The authors strenuously assert that this is a layman's introduction, and they keep to their word. But, as others have noted, that doesn't necessarilyThe authors strenuously assert that this is a layman's introduction, and they keep to their word. But, as others have noted, that doesn't necessarily result in a very readable book...I could have wished for a clearer organization of the material (why do we wait until the very end of the book - after long slogs through some very abstract descriptions of relationships - to offer demonstrations of the practical applications of cryptography in contemporary life?). I found myself glazing over on the math not because it was hard to understand but because it was hard to see its application. In all, I believe this very short introduction would have benefitted from a little more narrative structure......more
This one may be for the Lynda Barry completist...it lacks the through-line of her spectacular What It Is. At times, you feel her trying to pull togethThis one may be for the Lynda Barry completist...it lacks the through-line of her spectacular What It Is. At times, you feel her trying to pull together a lot of thoughts on the challenges of teaching writing and art, but too much of the text reproduces class notes and assignment prompts that, though beautiful, aren't going to be things that lesser mortals like me can use in classes......more
Plenty of other readers have observed that there seems to be a hole lot of fightin' in this without a whole lot of conflict. From time to time, a charPlenty of other readers have observed that there seems to be a hole lot of fightin' in this without a whole lot of conflict. From time to time, a character will ask, "Who is Doomsday? What does he want?" and then more fighting will ensue. What comes close to redeeming the book are its final few pages, where the action slows down in some full page illustrations that have a kind of solemn gravity after all the conventionally formatted panel pages. Here the story tellers seem to realize the value of scale, of getting in close to the action. One wishes they'd thought a little more about what get that action going in the first place......more
To be candid, I've never been the biggest fan of Roz Chast's work in the New Yorker, but now I understand why. Like Lynda Barry, Chast's ideas are oftTo be candid, I've never been the biggest fan of Roz Chast's work in the New Yorker, but now I understand why. Like Lynda Barry, Chast's ideas are often bigger than a comic panel affords. In this 'memoir' of her parents decline and death, Chast has the time and space to get to some moving and memorable ideas about the relations between parents and children, between couples whose lives are braided together, and about facing the end of a loved one's life. I was struck by the simplicity with which she describes her childhood and how she grew up with the feeling that she was 'intruding' on her her parents' relationship. I was also deeply moved by the series of drawings of her mother on her deathbed, which are brilliantly paced and come after an emotional reflection on the way she and her mom got on in life. A really wonderful read...for anyone who is an adult, but in some ways still feels like a child in matters of family....more
It is perhaps significant that I purchased my copy of this book at the Vroman's bookstore on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. I loved the brief time IIt is perhaps significant that I purchased my copy of this book at the Vroman's bookstore on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. I loved the brief time I lived in California (though it was so short and so recent I doubt I even qualify as one of Didion's 'new people') and this seems like an almost talismanic combination of California writing and retail. California may be where Didion was from, but it's where I often wish I were.
I must have had a vague inkling that I was dipping my toe in some dark California magic, but I found the present volume a little less than enchanting. Didion's much praised craftsmanship seemed polished to blinding and mildly repellant sheen in the first section of the book, and that 90 pages was a bit of a slog. But when she turned from looking at the state through the lens of her family to looking at it through the collapse of the aerospace industry in the second segment of the book, I couldn't put it down. Subsequent sections didn't seem to catch fire - Didion spends a lot of time parsing her early novel, Run River, but if were interested in it I would have picked it up and its discussion here seems a little out of place. It seems only to be there to raise the idea that there is nothing more tedious than a young person's nostalgia. Late reflections on madness, commitment and non-conformity, and the death of her mother are skillful braiding of fact and poetry, but on the whole the book is more flecks of gold here an there than a great strike.
In its up and down-ness, I also found myself wondering about the author's penchant for asking rhetorical questions. I hadn't noticed this in other of Didion's books or essays, but the habit becomes so pervasive here as to detract from the quality and insights of her observations. It seems as if, at least in this case, it is enough to identify an injustice or problem. Discussion of solutions or proposals of alternatives never enter the formula. At one point, a reader could be forgiven for concluding that Didion feels as if the aerospace workers and their families in Lakewood had never deserved their brief 'elevation' to the middle class; that their ownership of tiny houses in subdivisions for which she can barely conceal her contempt was a sham all along. As a reader from generation X, this habit of questioning authority without demonstrating the will to change is tiresome. It was like reading "a love song to a place"' (as the Times blurbs on the cover) played on a station that clearly targets a certain demographic of which I am not part.
