george saunders's "efficacious anti-selfishness medicines" project continues, only this time written from the POV of a fox who wonders why humans do sgeorge saunders's "efficacious anti-selfishness medicines" project continues, only this time written from the POV of a fox who wonders why humans do such awful things. very weird and voicey. if this is what kindle singles are for I am all about it....more
wow. very powerful. have tried to be consistent about writing my thoughts about things that I read here on goodreads, but for an untamed state I am gowow. very powerful. have tried to be consistent about writing my thoughts about things that I read here on goodreads, but for an untamed state I am going to get out of the way and just listen to others....more
h/t to the morning news; this made the shortlist for the tournament of books. Going to try to read as much of it as possible so I can follow along ath/t to the morning news; this made the shortlist for the tournament of books. Going to try to read as much of it as possible so I can follow along at home -- 2015 Year of Fiction™ needs some structure. was really frustrated with jesse ball and silence once begun for the first 90% of this, and then moved up to a grudging three stars, for undeniable excellence in narrative structure. not happy that goodreads will count me in the "87% of people liked it" camp, but what can you do.
sielence once begun is like one of those intricate model boats you see advertised in rich person pulbicatoons - certainly a work of fine craftsmanship and undeniable attention to detail, to be sure, but don't all those tiny little sails suggest a larger problems with allocating time and resources between fantasy & reality? wait, and those cannons really fire tiny cannonballs? you must be fucking joking.
the through line of silence once begun follows a narrator (named jesse ball) through an investigation of a guy named Oda Sotatsu, who was tried and convicted of kidnapping and murder. he refuses to talk, but the police have a signed confession, so he is executed anyways.
much of the story is told through 'interviews' and documents, all cut from whole cloth as best as I can determine. ball is constantly injecting weird establishing details that preface every "interview"
Some of my questions turned out to be inaudible, so I have reconstructed or omitted them. The words spoken by Jiro and Mrs. Oda were entirely clear.]
we get only tiny tidbits of backstory on Sotatsu (and mind you, the whole narrative turns on his motivations and state of mind) -- but the conditions and various ephemera of every "interview" are reported with a level of detail that begins to feel obsessive/compulsive. what to make of this? if silence once begun has a point, it's definitely an argument about evidence, truth, and guilt. the weird obsession with point of view and hyper-religious attention to detail is not an empty exercise - it gives the narrator's account authority. but the degree of artistic difficulty on such an exhaustive and microscopic retelling of past events is high, and ultimately ball is not up to the task. this kind of story can bear fruit - errol morris's frame by frame meditation on the Zapruder film and the 'quantum weirdness' of everyday life comes to mind - but here it was just dowright tedious for long stretches....more
LOC catalog-in-publication data: Knockemstiff (Ohio) - Social Life and Customs - Fiction.
I didn't keep careful track, but my rough estimate is that noLOC catalog-in-publication data: Knockemstiff (Ohio) - Social Life and Customs - Fiction.
I didn't keep careful track, but my rough estimate is that north of 70% of the named characters in Knockemstiff commit a violent felony, with 'rape' in a pretty troubling neck-and-neck race with 'battery'. I'm no shrinking violet; art is generally better when it draws with the full palette of human experience and emotion. And Knockemstiff certainly demands your attention - there's a pulsating undercurrent of violence and constant sexual tension in these stories, and it's hard to look away. 4 stars for technical merit, no doubt, but negative two stars for aimless depravity.
You can shoot for social realism and veer into territory that's closer to literary human cockfighting, and at least for me, that's what happens here. All of these stories are incredibly visceral, but ultimately mostly indistinguishable. Jake, Vernon, Duane, Frankie Del -- which one was the murder/rapist and which one was the thief/rapist, again?
