The Year of the Flood is a gripping book about forgiveness and humanity, and about renewal. But that last bit ought to be obvious from the title, righ...moreThe Year of the Flood is a gripping book about forgiveness and humanity, and about renewal. But that last bit ought to be obvious from the title, right? Aren't all "flood" myths basically about destroying what was old to give rise to something new? And aren't all flood myths  more/less predicated on the world arriving in some terminally corrupt state?
As such: the post-apocalyptic elements reminded me a little bit  of The Road.
As such: it was an interesting book to read just after finishing Darwin's Radio, wherein the sudden/single-generation changes in human-kind was brought about by environmental factors triggering a virus which triggered rapid speciation; versus here in Atwood's book where "the new humans"  are of our own design, and of our own creation. It's funny to watch those two ideas play off of each other in recent memory. And though Greg Bear has a whole appendix to back up his science, and though Bear's depiction of rapid-speciation smack in the middle of "the height" of human civilization is probably more realistic... there is something about Atwood's slash-and-burn house-cleaning viral apocalypse that feels more honest, more genuine in a symbolic and literary sense than any attempt at realism could ever be.
Which brought me to another realization--and this not about The Year of the Flood in particular, but about science fiction in a general sense. Isn't all science fiction ultimately "post-apocalyptic"? Even your scintillating far-future utopias? Don't science fiction futures (in large part) require the total annihilation of the world as we know it in order for their settings and premises to work?
 Well... Western flood myths, at any rate.
 Mostly just the husk-of-the-modern-world, let's-march-to-the-sea bit.
 Which seem relegated to (non-DFW's) literature's equivalent of a minor footnote, just before the end. ("The blue people" even got ever-so-slightly more face-time in Oryx & Crake but that seems... unimportant.)(less)
Right from the first page, Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed reminded me of Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows  -- only with a broader s...more Right from the first page, Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed reminded me of Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows  -- only with a broader scope and more buzzwords and a less gloomy appraisal of the subject. I read The Shallows last year, and though it was interesting, it was also overly dramatic, and was too timid in its speculations -- and thus it failed to draw fully-baked conclusions or make substantive predictions. We walk away with Carr's Neural Doomsday:
The price we pay to assume technology's power is alienation.
Rushkoff dives into a lot of the same territory as Carr. They both discuss (and not wholly favorably) the optimistic futurists that long for the infinite memory of their "outboard brain[s]", those same futurists that assume that our cybernetic evolution will (through technology) give us powers that are indistinguishable from telepathy. On the flip of super-human memory and super-human emotion/intelligence-sharing, both Carr and Rushkoff talk about the flavor of hyper-facile "breadth-only/depth-never" searches that are encouraged by the very design of systems like Google and Wikipedia. This is where we start to see differences in their approaches to the subject though: Carr sees us as being "reprogrammed" by those systems to think in a specific and narrow way; meanwhile, Rushkoff points to those systems and says that what's happening is us bending to the bias of the machine, instead of taking advantage of those machine biases to do for us what is otherwise difficult or repetitive or time-consuming. Rushkoff's argument is similar to Carr's but subtly and importantly different -- he is not quick to cast off these powerful and seductive tools, but instead urges us to remember that they are simply a means through which to achieve our ultimate goals, which are really about meaningful contact with other human beings. If going head-to-head, I'm sure that Carr would cite McLuhan and accuse Rushkoff of making David Sarnoff's argument, placing all of the blame on the consumer. On the surface, this would seem true; after all, isn't Rushkoff imploring us in the title to take control by learning the fundamental means of production for digital content?
As I disagreed with Carr on this before, I disagree with him now. Rushkoff is not naïve in invoking neuroplasticity  here. He wisely points out that the reason we assume the shape of "the machine's" biases is because it is convenient to do so, and in large part it is convenient because the masters of those machines have made it that way. Rushkoff cites how American pedagogy looks at computer literacy through the lens of usage and consumption -- "how do you enter data into last year's version of Excel?" instead of "how would you go about designing a data aggregation and analytics engine on your own?" Rushkoff goes beyond that to point out that even the language around the simple act of installing software ("the Wizard" in Windows) is constructed to mystify and obfuscate it behind abstractions -- and that is to say nothing of the mechanism itself. He does not damn all creators of software , but he does point the finger in that direction. So what Rushkoff is saying is not that those machine biases are bad  -- but that our approach to learning and interacting with those systems is flawed, and in part that is an incidental conspiracy on the part of those creators to feed what they want into those systems. But... re-enter neuroplasticity -- the brain mechanism that causes us to take the shape of those machine biases is also the same one responsible for the kind of technological re-appropriation that William Gibson often talks about  -- and that's enough of an argument to say that we can and often do "snap out of it" and shape the tools to our desires and needs.