So like California, the book has its problems. It is beautiful, but unfair. But like California, it's worth it....more
Since reading Ellen Lupton's brilliant little essay on the history of writing in Design Writing Research, I've been interested in the way punctuationSince reading Ellen Lupton's brilliant little essay on the history of writing in Design Writing Research, I've been interested in the way punctuation works. This is an entertaining volume that traces some very successful punctuation (quotation marks) and some less than successful ones, too (the interobang..useful, but not common). One could wish for a little more scholarship (the sources cited are not always great and occasionally are the kind that wouldn't get accepted in a college research paper), and from time to time the logic of the arguments is silly (it strikes me a highly doubtful that a piece of graffiti in Pompeii could have been the inspiration for a punctuation mark that evolved while the city was lost to history under a mountain of ash...). But the book is full of charming ideas and gets one thinking about all the invisible props in writing that help it make sense and, for that reason, is worth a look...to those who care about such things....more
While it has an engaging premise, Zweig's book is a little longer than it really needs to be. Once he's put forward his three traits for invisible worWhile it has an engaging premise, Zweig's book is a little longer than it really needs to be. Once he's put forward his three traits for invisible workers (aversion to attention, meticousness, and an embrace of responsibility), he doesn't have a lot left to do...yet he has about 116 more pages to fill. Although the book's skeptical approach to the self promoting, status-updating, brand-building ethos of modern work is refreshing, "Invisibles" feels like a long magazine feature inspired by Susan Cain's "Quiet"...hard working, introverted readers may see themselves reflected in Zweig's profiles and meditations, but I suspect they'll also be left wanting a little more from his book......more
Haven't read a lot of books in the series, but I hope the others are a little better. I kept asking myself as I read, 'does this belong in a very shorHaven't read a lot of books in the series, but I hope the others are a little better. I kept asking myself as I read, 'does this belong in a very short introduction? Shouldn't the author be talking about that instead?' These books may end up being better for readers who know nothing about a subject than those who know a little and are looking for advice how to structure their understanding from an authoritative overview......more
This is like reading three books in one...and like the multifunction tools that claim to perform a lot of tasks, it's less than satisfying.
The first sThis is like reading three books in one...and like the multifunction tools that claim to perform a lot of tasks, it's less than satisfying.
The first story you encounter is that of the author, a mathematician who has reached middle age without having won a prestigious prize in his field. I hope I can be pardoned for not feeling sympathy for him. I find his appearances in the book almost always tedious (view spoiler)[ (especially when, in chapter 10 he writes, of his students who become frustrated with maths and consider leaving the field, "My graduate students are like my children. They are the future of the subject. Who's going to read the details of my papers if not my mathematical offspring?"
I don't know about you, but I don't expect my [actual, non-metaphorical] children to do anything of the sort. (hide spoiler)]
The second layer of the book is a history of mathematics that deal with problems of symmetry. This aspect of the book is enjoyable enough, even if it careens into much-too-detailed mathematics from time to time. We also meet some interesting characters in the contemporary world of mathematics. Du Sautoy has a good sense of how to give his story some sense of urgency, and my only problem with this aspect of the book is how it is interrupted by the other parts...
The third part of this 'Inception'-like book is a discussion of a math problem the author is working on, which appears to evaporate in a mist of moonshine (sorry, spoiler there) as he writes. My ignorance of mathematics probably disqualifies me from addressing this subject fully, but I think it's fair for the reader to expect that if a subject is going to be introduced it's going to be worked out thoroughly in the narrative...
