This whole collection exuded an air of melancholy. Books often acted as surrogates for children. Where children were lacking, novels or other works ofThis whole collection exuded an air of melancholy. Books often acted as surrogates for children. Where children were lacking, novels or other works of writing substituted for a life's creative project. Books as children distressed even me, a person whose home doesn't feel complete until my books are unpacked and shelved. At least two of depression, loneliness, lost relationships, abandonment, abuse, and alcoholism featured in all the stories in one way or another. While all seemed contented enough with their lives, none felt all that happy - or, since I can't truly speak for others' happiness, all I can say is reading about their lives made me feel sad.
The book suffered from having all its essayists be professional writers. Yes, yes, that's in the title, but it tilted the perspective very hard to the childless college professor and left other perspectives unexplored. Overall, it could have been more relatable with a broader spread of backgrounds and career paths. I suspect a tortured writer complex exacerbated much of the melancholy mentioned above.
One point that did not make me ooze the very type of pity that every one of these authors would hate is the gaping double standard between women and men for expectations of children. Men's choices about children were questioned much less than women's. Our society is chock full of unbalanced expectations for women and men around child rearing, and opting out of it is clearly no exception. I entirely agree that this needs fixing. While I'm sure the authors would reject my despondency, at least it was gender blind....more
If you judge by Greene's examples, you might assume that the heyday of seduction was in the 1700s. If you were lucky, your chapter might get an examplIf you judge by Greene's examples, you might assume that the heyday of seduction was in the 1700s. If you were lucky, your chapter might get an example from the 1940s. As a result, a ton of the case studies were almost entirely irrelevant - those social constructs do not still exist today. Even though his main points about human psychology seemed solid, the anachronistic stories used to deliver the points home made the book overall boring as hell and almost entirely unrelatable. I took away a few tidbits about seduction, but my biggest takeaway was to be glad I am not a woman in the 18th century....more
* mysterious organizations known only by the elusive acronyms and even more elusive slogans  * wild goose chases to learn the organization's purpose * infiltration of said organization absolutely everywhere the more you look * organization's symbol crops up all over the place * oppositional groups in or related to the organization  * odd character names  * even more odd appearances of said characters to dispense information about the organization at the exact right coincidental moment * the initiating action of the novel is the fate of some fortune after a decease 
Pynchon included sex and drug use while Snicket does not (obviously for children's books), but other than that, The Crying of Lot 49 could have been an installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
 Snicket: V.F.D.'s "The world is quiet here" Pynchon: W.A.S.T.E.'s "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire"
 Snicket: volunteers & villains within V.F.D. Pynchon: Thurn und Taxis & Trystero (W.A.S.T.E.)
 Snicket: Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, Quigley Quagmire, Carmelita Spats, Friday Caliban, Vice Principal Nero, Dr. Georgina Orwell, Jerome Squalor... Pynchon: Oedipa Maas, Pierce Inverarity, Mike Fallopian, Genghis Cohen, Dr. Hilarius, John Nefastis, Randolph Driblette, Professor Emory Bortz...
 Snicket: Count Olaf trying to steal the Baudelaire fortune after their parents' deaths Pynchon: Oedpida executing Inverarity's will and large fortune after his death ...more
The first section of Wool, Book 1 - Holston, was a very tight and well-told story. The 4-stars are mostly for that section; the rest of the book paintThe first section of Wool, Book 1 - Holston, was a very tight and well-told story. The 4-stars are mostly for that section; the rest of the book painted a very interesting post-apocalyptic society, but the writing quality did not maintain the high caliber, more likely earning 3-stars from me. The relationship between Jahnes and Marnes in particular felt absurdly heavy-handed. In fact, the building of interpersonal relationships in general was weak throughout the book. Subtlety in conveying complex emotion is not Howey's strong point; nevertheless, full credit should be given for an impressive page-turner with a very rich and complicated world and history. He has a strong skill for suspense and surprise revelations....more
Typically I lose myself in books, especially when religion and magical realism are involved, but The Satanic Verses was a rare slog for me. I have a vTypically I lose myself in books, especially when religion and magical realism are involved, but The Satanic Verses was a rare slog for me. I have a very limited knowledge of Islam, and this book revolved around its stories and symbolism, making the story unusually inaccessible. Had the very same approach been taken with the Bible/Christianity/Judaism, I would have been engrossed. While I was able to pick up on or look up relevant and interesting points about Islam, I likely missed many of the finer ones. The other challenge, I suspect, was that Rushdie's first language is Urdu/Hindi. The flow of prose was extremely difficult for me to connect with, in ways that magical realist literature translated from Spanish/Portugese or written in English by native Spanish speakers is not (in fact, Spanish-language influence is my favorite). I do not know how large a role linguistic styling played, but think it would be an interesting phenomenon to study further.
