Archive for the 'books' Category

What the Hell, Malcolm Gladwell

My friend Julia writes today on Huffington Post – What the Hell, Malcolm Gladwell. She takes the Tipping Point author to task for not including one woman in his new book Outliers, which examines high achievers:

But what about Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, Tina Brown, or Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo?

What about Oprah?

The omission of women in Outliers says more about the nature of “big think” books than it does about Mr. Gladwell.

I think that lets him off the hook easy, but it’s interesting to read Julia’s thoughts on the book publishing world. She posts regularly to the Harper Studio blog, at

The Island at the Center of the World

The Iowa Caucus results last night got me thinking about the many competing political cultures present throughout American history. Individualist vs. communitarian, rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural… but, at the core of our national psyche is this tension between the lofty ideals set forth by the Founders, and our attempts and failings to live up to them. For every shining example of Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr., there are generations of back-sliders who prey upon fear in order to gain political advantage. Sure, to everything there is a season, but I’m glad to see that the voters in Iowa embraced hope and rejected cynicism, on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Island at the Center of the WorldHistory is written by the winners, which is why Americans tend to think of our colonial past and democratic beginnings as built upon and in reaction to English institutions alone – but the story is a little more complicated. It’s not often that I do book reviews, but I just finished re-reading The Island at the Center of the World, The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America [excerpt] by journalist historian Russell Shorto, and wanted to recommend it to anyone looking for some interesting reading on the origins of this country.

The traditional telling of colonial America focuses almost exclusively on the English colonies in Virginia and New England. But, Shorto reminds us that the Dutch were the first Europeans to settle the island of Manhattan, and built some of the most lasting ideals and institutions into the fabric of American political and cultural life.

Continue reading ‘The Island at the Center of the World’


RavenclawAccording to The Harry Potter Sorting Hat Personality Test, I’m a Ravenclaw – but just barely:

Ravenclaw 75, Hufflepuff 73, Slytherin 68, Gryffindor 65

But, Lisa took the test for me, and is convinced that I’m quite Slytherin:

Slytherin 85, Gryffindor 62, Ravenclaw 61, Hufflepuff 38

One of us has a perception problem, at least when it comes to me! What house are you?


Marci was in town for a job interview at Harvard, so we took wednesday off from work, and headed for the beach in Gloucester.

not crowded
So much less crowded on weekdays…


Having just finished Tipping Point, I dug into a couple
hundred pages of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink


…and, we enjoyed a big jug of homemade Sangria.

Harry Potter 6

Well, it was yet another quick read, but Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was fun. I thought it was very satisfying, but not as enjoyable as books 4 & 5.

I’d hate to spoil anything, but Designweenie brings up one potential inconsistency.

Saul Bellow

I have very few literary heroes, but Saul Bellow is one of them. Since I read Henderson the Rain King in high school, I’ve admired his wit, and ability to charge the most ordinary among us with great thoughts and purpose. His characters didn’t always succeed in life, but they were cast with such ironic humor, that it hardly mattered.

I was sorry to hear that he died yesterday, at the age of 89.

I never got to meet him when I was a student at BU, however I did help rescue a manuscript of his from his misbehaving computer, when I worked as as a student help-desk technician — much to the relief of his Grad student.

Though he is well known and widely read, his reputation in the literary world is almost cult-like. Philip Roth said yesterday:

The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists: William Faulkner and Saul Bellow… Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century.

And, a couple of years ago, another writer that I admire, Martin Amis, went on NPR’s The Connection to discuss Bellow, and his legacy.


simplebook.gifDan Cederholm of SimpleBits has written a book, Web Standards Solutions, which arrived today with it’s familiar cover.

I’m interested in streamlining my site, improving on semantic markup, etc., so I hope that Dan’s book will be a good reference. Oh, and I love his redesign.

It seems that everyone is refreshing their sites these days.

McSweeney’s Quarterly Issue 10

mcsweeneys-10.jpgMcSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales arrived in the mail today, and it’s something to behold. Guest-edited by Michael Chabon, it revives the notion that short-story writing can be as varied in theme and form as longer format writing. It’s the celebrity issue: Neil Gaiman, Michael Crichton, Dave Eggers himself, Harlan Ellison, & Rick Moody, & all proceeds to benefit 826 Velencia.

Complimenting this truly wonderful writing, is the design, which resembles a pulp publication from the 1940s, a time when the short-story could take the form of a western, science fiction, detective, or horror. The illustrations are fun, and many original advertisements are included as well.

Holding this issue makes me happy to be alive! No, really.

You Shall Know Our Velocity

You shall sitI’ve been reading a lot lately, just not talking much about it. I finally finished getting through McSweeney’s Issue No. 5… I had previously just skimmed it.

While visiting Kunta in Brooklyn, we stumbled into the McSweeney’s store on 7th ave, and I found it such an odd, futilely amusing place.

I mean, your typical McSweeney’s reader isn’t inclined to buy and sport a tshirt, is he or she? And as for the other random items they sell, though I enjoyed pawing through them, they aren’t at all desirable to purchase.

I guess that’s not the point: McSweeney’s is as much a brand, or anti-brand brand as any other buzz-worthy commodity. Eggers’ & crew are image-crafters as much as they are writers, and if that means opening a boutique at considerable expense, then hey, do it.

That said, I ordered Eggers’ new book You Shall Know Our Velocity, and it came via UPS today.

First impression, having read 1.5 pages? The incessant self-reflexive posturing in the introduction of his first book is reigned. In fact, the novel begins on the front cover, continues on the reverse of the cover, and takes off from there, without any introduction.

Gimmicky? Yes. Interesting? Always.