In all, the book has its entertaining passages - about the author racing to decode a Coldplay album cover, about how 24-dimensional grocers might stack oranges, about how codes and numbers and symmetry all intersect - but these are outweighed by tedious introspection, a story that is more surfed than narrated, and a-more-than generous dollop of specialized technical information. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Like others, I bought this while visiting New Orleans in a small independent bookstore (Crescent City books, which I thought was great). Zell's book aLike others, I bought this while visiting New Orleans in a small independent bookstore (Crescent City books, which I thought was great). Zell's book appealed to me in the way it's set up suggested Paul Auster. While I enjoyed the book's regional specificity, the thing that kept me reading was the sense of some concealed system driving the writing (if it's there, I didn't figure it out...). I wish the book had good to it's promised crime element sooner rather than dwelling in reflection for so many chapters, but it was a good work of regional writing - deeply colored by its locale, satisfying in its strangeness......more
There have been lot of books on this topic lately; this one is a favorite because the essay has an historical slant...I was fascinated to read about tThere have been lot of books on this topic lately; this one is a favorite because the essay has an historical slant...I was fascinated to read about the profusion of writing in the visual landscape of 19th century Europe and how they imagined themselves 'overwhelmed by information'. Overall, the book was a great deal of help to me as an artist who works with words in that it clarified issues about the words I was using - many surveys of this material seem to look only at the abstract and formal properties of text, but Morley tends to treat the art as a kind of writing and that really made the book for me......more
I have a slim bookshelf of plague fiction. It's an unsettling corner of my library, one that shines a light on human self-interest and indifference. OI have a slim bookshelf of plague fiction. It's an unsettling corner of my library, one that shines a light on human self-interest and indifference. Of course there's The Plague and Blindness. The Flame Alphabet shares a lot with these books - like them, it is full of things from the world we know. Telephones and copper wires. Cars, houses, trees, and children. But it also contains things that are not of this world - mysterious illnesses that stem from children's speech, holes in the woods that carry sermons to lonely worshippers.
As a work of largely experimental fiction (it's encouraging and a little hard to believe how many mainstream outlets blurbed the book), The Flame Alphabet suffers from a certain almost autistic emotional coolness. I found this much more readable than Marcus' earlier The Age of Wire and String, in part because the author does an astonishing job capturing the confusing, destructive love of parenting. Characters labor in ignorance long after you know what's causing their illness, and when ignorance no longer serves, they turn to denial for comfort.
For me, the passages in which the book treats language as a real thing are most engaging. For much of the second part of the book, we see minute descriptions of the act and effects of writing. These are captivating, and one begins to see the world slightly differently. The proliferation of signs and messages in the semiosphere takes on a quality of menace. William S. Burroughs described language as a virus and Marcus carries that idea to an extreme point, giving readers a world in which symbiosis is no longer the routine and where overexposure has catastrophic consequences.
What do we get from reading plague literature? From Camus, I got a strange reassurance of the agency and fundamental goodness of mankind. From Saragamo, I got horror - a sense of how we are ultimately wired to take advantage of any situation. From Marcus, I get a sense of the destructive power of love, of our unwillingness to leave a toxic situation long after it has begun to kill us. I could wish for an ending to the book, and for the resolution of many of its open questions about the motivations and outcomes of characters' actions, but I am satisfied with what I got: a thoughtful consideration of language, an allegory of parental misery, and a chance to ask myself, in a disaster like the plague described here, who which one of these characters would I be?...more
"The Tinkerers" raises an interesting question - what do you expect when you sit down to read a book (as opposed to a magazine article or newspaper fe"The Tinkerers" raises an interesting question - what do you expect when you sit down to read a book (as opposed to a magazine article or newspaper feature). Foege was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and senior writer at People and it shows in this under-researched book about a fascinating idea. When he's writing profile pieces - as in chapters on Dean Kamen and Gever Tulley - he's entertaining and pleasantly readable. But when he tries to write about the historical sweep of the topic, his weak storytelling skills get in the way. The chapter contrasting Washington and Franklin and setting them up as paradigms of American tinkering is so meandering as to be pointless.
But more disappointingly, the book suffers from the common sins of the genre of business literature - it's fixation on validating an idea or term (in this case, tinkering) prevents and serious, critical examination of that idea. A quick review of the notes cofirms that Foege got most of his information from business journalism, Wired magazine, the New York TImes and the New Yorker. This explains why is book reads like a second-hand analysis of ideas that have been discussed in these magazines and newspapers.
So what should one expect from a book rather than a magazine article or newspaper feature? A book can go into greater depth and engage more complex sources than these other forms, and I think readers are right to expect such depth and criticality from books. We've seen some very thoughtful writing like that in the last few years, from authors like Glenn Adamson and Richard Sennett (on crafts) and Matthew Crawford (on how changes in the education have affected ideas about work). Sadly, "the Tinkerers" reads like something you'd read on a long flight - a largely superficial attempt to identify a new trend that is principally about trying to stake out that new trend, not thoughtfully analyze it. It's something someone will mention in a meeting or when griping about the state of education in the 21st century, but there's no 'there' there....more