Saturday, November 30, 2013

January 2014

From 'The Guardian': In 1930 a young journalist called Stella Gibbons started a new job on the Lady, "the magazine for gentlewomen", where she applied her versatility as a writer to every subject under the sun, bar cookery, which was the province of a certain Mrs Peel. Soon after her arrival, however, Gibbons also began work on another, more exciting project, a novel – her "masterpiece", she jokingly called it – which she planned to write in spare moments, in a little room at the end of a passage in the Lady's Covent Garden offices. The book was to be a take-off of the "loam and love child" novels then so popular: novels such as Mary Webb's Precious Bane and Sheila Kaye-Smith's Sussex Gorse, in which earthy and primitive types, gloomy happenings and archaic rural landscapes are depicted in prose so overwrought that to call it purple would be a wild understatement ("the kind of story in which peasants have babies in cowsheds and push each other down wells", as Punch put it). She intended to call it Cold Comfort Farm.
Gibbons believed she might have a hit on her hands early on: the girls who typed her manuscript laughed out loud at it, and when it was published in September 1932 so it proved. Everyone adored it, even if one critic was convinced that Stella Gibbons was a pseudonym for Evelyn Waugh. The following year the novel even won the Prix Étranger of the Prix Femina-Vie heureuse, a surprising literary award for a comic novel, and one that infuriated Virginia Woolf ("I was enraged to see they gave the £40 to Gibbons," Woolf wrote to Elizabeth Bowen. "Still, now you and Rosamond [Lehmann] can join in blaming her. Who is she? What is this book?").

From 'The Guardian': Oscar Wao is an unlikely hero, and Díaz's Pulitzer-winning debut novel an improbable triumph. Wao, a second-generation Dominican living in New Jersey, crams his face with pizza and his head with comic books, trying to make up in geekery what he lacks in sex appeal. As Oscar grows from chubby child to uncomfortable young man, the curse that has haunted his family is never far away. Yet even his swelling body is dwarfed by the presence of Rafael Trujillo, whose self-serving rule defined Dominica between 1930 and 1961. Alert to the latest plots and the prettiest girls, "El Jefe" is rarely seen, but his influence is everywhere as his informants feed him half-truths and his men deliver horrific beatings. Díaz's narrative is full of characters who should be caricatures - the ugly duckling turned buxom swan, the timid doctor, the laddish lothario. His skill is to colour them in with humour and compassion, forming a sparkling tale of banter, love and rage. Sharp, sad and gleeful, this passionate and richly rewarding novel deserves its plaudits.

From Bookforum: In 2009, David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist who served as chair of Britain's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), published a paper in a medical journal that offered a provocative thesis: horseback riding, he wrote, was more dangerous than taking ecstasy. Examining the two activities across a range of metrics, Nutt estimated that every 10,000th ecstasy pill leads to an "adverse event," while a rider is injured every 350th episode.
The story went viral and the details of Nutt's analysis were lost in the ensuing media tempest. His own organization tried to distance itself from him, saying that the article was part of his academic work. His governmental bosses were even more displeased: He was soon fired, earning the sobriquet "the scientist who was sacked."
The book doesn't offer a program to win over recalcitrant government officials, but it's loaded with studies and policy suggestions that, if properly applied, would certainly save money and lives. Decriminalization, needle-exchange programs, relaxing onerous restrictions surrounding medical research involving psychedelics and other illegal drugs, even allowing users to bring their drugs to hospitals to be tested (so that officials know what's out there and users know what they're taking)—Nutt's list is long, and his arguments convincing. But politicians, fearful of seeming soft, have shown little appetite for such thinking. For example, when ecstasy took off as a club drug, some venues started selling bottled water and providing "chill-out rooms" where patrons could cool off and hydrate. These measures caused authorities to accuse clubs of "catering to the needs of ecstasy users," and helped to inspire Congress in 2003 to pass the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

From 'The Guardian': 'Perhaps the funniest passage in Walter Isaacson's monumental book about Steve Jobs comes three quarters of the way through. It is 2009 and Jobs is recovering from a liver transplant and pneumonia. At one point the pulmonologist tries to put a mask over his face when he is deeply sedated. Jobs rips it off and mumbles that he hates the design and refuses to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he orders them to bring five different options for the mask so that he can pick a design he likes. Even in the depths of his hallucinations, Jobs was a control-freak and a rude sod to boot. Imagine what he was like in the pink of health. As it happens, you don't need to: every discoverable fact about how Jobs, ahem, coaxed excellence from his co-workers is here.
As Isaacson makes clear, Jobs wasn't a visionary or even a particularly talented electronic engineer. But he was a businessman of astonishing flair and focus, a marketing genius, and – when he was getting it right, which wasn't always – had an intuitive sense of what the customer would want before the customer had any idea. He was obsessed with the products, rather than with the money: happily, as he discovered, if you get the products right, the money will come.' 

From 'The Book Haven': 'Lonesome Dove is an excellent rebuttal to the pretty, shiny, clean perceptions of cowboy life. The events in the story actually seem quite real. It isn't a depressing book, but the tragedies aren't sugar coated, either. There is some good, some bad, and some things you just can't explain. Such is real life, and that's why I have a lot of respect for the author and his work.

The book is  entertaining, yet draining. Though it is about a bunch of hardened men, the story is very moving and descriptive. As a reader, I could almost taste the dust of the cattle drive. I found myself feeling the same solitary feelings the men experienced out on the plains. At the end of the book, I became exhausted as though I had driven those cattle myself. Strange, but true. Mr. McMurtry's writing can have that affect on people.

Lonesome Dove is not a book for sissies. At 900+ paperback pages, it will demand all of your attention for a considerable amount of time. If you feel you're up to the challenge, I highly recommend you take the journey into the Old West. It's worth the trip.'