Having moved to San Cristobal de Las Casas, where the EZLN's armed insurrection started in 1994, I figured it was sensible to get more informed aboutHaving moved to San Cristobal de Las Casas, where the EZLN's armed insurrection started in 1994, I figured it was sensible to get more informed about the Zapatistas. Before starting this book, I felt the indelible impression that the movement has made in the region, and have sensed its wider repercussions in the country. Contrary to my belief coming into Mexico that the Zapatistas are a fringe group far to the left of the Mexican political mainstream, each of the handful of Mexicans whom I had a chance to talk politics with are all more or less within the rough proximity of where the green party would land on the US political spectrum, and all spoke more or less approvingly of at least some aspects of the Zapatista movement. 20 years ago the EZLN struck a vein in Mexican society (as I was soon to learn in this book); it had tapped into a progressive, social justice, socialist, and egalitarian vein that runs deep and whose fervor has been feed by the ongoing injustices and egregious inequalities that has been the rule throughout Mexico.
Other marks that the movement has made is manifest in the smattering of EZLN bookshops and coffee shops that sell Zapatista key chains, bumper stickers, and t-shirts. It's also manifest in the invigoration of San Cristobal as a whole as a destination. Over the last two decades, what has always been a beautiful colonial town as become a bustling destination for Western tourists here for the scenery as well as the poverty tourism, European hippies here for the anarchist vibe and cheap cost of living, Mexican creatives and intellectuals here for the same things who have since cultivated a hot bourgeoisie arts scene in the midst of the poverty of Chiapas. It's hard not to smell the heavy scent of irony, that the Zapatista's renown has brought its archnemesis neoliberalism to its very doorsteps, and it not going anywhere.
Okay what about the book. First let's describe what it is not. This is not a book of investigative journalism. It is not an objective or critical account of the Zapatista movement from a third party. It is not, as traditionally conceived, a historical chronicle of a political movement. Why? Although the author/editor/compiler of this book is a journalist by trader, she has created this work as an activist.
If taken as literature it is middling at best, if taken as propaganda it's a bit too meandering and lacks the cutting clarity and simplicity that great propaganda has. What it is is the autobiography (actually more memoir) of a movement. As such, it is not hindered by criticality, and it announces its positivist beliefs and convictions in each passage and chapter. It's construction is a patchwork, much as it likes to believe it's movement is as well. It is a patchwork of first hand accounts of the movement's history, and specific chapters of the progression by members and supporters of the movement, most prominently featuring a large amount of dictations by subcmdt. Marcos. These testimonials are tied together by historical and political context by Munoz Ramirez, but give no doubt, the context is through the lens of a true believer. Due to the degree of conviction this is written with, it often suffers for clarity and coherence, but nonetheless the book will give you a feel for how a movement views itself....more
A strange hybrid between an anthology of immigrant stories, a family saga detailing the friendship and romance between two families, and something ofA strange hybrid between an anthology of immigrant stories, a family saga detailing the friendship and romance between two families, and something of a coming of age tale for Mayor Toro, the teenage boy party to the romance in question.
In trying to tackle such a varied and strange form, and in trying to be too many things at once, the story stretches itself too thin. It does a formidable job of humanizing and unpacking the diversity of immigrant experiences for Latin Americans in the US, something this anthology format is well suited for. However the telling of that story often butts up against the main story of the romance between Mayor and Maribel Rivera (one a misfit but shy and thoroughly American boy to Panamanian parents, the other a brain damaged teen beauty who comes to Delaware with her Mexican parents from their hopes for her mental recovery).
The texture of the immigrant experiences feel true here. The way that language is described as an all pervasive impediment in these people lives, the frustrating feeling that the new country is fraught with regions beyond the reach (either culturally due to unfamiliarity, economically due to modest means, or physically due to a lack of cars in a car dominated society). In one section Mayor's father describes his notion of there being multiple languages within English. There is a language for soccer, one for school, one for restaurants, and one for cars, which was the salient one at the time as they were shopping for a used car. He had his apprehension for each of these activities as he did not believe he had mastered each of these sub domains if English, and felt Mayor to be his guide to each of these islands.
This is where the book shines, and as an immigrant child myself I identify with the above notions of foreignness and the particular frustrations if the immigrant experience. ...more
I like Ishiguro, a lot. He has a perfect batting average in my book with Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, two works about vastly different thinI like Ishiguro, a lot. He has a perfect batting average in my book with Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, two works about vastly different things but both set in the British countryside, and both can be described as haunting, melancholy, and exquisitely crafted.
