You can take a band out of France, but you can’t take French out of a band. Any foreigner who has interacted with a lot of French know precisely what I mean by that. It’s one of the many things Americans and British share knowing looks over. (Or conversely how foreigners share knowing looks over me and my fellow Americans.)
And I only mean that in a slightly derogatory way. I love the French and that’s not a backhanded compliment. I love that they invented modern democracy, cooking, and Daft Punk. Everyone outside of Paris are easily the most warm, welcoming, and endearing people on the entire European continent. I know because I backpacked through their rural towns for a week. Heck, I even like Parisians as much as I do New Yorkers, and that’s a lot.
But for many of us, there’s something slightly off-putting about the French and New Yorkers. In this case, after reading Phoenix: In Their Own Words, there’s a foreign arrogance, seriousness, and overly romantic way in which some of the band members tell their story.
The story is this: the band gives an album by album account of their life from their early years, into their successful years, and onto the recent years where they’ve still churned out incredibly catchy indie melodies. Published just before pandemic started and filled with candid photos, I really enjoyed the account, minus the aforementioned, albeit brief, encounters with foreign arrogance.
The vast majority of the book, in fact, is totally endearing. While I wish there was a little more inside music information, I quickly read the entire thing as an avowed fan and lover of both music and French culture. My favorite part is after being dropped by their label since their first three albums failed to achieve mainstream success, the thirty-something members doubled down, paid for their own fourth album, and turned it into their greatest success to date, both commercially and artistically. Later that year while headlining Coachella, Beyonce and Jay-Z were at the side of the stage belting the lyrics of not only their lead singles, but deep cuts from that album.
It’s not as iconic, big, or as juicy as Shoe Dog, but Authentic: A Memoir of Vans by Paul Van Doren is a straightforward, if not understated, perspective on business success. Just like the shoes themselves. I enjoyed this quick read and threw it in the growing pile of inspiring American success stories.
Rating: ★★★☆☆. These were some of my favorite passages:
Hard work, honesty, and caring for people are what yield success. The beauty lies in simplicity, so don’t overcomplicate things.
My belief is that you can always teach people how to do things. What you cannot teach people is how to understand other people.
My experiment proved that we did indeed have a serious quality control problem: the people in charge of quality control had no idea what they were looking at.
When I started interviewing people for jobs with us, the first thing I would do after someone handed me his or her résumé was toss it in the trash. They would be horrified, of course, and get nervous, but when I proceeded to ask questions and have them tell me about themselves in their own words, they relaxed. How else could I find out who they really were?
We can all recognize that we need one another. I said it at the outset of this book, and I’ll say it again: no one gets anywhere alone.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
I recently finished When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I was utterly moved by this powerful account of Kalanithi’s own life as a neurosurgeon, the most demanding physician in the world, and his own premature death in his mid thirties after contracting terminal cancer.
Not only was Kalanithi a paragon brain surgeon, though, he is an absolute poet on the meaning of life, the humanity of doctors, and making the most out of a terrible situation.
The answers to those questions and many more can be found in Daniel Kahneman’s eye-opening book, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a fascinating, enlightening, and scientifically accessible read.
After decades of research, Kahneman discovered that the brain makes decisions in two ways. The first is system 1 thinking—the fast, almost involuntary, and largely gut-based decision-making required to operate. It quickly processes tasks like “eat this, pick up that, move out of the way,” and even, “stay alive.” System 1 makes hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions each day and is the “hero of the book,” says Kahneman. System 1 gets things done.
System 2, on the other hand, is slow to engage, deliberate, and lazy. It deals with doubt, uncertainty, statistics, and heavy cognitive loads like writing, performing surgery, solving advanced math—anything that requires intense focus, really. System 2 is not emotional. It’s the part of your brain that questions the source, asks for hard numbers to back up claims, and is innately critical. It deems things guilty until proven innocent. Continue reading…
I’ve enjoyed or loved 90% of every movie Quentin Tarantino has ever made. My wife and I started Kill Bill several years ago, but I think we were tired or something so turned it off and never came back to it.
This spring we did, and the second film might be one of my favorite Tarantino movies of all time. It’s amazing the lengths a woman will go and this movie creatively demonstrates that. I was in awe of the shots and creative mix of color, black and white, and animated sequences.
