Category Archives: lists

2018: The year of reading books that are older than me

I’ve started a program of picking a constraint every year and striving to make half the books I read satisfy that constraint.  This year it was to read books that came out before my own copyright date, 1971.  Here’s the 2018 reading list, with links on books I blogged about:

  • 20 Dec 2018: Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)
  • 3 Dec 2018:  Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays, trans.) (161-180)
  • 24 Nov 2018:  The Word Pretty, by Elisa Gabbert.
  • 15 Nov 2018:  The Fiancée, and Other Stories, by Anton Chekhov (Ronald Wilks, trans.) (1904)
  • 19 Oct 2018:  Wieland, by Charles Brockden Brown (1798)
  • 7 Oct 2018:  Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852-53)
  • 6 Oct 2018:  Mr. Eternity, by Aaron Thier.
  • 15 Sep 2018:  Mind and Matter, by John Urschel and Louisa Thomas.
  • 6 Sep 2018:  A Spy In Time, by Imraan Coovadia.
  • 1 Sep 2018:  Cat Country (貓城記), by Lao She (William Lyell, trans.) (1932)
  • 10 Aug 2018:  Maigret and the Headless Corpse, by Georges Simenon (Howard Curtis, trans.) (1955)
  • 31 Jul 2018:  Before The Golden Age:  A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s (Isaac Asimov, ed.)
  • 26 Jun 2018:  Less, by Andrew Sean Greer.
  • 20 May 2018: “The Young Newcomer in the Organization Department,” by Wang Ming (1956)
  • 10 May 2018:  The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy (1958)
  • 1 Apr 2018:  Indoctrinaire, by Christopher Priest (1970)
  • 28 Mar 2018:  Riots (Problems of American Society series), Anita Monte and Gerald Leinwand, eds. (1970)
  • 14 Mar 2018:  The Surprising Place, by Malinda McCollum.
  • 9 Mar 2018:  99 Variations on a Proof, by Philip Ording.
  • 18 Feb 2018:  How To Leave, by Erin Clune.
  • 10 Feb 2018:  The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman.
  • 27 Jan 2018:  Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1963)
  • 20 Jan 2018:  The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard (1962)
  • 19 Jan 2018: Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1895-1915 (Peter Maresca, ed.)
  • 10 Jan 2018:  The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman.
  • 4 Jan 2018:  Why Men Fail, Morris Fishbein and William White, eds. (1928) (second post)

Society is Nix and Before the Golden Age are slight cheats: both books came out after 1971, but they anthologize material written well before, so I decided they counted.

One of my goals in doing these theme years is the idea that a whole year spent in a part of the bibliosphere I mostly skip will broaden my reading habits permanently.  Maybe?  I feel like this list has more translated works than I used to typically read in a year, and maybe I can credit the 2016 theme.  But only 5 of these 25 books are by women, so my 2015 theme is maybe not doing its work.

Other notes:

Best of the year:  A lot of the theme books were good, but this year, for the first time, none of the theme books really excited me enough to enter my idiocanon.  I should have reread some Edith Wharton or something.

What I learned from the project:  Based on two examples, 19th century novels in English care a lot about the difference between how men should be and how women should be (I think contemporary English-language novels are still like this) and the plot is often driven by sums of money and questions about how they will be distributed (I feel like contemporary English-language novels are seldom like this and I wonder why not?)

Based on Wieland I think the prose style of 18th century English is just inevitably always going to be swampy going for me and I probably won’t push myself harder to read more.   It was pretty metal, though.  Wieland and Bleak House have spontaneous combustion in common, something you also don’t see much of in contemporary English-language novels.

The Dud Avocado was truly funny and reminded me that people actually wrote and published books in the 1950s that were quite sexually frank.  I thank whatever librarian at Sequoyah knew the book and put it out on the front table so browsers like me would see it.

Biggest disappointment:  The Drowned World is a super-famous and canonical SF novel and I just thought it was bad.  A few well-done set pieces but doesn’t really function as a novel or as science fiction.  If you were going to read Dangerous Visions-era SF with a similar title I would recommend Christopher Priest’s The Inverted World instead; he maintains the level of high mind-changing weirdness that Ballard only occasionally touches.

