Monday, March 31, 2008

Paging Mr. P.

Dear Mr. Paul P.,
I just wanted to let you know that I'm taking good care of your old home phone number, and over the last few years I've put it to good use. However, I would appreciate it if you could, perhaps, start paying your bills and not giving your old phone number to your creditors.

Apparently, there are something like 850,000 collection agencies scattered around the world, and they're all trying to reach you.




A little aside here - I read this about a month ago, and I had to return it to the library; however, I also lost my notes, so this isn't one of my finer reviews . . . it's coming straight from (my somewhat poor) memory. With work and the wedding plans coming along, I've fallen behind in this little project - I have three more books to write about in addition to this one.

I'm not an economist; hell, I can barely figure out that whole checkbook thing. However, it's always seemed to me that something was off with how our government spends our money, and how the party of fiscal responsibility was acting like anything but.

Enter Jonathan Chait's The Big Con: How Washington got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics.

Chait tells a rather eye-opening tale, of how of the three big supply-side economics proponents, only one had a background in economics - and he was run out of the Nixon administration on a rail after grossly overestimating the GDP, to his boss's chagrin. However suspect their economic theories may have been, members of the Republican party began to see this as a nice way to start picking up votes.

A book like this could easily become a liberal rant against the modern conservative movement, but Chait doesn't really fall in this trap; he's well-read and well-researched, and he writes the book with a nice bit of bemused exasperation throughout.

Chait could have also filled this book with endless tables and charts, but it doesn't drag down into an Economics 101 lesson; it's more a long look at recent history and how we got where we are today. I enjoyed reading this, although I found myself rolling my eyes at the leaps of logic the supply-siders take to justify their theory with a near-religious fervor.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You Can Take the Guy Out of the 80s . . .

In truth, I should probably be embarrassed about this . . .

I was Righteous!
I scored 95% on the
Take the 80s quizby SheGoddess: Quick Weight Loss

H/T Five Dollar Radio

Human Tornado

The house looked as if a tornado swept through it - especially the kitchen. Plates, glasses - mostly intact - covered nearly every counter, and the floor looked as if it hadn't seen a broom in many months (which it had the night before, I'm just not sure I actually swept anything up).

We held a small dinner party for some friends, and for some reason, Chris and I decided that splitting nearly an entire bottle of vodka between us would be a good idea. Keeping up with the good decision motif of the evening, after they left, I figured I would straighten the kitchen a little, resulting in pieces of martini glass flying everywhere.

Fortunately, I had my trusted broom, but after I swept maybe one piece of glass into the dustpan and missed the trash can, it was decided that the mess could wait until tomorrow.

And wait it did.

I continued my home improvement run at the top of the stairs when I missed the light switch and neatly caught the picture of Darcy's grandmother that I bumped right off the wall. I followed that up by spilling the contents of a water glass all over the nightstand.

All in all, an impressive run for the evening.

Surprisingly, I don't feel too bad today, but the afternoon is young. And the cleaning was significantly easier this morning - I didn't create nearly as much shattered glass.

Taking Things Too Far

After hearing many proclamations of The Kite Runner's greatness, I thought I would give it a chance, and while I wasn't disappointed, I also can't help but wonder who runs the hype machine and how they decide what gets pumped out of it.

The basic story is that Amir, the main character, must return to Afghanistan 20 years after he and his father fled the violence engulfing the country in the wake of the Soviet invasion. Amir's best friend (and servant), Hasaan desperately needs his assistance, and Amir needs to forgive himself for his betrayal of Hasaan years before he fled to America.

Hosseini paints a vivid picture of Afghanistan - from the idyllic days preceding the end of the monarchy to the nightmare of the Taliban; it's clear that he dearly loves his home, and suffers for the excesses of the Taliban. He creates an almost too-perfect character in Hasaan, who sacrifices and pays a heavy price for his loving heart and nobility (it was like he took the character of Jim from Huckleberry Finn and tried to REALLY make him suffer). The characters are engaging and it's hard to put this book down, but it seems like Hosseini became so wrapped up in suffering and redemption that he couldn't resist adding just one more twist to the entire story.

Having said that, I did enjoy reading this far more than other products of the hype machine (I'm looking at you, DaVinci Code). The Kite Runner, while in my opinion, a little flawed, alternates between gripping, horrifying and heart-wearming, which is a great trick. I'll definitely pick up Hosseini's next novel sometime soon.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

International Man of Mystery

What do we really know of William Shakespeare? He (probably) wrote several plays that are widely heralded as classics. He borrowed ideas liberally from many sources. While he was reasonably well-off, he was never as famous as one would think, given the amount of accolades and attention sent his way.

Bill Bryson tries to answer these questions in Shakespeare - The World as Stage, a brief look at the life (and times) of William Shakespeare.

This is a short book, which is appropriate, considering the rather large number of primary historical sources available to today's historians. Considering the place Shakespeare's work holds in modern literature, one could find this rather surprising; however, the years and shoddy record keeping of the time have made Shakespeare more a mystery than the world's most famous playwright.

I'm a big fan of Bryson's work - he has a humorous, light writing style, and his research is always first rate. It's the little facts and the side characters that bring Bryson's works to life. For example, there are only six examples of Shakespeare's signature remaining in the world today . . . and none of them are spelled the same way. Charles and Hulda Wallace, a Nebraska couple, found many examples of Shakespeare in the public record early in the 20th century; they probably would have found more, except that Charles became increasingly paranoid and was let go by the University of Nebraska, where he was a professor. Don't feel bad for Wallace though - his follow-up career was looking at land and determining if it contained oil. He sunk most of his remaining money in 160 acres in Texas - that happened to be one of the richest oil finds in history. Wallace, among others are some of the major players in Shakespeare scholarship.

In addition to the eccentric side characters, Bryson spends time acknowledging the debt we owe Shakespeare today:

"Among the first words first found in Shakespeare are abstemious, antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, extract, barefaced, assassination, lonely, leapfrog, indistinguishable, well-read, zany, and countless others (including countless). Where would we be without them? He was particularly prolific, as David Crystal points out, when it came to attaching un- prefixes to existing words to make new words that no one had though of before - unmask, unhand, unlock, untie, unveil and no fewer than309 others in a similar vein. Consider how helplessly prolix the alternatives to any of these terms are and you appreciate how much punch Shakespeare gave English."

Suffice to say, I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a nice, simple introduction to the life of a man who helped shape literature and language today.