeem Team? Meh, not that cool of a name), to WAY too many hours of women’s beach volleyball even to water polo (can anyone understand what’s going on? They need to bring out the old Fox glowing puck technique from hockey cause I can’t see anything…).
I realized in my viewing fervor as they repeatedly mentioned old greats or referenced Olympic glories or disasters that my own knowledge was limited at best. Sure I remember Barcelona, Atlanta and Athens just fine, I even have my thoughts about Nagano, Lillehammer, Turin and the others (Oslo maybe?). But if I’m going to spend this much of my life on this, I need to educate myself better. Come along:
Owning the Olympics First things first we need to know about this one. After watching the CRAZY opening ceremonies, I want to know more about this Olympics and about China as it appears they’re coming into their own as the world’s superpower. 1.3 billion people and a massive martial arts/explosives presentation with lighting up war drums. Yikes.
Get Talking Chinese This simply couldn’t be a bad idea.
A Century of Olympic Posters This is perfect, I love graphic design and you can tell so much from the promotional material of any event. Besides, is this not a supreme coffee table book?
Triumph No history of the Olympics would be complete without information about Jesse Owens. This particular is written by Jeremy Schaap, who also wrote Cinderella Man, the book that became a movie starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zelweger (directed by Ron Howard I believe). Jeremy is not as sharp as his father, Dick, but I trust that this account will be excellent.
Rome 1960, the Olympics that Changed the World I keep hearing about this book as it’s rather new. I’m inherently reluctant to read something with a decidedly histrionic title, but if this Olympics truly changed the world and I have no idea what happened there, sounds like I had better get reading.
Pre As a runner and lover of athletic lore, there is no better story than that of Steve Prefontaine. He was the first athlete to ever wear Nike shoes (his coach was building them by hand) and he was an all-around running stud that made Oregon into the track powerhouse it has been since. His story is both invigorating and tragic, but totally worth reading.
Have your say » | Tagged Book Reviews, book lists, book reviews, olympics
Posted by admin on 08.11.2008 at 9:23 am
So, I’ve spent a good bit of my spare time this summer with my nose in a book—nothing new in that. Generally, my luck in picking good reads isn’t as good as it has been the last few months. I’ve read no less than six great books in a row:
- Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Zeus and the gang from Mt. Olympus , this book is a must read. In addition to being very clever, it’s wicked funny.
- Hell to Pay by George Pelecanos. Gritty, smart, edgy. One of the best pieces of detective fiction I’ve read in awhile.
- Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole. This might be one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Take that, intellectual elitists.
- White Noise by Don DeLillo. Another smart, funny ready. If you’ve ever experienced an airborne toxic event, had a twenty minute conversation about what rain is, or thought about death, this book is for you.
- Dubliners by James Joyce. Simply amazing. I think I might have to go back and read all of the books that were assigned to me in high school and college that I didn’t read.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides. Lovely, romantic, and incredibly creepy all at once. And I’ve loved every word of it.
Have your say » | Tagged Uncategorized, ATL office, book reviews, erin gerber
Posted by Jack on 08.11.2008 at 8:22 am
The other night as I tuned in to “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central I saw an interview with David Carr about Carr’s new book The Night of the Gun. Of immediate interest was that I enjoy Carr’s various musings in the New York Times (Carpetbagger Blog and otherwise) and Colbert’s nightly ridiculousness (and both people live just around the corner from my parents, strangely enough). Of more pressing interest however was that the book is not about a journalist’s rise to one of the most revered positions in the industry, but instead his own dark goings-on with a crack and alcohol addiction that ruined his life and derailed that of his family.
His story is at once inspirational and sticky, covering everything from addiction to various related illegalities (no doubt the capillaries of such serious problems) to raising children and the foibles of relationships in a life when you can’t even handle personal responsibility.
On the plus side he is no apologist, he is very clear about who is at fault and that he was making serious mistakes–for which he has atoned to whatever extent one can in a perhaps short stint of sobriety.
His approach as journalist rather than nostalgist is a placement that should prove more appropriate than other stories about substance abuse that create a carefully arranged menagerie of facts, but qualms are still to be found. For one, undoubtedly you are going to make some other people look very, very bad, including possibly your own family, if you engage in something like this. Although the idea could be to clean one’s own slate, the fact is a story like this can smack of a certain self-indulgence–the duality of dragging oneself down to try and come out cleaner on the other side. I’m not going to indict Carr for selfishness, hopefully that behavior was at least mostly left by the wayside along with his affection for drink, but the possibility is there and the risk is high when relations have already been strained.