That technological re-appropriation is in the spirit of the type of New Media Literacy that Rushkoff would have us learn, and which Carr seems to mention only obliquely and incompletely and perhaps a bit timorously. To Rushkoff, "the new literacy" -- as mentioned above -- is woefully insufficient. Learning "spreadsheet skills"  like data-entry and copy/paste and sorting/filtering is ultimately just cranking out more consumers (albeit spreadsheet consumers) and is not encouraging creativity or even thoughtfulness. As a consequence, the lessons learned for our un-fun software become the same lessons for our fun/social  software -- we graze from them, we engage shallowly with those systems, and since we use those systems to mediate our social connections, then those interactions become increasingly shallow as well.
Once again, we have Rushkoff's theses dovetailing with Carr's. They both assert that taking the shape of the machine's bias puts you at a disadvantage, that you wind up fetishizing the gadgets themselves instead of putting them to work for you. But Carr offers us his ditch-digger analogy  and stops coyly and obliquely short -- abstaining from any speculation on how we might save ourselves. Meanwhile, Rushkoff comes right out and delivers a proposed salvation in the form of an ultimatum: "Program or be programmed."  But that ultimatum is just a stand-in or metaphor for something else: "Think, synthesize, and create -- don't just consume."
There is a great deal more than just the above going on Rushkoff's book. I've focused on these items because it makes a great (and significantly more positive) companion piece to Nicholas Carr's book.  But Rushkoff discusses more than just "machine biases" and "spreadsheet skills"; he talks about identity and anonymity, about factuality and openness, about nuance... He talks coherently and passionately about a great many things in the span of 150 pages.  And he delivers these points in such a way that anyone can read them, that anyone can process them and act on them. He wants you to act on these "commands". And for all of my minor criticisms , I would want you to read and act on these "commands" as well.
2: Carr also invokes neuroplasticity in his text, but he sees it as dooming us to forever mutate into impulse-driven click-hungry meat-terminals for machine masters. (Okay, that is maybe going a little too far into what I perceive to be the spirit of his text...)
3: Mostly Rushkoff is just damning the commercial creators. He seems to have kind words for free/open source software (FOSS) developers, and the FOSS movement on the whole. And/but that said, I was a little surprised that he didn't jump in and link this "abstractions" business up with how developers are (by and large) lazy -- inasmuch as "lazy" developers are "lazy" because they are not interested in re-solving solved problems unless those problems are worth re-solving. (Did that make sense?)
4: In a way, he argues that these biases are essential -- that the machines are designed to compensate for things that we (as human beings) do not do well, and/or do not like to do.
7: Though I almost didn't stick "social" in there, since Rushkoff believes that all software is social, since "the point" of all software is to connect users to other users, people to other people, to enable sharing between them and strengthen social bonds. Like the digital equivalent of primates grooming each other?
8: In case you didn't read it yourself, I'll summarize the ditch-digger analogy as follows: "Is it better to dig a longer and wider ditch in half the time with your steam shovel if it means that your muscles atrophy as a consequence?"
9: Although, let's be honest here -- there isn't much real/actual discussion of programming until the very end of the text. And even then, it's only really few pages in the last chapter and then a page or two of references in the bibliography.
10: ...which I recommend despite despising it.
11: Screw it, here are the ten "commands" from the table of contents:
(1) Time - do not be always on (2) Place - live in person (3) Choice - you may always choose none of the above (4) Complexity - you are never completely right (5) Scale - one size does not fit all (6) Identity - be yourself (7) Social - do not sell your friends (8) Fact - tell the truth (9) Openness - share, don't steal (10) Purpose - program or be programmed
And as a brief side note there: after reading the chapter on "Choice", I felt surprised that Rushkoff's "Essential Reading" section did not include Sheena Iyengar's The Art of Choosing. But I suppose that they did come out at about the same time...