After first seeing the movie decades ago, I read Catch Me If You Can this month. It was a heck of a story and page-turner for sure. But I had an inkling while reading that it’s just too good, in this case outlandish, to be true.
In that way it seems as though author Frank Abagnale conned as many listeners and readers as the reported check and identify fraud he alleges to have committed, according to Wikipedia. Multiple reports state he didn’t come close to cashing $2.5 million in bad checks, that his exploits as a fake pilot, doctor, lawyer, and professor are grossly exaggerated (if not patently false), and that he never evaded police like he claims or worked for the FBI after being caught. “The man is not an imposter, he is a liar,” said one US Attorney General.
For that, I award it ★★★☆☆. These were my favorite passages:
It’s not how good a check looks but how good the person behind the check looks that influences tellers and cashiers.
“You’ll learn, Frank, that when you’re up there’re hundreds of people who’ll claim you as a friend. When you’re down, you’re lucky if one of them will buy you a cup of coffee. If I had it to do over again, I’d select my friends more carefully.”
“It’s not what a man has but what a man is that’s important… As long as a man knows what he is and who he is, he’ll do all right.”
I finished Richard Matheson’s engrossing 100 page I Am Legend recently. Published in the 1950s and made into several film adaptations, the book is about the last man living after a vampires take over the world.
Like many classic books, the plot just limped to its ending. For that I deduct one full star, but the other four are gripping. These were my favorite passages:
There was no sound but that of his shoes and the now senseless singing of birds. Once I thought they sang because everything was right with the world, Robert Neville thought. I know now I was wrong. They sing because they’re feeble-minded.
He put the drink down on the table. I don’t need it, he thought. My emotions don’t need feeding any more. I don’t need liquor for forgetting or for escaping. I don’t have to escape from anything. Not now.
All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing.
He suddenly realized that he had become an ill-tempered and inveterate bachelor again. He no longer thought about his wife, his child, his past life. The present was enough. And he was afraid of the possible demand that he make sacrifices and accept responsibility again.
I read my first Steinbeck novel recently, starting with his magnum opus, East of Eden. Spoiler alert: the celebrated author deserves all the hype he received over the last century. This book is a masterpiece of biblical proportions.
At first I didn’t think it was perfect, though. I didn’t love how one of the main characters quickly exists the book towards the end with an unsatisfying resolution, until my more astute reading wife explained to me that said character was already likable and therefore disposable without having to change like the other main character.
That realization changed my mind. This book is perfect. It is long-form poetry that made me laugh, broke my heart, filled me with rage, let me celebrate, and taught me over two dozen proverbs.
Five stars out of five—I loved it. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…
I’ve been on a Ramones kick lately. Love their Beach Boys-like melodies, upbeat songs, and humorous lyrics—not to mention their invention of the genre that made me pick up a guitar and start writing songs (punk rock).
This week I finished reading Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of The Ramones by British journalist Everett True. It’s an honest, compelling, and telling read about a “dysfunctional family who still loved each other.” As drummer Marky Ramone explains it, “We were brothers – brothers fight. They make movies out of it. That’s how it is.”
Highly recommended. ★★★★☆ These were my favorite passages:
The Ramones had to work for a living. They were a real touring band. The Ramones took their thing to each person individually through the years and that’s why we’re talking about them now.
Although driving five or more hours a day, weeks on end, in a van with someone you never speak to, might seem like a good enough reason to quit. But then, loads of people are in jobs they hate, and stay in them for long past 20 years.
Even if it was just going back to the hotel, they would stop at a 7–11. To get cookies, milk, something for the hotel room. It was always nice, you know… Pizza was the only ritual before show time – just plain cheese, the round ones, nothing extra. They’d always ask for it on the rider, and be very upset if it wasn’t there.
They were always bitter about the success they didn’t have. They didn’t have the hit record. They didn’t get the respect for starting punk rock. They didn’t get the respect they deserved for this, that and the other. They were so concerned with what was written about them and their image, unlike any band I’ve ever seen.
The Ramones represent the truth of the fact that you’re never too old to rock’n’roll as long as you believe in what you’re doing, and you can do it with a purity and conviction. The age of your band is irrelevant. Rock’n’roll is not for the young. It’s for people who refuse not to give a shit.
