Monday, January 21, 2013

Hawaii or Monterey Dunes?

Quote of the days:

So here's to the golden moon
And here's to the silver sea
And mostly here's a toast
To you and me

So here's to the ginger lei
I give to you today
And here's a kiss
That will not fade away

Thursday, January 3, 2013

TBH's 2012 Book List Meditation

Pics: Famous author, recent art acquisitions, KHB and THB after deciding they are going to Rio, famous author

Quote of the Day (by famous author):
Listen to those dancing feet close your eyes and let go
But it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing
Bop-shoo-wa, bop-shoo-wa, bop-shoo-wa

Everybody dance, do-do-do
Clap your hands, clap your hands
Everybody dance, do-do-do
Clap your hands, clap you hands

THB Book List: THB Book List

Where to start?

First, in 2012 THB read a lot of books (a few were non-Kindle books, such as listening to audio books, something called a single, etc.), 77 in total. This is not possible. On the other hand, we all know THB keeps track, and there they are, all of them, in another posting on the blog.

THB (of course) sorted the books:

  •  8 Top Picks: 4 novels, 4 non-fiction (random, though THB does read about the same in each category). Spoiler: Watergate and Bring Up The Bodies (both novels) were THB’s top two
  • 26 Recommended: 16 novels, 12 non-fiction 
  • 29 Neutral: 15 novels, 14 non-fiction
  • 3 Something Else: all 3 non-fiction
  • 11 Not Recommended: 5 fiction, 4 non-fiction

THB alternates fiction and non-fiction. It takes a lot longer to read non-fiction, so THB figures that averages about 2 novels a week (20 weeks or so), and one non-fiction per week (35 weeks) if reading straight through, one category finishes up, then move on to the next…does this make sense? THB is saying: non-fiction takes longer to read. Oh, THB just said that, so it must bear repeating.

Novel Conclusions: the novels are getting shorter and shorter, and the Kindle is making them easier to read. And, THB has noticed an alarming trend in fiction: there isn’t much serious work out there; things are sliding quickly to snarky, non-realistic (unless you think snarky is the current mode of serious discourse…that must be another meditation), and few novelists grappled with the big issues and ideas of our age. If he/she did, his/her book generally moved up in the rankings.

Non-Fiction Conclusions: We have officially entered the golden oldies era of rock and roll memoirs, et al. Neil Young, David Byrne and Nile Rodgers (who????) are on the list, plus one compilation of music reviews and an intense review of one album. THB does lean towards memoirs, first person histories, and biographies: 24 (TWENTY FOUR???). That is way too many. Maybe THB mis-counted? More likely that at this age, THB is finding books about facts or theories are generally not all that interesting, it’s the people that count.

Complete Conclusion: around half of the books THB made it through this year (i.e., neutral and not recommended categories added together) are not worth reading. That seems like a lot. Or, half of the books THB made it through this year are worth reading. Does that seem like a lot? Should THB figure out how to be more discriminating? Is there another way to select books THB will like other than reading reviews in the NYT and NY’er (and the odd reco or two from friends and family)?

Incomplete Conclusion: Most of the non-fiction books were published well before 2012 (THB keeps a list and reads the oldest first). THB is catching up in the fiction category and soon will be “out” of books on his list. Hmmmm….maybe it is time to switch to two n-f read for ever novel read?

Final Conclusion: Just about everything on THB’s list has keen Kindle-ized, which is one great thing for a guy with fading eyes.

THB's 2012 Book List

Pics: Lake Emeryville, famous author

Quote of the Day (another famous author):
You start a conversation you can't even finish it
You're talkin' a lot, but you're not sayin' anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again? 

Notes: Kindle version unless otherwise noted. Non-fiction unless (novel) is appended. 

