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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Validation for my approach to putting down books I don’t like

My strategy for reading is pretty simple:
Finding books to read:
* Browse a bookstore or library, open books that picque my interest and read the first line. If the first line doesn’t convey the writer’s style and provide enough “oomph” to intrigue me, I usually won’t bother
* Suggestions from respected sources (friends whose taste I agree with, NYTimes [occasionally], blogs I read regularly)
What if I’m caught in a book I can’t enjoy?
* The first line was good, but 50 pages in, I’m still struggling to turn the pages? If I think the book might possibly get better, I usually push through another 50 pages and re-evaluate.
* If, at 100 pages in, it still sucks, I give up.
* All these books land in my “Stranded” category.

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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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Collapse

Blech. Started reading this and struggled mightily. I almost didn’t pick up Guns, Germs, and Steel at the library b/c I was not enjoying this sequel. However, I’m happily enjoying Guns, Germs, and Steel right now– think he put his best work into the first book!

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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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Pacific Mexico

Focusing right now on pages 364-474, since I’m going to Zihuatanejo next month. I can see this book getting a lot of future use as well.
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Putting the book down now, post-Mexico. The Zihua section was not particularly good. Short on information and maps.
As for my own trip, stayed at Hotel Catalina in Playa de la Ropa in Zihua for a week. Hiked to Playa Manzanillo for snorkelling (also accessible by $40 boat ride) a couple of times, and took a boat to Isla Ixtapa for snorkeling on Playa Carey (VERY recommended). Sunset from the bar at Brisas Ixtapa one night, but that was the extent of Ixtapa for me. The rest was pure Zihua, some time spent in El Centro, walking along the beach from Playa Madera to the center of town, 2 pajaros verdes (parrots) lurking in the window of a bar along the walk. Walked the opposite direction to Playa Las Gatas for more snorkeling, beer and fish tacos. Car not necessary or very useful, although it did take me on an extended dirt road tour to Barra di Potosi, where I was the only one on the beach. Zihua a gorgeous bay, it would have been great to discover it years ago before the jetskis and parasailing invaded. Hay muchos americanos tambien. Es la vida.

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The Confessions of Max Tivoli

Max was born old and gets younger as he lives his life. Set in San Francisco, the writing is tolerable, but the storyline starts to grate on me. I probably should have finished this one before starting Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which was so bright and shiny that Max Tivoli seems dullish in comparison.
The last 50 pages were good– not a bad story overall.

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Blink

Just finished the hottest book on the market. Check out the envy I generated!
The always interesting Malcolm G. does it again with another book chock full of learning and ideas. The hype surrounding the book did somewhat dampen my enjoyment of it, but it was a positive experience (and quick read).
Intro chapter goes into the Getty/fake kouros incident from the mid-80s, when the Getty museum did all sorts of scientific and legal research on a statue they were buying for $10M. Logical thought said yes, this statue is real. However, art experts reacted differently to the statue, with intuition. In the blink of an eye, we can make snap judgements that are more valid than extended study decisions.
Second chapter goes into the idea of “thin slicing” reality– by looking at a thin slice of time, you can make judgements about quality of people’s relationships, teaching ability, etc.
Other notables from the book– the rogue commander in the Pentagon’s War Games exercise who didn’t go by the rules and thus sunk 18 of the Red Team’s ships before any shots were fired by the Red Team. After 2 days of sulking, the Red Team stripped the Blue Team of any power and played a scripted game which they won hands down, and then promptly invaded Iraq.
Also, Amadou Diallo in NYC, who made the mistake of standing on his stoop one night in 1999. Cops thought that seemed suspicious, and split second decisions led them to shoot him 41 times. They thought he had a gun, but he was only reaching for his wallet. Scary.
Cook County Hospital’s heart attack detection elements– less information allows you to make quicker decisions.

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Getting Things Done

Types of things to keep track of:
* projects list
* project support material
* calendar actions/info
* list of “next actions”
* list of “waiting for”
* reference material
* list of “someday/maybe”
Steps to get things under control:
1. Gather all out of place stuff into an inbox
2. Sift through, taking one item at a time. If you can take care of the item in 2 minutes, do it. If not, decide what the next action is & put in pending/delegate/trash.
*****
Now that I’m finished, I feel well prepped to tackle my own piles of mess. And I’ll try to read 43Folders more often (a site that sprung up out of love of Getting Things Done)

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