Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "The War for Late Night" by Bill Carter

What with Conan O'Brien's new show starting on TBS this week, this seemed like a good choice.

A good rehashing of the whole unpleasant affair. Although the best parts may come in the epilogue, where some analysis comes into play and perspective is achieved. As Jerry Seinfeld notes, with either great clarity or great cynicism, "The Tonight Show," as most people idolized it, ended when Johnny Carson retired. The show that Conan O'Brien wanted to host was that show, not "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." But that show is no more. As Seinfeld continues, no one says "I'm doing the 'Tonight Show'," they say "I'm doing Jay," or Dave, or Conan, or Kimmel, or whomever. "Tonight" used to be the only game in town worth playing for, now its just one of many.

So, ultimately, would it have mattered if Conan went on at 12:05 instead of 11:35? No matter what, he wasn't going to be Johnny Carson. Or Jay Leno. Or Jack Paar or Steve Allen, for that matter.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle


I caught the first episode of the modern-day "Sherlock", the first episode of which was entitled "A Study in Pink," and decided that I wanted to re-read the source material. There's only superficial resemblances between "Scarlet" and "Pink," but both are fun.

It's interesting to see how it all started, and I'd forgotten that this was the story that involved the whole Mormon subplot. One of the first times I'd ever read anything about the Latter Day Saints that hadn't derived from one of their '70s and '80s era PSA/commercials, and that made me go, "Really?"

Anyway, all of the Holmes books have been downloaded from the internet and uploaded to my Kindle. I'll be good for a while.

Oh, and there are lots of cool Holmes covers out there for the picking. Sort of the great thing about public domain titles featuring characters who are known by anyone who hasn't read a single word.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Print is Dead" by Jeff Gomez

Not very good.

I have a lot of notes that I made as I read it that I think I'd like to combine with some that I made while re-reading "Being Digital", and that I hope to make when I read one more book on a similar subject. But this book just ticked me off, less by any outrageous thing he said, but by the very sloppy way he went about saying it. A lot of inconsistencies in his argument, let's just leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Being Digital" by Nicholas Negroponte

Re-read, actually.

I first read this, I don't know, 13 or 14 years ago. There were a couple of things that I remembered about it, but only vaguely. I thought it might be interesting to read it again and see what has held up in the intervening years and what seems hopelessly naive in retrospect. However, I was mildly surprised by how far out the book DIDN'T seem. Negroponte wisely did not make hyper-specific predictions or lay them out on a timeline that would be too easy to nitpick. (No "...and the Age of the Jet Pack shall be ushered in on May 15, 1998...")

He liked to write about "digital butlers" and "agents" that would do our bidding, finding information that we would want while filtering out the data that we wouldn't have any interest in. What are those but things like RSS feeds and our TiVos, making suggestions based on our likes and dislikes? His "asynchronous broadcatching" as an alternative to synchronous broadcasting has taken form as radio shows downloaded in seconds as podcasts, or TV shows downloaded in a few minutes from iTunes.

There's a lot more, of course. He was sometimes a little too optimistic about the unfettered good that a digital future might bring. I took some notes while I was reading, and I may expand on this a little bit more later on. I'm still mulling over some thoughts, both about what Negroponte wrote and what can be predicted about the digital world in another 13 or 14 years.

(Funny thing, though? I looked and could not find an ebook version of this title for sale anywhere. I re-read my old paper copy. And what's sobering about that is the fact that any electronic version I might have bought this in in 1996 would almost certainly be in a format indecipherable by now. Plus I found the damage pictured below, that was either done by the cat my room mate had at the time, or by the cat of the friend I remember lending the book to. (A post-it with his email address is still affixed inside the front cover. Yikes!)

Comparable damage to a digital file would probably have rendered the whole thing useless. It's easy enough to read around the tears in an analog format, but any wonky bits in a digital file can just shut the whole thing down. Something that hasn't improved significantly.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Monsters and Angels" by Voice of the Beehive

For close to 20 years, I have been trying to find this damn song. I remembered it being really beautiful, with a kind of haunting female voice, and that one of the lyrics went "(something) (something) angels." (So I got that part right.) But damn, I couldn't remember who sang it. No one else did, either. (Although now I'm sure that everyone will say, "Oh yeah! I remember that song! Really? You didn't know who did it? I did!")

After years of occasional unsuccessful Google searches, I tried again last night -- "kroq playlist 1991"* -- and found this. There it was at number 38.

And you know what? It's not that good.

Our memories? They lie to us.

* I actually tried "kroq playlist 1990" first, with a vague memory of hearing it in the fall of that year. I guess I was wrong. But I *knew* it was KROQ. EVERYONE at USC listened to KROQ when I went there.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson


This is another one of those books that, because of its size and scope, took a long time to get through. I started it before we left on our trip to Illinois at the beginning of August, so at least two months to work through nearly a thousand pages.

And it was good, but not the transcendent experience that some reviews led me to believe I would have. I wasn't sure how seriously to take the science, and whether it was based on real theoretical stuff that some readers were whooping over because "Yes, yes, yes! Someone gets it!", or if it was just "Star Trek"-like technobabble that didn't mean anything outside of the story that Stephenson wanted to tell.

