Walking Literary London

I took pieces of the walks suggested within; specifically the Bloomsbury and Soho and City walks. Was a good resource, not particularly great for a time-pressed visitor, but perhaps for a Londoner.
Highlights from my walks included actually getting to tour 44 Bedford Square (Lady Ottoline’s house where V. Woolf and H. James frequently visited) which is now a VAT tax office. Also Pepys Navy Office site, St. Dunstan’s ruins, the Temple, Virginia Woolf’s various houses about Bloomsbury, Thackaray/James in Kensington.

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Swimming to Antarctica

Awesome first person account of long distance swimming in sub 40s temperatures. Lynne details her swims, starting from the 3 hour swim through a hailstorm as a 9 year old, to her first attempt from Catalina to LA, crossing the English Channel with record breaking speed, 10 mile swims through the Nile with dead dogs, rats, and other disgusting surprises, Bering Strait swim that united USSR and USA, Lake Titicaca, Strait of Magellean, the list goes on and on. Her final swim was a mile swim to Antartica in 32 degree water.
Lynne is perfectly suited to long distance cold swimming, with an even distribution of body fat and a netrual buoyancy (she doesn’t have to work as hard to float).
This was a quick read, an inspirational story about setting goals and working your ass off to accomplish them.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Another great quick read from JK! Most of the plot rumbled along flatly until the last hundred or so action packed pages. Romance in the air, Harry growing up and talking back to teachers and second guessing Dumbledore, the characters are definitely changing. Major character’s death, as promised. Can’t wait for book 7!

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Flow

Although it took me 10 months to meander through this book, this isn’t a reflection of the book’s interestingness or quality, but rather a reflection on my inability to focus. Every time I would pick this up to read a chapter over the last few months, waves of calm washed over me.
Main idea is that flow is good, harmonious, and is achieved by setting a goal that is high enough yet reachable, and expending enough energy to keep yourself occupied, and picking a goal that transcends self but complements the inner cares. And now onto another Csikszentmihalyi book: Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning.
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Basic premise that we filter our consciousness already b/c there are too many stimuli, so why not create a filter that makes us happy?
“How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences.”
Once you understand how to control your filter/experiences, you must do it consistently, constantly. An exercise to combat atrophy of control.
How to improve the quality of experience:
Attention. “We create ourselves by how we invest [our attention]. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”
The elements of enjoyment:
1. Confront tasks we have a chance of completing; a challenging activity that requires skills
2. Concentrate on what we are doing; the merging of action and awareness
3. Task has clear goals
4. Task provides immediate feedback
5. Act with a deep (but effortless) involvement that removes worries & frustrations of everyday life; concentration on the task at hand
6. Task allows you to exercise a sense of control over your actions
7. Task removes the concern for the self; loss of self-consciousness
8. Task alters sense of time; the transformation of time
Autotelic experience (from Greek: auto- self, telos- goal) is a self-contained activity done not for future benefit, but b/c doing it is the reward.
Conditions of flow: transform the self by making it more complex; line between boredom and anxiety; increase the challenge (which takes you closer to anxiety), but then you increase your skills (which takes you closer to boredom)

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A soldier of the great war

I hugely enjoyed Helprin’s collection of short stories (The Pacific), so am trying him on for longer stories. So far so good.
*****
Helprin is a yummy, aesthetically pleasing writer– these were great stories from the war (WWI), set in Italy and Austria/Hungary. Some very surreal moments, such as the Austrian field marshal who fakes all his battles to keep his troops safe, and takes Alessandro on as a private secretary after he finds Alessandro wandering delirious in the field eating roses. The cattle boat where everyone had to forget their squadron’s names, the confused general who confiscated Alessandro’s ham after he knocked on the hotel door (wrong hotel!), Orfeo and the sap, Rafi’s frozen body and rapelling down the glacier, Alessandro setting out to walk 2 days with the boy who missed the bus. Great stories, I will continue to read through his published work.

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iCon

This bio of Steve Jobs brought about the ban on selling Wiley books from all Apple retail stores, which I think is unncessarily harsh. The book doesn’t shy away from exposing Steve’s megalomania, but also offers up much praise for Steve’s creativity and the impressive feat of dominating 3 industries (computer, film, music). Enjoyable read.