And even though she was probably the best woman Del Murray had ever been with—gobs of bare-knuckle sex, the latest psychotropic drugs, a government check—he was still embarrassed to be seen with her in public. Anyone who’s ever dated a retard will understand what he was up against. (96)
At a certain point, this veers into imaginationland territory - an exercise in hollow provocation.
there's a reason that we grow out of chuck palahniuk books, right? that we demand complexity from art? I ultimately felt that Knockemstiff was a cheap thrill, a one-note high, full of white-hot-feeling but without a lot to say.
kudos to Pollock for publishing these stories - his story is remarkable, and I wish him all the best. The opposite of love, after all, isn't hate - it's indifference. But when he says "I would like to write a book that wasn’t so violent and weird" -- yeah, same here....more
poetic, sticky, compelling. Levin's does an amazing job of capturing the intellectual arcs of Turing and Godel's lives, while keeping her feet plantedpoetic, sticky, compelling. Levin's does an amazing job of capturing the intellectual arcs of Turing and Godel's lives, while keeping her feet planted firmly in the territory of the novel. I really enjoyed this but not sure if I would recommend to others - this is a pretty deep cut and if you are interested in Turing et al there are so many other places to start......more
so sold on these, and on anthony doerr generally. even the somewhat incongruous story about a fishing competition held up. shimmering and sweet but neso sold on these, and on anthony doerr generally. even the somewhat incongruous story about a fishing competition held up. shimmering and sweet but never saccharine. precise and understated. doerr has a knack for finding just the right image or detail, and no more. the nyt review of this said "naturalist's gaze" plus "poet's metaphor" and that is just spot on....more
polled the audience for recommendations for 2015, the year of fiction. whet said "anything by victor pelevin," and: yes.
pelevin was totally off my radpolled the audience for recommendations for 2015, the year of fiction™. whet said "anything by victor pelevin," and: yes.
pelevin was totally off my radar screen, which in retrospect is sort of hard to believe. omon ra is a madcap little novel that punches way above its weight class. there has been a lot of ink spilled documenting the brutality and fundamental dishonesty of the USSR, but it's hard to imagine anything topping omon ra's utterly devastating satire of the Soviet space program, at least on a page-for-page basis. the translation tripped me up a bit, but otherwise definitely recommended....more
really, really loved this. I can confirm that the nyt was right on when quoting his publisher "every bookseller is going to hand-sell this as the bookreally, really loved this. I can confirm that the nyt was right on when quoting his publisher "every bookseller is going to hand-sell this as the book that should have won the National Book Award."
there are certainly nits one can pick (the diamond-obsessed nazi jeweler, for one, is a cardboard villain, to borrow from mssr vollmann) but that hardly seems fair to point out, given how rapturously good the high points of all the light were.
the marie-laure chapters were heart-breakingly beautiful. again, vollmann: "Marie-Laure is an exquisitely realized creation." doerr's prose is perhaps the most sensuous I have ever encountered, and the constraint adopted here - taking a blind character's POV - really showcases what he is capable of.
stray thoughts: werner felt like a psychic continuation of serge carrefax from tom mccarthy's C. makes me want to re-read that weird treasure of a book again....more
these are presumably chronological, so I'm willing to make some allowances, but even so vol 1 has stories of wildly> differing quality. the gold-buthese are presumably chronological, so I'm willing to make some allowances, but even so vol 1 has stories of wildly> differing quality. the gold-bug is a real winner, along with murders in the rue morgue. I will cop to skimming some of these. adventures of hans pfaal was more like hans pfffffffffffffffal, even if it is of historical interest as proto-sci fi.
the poe that you remember from HS English class (team cask of amontillado '98) represent pretty spectacular advances in form from baseline poe; murders of the rue morgue would be an all time classic if the opening movement wasn't so chaotic. vol 1 poe can definitely deliver a bow-tied, out-of-left-field narrative resolution, but he struggles to get the chess pieces of said worlds out into the open in a way that generates suspense or to be more blunt doesn't just put you to sleep....more
weirdly long on journalistic score-settling (glenn greenwald will not be getting a christmas card from david gregory) and short on details about prismweirdly long on journalistic score-settling (glenn greenwald will not be getting a christmas card from david gregory) and short on details about prism, boundless informant etc. like, what's the backstory on this crazy nytimes story? http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/... does the NSA really know how to defeat all the consumer encryption on the internet? and what should we make of the conflicting claims about access to google's servers?