Outside the theme:  Four contemporary books I loved.  Malinda McCollum’s The Surprising Place is an anthology I’ve been awaiting for years.  The old stories are as great as I remembered.  The new stories even greater.  Aaron Thier’s Mr. Eternity is a concept novel (interlocking narratives ranging from the 16th century to the 25th) which shouldn’t work at all but kind of mostly does.  Many beautiful lines.  Sort of Cloud Atlas meets (T. Coraghessan Boyle’s) World’s End if anybody but me cares about those two books.  Erin Clune’s How To Leave is a very very funny take on living in Wisconsin and only gradually coming to grasp that you don’t live in New York.  Reader, I blurbed it!  I first met Elisa Gabbert as a commenter on this blog.  She  is great on Twitter.  So it’s not surprising she is great at pocket essays.  But it is surprising, happily surprising, that her small-press book The Word Pretty got noticed and raved about by the New York Times.  Sometimes the system works!

Old stuff I meant to read and didn’t get to:  Rereading The House of Mirth.  Reading Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End which I have often started but never finished.  Ditto The Man Without Qualities.  I was going to read more classical stuff but never even got to the point of figuring out what to plan to read and not get to.  Just in general I think I spent too much time in the kiddie pool of the pre-1971 20th century, a period I’ve already spent a lot of time reading.  After all, when I was a kid, there wasn’t much else.

It’s right by the airport

I went to California last week to talk math and machine learning with Ben Recht (have you read his awesome blogstravaganza about reinforcement learning and control?) My first time on the brand-new Madison – San Francisco direct flight (the long-time wish of Silicon Isthmus finally realized!) That flight only goes once a day, which means I landed at SFO at 6:15, in the middle of rush hour, which meant getting to Berkeley by car was going to take almost an hour and a half.  So maybe it made more sense to have dinner near SFO and then go to the East Bay.  But where can you have dinner near SFO?

Well, here’s what I learned.  When I was at MSRI for the Galois Groups and Fundamental Groups semester in 1999, there was an amazing Chinese restaurant in Albany, CA called China Village.  I learned about it from my favorite website at the time, Chowhound.com.  China Village is still there and apparently still great, but the original chef, Zongyi Liu, left long ago.  Chowhound, too, is still there, but a thin shadow of its old self.  When I checked Chowhound this week, though, I learned something fantastic — Liu is back and cooking in Millbrae!  At Royal Feast, a 10-minute drive from SFO.  So what started as a plan to dodge traffic turned into the best Chinese meal I’ve eaten in forever.  Now I’m thinking I’ll probably stop there every time I fly to San Francisco!  And it’s right by the Millbrae BART station, so if you’re going into the city, it’s as convenient as being at the airport.

So that got me thinking:  what are good things to know about that are right near the airport in other cities?  The neighborhood around the airport is often kind of unpromising, so it’s good to have some prior knowledge of places worth stopping.  And I actually have a pretty decent list!

LAX:  This is easy — you can go to the beach!  Dockweiler State Beach is maybe 5 minutes from the airport.  It’s a state park, not developed, so there’s no boardwalk, no snack stand, and, when I went there, no people.  You just walk down to the ocean and look at the waves and every thirty seconds or so a jumbo jet blasts by overhead on its way to Asia because did I mention 5 minutes from the airport?  You’re right under the takeoff path.  And it’s great.  A sensory experience like no other beach there is.  I just stood there for an hour thinking about math.

BOSTON:  There is lots of great pizza in Boston, of course, but Santarpio’s in East Boston might be the very best I’ve had, and it’s only 7 minutes from Logan airport.  Stop there and get takeout on your way unless you want to bring yet another $13 cup of Legal Seafood chowder on your flight.

MILWAUKEE:  I have already blogged about the unexpectedly excellent Jalapeño Loco, literally across the street from the airport.  Best chile en nogada in the great state of Wisconsin.

SEATTLE:  The Museum of Flight isn’t quite as close to Sea-Tac as some of these other attractions are to their airports — 12 minutes away per Google Maps.  But it’s very worth seeing, especially if you happen to be landing in Seattle with an aircraft-mad 11-year-old in tow.

