EppsNet Archive: Books

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. — Jack Kerouac


At Any Rate, That Is Happiness

1 Apr 2014 /
Field of pumpkins at harvest time

Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

— Willa Cather, My Antonia

Get Rich Making Dumb Decisions

31 Mar 2014 /

The people on the short side of the subprime mortgage market had gambled with the odds in their favor. The people on the other side — the entire financial system, essentially — had gambled with the odds against them. Up to this point, the story of the big short could not be simpler. What’s strange and complicated about it, however, is that pretty much all the important people on both sides of the gamble left the table rich. . . . The CEOs of every major Wall Street firm were also on the wrong end of the gamble. All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.

What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can get rich making dumb decisions?

— Michael Lewis, The Big Short

EppsNet Book Reviews: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

29 Mar 2014 /

Richard Yates poses the question of how much reality people can stand, and the answer he comes up with is “not very much.” Alternatives to facing reality head-on are explored in Revolutionary Road: avoidance, denial, alcoholism, insanity and death.

Some excerpts:

“You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me buddy you’ve got nothing to apologize for. Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed.”

 

And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear — until he was saying “I love you” and she was saying “Really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”

People’s inability to absorb large, unfiltered doses of reality probably explains why New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell wrote to Yates’s agent in 1981, “It seems clearer and clearer that his kind of fiction is not what we’re looking for. I wonder if it wouldn’t save a lot of time and disappointment in the end if you and he could come to the same conclusion.”

And why at the time of his death in 1992, all of Yates’ books were out of print.

Rating: 5 stars


EppsNet Book Reviews: My Antonia by Willa Cather

5 Mar 2014 /

Woulda, coulda, shoulda . . .

Rating: 5 stars


See You in Hell: The Fritz Pollard Edition

1 Mar 2014 /

Satan

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

The head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, expects the league to institute a rule where players would be penalized 15 yards for using the N-word on the field.

The N-word. Let’s see . . . the N-word is “National,” the F-word is “Football” and the L-word is “League.”

Wait — what?! I’m now being informed that the N-word in this case is “nigger.” That’s what the Fritz Pollard Alliance wants to penalize. OK, that’s a great idea, Fritz Pollard Alliance, and by “great” I mean “bullshit.”

Has anyone at the Fritz Pollard Alliance read the Harry Potter books? In the Harry Potter books, Voldemort is known as He Who Must Not Be Named. He’s so powerful and scary and evil that you’re not even allowed to say his name! The only person who’s not afraid to say Voldemort’s name is Harry Potter.

I wish someone would ban my name from being spoken. I hate to hear my name bandied about — “Satan this” and “Satan that.” It makes me seem unremarkable, like someone you might chat with at a dinner party or meet at Starbucks for a coffee.

If people were banned from speaking my name, every time someone did speak it, accidentally or on purpose, it would be like “AUUUUGH! SATAN HAS BEEN UNLEASHED FROM THE DEPTHS OF HELL!” I’d be 10 times more fearsome than I am already.

You see where I’m going with this, Fritz Pollard Alliance? Banning the use of a word makes the word more scary and powerful, not less.

Who knows better than me that if you make a thing forbidden, people will want that thing more than ever? I call that Satan’s Paradox.

 

Except for the N-word, all racial, ethnic or religious zingers, epithets and provocations remain A-okay with Fritz and his boys. The Kailee Wong Alliance has proposed that calling a Chinese player a gook or a Vietnamese player a chink, instead of the other way around, be grounds for automatic ejection, but adoption of the proposal is considered unlikely.

See you in Hell . . .


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Known World by Edward P. Jones

23 Feb 2014 /

I bought this book and read it because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. See, it says so right there on the cover: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.”

Did you know there was a time in our country’s history when black people were bought and sold as property, sometimes by other black people? And did you also know that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?

Human slavery is deplorable, yes, but at this late date, can it be deplored any more than it has been already? If you have new depths of insight into the hearts and minds of the participants, by all means offer them, but Jones doesn’t have them. Reading The Known World is like reading a history book, albeit with a little more authorial contempt for some of the characters.

It’s customary in book reviews to mention authors whose work is called to mind by the volume at hand. The reviews included in my copy of The Known World cite

If you want to say something nice about a black author writing about the American South, you can’t go wrong with a Morrison or Faulkner comparison, although comparing an author writing his second book to Faulkner (or García Márquez) makes as much sense as comparing a young composer to Beethoven or Mozart. (I can’t comment on the Toni Morrison comparison as I have to admit I haven’t read her work.)

The author that Jones most reminded me of is Kurt Vonnegut, who once wrote

I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, which I think I have done.

Jones follows the Vonnegut model of introducing a lot of characters of equal importance and weaving their lives together via seemingly insignificant details. Vonnegut has written better books than The Known World — most notably, in my opinion, Breakfast of Champions, although many people prefer Slaughterhouse-Five — but he did not win, nor was he ever a finalist for, a Pulitzer Prize.

So it goes.

