Reading Postman's 163 page rant against the evils of television these days is an exercise in quaint gentility. I am reminded of Stravinsky, who was asReading Postman's 163 page rant against the evils of television these days is an exercise in quaint gentility. I am reminded of Stravinsky, who was asked what he thought of Disney's use of his music in Fantasia and replied that it was pointless to insult something so silly. So as Postman righteously fulminates over the herds of Americans who watch 'Dynasty' and the 'A-Team' and 'Dallas', you have to ask, really?!? I am philosophically more inclined toward the kind of arguments offered by books like Everything Bad is Good for You, where something new is interrogated for its possibilities rather than summarily dismissed as evidence that we are tumbling into an abyss of stupidity. Still, I will likely include a chapter from this in seminars where I teach 'Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' to help students see why Benjamin was so important. And why was that? Because he got excited about ordinary people getting access to the means of production in culture...Postman? He seems to want - in the fully Trumpian sense - to make reading great again....more
I am all about looking at how we went form jetpacks to reenactment - how the forward-looking world of Modernism turned back on itself and embraced theI am all about looking at how we went form jetpacks to reenactment - how the forward-looking world of Modernism turned back on itself and embraced the past it was trying to run from - so I was pretty excited to get a copy of this. And for the most part, I enjoyed it...the most part however really is the Introduction and the first chapter. During those segments, the book entertainingly teases out ideas about what nostalgia is and how it works. It also engages in a scholarly game of this-whole-thing-started-a-hell-of-a-lot-earlier-than-you-think (and it's largely persuasive about this endeavor...and that's mildly depressing). Later chapters seem unable to match the excitement of the book's early observations, and the reader might be forgiven for saying, "mm.mm... yeah, I read that earlier' as the story unfolds.
Still, if you want to understand why the 21st century is all littered with 19th century crap, this is good place to start. It may not explain everything, but it will get you on the path and you'll have a better understanding of how the future didn't turn out how the past had planned......more
One of the strengths of the book was its very broad take on the idea of a secret language - it not only encompassed code and encryption, but also slanOne of the strengths of the book was its very broad take on the idea of a secret language - it not only encompassed code and encryption, but also slang, argot, taboo and other 'powerful' language forms like spells and curses. At times, its breadth made it feel thinly researched, though it does have a helpful bibliography that one can use to follow up on the myriad of ideas it tosses out. A fun read that may lead to more.......more
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