MADISON:  “The best barbecue in Madison, Wisconsin” is not going to impress my friends south of the Mason-Dixon line, or even my friends south of the Beloit-Rockford line, but Smoky Jon’s, just north of the airport on Packers Avenue (not named for the football team, but for the actual packers who worked at the Oscar Mayer plant that stood on this road until 2017) is the real thing, good enough for out of town visitors and definitely better than what’s on offer at MSN.

CHICAGO:  No, O’Hare is terrible in this way as in every other way.  I once got stuck there for the night and tried to find something exciting in the area to do or eat.  I didn’t succeed.

You guys travel a lot — you must have some good ones!  Put them in the comments.

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Booklist 2016 — the year of translation

This year my reading project was for the majority of the books I read to be translated from a language other than English.  Here’s the list:

  • 31 Dec 2016:  Troubling Love, by Elena Ferrante (Ann Goldstein, trans.)
  • 27 Dec 2016:  The Civil Servant’s Notebook, by Wang Xiaofang (Eric Abrahamsen, trans.)
  • 16 Dec 2016:  Nirmala, by Premchand (David Rubin, trans.)
  • 16 Dec 2016:  A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
  • 1 Dec 2016:  Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, by Ben Blatt
  • 24 Nov 2016: HHhH, by Laurent Binet (Sam Taylor, trans.)
  • 21 Nov 2016:  Secondhand Time, by Svetlana Alexievich (Bela Shayevich, trans.)
  • 20 Nov 2016:  Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman, by Stefan Zweig (Anthea Bell, trans.)
  • 6 Nov 2016:  Houseboy, by Ferdinand Oyono (John Reed, trans.)
  • 3 Nov 2016:  The Good Life Elsewhere, by Vladimir Lorchenkov (Ross Ufberg, trans.)
  • 12 Oct 2016:  Tales of the Hasidim:  The Early Masters, by Martin Buber (Olga Marx, trans.)
  • 1 Oct 2016:  Hit Makers, by Derek Thompson
  • 25 Sep 2016:  The Fireman, by Joe Hill
  • 19 Sep 2016:  Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier
  • 3 Sep 2016:  The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz (Elizabeth Jaquette, trans.)
  • 11 Aug 2016:  City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin
  • 26 Jul 2016:  Why I Killed My Best Friend, by Amanda Michalopoulou (Karen Emmerich, trans.)
  • 19 Jul 2016:  1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, trans.)
  • 10 Jul 2016:  The Story of My Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli (Christina MacSweeney, trans.)
  • 1 Jul 2016:  So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighborhood, by Patrick Modiano (Euan Cameron, trans.)
  • 13 May 2016:  Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil
  • 2 May 2016:  Sh*tty Mom for All Seasons, by Erin Clune
  • 20 Apr 2016:  There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night, by Cao Naiqian (John Balcom, trans.)
  • 1 Apr 2016:  The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante (Ann Goldstein, trans.)
  • 25 Feb 2016:  Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante (Ann Goldstein, trans.)
  • 10 Feb 2016:  Voices from Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich (Keith Gessen, trans.)
  • 1 Feb 2016:  The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante (Ann Goldstein, trans.)
  • 9 Jan 2016:  Amy and Laura, by Marilyn Sachs
  • 7 Jan 2016:  My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (Ann Goldstein, trans.)

Note that I’m behind on these posts:  I covered the 2013 booklist about a year ago,  but still have to do 2015 (the year of reading mostly women) and 2014.  I’ll get to it.

20 translated books, 9 books in English.  One thing to note is that I read few books this year; I think reading in translation is just a little slower for me.

The languages:

  • 5 Italian (all Ferrante)
  • 3 French (two from France, one from Cameroon)
  • 3 Russian (but no Russian authors!  Lorchenkov is Moldovan, Alexievich is Belarussian.)
  • 2 Chinese
  • 2 German
  • 1 Japanese, 1 Arabic, 1 Greek, 1 Hindi, 1 Spanish.

Overall thoughts:  My plan, I guess, was to expand my horizons.  Did I?  I’m not sure I found these books to be as different from my usual reading as I expected.  Maybe because when American and British writers translate foreign books they somehow press them into the mold of the American and British novel I’m so at ease with?  Or because the novel is fundamentally a cosmopolitan form that works roughly the same way in different national traditions?

