Posts Tagged ‘book review’

i finished a book. it’s not clear to if i liked it. sparse, existensial, left hanging.

point omega. a novella set in the desert in the recent past.

characters searching for slowness and vastness…. zen…. the moment, a moment. an author searching for a moment. 100 pages that seem like 300 because all the talk of vastness. or maybe it was the music pouring from headphones or the vastness of the ground 5 miles below my rightside 757 window.

read the book. we wont share the same experience. it’s a weirld empty vessel ready for your filling. might have been the author’s point… or his side effect.

and so it is with everything else. an existence of disconnects. these disconnects arent bad they just exist. we all have private experiences. you cannot know me. i may not be able to know me. we know facts and ocassionally find a narrative to group the facts. facts = events. things interact. self awarenes is the exhaust, the by product of our nueral narrative.

im writing this on a droid phone. it is a terrible writing instrument in general. however on a plane it provides a compact canvas with no digital distractions. i am not using a word processor with all its algorithmic fixes and helpers. it is refreshing to me to be able to screw it all up and not have technology try to make it all right.

messy technology is my favorite. technology that tries to be too coherent, too slick, too well design fights against the disconnects i write about above. it elimimates the magic of accidents… happening into a different way of doing it, a nifty new view a mistaken stroke that changes the course of a project, business, country or life.

this is how i write software. i cut, paste, try something, try something else, fix, start over, change editors, change monitors. i start with the smallest, sparsest description of a project and dance. i like people to play with software and media early. not so they can see if it fits the spec but so they can grow along with the software. this is the only way to turn wide disconnects between users and end products into the necessary, and fragile, into bridges of usuability. software should be a vessel that the user can bring their unique experience too and the software can dance with the user.

i do not love the iphone. it forces me to waltz when i want to hip hop or stomp or jazz. as a user amd a developer conformity is a requirement. conformity doesnt increase knowledge or enjoyment. it increases habit and eliminates accidents.

this is also why i despise collaborative filtering aka recommendation algorithms. these always tend towards everyone seeing the same things. a bookstore or a library or music store is still a womderful experience because things are not organized by what you might like…. alphabetical or front tables or genres with spines, cases to catch your eye is a great way to run into a different thing. we see the same movies, read the same books, use same phone, have the same views and yet its all false because really, as i said, were all very different. why not celebrate and fully experience that reality in everything we do? doing and buying the same thing wont make us satisfied or generate understanding. its just boring and reduces experience.

and thats all we get is experience. this waking string of 28000 days. experience what the senses send in. i want more of that….soak it all up. i dont want less experience in exchange for less discomfort or ease of use or a common experience. those are false chasings…. unachievable and entirely boring.

i didnt like the book. i did enjoy the experience. read it or dont… but do tell me about what you do read.

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Damn.  Dead Boys, by Richard Lange, is one crazy collection of short stories. 

(I came into this book by way of the Small World books employee, Phil.  Good choice, Phil!)

Dead boys is definitely edgy.  Essentially it’s a collection of raw, LA based short stories mostly about down-and-out folks who sometimes dip into criminal activity (though I wouldn’t call them criminals…).  It’s strangely dead on about LA even though it seems very over the top at times.  Behind closed doors many people really do lead over the top existences – we all tend to clean up well in public – and Lange has masterfully given us a non-intrustive nor creepy peephole to see behind the scenes.

What makes this collection special is that it doesn’t moralize.  it is stories.  it is what it is.  no right, no wrong – just existence.   no justification for these characters or their behavior.  I related to the complexity of just living life and how hard it is to put the pieces together.

I know my book reviews rarely bash a book nor give some brilliant literary criticism.  I’m not going to do it in this case either.  I think this book is very enjoyable and provocative.  Here are few “gotchas”.  The prose is raw and changes from story to story.  Perhaps that’s not your cup of tea.  It’s all based in LA.  If you’ve never been to LA you might not get all the nuances but you certainly will get a sense of the shadowy parts of LA and the idea that everyone here is chasing something.

Summer is over, but that doesn’t mean good summer reading has to end.  Get this book to smack your sensibility around a bit.  lemmeknow what you think.

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Though the book, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, is over a decade old it is back on the front table and topshelves again because of the movie version.

In short: this is a fantastic book. You should READ it before seeing the movie.

Writing a review of the book poses a challenge because of how the story develops and the content of the story.  To write to0 much about the story itself would destroy some of the experience of reading it.

It’s a mere 200ish pages, reads in probably a long night of reading or over a period of 3 or 4 nights before you go to sleep.

Yes, it is a love story and crime story and a slice of history piece.  It has all the trimmings of lost love, failed dreams, shame, moral dilemmas and truth seeking.  It is not remarkable in style or story arc or character development.  The Reader startles you in the conclusions it doesn’t draw.

What a sad story, I thought for so long. Not that I now think it was happy.  But I think it is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever.

– page 217, The Reader

I brought to it my world view and in that context I found a sympathetic story to my belief that we are not objective, autonomous humans capable of rising above the environments and realities of our own situations.  Truth is contingent on context.  Our justice systems, historical accounts, and romantic relationships can’t escape this fact.

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Malcom Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, is an unintentional layman’s version of the main points of behaviorism.  The book’s thesis states that successful people are “grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky–but all critical to making them who they are.”  Basically, we can’t take credit for our success nor can we blame those that aren’t successful.  Our success is controlled and shaped by environment and that environment is the result of present day conditions mixed with cultural legacy.

The secondary thesis suggests we can improve the chance of success for anybody – success is not a genetic, racial or even culturally specific thing. For example, he writes about how Korean Air and KIPP schools turn things around by changing the environment (language, physical workplace, timing) for people traditionally considered inherently flawed.

“Outliers” is a relatively tame title, probably an attempt to make a catchy title.  The idea behind the title is that we typically consider successful people (like Bill Gates) as outliers from the average person – a person with extraordinary intelligence or ability.  Gladwell makes the case that the main extraordinary aspect of these outliers lives are their circumstances and opportunities.  In fact, it isn’t the highest IQ or the greatest physical skill providing the key advantage even in great circumstances.  Being born at the right time or growing up with the “right” cultural disadvantages (legacy of rice paddy labor, Jewish immigration in early 1900s) that produce a certain work ethic or worldview jumpstart the path to success.  Combine the right circumstances (often highly improbable and not obviously advantageous) with hard work and you get an “outlier.”  Really though, a more accurate, but less marketable title might be “Can’t Take Credit”, “It’s not the person.”

This book is a bestseller already.  I wonder how deeply the folks reading it will take it to heart.  Its thesis destroys a huge part of our American mythology of self-made success.  I can imagine the business guru wannabes who adore Gladwell’s “Blink” and “The Tipping Point” might have a hard time swallowing the idea that they don’t control their own success and they don’t have some a priori advantage.  Worse still for those looking for shortcuts in life is the idea that we can’t really predict when some currently disadvantageous situation is actually going to result in the key circumstance in the future.

I enjoyed the book.  However, it is not a revelation to me nor will it be to anyone who already integrated the idea that we are products of our environment with some slight variation based on genetics.  I wish their was more analytic data behind the anecdotes, even the footnotes are light on experimental and emprical data.

That said this is a MUCH NEEDED popular account of how behavior actually works.  I suspect that Gladwell’s popularity will bring these concepts to a wider audience and start breaking down the false beliefs that some of us are just better than others.

[Note: Other books along these same lines are cropping up, such as Talent is Overrated.  I’ll keep track to see if this thread continues to gain mainstream momentum.]

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