12: And there were a few... I could have done without some of the lurid buzz-wordy passages; and they could have done another editorial pass (some of the sentences seemed to be missing... an important verb or two); and he sometimes flubbed certain scientific elements... but it's all water under the bridge in light of his central thesis and commitment to the subject matter. (less)
**spoiler alert** An amazing, astounding book that seems worthy of every superlative. I (on the other hand) do not feel worthy of writing a review. A...more**spoiler alert** An amazing, astounding book that seems worthy of every superlative. I (on the other hand) do not feel worthy of writing a review. A few comments instead:
* this should be required reading for everyone (but esp. Americans) * Alex Haley wields his craft masterfully in this story, laying out a visceral passage through time that is tempered with the facts, adorned with its embellishments, and unpretentious in its overall effect * Haley's novel astounds me not because it is a parade of brutal physical atrocities but because of the way these atrocities punctuate the lives and existence of this story's inhabitants * though the last few chapters are a break from the rest of the narrative's voice, it seems a fitting epilogue
A BRIEF ANECDOTE: (may contain spoilers) While reading this novel, I was struck with a sense of shame when, after being bought by Massa Waller (from his brother, Massa Waller), I felt a sense of relief that Kunta Kinte was now owned by someone far less likely to brutalize and torture him. When that sunk in with me, I was astounded that I felt that way — not because he was better off bound in the chains of a sadist but because he was NOT better off enslaved by one rather than the other.(less)
In my mind, Chris Genoa is some experimental plant hybridized in an Army research lab -- a little Warren Ellis pollen sprinkled onto the pistil of the...moreIn my mind, Chris Genoa is some experimental plant hybridized in an Army research lab -- a little Warren Ellis pollen sprinkled onto the pistil of the Christopher Moore blossom. The experiment yields fruit but they're not taking it out of the greenhouse lab quite yet; perhaps further cross-pollinating it with the rare Tom Robbins tree? Time will tell...
As for Foop!: time travel is one of science fiction's oldest and therefore toughest tropes. Choosing to accept this assignment (in a poetical sense here) for his first novel shows some cojones on Genoa's part. And if you can get past the prurient and at times puerile patches of prose, Genoa has given us an interesting, quirky story with a latent sub-text of alienation and despondence. But the exposition for this sub-text seems few and far between and when it does emerge, it lists toward those same prurient/puerile passages. After a while, it just gets gratuitous.
But the novel has a great opening chapter. And Genoa is wise to tip away from strictly happy endings.
ALSO: unrelated to the story itself but a few notes on the physical properties of this book: (1) Could have used a better editor (e.g., "Ok" vs. "OK" (vs. "Okay"?); e.g., "affect" vs. "effect") (2) Typesetting is pretty bad (e.g., inexplicably mixed font sizes; e.g., there's an ordered list that has all kinds of just wrong hanging indents...)
If asked to write the foreword to some 20th anniversary commemorative edition, I would say that Max Barry's Jennifer Government is like a bottle of Di...moreIf asked to write the foreword to some 20th anniversary commemorative edition, I would say that Max Barry's Jennifer Government is like a bottle of Diet Neal Stephenson served with a twist of Christopher Moore (or perhaps a dash of Tom Robbins?) There is something uncannily similar between Snow Crash and Jennifer Government: in the comic book pacing; in the hyperbolic and impossible but chillingly familiar geo-political climate that he illustrates; in the characters that reek of auto-erotic caricature and yet are so well-drawn, so believable and sympathetic and damn plausible. You can see Y.T. dropping out of school because of girls like Haley McDonald's. You can see NRA franchises competing against La Cosa Nostra in the burbclaves. You can imagine Hiro Protagonist sub-contracted by Jennifer Government to fend off Violet ExxonMobil. You wonder how the milieus of these novels aren't linked.
But even if you haven't read Snow Crash, even if you aren't making those comparisons, you will find this one wholly enjoyable. It has an immediate start, thrusts you headlong into the story-already-in-progress but makes sure to catch you up just as quickly. And it never loses this momentum. The chapters coming at you fast (each about 3-5 pages) and are fairly dialogue-driven. Before you know it, you'll find you've burned through 100 pages. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. The narrative draws you in, the prose gets out of the way, and the characters encourage you to get invested.