The one exception was There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night, a kind of Chinese Winesburg,Ohio:  very short, linked stories all set in a remote and desperately impoverished village.  It’s sort of incantatory, phrases repeated several times, in a way that really feels alien to the prose fiction tradition I know.  Niqian wasn’t trained as a writer; apparently he was a detective who started writing as a bet.  Here’s a review with some excerpts.

Best of the year:  No way to choose between Ferrante and Alexievich.  They are too different.  Also the same, of course, in that they always come back to women and the men from whom they expect little and get even less.  And the men from whom they expect something bad and get something even worse.

The books are oral history, interviews collected and transcribed into something like an epic.  Here’s a young woman in Belarus, released from prison after being arrested in a demonstration, telling her story in Secondhand Time:

Do I still like the village?  People here live the same way year in and year out.  They dig for potatoes in their vegetable patches, crawl around on their knees.  Make moonshine.  You won’t find a sngle sober man after dark, they all drink every single day.  They vote for Lukashenko and mourn the Soviet Union.  The undefeatable Soviet Army.  On the bus, one of our neighbors sat down next to me.  He was drunk.  He talked about politics:  “I would beat every moron democrat’s face in myself if I could.  They let you off easy.  I swear to God!  All of them ought to be shot.  America is behind all this, they’re paying for it … Hillary Clinton … but we’re a strong people.  We lived through perestroika, and we’ll make it through another revolution.  One wise man told me that the kikes are the ones behind it.”  The whole bus supported him.  “Things wouldn’t be any worse than they are now.  All you see on TV is bombings and shootings everywhere.”

The same woman, on her time in jail:

I learned that happiness can come from something as small as a bit of sugar or a piece of soap.  In a cell intended for five people — thirty-two square meters — there were seventeen of us.  You had to learn how to fit your entire life into two square meters.  It was especially hard at night, there was no air to breathe, it was stifling.  We wouldn’t get to sleep for a long time.  We stayed up talking.  The first few days, we discussed politics, but after that, we only ever talked about love.

Other Notes:  1Q84 was my first Murakami.  A fascinating example of a book that in many ways I view as  objectively poorly written but which I found captivating, even though it was 1000 pages long.  So maybe this, like Cao, is another book doing something with prose which I’m not used to and which I can’t completely understand.  Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman was compelling melodrama.  Tales of the Hasidim helped me remember that my idea of what “Jewish culture” means (intellectual, verbal, rule-governed, repressed)  is only one small part of our tradition, and not necessarily the biggest one.  The Lorchenkov was blackly funny.  The Aziz and the Michalopoulou were dull, though this could have been the translator’s fault.  The Civil Servant’s Notebook is a multivocal roman a clef (really multivocal; some of the chapters are narrated by desk furniture) about municipal corruption in China; it was apparently a huge bestseller there and has touched off an entire popular genre of “officialdom literature.”  Maybe we should have that here!

Worst of the year:  Easy, City of Mirrors.  I just dumped a huge ball of words on this terrible book so I went ahead and broke it out as a separate post so as not to dominate my nice year of translations.

 

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Booklist 2013

This is not a typo — I was going to post about the books I read in 2015 but realized I’ve fallen out of the habit, and haven’t actually done a roundup since 2012! Here are the books of 2013:

 

