The World Beyond Your Head:On Becoming An Individual In An Age of Distraction
Matthew B. Crawford
This book by Crawford of “Shop class is Soul Craft” fame is another in a long line of recent books on the power of attention and craft in a age of twitter and youtube. There’s an important point here — that focused attention, especially on actual physical labor, is fulfilling and important, but I found some of the extrapolations to larger philosophical points labored. Crawford on the jig and its place in the work of a skilled laborer is fascinating, Crawford on Kant I found a bit of an overreach.
Booker award winning novelist Marlon James jumps into the epic fantasy game and produces a book that is gorgeous on the sentence level, well constructed on the paragraph level, but hugely challenging as a book.
Perhaps I’m not smart enough, or my attention isn’t focused enough, but I found this one to be tough sledding. James’s use of language is stunning, and I often found myself awed by his phrasing, but I also found it difficult to follow the narrative (such as it is) and never came to care much about the characters. People I respect love this book and say it haunts them months after they finished it, but it never landed with me. I kept feeling like I was just a couple of pages from having the whole thing click together, but it never happened. Despite the beauty of some of the language, I can’t recommend this. Your mileage may vary.
Part memoir of the super-rich and successful Strauss Zelnick, part guide to aging well, this book is just like many many others that claim to have some new information but are really saying – eat well, exercise regularly, sometimes hard, sometimes easy, have a strong community, go see a doctor regularly. That’s basically it. If you’re just getting started on a healthy journey, this is as fine a place to start as any, but no new ground is really broken here.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown
Dad literature in extremis. Which usually isn’t something that turns me off, but this time, it was all just a bit too much bootstrapping, a bit too much greatest generation propaganda, a bit too much they beat the nazi’s twice kind of thing.
It isn’t that the lives of these young men, almost uniformly from hardscrabble depression era childhoods aren’t inspiring. They are, but that isn’t enough to make a good book.
Joe Rantz, the central character here had a childhood that’s hard to imagine today in most of America today. Living in work camps, and unheated shacks, he started working at an extremely early age, and was abandoned by his father and step mother when he was still in high school. Even with all that, he managed to attend the University fo Washington, and win a gold medal in Berlin. That’s inspiring. But in the hand of Brown, it all comes off as a little too Horacio Alger. The prose is too purple, and descriptions, too overwrought. When dealing with material as compelling as the lives of these young men, its better to be subtle, reserved, but Brown doesn’t write that way and that’s a pity. There’s great story here, but not a great book.
I’m sure this has been optioned for a movie. I hope whoever directs it does a better job.
Tools for Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
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.
Pietr the Latvian
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.
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