The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

Kottke usually recommends great books, but I’m lukewarm on this one. Not particularly engaging despite the subject matter which should have been riveting: one of the last explorers in the 1920s, heads off into his 5th (?) exploration into the Amazon with his son and his friend to find the large city of Z, supposedly a huge civilization smack dab in the middle of the rainforest.

Chronic City

Love this guy. Lethem’s skill in wielding a pen is unparalleled by any other living writer.
Perkus Tooth, Chase Insteadman, Richard Abneg, Oona Laszlo. Janice the astronaut, cancerous growth in foot, trapped behind Chinese space mines, faux fiancee of Chase. Hints of the Truman show. Manhattan, trapped in permafrost, perpetual winter, a “tiger” on the loose to build a new subway line under 2nd Ave. Perkus & Chase meet in the offices of the Criterion Collection, Perkus becomes Chase’s raison d’être. Chase a child actor all grown up, cashing residual checks. Perkus, once famous rock critic who pasted broadsides about town. The energy percolating off Perkus is palpable.
Gnuppets. Brando. Oona’s latest ghostwriting project an autobiography of the man who creates craters and calls them art. Fjords. The grey fog that swallowed up downtown. Cheeseburgers at Jackson Hole burger, which later falls victim to the cratering of the Tiger. The mystical chauldrons, pixelated treasure in a virtual reality world, which if gazed upon whilst high would show you the portal to another world.
Chase’s view from his window of the church dome, the birds flocking and soaring above it.

Baja Sailor Tales

Such poorly edited text ruins what little enjoyment I could get from what should have been a slam dunk. I love Baja, the sea, salty tales. But misusing “you’re” for “your” creates physical revulsion. The section of poetry is beyond comment. George also likes to describe women wearing remarkably similar clothing (“yellow sleeveless shirt, tight white shorts”). Sometimes the tight shorts are blue, but mostly it’s the white/yellow combo.
The fact that this book gets high ratings from the sailing community leads me to believe there is a niche market for good writing for sailors.
by George Snyder

Too Much Happiness: Stories

This is my second foray into Munro territory, and while I remain pleased, I am a bit dissatisfied with seeing the same themes play out in this collection of stories. Her writing is playful and excellent, even poking fun at herself by saying people who write short stories are a bit inadequate.

Eating Animals

The author vacillates betwixt vegetarianism and omnivorism until he begins researching this book, uncovering the horrors of factory farming. From the start, he tries shock tactics, encouraging us to eat dog meat since millions of pounds of it are wasted after dogs are euthanized, and well, lots of the globe eats dog meat. Henry Ford got his ideas for the factory line system after watching a slaughterhouse in action (putting a car together is the reverse of tearing a cow apart).
99% of our meat is from factory farms, which pump the animals full of growth hormones to bring them to market quickly. They are mistreated, living in shit, sick sick animals, that end up in KFC or your local grocery store.
Perhaps Smithfield is ripe for some investigatory journalism a la The Informant– this farm has 20 EPA violations a day, dumping 120 Olympic pool equivalents of liquid pig shit into rivers, paying $12.6M in fines, the amount they profit for every 10 hours of work.
Options: go vegetarian, or raise your own meat.
Fish are not exempt from the cruelties of factory farming. Kafka’s moment in the Berlin aquarium when he says to the fish, “Now I can at last look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore”.
I’m going to give up fish again and go strictly vegetarian.
“I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made. I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.”

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

I started reading this out of spite, it being recommended to a person I was speaking with, but I was being pointedly ignored by the person who was recommending it. So booyah, I immediately went out and read it. A detailed history of cryptography through time, from Mary Queen of Scots’ downfall due to broken code (messages were smuggled in via beer kegs), through Alan Turing during WWII and current computer encryption. Parts of the book went overboard in detail, but overall an interesting read. Everything from cracking the Enigma (Germans insisted on repeating the 3 letter key, so that provided a pattern to break), through the Rosetta Stone (hieroglyphics, Linear B- a dialect of Greek that had become unknonwn, and Greek)

NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children

The social-scientist in me was intrigued by this one, not that I have rug-rats of my own (or ankle-biters— I like these slightly derogatory terms). Essentially, everything we “know” about raising kids should be thrown out the window.
* Don’t tell a kid he’s smart, praise him for his effort. Give constructive praise, “I like how you went after the ball” instead of “great soccer game!”
* Let them get sleep. Use the “slush hour” before bed to wind down with them, don’t overschedule their activities.
* Racism: talk openly about the different skin colors– kids aren’t color blind and by not speaking about differences, they implicitly understand that other is taboo.
* Teaching self-control through the Tools program– defining kids’ objectives over the next hour, then letting them play and guiding them through their play plan if they get off track. Helps them develop more complex play situations if they have a long time to be focused on it.
* Baby Einstein DVDs are ineffective. Babies hearing sounds without correspondingly seeing the lips of characters move does not help them learn to speak. Talk back to your babies and let them see you sounding the words out and they’ll be chattering away in no time.

Stoner

Despite the name that brings connotations unrelated to the book, this was a wonderful book, prompting me to burn the light well past midnight to drive furiously to the end, then toss and turn for hours as I thought about the story while trying to fall asleep. Bill Stoner is the main character, a farm boy in rural Ohio whose father decides to send him to college to learn the science of agriculture and pick up tricks that might improve farming on their family plot. While at school, Stoner works for his mother’s cousin for room and board, managing their farm while he studied and went to school. Along the way, Stoner falls head first into love with literature, gives up Ag studies, and begins the relentless march towards becoming a professor.
He picks up a wife along the way (Edith), who openly hates him. The one time they have sex, Edith gets pregnant with their daughter Grace, a saving force in Stoner’s life. Stoner finds refuge in his work, discovers that he is a good teacher. His students seek him out, he begins a salon of discussion and ideas at his house when his wife is away. Edith comes back to wage war on him, pushing him out of his study, shrilling trying out her new brittle voice acquired while away. He retreats to his office at school, and then later finds salvation in the arms of a graduate student named Katherine, the first love of his life.
Pivotal to the story is Stoner’s rejection of a doctoral candidate, Walker, a cripple who lazily tries to skate by without any real knowledge of literature, and who is the pet student of Lomax, destined to become the department chairman. Thus begins a feud between Lomax and Stoner, resulting in their not speaking for 20 years. Lomax becomes chairman and dictates the worst class schedules for Stoner, teaching only freshmen, 6 days a week at widely varying times. Stoner puts up with it for awhile, and then throws the syllabus out the window and begins teaching his upper-level course to the freshmen, who complain. Lomax has no choice but to reinstate Stoner’s advanced classes.
It all ends in death, cancer (of course), but also in Grace’s departure from the home via pregnancy, marriage, alcoholism. Katherine’s book is dedicated to WS, naturally. Stoner’s last act was to reach for his own book, grabbing it and letting it fall to the floor in his death.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

I’ve always been curious about what would make such an obviously intelligent person veer off-course and join the Army post-9/11. Krakauer does an excellent job weaving Tillman’s tale along with the corresponding events of bin Laden & the chaos in Afghanistan.
Tillman was a Bay Area native, athletically talented, choosing football over baseball when the coach told him he wouldn’t get to start in baseball. Fearless, he gets into a brawl and arrested for assault during his senior year in high school, potentially putting his Arizona State scholarship at risk. The month he spends in juvey seems to wisen him, unlocking a thirst for reading he’d never had before.
At ASU, he distinguishes himself on the football field and academically, ends up getting drafted late in the rounds by the Arizona Cardinals. He plays with the team a few years, turning down a multi-million dollar contract to remain in Arizona with the team that believed in him enough to draft him. And then 9/11, and once the 2002 off-season arrives, Tillman joins the army with his brother Kevin.
Cue a shitstorm of pain during basic training, having to deal with idiot boys who whine and laze about, dealing with being separated from his wife Marie. Lucky for us, Pat keeps a journal and introspectively guides his thoughts onto the page. Fast forward, he’s deployed to Iraq, a war he doesn’t believe in. Ultimately he is redeployed to Afghanistan, where he is killed in a firefight by his own platoon.