Category Archives: Lit

Books: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I finished the book and put up a longer review of Anathem
When I got home from going San Francisco and the Caymans this Sunday I had a pleasant surprise. I had a nice advanced reader’s copy of “Anathem”, the upcoming novel by Neal Stephenson*. I’d heard reports that it was either post-apocalyptic or a space opera, but neither seems an apt description 100 pages in. So far it seems to be another new genre: Long Now Fiction. You’ve got a monastic (“mathic”) order where different sects sequester themselves away from the ever changing world outside for periods of a year, a decade, a century or a millennium.

There’s an awful lot of worldbuilding words to keep track of, which is a bit annoying, and it is starting off slow. That’s fine, though. Stephenson’s books generally don’t move like other books that have a slow rising action to a climax. Stephenson’s books tend to be first immersion in a world for a few 100 pages, then a radical spiraling climax that is vertically asymptotic against the presence of the end of the book. It’ll get exciting soon enough.

The book isn’t due out till September 30th, and assuming that I’ll finish the massive thing by then, do let me know if you’d like it next.

*Apparently I’m quite the lucky duck.  I got this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and was one of the 25 recipients out of the 1375 requesters. 

What I read in February

February was evenly split between nonfiction and fiction. I like that, and I think I should keep it that way.

Of these, The Black Swan and How Doctors Think should be read one after another. They are talking about the same thing in different ways and deal with failures in how we (and our doctors and money managers) think. I found them both fascinating.

For Sale: Small Table, Evil

r.n.i table by chul an kwakI bought it because it was beautiful and because it was horrible. Some people want a house out of Home and Garden, I like a bit more of Haunted Mansion.

At night, when you sleep, it eats anything you’ve left on it and grows more tentacles. First a stack of mail and my penny jar disappeared, later I was searching for my black vase full of black roses. When I was looking for my car keys I noticed the nubs sprouting from the previously smooth underside.

The stray cats disappeared from the shopping market. The trees emptied of birdsong. The table became too long for the hall I had put it in, so I moved it to the foyer where there was a bit more room.  I had to buy an area rug to cover the deep gouges it made in the floor as it paced at night.  No matter, it looks great.  I wouldn’t be selling this awesome table, but my fiance insists.  It has learned to climb stairs.

I never should have shown her the scratch marks on the bedroom door upstairs.  Now she won’t sleep over.

For sale to good goth owner, $666 or O.B.O.

Books: The Heat Death of the Universe

So long ago that it seems like a dream – I was in a lecture about short stories.

The Heat Death of the Universe and Other StoriesThe one thing that stuck in my head meat was a description of a short story called “The Heat Death of the Universe.”  In it, the author alternates between describing a young, newlywed mother and the dismal rules of entropy.  All closed systems tend towards disorder, and you see a parallel between this woman’s sealed life and our universe.  Each tends towards disorder and the end of everything.  It sounded amazing and I knew that I’d have to read it some day.

Years passed and it was never really the most important thing to do, but I would think of that story from time to time.   I noodled around on the New York Public Library’s catalog a week or so ago and I requested it.  The first story is an instant classic, just amazing.  The others are not.  One, “Sheep” is a mish mash of repetitive images of sheep, cowboys, an examination of pastoral images, sheep jumping fences, stories collapsing into each other.  I’ll save you the pain of it and give you the most amazing quote from it.

“Where the wolf feeds well, it will feed again.”

Right there, in a nutshell, is why it is important to right by the littlest folks, to stand up when you see small problems or small bullies, and to fix broken windows.

Week in review

Oh, the things I’ve done.

Found the excellent Website Baker – a simple content management system. Probably what we will use for Gina Mauro‘s new site. I’ll be meeting with Gina on Saturday to help her buy a domain and get started.
Wrote an article on how to generate your resume in multiple formats with Zoho. It fixes problems in the google docs version.
Learned about polyphasic sleep. Seems like it’s a pipe dream for now. The basic idea is to compress your sleeping time to just REM sleep and do it on a strict schedule. I’ve read alot of the literature on the web and the common theme seems to be that it sucks to take a nap every 4 hours if you don’t have to.

The FilthI’ve started reading “The Filth“. I can’t really tell the difference between it and “The Invisibles” yet.

