Zone One

Colson never disappoints on the writing front. Although initially thrown off by the thought of a zombie book, I devoured this quickly, led on by glorious strings of words (although he does repeat “carom” a few times within pages of each other). This book proves that Whitehead can take any topic and squeeze a parable of current events out of it.
Hero Mark Spitz (nicknamed after a killing spree of Olympian proportions) is part of the post apocalyptic world, clearing lower Manhattan (zone one) of skels, the living dead who persist after the plague eats their brains (after they are bitten by zombies). His Omega team consists of himself, Kailyn, and Gary, trotting their sleeping bags across the city, clearing out bodies for Disposal, offing skels that loom in their way.
Part zombie flick, part commentary about current society, how we all yearn for our neighbors to drop dead and winnow the line at Whole Foods. Spitz is a survivor, and continues to survive after the wall falls and the undead sweep again into the city.
Read this within two weeks of its publication, a record for me. It also helps that I got a free copy as part of my winning tickets to hear him in conversation with Krasney at the Herbst Theater last week. Stood in line like a fool and got an autographed copy to boot. That makes 2 for me: Whitehead and Ken Kesey. Not a bad record.

Colson Whitehead @ City Arts & Lectures

It figures that I’d win a pair of tickets to this event twenty minutes after I gave up and purchased them. Bonus was the free copy of his latest book, Zone One, which I ended up schlepping into the signing line for my own piece of CW’s immortal wisdom inscribed on the intro pages.
The event was hosted by Michael Krasny at the Herbst Theater. I shuffled my three tickets and chose the best seat, clutched my copy of Zone One, and watched as Colson strode into the stagelights, wearing suspenders, bowling shoes, his dreads pulled back in a massive ponytail. And he proceeded to crack himself up, giggling at his answers, telling us he always aspired to be a sickly child because that meant he could read and read and read.
His first writing attempt was a Gary Coleman-esque novel which publishers turned their noses up at. His second attempt was the Intuitionist, which everyone loved him for. He’s been cranking out quality books ever since, writing 3-4 days a week between 11-4, at least 8 pages a week. He takes 2 years off between books to walk the earth and recover from the process.
A great idea he has yet to write about: George Washington Carver and the peanut powered time machine.
On his current reading list is Game of Thrones, a bunch of poker books for a poker article/book he’s working on. Much respect for Raymond Carver and Saul Bellow (reluctantly).

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Incredible book exploring the lost art of memorization, immensely readable for a strange subject. Foer weaves in tales from both ends of the spectrum, people who can remember vast quantities of data, and people who cannot remember anything from one moment to the next. The book begins with the feats of the “father of memory,” Simonides, who in 5th century BC Greece identifies bodies in rubble based on remembering where they sat at the banquet table. Then we are dropped in media res, where the author is a finalist in the U.S. Memory Championship, despite having only heard of it a year earlier when he covered the competition for an article for Slate, with the angle of SuperBowl for savants. As a journalist, he meets Ed Cooke, the eleventh best memorizer in the world, who tells Foer that anyone can do what they are doing, with an average memory, and urges him to compete, agreeing to be his coach.
He learns memory palace visualization techniques, because our brains recall images much more quickly than numbers or words. The lewder and more shocking the image, the greater the recall. You have to visually place the image spatially, so think of your childhood home or current workplace, and place the images in disparate parts of the house/office. To recall the items, take a mental stroll through that landscape. Evidence that we never truly forget things is evident in experiments, the items just are lost to our recall. (Example: the amnesiac who didn’t remember that he was asked to draw a shape in a mirror but who consistently got better at it).
Our brains got this way via evolution- our ancestors didn’t need to recall phone numbers or US Presidents but rather needed to know where to find food and resources and the route home, which plants were poisonous. By visualization, we maintained those memories. Reading was also different– people read intensively instead of extensively. Song as a strong element for helping remember (jingles stick in your head).
Classical memory training is first described in the 80 B.C. Latin textbook Rhetorica ad Herennium, the section on memory only a few pages wedged in a larger discussion of rhetoric:

The natural memory is that memory which is embedded in our minds, born simultaneously with thought. The artificial memory is that memory which is strengthened by training and discipline. Artificial memory has two basic components: images and places. Create a space in the mind’s eye that you know well and can easily visualize, then populate the imagined place with images representing whatever you want to remember.