Despite the difficulty, I hung on long enough to make it through and now have some thoughts about good and evil (as well as spoilers, so be warned before reading on).
I found two passages very explicitly judging Saladin and Gibreel particularly striking.
"Well, then. – Are we coming closer to it? Should we even say that these are two fundamentally different types of self? Might we not agree that Gibreel, for all his stage-name and performances; and in spite of born-again slogans, new beginnings, metamorphoses; – has wished to remain, to a large degree, continuous – that is, joined to and arising from his past; – that he chose neither near-fatal illness nor transmuting fall; that, in point of fact, he fears above all things the altered states in which his dreams leak into, and overwhelm, his waking self, making him that angelic Gibreel he has no desire to be; – so that his is still a self which, for our present purposes, we may describe as ‘true’ ... whereas Saladin Chamcha is a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention; his preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, ‘false’? And might we then not go on to say that it is this falsity of self that makes possible in Chamcha a worse and deeper falsity – call this ‘evil’ – and that this is the truth, the door, that was opened in him by his fall? – While Gibreel, to follow the logic of our established terminology, is to be considered ‘good’ by virtue of wishing to remain, for all his vicissitudes, at bottom an untranslated man."
I find the implication that Gibreel is good and angelic because he is "continuous" and "untranslated" and Saladin is evil and a devil because he is "discontinuous" and "false" absolutely disconcerting and short-sighted. Gibreel has continuously been a womanizing sleezeball the whole proceeding 3/4s of the book. And how has Saladin been "false"? He is at odds with the less savory aspects of his religion and culture and seeks refuge in another. Seems a bit of a low qualification for evil.
"Is it possible that evil is never total, that its victory, no matter how overwhelming, is never absolute? Consider this fallen man. He sought without remorse to shatter the mind of a fellow human being; and being exploited, to do so, an entirely blameless woman, at least partly owing to his own impossible and voyeuristic desire for her. Yet this same man has risked death, with scarcely any hesitation, in a foolhardy rescue attempt. What does this mean?"
Our omniscient narrator eventually comes around to Saladin, with the shift starting here. At the end, Saladin is given redemption as he reconnects with his father and country, while Gibreel returns home but breaks down to the point of suicide, but I dislike with the implication that only this return makes Saladin worthy of redemption. I felt he was unjustly labeled as evil from their fall from the plane. While he certainly always had flaws, evil and flawed should never be synonymous.
I'm giving three stars instead of the two it earned for pure reading enjoyment because any book that can drum up a good conversation about the nature of good and evil earns some extra credit from me.
I first learned of “Ghosts” from Chesterton’s unabashed displeasure with the play and its author in Heretics. Chesterton proclaims Ibsen's main shortcI first learned of “Ghosts” from Chesterton’s unabashed displeasure with the play and its author in Heretics. Chesterton proclaims Ibsen's main shortcoming is his incomplete ethical stance: he has no problem exposing evil, but fails to portray goodness.
"Ibsen does not profess to know how how virtue and happiness are brought about, in the sense that he professes to know how our modern sexual tragedies are brought about."
"There is no ideal man of Ibsen."