Saw the “Bourne Ad Infinitum”, where Jason Bourne tournes into an indestructible superhero. You know, you could really have stopped after the first few times he survived a paralyzing car crash.

More VIM love. I’m wondering how long until I’m faster with VIM than I am without it. Where’s the crossover point with VIM? More to the point, when I can I remove the vi/vim cheat sheet as my wallpaper?

Major achievements this week: Oh, I don’t know. How about celebrating 4 years of awesome with Sam?

Also, I scored major good son points with a perfect birthday gift for my dad. I bought him a picture of his boyhood home from the New York tax photo archives. I got the best thank you call ever. I’m still beaming.

Books: Deep Survival

Deep SurvivalI got this book from Dr. Mookles on my recent trip to South Carolina and I stormed through it in a day and a half. It’s a great read, a combination of thrilling stories and pop neuroscience.

The ambitious subject of the book is in the subtitle, “Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”. It begins with some discussions of how your brain makes decisions before your mind gets involved and why training that prepares you for one situation (a battle-hardened Special Forces soldier) in another situation (falls out of a boat while rafting) may lead to disaster (laughingly refuses help to get back into the boat, then drowns in an undertow). A discussion of a pack of snowmobilers shows how well trained people with all the info they need to survive ( they are rescuing other folks trapped in a blizzard ) can do stupid things that kill them ( because they are excited they do what’s been fun for them before and it triggers an avalanche ).

Laurence Gonzales’s writing is crisp, clear and authoritative. Me, I could do with some more footnoting on some of the science, but it all rings true with what I’ve read in other books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”. He goes through the survival mentality and why so much of our lives are spent being trained not to survive wilderness scenarios. Modern life has told us for so long that we shouldn’t break rules and we should wait for properly trained authorities to take care of situations for us.  Gonzales points out that this social training is often made unconditional and that we have difficulty abandoning it when we are in extraordinary situations.   People who are used to the safety blanket of 911 coverage go out into the wilderness with little training and poor supplies.  Airline crash survivors in hostile environments insist that they should wait by the crash site for rescue to come.  Folks on hijacked airplanes wait for hostage negotiations to begin as they hurtle towards a building.  The folks who survive situations are often the sort of misfits who break the social rules and take a sense of purpose for themselves in saving their own lives.

Luck plays a huge part as well.  Many of the stories come with that lesson.  The author goes on a morning hike that, because of a bad decision, gets him and a companion lost on a cold day with poor protection as a storm comes up.  Some subsequent choices are good, but it all comes down to the luck of finding a boat nearby that rescues them.  No boat, and I would have been out of a great read this past weekend.  If you spend anytime outdoors doing adrenalin sports, you are the target audience for this book.  It will hit home and you’ll be glad you read it.  If you’re never in a situation where you need these lessons, it’s still a great read.

Books: Will Eisner’s New York

Will Eisner's New York: Life in the Big City: New York, The Building, City People Notebook, Invisible People (Will Eisner Library)

Wednesday night, Sam brought home “Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City” and I’ve been flipping through it. It is a collection of 3 previous books by Eisner about NYC – mostly 1 or 2 page graphic layouts.

It’s a perfect little snapshot of the NYC that used to be. Some of the stories are still true because they are about what happens when so many people are crammed in together in one place. You develop defense mechanisms to save time and trouble. Sam and I were out with some friends last night and a woman came up to beg. While I always am overly polite and listen to the whole spiel before politely refusing, Sam cut the whole thing short.

“I can’t have this conversation right now.”

“Okay,” said the woman, and wandered off. Saved her time and us too.
Life’s full of little gray areas like this. Will Eisner’s New York is full of little gray areas like this. Stories intersect and diverge and intersect again. Eisner’s stories are all little stories of little people, following them through the pathos and heroics that surround us every day.

Books: Christopher Moore’s “A Dirty Job”

Just started this yesterday and it’s a hoot:

It’s the story of a Beta Male who, after the birth of his daughter, picks up the job of being Death. Not the Death, but rather a Death. So far it’s a hoot and a half. Reading Christopher Moore is like reading Carl Hiassen, but with stories not just in Florida. That’s a good thing. The stories are always inventive and very funny.