shiny things in messy little piles

Tag: books

The Books of April

Cutting for Stone — Abraham Verghese (2009)

The book is very long. I start­ed it in March and it took me most of April to fin­ish it.
The twins (Mar­i­on and Shi­va Stone) at the cen­ter of Cut­ting for Stone come into the world in a messy and pecu­liar way. Their moth­er, a shy Indi­an nun, dies giv­ing birth to them and their father, and Amer­i­can doc­tor, runs off in a pan­ic. So the boys are left to be raised by the doc­tors and matron of the Miss­ing Hos­pi­tal in Addis Aba­ba. The two boys act and think as if they were a sin­gle enti­ty for much of their child­hoods. It is as if they were born (con­joined at the head) and then agreed to split up the world and their reac­tions to the world. Mar­i­on tak­ing on the out­go­ing, pleas­ant, social per­son­al­i­ty and Shi­va tak­ing on all of the dark, moody, and anti-social bits.
I’m a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed with how it ends, I mean it had to go some­where — I get that. and… it seemed inevitable that the twins were not going to have a hap­py res­o­lu­tion. That some­how there hav­ing been two of them, sep­a­rat­ed but still act­ing as one — that in the end there could­n’t be two of them in the world. And is that their indi­vid­ual faults or the fault of being born twins? I liked the book, but I’m not sure that I am encour­aged to read oth­ers by the same author. It’s a kind of fun­ny thing when it comes to read­ing such “oth­er” expe­ri­ences — I rarely want to expe­ri­ence them a sec­ond or third time from the same point of view. I, mag­pie like, want to go on to col­lect anoth­er point of view. That is in cas­es where the writ­ing does­n’t make me swoon. And here the writ­ing does not make me swoon. It is com­pe­tent and in places quite pleas­ant but its noth­ing special.

Rules of Civility — Amor Towles (2011)

Not as nifty as The Gen­tle­man of Moscow. But the his­toric back­ground does­n’t play near­ly as big a part. Here we have a young woman in NYC on New Year’s Eve 1937 sit­ting with her pal in a second-rate club wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. That some­thing is Tin­ker Grey. Katey Kon­tent (hate the last name it tripped me up every sin­gle time I read it) is an okay nar­ra­tor. She’s a bit bland around the edges but I think that’s part of the point, she’s Every Girl mak­ing her way in the big city. The peo­ple who sur­round her for the year of the sto­ry are the inter­est­ing points and in fact the writer via Katey as much as admits that it’s the case that some­times we find our­selves sur­round­ed by peo­ple and events that will catch us up in their swirl with­out actu­al­ly hav­ing much effect on our­selves. They whirl around us and then leave us to go on in anoth­er direc­tion with oth­er peo­ple. (It’s some­thing that I’ve thought about a bunch myself — how we seem to be so inti­mate­ly con­nect­ed with peo­ple as we are in a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion but so eas­i­ly lose them when the cir­cum­stances change and we are no longer thrown togeth­er by some­thing larg­er than our­selves.) The whole thing is a bit like Fitzger­ald — who I don’t actu­al­ly like. I find him dry and his char­ac­ters off-puttingly shal­low. This book comes close to being that shallow.
The title is tak­en from the young George Wash­ing­ton’s list of Rules for him­self. And the rules are includ­ed at the end of the book. Young GW was a pris­sy lit­tle shit.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk — Kathleen Rooney (2017)

Lil­lian Box­fish is 85, it’s New Year’s Eve and she’s decid­ed to take a walk across Man­hat­tan. First to Del­moni­co’s and then to a par­ty host­ed by a young pho­tog­ra­ph­er that she met in the park. It’s a long walk and we are treat­ed to not only Lil­lian’s ver­sion of Man­hat­tan in 1985 but along the way to her life sto­ry. And it’s a pret­ty crack­er jack sto­ry. Run­ning from her first days in Man­hat­tan to her reign as the high­est paid adver­tis­ing woman in Amer­i­ca (writ­ing copy for Macy’s in its glo­ry days) through a mar­riage a birth, a break­down, a divorce, a free­lance career, and now as a woman of a cer­tain age liv­ing on her own in a city that she dear­ly loves but that has changed in unpleas­ant ways. Lil­lian and the book are both wit­ty, wise, and a bit wicked.