This latest Arthurian-esque fantasy/history-like work also fits the same descriptions, but while Ishiguro's starkly banal prose fits like a glove with the last two novels, it stands in weird juxtaposition with a medieval setting complete with ogres, dragons, and a magical mist of forgetfulness. In such a world, one is conditioned to expect the vivid and detailed world-making a la Tolkien, so the sparse expositions offered here hit me with a spoonful of cognitive dissonance.
The story is at its core about a loving marital relationship with an elderly husband and wife. There are ogres, there is a dragon, there are warriors including a cameo by Gawain of the round table, there is the backdrop of Briton on Saxon conflict, and even a mysterious island from which there is no return and to which people have a seemingly inexplicable desire to go. At the end of the day the core of the story is the love between Axl and Beatrice. However it took a brief period of reflection to realize this, and I feel like that's partially a testament to the degree of non-essential factors in the story.
A part of Ishiguro's strength is his restraint in exposition, and the overarching themes in this novel are not surprisingly, memory, loss, regret (same in NLMG and ROTD), but more than the other two books this book left me with not only open ended questions that are provocative and a result of what I feel to be the author's intent, but also questions like why was there this mysterious freaking island of no return? Was the Saxon Briton conflict and the whole Winstan character a largely unrelated side plot? What are we to make of the ending?
This one will need a bit more digesting and probably a second read before my thoughts are fully formed and I can make sense of this ending thought: “But God will know the slow tread of an old couple’s love for each other, and understand how bleak shadows make part of its whole.”...more
As with any play that I enjoyed reading, I cannot help but wish to watch it brought to life by flesh and blood actors in person, in a live production,As with any play that I enjoyed reading, I cannot help but wish to watch it brought to life by flesh and blood actors in person, in a live production, as the author intended the medium to be consumed.
This is my first Wilde work of humor (Dorian Gray, at least as far as I remember, was not funny, nor was it particularly memorable or good as this work is), and my interest for the rest of Wilde's bibliography is piqued.
This work pits two British aristocratic dandies against each other in a misadventure of romance and class etiquette of epic proportions of silliness. The jokes are razor sharp and rings across centuries; it's rare that humor can punch through decades much less centuries of cultural change. The critiques of Victorian upperclass mannerism and codes of behavior have aged well, and contemporary readers will readily pick up on the absurdity of bourgeoise that Wilde ruthlessly picks apart here.
It's quick, funny, and fun, give it a read. ...more
"America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and"America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard."
This book reads as many stories: the story of the plight of the black man in America, the telling of realities from a black father to black son, the critique of institutional racial violence in America, etc... For me however, with the above passage Coates set up the book as a biting critique of the American dream. He writes of how the mythmaking of America, and especially by white Americans, clustered around ideas of patriotism, exceptionalism, freedom, individuality, progress, etc... has been used as a cloak to obscure the culpability of those who perpetrate the continuing structural violence against African Americans. This critique resonated deeply with me, because I am one of Coate's dreamers. I do believe in large part much of the self-made myths we construct as Americans, and it is devastating to read in such ringing and cutting prose how these beliefs of mine are not only excuses for racism, but seem to be the core obstacle to change.
To be clear, this is not a policy book. One will not find statistics, and structural details of how racism and institutional violence continues in our country. What one finds are personal accounts of how a black American experiences the effects of these wrongs, how these things shape Coate's psyche, how he has come to situate himself in our society because of these ongoing wrongs. I must also note that this book seems to be written for a white, or at least non-black audience. The book reads as an explanation of the black experience for those who do not live it. I say this because it does exactly that so well. I'm not sure it's problematic that Coates anticipates a primarily white reader here, but I'm not sure it isn't problematic either.
The below passage I consider one of the more concentrated summaries of the central critique in this work. If this book has the effect of waking up even a handful of dreamers in addition to me to think more critically about the myths they've internalized, it will have been a markedly good thing.
"You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance— no matter how improved— as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this."...more
Gawande is as usual thoughtful, brilliant, and remarkably clear writing on a subject traditionally clouded by complexity and opacity (American healthcGawande is as usual thoughtful, brilliant, and remarkably clear writing on a subject traditionally clouded by complexity and opacity (American healthcare). This time his subject is end of life care, a tricky topic for the obvious reasons, but one that is in need of fresh thinking given that America provides subpar care at premium prices, and that a big part of this disconnect is due to the incredibly high expenditures spent on end of life care (roughly a quarter of all healthcare costs are accumulated in the last three months of patient lives).
