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Blood Sausage January 31, 2010

Posted by caveblogem in Books.
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Just finished Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and found it very interesting and compelling.  I have to wonder a little about the marketing of the thing, though.  My lovely wife got it for me for a Christmas present, upon recommendation of some of her colleagues (she is an English professor), and the blurb on the front of the book didn’t affect her decision either.  And I’m not sure it would affect anyone’s.  But here it is in all its glory:

A classic American novel of regeneration through violence.  McCarthy can only be compared with our great writers, with Melville and Falukner, and this is his masterpiece.

That by Michael Herr, who I don’t know.

I totally agree about the great writer masterpiece stuff at the end, but I’m having a little trouble with the first sentence.  I think that the phrase “regeneration through violence” is from Slotkin, a sort of restatement of  part of the Turner Thesis.  This novel has lots of violence, but I don’t remember any regeneration at all.  A lot of people have interpreted Turner to be saying that a sort of descent into barbarism and the subsequent rebuilding of civilization, again and again, at the frontier, is what made America the type of society is now, democratic and independent and blah, blah.

Having a hard time seeing the part of the book where civilization is rebuilt.  Maybe the reader is supposed to imagine that part.  Is it at that point where the action becomes so disgustingly violent and abhorrent that the characters can no longer describe it, are finally rendered speechless?  Is that it?  The narrator is so viciously raped (or something) that the writer can’t even imagine the words to describe it? Or perhaps the people in this awful manufacturing town depicted in the final scenes have, despite the fact that they have finally stripped the skin off the last of the buffaloes, become so civilized that the state that the narrator is left in is observed without comment. I like that explanation best of all, but it leaves a little to be desired, since it makes civilization look an awful lot like mere exhaustion.

I am, obviously, still thinking about all of this.

We’ll see if it works for viewers in the same way when the movie comes out next year.

Spoiler Alert–The Lost Symbol October 25, 2009

Posted by caveblogem in Books.

I guess it should be no surprise to me that I am not part of the demographic for which Dan Brown’s new book The Lost Symbol was written. I find myself very irritated by the protagonist, who I find wimpy and self-righteous and boneheaded.  How could Tom Hanks have wanted to play this guy on the big screen?  An example:

Then watch ESPN, Langdon thought, always amused to see professional athletes point skyward in gratitude to God after a touchdown or home run.  He wondered how many knew they were continuing a pre-Christian mystical tradition of acknowledging the mystical power above, which, for one brief moment, had transformed them into a god capable of miraculous feats. –pp 87

Can you continue a tradition without knowing it?  What if the meaning you are trying to convey is: we’re #1?  And why does this amuse our symbologist?  The first two questions are rhetorical, of course.  The answer to the third is because he thinks he is superior to them.  I would love to take the guy to a sports bar to watch a game, and I actually smiled briefly during the part of the book where you are supposed to think that he has drowned.

But I do find myself wondering who it is that makes up his main demographic, the people who like this Robert Langdon and identify with him in the way you are supposed to care about protagonists of bestsellers.

See, much of the tension in the plot of The Lost Symbol depends upon the reader feeling that the unearthing of a secret by its central villain will be incredibly destructive.  The reader is unsure what constitutes this secret until very nearly the end of the book.  We are led to assume that the consequences will be on par with an atomic bomb.

Langdon turned to her trying to speak, but he could find no words.  It didn’t matter.  Understanding was written all over his face  Sato was right. Tonight was a national security crisis . . . of unimaginable proportions. (ellipsis in original, I’m afraid, pp. 438)

So when I finally get to the denouement of  this terrible secret, that many high-ranking politicians are Masons, and were caught on videotape doing their Masonic rituals, and the villain is going to send the video to major media outlets, I am mystified.  You read that last sentence correctly, not Mansons, he’s writing about Masons. And this is supposed to be a bad thing because people won’t understand.  There will be a sort of witch hunt that will lead to total chaos.

I have nothing against Masons.  But I found myself thinking that it would not be the tragedy he makes it out to be.  Secret rooms for Masonic rituals in the Capitol building sub-basement?  Covert brotherhoods among the most powerful people in the country?  The Director of the CIA scrambling operatives to keep all this stuff secret?  Maybe I am a little angry about the mismanagement of this country over the last (pick a number) years, but I found myself thinking: Bring on the videotape, bring on the chaos.

So, naturally, I found myself wondering, who, when reading this part of the book, breaths a sigh of relief, thinking “gosh, I’m glad they were able to keep that stuff under wraps”?

Breaking the Pattern of Thought August 19, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Constructivism, Edward de Bono, how to, Lateral Thinking, Other, vocabulary, writing.

I’ve been re-reading Edward de Bono’s wonderful (if clumsily written) Lateral Thinking recently, while searching for new-but-manageable programming projects that I can do between semesters (so that I can keep learning programming skills). Naturally, de Bono gave me an idea (never fails).

Lateral Thinking‘s first couple of chapters argue, convincingly, that peoples’ thoughts run along established patterns that can make creativity difficult. The remainder of the book presents de Bono’s grab-bag of thinking tools, helpful methods for breaking out of these patterns when necessary (when the vertically-reasoned ideas are not working).