Michel de Montaigne might have had the original idea for loudlatinlaughing:

To compensate a little for the treachery and weakness of his memory, he adopted the habit of writing in the back of every book a short critical judgement, so as to have at least some general idea of what the tome was about and what he thought of it.

Socrates explains how Theuth, Egyptian god and inventor of writing, came to the king of Egypt and offered to teach writing to his subjects. The king was reluctant to accept:

It will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. It is no true wisdom you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them anything, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellow-men.

Other good bits:

According to Ericssson, what we call expertise is really just “vast amounts of knowledge, pattern-based retrieval, and planning mechanisms acquired over many years of experience in the associated domain.” In other words, a great memory isn’t just a by-product of expertise, it is the essence of expertise.

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out pyschological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

“In our gross misunderstanding of the function of memory, we thought that memory was operated primarily by rote. What was not realized is that memory is primarily an imaginative process. Learning, memory, and creativity are the same fundamental process directed with a different focus. The art and science of memory is about developing the capacity to quickly create images that link disparate ideas. Creativity is the ability to form similar connections between disparate images and to create something new and hurl it into the future so it becomes a poem, a building, a dance, a novel.” – Buzan

Reco’d by mjs, who has not yet finished it.

Wallace Stevens on Work

Early Stevens
“None of the great things in life have anything to do with making your living.”
Late Stevens 1
“It gives a man character as a poet to have daily contact with a job. I doubt whether I’ve lost a thing by leading an exceedingly regular and disciplined life.”
Late Stevens 2
“A writer faces a point of honor that concerns him as a writer. He must apparently choose between starvation and that form of publishing (or being published) in which it is possible to make money. His problem is how to support himself while engaged in the most honorable capacity. There is only one answer. He must support himself in some other way.”

Richard III

The conniving hunchbacked villain comes into his own in the capper to the Henry VI plays, lying to friend and foe, soliloquizing his exploits to the audience. We burst forth with the famous “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York, and all the clouds that lowered upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
Act 1: Scene 1, Richard bares his soul, his plans for the crown, to us the audience alone. Brother Clarence is sent to the Tower, where soon Richard sends killers to dispatch a rival to the throne. Richard woos his brother’s widow Anne as the coffin of Henry VI stands nearby (Richard killed him in the Tower of London), he blames her beauty on why he slew her husband and brothers and father. Sadly, she falls for this nonsense. We learn that King Edward is ill, Richard pretends to have no interest in the throne (a theme throughout), he hires killers to murder Clarence.
Act 2: sick Edward reconciles all the warring Dukes, the widowed Queens all bemoan their losses of husbands and sons (another theme: one-upmanship of grief). Citizens in the street don’t look forward to the transition to a boy king. One of the princes tries out his impudent line about how his uncle great so fast he had teeth at two hours old, which would have been said in biting jest. “Pitchers have ears” comes from this section.
Act 3: The prince arrives, his other uncles arrested by Gloucester/Richard, and is immediately ensconced in the Tower of London. The arrested uncles (Grey, Rivers, Vaughan) are executed. Scene IV is a bit weird– Richard arrives in an ebullient mood, asks Ely to send for the strawberries in his garden, everyone comments on how pleasant he looks, then Richard rains down terror onto Hastings, sending him to his death. Later, the mayor of London is fooled into backing Richard as King, after Buckingham extolls his virtues.
Act 4: The widowed queens are bemoaning again, Anne is summoned to be Queen. Richard is kinged. Tyrrel the murderer is procured to manage the smothering of the two princes in the tower. Richard is intercepted by Elizabeth, whom he entreats to help him woo Elizabeth as his wife, since Anne is killed off (“Let rumors abound of her sickness.”) There are pages and pages of back & forth between Richard and Elizabeth. Richard finds out about armies massing against him.
Act 5: Henry of Richmond is returned to fight, to claim the throne. Ghosts of Richard’s victims appear to him in sleep. Richard is slain (A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!), peace reigns in England.

Of Walking in Ice

Werner Herzog’s journal from his three week walking journey from Munich to Paris in Nov/Dec 1974. Originally published in 1978, new translation out recently. I’m a sucker for anything published about what was going on when I was born, thus fell for this doozy. Herzog walks from Munich to Paris (mostly walking, some cars give him a ride) to prevent the death of Lotte Eisner, great film giant. Of course this is futile, but more power to him for the gesture. Fog and snow and unmarked trails but he prevails. Only interesting due to the fact that he describes the day I was born. Truth itself wanders through the forest.