Borderline 5 star review. There is a whimsy to this tale that draws on a lot of familiar dystopian capitalist tropes (e.g., the libertarian anarchy of free market capitalism run amok); it borders on cliche but doesn't quite cross the frontier into hackneyed territory. That it gets that close, that the prose taps its toes on cliche's fences is where we lose the fifth star in the rating. But that the narrative goes there so unabashedly, in all of its over-the-top banality -- *that* is a beautiful thing.(less)
Many reviews (from the dazzling to the dull) have been written about this scifi classic, so I'll keep mine short, sweet, and personal. And that means...moreMany reviews (from the dazzling to the dull) have been written about this scifi classic, so I'll keep mine short, sweet, and personal. And that means I'm writing it for Fogus:
This novel has earned its stripes as a scifi classic, no doubts there. The narrative ages well but it shows its age; that's not to say that it's dated but there is something that feels a bit retro in its construction when viewed from 21st century lenses. PROS: interesting story that moves along at a pretty good pace; a couple of core "big" ideas that make up the core and don't compete with other narrative mechanics (e.g., the Ringworld itself gets a thorough enough treatment vs. FTL travel is a given and taken for granted, the way it should be); though there aren't any big shockers, a few cards are played close enough to the chest as to maintain some of the surprises toward the climax. CONS: some characterization is maybe a bit flat (esp. females?); not all of the "big" ideas are fully realized nor do they all neatly dovetail; the cover on this edition isn't the best.
SIDE NOTES: (1) Now I need to read Shakespeare's "The Tempest" for some compare/contrast action; (2) anytime you join four characters in a setting like this, in a plot like this, I can't help but conjure up parallels to The Wizard of Oz.
First and foremost: an uncritical read of this book will leave you feeling cynical and a bit cheated. It ranks up there with E.O. Wilson's Sociobiolog...moreFirst and foremost: an uncritical read of this book will leave you feeling cynical and a bit cheated. It ranks up there with E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (though I'll admit that I know those two primarily by reputation, having read excerpts and not their entireties). It would be very easy to find yourself getting defensive about the material presented in here; especially if you believe humans to be some special exception among animals.
Meanwhile, with a more critical approach, you'll find that you cannot get Robert Wright's text out of your head: it is insightful, intellectually rigorous, even-handed, and at times palpably funny. Plus, you will find that it informs a great many (all?) of the human discourse (verbal or otherwise) that you encounter daily -- how certain traits and behaviors came to be and the functions they serve.
Don't ask about their intentions though; we need to remember that evolution is goal-less, after all. Put most succinctly:
What Robert Wright sets out to do with The Moral Animal is to take Darwin's life and oeuvre (primarily The Origin of Species), frame them with two other important contemporary writings (John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism and Samuel Smiles' Self-Help), and use that lens to execute a thorough analysis and discussion of Darwinism and evolution, how human civilizations evolved as a consequence of "reciprocal altruism", and capsulize all of this as the basis for what Wright calls evolutionary psychology. Wright's choice of style is an interesting one and reminds me vaguely of Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: meticulous and technical scientific discussions of biology, genetics, and evolution are interspersed with nearly whimsical narratives that detail the life and times of Charles Darwin. For every page that cites Robert Trivers or Richard Dawkins, there is another that quotes Darwin's personal correspondence or illustrates the backdrop of Victorian society. Wright's is an interesting and compelling approach that makes that text very engaging and approachable. Which is not to suggest that the material is easy to follow; Wright does not shy away from getting denser and heavier as the work progresses -- there were many instances were I found that I needed to double-back over certain passages to "get it".
Again, for as dense and technical as much of Wright's writing is, he throws himself whole-heartedly into the text and makes the material come to life. There is something strangely erotic about his in-depth scientific analysis of mate competition, cuckoldry, and evolutionary strategizing. There is something perversely amusing about his apples-to-oranges comparisons of Darwin and Freud. There is something appropriately voyeuristic about reading letters from Darwin to friends and seeing how they reflect elements of his own theories.
In many ways, Wright's eloquent prose is currency for getting us through some very challenging material. As I've already discussed, there is the implicit challenge of reading technical literature (especially as a layperson). More so however, is the explicit challenge that Wright lays out early in the text: that we all carry a great deal of cultural baggage that sets us up to reject the logical conclusions posited by Darwinism and evolutionary psychology. Wright spends the first half of the text building up to the discussions that give the book its title. By the time we get to Part Three: Social Strife, it is no small wonder why Wright keeps circling back on the example of bluegill sunfish and the equilibrium between "nest builders" and "mate poachers". The animal kingdom seems to contain not a more succinct microcosm of industry versus opportunism, of cost/benefit economies and stability through constant adjustments in strategy.
