Review: Ferris’s Tools for Titans

Tools for Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Tim Ferris

I’ll confess to being a fairly regular listener to the Tim Ferris podcast. While Ferris can be annoying at times and the whole can smell like techbro city, he is a good interviewer and his guests are often interesting people I would have never run across otherwise. This book is a collection of excepts from those interviews but distilled down to lists and bites and devoid of the kind of personal energy that comes through in the podcast.

While there’s some good bits in here, you’re much better off just picking the episodes of the podcasts that interest you.

Not recommended.

Review: Simenon’s Pietr the Latvian

Pietr the Latvian

Georges Simenon

The first of the many, many Maigret novels. Many smart people love these novels, but I’m not yet convinced. The writing is strong, the characters compelling, and the plot serviceable, but there’s more than a whiff of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment here. I might give one more a try since they’re so canonical in the world of crime novels, but all in all, I was underwhelmed and put off.

Not recommended.

Review – Card’s Enders Game

Enders Game

Orson Scott Card

Super genius boy in distant future is trained to play ever more complex war games until it is eventually revealed to him that (spoiler alert) oh shit, they weren’t games after all.

A book about the ethics of war, the bonds of friendship, and the isolation of the leader. When I read this, I was aware of its status as a classic, but not aware of Card’s horrific views on LGBT issues. Taken as a stand along book, it’s an excellent example of someone taking he confines of so-called “military SF” and doing something new and exciting with it. But taken in conjunction with his hyper reactionary views on gay rights, it reads differently.

I’d be lying if I said this isn’t an excellent book, but is it a necessary book? No. It grapples with serious issues in a thoughtful way (and I should note, isn’t homophobic) but so do many, many other science fiction novels not written homophobes. If I had to do it over again today knowing what I know now, I think I’d skip Enders Game, not because it’s a bad book, but because there are other loads of other books to read not written

Not recommended.

Melo’s Inferno

A kind of sensationalistic kind of interesting novel of Brazilian street kid who goes on to become a drug lord of his favela before losing it all to betrayal, hubris and paranoia. Not a particularly new take on the story of the drug dealer (i.e. basically Scarface in Sao Paolo) but interesting none the less for the local detail on live in the poorest neighborhoods of Brazil.

Melo appears to know the world she describes, and the style of book (it devoid of standard reference points for changes in narrator, dialogue, etc) is interesting, just not interesting enough to overcome what for me felt like a clichéd plot.

Not recommended.

Review: Labbe’s Loquela


Carlos Labbe

Bolano-esque, but more formally experimental and less enjoyable (at least to this pleb).
Like many such literary affairs, it’s plot, such as it is, centers on a love story. Of course, one of the lovers is a novelists, struggling to write. There is much discussion about the nature of writing, digressions into literary movements, real and imagined, discussion of who controls the novel, the writer or the reader? There is also a sort of who done it aspect involving two albino girls and their imaginary world.

It was all a little much for me.

I find the older I get, the less patience I have for the formally experimental. Through a couple of curveballs at me, sure, I’m game, but attempt to interrogate the nature of narrative art?

Sorry dude, I’m tired.

Not recommended.

Sensory Deprivation Tanks, Talking Dolphins, and Aliens: Remembrances of reading John C. Lilly

The Scientists: A Novel Autobiography

Simulations of God: Science of Belief

Programming and Metaprogramming of the Human Biocomputer

John C. Lilly

Lilly was a well know and respected scientist who, like many in the late sixties, kinda start going off the rails. Did young Sean read the works of science Lilly produced early in his career? No, he did not. Young Sean read the woo-woo stuff. Like lots of other people, I because interested in Lilly because of the film Altered States, which is (very, very) loosely based on Lilly’s works with sensory deprivation tanks. That deprivation tank work is what interested me in him, and when I moved in California, his books were all over the used bookstores. The books never did anything for me, but his work did inspire to give a tank a try. An experience much more worth while than the books.

I wrote about my experience in a sensory deprivation tank here. 

With the sensory deprivation tanks of course also comes communications with dolphins, new agey self-help, and a lot of other twaddle much of it dressed up as science when it really wasn’t. Unlike Robert Anton Wilson, I never really like Lilly’s books. I just kept picking them up thinking there’s eventually be something worth read in them. For me, at least, there wasn’t.

Not recommended.


Ginsberg, Leary, and Lilly — trifecta of drugged up post hippie culture

A Bit Dark, Kinda Cynical, But Still Pretty Woo-Woo: My Remembrances of Being a Young Dude Reading Too Much Robert Anton Wilson

Prometheus Rising

Quantum Psychology


Cosmic Trigger Vol. 1

Cosmic Trigger Vol. II: Down to Earth

Chaos and Beyond the Best of Trajectories

Robert Anton Wilson

It’s probably just best to come out and admit I’ve read pretty much everything Robert Anton Wilson wrote up to about 1995. After that, nothing. Much of Wilson’s writings does not stand up. It’s representative of a certain strain of out-there Esalen Institute, drugged up hippie witchcraft that was big in California in the late 1970s and 80s. Not quite New Age, but rubbing shoulders with it. A bit dark, kinda cynical, but still pretty woo-woo. I’m more than a little embarrassed by how into this stuff I was when I was 19-20, but here we are.

In my defense, it was another time, and exploration was limited by what was carried in the book stores. In my case, Tower Books on Lafayette and East Fourth, which had a huge “alternative” section and where I worked from 1994-1996.  Kudos to Falcon Books, the publishers of Wilson at the time, they knew how to get their shit distributed in the East Village.

Anyway, Wilson’s nonfiction work* is a hodgepodge of western esotericism (Crowley, Spare, et. al) American takes on Buddhism, California drug culture, conspiracy theories, and, kinda remarkably, the writings of the now largely forgotten mystic/charlatan G.I. Gurdjieff. The books are a mix of memoir (notably the Cosmic Trigger books), wacko self-help (Prometheus Rising) and, source materials from across the woo-woo world.

Wilson’s project, presented often with humor and self-depreciation, is a sort of cobbled together world view of self-discovery through introspection, drugs, and self-work in the Gurdjieff style. In the end, it doesn’t amount to much in itself, but it did turn this uneducated white boy on to a lot of very out there and enjoyable stuff. For that, I’m thankful, though I’m sure I could have gotten the same pay off having read only one or two of these.

A final anecdote on Wilson – while working a Tower, a young woman came up to me one day and asked for Cosmic Trigger. She appeared lost and uncertain and when I asked if she was interested in Wilson, she responded “Not really, but my boyfriend was reading this book and now he’s gone insane”. Boyfriend clearly had troubles beyond his tastes in reading material, but he was like a lost kids who, like myself, were drawn to Wilson. Glad I got out in one piece.

Not Recommended.

*I’ve read most of Wilson’s fiction as well, I’ll review that separately at some point.

Robert Anton Wilson