As you or I might love the Ramones, Johnny and Joey loved the Ramones more than any of us could even comprehend. They wanted the Ramones’ legacy to be pure. We will all miss Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee very much. And we all wish we could see them together, just one last time.
Sometimes I read something by someone that’s so brilliantly written, it makes me doubt my status as a professional writer. Bill Buford is one of those writers.
For years I’ve wanted to read his first book, Among The Thugs, published in 1990 about violent English soccer fans, but it was out of print or not in ebook form until I last checked this month. After securing a copy, I devoured the book in two days.
One critic describes it as “A grotesque, horrifying, repellant, and gorgeous book; A Clockwork Orange come to life.” I enthusiastically agree.
During the early chapters, I laughed out loud twice. By the middle chapters, I felt complicit if not guilty for reading such eyewitness horrors. I admired Buford’s honesty and vulnerability, both as a writer and journalist. As the New York Times noted in its review of the book, “Buford pushes the possibilities of participatory journalism to a disturbing degree.”
That’s because each of us become who we associate with. And after studying and associating with weekend thugs for eight years, Buford admittedly got close to becoming one. In that way, Among The thugs is an uncomfortable but important work on group think, violence as a symptom, and what can happen in overly proper societies when the root cause of problems are rarely addressed.
Five stars out of five, although it dashed my spirits for a couple of afternoons. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…
Many thanks to Martin Rowe at EE World for reviewing my newest book, Measuring History. With exception to thinking my Austin and Measurement chapters were too much background, I thought he provided a fair and recommended review.
From the article: “Measuring History is neither a history of measurement nor a measurement of history, and yet it’s both. Blake Snow takes you through the early days of National Instruments through the 2019 induction of founders Dr. James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky into the Inventors Hall of Fame. Throughout the book, Snow focuses on LabVIEW and how engineers and scientists use the graphic programming language to test and control systems that make many products we use function better… I recommend the book if you’re looking for a quick and easy read.”
I recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. From a single book I’ve never learned so much and so little at the same time. I’ve also never read a more absorbing science book. Whereas I usually highlight a few passages from each book, I highlighted more than two dozen parts of this book upon completion — it covers that much ground. Continue reading…
Most historians agree that America became the wold’s superpower in the early 1900s, either after the building the Panama Canal or certainly for their help in winning World War I.
Author Bill Bryson, however, convincingly argues that the county truly congealed that status in the summer of 1927, when Charles Lindberg became a global superstar after becoming the first person to fly across the Atlantic; “talking pictures” began exporting American thoughts, attitudes, and culture en masse; installment plans made modern consumerism possible; television was invented, and Babe Ruth became the first athletic superstar. Amazingly, a lot more happened that summer, too, which you’ll need to read to find out for yourself.
With one or two exceptions later in the book—where Bryson sorta goes off on a tangent about seemingly unconnected things that happened that summer (such as what book publishers did that summer)—I found the history to be fascinating and often gripping. Either way, “It was one hell of a summer,” Bryson writes.
Here’s my favorite passage: “It is a little hard to imagine now, but Americans in the 1920s had grown up in a world in which most of the most important things happened in Europe. Now suddenly America was dominant in nearly every field—in popular culture, finance and banking, military might, invention and technology. The center of gravity for the planet was moving to the other side of the world, and Charles Lindbergh’s flight somehow became the culminating expression of that.”
Remarkable author Dashiell Hammett keeps this classic murder mystery going by only describing what characters see and do—never their thoughts or feelings. This makes for a tense and innovative approach to a who-done-it, and even started the hard-boiled, film noir trend of later detective novels and movies. Four out of five stars.
Over the holidays I read The Body: An Occupant’s Guide by Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors. It is well-researched, captivating, and enlightening. It loses steam in the third and final act, however, which is why I dock it a single star, while still recommending it. These are my favorite passages:
It’s a slightly humbling thought that the genes you carry are immensely ancient and possibly—so far anyway—eternal. You will die and fade away, but your genes will go on and on so long as you and your descendants continue to produce offspring. And it is surely astounding to reflect that not once in the three billion years since life began has your personal line of descent been broken. For you to be here now, every one of your ancestors had to successfully pass on its genetic material to a new generation before being snuffed out or otherwise sidetracked from the procreative process. That’s quite a chain of success.