Top picks (8): THB liked these books a lot, numbered in order of appeal to THB  

THB's Meditation on the List:  Meditation
  1. Watergate, Thomas Mallon (novel): A real rush, the retelling of the events from the break-in to the resignation. Right from the start, you want to get the bastard and all his underlings, and Mallon makes the actions all seem personal and understandable. 
  2. Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel (novel): Read Henry VIII Part 1 (Wolf Hall) first and then head right into Henry VIII Part 2 (BUTB). More the retelling of the life of Thomas Cromwell, told exceptionally well.  As a companion piece, read this NY’er piece, also highly recommended: Hilary Mantel NYer Profile
  3. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Peter Van Buren: Oh, the waste, the waste. A State Department official embedded in Iraq in 2009-10 gives the inside scoop on how to throw money at the wrong projects and avoid anything like helping build a nation, helping support people with basics like clean water, electricity and good government. Not much on physical fighting, and told with a ton of (ironic) humor.     
  4. Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic’s Search for Health and Healing, Tim Parks: Eat, Pray, Love for men of a certain age who get up to pee many times a night? THB actually wouldn’t know, having not read E, P, L (nor waking up to go multiple times a night). It does take place in Italy! 50ish British guy living in Italy (noted author, son of Anglican priest, non-religious, kayaker, translator, teacher, has scoliosis) develops pain in his lower region, can’t seem to get much confidence in the medical community about the best approach (ie, doctors recommend surgery), and ends up finding A Headache in the Pelvis and starts on a series of meditation, Buddhist retreats, and self-awareness to cure his problem. Pain goes away, peeing in the night continues, maybe book should be called Easing Peeing Locally?
  5. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, Professor X: An up close and personal view of community college students and their ability to write, plus how this fits in the larger college system and US economic system. Explains much about the current state of our economy if you believe that there is a huge issue matching people to jobs.
  6. One Day I Will Write About This Place, Binyavanga Wainaina: A jazzy memoir of growing up in Kenya in the 70s through to today, with the emphasis on the early years up to college. A read-everything-he-can-get-his-hands-on dreamer grows up to be a journalist and writer.
  7. By Blood, Ellen Ullman (novel): An unusual book, told in a flat old-time style. It takes place in 1974, mostly in a downtown SF building where THB worked in the early 2000s. A psychologically damaged professor on leave overhears a series of patient-therapist sessions focused on the patient’s unresolved emotions towards her adoption, and decides to get involved surreptitiously. Much of the unraveling involves the birth mother’s life in Germany during WWII.   
  8. Three Weeks in December, Audrey Schulman (novel): Alternating chapters of a young engineer at the turn of the 19th century and a young ethnobotanist at the turn of the 20th century, set in Africa. Both face significant (personal and situational) ordeals in the face of getting their first taste of work in their representative fields. A page turner, somewhere between myth and believability

Recommended (26): Enjoyed, listed in order read (for most part)

