So far so good... a wildly entertaining read for the commute. (At least for me.) Should be required reading for anyone who wants to sound like a total...moreSo far so good... a wildly entertaining read for the commute. (At least for me.) Should be required reading for anyone who wants to sound like a total food geek at cocktail parties. You will be able to casually drop historical anecdotes about food like you won't believe.
EDIT: I finished it!!! (After getting asymptotically slower as I neared the end...) Reay Tannahill (a historian) is a very cautious and sarcastic writer, never to draw any foregone conclusions, but always tempered with a good sense of humor. Fun read... will keep it around as reference.(less)
This was a great book. I have to confess, it is one thing to call myself a dork because I write Actionscript and know what a "Rick Roll" is... but it...moreThis was a great book. I have to confess, it is one thing to call myself a dork because I write Actionscript and know what a "Rick Roll" is... but it is another thing to let this MIT professor, who is probably a bigger dork than I will ever be, take me through the hidden backstreets and boulevards of new media culture. Through this book, I learned so many things that I wouldn't have fully realized just from being a bemused observer and participant, from the ambiguously empowering effect of Harry Potter on children to the great lengths Survivor spoilers would go to prove themselves masters of their craft.
The foundation of this book is the concept of media convergence. Basically this is the idea that content (stories, music, whatever) were once media-specific but due to both the grass-roots activity of fans and consumers and the top-down activity of industry giants, content is becoming increasingly trans-media and amorphous. It is no longer the case where producers produce static content for the masses and masses consume it. (Although the author lightly questions whether this was ever the case.) Anyhow, this causes a ton of confusing new issues which the author emphasizes we have not yet arrived at solutions for - issues of ownership, agency, distribution, profit margins, ethics, etc. Solving these issues together, legally and otherwise, thus becomes the big challenge for us today.
This book takes the format of 5 or 6 in-depth case studies looking at a specific franchise or topic caught in media convergence. The texts seem is very well-researched, taking insight from everything from media industry conferences to student projects. It is also written in an easygoing style sans excessive academic toughness. An interesting feature I found was that interspersed throughout the main text are several mini case-studies to supplement the discussion at hand.
Perhaps the strongest message I took away from this book was that, in order for content producers to flourish in this "new order," they should embrace the role of fans and consumers in growing the content. They should encourage them to build upon the worlds they invented rather than restricting their sense of ownership and their imaginations. Folk culture, in this way, is making a gradual comeback in the wake carved out by mass culture, but it is a folk culture heavily inspired by mass media nonetheless.(less)
This was my first Murakami, and now I finally understand what is meant by "magical realism." From what I remember this book was more metaphor than any...moreThis was my first Murakami, and now I finally understand what is meant by "magical realism." From what I remember this book was more metaphor than anything else, but essentially it follows the story a young boy who runs away from home to confront his demons. Murakami's writing style is simultaneously unabashedly straightforward and intricately magical. For the reader, the book can be both a fantastical escape into fiction or a ruthlessly honest look at a young human heart. Nothing should be taken at face value, and don't expect it to make logical sense, or you will not enjoy the ride much. Otherwise, it is intensely entertaining to read, and to bicker over its meanings with friends afterwards.(less)
The central premise of Cradle to Cradle is we need to rethink and retool how we design and manufacture physical products. The authors argue that we cu...moreThe central premise of Cradle to Cradle is we need to rethink and retool how we design and manufacture physical products. The authors argue that we currently follow a "cradle-to-grave" model, which results in the loss of valuable materials to landfill (which further poisons the land with chemicals off-gassing and leeching). Alternatively, they propose thinking of all physical resources as nutrients, which, like molecules in nature, can be cycled infinitely without loss of integrity and depletion. This would pave the way to a new "cradle-to-cradle" approach, in which. This main argument is set in the context of a greater, eco-centric philosophical mindset, in which all of our actions have ecological consequences and therefore we should seek to assimilate nature's rules and existing energy and material flows. Finally, the authors are vocally against being "less bad." Instead, they advocate breaking out of the current trend of focusing on "efficiency" – continuing to pollute and deplete resources, but more slowly - and focus instead of "effectiveness" - eradicating the dangers of pollution and finite resources entirely.