[Here come the spoilers.] For Acts 1 and 2, Ibsen does appear to hint at a stance on what is good. Mrs. Alving exposes the lies and hypocrisy of the presumably “respectable,” officially married, aristocracy at length. In contrast, Oswald describes the lives of the artists in Paris; despite their “sham-marriages,” they pose a tantalizing picture of love, respect, and happiness that eludes the families with the proper paperwork for their relationship.
But, alas, Ibsen snatches the goodness and joy away in short order in Act 3. The two characters with any hope of salvation from this cycle, Oswald and Regine, both fall as well as their elders. Despite no “reckless living” for Oswald, a brain illness, attributed to “the sins of fathers [being] visited upon the children,” smites him down. His last wish before losing his mind is just that someone please kill him out of mercy instead of having a comatose life. When Regine learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of Mr. Alving, instead of the legitimate daughter of the equally awful Mr. Engstrand, she exclaims, “Still, what the hell …! What difference does it make!” and storms out to work at her false father's new brothel for seamen, a career path she was adamantly against at the play’s opening scene. This felt almost as if Tess of the D’Urbervilles, in all of the messed up revelations and propositions that came her way, had just said “Fuck it. Why not?”
In conclusion, Chesterton nailed it; or, as Scott summed it up, “It’s assholes all the way down.” ...more
While not a masterpiece of character development, this was one of the most engineer-y novels I have had the pleasure of laying hands on. I immensely eWhile not a masterpiece of character development, this was one of the most engineer-y novels I have had the pleasure of laying hands on. I immensely enjoyed the deep scientific and mathematical breakdowns of Mark's survival problems, plus the nerd jokes dropped throughout. Weir went the opposite direction of most science fiction I've read, staying very grounded in realistic modern technology challenges instead glossing over technical details for the sake of asking moral questions. But, never fear, the book does still come without a couple ethical conundrums - what is the monetary value of recovering a single man's life, and should we put one life at high risk or six lives at low[er] risk? It was really refreshing to have a character tackle engineering design trade-off problems that we actually can face on the job (though luckily with less material constraints and risk of death). Given the high stakes, these incidents reminded me very much of Apollo 13's "square peg in a round hole" problem, but with the longer term risk of starvation rather than the imminent threat of asphyxiation in space vacuum.
Fun and informative history of the Appalachian Trail. Bryson's asides into the politics of the National Parks Service and other US policies and customFun and informative history of the Appalachian Trail. Bryson's asides into the politics of the National Parks Service and other US policies and customs around conservation, resource management, and research were my favorite parts of the book. ...more
In the "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book," Eggers says "5. Matter of fact, the first three or four chapters are all some of you mightIn the "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book," Eggers says "5. Matter of fact, the first three or four chapters are all some of you might want to bother with. That gets you to page 109 or so, which is a nice length, a nice novella sort of length. Those first four chapters stick to a one general subject, something manageable, which is more than what can be said for the book thereafter." This was a fairly accurate statement. Those first four chapters, covering the deaths of his parents, particularly his mother, are very tight, well-executed, and moving; the rest of the book goes in fits and bursts of interestingness and quality. There are a few character traits of his various family members introduced in that latter section that do really heighten the initial story, and I'm glad I read on to learn them: [spoilers!] Eggers' father's drinking and eruptive anger; his mother's means of coping with that situation; the difference in the two's parenting styles and relationship with their kids; how those styles influence Eggers raising Toph. Other than these points, the exploits of Might magazine were not very compelling and the friend group around the magazine was minimally developed.
