Friday, February 27, 2009

So-Called Best Books of 2008 

For the heck of it, I looked up the 100 best books of 2008 to see how many (actually how few) I've read.

Who the hell picks these?

From Amazon, the editors' picks
Amazon, the customers' picks

NYT, Notable Books of 2008 (unnumbered)

Washington Post, Holiday Guide - Best Books of 2008 (unnumbered)

And that's it. Either I'm not well-read, or I'm reading the wrong books, or I have different tastes than people who read best sellers.

I'm going with the last one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Making a hotel home 

I've developed a new habit in making a hotel room home. I bring several books with me. I always travel with books, but now I make a point of bringing more books than I could possibly read. I line up the books on some surface, the desk if there's room, the top of the fridge, the litle table against the wall. Anywhere - but anywhere that I can see them from wherever in the room I happen to be. When I was in North Carolina at a trauma psychology conference, I had a line of a dozen books on the desk, then more lined up under, as I kept buying books by panelists I listened to and wanted to learn more from.

There was a time when all I needed to feel like home in a hotel room was a pillow and knowing which side of the bed was mine (sometimes this necessitated violence against my little brother).

I'm not nearly so secure anymore. I'm skittish. I feel wary of rented rooms that aren't mine, that are so impersonal. I worry that the lifeless room will make me as lifeless as I feel and have felt for two years. It's so easy to feel paralyzed in a room that looks like any of a hundred rooms, like a room in a hospital but with uglier paintings glued to the walls and colorful bedspreads.

These books are currently gracing the top of the fridge, the fore edges against the small microwave.
Security blankets don't need to be made of cloth. They should be cuddle-able, though. Luckily, books are. :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An update on me to all concerned 

I'm in Portland. Tomorrow I get grilled by suits about certain events that occurred in 2006. Those of you who know me will know what that means.

Today was prep with my champion. I feel more positive than I have in a long time. I slept better last night than I have in weeks. I dread tomorrow, but it will be bearable. I believe a day of crying will be worth the lifetime of peace that will result. And I will be alive instead of sleepwalking and I will be able to write, to draw, to socialize, to leave my house, to be a real, complete person.

One day more.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Outwitting History 

Aaron Lansky walked some dangerous ground in his Outwitting History. You might not expect a book about the Yiddish language, the nature of literature, the conflict between old and young, between Yiddish and Hebrew, and scenes set either in dusty warehouses full of brittle yellowing books or in apartments with multi-course meals perpetually cooking in Kosher kitchens to be suspenseful. But Lansky gives us plenty of races against time to save books from destruction, of desperate fundraising to scrape together the money for a U-Hauls, of angry landlords, of callous bystanders. And the only thing that keeps the drama from B level movie chase scenes is that Lansky doesn't always win, and when he does, he doesn't always win completely. The books aren't always saved The pluky heroes don't always win.

These exciting rescue scenes (yes, they're rescuing books, from rain, from burial, from decay or mold, from burning, and most often from landfills) are only part of the book. Maybe a third.

Another third is the history of Yiddish. Yiddish was predominantly a spoken language until the mid-1800's, when novelists and poets and historians and theologists began writing in the language that would reach the masses. Unfortunately, these books were first printed only after most printing houses had switched to paper made from wood pulp and acidic washes. Further, many of the books Lansky finds were printed on the thinnest, cheapest paper available. The books are crumbling to dust. Lansky takes the drastic step of digitizing the books. (It's a drastic step in my mind, because digitization can destroy the book. The spines are cut off so the pages can be fed, one by one, through copier. In Nicholson Baker's Double Fold, few books are rebound; they are pitched. In Lansky's book, the books that are digitized are"extras," meaning that three or four other copies exist, and he doesn't say how the cut pages are dealt with.). Lansky finds the funding to digitize the archives of the National Yiddish Book Center - 3.5 million pages and counting. Yiddish has the honor of being the first of the world's literature to be digitized, according to a Trivial Pursuit question.

The final third describes the role Yiddish plays today. It is an embarrassment to some. It is a cultural goldmine to others. While it is far from a dead language, Yiddish is no longer as universal as it was - Lansky tells of a conference on the development of Esperanto as a universal language that was held in Yiddish - the language that most of the participants had in common.

These thirds, by the way, are all intertwined and mushed together, The book does a startlingly good job of maintaining a character-driven narrative while incorporating all the history that it does. I did find it jarring sometimes trying to keep the years in order, as events are presented as narratives. But for me that was a minor flaw, and one that didn't present itself until close to the end.

I'm keeping this book. I admire this man. He went dumpster-diving for books.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thank You For Reading 

Thank You For Smoking. by Christopher Buckley. Loved it. I read it in a single night. I know they just made a movie of it, so I had to go read the book.

A few days before, I read Breaking Her Fall in two nights, I think, and Combat Corpsman is next.


I should sleep. I didn't sleep at all last night. I'm afraid to.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Math made me laugh. 

Hat tip to: Musings From a Catholic Bookstore.

, this new law to keep lead away from kids, could do much economic collateral damage I just can't help laughing. Read here
Searching for certainty is an entirely noble human endeavor. We long for the days when we were younger, when Mom or Dad could hold us in their arms and we would know we were safe. As we become adults, we venture out into the cold, uncertain world, and eventually we learn to live there by sticking to the course we feel most likely to bring a good outcome.

Groups like Consumer's Union seem to me to be taking an immature approach to the problem of lead in children's products. They wanted CPSIA because they believed it would make us safe from all lead, forever. Like little children, they wanted Mommy and Daddy Congress to make it all go away, and they are mad at that bad bad lady Nancy Nord for not doing what Mommy and Daddy said. If only Congress had that power. Congress has the power to make laws, but they do not have the power to make people 100% safe. Even if CPSIA is fully implemented, we will not be 100% safe from lead. Setting aside the fact that most lead exposure comes from lead in house paint, let's take a look at why this is.

We are going to use what nerds like me call a "stochastic," or probability-based, approach. Probability is the most counter-intuitive branch of mathematics, so I'll do my best to explain this approach in layman's terms.

Suppose a clothing manufacturer, let's call him Ben, buys 10,000 metal snaps from a snap manufacturer, Jessica. Ben wants assurances that Jessica's snaps are CPSIA compliant to the 100ppm standard. So Jessica pulls out her XRF gun and tests 100 snaps (that's 1% of the snaps), and they all test around 60ppm, near but under the lead content limit.
Read the whole thing. It's great. Unless you aren't a math geek, in which case, I don't know what to say to you.

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