This was extremely uplifting to read and I wholehearted embrace their entire argument. The book is also positively overflowing with optimism and faith in humanity, and it's infectious. Remarkably, they manage to remain positive even while being sternly critical of mainstream worldviews and practices.
In the first half of the book, the spend a lot of time waxing ecstatic about the joys of nature and asking us to "imagine if..." If you a bit of a cynic (and I think the right amount of cynicism in any situation is healthy), these can get old rather fast. On the other hand, if you lean towards the idealistic side, these can be positively galvanizing. However, I wonder if the efflusive idealism can be a turn-off for more skeptical readers.
This relates to my main problem with this book, which is that studied, concrete examples based in hard science and technology feel too few and far between, particularly in the first half of the book. The latter half begins to get down-and-dirty with case studies and specifics, thus showcasing the authors' expertise in the field, but it might come too late for the aforementioned skeptics. At that point, I can imagine that some might get sick of all the philosophizing early on and ditch the rest of the book.
Overall, despite having a last chapter of instructive steps for taking action, this feels more like a manifesto than a guide to taking action.
Critique aside, I love that every time I read a few pages of this book, I can't help but feel buoyed with a sense of great excitement... If you are an idealistic person, then you should allow yourself to be convinced by the glowing vision that this book sketches out. Because it is a wonderful feeling to be charged with hope and determination. After reading this book, really just want to dedicate my life to fighting the good fight for our only Earth. (If only I didn't already purportedly dedicate my life to 10 other things. =D)(less)
OH MAN. Where to start? Since I read this book I have fervently tried to get everyone I know to read it (with varying results). And for good reason......moreOH MAN. Where to start? Since I read this book I have fervently tried to get everyone I know to read it (with varying results). And for good reason... this book is amazing and illuminating. it's basically about the journey of food from source to table, but it goes way beyond that - it will change how you perceive the modern, industrialized world and the way it works. Reading it will definitely make you a more conscientious and knowledgeable consumer. And, with luck, it might even give you an endless sense of awe and appreciation for something as simple as a lettuce leaf. For me this was the book that opened up the way to into learning more about sustainability and actually actively caring about the state of the earth. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has ever interacted with food.(less)
This is supposed to be one of the great novels to come out of Soviet Russia, except I read it without knowing anything about Soviet political reality...moreThis is supposed to be one of the great novels to come out of Soviet Russia, except I read it without knowing anything about Soviet political reality so I think a lot of it was lost on me. Doh. Based on story alone, it was a good book, wildly erratic and pretty entertaining. But since this is a novel tied to history, one can't judge it on the story alone. I should come back to this after some research.(less)
This book was mostly an anecdotal travelogue... it was fun and mildly informative and actually awoke in me a curiosity for "the green fairy." Not that...moreThis book was mostly an anecdotal travelogue... it was fun and mildly informative and actually awoke in me a curiosity for "the green fairy." Not that I'd ever survive imbibing it... but still. Sugar cubes!(less)
My first Kurt Vonnegut. Yup, he's pretty much just awesome. This novel is, among other things, a caution story about the dangers of seeking knowledge...moreMy first Kurt Vonnegut. Yup, he's pretty much just awesome. This novel is, among other things, a caution story about the dangers of seeking knowledge without a care for its use. Wry and satirical and darkly funny... and a little bit scary. Or a lot actually, because the more you read it, the more you realize the world in the book is just a step away from a more familiar one. Ice water anyone?(less)
This was a completely worthwhile read. I was able to get through it really quickly by only briefly glancing at the many graphics. This either means I...moreThis was a completely worthwhile read. I was able to get through it really quickly by only briefly glancing at the many graphics. This either means I somehow didn't notice Tufte's resounding plea to appreciate graphics, or that it is a testament to the lucidity and elegance of many of the graphics in this book. Hopefully, the latter. =)
Edward Tufte is a huge data dork and has evidently studied the topic of data graphics deeply. The book is chock full of visual examples from diverse sources—news publications, historical treatises, scientific journals, etc. Not all are excellent; many are superlatively bad, such as the full-page chart that only manages to convey four data points. However, all charts used are well-chosen to illustrate each of his points.
