EppsNet Archive: Books

Letting Go

3 May 2015 /

Let go of grief. Let go of joy. Let go of hope. Let go of fear. Let go of history. Let go of coming and going. Let go of culture. Let go of waiting. Let go of letting go.

— Rudolph Wurlitzer, Hard Travel to Sacred Places

A Lesson From the Godfather

29 Apr 2015 /

“There are men in this world,” he said, “who go about demanding to be killed. You must have noticed them. They quarrel in gambling games, they jump out of their automobiles in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know. I have seen a man, a fool, deliberately infuriate a group of dangerous men, and he himself without any resources. These are people who wander through the world shouting, ‘Kill me. Kill me.’ And there is always someone ready to oblige them. We read about it in the newspapers every day.”

— Mario Puzo, The Godfather

See You in Hell

26 Apr 2015 /
Satan

Satan

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

Greetings from the underworld!

I see that Pope Francis put a bee in Turkey’s bonnet a couple of weeks ago by calling the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 a genocide. According to the Turks, the Vatican should look to its own history before casting stones. Tu quoque!

On that note, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography was just awarded to David I. Kertzer for The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. Historically, popes have been far more circumspect in condemning genocide and other atrocities when committed by countries willing to aggrandize the Church (or when committed by the Church itself!)

See you in Hell, clerics of all stripes . . .

Clerics


Learn How to Get a Man From a Woman With 14 Husbands

9 Apr 2015 /

Woman Married 14 Men

Bobbi Ann House

My first thought was that this woman should write a book. There are a lot of books out there about how to get a man, how to get a husband . . . how does one assess the credibility of the advice?

Normally a woman who’s markedly overweight and doesn’t have a single attractive feature can’t even get a date, let alone alone a husband, and yet this woman’s had 14 of them! How does she do it?! Who wouldn’t like to know her secret? I would!

Paste her grinning mug on the cover — the woman with 14 husbands! — and the book sells itself. Her upcoming jail term should give her plenty of time to write it.


EppsNet Book Reviews: Hotel World by Ali Smith

18 Mar 2015 /

Happy is what you realize you are a fraction of a second before it’s too late.

Hotel World takes place in and around a hotel in London, hence the title, but Hotel World is also a metaphor for life: people check in and people check out.

It’s about remembering to live, remembering that you won’t live forever . . . it’s about love, not romantic love, but a mother’s love for her daughter, sisters’ love for each other . . . and it’s about how close people come to really understanding one another, which is not very close at all.

Rating: 5-stars


Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

18 Feb 2015 /

Kudos to Francis Ford Coppola for making one of the most renowned films of all time out of this pedestrian soap opera.

Rating: 2 stars


Good Title for a Memoir

4 Jan 2015 /

Tags:

2014: The Year in Books

31 Dec 2014 /

These are the books I read in 2014, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Books of the Year: My Antonia by Willa Cather (fiction) and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (non-fiction).

Honorable Mention: Flaubert’s Parrot, The Fountain Overflows, Nausea, Pastoralia, Revolutionary Road.


Teaching Computer Science: Those Who Don’t Like to Read

16 Dec 2014 /

Students with books

I recommended a couple of books that I’ve read recently and liked — Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman — to the class in case anyone was looking for a book to read over winter break or maybe as a holiday gift.

“What if you don’t like to read?” someone asked.

“Well, in that case you can spend your entire life inside your own head and never know or care what life looks like to other people.”

In hindsight, it occurred to me that I could have suggested audio books for people who don’t like to read, but . . . woulda coulda shoulda, you know what I’m saying?


The Hedgehog and the Fox

6 Dec 2014 /

Stuffed hedgehogs outside a store in Athens

Hedgehogs “know one big thing” and have a theory about the world: they account for particular events within a coherent framework, bristle with impatience toward those who don’t see things their way, and are confident in their forecasts. They are also especially reluctant to admit error. For hedgehogs, a failed prediction is almost always “off only on timing” or “very nearly right.” They are opinionated and clear, which is exactly what television producers love to see on programs. Two hedgehogs on different sides of an issue, each attacking the idiotic ideas of the adversary, make for a good show.