Rating: 3 stars


The ‘Why’ Technique

16 Feb 2014 /

The usual purpose of ‘why’ is to elicit information. One wants to be comforted with some explanation which one can accept and be satisfied with. The lateral use of why is quite opposite. The intention is to create discomfort with any explanation. By refusing to be comforted with an explanation one tries to look at things in a different way and so increases the possibility of restructuring a pattern.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

Challenge Assumptions

15 Feb 2014 /

General agreement about an assumption is no guarantee that it is correct. It is historical continuity that maintains most assumptions – not a repeated assessment of their validity.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

Periodic Reassessment

13 Feb 2014 /

Periodic reassessment means looking again at things which are taken for granted, things which seem beyond doubt. Periodic reassessment means challenging all assumptions. It is not a matter of reassessing something because there is a need to reassess it; there may be no need at all. It is a matter of reassessing something simply because it is there and has not been assessed for a long time. It is a deliberate and quite unjustified attempt to look at things in a new way.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

2013: The Year in Books

31 Dec 2013 /

These are the books I read in 2013, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Books of the Year: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren



30 Feet Away

31 Dec 2013 /

From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.

— Raymond Chandler, The High Window

A Display of Interest, However Shallow

17 Dec 2013 /

He himself did not care what happened at the house during the day. There was no more reason for her to be curious about his work than for him to be concerned with the groceries, laundry, getting the children to school, and whatever else she did. Yet it would seem rude, almost brutal, to drop the pretense and admit that neither particularly cared what the other was doing. A display of interest, however shallow, made life easier.

— Evan Connell, Mr. Bridge

Farewell, My Lovely

12 Dec 2013 /

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.

— Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

Passing the Cloudera Hadoop Certification Exam

9 Dec 2013 /
Hadoop

Today I took and passed the Cloudera Certified Developer for Apache Hadoop (CCDH) exam. Two resources were helpful to me in this successful endeavor:

  1. Hadoop: The Definitive Guide by Tom White
  2. The Cloudera practice test, which I found much harder than the actual exam.

The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates

4 Dec 2013 /
The Joy Luck Club

“Do not ride your bicycle around the corner,” the mother had told the daughter when she was seven.

“Why not!” protested the girl.

“Because then I cannot see you and you will fall down and cry and I will not hear you.”

“How do you know I’ll fall?” whined the girl.

“It is in a book, The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, all the bad things that can happen to you outside the protection of this house.”

“I don’t believe you. Let me see the book.”

“It is written in Chinese. You cannot understand it. That is why you must listen to me.”

“What are they, then?” the girl demanded. “Tell me the twenty-six bad things.”

But the mother sat knitting in silence.

“What twenty-six!” shouted the girl.

The mother still did not answer her.

“You can’t tell me anything because you don’t know! You don’t know anything!” And the girl ran outside, jumped on her bicycle, and in her hurry to get away, she fell before she even reached the corner.

— Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

It Is Hard Living Down the Tempers We Are Born With

30 Nov 2013 /
Gertrude Stein

Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”

It is hard living down the tempers we are born with. We all begin well, for in our youth there is nothing we are more intolerant of than our own sins writ large in others and we fight them fiercely in ourselves; but we grow old and we see that these our sins are of all sins the really harmless ones to own, nay that they give a charm to any character, and so our struggle with them dies away.

— Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans

How to Save a Lot of Time in Interviews

19 Nov 2013 /

There used to be a book titled The Top 2800 Interview Questions…And Answers. I have this fantasy: You walk into an employer’s office, shake hands, and say, “I know you have a lot of questions for me. So let’s save us both a lot of time.” You slide that baby across the desk toward the manager… “So here they are, along with all the answers. Now can we cut the crap and talk about the job and how I’ll do it for you, okay?”


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

10 Nov 2013 /

I worked in the information technology department of a mortgage bank in the run-up to the 2007 implosion of the subprime mortgage market . . .

Given that it was fairly evident at the time that complicated financial instruments were being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it, it’s remarkable that very few people foresaw the catastrophe and that even fewer actually had the nerve to bet on it to happen.

Long story short, the major rating agencies — Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s — were incompetent in their rating of subprime mortgage bonds, giving investment-grade and, in some cases, triple-A ratings to high-risk instruments. A lot of people took the ratings — which implied that subprime mortgage derivatives were no riskier than U.S. Treasury bonds — at face value and acted accordingly.

But there were also some interesting psychological factors in play, not specific to the investment arena:

  1. Nothing really bad had ever happened in the subprime mortgage market. Every tiny panic was followed by a robust boom. Since nothing really bad had ever happened (albeit over a short and statistically insignificant period of time), nothing really bad ever would happen.
  2. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market would be a national catastrophe, and was unlikely precisely because it would be such a catastrophe. Nothing that bad could ever actually happen.

Seeing the Thing Through

3 Sep 2013 /

Ah, poor fellow!–and Herzog momentarily joined the objective world in looking down on himself. He too could smile at Herzog and despise him. But there still remained the fact. I am Herzog. I have to be that man. There is no one else to do it. After smiling, he must return to his own Self and see the thing through.

— Saul Bellow, Herzog

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