Everybody’s Fool — Richard Russo (2016)

Sul­ly is back and with a mild bit of good for­tune in his wake and a not so hot report from the car­di­ol­o­gist at the VA mar­ring his future he’s not sure how the world is sup­posed to work this week. And then there’s Police Chief Raymer whose grief at the loss of his wife is tem­pered by the sus­pi­cion that she was intend­ing to leave him the day she fell down the stairs and the stray garage door remote that he found in her car. The rest of the crowd is here too. There are some snakes (both the hiss­ing kind and the human kind) and whole lot of peo­ple try­ing to make sense of their lives and cir­cum­stances. Rus­so writes with humor and deep insight into the ways in which we all flit­ter and flus­ter our ways through life. (Read Nobody’s Fool first.)

Books of June

A writer’s notes about books. 

Here are the books I read and lis­tened to in June.


A Brief His­to­ry of Sev­en Killings — Mar­lon James

In which there are a damned sight more than sev­en killings. Some of the nar­ra­tive is true in a broad sense. The pol­i­tics of Jamaica, the US efforts to direct Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean activ­i­ties, the CIA fetish of Cuba, and the involve­ment of the Columbian car­tels in every­thing — all most­ly true. But beyond that? It’s pret­ty much up in the air, I can’t tell you what’s true and what’s fic­tion. The attempt­ed assig­na­tion of a char­ac­ter known as The Singer (a thin­ly dis­guised Bob Mar­ley) anchors the book. All the oth­er actions and actors spin into and out of that one act. 

It’s a tough read because of the wild num­ber of POV char­ac­ters that you have to track (each chap­ter is help­ful­ly labeled) and the heavy use of patois. You get used to the patois and you spend a cer­tain amount of time flip­ping back to see where you left that cur­rent POV char­ac­ter. It took a lot longer to read than most things and it’s real­ly long to start with. Still, I found the whole thing worth the trou­ble for the trip to times and places that are utter­ly unknown to me and the intro­duc­tion to Mar­lon James. I have his The Book of Night Women in the To Read pile. 

The Book of Phoenix — Nne­di Okorafor

Pre­quel to her well-known Who Fears Death which I liked a good deal. The term spec­i­Men jarred me every damned time I came across it. It’s a haz­ard, try­ing to fig­ure out names for future things. Good, read­able early-disaster sci-fi. Oko­rafor’s writ­ing is reli­able and occa­sion­al­ly spe­cial. A sto­ry of gen-tech gone wrong — which is noth­ing new. A giant tree in the mid­dle of NYC — new. Two things that looks like angels but aren’t — only sort of new. A phoenix-human hybrid would kind of look like an angel, no? Oh, and those spi­der things from the oth­er book (Who Fears Death) and that alien seed/nut thing. That’s nev­er real­ly explained. Set up for anoth­er book?

Lis­tened to:

Bossy Pants — Tina Fey
Yes, Please — Amy Pohler

Go lis­ten to Bossy Pants. Not read it, lis­ten to it. Real­ly, it’s so much bet­ter if you lis­ten to it. Tina Fey play­ing Tina Fey. It’s all here. Sec­ond City, SNL, 30 Rock, the Sarah Palin sketch­es, and the real­i­ty of being female over 40 in com­e­dy. She might be my new idol. Amy Pohler was (and still is on occa­sion) Tina Fey’s part­ner in crime. Amy’s book is in some ways fun­nier. It’s got a lot more gags. Fey’s book is about being fun­ny. Pohler’s book is fun­ny. You know what I mean?

I Shall Wear Mid­night — Ter­ry Pratchett 

The last of the four Tiffany Aching sto­ries pub­lished while Ter­ry Pratch­ett was alive. (There is one more com­ing in August.) I picked it to lis­ten to on my dai­ly walk to remind myself where the sto­ry had end­ed and because I remem­ber lik­ing it a lot. Maybe my favorite of the series? Until I remem­bered Win­ter­smith which has the bet­ter plot, and per­haps the most human Tiffany of the bunch. It cer­tain­ly has the best of the oth­er witch­es in it. Okay — I should have lis­tened to Win­ter­smith

Ink­heart — Cor­nelia Funke 

Why did­n’t I like this? Pre­co­cious 12 year-old. Okay, that’s enough for me to not like some­thing as much as I might. And yes, I under­stand that I am about to admit to lik­ing a book about a young boy. Go read the com­ments on Ocean, the part that I don’t like is when we end up inside the head of the boy with­out the man. 

The rest is okay. A lit­tle juve­nile — but hey, mid­dle grade book. One of those door-stopper books that mid­dle graders and tweens like. Think Har­ry Pot­ter but not so good for adults because the adults are one-dimensional. If you have an avid young read­er of your own hang­ing around some­where they just might love it. 

Ocean at the End of the Lane — Neil Gaiman 

Thor­ough­ly reviewed a dozen times in a dozen places. Either you like Gaiman’s lush brand of fan­ta­sy prose or you don’t. If you do, you won’t be dis­ap­point­ed. Either you like grown up sto­ries that real­ly con­cern chil­dren and vv or you don’t. If you don’t, I sug­gest Nev­er­land instead. 