  • 31 Dec 2013:  The Yacoubian Building, Alaa Al Aswany.
  • 17 Dec 2013: The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton.
  • 29 Nov 2013:  Infinitesimal, Amir Alexander.
  • 19 Nov 2013:  The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, Simon Singh.
  • 2 Nov 2013:  The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin.
  • 29 Oct 2013:  Taipei, Tao Lin.
  • 22 Oct 2013:  The Twelve, Justin Cronin.
  • 7 Oct 2013:  Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Martin Gardner.
  • 15 Sep 2013:  The More You Ignore Me, Travis Nichols.
  • 11 Sep 2013:  Undiluted Hocus-Pocus:  The Autobiography of Martin Gardner.
  • 1 Sep 2013:  JoylandStephen King.
  • 27 Aug 2013:  The Ninjas, Jane Yeh.
  • 20 Aug 2013:  Time of the Great Freeze, Robert Silverberg.
  • 11 Aug 2013:  The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka.
  • 29 Jul 2013:  Lexicon, Max Barry.
  • 20 Jul 2013: Forty-One False Starts, Janet Malcolm.
  • 12 Jul 2013: Thinking in Numbers, Daniel Tammet.
  • 10 Jul 2013:  Boundaries, T.M. Wright.
  • 26 Jun 2013:  Let’s Talk About Love:  A Journey to the End of Taste, by Carl Wilson.
  • 15 Jun 2013:  Goslings, J.D. Beresford.
  • 1 Jun 2013:  You, Austin Grossman.
  • 25 May 2013:  The Night Land, William Hope Hodgson.
  • 10 May 2013:  20th Anniversary Report of the Harvard-Radcliffe Class of 1993
  • 5 May 2013:  The Vanishers, Heidi Julavits.
  • 17 Apr 2013:  Belmont, Stephen Burt.
  • 10 Apr 2013:  Among Others, Jo Walton.
  • 2 Apr 2013:  Math on Trial, by Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez
  • 25 Mar 2013:  The Fun Parts, Sam Lipsyte.
  • 14 Mar 2013:  Mathematical Apocrypha, Steven Krantz.
  • 7 Mar 2013:  The Magic Circle, Jenny Davidson.
  • 2 Mar 2013: SnowAdam Roberts.
  • 24 Feb 2013:  A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers.
  • 9 Feb 2013:  The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King.
  • 8 Feb 2013:  The Life and Opinions of a College Class, the Harvard Class of 1926.
  • 15 Jan 2013:  When the Tripods Came, John Christopher.

 

34 books.  21 fiction, 11 non-fiction, 2 books of poetry (note to self:  at some point read a book of poems by a poet I don’t personally know.)  Of the novels, 8 were SF/fantasy.

Best of the year:  Impossible to choose between The Custom of the Country and Forty-One False Starts.  

Wharton often writes about the drive to acquire money and status, which she presents not as a means to meet other basic human needs (food, security, companionship) but as a basic need in itself, and pretty near the base of the pyramid.  Sometimes the particular situation is a little dated (as in the concern with divorce in Age of Innocence) but Custom of the Country, which is about a New York deformed by a sudden influx of new, uncivilized wealth absorbing everything around it, couldn’t be more topical.

Janet Malcolm is of course the best essayist alive.  Forty-One False Starts is a collection of pieces, mostly from the New Yorker I think, mostly new to me.  The title track is amazing:  just as it says, it’s 41 possible openings to an essay, each one abandoned as Malcolm tries to start again.  (Or maybe as Malcolm pretends to start again; was the collage her plan all along?  That would certainly make them “false starts” in the literal sense of the words.)  The same anecdotes appear in multiple sections, from multiple points of view, or rather, from the same point of view, Malcolm’s, which always seems to be viewing from everywhere at once.  Here’s the first paragraph from false start 3 (which is just two paragraphs long):

All during my encounter with the artist David Salle—he and I met for interviews in his studio, on White Street, over a period of two years—I was acutely conscious of his money. Even when I got to know him and like him, I couldn’t dispel the disapproving, lefty, puritanical feeling that would somehow be triggered each time we met, whether it was by the sight of the assistant sitting at a sort of hair-salon receptionist’s station outside the studio door; or by the expensive furniture of a fifties corporate style in the upstairs loft, where he lives; or by the mineral water he would bring out during our talks and pour into white paper cups, which promptly lost their takeout-counter humbleness and assumed the hauteur of the objects in the Design Collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

“assumed the hauteur”  I love.  The capitals of Design Collection and Museum of Modern Art I love.  And there’s the presence of money in New York and the anxiety it stirs into the world of for-lack-of-a-better-word “culture”, just as in Wharton.  And Wharton is in Forty-One False Starts, too, in Malcolm’s essay “The Woman Who Hated Women”.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it was that essay that spurred me to start reading Wharton again, which I’ve been doing on and off ever since.  Malcolm writes:

There are no bad men in Wharton’s fiction. There are weak men and there are foolish men and there are vulgar New Rich men, but no man ever deliberately causes harm to another person; that role is exclusively reserved for women.