Ultimately, I would say check it out, see for yourself. David Carr is a great writer, and perhaps it behooves us to give him a chance, recognizing the lack of makeup, even if his cross-bearing is live and in HD.
2 Comments » | Tagged Book Reviews, book reviews, david carr
Posted by admin on 08.08.2008 at 9:22 am
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of a number of groundbreaking works including: Gulag, The First Circle and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, is dead at age 89. A Russian nationalist who was both a torch bearer of its greatness and simultaneously its largest critic, Solzhenitsyn established himself as both societal Pariah (in America and the USSR alike) and a fabulously gifted writer.
In the same way that the Russian composer group: “The Mighty Handful” of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakriev and Borodin defined what it meant to be a Russian in music, Solzhenitsyn takes his place among brilliant minds and realist Russian philosopher/writers such as Tolstoy and Doestoevsky.
Having brought the world around to see the terrors of the Gulag, the prison system in Russia, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in literature in 1970. Like Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn was increasing critical of the cultural systems of the west (particularly lashing out against rock music when he was exiled to the US) but fixed on a goal of ameliorating a situation many had given up hope on in his home country, then the USSR.
The amazing part about him though, is the time and tenor under which he wrote his works. Today, if someone as prolific as Solzhenitsyn were to go to a publisher he would be awarded a lucrative book deal and a massive marketing campaign, but because his work was deemed “subversive to the Russian state” he stated this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “…during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known…” But luckily for us, his works would see the light of day and cause a huge uproar in the USSR and USA alike when the three volume Gulag Archipelago came out and rocked the public in a fashion similar to if a prisoner were to release a tell-all about Guantanamo (and there were even less info about it currently).
Hitchens writes that “Solzhenitsyn lived as if there were a thing as human dignity” and one is tempted to believe him.
Find his works here. My suggestion would be not to start with Gulag, but rather with A Day in the Life… or if you love Dante’s Inferno try on The First Circle which is about the first circle of hell where the writers and intellectuals are cursed to stay for eternity. His writing The Cancer Ward is also unique as he spent time in a ward while cancer almost took his life in 1954.
Posted by Jack on 08.07.2008 at 10:21 pm
In speaking to a friend of mine, the conversation wheeled its way to books and from there to Elie Wiesel. Now a teacher at Boston University, Wiesel is Holocaust survivor who is perhaps most well known for having written Nacht or Night in some translated versions). I recall having to read this book in high school and, although brief, it is nothing short of excellent. As we get further away from the event and more and more primary sources move on, it is especially important to expose people to the reality of that horrid situation (from this particularly notable and poignant view) and make sure that we won’t forget what humans are capable of: both creating and breaking apart humanity.
Have your say » | Tagged Book Reviews, book reviews, elie wiesel
Posted by Jack on 08.05.2008 at 2:51 pm
I was just in a bookstore at SFO (San Francisco Airport) and saw Airframe by Michael Crichton (selling for a ghastly $15!). Now I’m not going to disparage someone whose library I all but exhausted in my younger years (Clancy and Crichton dominated my young library. Long before getting anywhere near John Galt’s 60-page soliloquy, as the mouthpiece of Ayn Rand, I tore through the 1000+ pages of Rainbow Six), but what is one of his more random books doing, now 12 years after it’s original publication? I have to admit, I could see Jurassic Park, but I didn’t think that his more Sphere-esque books would stand the test of a decade (especially after those horrid movies. Does anyone else remember the laser scene in Congo with the gorillas? Yikes…)
Amidst the spatterings of James Patterson’s Cross and Danielle Steele’s The Long Road Home it is admittedly a breath of fresh air for the twenty something male, but I can’t help but wonder how 12 years of books aren’t able to take a somewhat mediocre tale off the shelves…
Have your say » | Tagged Book Reviews, book reviews, bookstores
Posted by Jack on 08.01.2008 at 10:25 am
[This post is continued from yesterday]
If we’re going to assess Kay Ryan, we’re going to need to delve deeper than her experience, we’re going to need to, as my former “Modern American Playwrights” teacher would say, “please use the words, Mr. Hanlon, not the ones in your head but from the page. Or at least try a mixture of the two.”