Some­times the blend­ed adult/boy voice of the main char­ac­ter leans a lit­tle too far to the boy. Yes, it’s a sto­ry about a boy, but the sto­ry is the expla­na­tion of the man and it’s the man’s reac­tion to it that we’re watch­ing in the meta-view. SO the times when the nar­ra­tor’s voice total­ly aban­dons his adult per­sona I feel a lit­tle cheated. 

I start­ed and aban­doned The Girl with All Gifts — M.R. Carey. 

The set up and the two main char­ac­ters in the first hand­ful of chap­ters were inter­est­ing. But then it turned into a zom­bie infec­tion sto­ry. There’s just not much you can do with a zom­bie sto­ry that’s going to keep me inter­est­ed once you’ve hit me with the sci­en­tist, the griz­zled old mil­i­tary guy, the green mil­i­tary kid, and an ide­al­is­tic young woman, in an escape vehi­cle bro­ken down in the mid­dle of nowhere and oh, by the way, there’s a zom­bie with them. Nope, not even a child zom­bie that seems to have retained all her human fac­ul­ties. I stopped lis­ten­ing to it at the end of my walk one day and the next day sim­ply did­n’t care what hap­pened to the char­ac­ters, so I picked up some­thing else.

In non-fiction I’ve picked up the sec­ond and third Food52 cook­books. Rec­om­mend the 2nd Vol­ume. Not so enam­ored of the Genius Recipes, too many over com­pli­cat­ed preparations.

As well as iMovie: The Miss­ing Man­u­al. I urge you not to go there.

Morning Linkage (Jun 15)

(Confused) Transportation Options

A Smart Car mon­ster truck. If any­one ever asks you to define the term twee oxy­moron — show them this pic­ture. Srl­sy. And there’s video. More hap­pi­ly there’s a post over at Men’s Men­tore about race car trans­porters from the 50’s. Lord, are these fab­u­lous look­ing. An El Camino car­ry­ing an open wheel rac­er and a swoopy round haunched Mer­cedes with a fro­mu­la car on the back. Swoon. I need­ed a moto pic­ture for this morn­ing’s links so I went to the big buck­et of trans­porta­tion RSS feeds and there this was — right on the top


Literature and Culture.

It’s sum­mer — we all need some­thing to read at the beach. But how to choose a sum­mer win­ner? Um, maybe ask the writer who penned your favorite book? William Gib­son weighs in on sci-fi and Peter Cary gives you his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, along with 4 oth­ers. Pro­pa­gan­da mate­r­i­al of the ages is a rich source of visu­al inspi­ra­tion. Meant to grab and jerk the view­er from a dis­tance with­out much con­sid­er­a­tion for sub­tle­ty. Smash­ing gives us a look at 100 years of his­to­ry and some of the best and worst exam­ples. Judg­ing the images and their effec­tive­ness with­out con­sid­er­ing the mes­sages is an try­ing exer­cise in design mind.

Art, Images, and Design

Sci­ence Tele­vi­sion is Gian­mar­co Mag­nani. A design­er and print mak­er. His two cur­rent series of prints, Vil­lains and Rid­ers, and  For­got­ten Monar­chy bring spot col­or and line work to the fore. Vague­ly ani­me inspired, girls and motos. Can’t miss. Paper and paint mixed with bits of toy-train set world-building goods. Land­scape through the eyes of Gre­go­ry Euclide. Dan­ny St. (saint) takes pic­tures in Sin­ga­pore. Street pic­tures that pro­vide por­traits of the peo­ple and place. This gallery gives some of the hun­dreds of won­der­ful images.


Group ther­a­py for naughty lit­tle un-deads. Okay, it’s called Nos­fer­atu Over The Cuck­oo’s Nest. You fig­ure it out.

Noisy, Smoky, Generally Bad

Bejamin Gudel (from a cou­ple of days ago) has a nice new web­site.  But you have got to seri­ous­ly admire a guy who includes a link to this animated/audio-ated mess of a 2007 web­site. Healthy sense of humor, or mor­bid self fla­gel­la­tion. You make the call. (Mov­ing parts, noise, and an obscene tat­too) NSFW

Tea drunk, links up, next … plumb­ing — urk.

Morning Linkage (Mar 11)


You’ve seen the pic­tures of the hacked togeth­er ones but here’s the real deal. Motor­cy­cle side-car based cam­era mount. The fab­ri­ca­tion qual­i­ty blows me away. Based on a 6 cylin­der 1500cc what? Seats 4.

