Thursday, July 5, 2012

Read and Boast IV: Nonfiction for Work

The day has come, my friends, when I now read more for work than for fun. In addition to no longer having the time and motivitation to post here regularly, I also no longer have time to read for pleasure regularly. I have, however, managed to squeeze in a few not-that-fun nonfiction novels in the last couple of months--partly because I was interested and partly to put on my shelves at work so it looks like I give half a shit about my professional development.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.  Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown.

Ms. Wiseman was part of a leadership series offered by my company earlier this year, and spoke about what makes the best leaders.  Interestingly enough, her research led her to believe that it is those leaders who regularly challenge those around them while giving ample room to grow into their skills.  This includes leaving those around you with the room to fail and not necessarily stepping in to help just because you can do something better than they can.

I really enjoyed Ms. Wiseman's presentation and read about 3/4 of this book.  I figure I'll read the rest when I become a "real" manager.
Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.  Cialdini, Robert, and some other people whose names are much smaller but who probably did most of the work.

I was fortunate enough to hear Mr. Cialdini speak at the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) National Conference this year in Vegas.  While I enjoyed this book in that it couches psychological findings in concrete examples of persuasion in everyday life and have used some of the "scientifically proven ways" in my own work, I felt slightly dirty reading this kind of thing and only finished about half the book.  (Also, Mr. Cialdini shamelessly used his methods of persuasion on the audience at the conference, immediately after telling us what those methods were.  The fact that the line at his book signing table was around the corner afterwards made me want to yell at all the sheeple. In protest, I later bought the book used at Half Price Books.)
I'll probably finish reading this when I've completed my transformation into a soulless corporate shill and want to know how best to manipulate those around me.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

Chip Heath was also a speaker at this year's ACMP conference.  He's an engaging speaker and uses metaphors deftly in his presentations.  I found the book on sale and put it in my office but haven't read it yet.
... I told you I didn't have time to read anymore.  Sigh.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Missing: Borrowed Book

... typical.

Why is it I can track of all of my books but the few times I borrow a book from someone, I either manage to set it on fire (accidentally, of course,) or lose it?  I have torn my apartment apart looking for a book I borrowed from a friend and for the life of me, I can't find it.

I need help.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Anthropomorphic Taxidermy (2011)

This isn't strictly "literary," but I think it's interesting that she approaches taxidermy as another way to tell stories.  I was also far less grossed out by it than I would have expected.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature a bunch of astronomers doing more than a little research on Frankenstein, as well as a peek at the odds for tomorrow's big announcement:

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Calamity Song (2011)

Apparently this video is a tribute to David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.  Interesting.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Round Three in The Centurions of High Culture Vs. Intellectual Nursing Homes

A friend pointed me towards the intellectual slap fest taking place between Joseph Epstein of The Wall Street Journal and Benjamin Reiss, one of the authors of Cambridge History of the American Novel and writer at Slate.  Epstein charges that the book embodies all that is wrong with studying literature today--it's no longer about the novel, it's about the novel's place in history and the different schools of criticism.  He writes, "All that the book's editors left out is why it is important or even pleasurable to read novels and how it is that some novels turn out to be vastly better than others. But, then, this is a work of literary history, not of literary criticism."  (Ooooh burn!)

On the one hand, I agree with much of what Epstein is saying.  It's no longer enough to read and enjoy The Great Gatsby.  Now one must read it, dissect it, understand where it fits into Fitzgerald's biography, and understand where it fits into the American historical tapestry in a variety of contexts (socio-economic, race, gender, etc.).  The problem, though, is Epstein comes off as slightly stuffy (no big surprise from a writer at The Wall Street Journal, though, let's be honest).  For example (emphasis mine):
"'The Cambridge History of the American Novel' could only have come into the world after the death of the once-crucial distinction between high and low culture, a distinction that, until 40 or so years ago, dominated the criticism of literature and all the other arts. Under the rule of this distinction, critics felt it their job to close the gates on inferior artistic products. The distinction started to break down once the works of contemporary authors began to be taught in universities."
Oh, hell no!  Not contemporary authors!  Who wants to read that shit?  If it's not Milton, I don't want to read it!  Epstein terms this "intelllectual nursing homes," where ideas that are rejected by other displines go to die.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: A Light History of the English Language

I remember watching this in high school, and although it's pretty interesting, it's definitely not 100% accurate.  Still, not a bad way to get some history of the English language in.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: People Who Became Nouns (2011)


Check out NPR for the full story.