The body is often likened to a machine, but it is so much more than that. It works twenty-four hours a day for decades without (for the most part) needing regular servicing or the installation of spare parts, runs on water and a few organic compounds, is soft and rather lovely, is accommodatingly mobile and pliant, reproduces itself with enthusiasm, makes jokes, feels affection, appreciates a red sunset and a cooling breeze. How many machines do you know that can do any of that? There is no question about it. You are truly a wonder.
With such an unrelenting work rate, it is a miracle that most hearts last as long as they do. Every hour your heart dispenses around 70 gallons of blood. That’s 1,680 gallons in a day—more gallons pushed through you in a day than you are likely to put in your car in a year.
Even with the advantage of clothing, shelter, and boundless ingenuity, humans can manage to live on only about 12 percent of Earth’s land area and just 4 percent of the total surface area if you include the seas. It is a sobering thought that 96 percent of our planet is off-limits to us.
When a teenager struggles to get up in the morning, that isn’t laziness; it’s biology. Matters are compounded in America by what The New York Times in an editorial called “a dangerous tradition: starting high school abnormally early.” According to the Times, 86 percent of U.S. high schools start their day before 8:30 a.m., and 10 percent start before 7:30. Later start times have been shown to produce better attendance, better test results, fewer car accidents, and even less depression and self-harm.
Medical science has never produced a more noble and selfless group of investigators than the pathologists and parasitologists who risked and all too often lost their lives in trying to conquer the most pernicious of the world’s diseases in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There ought to be a monument to them somewhere.
As Daniel Lieberman told me, reaching 80 is largely a consequence of following a healthy lifestyle, but after that it is almost entirely a matter of genes. Or as Bernard Starr, a professor emeritus at City University of New York, put it, “The best way to assure longevity is to pick your parents.”
It is an extraordinary fact that having good and loving relationships physically alters your DNA. Conversely, a 2010 U.S. study found, not having such relationships doubles your risk of dying from any cause.
Written in 1962 while Toole was stationed in Puerto Rico on military duty, the novel has been described as “Don Quixote meets the French Quarter,” which is a total abortion. In truth, protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly is much more likable, hilarious, and compelling than the former. His misadventures through New Orleans with an ensemble cast of nearly a dozen charismatic characters are a joy to read, as is Toole’s exceptional writing, satisfying storytelling, and clever dialogue.
In short, I could not put Dunces down and cannot recommend it enough. Sadly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work wasn’t published until 1980, this after the author was rejected by multiple editors who called his writing “pointless,” which partially caused him to succumb to depression and later suicide in 1969.
Thankfully Toole’s mother and an a university professor re-pitched the book posthumously until it was finally published. I’m so glad they did and wonder what could have been had its genius author lived to tell another tale. “Just wait till they hear all that originality pouring out of your head.”
After finishing Riders of the Purple Sage this week, I would add Zane Grey to that honorable list, especially since he was a dentist by trade, a semi-professional baseball player, and only wrote his popular adventure novels on the side!
But not only is Grey a great writer, he was also a pioneer. In fact, Riders invented the Western genre of storytelling when it was first published in 1912. Gun fights, southwestern backdrops, life and death on the American frontier.
But don’t let that genre or any misconceptions of it deter you. Riders is really two love stories in one, starring both a heroine and two heroes. It’s fantastically descriptive and emotionally engaged. I only dock it one star because there were a few times where Grey’s prose goes confusingly off trail, which forced me to re-read and decipher some paragraphs for clarity.
Yesterday is my favorite movie of the year so far. So long as you can suspend your disbelief for an hour and a half, it’s a wonderful, heart-felt, and fist-pumping story about music, chasing your dreams, honesty, distraction, and following your heart. 4.5/5 stars (in theaters)
My other favorites of the year are as follows (Updated):
Because we’ve commercially enjoyed airplanes for half a century, however, we now take them for granted. We bemoan their 20% delay rate. We ignore an accident rate of LESS THAN one in a million (safer than driving). We overlook the wonderful places airplanes take us, the game-changing experiences they enable, and the beautiful things they deliver (including flowers).