He is also very opinionated and doesn't hesitate to adopt an authoritative tone in sharing his Commandments of Good Data Graphics. Like a wise teacher however, he gives license on the last page to intelligently disobey (keyword "intelligently") any of them. He also sounds like a 19th-century scholar—there is something irrepressibly didactic in the prose—but a fabulously dorky sense of humor makes occasional cameos, which keeps this work from being dry.
As a designer, the most striking aspect of this book was the extreme utilitarianism of Tufte's attitude towards graphics. Tufte's principle of maximizing data-ink and minimizing non-data-ink, for example, essentially states that ink should not be used at all if it is not conveying data in some meaningful way. He hates, above all else, "chartjunk," a phrase he uses to refer to superficial decorative elements that do nothing to express the data. To some extent, chartjunk also includes "helper marks" like grid lines, rule lines, tick marks, etc. He also detests graphics that lie by exaggerating or framing data subjectively. He has even come up with a few empirical measures for the truthfulness and meaningfulness of info graphics, such as the Lie Factor and the Data Density of a graphic.
His super-utilitarian attitude is reminiscent somewhat of classic Swiss design, which seeks to distill things down to their minimal essentials in the name of clarity and directness (how well this actually works is up for the revisionists to debate). It also evokes that cliché of mid-century Modernism—"form follows function." In these latter 2 cases, interestingly, the focus on function eventually gave rise to "styles." In contrast, Tufte's many examples of effective information graphics range across many different styles and seem, if this is possible, style agnostic. In this way, Tufte's charts can be seen as going much closer to the ideal of pure function that the Modernists tried to achieve.
As a graphic designer, there is a lot to be learned from Tufte's almost obsessive focus on maximizing data-ink. Even if you don't find yourself making charts and diagrams all that often, it serves as a reminder that marks made on a surface should serve foremost to convey information: the more layers of information, the better. Whether they be data numbers or lines used to formally divide up a page layout, they must all serve a meaningful purpose. It's easy in the age of vast Internet stock art sites to get carried away with putting tons of stuff onto a page and not really thinking about what it is doing there. But Tufte's insistence on the abolishment of chartjunk reminds us that, instead of just serving decorative or vaguely evocative purposes, graphical elements used in all types of design can and should be given a solidity of purpose and richness of meaning, such as that of a well-placed single dot that expresses several numbers all at once.
The book is clearly a tour-de-force of uncompromising ideals and high standards of excellence. By the end of Chapter 1, "Graphical Excellence," I felt like I'd just read a rousing call to arms. However, in light of reality, I can't help but think that you have to take Tufte's idealism with a grain of salt. In a perfect world, everybody would recognize their capacity for understanding efficient, elegant graphics and naturally gravitate towards work of Tufte's ilk, but no—we in fact love ourselves some colorful displays that dress up our data like a duck-shaped building.
Although he argues all of his points with verve and I'm sure he has the magnificent data sets to prove all of them, he just makes it sound way too easy, even trivial, to defeat old-fashioned art director thinking with pure reason. In my limited experience, this is very, very hard. I wonder what Tufte's early experiences convincing higher-up doubters were. Now that he is wildly famous, the former doubters actually come to him for advice, but for the rest of us, it's much tougher to enact your ideals when you're just wee younglings in the big design industry.
But don't get me wrong, I think he is right on many counts. So I can only hope for the courage to stick to my ideals as well as he's sticking to his.