  • Late for Tea at the Deer Palace, Tamara Chalabi (Used hardback):  An Iraqi family history as told by a the daughter of Ahmad Chalabi; she is a journalist/historian, and does an excellent job of melding her Shi’a upscale well-connected family’s history with that of Iraq’s in the 20th century and, fortunately, very little is made of the US involvement. Companion book: A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin (1989) – read it anyway, it is a great book about explaining what happened to divide up the Middle east in post WW1.
  • A Book of Silence, Sara Maitland (Used hardback): An author’s attempt to describe and live a life of and with silence, starting her late 40s. The emphasis on the religious aspects of silence throughout history is a bit too much for THB (if at least necessary to the author who by the end of the books is praying for 3 hours a day), the rest is an intellectual excursion through the ages of attempts at and the meanings of silence.
  • A Day at the Beach, Helen Schulman (novel): 24 hours of post-9/11 of a small family that could see the towers from their window. Slow start, last 80% (170 pages) goes very fast.
  • This Beautiful Life, Helen Schulman (novel): the perfect family moves to NY and the teenage boy forwards on a video sent to him by a young female teenager and their lives spiral downward. A good companion to A Day at the Beach.
  • The Big Short, Michael Lewis: The financial crisis told through the (few) personalities that figured out how  to score big by shorting the crappy mortgages with CDOs, CDSs, short positions, etc.  Easy to read, fairly easy to understand the financial stuff, and very easy to understand that only the US public really got hurt, badly.
  • Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante (novel): a who-dun-it from the point of view of an Alzheimer’s patient, fast paced and more about the interactions and family history than a police procedural.
  • The Submission, Amy Waldman (novel): how charged the choice of a 9/11 memorial might become, unfortunately with a very weak ending.
  • The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach (novel): about…not baseball; college coming of age story from 3 or 4 different angles, including that of a 60 year old guy.
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson: Audio book. THB’s guess: better listened to than read. What do Bob Dylan and Steve have in common? They’re artists, they don’t look back; Joan Baez.
  • A Regular Guy, Mona Simpson (Steve Job’s biological sister,novel): A very good companion to Steve’s biography. In sum, Steve was not a very nice guy, really not a nice guy, as self-centered and self-delusional as they come when it came to explaining why something is in someone else’s best interest (it was always in Steve’s best interest, by far).
  • Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein, Julie Salamon: Another famous person (see Steve Jobs, above) decides to ignore her health issues and dies early. Can one Jewish mother (and a very kind father) drive two of her four (or is it three of five?) children to wealth and fame? Yep! THB has not seen one of Wendy’s plays or read any of her books, and believes this is a good “she knew everyone” summary of the feminist movement, boomers, theater crowd, and upper class life by the nouveau riche in Manhattan from the early 70s onward.
  • Sacred Trash, Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole: 1000-1200 year old trash is found in a Cairo synagogue attic and this book follows the personalities that decipher the mundane and religious paper and parchment artifacts of the era.
  • The Grief of Others, Leah Cohen (novel):  a family dealing with grief brought on by post-partum blues. Interesting take on bullying, reconnecting within families, and a Hollywood ending.
  • An Available Man, Hilma Wolitzer (novel): a recent widower in the over 60’s dating scene. Extremely fast read, a bit sappy, chic-lit with a guy as the protagonist.
  • Heft, Liz Moore (novel): loss and loneliness among an improbable group. Also, a very fast read.  
  • Carry the One, Carol Anshaw (novel): 5 young adults tied together by a tragedy after a wedding, with many years to follow.
  • Truth Like the Sun, Jim Lynch (novel) set in 1962 and 2001 Seattle with the same guy as the main character. In 62, he’s running the World’s Fair and 01 he’s running for mayor. Fast, fun, and maybe semi-accurate if you know Seattle. 
  • George F Kennan: An American Life, John Gaddis. More about the placing of Kennan in the geopolitical context of the post-revolutionary Russia through to the demise of the Soviet Union with heavy emphasis on the immediate post WWII years. Kennan was a guy that liked to be taken (very) seriously yet blanched quickly when put in a leadership role and knew a ton about Russia: its language, history, relationship to other countries and power. Well placed to be right about the one big thing: how to “contain” the Soviets and await the change from communism to capitalism.
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain (novel): Today’s big event: appearing at halftime of the Thanksgiving football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, in Dallas. Told through the soldier (Billy Lynn) who has won medals for the battle and is struggling with the juxtaposition of new found fame and what for him is now all pretty complex for a 19 year old to take in and make sense of: loyalty to family, to his squad, to his commitment to the army, making out with a Dallas cheerleader, and wisdom passed on by his sergeant and dead comrade.
  • The Lifeboat, Charlotte Rogan (novel): an old-style telling of what 39 people floating in the Atlantic in 1914; well written, a bit Victorian moving towards women’s lib version.
  • Canada, Richard Ford (novel): 15 year old twins get cast to their fates after their parents get caught robbing a bank, as told by the boy half of the pair, with most of the “action” taking place in the days before and after the robbery, though the story is being told 50 years later. Somewhat melancholy in tone; this is appropriate to not overly sensationalize the events, which are sensational.
  • Mission to Paris, Alan Furst (novel): really a novella, another Furst pre-WWII spy story with a true Hollywood ending.
  • Alys, Always, Harriet Lane (novel): unlikely coincidence propels a young editorial assistant into rarified air
  • How Music Works, David Byrne (McSweeney hardback): pretty droll, not that much about the Talking Heads, more about the process than any particular song/album content or construction (some, not much). A few great chapters (e.g., Business and Finances, Creation in Reverse) and one lousy one (fortunately, the last one)
  • Dare Me, Megan Abbott (novel): cheerleader in high school involved in a shooting death; do high school girls really talk like this now?
  • Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny, Nile Rodgers: 1,000 bonus points if you know who this guy is, the name of his group, and his role in the music industry. The companion volume to How Music Works?

Neutral (29): Something of value, not enough to actively encourage reading (or listening)