After seeing this movie, I’m gonna bask in their awesomeness. I’m going to treat airports as speed portals to this big round ball. The next time I pick up a two-day package from Amazon, I’m gonna pour a little out for the flying metal tube that brought the world to my doorstep. Seriously, not even monarchs had it this good. Continue reading…
Not only does the book demystify the Wild Wild West, of which only half of what you heard it true (although the other half is still amazingly true!), the book clarifies the always complicated Indian-American relations as the nation expanded west to California. That understand is powerful enough.
On top of that, however, Blood and Thunder is an epic telling of the heroic Kit Carson, who scouted the west for early pioneers and settlers to eventually follow. For its well researched, balanced, and shocking reporting, I award it five stars out of five.
These were some of my favorite passages:
From an early age, Carson learned an important practical truth of frontier life—that there was no such thing as “Indians,” that tribes could be substantially and sometimes violently different from one another, and that each group must be dealt with separately, on its own terms.
The trappers murdered Indians in countless kill-or-be-killed scenarios, and some made a practice of hammering brass tacks into the stocks of their rifles for every native dispatched. But their greater slaughter was unwitting: As the forerunners of Western civilization, creeping up the river valleys and across the mountain passes, the trappers brought smallpox and typhoid, they brought guns and whiskey and venereal disease, they brought the puzzlement of money and the gleam of steel. And on their liquored breath they whispered the coming of an unimaginable force, of a gathering shadow on the eastern horizon, gorging itself on the continent as it pressed steadily this way. Continue reading…
My family and I have had a memorable and adventurous summer so far.
In addition to a remarkable rafting trip, we’ve sustained two emergency room visits (broken elbow, large fishing hook removal), gotten lots of extra sun (without any burns), and planned one more road trip before it’s “back to school.”
Although I’m a big believer in buying experiences over things, the following five products have undeniably delighted our household this summer: Continue reading…
The documentary makes a convincing argument that structured specialization prevents our children from achieving greatness, especially in athletics, but also in other disciplines.
After interviewing and examining the upbringing and work ethic of over a dozen all-star athletes and musicians, the movie concludes that if you want your child to be great, raise them on a well-rounded diet of interests and physical activities. Do this until at least late high school or even college in some cases. Only then should children focus and devote the majority of their time to one pursuit.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, the filmmakers argue that this strategy allows our youth to play by different rules and see things differently. And there’s strong evidence suggesting this cannot be done if aspiring athletics, musicians, and others are strictly raised on only speciality from a young age, which is increasingly the norm now. That’s bad because youth specialization stifles their creativity and innovation and prevents them from developing other muscles and talents that can have a positive crossover effect on their primary passion.
Smartphones have gotten ridiculously expensive. In the last couple of years alone, premium handsets have nearly doubled in price to over $1000. It’s enough to make even the most loyal iPhone fans switch to better value Android phones or upgrade to older but cheaper models instead.
Two new smartphones released this summer are bucking the trend, however. My favorite is the $400 Google Pixel 3a (pictured right). Its camera is not only stunning, but the best of any price range (really!). It has a gorgeous OLED screen, a battery that lasts for days, and a headphone jack. My only quibble is it’s a tad tall and not waterproof.
If you want the fastest phone on the market with the nicest screen and an equally good 4k camera, the OnePlus 7 Pro (pictured left) is also fantastic. Although a little big for my pockets, it’s loaded with a nifty notchless screen and software features that outpace nicer Google or Samsung phones. In short, the OnePlus 7 Pro is basically $1000 phone for less than $700.
Granted, the pesky green text messages of both aren’t as reliable or as good as Apple’s best-in-class iMessage. But outside of that, both come highly recommended with unlimited free photo storage.
For its disjointed story, distracting dong shots, artistic cinematography, impressive set production, and a few emotionally gripping moments, I award Roma—the highest-rated movie of the year—3.5 out of 5 stars. Cynics will love it!
In terms of health, nutrition, income, vaccinations, education, sanitation, transportation, homes, lifestyles, modern conveniences, violence (i.e. death from wars or terrorism), abuse, and many other parameters, the world is a much better, happier, healthier, and peaceful place than ever before, according to consensus data.
Why does the news and human perception bemoan our impressive existence rather then celebrate it? The short answer is fear sells and human are irrational beings. But Rosling adds 10 specific myths that keep us from seeing the truth, along with ways to fix them.