As for The Custom of the Country:

With Undine Spragg, the antiheroine of ”The Custom of the Country” (1913), Wharton takes her cold dislike of women to a height of venomousness previously unknown in American letters, and probably never surpassed. Undine’s face is lovely, but her soul is as dingy as Gerty Farish’s flat. Ralph Marvell, one of her unfortunate husbands, reflects on “the bareness of the small half-lit place in which his wife’s spirit fluttered.”

I hate to disagree with Janet Malcolm.  But I disagree!  Back in 2013 I had a very well-worked out theory of this book, in which Undine Spragg was not particularly a villain, but rather the character who was best able to adapt to the new customs and the new country.  The men are weak, as Malcolm says, but indulgence of weakness can be a way of deliberately causing harm.  For every one of Undine’s “can’t believe she did/said that” moments in the book, there’s an analogous crime committed by one of the other characters, but expressed with more gentility.  Anyway, I’ve forgotten all my examples.  But it was a good theory, I promise!  I will admit that, having now read Ethan Frome, I can’t deny that there’s some extent to which Wharton experiences femaleness as a kind of horror.  But I don’t think that’s what’s going on with Undine Spragg.  (I also disagree with Roxane Gay about May Welland, who I totally think is meant by Wharton to be sympathizable-with but not likable compared with Countess Oleska, whose side I think Age of Innocence 100% takes, if it takes anyone’s.  Maybe more on this in the 2015 post.)

Others I should have blogged about:  I read Taipei because I was curious about Tao Lin, who some people think is a prankster masquerading as a fiction writer and other people think is really a fiction writer.  It’s the latter.  I mean, look at this map:

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He’s clearly somebody who sees himself in the tradition of experimental English-language fiction (Grace Paley!  Barthelme!  Stephen Dixon!  James freaking Purdy!) and I thought Taipei reflected that.  It was way more Barthelme than it was weird Twitter.  I had a good worked-out theory for this one, too, which I also forgot to blog.  Negative space:  it was a novel about a poet who is never seen writing or reading or performing poetry; i.e. a novel which places the experience of not-producing-poetry at the center of the poetic project.  Also there was something about the emphasis on Apple products and the relationship with China, where they’re produced — i.e. the novel is intently focused on use of Apple products while hiding the production of Apple projects, just as it’s intently focused on poetry while hiding the production of poetry.  But I was more into this interpretation before the novel actually goes to Taipei.  (And yes I know Taipei is not in the PRC; I felt willing to fudge the geography.)

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science:  from 1956, but, like Custom of the Country, almost painfully topical.  People don’t believe in orgone therapy anymore but the anti-scientific style in American culture is as healthy as ever.  Let’s Talk About Love:  the best book in existence about the problem of the “guilty pleasure,” or of art being “so bad it’s good,” or the basic difficulty of criticism of living culture:  is the critic’s job to tell you what to like and why to like it, or to understand why the people who like it like it?   (“Neither” is an OK answer here but let’s face it, these are the two leading candidates, unless “dispassionately analyze the class position of the work and the material circumstances of its production” still counts.)

August 2015 linkdump

  • There’s a new biography of Grothendieck, this one in French.  Any chance it’ll be translated?
  • Let felons vote and let them carry guns — the ultimate left-right compromise reform?  Why not?  Everybody believes there’s some core of constitutional rights an American doesn’t give up, no matter what they do.  Felon or no felon, you have the right to free speech and the right to a trial by jury.  I think voting belongs in that inner circle.  I don’t really feel that way about gun ownership, but I get that a lot of people do.  And — purely as a practical matter — the typical felon who’s served his time is surely more correct in feeling he needs a firearm to protect himself than, say, I do.
  • “Pinch my cheeks and call me gorgeous — it’s Raven!”  This panel has been floating in my memory for about thirty years.  CJ really likes the Teen Titans show that’s on Cartoon Network now, and watching him watching it inspired me to see if I could actually find an image.  Thanks, tumblr.
  • Indietracks Compilation 2015.  As always, a great collection of songs.
  • At some point I will try to find time to think more seriously about the claim by Josh Miller and Adam Sarjurjo that the famous Gilovich-Vallone-Tversky study finding no evidence for the hot hand in basketball actually found strong evidence for the hot hand in basketball.  The whole thing comes down to screwy endpoint problems when you average results of a bunch of short trials.  It has some relation to the perils of averaging ratios.
  • Pretty sure this cartoon calculus book is the very one that was sitting on the shelf in Mrs. Levin’s 6th grade classroom, which I became absolutely obsessed with.
  •  Do you think the most Shazammed songs are the most popular songs, or songs that best combine popularity with being a song no one knows the name of?  I like that you can see the country-by-country charts:  here’s Thailand, where they love Meghan Trainor, or don’t know her name.
  • Good-looking conference at the Newton Institute about large graphs.
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HNTBW paperback publicity roundup