Henry VI, Part 3

Action packed scenes of king-making and king-thwarting. The crown goes back and forth between Henry and Edward, each of them king twice in this part. People jump quickly across the line between sworn enemies and friends for life.
Act 1 Scene 1 is in Parliament, where Henry vows to cede his throne to the Duke of York once he dies peacefully (instead of Prince Henry, his son). Queen Margaret is incensed by Henry’s betrayal, raises an army against York. Lord Clifford seeks out York’s youngest son, a mere boy, and kills him (Rutland), relishing in the blood on his sword that is later transferred to a handkerchief Margaret offers York at his death-point. (At one point, Margaret exclaims, “Alas, poor York!” which seems to my ear to echo the famous “Alas poor Yorick” in Hamlet)
York rages against Margaret before he dies:

‘Tis beauty that doth oft make women proud,
But, God He knows, thy share thereof is small.
‘Tis virtue that doth make them most admired;
The contrary doth make the wondered at.
‘Tis government that makes them seem divine;
The want thereof makes thee abominable.

O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!
How couldst thou drain the lifeblood of the child
To bid the father wipe his eyes withal,
And yet be seen to bear a woman’s face?

Act 2, the Yorks hear of their father’s death, kill Clifford, Warwick the king-maker hatches plans of claiming the crown for Edward in London then solidifying the relationship with France by betrothing the French princess to Edward. Richard becomes Duke of Gloucester (which he protests “Gloucester’s dukedom is too ominous” because of all the violent deaths of the Dukes of Gloucester), George becomes Duke of Clarence, Edward becomes King.
Act 3: Henry wanders Scotland in exile, is snatched up by hunters and delivered to the Tower of London. Lady Grey pleads to King Edward for her late husband’s estate to be returned to her, Edward suggests that she sleep with him for this favor, she refuses, he asks her to marry him, which thwarts Warwick’s French mission. Richard soliloquizes about all the murder he’ll have to carry out to obtain the throne. In France, they learn of Edward’s marriage, which turns Warwick against him and allied to Margaret.
Act 4: People desert Edward when they learn that Warwick is leading an army against him, go to join Warwick. Queen Elizabeth (née Lady Grey) goes into hiding with Edward’s baby. Edward is captured, Henry becomes King again. Edward escapes, gathers an army.
Act 5: Edward & Richard attack Warwick in Coventry. Warwick dies, along with Montague. Richard kills Henry in the Tower of London, Edward re-kinged, united with his baby son.
Henry VI to Richard, right before he is killed:

Teeth hadst thou in thy head when thou wast born,
To signify thou camest to bite the world.
And, if the rest be true which I have heard,
Thou camest ———-

Nobody does violence like Old Shakes.

Henry VI, Part 2

A much more enjoyable part of Henry 6…. more fighting, better verbal jousting, real action takes place. We pick up the story with Henry VI married to Queen Margaret as a peacemaking overture for the French. Shakes confuses Margaret’s name in Act 3, calling her Eleanor, after Gloucester’s wife. Margaret has Suffolk as her lover, shows herself as conniving and scheming in this part. She opposes the Duke & Duchess of Gloucester, dancing with joy in their disgrace (and plotting his death), and loathes York.
Opposing the Queen in this section is York and his supporters, his sons Richard, Edward, and the Earl of Warwick (Kingmaker). He waits for Humphrey Earl of Gloucester’s fall (er, murder), then springs into action as a legitimate heir to the throne. He’s whisked away to Ireland with an army to command (mistake!), which he uses upon his return to England to grasp the throne.
Fourth act of the play is dominated by Jack Cade (another pretender to the throne, but common man), then in the fifth act, York returns to England.

Ten Thousand Saints

Straight-edge punks who are vegan, anti-drugs/drinking/smoking. Eliza hooks up with Teddy on New Years Eve, the night he dies from an overdose. Jude and Johnny convince her to keep the kid as a way to remember Teddy. Adventures in punk-dom continue through the summer, Eliza decides to give the baby up, snuggle back into her trust-fund kid cocoon. Jude’s mom Harriet settles in with Bob the private investigator that Eliza’s mom (Di) sent looking for her. Johnny and Rooster flee to San Francisco. Kind of a boring story, actually. Decent writing but nothing swoon-worthy.