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Another yummy plot from JK. Didn’t really enjoy the Dumbledore monologue at the end where he catches Harry up with the history of his scar. Was definitely laughing out loud at parts involving Professor Umbridge, the pink cardigan “Hem hem!” stout and pursed lips professor from the Ministry of Magic who takes over the school when Dumbledore flees.

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Everybody’s guide to Small Claims Court in California

Preparing for my day in court to get the remaining $210 of my security deposit back from landlord Bill Newland. I rented a unit at 601 Minnesota St in San Francisco for 15 months. Bill thought that I didn’t stay long enough, and decided to dock me for repainting the unit, which is not allowable under California law. This book has some good tips on how to prepare for small claims court. Giddyup!
Update– this is a helpful book, really detailed. The 15 or so pages on security deposits convinced me that I had a case. I sent my demand letter (see below), and 5 days later received a check for the remaining $210, with a petulant handwritten letter from the landlord complaining that I was the first tenant in 13 years who had threatened small claims court. Thanks Bill! I’m the first tenant who stood up for herself? Glad to hear it. At any rate, no further need for this book.
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Received letter 6/18
From Bill: “…You moved in 3/20/04 with an $1825 deposit and moved out 6/9/05, approximately 15 months later… I know your circumstances changed but I was disappointed you moved out so soon as we have additional expenses to return the unit to rentable condition. My painter charged $210 to touch up and repaint areas of the unit… which I believe fair to charge you after such a short tenancy…”
My response 6/23:
“Dear Bill,
I received a partial payment of my security deposit from you and would appreciate your prompt payment of the remaining $210. You deducted $210 from the deposit to cover the cost of painting the unit. Since I did not paint the unit while I stayed there, I assume the paint job was to cover a few scuffmarks on the walls, e.g. normal wear & tear.
I moved into the unit on 3/20/04 and moved out almost fifteen months later on 6/9/05. The term of my lease was twelve months. I had my walk through of the apartment with Mike K., the building manager, on 6/9/05. Mike pointed out 3 areas that needed additional cleaning (top of cabinets, kitchen roof, bathtub) which I took care of that day. I was never informed that I was on the hook to pay for painting the apartment. Had I been told so, I would have purchased a small amount of paint for less than $10 to cover the few scuffmarks on the wall that your painter took care of.
Additionally, the receipt you furnished with your explanation of the deduction is suspect. The receipt states that the work was performed at units 202 and 218, and you have crossed through “202” in 2 places on the receipt, and have handwritten “218” to replace “202”.
Lastly, I put $200 worth of improvements into the unit by installing additional storage/shelving by the closet at the back of the unit.
Please send a check for $210 on or before June 30. If I don’t receive payment by that date, I’ll file this case in small claims court.”
From Bill, 6/28:
“I received your registered letter of June 22. You’re the first tenant in thirteen years to threaten to take me to small claims court… I do not wish to spend more time on this and am enclosing the remaining $210 of your deposit.”
Well, thanks Bill.