The author first speaks to the basic premise and predominant hypotheses on what improvements should be made. Living wills are desirable, do not resuscitate orders not only cuts very expensive and not very effective last minute medical measures, but tend to increase the quality of the patients last few weeks of life dramatically. Where Gawande shines is when he dives into the human elements of how doctors approach end of life cases and how patients current process decisions concerning their own mortality.
Gawande reveals that the medical profession, while it excels in technical respects, achieving feats of healing and science unprecedented in history, it in contrast falls far short in terms of helping patients navigate their terminal conditions. Gawande describes three approaches to Doctor patient interaction. In the past doctors were paternalistic, making medical decisions largely without consulting or informing the patient. Now, many doctors take an informative approach, bombarding the patients with technical information on their clinical options, but not offering useful translation of how the technical translates to how the patients life will change. Gawande points toward a future in which doctors take an interpretive approach to patient interactions, not only informing them of the facts, but also actively finding out what aspects of the patients life and lifestyle are the most important to them, and guiding patients towards the best clinical path to address the patients own priorities.
The book makes the point (obvious in hindsight, but seemingly against accepted current thought in medicine) that patients doing always have the same priorities and goals which should be considered when making decisions in dramatic clinical intervention. Gawande describes some patients who faced with acute conditions, firmly believe that even a life confined to a hospital bed where activities are restricted to watching tv, insist on life. But there are others who refuse prolonged life if mobility and the ability to lead an active life is no longer plausible. One of these patients described is Gawande's own father, who faced with becoming quadriplegic, chooses palliative care. The portraits of each patient facing the most difficult of choices are loving, sympathetic, and each relatable in its own way. I felt keenly the difficulty of the whole enterprise of confronting mortality by all parties: the physician, the patient, and loved ones.
The best takeaway naturally comes from the author himself: "our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives."...more
It's quirky I guess, but not sure this story left an impression of any significant depth for me. Moran's book tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, a cIt's quirky I guess, but not sure this story left an impression of any significant depth for me. Moran's book tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, a chubby teenage daughter in a poor British family in an inconsequential UK town. This is the story of her coming of age, and the hook or angles as it were, is one, Johanna's precociously sharp wit and painfully self awareness combined with her typical teenage insecurities of her appearances and status.
Johanna's precociousness launches her as a music reviewer for a British music journal. This becomes her ticket out of Wolverhampton (or a similarly schlupy town name) and into adulthood. She spends the first third of the book languishing in her teenage awkward solipsistic melotragedy, and honestly this was the strongest part of the book for me. Once Johanna takes on her pen name (Dolly Wilde, yea I think the effect is intentional) and starts her journey into adulthood through weekend trips to London and the subsequent forays into romance, sex, and the intertwined continued insecurity but also emergence into a wiser self-awareness, the story falls flat as the eventfulness of the plot inversely rises.
This Bildungsroman doesn't have the mysterious charming quality of the best precedents like To Kill A Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or even Catcher in the Rye. The biggest shortfall is that Johanna is just not a very credible character. I never believe she is a real individual instead of just a compilation of the authors' brainstorming and literary devices. Her internal dialogue is just a little to clever, her insecurities a little too sensible, the resolutions of her personal frustrations s bit too aphoristic.
I won't discourage you from reaching reading this book, after all it's fairly well crafted, but I can't genuinely recommend it. ...more
It's always hard to appreciate innovative non-contemporary works of art. Like watching the original Mad Max, one does not appreciate the novelty and iIt's always hard to appreciate innovative non-contemporary works of art. Like watching the original Mad Max, one does not appreciate the novelty and ingenuity of devices and the desert post-apocalyptic aesthetic because the things that it introduced have been made popular and honed to a tee since the original movie, exactly because it was so innovative and influential in the first place.
As I Lay Dying is a heavy book, about a dying, and dead woman, and her poor southern rural family. This is my first Faulkner book. I had slogged my way through a Faulkner short story collection a long time ago, but I may not have been ready for it, and it did not leave much of an impression.
This book certainly left an impression, full of such flawed and pitiful characters. The Bundren family is truly an unenviable bunch, a lazy father who has an unearned sense of pride, a mother who had held the family together until her death and keeping a turmoiled secret to her grave, Anse the Cassandra character who has seemingly divine insight but spurned by men as touched, Cash who channels whatever joy or grief in his person into carpentry, Jewel the ill fit bronco filled with anger, Dewey Dell the girl with a big mistake but otherwise seemingly sensible, and Vardaman, the possibly/likely actually crazy youngest child.