My wife and I watched the critically-acclaimed The Post recently at our local theater.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the movie is about how The Washington Post, namely its brave publisher Katharine Graham, decided to publish the controversial Pentagon Papers in 1961.
Although the movie kept me engaged with strong acting, tight tension, and fun twists, I deem it good but not great. Here’s why: Continue reading…
The first was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, recommended by my sister Sara. Not to be mistaken for the horrific name, popular movie, and Halloween theme it inspired, the book is actually about what it’s like to be human. Masterfully written by Shelley when she was only 20 (!), Frankenstein made my heartbreak and made me ponder humanity more than another other book recently (save for this, this, and this).
Due to a few slow pages and an ending that abruptly stops (like most classical literature), I award it four stars out of five.
The second I read in less than 48 hours. It’s called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell. About the making of The Room (aka “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”), this book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and cheer on numerous occasions. I admire Sestero for his candor, for seeing the good in the world, for sharing his story, and for shining the spotlight on the conflicted, inspiring, and likable man named Tommy Wiseau. “What a story, Mark!”
For its hilarity and heart, I award it four stars out of five and anxiously await the movie adaptation starring James Franco.
I recently watched 180 Degrees South. It’s an enjoyable documentary by surfer, climber, and conservationist Chris Malloy, in which he follows the adventurous footsteps of his two mentors—Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and North Face founder Doug Tompkins.
Earlier this year, I skimmed The Minimalist Mindset by Danny Dover. In my case, Dover was preaching to the choir. But I did enjoy two important points:
Every living human being shares the same two overarching limitations, time and money. You can trade time for money (we call this a job) and you can trade money for time (we call this convenience). Harmonizing these two resources leads to maximum enjoyment of life.
When prioritizing our time and expenses, we must consider their significance as much as their importance and actual cost. In other words, ask yourself “How long will this matter?” For better fulfillment, we must prioritize our commitments and expenses from most significant to least. Similar to what Rory Vaden linearily argues in Procrastinate on Purpose, “Spend your time on things today that give you more time and a better life tomorrow.”
That said, I don’t endorse Dover’s recommendation to auto respond to all incoming emails with “I’m booked solid with previous commitments.” That’s a dick move. Just say, “No, thank you.” But I do like his recommendation to ask for a timed agenda before agreeing to a meeting and keeping meetings to a single day or slots per week (i.e. late afternoons only).
I did it again. I came oh-so-close to finishing a really long and critically-acclaimed literary classic before quitting it after three quarters completion.
I first did this 10 years ago with the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a book by the masterful Alexander Dumas that features some of the most beautiful, if not poetic, prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
I did it again this spring with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—an even more powerful book—which is widely regarded as the greatest novel ever written. So why did I abandon it after 640 pages out of 864 total? Continue reading…
I’m planning an upcoming story on some of the best desktop upgrades you can make but had to break to excitedly endorse these: The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers. They are THX certified and they sound magnificent.
If you’re a music lover, I think $150 is a small price to pay. These speakers have awakened my ears and made old music sound new again and new music sound even brighter, tighter, heavier, and clearer without the muddiness associated with most desktop speakers.
Phil Knight seemingly had a lot of slick editors to help him write his wonderful book (4/5 stars) on the creation and rise of Nike. But his passion, character, and insightful war stories all ring true. These were my favorite excerpts:
What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.
Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.
The Japanese believe climbing Fuji is a mystical experience, a ritual act of celebration, and I was overcome with a desire to climb it, right then. I wanted to ascend into the clouds. I decided to wait, however. I would return when I had something to celebrate.
After shaving, I put on my green Brooks Brothers suit and gave myself a pep talk. You are capable. You are confident. You can do this. You can DO this. Then I went to the wrong place.
I asked myself that upon seeing Luke Spiller perform with The Struts for the first time. He had just finished ripping through the opening four songs of their recent set in Salt Lake City. Two singles. Two of his debut album’s most anthemic tracks. No stops or pauses in between songs. All in the first 15 minutes of a performance that would eventually double the running time of their only album plus one new song.
But unlike a punk act that similarly keeps the punches rolling, Spiller was wholly uninhibited on stage. He wore glittered capes and spandex. Shimmied his shoulders like Freddie Mercury. Calculated dramatic toe steps and emphatic kicks in every direction. Choreographed his carefully rehearsed movements to the music.