The cornerstone of the second half of The Moral Animal is reciprocal altruism, a theory introduced in the early 1970s by Robert Trivers. Wright gives reciprocal altruism the thorough treatment: he describes how it may (must?) have evolved, the benefits it bestows on an organism (or, more accurately, its genes), how reciprocal altruism gave rise to human societies and civilizations, and the feedback loop between society and biology (i.e., meme and gene) as mediated through the extremely complex manifestation of reciprocal altruism in human beings. At first glance, Wright's exposition may appear cynical and determinist: even "on our best behavior", we are just a product of our genes -- even agape presumes a pay-off in the form of a more "loving" and stable society for our offspring. Swing such a cynical evaluation around to the other end and you are using these postulates for justification of extramarital affairs, for rape and for genocide, or for whatever other Twinkie Defense you might conjecture. Wright is very conscious of this and tries to be very delicate and deliberate in his treatment of all this; he even goes so far as to label it "postmodern morality" and he summarily eviscerates these conclusions as damaging and naïve. (Perhaps he is so explicit about this because he wishes to avoid being damned in the same way as E.O. Wilson when he published Sociobiology.) Wright suggests that if anything "separates" humans from animals, it is self-reflection, the capacity that we have to evaluate our actions (and the actions of others) and consequently judge those actions. Wright asserts that even if the content of our judgments (and our abilities to make those judgments) are evolved tendencies, that we can on some level make choices about the "rightness" of a given action; that our memes (though he eschews that word) and genes interact and we express agency in our evolution.
Of course, he also appears to caution us that there is a great deal of cultural transmission going on in human evolution right now and that meme transmission is fragile and tenuous even under the best conditions. Hyperbolic though it may sound, Wright appears to suggest that we are one catastrophic event away from being free agents in the game of evolution.
Underlying all of this is the assertion that reciprocal altruism is a non-zero-sum game where each player (i.e., the genes that are making efforts through the organism to reproduce) functions as a kind of accountant of favors. Each organism is playing life and evolution as a game where sometimes the best move is to take a short-term loss, where sometimes the best move is to take a little more than what you're owed but not as much as you could exploit. In a way, this is a hopelessly romantic view of evolution -- that even despite the ubiquitously short half-life of any pleasure, that an organism might still "choose" a small short-term sacrifice for a greater long-term gain. In reading the entirety of Wright's argument however, it is certainly reasonable to assume that this is a pragmatic trait, that it's a complexly evolved response system for economies of scarcity -- that there is in fact nothing romantic about charity or sacrifice or romance or the outlaw exploiter. Mechanistically, we are all cogs in the perpetual motion machine of evolution's equilibrium. And as such, our morals (or lack thereof) are the motions of that machine balancing itself.
I could see how some, perhaps many might find this thought is unsettling. With his re-telling of Darwin's tale, Wright illustrates a Copernicanian re-centering of humankind, its origins, and even its humanity. As mentioned above, it can be easy to carve out portions of this hypothesis and serve them in cynical isolation. Taken as a whole, it is a strong composite view of humankind's genetic and cultural make-up, the forces that drove us to where we are, and the agency we may express over our destiny.(less)
This book is incredible. It's easy to read and full of useful tips. As a novice gardener, it helped to make the planting/sowing process a lot less int...moreThis book is incredible. It's easy to read and full of useful tips. As a novice gardener, it helped to make the planting/sowing process a lot less intimidating and has helped me to actually yield some fruits. Having shown the book to some more experienced gardeners and getting their feedback as well, this really does seem to be the best overall book for organic gardening.(less)
In lieu of a actual substantive review, a few notes:
(1) A typical Saunders collection. This means you're getting some delightfully weird prose but it...moreIn lieu of a actual substantive review, a few notes:
(1) A typical Saunders collection. This means you're getting some delightfully weird prose but it also means you're getting (more than?) a few tales oblique enough to blot out the sun. Which is not to comment on whether/not those stories are any good.
(2) Recipe for a Saunders short story: take 1 protagonist (preferably male) in some way already at the end of his distressed rope; add 1 foil (preferably female) at the end of her respective rope with him, mix liberally with 2 parts cuckoldry (though henpecking will do as a substitute if beaten with sufficient vigor). Blend in a conservative portion of concentrated lampoon of consumer-culture. If you haven't already, make sure to de-bone the protagonist before the story's end and to remove any chance of success. Garnish with a zombie; or if no zombie is available, try ghosts.
