Tuesday, September 3, 2013

August Books


Front CoverItalo Calvino, one of the world's best storytellers, died on the eve of his departure for Harvard, where he was to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1985-86. Reticent by nature, he was always reluctant to talk about himself, but he welcomed the opportunity to talk about the making of literature. In the process of devising his lectures--his wife recalls that they were an "obsession" for the last year of his life--he could not avoid mention of his own work, his methods, intentions, and hopes. This book, then, is Calvino's legacy to us: those universal values he pinpoints for future generations to cherish become the watchword for our appreciation of Calvino himself.
What about writing should be cherished? Calvino, in a wonderfully simple scheme, devotes one lecture (a memo for his reader) to each of five indispensable literary values. First there is "lightness" (leggerezza), and Calvino cites Lucretius, Ovid, Boccaccio, Cavalcanti, Leopardi, and Kundera--among others, as always--to show what he means: the gravity of existence has to be borne lightly if it is to be borne at all. There must be "quickness," a deftness in combining action (Mercury) with contemplation (Saturn). Next is "exactitude," precision and clarity of language. The fourth lecture is on "visibility," the visual imagination as an instrument for knowing the world and oneself. Then there is a tour de force on "multiplicity," where Calvino brilliantly describes the eccentrics of literature (Elaubert, Gadda, Musil, Perec, himself) and their attempt to convey the painful but exhilarating infinitude of possibilities open to humankind.
The sixth and final lecture - worked out but unwritten - was to be called "Consistency." Perhaps surprised at first, we are left to ponder how Calvino would have made that statement, and, as always with him, the pondering leads to more. With this book Calvino gives us the most eloquent, least defensive "defense of literature" scripted in our century - a fitting gift for the next millennium.
Note: He is very well read. Not sure I learned anything else from these lectures. But perhaps the fault is mine.


Front CoverTo err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken. Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she shows that error is both a given and a gift—one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and ourselves.
Note: Very hard to consider the possibility of error in our worldview, even though we are constantly wrong about all matter of things.




Front CoverOnce upon a time I was falling apart. Now I'm always falling in love.
Pick up the microphone.
When Rob Sheffield moved to New York City in the summer of 2001, he was a young widower trying to start a new life in a new town. Behind, in the past, was his life as a happily married rock critic, with a wife he adored, and a massive collection of mix tapes that captured their life together. And then, in a flash, all he had left were the tapes.
Beyoncé , Bowie, Bon Jovi, Benatar . . .
One night, some friends dragged him to a karaoke bar in the West Village. A night out was a rare occasion for Rob back then.
Turn around
Somehow, that night in a karaoke bar turned into many nights, in many karaoke bars. Karaoke became a way out, a way to escape the past, a way to be someone else if only for the span of a three-minute song. Discovering the sublime ridiculousness of karaoke, despite the fact that he couldn't carry a tune, he began to find his voice.
Turn around
And then the unexpected happened. A voice on the radio got Rob's attention. The voice came attached to a woman who was unlike anyone he'd ever met before. A woman who could name every constellation in the sky, and every Depeche Mode B side. A woman who could belt out a mean Bonnie Tyler.
Bright Eyes
Turn Around Bright Eyes is an emotional journey of hilarity and heartbreak with a karaoke soundtrack. It's a story about finding the courage to move on, clearing your throat, and letting it rip. It's a story about navi- gating your way through adult romance. And it's a story about how songs get tangled up in our deepest emotions, evoking memories of the past while inspiring hope for the future.
Note:The writing, as always, is honest and fresh. His music is my music, and he knows everything.


Front CoverWhy do some children succeed while others fail?

The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.

But in
 How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.

How Children Succeed
 introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty.

Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children’s lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, as Tough’s extraordinary reporting makes clear, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things.

This provocative and profoundly hopeful book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net. It will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.

Note: Grit and self-control are undervalued predictors of success.


Front CoverNote: Another series of essays on life in Belgrade. The author’s voice loses a little of its freshness the second time around, and sometimes it feels like he’s trying to make a deadline, but it is enjoyable throughout and my only real criticism is that it is not as good as its predecessor. That’s unfair.


John Brockman

Front CoverFeaturing a foreword by David Brooks, "This Will Make You Smarter" presents brilliant--but accessible--ideas to expand every mind.
"What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" This is the question John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, posed to the world's most influential thinkers. Their visionary answers flow from the frontiers of psychology, philosophy, economics, physics, sociology, and more. Surprising and enlightening, these insights will revolutionize the way you think about yourself and the world.
Daniel Kahneman on the "focusing illusion" - Jonah Lehrer on controlling attention - Richard Dawkins on experimentation - Aubrey De Grey on conquering our fear of the unknown - Martin Seligman on the ingredients of well-being - Nicholas Carr on managing "cognitive load" - Steven Pinker on win-win negotiating - Daniel C. Dennett on benefiting from cycles - Jaron Lanier on resisting delusion - Frank Wilczek on the brain's hidden layers - Clay Shirky on the "80/20 rule" - Daniel Goleman on understanding our connection to the natural world - V. S. Ramachandran on paradigm shifts - Matt Ridley on tapping collective intelligence - John McWhorter on path dependence - Lisa Randall on effective theorizing - Brian Eno on "ecological vision" - Richard Thaler on rooting out false concepts - J. Craig Venter on the multiple possible origins of life - Helen Fisher on temperament - Sam Harris on the flow of thought - Laurence Krauss on living with uncertainty
Note: Disappointing, though perhaps due to expectations. Essays too short to get much out of. Perhaps better read in snippets.

2 comments:

  1. I have ordered the Sheffield and the Calvino. Thanks for the tips

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have ordered the Sheffield and the Calvino. Thanks for the tips

    ReplyDelete