Stylistically, the stream of conscious narrative was quite captivating. I particularly enjoyed the device where Toph or other friends seamlessly start speaking Eggers' inner dialog aloud to him. This is superbly executed so that the shift occurs with the reader hardly realizing it, but without being confusing....more
I first heard about this book while eavesdropping on a conversation of two friends over breakfast at PyCon 2015. Their description excited me so much,I first heard about this book while eavesdropping on a conversation of two friends over breakfast at PyCon 2015. Their description excited me so much, that I very awkwardly interrupted them to say, "I'm so sorry for listening, but can you please tell me what book you are talking about? Because I absolutely have to read it." Totally worth it. A+ analysis of the Book of Revelation, studying a number of compelling themes: * Revelation's call-backs to pagan symbolism * its particular popularity among the poor and powerless * individuality versus collectivism in Christianity * fear and envy as major drivers of Christianity * modern man's loss of connection with the cosmos
The last item in particular touches many similar points as Chesterton does with "The Ethics of Elfland" in Orthodoxy. The two men seem to generally agree that connection to the natural world provides joy and fulfillment for humans, but they have landed in different camps regarding the role Christianity plays in restoring or obstructing it. Lawrence's words drip with disdain for the religion, while Chesterton's exalt it. I plan to get on to The Everlasting Man and do some re-reading of both to discern more.
I'll wrap up with my favorite quote of the book: "Society consists of a mass of weak individuals trying to protect themselves, out of fear, from every possible imaginary evil, and, of course, by their very fear, bringing the evil into being." ...more
I heard Gabriella Coleman's keynote about Anonymous at PyCon 2015, which was one of my favorite sessions of the conference. I picked up her book to leI heard Gabriella Coleman's keynote about Anonymous at PyCon 2015, which was one of my favorite sessions of the conference. I picked up her book to learn more.
In general, she presents a really interesting, well-researched profile of Anonymous, starting as the lulz-infused spawn of 4chan and eventually fashioning themselves a self-appointed squad of cyber vigilante justice. The social justice penchant emerges over several years and a few charismatic individuals actually hold much sway in this supposedly "leaderless" movement.
There are some contradictions about Anonymous as an organization that just don't sit quite right with me. * Many people in Anonymous are surprisingly blase about security. In many DDOS efforts, individuals downloaded software like LOIC, took random assurance from the internet that it was entirely "safe" and their identity couldn't be uncovered (via IP address). I was distressed by the lack of personal responsibility and perceived misconduct against them by the Anonymous operation itself and/or law enforcement. Some causes are important, and some might merit going outside the laws; however, you should understand and be willing to accept the consequences. * Although the group often works against "the Man," they took they Guy Fawkes mask from the blockbuster film "V for Vendetta." Several of their hacks were against large studios, despite their symbolism having popularity thanks to such studios. Lack of self awareness here, in their core symbolism, speaks poorly for their ability to be aware about much else. * What makes you Anonymous anyway? During #antisec, one user Lamaline_5mg hops on Anonymous IRC, offers dox information from a hack, crafts media messaging around it...then claims "this is not Anonymous." Sounds to me like you are declaring yourself with Anonymous by those actions. I dislike that such equivocation is permissible.
Perhaps I am holding them to too high of a standard. But they are certainly taking on the Hacktivist mantle and so I will judge them accordingly. Even though some of these items originated from earlier Anonymous, the causal culture has remained alongside the new, loftier goals.
Coleman proved to be more of an Anonymous sympathizer than I expected. While I was not surprised for her to think some of their causes are justified, she appeared rather forgiving of their illegal enterprises, despite taking great measures to ensure to not turn herself into an accessory or would-be informant. I do not suggest that she would go so far as to condone these measures, just as she came to know the organization more deeply, the tone seemed to shift a bit from very objective to more supportive. At that inflection point, the reading started to drag a bit for me as Coleman became attached to individuals and covered more detailed anecdotes about their interactions than interested me. ...more
I got quite excited when I read "Antichrist" on the back of this book, but it feel a bit short of my dreams. The novel is basically Ishmael's teachingI got quite excited when I read "Antichrist" on the back of this book, but it feel a bit short of my dreams. The novel is basically Ishmael's teachings coming out of another guy's mouth (Ishmael himself is mentioned a few times). While I loved Ishmael, I was hoping for either something different from B, or more extensive building on rather than repeating of Ishmael.
I still give the book three stars, because had I read it first, I would have been as mesmerized by B's teachings as I was with Ishmael's, and less concerned about some of the criticisms listed below.