One technique, “Random Stimulation,” helps in a brainstorming process. It works like this:

Randomly select a word from a dictionary and just run with it, trying to connect it to the problem you are working on, for three minutes, following whatever chain of silly connections you follow. Hopefully, out of that massive, ill-considered spray of concepts, something emerges that will help solve the problem.

Here’s de Bono’s example:

The numbers 473-13 were given by a table of random numbers and using the Penguin English Dictionary the word located was: ‘noose’. The problem under consideration was ‘the housing shortage’. Over a timed three minute period the following ideas were generated:

noose – tightening noose – execution – what are the difficulties in executing a housing programme – what is the bottleneck, is it capital, labour or land?

noose tightens – things are going to get worse with the present rate of population increase.

noose – rope – suspension construction system – tentlike houses but made of permanent materials – easily packed and erected – or on a large scale with several houses suspended from one framework – much lighter materials possible if walls did not have to support themselves and the roof.

noose – loop – adjustable loop – what about adjustable round houses which could be expanded as required – just uncoil the walls – no point in having houses too large to begin with because of heating problems, extra attention to walls and ceilings, furniture, etc. – but facility for step-wise expansion as need arises.

noose – snare – capture – capture a share of the labour market – capture – people captured by home ownership due to difficulty selling and complications – lack of mobility – houses as exchangeable units – classified into types – direct exchange of one type for similar type – or put one type into the pool and take out a similar type elsewhere. . . .

From this example may be seen the way the random word is used. Often the random word is used to generate further words which themselves link up with the problem being considered. . . . The word is used in order to get things going–not to prove anything. [174-5]

O.K., so it doesn’t always work. At least I am not convinced that the “housing problem” was adequately addressed through this method. I have used de Bono’s “Random Stimulation” method, however, with excellent results.

So, I developed an online resource that loads a randomly generated word, with its definition. Just click the linked picture below.

So now you don’t have to generate random numbers and hunt for a big dictionary. Indeed, I kept the webpage very small, as well as javaScript-free, so that it can be accessed by web-enabled phones.

Couldn’t Wait April 11, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other.

I spent much of my free time the last two days reading Nothing to Lose, the latest Jack Reacher thriller by Lee Child. In fact, I took half the day off yesterday, partly because the weather was so warm, for a change, but partly because I just wanted to read it.

It has been nearly a year since I started reading Child’s addictive series, of which this is the eleventh. All of the previous ten I have read more than once. So when I found out that the book was available already at the U.K. version of Amazon.com, I ordered it and sent my pounds thither posthaste.

I don’t quite get why it was released on March 24th in that backward land across the sea, but it won’t be released in the United States until June 3. There are some editing changes to be made, I know. But how long does it take to replace all the instances of “tyre” with “tire?” “Kerb” with “curb?” “Oestrogen” with “estrogen?” I suppose that they will have to sort out all of the instances where, for example “organisation” must be changed to “organization,” and sort out the other s-z issues.

And there are some words that seem to have made the jump across the pond already. The Smiths brought the word “spanner” with them packed in one of my favorite rhymes of all time:

I broke into the palace
with a sponge and a rusty spanner,
She said “I know you and you cannot sing.”
I said “that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano.”

So now we all know that a spanner is a pipe wrench.

Oh, and the covers had to be different, too, because the UK version had to show a picture of what a town in Colorado might look like (above), whereas in America these have been carefully branded over the years as a target with a bullet hole in it (below).

I guess all of the punctuation marks should be put on the other sides of quotation marks, too, so there’s one more thing to do before releasing the book here. Probably the publishers want to spare themselves having to answer irate letters from American readers complaining about [nonexistent] typographical errors.

At any rate, now that it will be another year before I get to read another Jack Reacher novel. Does anyone out there know of any books as entertaining as these with a similar hero?

What goes around . . . March 20, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, web 2.0.

I was ironing a shirt this morning and had the Today Show on (yeah, I know) and they were talking about this Web 2.0 site called Juicycampus.com. If you haven’t heard already, the site encourages people at any of 50 (so far) college campuses to post juicy rumors about others, completely anonymously. Open to abuse? No, more like open for the sole purpose of abuse. The campus at which I work is not one of the favored few (yet, of course), which is sad; I hate to be left out of new trends, especially when self-destruction is so glaringly immanent.

At any rate, it made me think of this delightful passage of a delightful book called Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland. [One of my favorites, honestly. It is The Soul of a New Machine for Generation X.] The book concerns a group of playful geeks who quit their jobs at Microsoft to build a video game. One of them, at some point in the book, writes a bit of code that allows any of the seven or so people coding the game to post rumors anonymously. Things quickly get out of hand, of course. He pulls the plug, to much relief on everyone’s part, after about 24 hours.

What’s different about juicycampus.com, of course, is that the company’s founder, Matt Ivester, already graduated from Duke, in 2005. So he is not subject to the stream of junk that afflicts all of the people at these colleges. Perhaps Matt would feel differently if someone, perhaps someone who knew Matt at Duke (or perhaps knew him at Clemson, before he was kicked out because of that Harry Potter Fan Club fiasco), maybe one of his frat buddies, posted some gossip about Matt.