May I also add that this is an example of how great ebooks can be. I bought both a paper copy of the book and the Kindle version from Amazon. As I mentioned above, the book is almost a thousand pages long, and even though I have the mass market paperback, it's a bit of a thing to schlep around. Between my Kindle and my iPhone, however, I could slip it into my bag or my pocket and dip into it easily whenever I happened to have a few minutes free. The paper copy, however, proved extremely useful when I wanted to look something up in the glossary that Stephenson put in the back of the book, or one of the appendices that explained the technobabble, since navigating on a Kindle is still a kludgy experience compared to the time-tested stick-a-finger-where-you-left-off-and-flip-to-the-back technique.

PLUS!, the ebook was priced at the same price as the mass market book. THIS MAKES SENSE! An ebook, especially a text-only, no value added edition, should cost at most as much as the least expensive print version.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" by Rick Perlstein


Unabridged audio -- which in this case ran for 36 hours and 46 minutes.

Totally. Worth. It.

It's hard to read/listen to this and not, in the depths of despair, imagine Sarah Palin as the next Republican nominee for president. An Orthogonian's wet dream.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "The Wounded and the Slain" by David Goodis

Hard Case Crime

A really good one. I found some more Goodis titles at Munsey's, which I think I will make a point of reading in the coming weeks. Or months. Or whatever.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "The Kid Stays In The Picture" by Robert Evans

It's another audiobook, and it's abridged, but Oh. My. God. It's THE audiobook. It's a legend. And did it live up to its reputation? It certainly did.

And the whole time that I'm listening to it, I kept thinking about this:

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

Why? Why not? Because everyone else seems to be reading it. Or buying it. Or selling it. I can't say that I've seen anyone else reading it, or heard anyone recommend it, but it sure does seem to be on sale everywhere.

Ffor something that is that ubiquitous, it wasn't half bad. I downloaded the second book, "The Girl Who Played With Fire", and it's in queue on my Kindle. Not great literature, but a satisfying summer read.

And I have to admit that I liked that it was set in Sweden. I liked that there were probably all sorts of stock characters and regional types, but that I didn't get the references. I avoid a lot of police/detective genre books because I tire easily of the ex-cop who drinks too much and the corrupt metropolitan police department, the taciturn Northeasterners and the Southern rednecks, all of the tropes that I associate with the laziest of American crime fiction. Unfair to the good stuff, I'm sure, but I don't have the time to wade through all of the best-selling by-the-numbers crap to get to the good stuff.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer" by James L. Swanson

James L. Swanson's website.

I meant to read this last year, but when I started it, I found a reproduction of the cover for this book inside, and I wound up reading that first.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "I Drink For A Reason" by David Cross

Audiobook again, but unabridged AND read by the author WITH occasional reprimands from said author as to the listener's laziness in not just reading the damn book.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman

Read by the author (among others), but unabridged as well. FTW!

I'e been listening to this, off and on, for the last several months. I'd read the print edition about 10 years ago, as well as the second book in the series, but never quite got around to the third one. I have books two and three downloaded already, and I'll see when I can get around to them.

I found it a little slow going, to tell the truth. I remembered the gist of the story from the last time I read it, but it seemed to take forever to get to the point, which may be why I took several breaks from reading/listening to it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" by Alan Alda

An abridged audio book. Wait! I can explain.

There are two versions at Audible, abridged and unabridged. The abridged version is read by Alan Alda, while the unabridged is not. Normally, I would pick an unabridged version, except I have this thing about hearing certain authors read their own work. Sarah Vowell or David Sedaris come to mind, because there is a certain element of performance in their work. Because I came to know of them from their pieces on This American Life, and because they have distinct voices, both in their writing and literally, I can't help but hear their voices when I read their work in print as well. I also think that one of the objections that people raise to audio books -- that someone else is interpreting the author's words for you -- is removed when you can hear a phrase read EXACTLY the way the author wanted it to be read/heard.

When I'm listening to a book written by a well known person, but read by someone else, I have this strange disconnect going on in my head. I work to replace the voice that I'm hearing with the voice that I imagine should be there instead. The best example I can think of is when I listened to "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore a couple of years ago. It was an interesting book, but Gore has a distinct voice -- or, some would argue, drone -- that Will Patton, the reader, did not have. And I knew that if I listened to a book by Alan Alda, someone who I grew up watching on TV on" M*A*S*H", someone whose voice I knew and expected to hear, I would be distracted. So I picked the abridged version and figured that a certain quality would come across in the reading of the text and the telling of the stories that would offset the loss of some of the words.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "American on Purpose" by Craig Ferguson


I figure an unabridged memoir read by the person who wrote it is about the least objectionable form of "but is an audiobook really reading?" (Answer: Yes.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson


One of those things that I've spent my lifetime using as a metaphor and a literary reference, but never actually read. I didn't realize how A) short it was, and B) good it was. The prose is dense, which isn't unusual for the time, but it was one of those experiences where, if I could slow myself down to take my time with the words, it paid off. An excellent little rumination about the nature of man, and that dynamic tension between good and evil, between our baser and loftier instinct, that make us who we are.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Hawaii" by James Michener


I actually started this way back in September of 2009, but it's kind of huge. It literally starts with the cooling of the earth's crust, so it takes a while to get through. I thought I would be finished before we went to Kauai in November, or at least would finish while we were there, but it wasn't even close.

Really good, though. It gives an interesting overview -- in fictionalized form -- of the politics of the islands.