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…