Where Do You Like To Do It?

My personal favorite places include:

At a coffee shop
Pros:  Coffee, of course.  Plus there's a natural energy to help when you're trying to plow through things like, oh, I don't know-- Joyce.
Cons: Uncomfortable chairs (sometimes), noisy patrons (often), preponderance of hipsters (always).
At the park
Pros: You can get your vitamin D when you've been trapped inside since May because you live in Houston and the weather's been like God's punishing the whole city for something someone somewhere did.  (If I find that someone, by the way, I'm kicking his ass.)
Cons: You're an easy target for the homeless and crazies, both of whom seem naturally drawn to public places like the park. 
In the bath
Pros: Warm (or boil-a-lobster if you're me) water, and the addition of a glass of wine makes it cliche-perfect.
Cons: Tendency towards getting pruny if you read more than one chapter.  Oh, and whatever you do, don't drop your book.
In bed
Pros: Easy to put book down and go straight to sleep
Cons: Really only applicable right before bed or a nap.... unless you often get into bed in the middle of the day and you want to precede it with a little light reading.  (Speaking of which, did I ever tell you about the time that I went to buy a mattress and the mattress guy was trying to sell me on the Tempurpedic and told me that the memory foam mattresses aren't good for "recreational activity." When I asked him to clarify with an icy "Excuse me?" he blushed and stammered that he was referring to reading and watching TV.  Uh huh.)
On the couch
Pros: Convenient
Cons: Boring.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: "Dave McKean - Sonnet 138" (2006)

McKean's pretty talented, but the video's pretty creepy, as well.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Watch a Philosopher and a Literary Theorist Duke It Out Over At The New York Times

It comes as no surprise to me that William Eggington's piece in The New York Times, "'Quixote,' Colbert and the Reality of Fiction" addresses the question of whether or not literature (or literary theory) can be both "fun" and "knowledge," since I've struggled with this question myself quite a bit (including here and here, for two examples). 

Before we get too deep into the "yea-or-nay" argument, however, it should be noted that Eggington is responding to Alex Rosenberg's "Why I Am A Naturalist," in which it is posited that naturalism (the "philosophical theory that treats science as our most reliable source of knowledge and scientific method as the most effective route to knowledge") does not view literary theory or fiction as a serious course of study because it "can’t take them seriously as knowledge."  Rosenberg finishes by saying,
That doesn’t mean anyone should stop doing literary criticism any more than forgoing fiction. Naturalism treats both as fun, but neither as knowledge.

What naturalists really fear is not becoming dogmatic or giving up the scientific spirit. It’s the threat that the science will end up showing that much of what we cherish as meaningful in human life is illusory.
Not a particularly surprising view coming from a man who has written twelve books on the philosophy of biology and economics.  The part that I find most telling is his term "illusory."  Yes, a scientist (or naturalist) would view much of what we "cherish" (hope, faith, love, friendship, ethics, values, a.k.a. everything literature is about) as not knowable via science.  How can we scientifically prove any of that?  We can't, which can't be a comfortable position for a man of science.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Grendel's Ambush

Benjamin Bagby reenacts how Beowulf (which, after all, was an oral tradition long before it was written down and long long before it was made into a movie with Angelina Jolie) may have been performed.  It's pretty amazing how much language can change in 1000-1300 years.

(And let me just say that I love my Facebook friends, since one of them posted this on his wall.)

Check Out the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

I know there's a lot of bitching about Google taking over the world and the death of books and blah blah blah, but there's something to be said about technology that makes things like this possible.

Check out the website to see images of the scrolls that you can--er--scroll through and view closer.  Reasion #142 why I love the internet.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: And Tango Makes Three (2009)

Here's a reading of the most-challenged book of 2010, And Tango Makes Three.  Notice the homosexual agenda and subversive messages that gays are--horror! horror! horror!--not scary. 

I'm such a softie, I tear up when they can't hatch their rock.

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