Biography of an Architectural Icon

coverI started reading this book, Divided We Stand, a biography of the building of the World Trade Center.

Written before the collapse on September 11, though informed by the earlier bombing in 1993, the author offers context and cultural comment on what was arguably the world’s most famous building (were they one or two buildings?). What is especially shocking is that not only was it one of the last cataclysmic ‘urban-renewal’ mega-schemes held over from the 60s, (it was completed in 1972), that eliminated 16 blocks of low-income (though thriving) commercial space, but also it was the largest government-sponsored real estate speculation in the history of the world.

Managed by the Port Authority of NY & NJ, a dubious organization, it was pitched as a ‘vertical-port’, to replace the decaying shipyards below, (which were traded quid pro quo to NJ for their ‘ok’ to build the WTC). What it became, was a state-sponsored plaything for the Rockefeller brothers, (both Governor Nelson, and Chase Manhattan CEO David). With massive tax breaks for tenants, the city of New York lost millions of dollars in tax revenue, and by the mid-1970s was bankrupt.

President Ford, at first, decided to let NY wallow, but political pressure forced him to organize a bailout. Funny. How could you consider letting America’s first city implode, and expect to get elected as America’s first citizen?

Katya Katya Katya

I read Paul Greenberg’s first book Leaving Katya, after hearing an interview with Bruce Gellerman on WBUR, and I was so very pleased. The least I can do is recommend it to anyone who’s gone through a ‘Russian phase’.

And, I suspect the author is a web-savvy guy, cause he found me, and sent me this e-mail:

——-Original Message——-
From: Paul Greenberg
Sent: Saturday, April 06, 2002 6:45 PM
Subject: LEAVING KATYA readings in Boston

Dear Ned,
Thought you might be interested in these upcoming Leaving Katya events.

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg will be doing a series of readings from his Russian American love story LEAVING KATYA in the Boston area coming up in April. Carolyn See in The Washington Post called LEAVING KATYA “A terribly funny novel.” The New York Times wrote that in LEAVING KATYA , “Greenberg, comic and knowing, has done a rare thing supremely well.” Bruce Gellerman of WBUR’s Here and Now said, “The writing in LEAVING KATYA is rich, funny and forceful” while Vogue Magazine wrote “this tale will resonate with anyone whose infatuation with an exotic person or place has revealed dissatisfactions that lie a little closer to home.”

Exact details for the readings are as follows:

April 8, 2002
6:30 PM
Dinner and Book Club Discussion at
The Hamersley’s Bistro
553 Tremont Street
Boston, MA
For reservations call 617-423-2700

April 9, 2002
Author reading
Barnes & Noble at Boston University
660 Beacon St., Kenmore Sq.
Boston, MA

April 11, 2002
4:00 PM
Russian Tea, Reading and Discussion
Russian Studies Department
Marston Hall
Brown University
Providence, RI

April 18, 2002
7:30 PM
Author reading
Newtonville Books
296 Walton Street
Newton Massachusetts
(for directions call: 617 244 6619)

(Note: Beginning April 1 Leaving Katya will be available at all Barnes and Nobles in the “Discover Great New Writers” section of the store.)

Pagan’s Head, from Pop-Fiction to Pop-Biography

The Times has a nearly glowing review of Pagan Kennedy’s new book, a historical biography of the African-American missionary William Henry Sheppard. Kennedy used to write this silly ‘zine’ called Pagan’s Head in the 80s, from a crappy little house on Farrington Street, in my neighborhood. 666 and I swapped books by Pagan Kennedy, and I always found her writing quirky and fun. I can’t believe she’s getting good reviews for writing something more academic…

To continue with the Harry

To continue with the Harry Potter books thread, of which i have read none, the producers of the 700 club have posted an article titled What’s A Christian To Do With Harry Potter?, with such insightful analysis as:

If you’ve ever had a conversation with another believer (my emphasis) about Harry Potter, you’ve probably discovered that it can be a very divisive issue. And division in the body of Christ can be as dangerous as any affect Harry could have on children.

I guess the religious right is preaching tolerance in the 21st century. But, looks to me like Pat Robertson has other problems to worry about.

Presley and Harry Potter

Presley has been reading the Harry Potter books lately, (with great enjoyment i might add). Slate has a funny article in their culturebox, about fantasy writers.

Finally finished Shampoo Planet

Finally finished Shampoo Planet, by Douglas Coupland, (the oh-now-so-extinct zeitgeist writer of the early 90s), and found myself enjoying it quite a bit. The Gen-X thing might be pass�, considering many of Coupland’s readers went on to make intenet cash in the mid to late 90s, but i found a strong identification with his characters. And while i can’t say that i am a 21-year-old Reagan youth, in the early 90s, in a very small, northwest town near a toxic Superfund site, growing up wiith Hippy parents, struggling with “making it” in corporate America… i can identify with the struggling thing. You’re not going to “make it” sitting around worrying about “making it”…

i am lucky to have a job designing in the “new media” realm. Cuts at Zefer, and Viant.

David Sedaris’s One-Man Christmas Comedy Show

david sedaris, a regular contributor to NPR, is doing a run of his one-man christmas comedy show in boston:

Sedaris began work in December of 1992 as one of Santa’s elves in the Manhattan Macy’s “SantaLand” department. After observing fisticuffs between mothers in line with their rambunctious progeny awaiting their turn to sit in the lap of a lecherous, drunken Santa, Sedaris penned the “SantaLand Diaries.”

i’d love to get my hands on…

i’d love to get my hands on this book ‘Typography: Macro- + Microaesthetics’, by Willi Kunz…