Sexy enough to make me con­sid­er a elec­tric car. Almost. Or I could buy one and put a real engine in it. Porsche 918 Spy­der.

A lyric piece of descrip­tion. The destruc­tion of a medi­an strip is care­ful­ly watched from it’s seem­ing­ly innocu­ous begin­nings with a few dusty foot prints to it’s take over a a cross­ing point for auto-rickshaws. (New Del­hi, but it would be under the Viaduct here in Seattle.)

A few pages from the cat­a­log of the 1930 Ear­l’s Court Bicy­cle and Motor­cy­cle Show. Love Smith’s gauges.



In Afghanistan there are peo­ple work­ing hard with lit­tle more than trash to bring some con­nec­tion to the mod­ern world. Wi-fi points and repeaters made from stuff scrounged out of the garbage — lit­er­al­ly. Great inge­nu­ity and dri­ve. And so much of the same-same has­sles, pet­ty pol­i­tics, and inter­per­son­al fail­ures of rela­tion­ships that affect any tech project. As Amy says, it’s fun­ny but it’s not.



Good Night Moon has dri­ven par­ents bonkers since 1947. Now there’s a Star Wars based update called Good Night For­est Moon. Bet­ter yet it’s a down­load and bind your­self project with excel­lent instruc­tions. Craft time to bed time.


Art, Images, and Design

Best iPhone stand ever. What is this gad­get hold­er doing in Art, Image and Design? — It’s great found object sculp­ture. Fork over.

Also an iPhone/iPod acces­so­ry. The ammo box speak­er set, per­fect dis­guise. Do Want.

More cross-over stuff. Why won’t the world stay nice­ly sort­ed in to my cat­e­gories? The title of this recent­ly released book says it all — Go Faster: The Graph­ic Design of Rac­ing Cars

A lit­tle cool for my day today. Here’s Ms. Loren from the Impos­si­ble Cool.

onward and upward, or at least out the door.

Morning Linkage (Mar 8)


Low rent trans­former of now neglect­ed, beloved city mas­cot. This robot built of sovi­et era car parts stands out­side of Odessa.

Love­ly. Thrux­ton based.

Some back­ground on the engine design of the IoM Nor­ton I showed you a week or so ago. The squish com­bus­tion cham­ber was the idea of a jan­i­tor? Not real­ly. Leo Kus­mick­i’s sto­ry reads like an adven­ture com­ic none-the-less. Read the com­ments for addi­tion­al info.

Inter­est­ing if true, BMW has a firmware rev lim­iter on the new S1000RR. It gets turned off at the 600 mile ser­vice. Is this going too far? Or is BMW jus­ti­fied in try­ing to pro­tect it’s machines from ear­ly life abuse and itself from unrea­son­able war­ran­ty claims.


Literature and Gadgets

A book design­er talks about the move to eBooks, what the iPad brings to the par­ty, and what the future of the print­ed book looks like. His dis­tinc­tion between form­less and def­i­nite con­tent is a good way of con­sid­er­ing which books deserve to be print­ed and which don’t. Per­haps it is time to rec­og­nize that some books are not worth the paper they are print­ed on.  Excel­lent civ­i­lized dis­cus­sion in the com­ments as well.

Less thought­ful but more imme­di­ate­ly and com­mer­cial­ly rel­e­vant. These two videos fea­tur­ing Pen­guin Books’ CEO John Makin­son talk­ing about the pub­lish­er’s move into the dig­i­tal book mar­ket and the upsides and down­sides that they see in the near future.

Low tech, for book lovers. Book plates can aid the return of your pre­cious vol­umes. There are three free designs, I like the one with snakes.


Art, Images, and Design

Some of the nicest remake/reuse fur­ni­ture exam­ples I’ve seen. Not a bun­ny or flower stick­er in the bunch. Decent hard­ware upgrades too. From Pur­pose Restora­tion.

Flickr is home to the port­fo­lios of some amaz­ing pho­tog­ra­phers. The work of Nicholas Moulin includes lots of wicked cool macro images like this four-eyed spi­der.

Scott Camp­bell of Zom­bie Fair poster fame has new work hang­ing in Lon­don.  Who can resist ambigu­ous wood­land crea­tures and a race car carved out of a boul­der ? Or the Bedrock air­ships?

Cecil­ia Murgel’s jour­nal pages. Each fea­tures an image of two women and a com­men­tary on the activ­i­ties of a day. In Por­tugese but you don’t need to read the entries to know how she’s feel­ing about what’s going on in her life. I haven’t seen mark­ers used so well in ages.

ta ta for now my freaky darlings…