While observing all of this, I couldn’t decide if Spiller wanted to imitate Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Prince, or Mick Jagger. On top of that, the size of his mouth suggests his mother may have slept with Steven Tyler during the British leg of Aerosmith’s Pump tour.
In a later interview after the show, he brushed off a facetious question about his outrageous showmanship. “That’s just what I am,” he told me. “It’s just what I enjoy.”
For lovers of live performances that make you forget the troubles at home, Spiller’s dramatic charisma is all for your gain. Continue reading…
Honor codes, moral self-reminders before brushing with temptation, and asking others to be honest in tempting situations can reduce dishonesty to almost zero, researchers found.
People are increasingly dishonest as they distance themselves from tangible things (i.e. its easier to steal digital money than tangible money, and it’s easier to cheat in golf by kicking your ball while looking away as opposed to picking it up). To heighten honesty, look at ill behavior right in the face before doing it.
Everybody is dishonest. Everybody. And all nationalities are equally dishonest, researchers found. It’s just that foreign cultures feel more dishonest because they cheat in unfamiliar ways.
Scandinavian economies and The U.S. have the world’s highest levels of social trust—Africa and South America the least, which has a dramatic effect in the size and health of those respective economies.
Bankers cheat twice as much as politicians. Lying can be appropriate when it’s done for the good of others as opposed to selfish reasons and only if the truth wouldn’t later upset the person that was deceived (i.e. telling a hysterical passenger on a crashing plane that you’re an aeronautics engineer and everything is going to be okay or lying to your children to keep them out of imminent danger or harm’s way).
I read the latter this month and was in awe of the actual book within a book. Admittedly, Goldman is a remarkably creative, funny, and powerful writer. But the literary mechanism he uses to set up, interject, and conclude the beloved ’80s story — in this case pretending to be a humbled author searching for his next great hit by abridging “the good parts version” of another fictional author’s larger work — detracts from an otherwise five-star effort.
I suspect even Goldman realized this when writing his award-wining screenplay for the actual movie 14 years after publishing the book. Instead of his original, confusing, and over-the-top author trope, Goldman instead opts for the much cleaner “grandpa reading the story to his sick grandson” setting.
Either way, Goldman is a sarcastic genius. And I’m glad he finally got it right. Four stars out of five. Would have awarded it five stars had it not been for the above oversight.
If you do read it, skip the setup, treat Goldman’s interjections as author’s notes, and head straight for the exceptional story of true love, Inigo’s heartwarming backstory that is strong enough to stand on its own, and dozens of beautiful passages like this:
The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.
The rope seemed almost alive, the greatest of all water serpents heading at last for home.
His eyes bulged wide, full of horror and pain. It was glorious. If you like that kind of thing.
I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.
Although English is the third most spoken language after Mandarin and Spanish, it is the most spoken second language in the world. This is due to the power-brokers that speak it, its uniquely expressive vocabulary, and how it came to be, argues Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue.
For being more like Bryson’s interesting read on domestic life and less like his masterpiece on science, I award it three stars out of five. These were my favorite passages:
What most immediately sets English apart from other languages is the richness of its vocabulary. Altogether, about 200,000 English words are in common use, more than in German (184,000) and far more than in French (a mere 100,000). This richness and wealth of available synonyms means English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers. Continue reading…
What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?
Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.
The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
Clever, huh? USA Todayaccurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.
For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.
I recently finished Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, which tells the unlikely true story of the titular captain saving all of his crew after his ship was crushed by Antarctic ice floes in 1914.
All told, the 28 men survived 18 months on sea, ice, and one inhospitable island, while enduring unthinkable cold, the worst weather ever, and the first terrestrial crossing of South Georgia. Even more amazingly, they largely did it with jovial spirits, which helped them persevere and ultimately conquer death.