Gonna put all this stuff in one post:

I was at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week, talking about various aspects of outward-facing math.  We taped an episode of Science Friday with Jo Boaler and Steve Strogatz, mostly about K-12 teaching, but I did get to drop Russell’s paradox on the audience.  I also did a discussion with David Leonhardt, editor of the New York Times Upshot section, about the future of quantitative journalism, and sat on a big panel that debated the question:  “Is Math Important?”

The big news from England was that Waterstone’s chose HNTBW as their nonfiction book of the month for June.  That was a big factor in the book riding the Times bestseller list for a month (it’s the #5 nonfiction paperback as I write this.) I went to London and did some events, like this talk at the Royal Institution.  I also got to meet Matt Parker, “the stand-up mathematician,” and record a spirited discussion of whether 0.9999… = 1 (extra director’s cut footage here.) And I wrote a piece for the Waterstone’s blog about the notorious “Hannah and her sweets problem.” from this year’s GCSE.

I was on Bloomberg News, very briefly, to talk about my love for dot plot charts and to tell a couple of stories from the book.  (Rare chance to see me in a blazer.) On the same trip to New York, I sat in on the Slate Money podcast.  I also wrote a couple of op-eds, some already linked here:  In the New York Times, I wrote about states replacing Common Core math standards with renamed versions of the same thing, and in the Wall Street Journal, I talked about the need for a new kind of fact-checking for data journalism, where truth is not enough.

The book just came out in Brazil this month; good luck for me, I was already invited to a conference at IMPA, so while I was there I gave a talk at Casa do Saber in Rio, talking through a translator like I was at the UN.

I think that’s about it!

 

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Names and words

When you get the copy-edited manuscript of a book back, it comes with a document called “Names and Words,” this is a list of proper names or unusual words in the book which might admit variant spelling or typography, and the list is there to keep everybody on the production team uniform.

Here’s the A-B section of my list.  I think it gives a pretty good sense of what the book is about.

Niels Henrik Abel

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Aish HaTorah

Alcmaeon of Croton

Alhazen (Abu ‘Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham)

Spike Albrecht

Ray Allen

Scott Allen

Akhil and Vikram Amar

Apollonius of Perga

Yasser Arafat

John Arbuthnot

Dan Ariely

Kenneth Arrow

John Ashbery

Daryl Renard Atkins

Yigal Attali

David Bakan

Stefan Banach

Dror Bar-Natan

Joseph-Émile Barbier

Leroy E. Burney

Andrew Beal

Nicholas Beaudrot

Bernd Beber

Gary Becker

Madeleine Beekman

Armando Benitez

Craig Bennett

Jim Bennett

George Berkeley

Joseph Berkson

Daniel Bernoulli

Jakob Bernoulli

Nicholas Bernoulli

Alphonse Bertillon

Bertillonage

Joseph Bertrand

best seller

best-selling

R. H. Bing

Otto Blumenthal

Usain Bolt

Farkas Bolyai

János Bolyai

Jean-Charles de Borda

Bose-Chaudhuri-Hocquenghem code

Nick Bostrom

David Brooks

Derren Brown

Filippo Brunelleschi

Pat Buchanan

Georges-Louis LeClerc, Comte de Buffon

Dylan Byers

Daniel Byman

David Byrne

 

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Words that appear exactly 25 times in How Not To Be Wrong

15,18,20, along, Baltimore, calculus, check, completely, drawing, early, economic, else, extra, feel, geometric, holes, John, known, lead, nature, obvious, outcome, particular, pay, precise, principle, share, sphere, student, thus, wanted.

Sounds good, right?

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September linkdump

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