Anyway, it was a very informative resource, and even a bit of an inspiring read. Tufte can make data displays inspiring; that's how good he is. I'd gladly continue onwards to read the other 3 books of his that we have at the office. =)(less)
My original intention was to write a scathing review, but then I decided that wouldnt've been entirely fair. Basically, I should not have allowed the...moreMy original intention was to write a scathing review, but then I decided that wouldnt've been entirely fair. Basically, I should not have allowed the beautifully crafted "A Soldier of the Great War" to precede this book. "The Space Between Us" was comparatively a letdown, both in craft and in content. Though the plot was riveting in its own way, it does not avoid the usual clichés and pitfalls of the book's subgenre (i.e. a story about the trials and tribulations of women in non-Western cultures).
I think my 2nd biggest problem with this book was its heavy reliance on interior monologue to tell the story. The whole world of the book is built through the emotional perspectives of the 2 main characters, 1 rich, the other her poor servant. Their lengthy, pained first-person tirades exhaust the reader and don't allow one to step back from the character and let the outrage of their life injustices sink in on its own. Somehow I ended the book with a sense of pity, not sympathy, for the 2 main female characters.
My 1st biggest problem is that the prose - emotionally dramatic and often heavy-handed with semi-cliched metaphors and hyperboles - basically would turn off many male (and some female) readers that I know. It feels like a Lifetime Network production, a chickflick at times, like it is more interested in indulging in commiseration with fellow women than seeking to inspire understanding and compassion in a broader audience.
Despite all this, I did finish the book, because it has one thing going for it: it is an easy read and there is some seductive suspense in the way everything is shadily alluded to and then revealed in stages. Overall it was "entertaining," in the way a tearjerking chick flick can perhaps be "entertaining." But I did not feel like it changed my world in any way. In fact it kind of left me annoyed, the way Joy Luck Club did. Again, perhaps my expectations are off the mark. But speaking as a minority girl, I am tired of these novels that dramatize and lament the victimization of women in non-Western societies. Injustice happens way too much in real life, it's true, and it's important to call attention to them. But not all women handle them by nursing their emotional scars like these characters do. Even though the book makes a desperate attempt to rebuild Bhima's character strength in the last few pages, you can almost sense that in another 2 or 3 pages, she'll allow her "womanness" to self-handicap her, and she'll fold again. And that is really what makes me sad about this book. It tries rather hard to build strong, nuanced female characters, but instead just ends up dwelling on the stereotype that women in non-Western societies are sad victims of everything.
Also, it would have been nice for at least one male character in the book to not have been an asshole.(less)
This was a really expansive book (the title does not lie). It took forever to read but was fascinating and poetic and beautiful.
I did not find the mag...moreThis was a really expansive book (the title does not lie). It took forever to read but was fascinating and poetic and beautiful.
I did not find the magical realism aspects overdone/confusing/ridiculous. The "tall tales" can be read a lot of ways, but they were definitely integral to fleshing out the psuedo-historical world in the book. When we think of many real historical periods, like the Middle Ages, we associate them as much with magic as with fact. This is because magic tells us as much about human culture—people's fears, hopes, beliefs, doubts, anguishes, loves—as fact does. So we need magic to thrive as creative, intellectual beings, and it was necessary that Marquez used this to tell his epic multi-generational story.
I also really enjoyed the way Marquez detaches us from all the characters, presenting them as caricatures of the human condition rather than individualizing them as heros and heroines. And he achieves this caricaturing without cruelty or sarcasm; rather he demonstrates that he cares deeply for humanity. Almost all of the characters (with the possible exception of Fernanda?) are treated with sensitivity and equanimity. Marquez makes a point of being non-judgmental—he treats the incestuous siblings and ragged prostitutes with as much respect as he does the jaded war hero, Aureliano Buendia. For every major character, Marquez takes us deep into their hearts to look at hidden motivations that wouldn't be obvious just from presenting their actions. And he does it in a way that (thankfully) is free of cloying pathos.
I'm not really sure what else to say about it, as I am pretty terrible at judging fiction. But I get the feeling that the book can give whomever reads it carefully a deeper concern and understanding for humanity, and an appreciation for people's struggles as they encounter fortune, misfortune, and everything in between. That, to me, is one of the hallmarks of great literature.(less)