This is a book that deals with how one makes a role for oneself in a family, in a community, in the world. This is also about the rural southern poor, and their particular challenges in this enterprise. More interestingly I think, it is the story of the specific Bundren family individuals, who are masterfully and vividly rendered in fairly short form truly into life. I can't say I was sad to leave them, but maybe because experiencing their struggles felt too real and uncomfortable through Faulkner's eyes....more
Pretty freaking incredible saga of information (whatever the heck that means anyways) as long as human beings have been conveying it.
The subject is amPretty freaking incredible saga of information (whatever the heck that means anyways) as long as human beings have been conveying it.
The subject is ambitiously big, so the author chooses to anchor the tale in modern information theory, as conceived by Claude Shannon, a MIT-educated engineer/mathematician who came of academic age between the World Wars, and came up with this conception of information as an analog to entropy sometime between taking on Boolean theory and designing a way for anti air-craft guns to track their targets without the aid of modern day computers.
Besides this central anchor however, the book dances from subject to subject in the wide spectrum of human history, illuminating and delighting readers of the ingenious ways that people had come up with to transmit, receive, manipulate, and store information.
Who knew that tribes in West Africa communicated over distances by drums that mimicked human speech, and that it was the high speed communication method par excellence up until the 18th century!
Who knew the first computer programmer of sorts the lovely British socialite Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron of poetic fame, student of Charles Babbage pioneer of the differential engine one of the earliest precursors to the computer, and ingenious mathematician in her own right. Quite a remarkable feat for anyone, let alone a woman faced with the restrictions of Victorian England.
Who knew that the telegraph was originally the moniker of huge monolithic towers with movable wooden beams that communicated coded permutations of these beams by line of sight. Next time in France I hope to see some ruins of these Semaphore towers.
And who knew that it takes 6 million bits to form a human being (I guess I should, having spent 5 or so years in biology labs).
I applaud you James Gleick, for taking on an almost impossibly ambitious subject, and kicking it's butt. It's a bit long, but given the sheer amount and quality of information (on information I might add) in it, it's well worth picking up....more
It's official, I've joined the Anthony Bourdain fan club. I would have never expected that I'd eventually come to worship at the altar of one of theseIt's official, I've joined the Anthony Bourdain fan club. I would have never expected that I'd eventually come to worship at the altar of one of these celebrity chefs, the whole trend of forming cults of personality around chefs always seemed weird to me, but let me justify myself this way, Anthony Bourdain is apparently not that great of a chef, and I admire him not for his cooking but rather for his writing.
Bourdain does something great here, he tells a truly compelling story about the food industry not rooted in the bourgeois pretension that permeates all of modern foodie culture. He tells the blue collar story of the line cooks, a gritty, crass, turbulent, exhilarating, and never boring story. Whether this is more craft or truth, I'll leave to those who actually know the industry (apparently the business has also changed a lot since this book, so maybe it's a throwback to the wild days that are ruefully gone).
Instead of the glamour of $200 prix fixe menus, caviar and 30 year Bordeauxs in spotless marble dining rooms, Bourdain takes us into the kitchen and not only shows us how the sausage is made, but shows us how good, mediocre, bad, and bare recognizable sausage (still being figurative) are all made. I'm tempted to say he doesn't glamorize the industry like so many others, but there is an implicit element of glamour in the shock and awe approach he takes to showing us the underbelly of the restaurant business.
The book's structure harkens back to one of those MTV behind the music episodes. Start with childhood inspiration story (he has a good one concerning a summer in France and oysters), excessive egoism and drive of youth, success and burnout with drugs and booze, burnt bridges, frayed friendships, hurt feelings, and too many casualties to count along the way. His tone is irreverently honest, but always repentant and deceptively humble, that the reader can't help but forgive his trespasses.
I especially liked the focus he put on the sheer logistical challenge of running a restaurant, something that seems drastically overlooked in this overexposed business. We all talk about the brillance and creativity of the Thomas Kellers and the Grant Achatz's, the sheer genius and strokes of inspiration, as if the epiphanies are 90% of the work and the restaurant, crew, customers, and dishes just materialize around the ideas out of thin air from sheer will of the inspired chefs. Bourdain says screw all that, the restaurant is a tough tough business, it's hard enough getting a mediocre diner cooking serviceable burgers humming along predictably, let's not even get to the Michelin stars before we talk about how a team works functionally together to put out a hundred pasta bologneses a night on time.
Bourdain also lionizes the line cooks. He seems to really truly admire so called "backbone of the industry" consisting of hard working Mexican, Dominican, Salvadorian and Ecuadorian cooks who can, according to Bourdain, all "could cook you under the table without breaking a sweat." When he goes into the details, the sheer physical and mental dedication required to pass muster at this job, one starts to share his admiration for these culinary foot soldiers.