Foxes, by contrast, are complex thinkers. They don’t believe that one big thing drives the march of history . . . Instead the foxes recognize that reality emerges from the interactions of many different agents and forces, including blind luck, often producing large and unpredictable outcomes. . . . They are less likely than hedgehogs to be invited to participate in television debates.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Art is Not a Brassiere

10 Nov 2014 /

Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence. Art is not a brassière. At least, not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassière is the French for life jacket.

— Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Whatever the Party Holds to Be the Truth

8 Nov 2014 /

“I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.”

— George Orwell, 1984

It’s Election Season in Irvine

26 Oct 2014 /

It’s election season . . . campaign signs dot the Irvine landscape.

As I drove to lunch with co-workers, one of them pointed out a sign for Ira Glasky, who’s running for school board or city council or something.

“He’s probably trying to cash in on the name recognition of Ira Glass,” he said.

“Who’s Ira Glass?” I asked, and he told me but I’ve since forgotten. A person on the radio, I think.

If I were a campaign manager, I wouldn’t be advising my clients to coattail on the popularity of people no one’s heard of.

“Maybe he’s trying to play into the popularity of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930s crime novel The Glass Key,” I suggested.

Another Irvine candidate, Lynn Schott, is in a local women’s networking group that my wife belongs to. I offered her a free campaign slogan — “Lynn-sanity!” — but she’s not using it.


Blondes

24 Oct 2014 /

Raymond Chandler

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

— Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

50 Years of Solving Crossword Puzzles Finally Paid Off

23 Oct 2014 /
Crossword puzzle

I’ve solved a lot of crossword puzzles in my life with no benefit accruing to me other than personal enjoyment — until now!

Steven Landsburg, economist and author, published a crossword puzzle contest last month with free books going to the top three solvers. The puzzle was a cryptic crossword, which is typically more difficult than a “regular” crossword. This particular crossword was extremely difficult. No one was able to solve it correctly.

The winning entrant had three errors, second place had four errors, and two entrants, including me, tied for third with five errors. If you think that five errors in one crossword puzzle is not very good and doesn’t deserve a prize, you should take a look at the puzzle.


I Don’t Much Care for Coincidences

19 Oct 2014 /

I don’t much care for coincidences. There’s something spooky about them: you sense momentarily what it must be like to live in an ordered, God-run universe, with Himself looking over your shoulder and helpfully dropping coarse hints about a cosmic plan. I prefer to feel that things are chaotic, free-wheeling, permanently as well as temporarily crazy — to feel the certainty of human ignorance, brutality and folly.

— Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Nobody Reads Books Anymore

11 Oct 2014 /

Me and Mark Twain


A Glimpse of Antiquity

10 Sep 2014 /
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Yes, those are World Books and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. No, this is not an archaeological dig. It’s a furniture store we visited over the weekend.

When I was growing up, our family, like many American families at that time, had a set of World Book encyclopedias, so I knew they existed but I haven’t actually seen one in decades.

Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are a relic from a time when many Americans still liked to think of themselves as the kind of people who read books but didn’t want to actually read a whole, entire book. Reader’s Digest stripped out all the boring passages about clouds and such that people don’t read and compressed four or five books into the size of one.

Today, of course, no one reads books at all, with or without the cloud passages, so Reader’s Digest Condensed Books have joined World Book encyclopedias in the dustbin of history.


Programmers Don’t Play Polo

16 Aug 2014 /

On the product page for a book on software development principles, Amazon showed me this:

Customers also viewed ...

The product on the right — is that a bug in the cross-selling algorithm? I’ve worked in software development for about 30 years and have never met one person interested in the game of polo . . .


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