Or not.

King of Horror December 7, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, Other, Paperbackswap, writing.

This fall I find myself re-reading some of Stephen King’s books, many of which I first read when they were first issued in paperback. I’m doing this partly because I like the genre, partly because I see Mr. King as a really good writer, from whom I have a lot to learn, and partly because I have one of those unique minds that can forget all but a few basic plot elements from a novel I read only a couple of years back. This special skill allows me to enjoy a book just as much upon second, third, or fourth readings. It can save money during those times when you are mainly reading for entertainment or escape.

I’ve long since lost or loaned or sold the novels that I am re-reading, of course, assuming I ever owned them, so I turn to Bookmooch or Paperbackswap for a fresh copy. I usually opt for hardbound books, when I can get them, knowing that I am likely to keep them, and that since I live now in a house with dry and ample basement space, and am likely to be here some time, there is a place to store them. Plus, I just like them.

This week I am reading The Dead Zone, which I was surprised to discover I had never before read. I saw the movie, of course. Anything with Christopher Walken in it is a must-see. But all of my memories are from the movie–I’m almost certain. Most shocking of all, though, was this picture of the author on the inside of the jacket.


Would they have sold more copies if his picture was on the front cover? Or would they have scared off potential readers? You decide.

The World’s Foremost Authority October 30, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, libertarians, Other, Robert H. Heinlein, Science Fiction, speculative fiction, web 2.0.

One of the most generally prescient science fiction authors, and one of my favorites, has always been Robert A. Heinlein.  That first sentence requires a lot of qualification, which I won’t do in this post–perhaps later when I have more time.  I’m posting this today for two reasons. 

1) My wife reminded me this morning that it only takes five minutes or so.

2) My nine-year-old son was doing research for his Spanish class last night using Youtube (looking at and listening to Flamenco music and some other things.)

So that research reminded me of a passage in a book called Friday, by the aforementioned Heinlein, written, if I am not mistaken, (no, I won’t take the two minutes it might take to look it up) in 1990.  The protagonist, a young, genetically engineered combat courier named Friday, is doing some research at a facility in Pajaro Sands, California.  She gets off on a tangent, as researchers often do, following links on a world-wide web that did not yet exist, and sees a video of Professor Irwin Corey, the World’s Foremost Authority. So I’m linking to one here:

He’s pretty funny.  The crowd is perhaps funnier, in an entirely different way–they know all the gags and repeat the lines, ad tedium.  I chose this particular one because it popped up first on the list.

Kinda makes you think.

Top 106 Unread Books Meme October 5, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, COMBS, librarything, memes.

I got this from Writing Grandmother’s Book, who got it from Superfastreader.  It’s another book meme which lists books tagged as unread in Librarything.  Bold what you have read, italicize your DNFs, strikethrough the ones you hated, and put asterisks next to those you read more than once.

Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
* Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
* Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A clockwork orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King

The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels

Les misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
* Dune
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things

A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
* Cryptonomicon

A confederacy of dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The unbearable lightness of being
* Slaughterhouse-five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
* The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
* The Hobbit
In Cold Blood

White teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

There are a lot of books here in common with the 100 Books Meme.  But they are nowhere near the bottom of the curve among the people who filled out that meme (see frequency table here).  For example, more than half the people who did that meme had read The Hobbit (67%), Catcher in the Rye (64%), etc.

 I’ll tag raincoaster, Stiletto, strugglingwriter, and K. F. Gallagher.

Making Money September 21, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Discworld, Economics, Other.

Back at the beginning of the summer I pre-ordered Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld book.  And Amazon sent me an email earlier in the week telling me that it was on its way.  It could even be here today.  If so, I’m going to set aside the two other books I’m reading and start right in on it. 

I’m particularly excited about this one for two reasons.  First, I loved Going Postal, which featured the same protagonist as the new one.  Second, I majored in economics in college, and I’m really looking forward to seeing Pratchett’s Discworld analogues to Earth’s monetary systems.  What does Gresham’s Law look like on the Disc?  Will Ankh-Morpork have some sort of Bretton Woods? 


I’ll let you know.

100 Books Meme – Tag Mirrored September 19, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, fiction, folksonomies, librarything, literature, Other, tagging.
1 comment so far

While I was putting up my own LibraryThing Tag Mirror yesterday I was also puzzling about the list of books comprising the 100 Books Meme.   Then, suddenly, and somewhat painfully, ineinsbildung!  [When backed into a corner, exclaim something in German.  Even fewer people (one of whom is this blogger) know German than know Latin.]  

It occurred to me that I should give the same treatment to the idiosyncratic list that is the 100 Books Meme.  So I created a LibraryThing account comprised just of those books read by half or more of the bloggers who did the meme.

What sort of tags do those books have?  Well, these (click to enlarge):


And here is the tag mirror for the entire list of 100: (click to enlarge):


What does this tag cloud say about the composer of the list? I’ve got to get to work, so I’ll leave the rest as an exercise for the student, posting about it later only if I can make some sense of it.

Click here to examine the 100 Books LibraryThing tags individually or perhaps here would be even better.