In this telling, Ishmael and B are positioned as the antichrist since they focus on the preservation of the planet versus the saving of human souls (quite different from the debaucherous antichrist image we are used to). Quinn did not do such a compelling concept justice though: the priest sent to evaluate B buys into his position without any objection whatsoever, and the leaders of the order that sent him order an assassination attempt without engaging in any theological or philosophical dialogue, which is even Quinn's writing wheelhouse. I think I would have enjoyed Fr. Lulfre and B getting into it much more than Jared swallowing B's story hook, line, and sinker, even though I myself rather agree with B.
The attempts at action and intrigue (the assassination of Charles Atterly, the bombing of the theater, Jared's rather dull romance-sort-of-thing with Shirin) were all rather shallow. I feel that Quinn perhaps was trying to draw in a wider audience used to the flash-bang drama of other media, but it was a very hollow attempt, particularly whatever half-ass chemistry he tried to play between Jared and Shirin. ...more
What a shitshow. You'll have to read it to believe it. Just when I thought it couldn't get more insane, someone else was manipulated into forbidden seWhat a shitshow. You'll have to read it to believe it. Just when I thought it couldn't get more insane, someone else was manipulated into forbidden sex.
The tale of all the backgrounds of all the nuns and confessors, who manipulated whom, and why they did so was absolutely fascinating; the deliberation of the inquisitional squad over duration of sentencing (with minimal exploration of different Catholic orders and their dislike of one another) was less so. I would have preferred to read more testimonials from the investigation in favor of this laundry list of who went to jail for how long.
While I skipped pages through the sentencing, the storytelling of the cast of characters being investigated, their history and motivations, and their behaviors throughout the trial was beautifully done. Wolf kept me engrossed as he masterfully pulled back the curtain on the nuns' backstories....more
I love Dan Savage's segments on This American Life, and generally find him to be sensible, down-to-earth, humorous, and a perfect pinch of irreverent.I love Dan Savage's segments on This American Life, and generally find him to be sensible, down-to-earth, humorous, and a perfect pinch of irreverent. Some chapters in this book lived up to that expectation, but quite a few were much more in the realm of the political soapbox realm than I was hoping for. I guess “and Politics” is right in the title, but I could have done without diatribes on universal healthcare or Rick Santorum’s presidential aspirations elbowing out the promised discussions (and Dan Savage’s typical programming) about “Sex [and] Love.”...more
Excellently done guide. We got some great ideas here from the types activities in and descriptions of each area, then usually went to the internet toExcellently done guide. We got some great ideas here from the types activities in and descriptions of each area, then usually went to the internet to refine and finalize. What specific recommendations of food, vendors, or accommodations that we did follow directly from here were reliably excellent....more
I thought this way going to be a novel about long distance running, and, BOY, was I wrong: it's a collection of short stories, and long distance runniI thought this way going to be a novel about long distance running, and, BOY, was I wrong: it's a collection of short stories, and long distance running is merely a secondary theme in the title story. Yet another unexpected item was the overwhelming aura of sadness permeating the whole book, ranging from bone-crushing loneliness, to stifled anger and resentment, to mental illness.
The set is an interesting enough portrayal of [post-]war Britain and life for the factory working class, but aside from a few reflections in the running story ("...and I couldn't see anybody, and I knew what the loneliness of the long distance runner running across the country felt like, realizing that as far as I was concerned this feeling was the only honesty and realness there was in the world..."), I didn't feel much connection with the characters, only deep and largely generic pity, making it academically intriguing, but overall not very compelling....more
I did not particularly enjoy the strategy of focusing A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons on the events in the South and North, respectively. II did not particularly enjoy the strategy of focusing A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons on the events in the South and North, respectively. I found the first 2/3 of this one a tad slow, and kept wondering about the southron characters, to realize I had almost forgotten what had even happened last down there. Things picked up quite a bit once we were back switching between all the story lines instead of just a subset.
Despite those minor complaints....now I have to wait around for book #6?!...more