To the Power of Three

A half-step above beach reading, mildly interesting. High school girls involved in a triple shooting; Perri, Kat, Jodie the tight threesome since 3rd grade; Binnie & Eve the two farmgirls who don’t smell so good. The detectives. Peter Lasko the actor who lands a part in a Miramax movie but who ends up dead.
Probably the only redeeming feature was the mention of Television without Pity as something that could be on your computer screen when someone comes in to talk to you and you immediately minimize all windows before engaging in a conversation.
My advice: skip this one.

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A Crack in the Edge of the World

Early thoughts: I become less and less of a Simon fan, especially when he insists on inserting himself into the story. It turns into a “Simon says” narrative; Simon went to Iceland, Simon refers to his earlier work Krakatoa, Simon knows best b/c he’s a geologist cum author who went to Oxford damnit thus British accent portrays superiority to the plebians he lives amongst in the good old US of A.
But I am enjoying the basics as he sneaks them in. Check this info on creation of the seas.
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Now finished, I can’t say my opinion has improved much. The last section seemed a smattering of completely unrelated items; almost like Simon had index cards full of factoids he wanted to work into the book somehow, thus just tossed them all into the mix at the end (topics ranging from the Pentacostalists, Paper People, Burnham’s plan, Loma Prieta, loss of artistic soul from SF.)
I think there are better books on the SF earthquake… And Simon has lost his edge.

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Poet of the Appetites

Just finished the fantastic biography of M.F.K. Fisher, the author of Consider the Oyster, Gastronomical Me, etc. etc. This bio was a glorious journey along MFK’s life, detailing her first trip to France with new husband Al Fisher, whom she eventually left to join Dillwyn Parrish, all the way to life in Sonoma in Last House, a cottage built for MFK by David Bouverie on his ranch. Along the way she has her first pregnancy during her heady days as a Hollywood writer (pregnancy disguised as an adoption since was unmarried)–Anna, and in a fit of boredom moves to NYC where she marries Donald Friede after 5 days. Her daughter Kennedy is born of this marriage, which spirals into debt, stress, and discovery of Donald’s problems in the bedroom. MFK has various and several affairs over the ages, becomes good friends with Donald’s next wife Eleanor, and becomes increasingly distant from her daughters. One of her last affairs was with Arnold Gingrich, the magazine editor who would write her daily letters on his commute from Ridgewood, NJ into NYC. Prior to that she had an extended affair with Marietta Voorhees in St. Helena.
In the literary world, her best work is written pre-1950s, yet she is rediscovered in the 80s. North Point press comes out with a reprint of all her works, and she meets literary talents like Evan Connell, Walter Percy. In the gastronomical world, she’s pals with Julia Child, James Beard, Alice Waters.
Throughout the bio, Reardon manages to convey the same mouth-watering atmosphere that MFK creates. Definitely a complete look at MFK’s life- worth reading for any MFK fans.

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What the Dormouse Said

Exactly what it pretends to be– an intermixing of 60s era counterculture (LSD, pot, etc.) with the birth of the PC industry. Nothing that was terribly new to me, but perhaps I’m spoiled b/c I live in the Bay Area and know all the tales already. Not sure this would appeal to anyone outside the Bay Area, but give it a shot if you’re curious of the underpinnings beneath the rise of personal computing. Strange inclusion of Greek folk dancing, huh.

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Freddy and Fredericka

Another delicious book by Helprin. This pushed the limits of what I had seen previously from him– a fantasty of sorts putting the Prince/Princess of Wales in America to conquer the colony back for England (which Freddy did, almost getting elected President after Dewey Knott was assassinated). They worked at various tasks as regular people, cleaning, chopping, saving up money for their weekends where they visited museums and libraries. Eventually back to England where Craig-Vvyan the falcon soars to confirm Freddy as king.

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The devil’s teeth

Gnarly (as in awesome) tale about the great whites lurking about the Farallon Islands 20 miles west of San Francisco. Casey gets hooked on the place after seeing a BBC documentary of the Shark Watch project in the 90s, and eventually obtains a permit to visit the island, meets with Peter and Scot (the bird/shark experts), and obsesses about learning more and becoming part of the crew. Peter decides she can rent a sailboat and be the water-born part of the shark expedition, mooring off the island (and thus not subject to all the rules and permits of the sanctuary). Lots of research went into this tale, diving into the history of the islands themselves (they used to have a school and small population, the Egg Wars, nuclear waste dumped nearby, etc.). But the true stars of the book are the sharks themselves, massive 15-20 foot monsters investigating the trailing decoy surfboards, spilling dark pools of seal blood into the sea, circling and creating awe wherever they appear.
The Farallons is one of the few places where great whites are known to congregate year after year (Sept thru November), and thus the perfect place to study the species. After a few years of tagging, GPS sensors were able to track where they went post-Farallons, and they discovered that sharks also congregate at a spot in the middle of the ocean, far from anything, and presumed to be hard-coded into their 400 million year old DNA as a mating ground.
Very enjoyable read– recommended!

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Obsessive Genius

Interesting look into the real Marie Curie story– from what I remember in 8th grade curriculum, she was a genius scientist and not much else. This bio looked inside her personal life, from a girl in Warsaw whose intellectual parents were poor but happy, to working as a nanny to pay for her sister’s studies at the Sorbonne, to going to Paris herself and working for her own degree at the Sorbonne, to hooking up with Pierre Curie because the quality of the instruments he was inventing would enable her to more accurately measure her experiments. She found a soulmate in Pierre, and they both worked tirelessly together on the quest to isolate Radium (and in the process also discovered Polonium). The non-recognition afforded her b/c she was a woman irked Marie, and Pierre was more than willing to credit her with the entire discovery in his acceptance of the Nobel prize. They had two daughers, Irene and Eve; Irene followed in her parents’ scientific footsteps, and went onto the battlefields of WWI as a teenager helping her mom with Xray equipment on the front line. Eve was more arty, interested in fashion and charming in her own right. Marie was driven by her work, and rarely saw her daughters as they were growing up. She eventually wised up to the fund-raising necessary to keep her lab going, and undertook an extensive tour of the US to obtain cash.

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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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