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Zeno’s Conscience

Translated by William Weaver.
Started and finished this one in Mexico. I was driven to read this because of the drawings by William Kentridge on display at the Met– Zeno at 4AM.
Zeno a comic figure who indulges himself and lives a pleasant life.
Smoke: several thousand declarations of “Last Cigarette!” with the date and circumstances. Zeno tries to quit smoking, convinces his wife to lock him up for a cure, and immediately becomes paranoid that his wife & the doctor are having an affair. Locked in a cell, he begins drinking with his gatekeeper and slips out the jail when she gets trashed.
My Father’s Death: “15.4.1890. My father dies. L.C.” as in last cigarette. Zeno’s father waits up for him for dinner, and when Zeno gets home late, sits up with him. Zeno’s surliness is later regretted when his father ends up having an anurism that night. A doctor applies leeches to the father to restore him to consciousness, where he lingers for a few days, then reproaches his son, “I’m dying!” before crumpling to the floor.
The Story of my Marriage: Zeno meets Giovanni as he tries to learn the business world. Eventually making the acquaintance of his daughters, Zeno sets his sights on marrying one of them. “The idea of marrying may therefore have come to me from the weariness of emitting and hearing always that one note.” He falls desparately for Ada, who has no interest in him, and spends the next several months in daily visits to the house entertaining the 3 girls (Ada, Alberta, and Augusta) while the youngest (Anna) tells him he is crazy and will be locked up. After rejections from Ada and Alberta, Augusta agrees to marry him. Guido the slick violin playing suitor wins Ada, so the foursome chaperone each other in their respective engagements.
Wife and Mistress: life with Augusta turns out to be splendid, and Zeno loves her greatly. But then naturally continues to pursue other women, namely Carla.
The Story of a Business Partnership: probably my favorite of the sections. Details Zeno’s relationship with Guido, who has a mistress in Carmen, the business secretary. Fishing, hunting, and Ada’s illness that takes away her beauty. Guido and Zeno dream up plans for the business but their less-than great acumen nearly bankrupts the firm. Guido attempts suicide once unsucessfully, then once later on, sucessfully.
Psychoanalysis: Zeno wraps up his journal with some slings at the doctor who forced him to write it

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The 20/30 Fat & Fiber Diet Plan

This is the diet that Larry King went on post-heart attack. Basic idea is that you can only eat 20 grams of fat and at least 30 grams of fiber every day. My copy has hundreds of recipes in the back to help you get started. Reducing your intake of fats to 20 or less does a lot to help you lose weight. Fiber keeps you full throughout the day so you don’t get hungry. Final component of the diet is moderate exercise– even just walking will do.

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Guns, Germs, and Steel

Enjoying so far! Papua New Guineans smarter than modern European/Americans b/c genetically had to weed out the dumb ones (only smart ones can survive a society of tribal infighting, murder, wars), as opposed to Euro-US society where germs were the biological deterrent– if you had strong genes, you survived. Also throws in a jab at “passive entertainment” of TV, movies, etc. which doesn’t promote mental development.
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Finished this one in Mexico. Great combo of history, linguistics, and geography. Basic premise is that the conquering civilizations were dominant b/c of the natural resources they had at their disposal (plants prone to cultivating, large mammals that are domesticatable). Food production is the key to building civilizations. Then societies can specialize in having central government, professional warriors, inventors. Another key is that Eurasia was the largest landmass, so ideas travelled freely along the east/west axis where plants survive in the same latitudes. Interesting considerations of Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Some good stuff in the afterword about why Europe and not China. He also left some open questions, and outlined a plan of further study.
Recommended.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

160 pages in, I’m loving this story of 2 magicians who bring magic back to England in the early 1800s. A bit frustrated/disturbed by the footnotes– it’s a clever tactic, but I don’t want to feel guilty for skimming/skipping them, and I don’t want to miss anything if there’s good info in them. So far, I haven’t seen any info in the footnotes that is hilarious, or absolutely not-to-be-missed. My only regret so far is that it’s a bit too hefty to take on my flight to NYC next week.
400 pages in, I am swept up in this tale. Thankfully, Jonathan Strange arrived on the scene, b/c he is much more likable than his cohort Mr. Norrell, who wants to keep all magical secrets to himself. Norrell is pleased to be able to talk to Strange, but keeps a cache of books he doesn’t want Strange to read in his country estate. Occasionally he will reference one of these books b/c it’s hard for him to keep track of what books he wants to keep a secret from Strange. J. Strange help the Britons win over the French by means of paving roads, moving towns and rivers, raising Neopolitans from the dead. Lady Pope (raised from the dead by Norrell) is enchanted and exhausted by midnight dancing, along with her husband’s butler, Stephen Black. Norrell’s men, Drawlight & Lascelles, conspire to make trouble between Strange & Norrell. So much action! Only drawback right now is the spelling of “surprize” and “chuse” for surprise and choose. Not sure why she insists upon this spelling, I suppose to get that old English affect.
Now finished, all ~780 pages. Great storytelling! I am ready for more from Ms. Clarke!

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