As I said before, Lansing’s writing is so intensely riveting, I was literally gulping and gasping for air at times. If it weren’t for a somewhat halted plot in the second quarter, I would award the book five out of five stars. These are my favorite passages: Continue reading…
I recently finished The Last Place on Earth, Roland Huntford’s well-researched, sometimes heavy-handed, but always legendary retelling of the 1911 South Pole race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. In addition to being published the year I was born, the book’s important for the following reasons: Continue reading…
Because he wrote this masterpiece, I consider Bill Bryson one of the greatest non-fiction writers of our time. And while his similar At Home: A Short History of Private Life is brimming with domestic insights, it’s not as powerful or focused as the former. Three stars out of five. I’d only recommend it to die-hard home owners. My favorite passages:
That’s really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things… eating, sleeping, having sex, or endeavoring to be amused.
So sedentism meant poorer diets, more illness, lots of toothache and gum disease, and earlier deaths. What is truly extraordinary is that these are all still factors in our lives today.
The dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use, and was perched on the diners’ knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board.
It has been estimated that 60 percent of all the crops grown in the world today originated in the Americas. These foods weren’t just incorporated into foreign cuisines. They effectively became the foreign cuisines. Imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Greek food without eggplant, Thai and Indonesian foods without peanut sauce, curries without chilies, hamburgers without French fries or ketchup, African food without cassava. There was scarcely a dinner table in the world in any land east or west that wasn’t drastically improved by American foods.
Had Thomas Jefferson and George Washington merely been plantation owners who built interesting houses, that would have been accomplishment enough, but in fact of course between them they also instituted a political revolution, conducted a long war, created and tirelessly served a new nation, and spent years away from home. Despite these distractions, and without proper training or materials, they managed to build two of the most satisfying houses ever built.
Trying to understand people is more effective than criticism. Not only does it bring clarity, it breeds tolerance and kindness, which engenders people. So before criticizing someone’s effort or creation, ask them why they did what they did. See things from others’ viewpoints. As a born critic, this is difficult for me to do. But I’ve already seen how effective this is after using it on those closest to me.
Smile when greeting and talking to people. This is a simple and powerful act. “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back,” Carnegie writes, this coming from someone who notes the power of dressing nice. And from someone who says “one” quite a lot. Continue reading…
I posses five and a half of the seven denominators of American millionaires, according to The Millionaire Next Door. Assuming each of these traits are weighted equally, I have a 79% chance (78.5% to be exact) of becoming one.
While the extra play money would be fun, I’m content with my thousandaire status. I have my health. I’ve got my soulmate. I found my calling.
I have five fabulous children, many uplifting friends, and a loyal dog. When kids ask me if I’m “rich,” I say yes, because I am.
Enough of the feel-good crap. A millionaire I am not. Let’s get down to numbers: Continue reading…
Lindsey and I took the kids to fabulous Mesquite, Nevada last month for spring break. The city bills itself as “The way Vegas used to be.”
With only three casinos and extremely limited food options, I’m not so sure about that. But I was charmed by the place and plan on returning soon the next time I crave a desert oasis. Here’s why. Continue reading…
For any male readers born from the mid ’70s to early ’80s, listen up—Console Wars by Blake Harris has it all: your childhood, the answer to your next marketing challenge, cultural divides, innocence, under bellies, triumph, and loss.
It’s also the only book I’ve ever read that made me feel as young as I am old. Take these gems, for example:
“There was no such thing as a magic touch, and it wouldn’t have mattered if there were, because the only thing it takes to sell toys, vitamins, magazines (or anything) is the power of story. That was the secret. That was the whole trick: to recognize that the world is nothing but chaos, and the only thing holding it (and us) together are stories… When you tell memorable, universal, intricate, and heartbreaking stories, anything is possible.”
“Tony Harman was prepared to leave with his tail between his legs (smiling, though, as his thesis that western cultures can make great games too had made it all the way to the top), but he decided to try one more approach. “Let me just ask one more question,” he said, taking a step toward [Nintendo President] Yamauchi. “How many bad television commercials do we make each year?” Continue reading…
Locals and tourists only—Metropolitan Utah welcomed two large museums this year: The re-located and significantly expanded Living Planet Aquarium and the all-new Museum of Natural Curiosity. Although both have their heart in the right place, only one is worth your family’s time and money.
To find out, I tapped the most imaginative minds I could find: my kids. Within a four day period last month, my wife and I took the children to both museums for the first time. Upon visiting, we didn’t coax, herd, or otherwise rush them to any exhibits. Rather, we let them set the pace and decide the order of exhibits. Here’s how it went. Continue reading…
With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.
Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.
After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.