In Her Pockets She Found the Feathers

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You should read J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst’s new book “S.”

When I lived in New York, I’d go jogging down the Queensboro Bridge late every night and sometimes I’d see this homeless man pushing his cart back from Manhattan on my way. One night I saw a notebook lying on the pedestrian side of the bridge. Ever-hopeful, I picked up the notebook and brought it home, where my then-roommate-now-blogging-partner Jeff and I pored over it.

In the notebook were this homeless man’s diary entries, from every day for over a year. He talked about the shelter where he slept, his friends at the convenience store where he hung out, and about his sister, who he saw at Christmas to pray for their dead parents. It wasn’t particularly well-written, nor did it contain any great mysteries or yarns. But we all have a soft spot for that Found Story, the discovered artifact that will let us in on some unexpected real-life tale we get absorbed by.

J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst’s new book “S.” is that, only perfect.

Its perfection, at first, is its greatest strength and its biggest fault, but we’ll get into that in a minute. Continue reading

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A Matter of Some Gravity: Ender’s Game Book vs. Movie

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I picked up Ender’s Game when I was about 13 years old in a special only-$3.99 paperback edition on a weekend bookstore trip with my dad, who could only agree to buy me low-priced paperback editions. I devoured it probably overnight, and then quickly devoured the rest of the books in the series too. No one can really tell you why certain books are so special, especially in childhood, but I think a major component for me was that Ender was a young child, but a brilliant one who thought like a full-on real human being – instead of being dumbed down to irrelevance like 99% of children – and his ideas and actions really mattered. A lot.

Author Orson Scott Card has been floating around the idea of a movie version since at least back then. The project at that time would star Jake Lloyd, who was 9 and had just played Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I. In the early days of the internet Orson released a full screenplay he had written that began with Mazer Rackham’s battle in the asteroid belt in full space-opera fashion.

At the time I thought an Ender’s Game movie was a terrible idea. Continue reading

Scott Adams’s School of Smart Knocks

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Everybody wants to be awesomer. That’s a part of the appeal of books by authors like Malcolm Gladwell: they offer research and fun stories that can also teach us tricks on how to be more awesome. Those things can translate into more money, sociability, and positive outlooks. Their focus, though, remains on the story, whether it’s personal experience or a massive idea. Books in the “Self-Help” category, on the other hand, try to offer you direct advice and paradigms you should believe, like a how-to manual. Self-Help Books tend to be poorly-written, over-simplistic, and lacking nuance.

I first read Scott Adams when I was a kid. Dilbert was my favorite comic, and led me to Adams’s “thought-experiment” book, God’s Debris, which was fascinating and exciting: most of the ideas in it are bullshit (like an alternate hypothesis of gravity), but they’re interesting bullshit that makes you think, and some of it turned out to be right (like an evolutionary idea of the internet). I also read books like The Dilbert Principle, most of which were boring for a kid but proved that Adams was a smart and funny man. When his new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, came out last week I picked it up. Continue reading

You’re Doing It Right

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There are discomfiting questions about ourselves like why women’s bodies respond to even forced sexual contact with physical arousal or why all men’s bodies show some level of physical arousal towards adolescents. These are definitely not polite dinner party conversation but they are scientifically demonstrated reality, and couldn’t being brave and logical enough to address these questions help us make sense of ourselves and each other and how to evolve as a human society?

Jesse Bering thinks so, and in his book Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, his well-researched answers (read it and find out) have to do with our evolutionary past, and how our belief of right and wrong behavior can be in conflict with our biological human nature. Continue reading

Your Life is an Open Book

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Mae is a nice, intelligent California girl who is disappointed with her place in life when her friendship with an older, world-beating BFF nets her a job at The Circle: the internet mega-company that happens when Google eats Facebook and Twitter and Apple and who knows what else in the near future. Dave Eggers’s new novel takes us along with Mae, who acts as our surrogate newcomer to the Circle world and its many implications, although as the story goes on she becomes assimilated and loyal to the ideals of the Circle in a way we are clearly meant to feel uneasy about.

Enough of her smart, slightly rebellious, insecure twentysomething girl-dom remains that we always feel on her side – but she drinks enough of the Kool-Aid to highlight how social media, in this story’s world, has gone somewhat awfully wrong. Continue reading

Setting Your Sights High

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I accepted Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point fame) into my heart as lord and savior several years ago, at least when it comes to perspective-shifting nonfiction reading, so I was more than ready to receive his latest, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Is it a victory or defeat? Well, first let’s talk about what kind of book it is.

Gladwell (and separately The Steves, Levitt & Dubner) all but invented what I call the Unexpected Conclusions genre back in the early 2000s. If you set out to write this kind of book, you do it like this: Continue reading

The Gray Skies Playbook

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I loved Matthew Quick’s last novel The Silver Linings Playbook so much I wanted to make it my Facebook background (this means something to my generation). I even settled for a promo of the movie adaptation. The movie was a bland and by-the-numbers distillation that lost much of the weirdness and complex ambiguities which made the book so special, and the book was special indeed.

Now Quick, a former high school teacher, has dropped his next jam: a YA / Teen novel released about two weeks ago with a teenage protagonist planning a murder-suicide. The promise of an adolescent voice with Quick’s narration was enough to get my hopes up; the question is, does Forgive Me Leonard Peacock come through? Continue reading