So here’s the roundup of all of the various stuff I read while on our trip:
Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities was a masterpiece of imagination, insight, and imagery. It left me with a lot to think about in the way things are perceived, as well as the way cultures and cities work. A lot of it was quotable, and the insights were both direct and indirect, which was nice. Perfect for anything from in-flight reading to deep consideration at night. 9/10.
After Calvino, I wanted some light reading. This isn’t to say that his book was heavy reading … again, it’s the stuff that would be read well either as an intense study, or as little bits to mull over while polishing off a single malt. That said, it isn’t mindless drama, and that’s where Green comes into play. My first two pieces of light reading were Graham Green’s The Heart of the Matter and Our Man in Havana. After finishing both, I realized what it is that I like about Green. He has an uncanny knack for writing a perfect description of the simple but flawed man. I got a lot of pleasure out of these, but they were quick and easy reads. Not much to say beyond that. 6/10 for both.
You: The Owner’s Manual borders on qualifying as self-help, of which I’m not a huge fan. That said, I read it cover to cover, trying to absorb some of the positive stuff, without getting bogged down in “these guys sure likes their supplements.” A lot of it is common sense, and things one has been exposed to in the path, but I think a subset of this book should probably be required reading during junior high for most folks. After that, best to revisit when about 35 and various things (such as drinking, colonoscopies, prostate health, and aspirin) start becoming more applicable. At the end of the day, though, I found it a little too “for Dummies” and would prefer something a little more dry, and a little more detailed. Perhaps if one treats this as the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” and then purchases another work for reference, it would be sufficient. 6/10.
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea was a complete waste of time for anybody with a college education including some basic Calculus and Physics (nothing past introductory Mechanics, Thermo, or Quantum Mech), and that paid attention through grade school mathematics. It wanted to be a nice idiot’s guide to the history of zero, and it didn’t do a bad job of that for the first couple of chapters, but then it tried to become something great in the remainder of the pages, explaining all of science and the future of scientific discovery, in the framework of zero. Don’t get me wrong, zero is great, and it’s an important historical device, but exploring the nature of matter is not “the science of zero.” Trying to pretend that m-theory falls into this category (and half of the stuff along the way) is the sort of frame writing people scrape together for a clumsy essay in junior high school. Adding insult to injury, most of the second half of the book is glossed over so much that it reads like a blatant plagiarism of Brian Green’s “The Elegant Universe”: without the actual explanation, anecdotes, or analogies. I was looking forward to this book but it was a real disappointment. 2/10.
I should have brought more books, it turns out, as I had to borrow some of Sarah’s and one from the resort. The latter yielded Still Holding : A Novel of Hollywood. Afterwards, I now want nothing to do with either Hollywood or Buddhism. It fulfilled my requirement of reading at least one book that I could consider “fucked up” to put me in the proper mindset. This occupied the place where I usually have Palahniuk stowed for safe keeping, which was a pleasant surprise. It had a bit of that “stranger than fiction” feeling however, as I could see some of this stuff happening. Entertaining, and an easy read, 6/10.
I wanted to like Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress. I dreamt that it would be a book full of Waiter Rant. It was not to be so. Ginsberg has a few funny stories and experiences, but it’s more of a coming-of-age story than anything to do with the waiting industry. There are better books out there to get into the minds of the back of the house, I guess I wish there were better ones for the front. Maybe I’ve just not found it yet. Anyhow, I like these books because I get to read about other folks’ jobs and humorous stories, not because I particularly care about every niggling aspect of their love life. To make matters worse, she spends the last third of her book on a feminist rant that just makes me want to cry. It’s like Sinclair’s Jungle, which spends the last chunk as a cult-like rant on socialism. Just not me cup of tea, I guess. The whole experienced reminded me of Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, which suffered from similar self-importance and shoddy writing. 4/10.