Before we do that however, it’s important to note some things. First of all, Ryan has an decidedly alternative background from your average Poet Laureate. She’s a left coaster who opts to teach at a small community college north of San Francisco. Next to note is her engagement in the community could not be less like Pinsky or Collins (with his Poetry 180 project to bring poetry into high schools), from her own speech:
I have always understood myself to be a person who does not go to writers conferences. It’s been a point of honor: the whole cooperative workshopping thing, not for me. I have never taken a creative writing class, I have never taught a creative writing class, and I have never gone, and will never go, to anything like [The Association of Writers and Writers Programs], I have often said.
Once, when I was about twenty-five and not yet entirely aware of the extremity of my unclubbability, I did try to go to a writers conference. Thirty minutes into the keynote address I had a migraine. It turns out I have an aversion to cooperative endeavors of all sorts. I couldn’t imagine making a play or movie, for instance; so many people involved. I don’t like orchestral music. I don’t like team sports. I love the solitary, the hermetic, the cranky self-taught. Make mine the desert saints, the pole-sitters, the endurance cyclists, the artist who paints rocks cast from bronze so that they look exactly like the rocks they were cast from; you can’t tell the difference when they’re side by side. It took her years to do a pocketful. You just know she doesn’t go to art conferences. Certainly not zillion-strong international ones, giant wheeling circuses of panel discussions.
It is interesting then, that she has been handed the mandate of “promoting poetry” (in the vague sense) as Ryan has been more low-profile loner than academic and promoter and in her hermitage, more Solipsist than Ascetic. How will this mesh with the “office” of PL and will it force Ryan to step outside her comfort zone?
For that matter, when one relies on a
writing process [described] as “a self-imposed emergency,” the artistic equivalent of finding a loved one pinned under a 3,000-pound car. These “emergencies,” she says, allow her to tap into abilities she wouldn’t normally have, much like a father who single-handedly lifts a vehicle off his child. (from here)
one can’t help but wonder the frenzy inspired by writing for assorted State events. If a normal writing in Northern California is lifting a 3,000 pound car then a gathering of the most powerful men and women in the world must then be a Superman like feat. One can only hope that adrenaline doesn’t eschew technique for ideas of talent.
Ryan’s no slouch, though, that can’t be denied. Winning the Ruth Lilly Prize in 2004 netted her $100,000 and being picked from obscurity like a hopeful on American Idol, and this time with no Simon (nor drunk Paula Abdul) to stop her from ascending to the most prestigious position around in her profession.
Her writing at first glance is a study in William Carlos Williams (a previous Laureate himself) in its shape and dependence on white space on the page, but her own frenzy disallows her from the poignant conciseness of his work. Instead, she maintains a degree of precision and opens the doors for further commentary, not just painting a scene, but shading in it’s emotional landscape.
The aesthetic quality of Williams never seemed overdone, and rather it seemed a necessary element, whereas Ryan’s can become tired. There are only so many times I am willing to accept the need to put every single line
in a three
or perhaps then a
four line phrase,
and her work is
rife with it.
I was ready to maintain my frosty front against Ryan, I was ready to scoff at her approach and wait to either by wowed or to make myself motion sick from constant eye-rolling, luckily, the wow came first:
Little has been made
of the soft skirting action
of magnets reversed,
while much has been
made of attraction.
But is it not this pillowy
principle of repulsion
that produces the
doily edges of oceans
or the arabesques of thought?
And do these cutout coasts
and in-curved rhetorical beaches
not baffle the onslaught
of the sea or objectionable people
and give private life
what small protection it’s got?
Praise then the oiled motions
of avoidance, the pearly
convolutions of all that
slides off or takes a
wide berth …
Undeniably carrying her own sense of solitude, or repulsion from groups (or you name it), “the tone is both ironic and sincere; it is the case, I think, that repulsion is genuinely seen as a virtue, but there is a loss that the speaker skates over—namely, the loss of true intimacy, of the possibility of sustaining a genuine “private life” while also not withdrawing from the clamor and love and pain of the world around you.” (Slate)
In an America that lives with the reality of terrorist attacks, ongoing war with no end in sight and rising costs with a drooping dollar, one wonders if the withdrawl is more appropriate for citizen than Laureate but tiny emergencies won’t be hard to conjure.
Have your say » | Tagged Book Reviews, book reviews, poet laureate
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