I thought that 500+ amazon reviews couldn't be wrong, but found no place to hide ultimately disappointing, at least relative to what I had hoped for. I will say that the backstory on the initial snowden/greenwald connection was pretty compelling, though....more
heard halpern on the longform podcast and picked this up - the notion of a "bad homes" beat at the new republic was an endearing concept. billed as aheard halpern on the longform podcast and picked this up - the notion of a "bad homes" beat at the new republic was an endearing concept. billed as a book about houses, but this is really a collection of character portraits - what compels anyone to live at the margins of society, anyway? the stories are a good ride, but there's no grand insight into humanity at the end of braving home - the answer we get is "stubbornness, mostly."...more
"moneyball for soccer" - that's fine as far as it goes, but I think people forget that a non-trivial part of moneyball's success is that it was writte"moneyball for soccer" - that's fine as far as it goes, but I think people forget that a non-trivial part of moneyball's success is that it was written by one of the master storytellers of our time....more
zeitgeisty and of the moment; I have been somewhat fascinated with peter thiel's all-contrarian-everything worldview since the george packer profile izeitgeisty and of the moment; I have been somewhat fascinated with peter thiel's all-contrarian-everything worldview since the george packer profile in 2011.
if you are actually planning on running your own startup, this is probably required reading (but you knew that already). if you are looking for insight into the culture that is SF or 'build[ing] the future', there's not much to be found. there's an interesting defense of bold certainty and planning, but a the book reads like what it is - lecture notes to stanford kids....more
via course 15, which I am (very) slowly working my way though.
Pretty thoroughly unimpressed with Robinson Crusoe. Presumably someone, somewhere can exvia course 15, which I am (very) slowly working my way though.
Pretty thoroughly unimpressed with Robinson Crusoe. Presumably someone, somewhere can explain why this one has been canonized, but I'm at a loss. There is some generally pleasant thematic stuff in there about gratitude and humility before god, but nothing so poetic or profound to balance out the 200-odd pages of monotonous Notes on Island Horticulture. The coda was really the kicker for me - 28 years on an island, and literally no thoughts at all about integrating back into society? Instead we get a dramatic man vs. wolf showdown in the mountains of france? Not impressed....more
2: you could teach pretty much any random slice of 15 pages of spillover as a exemplar text for a nar1: david quammen is a very, very talented writer.
2: you could teach pretty much any random slice of 15 pages of spillover as a exemplar text for a narrative non-fiction writing class. quammen reads widely and deeply, and has the confidence to grapple with uncertainty and complex causal explanations that few other science writers would touch. we've all read who-knows-how-many articles about HIV; do you know what T-cells are? do you know why they are called "T"-cells? do you know what the H and the N in H1N1 influenza stand for? if quammen has anything to say about it, you damn well will.
3: the ecology of viruses is super interesting stuff. the mystery-virus-detective-stories in here were riveting reading. great hard reporting on ebola.
4: there is a lot of on-the-ground reporting in this book, and evidence of a lot of hours logged in the reading room of your university library filled with titles like Journal of Applied Virology. hopefully the world of buzzfeed-funded journalism has a home for this kind of thing.
5: is this book worth your time? parts of it definitely are, and therein lies the problem. did anything get cut from this book? do we need to know about all twenty-odd types of simian immunodeficiency virus? does david quammen even have an editor? can I please talk to him? spillover has deep insight on big questions like, why are RNA viruses so much more likely to produce pandemics than DNA viruses? what farming and city planning practices make humans vulnerable to pandemics? why do bats have so many goddamn types of nasty viruses that infect humans? but there's seemingly never a detail too minor for quammen along the way. spillover has a little bit of moby dick in it - epic in scope, reaching pretty amazing heights along the way, but hold on to your butts, because there's pages and pages of whale biology thrown in for good measure....more