  • The Year We Left Home, Jean Thompson (novel)
  • Daughters of the Revolution, Carolyn Cooke (novel)
  • Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson (novel)
  • Lessons in Disaster, McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, Gordon Goldstein (Used paperback)
  • Tree of Rivers, the Story of the Amazon, John Hemming (Used paperback)
  • The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock (novel)
  • Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta (novel)
  • In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson: An oft-told tale of pre-WW II Germany, this time through the prism of the US ambassador and his promiscuous daughter.
  • The Curfew, Jesse Ball (novel)
  • The Convert: A Tale of Exile, Deborah Baker
  • My Bolivian Aunt: Cecil Beaton, on his aunt that married a Bolivian diplomat
  • A Small Hotel, Robert Olen Butler (novel): Fast paced memories during the last day of a marriage, with a Hollywood ending and a stereotypical stoic male and a woman looking for expressions of love
  • How it All Began, Penelope Lively (novel)
  • Out of the Vinyl Deeps, Ellen Willis: Old intellectual music reviews. Ellen LOVED Bob!
  • Witness to an extreme century, Robert Jay Lifton: how depressing is it to write book after book on the great 20th century catastrophes? Very…
  • Shards, Ismet Prcic (about 80% of a novel)
  • A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, Michael Holroyd (about 80% of the love affair of Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, 20% poor book reviewing)
  • The Starboard Sea, Amber Dermont (novel): maybe a good read for you sailors
  • The Law of Dreams, Peter Behrens (novel): One teenager’s journey from Ireland to America in the 1840s
  • Coral Glynn, Peter Cameron (novel): 1950’s small village entanglement, might as well have been the 1850s
  • Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Left It, and Long For It, Craig Taylor: Vignettes, of value possibly if you’re in London
  • The Arrogant Years, Lucette Lagnado: Woe is me, woe is me, woe is me, memoir of her mother, woe is me, woe is me, woe is me
  • Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms, Eugenia Bone: An awful lot about mushrooms
  • Then Again, Diane Keaton: Memoir of her mother and her kids and somewhat about herself
  • Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd (novel): first half: nothing happens slowly; second half: lots of action, most of it not justified by the intrigue
  • Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (novel): Alternating chapters of husband framed by wife for murder (hers)
  • And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life, Charles J Shields: Moralist and science fiction, and a guy caught in two long marriages, one with an admirer/helpmate, the other with a paranoiac control freak
  • Ghost Milk: Recent adventures Among the Future Ruins in London on the Eve of the Olympics, Iain Sinclair. Obvious why THB picked this one to read. Suggested alternate subtitles: The story of an angry man who liked to walk places and would rather be living in 1907 London; The one or two famous guys I knew and admired and hung out with; How I got lost in other cities because I didn’t take the time to figure out how to get somewhere.   
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple (novel): Somewhere between farce and satire, the short bits on Seattle are very funny (and siding towards truth?)

In the Something Else category (3):  

  • My Seinfeld Year, Fred Stoller (called a “single”): A reco from someone that THB’s bro knows; for two bucks you can download this “short” book to your Kindle and read away (for not too long, yet long enough). Turns out it is more like buying a magazine article. Cheaper that buying the whole magazine and you get what you pay for…Next time, THB is gonna buy a double, maybe even a triple.
  • Talking Heads, Fear of Music (33 1/3), Jonathan Lethem: A short book that looks at the album in detail, excruciating detail. The good news: THB has this album (the original, moved into MP3 format years ago), so listened to the cuts as they were being described. As quoted in the book, as Frank Zappa says about writing about music: it’s like dancing about architecture.
  • Fran Lebowitz Reader: If you get a chance, go see Fran talk. If you don’t get a chance, then watch Scorsese’s documentary on Fran, Public Speaking. Lastly, just read the first entry in the Reader, and there you have Fran! A National Treasure, albeit a one note Treasure.

Not Recommended (most likely not finished, 11):  

  •  A Sea in Flames, Carl Safina. The story of the BP Deepwater accident, told like it was a personal event in Safina’s life as he trolls around the bayou afterwards. Nothing like his better books, Eye of the Albatross or Song for the Blue Ocean
  • There is No Year, Blake Butler (novel). Impossible to understand, too avant garde?
  • The Fear: Robert Mugabe and Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, Peter Godwin. How to stretch a magazine article into a far too long book with material beaten to death and/or covered in an earlier (very good) book
  • The Great Night, Chris Adrian (novel). THB must have been in a spell when he read the review because (in retrospect) it spelled out the kind of “dream” stuff THB hates.
  • Popular Crime, Bill James: Yes, of Baseball Abstract fame. THB to Bill: stick to baseball.
  • The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World, David Deutsch. Awful; words, words, words, zero content.
  • The Patrick Melrose Novels, Edward St Aubyn: THB made it through 1.5 of the novels before deciding that it was impossible that there can be people so depraved in the no-need-to-work class of England that they would want to read this drivel about themselves. Impossible.
  • Sex on Six Legs, Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World, Marlene Zuk: Too many anecdotes, not enough intelligence (wanna make something intellectual, keep listing all the institutions of the people quoted).
  • Wichita, Thad Ziolkowski (novel): a seemingly sane recent college grad with a unbelievable family. Too unbelievable to read about.
  • Thinking: Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman: when writing repetitively, fast or slow doesn’t matter much
  • The Last Hundred Days: Patrick McGuinness (novel): only made it through 75 days of the fall of Romania in 1989