------ Out to four decimal places, the composite Goodreads score is: 3.4166
• I CAN SPEAK!™ — ★★★ • My Flamboyant Grandson — ★★★★★ • Jon — ★★★★★ • My Amendment — ★★★ • The Red Bow — ★★½ • Christmas — ★★½ • Adams — ★★★ • 93990 — ★★★ » note to self: oblique, re-read will be required • Brad Carrigan, American — ★★★ • In Persuasion Nation — ★★★★ • Bohemians — ★★★½ • Commcomm — ★★★½(less)
Quick, exciting read but probably not for the faint of heart. Short version of this true-to-life-as-can-be story? High-altitude climbing (e.g., Everes...moreQuick, exciting read but probably not for the faint of heart. Short version of this true-to-life-as-can-be story? High-altitude climbing (e.g., Everest) is dangerous enough just being there (what with the hypoxia and all that) and not moving so let's not forget about all the myriad additional dangers that accompany high-speed wind, sub-zero temperatures, climbing vertical ice and/or loose shale, etc.
I've never done mountaineering of this sort but as a climber, this book sent more than a few additional shivers down the ol' spine.
ALSO: (1) As an aside: my heart goes out to Jon Krakauer (the author). He mentions in the epilogue how he became the subject of a great deal of rage and resentment from friends and family of folks that perished on the expedition. I don't think he deserved to be such a target; foolishly or not, the man wrote his account as a way of achieving some kind of catharsis. I hope by now (some 12 years later) he's come to grips with the events.
(2) If you can, try to pick up the hardback edition; it has some woodcut illustrations that make for lovely chapter divisions.(less)
The edition I had checked out from the library has a great big gold sticker on it. The sticker is there to indicate that this is a National Book Award...moreThe edition I had checked out from the library has a great big gold sticker on it. The sticker is there to indicate that this is a National Book Award winner, and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. The book came recommended to me by my good friend Adam, lauded as "amazing" and "probably McCarthy's best book".
And I liked it. And I wanted to give it five stars. But I think I went through the same kind of hesitation that I just went through when reviewing Gene Wolfe's Shadow Claw. In other words:
Am I giving this book five stars because it earned it? because it really did amaze me? Or am I giving it five stars because all the cool kids did? because everyone has already told me how amazing it was?
If the latter were the case then I could probably skip reading tons of books in my to-read list and just start marking them all with five star reviews.
But I almost did give this a five star review, and I did give it four stars. So... what happened here?
I think after reading three McCarthy novels, the style which you find stark and bleak and amazing becomes stark and bleak and McCarthy. Perhaps you can say that about any author. After 2 or 3 books you just recognize his/her style... Which is not a judgment on McCarthy in particular, not an indictment of writing/authorship in any kind of general sense; it's simple The Way Things Must Be.
And/but McCarthy has his particular style and it really does draw you in. It is tedious and beautiful and in many ways feels like eavesdropping on a distant relative's dreams. But tedious and beautiful is still (at times?) tedious and with how stark that prose is... You need to commit yourself to the narrative, to invest yourself in those characters, to lose yourself in that setting. And I did all of these things but still somehow managed to feel... disconnected?
Which (of course?) is what McCarthy is going for. That's John Grady's whole story. Disconnected. Disenfranchised. Detached. Dissociated. Disenchanted. He flees the rapidly industrializing America for a pastoral Mexico, and he finds that belongs in neither.
To run the risk of showing my true science fiction colors here: aspects of All the Pretty Horses read like the anti-steampunk novel. Sure, they both (i.e., steampunk as a genre, and All the Pretty Horses as a novel) share certain sensibilities--e.g., glorification of self-reliance--but whereas steampunk tries to muddy a fashionable past into a recognizable past-tense vision of the future, All the Pretty Horses is wincing through a recent past with a sense of futureshock that catapults it headlong into past that is already primed to escape itself.
I'm not doing a very good job of explaining that.
In any case, I should have read this before Blood Meridian; then this book (the one with the sympathetic (if a little pathetic)) protagonist could have rightfully earned the five star rating.(less)
When you read Susan Cain's Quiet, you must remind yourself of a few things:
• This not introverts versus extroverts;  • she is not villainizing extro...moreWhen you read Susan Cain's Quiet, you must remind yourself of a few things:
• This not introverts versus extroverts;  • she is not villainizing extroverts; • she is not out to glorify introverts and introversion; and • if it seems like she is making unsubtle generalizations, it's because she has targeted a lay audience.
With this in mind, you are then properly armed to read and digest her otherwise wonderful book. The sub-title is a good place to start:
The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Not to judge a book by what's on the cover, but we get the gist from that alone. Let's unpack it:
What Cain has written is a book about introverts and introversion,  the qualities that constitute them, the ways in which they (introverts) are strong and powerful, the places where their tendencies can work against them, and some of the strategies they can use to overcome those tendencies --but also when to stand firm and acknowledge that you (as an introvert) need not bend. And when she makes that borderline inflammatory sleight of hand word with "in a World That Can't Stop Talking", what she is really saying is that we have arrived at a place in our culture/society where we now over-value extroversion and extraverted traits: talking and group work, immediate action, open office floor plans... the list goes on. And while she does not quite go so far as to demonize all of these behaviors, she also is sure to point out that we've swung too far in the other direction--we've pathologized introverts and introverted traits. If someone is quiet, we accuse them of being shy and/or anti-social. If someone would prefer to reflect on a problem or situation, we call them slow and indecisive.
We have transitioned (Cain writes ) from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. We judge people by the first impressions they make, not by the last effects they have. We judge ideas by the candy-coating of PowerPoint presentations, and not by the facts and figures. In her words: "It's an elitism based on something other than merit." And while this sounds awful, and while it would seem easy to blame that "Culture of Personality",  Cain seems more interested in examining the whole picture. Who are introverts? What makes them that way? How do they perceive and make sense of the world? How do they react to the world? How do they react to and deal with other people?
And as long as she is already asking the questions, she decides to ask all of these same questions about extroverts.
The book is full of fascinating research and interesting anecdotes. I won't go into all of it here, but I did want to remark on one particular point--what Cain calls "the New GroupThink", and if there is any place where she seems to eviscerate our current social tendency toward extroversion, it's here.
Cain's "New GroupThink" isn't exactly Orwellian  but there is some palpable apprehension on her part--apprehension over the phenomenon's pervasiveness and the threats that this poses to introverts. The New GroupThink is effectively the dominant cultural paradigm in which we believe (mostly falsely) that the work is team work and that the best ideas come out of brainstorming. She talks about how this is reflected in open office floor plans, how people are organized into teams in the workplace, and how students are arranged in "pods" in schools. She talks about authors like Gladwell, Bennis, and Shirky as kinds of prophets of this mode of thinking--and she calls them out as being effectively full of shit.  Her problem isn't with group work per se--she freely acknowledges that some types of work are (probably) best performed in groups, and that we need to prop each other up with our complementary styles and areas of expertise--but with how our immediate response to most questions and problems seems to be: "Let's put everyone into a room and brainstorm a solution!" Cain's opposition here boils down to two key points: (1) that such situations effectively shut down and tune out introverts , and (2) that the research suggests that "brainstorming" actually produces bad results. To the first point, the obvious problem is that group situations over-stimulate introverts, who would prefer time to think and who in many cases would prefer to write out their ideas rather than try to talk them through. To the second point, group dynamics can actually change your perceptions and alter your opinions; while discussing governments, corporate management, and academic institutions, she offers up this chilling quote:
But when the group is literally capable of changing our perceptions, and when to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection, then the health of these institutions seems far more vulnerable than we think.
As an introvert, I found this book in many ways validating. I saw a lot of myself (and a lot of my loved ones, on both sides of the spectrum) in this book. I walked away from it thinking: She's right. I do my best work when I can wall off a few hours of isolation. I need the time away to recharge and to organize my thoughts. Why should I change to fit the loud mouths? And I don't believe that to be naïve; I do not think it is unreasonable. And I expect to change by not changing.
 As Cain indicates in her text: after much deliberation, she went with the popularly recognized "extrovert", as opposed to "extravert" which is preferred in the technical literature. Thus do I go with that term here.
 I say "introverts and introversion" because, as she points out by quoting Carl Jung (the originator of the terms): "...there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum." Meaning that when we say "introvert", what we are really saying is "someone with predominantly introverted preferences and tendencies". It's a constellation of behaviors.
 Though I'll caution you that this is not a self-help book. And in fact, she points out that many (most? all?) self-help books tend to slant toward extroversion: toward teaching you to be boisterous and more out-going etc. (i.e., to be a loud, pushy, and obnoxious jerk).
 And suggests that this transition is "for worse".
 And (truth be told) in some places she basically does.
 Though it may as well be?
 Of course, she also presents Jason Fried as a counter-point to those guys, but the man who has called meetings toxic can himself be a bit poisonous, if you ask me.
 Who (needless to say?) would rather "brainstorm" the ideas on their own first before discussing them with anyone.
Not so keen on this cookbook... We have referred to it only a handful of times in the past six years -- and even then, not before exhaustively searchi...moreNot so keen on this cookbook... We have referred to it only a handful of times in the past six years -- and even then, not before exhaustively searching through The Joy of Cooking and/or heuristically experimenting within our culinary comfort zone.
They call this one an "Encyclopedic Cookbook" and it's easy to see why. They're trying to cover everything in the kitchen -- every technique, every core recipe, every possible substitution... I could see how this might be a handy reference. But it also assumes that you're wearing a white pipe hat and professional grade apron; it assumes you keep a chainmail butcher's glove in your back pocket.
Having this one on the shelf feels like kind of a status symbol. Like "look at how prepared I am for the King of Prussia's visit!" But when you live in a condo with your cat, there isn't much chance that you'll use this one. At least not in a way that realizes it's potential.
As a relatively new climber (i.e., as of this writing, I've been climbing about 7 months), I found that this was a good introductory text to keep arou...moreAs a relatively new climber (i.e., as of this writing, I've been climbing about 7 months), I found that this was a good introductory text to keep around. Granted, climbing is not something you really want to read-then-do; think of the reading as a good supplement to your training and climbing.
I enjoyed how Luebben dives right into the material; he keeps the introduction short and then goes immediately into the science and sport of rock climbing. He writes in a colloquial style that is easy to digest and presents the material in a way that makes it seem like a conversation. It's like it's you and him out on the rock, Luebben telling you everything he needs you to know.
While the book's focus is definitely on outdoor climbs, Luebben emphasizes techniques that should easily transfer to indoor rock gyms. Especially early in the text, Luebben writes a lot about body and foot position, how to approach routes and problems, and the mental elements of rock climbing. While these techniques are typically discussed in an outdoor context, the lessons all easily transfer to whatever surface you're climbing.
For a new, mostly indoor climber like myself, there seemed to be a lot of material in this book that either didn't apply to me or served merely to whet my appetite for outdoor routes. If you're looking for something specific to indoor climbing, you're probably better off exploring Matt Burbach's [title:Gym Climbing] book. Still, even a mostly-indoors beginner climber will find the chapters on body position, footwork and hand-holds, knots, belaying, and bouldering to be useful.(less)
I picked this one up from the library to try to get a bit of background information, tips/tricks, and places-to-start with this new hobby of mine. It...moreI picked this one up from the library to try to get a bit of background information, tips/tricks, and places-to-start with this new hobby of mine. It was a bit of a back-up, as I was originally looking for one of thesetwo -- but sadly their selection was thin.
Though I was reading it as fail-over and though parts of it did feel a bit dated, I got quite a bit out of reading this book. As I'm new to the sport, I was mostly looking for information about basic techniques, some specifics about the gear, suggestions for training -- that sort of thing. This book seemed to focus on outdoor climbing which certainly whet my interest but did not help me with my immediate, gym-based goals. Nevertheless, it was worth plowing through the first half of the book to get some of those core tips for the basics.(less)
I would not consider this my "everyday" cookbook but the The Joy of Cooking is a definite must for anyone that takes their cooking seriously, enjoys s...moreI would not consider this my "everyday" cookbook but the The Joy of Cooking is a definite must for anyone that takes their cooking seriously, enjoys spending a bit of time in the kitchen, and needs a good all-purpose reference that covers everything from emergency substitutions to complete banquet spreads.
What do I like most about The Joy of Cooking? It is fairly encyclopedic, covering about as broad a range of cooking topics as it can; while most of the recipes are from the Western tradition, it also dips into some less traditional preparations (e.g., ceviche). The book does not assume that you know anything about cooking -- not sure what a "dash" is? You can look up an explanation for that. What's the difference between a filet and a cutlet? It explains that, too. (HINT: they're basically synonymous.) It has a great index, is organized well, and has recipes to cover almost any occasion and varying degrees of culinary sophistication.
What don't I like about The Joy of Cooking? It's encyclopedic nature can be a little intimidating sometimes. If you already have a good idea of what you want to make, there's a good chance that you'll find a great recipe; if you're looking for ideas though, the text may overwhelm you. Speaking of text -- the pictures are all illustrations. Granted, they're good illustrations but I tend to prefer photos in my cookbooks (helps me decide what to try next).
One last point about The Joy of Cooking: I would recommend it to everyone except vegetarians. The book assumes an omnivore's diet so if you eschew the animals in your diet, I would estimate that greater than half of these recipes would not appeal to you.(less)