Monday, December 28, 2009

Things Fall Apart

I first heard of this book maybe ten years ago when I was reading Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan, and I've been meaning to read it since then. It did not let me down in the least. This is a book that will stay with me a long time. It was so simple, so clear, so meaningful, and so powerful. I never felt like I understood African village life before, and now, well, I do feel like I understand it, on some level. I can understand how it would feel natural, how it would feel comfortable. He paints the picture so clearly, I could taste the yams. And then, at the same time, it is about modern man's separation from that natural life. How everything that we do, from our machines, to our religion, to our fears, to our food, separate us from natural life. I'm in the middle of Pine and Gilmore's Authenticity right now, and it is connecting so many things for me. I keep coming back to the idea that Alexander's fifteen principles are the key to living a life connected to nature... I have to explore this further.

Anyway, I've never been a big fan of required reading for high school students -- most of the choices are not helpful to students at all. But this -- this is something else -- it is something everyone can understand, everyone can relate to, and it addresses issues that are as unsolved today as when the book was written. This is truly one of the great novels of the twentieth century.

BVW Show 2009

Oh, man. This was an epic BVW show. Let's see... this makes the eighth one I've been at, and the fifth one I've hosted. And each one seems to have its own excitements, mysteries and charms. I love putting the show together and hosting it -- it lets me fulfill my dream of being Kermit the Frog from the Muppet Show ... and it really is like that: a bunch of crazy acts that don't really make sense, performed by amateurs, every technical problem imaginable happening, and somehow, somehow, every year, we make a show that touches the audience, each year. I can't take any credit for it -- it's like some machine that we all serve, and it never lets us down. This was our first year in the Chosky Theater, as opposed to McConomy lecture hall (where it has always been), and it was worlds (ha) better than it ever has been before, having the amenities of a proper theater. Thanks to all who made this show an amazing success!

Sunday, December 6, 2009


This was an audio recording of a Tom Stoppard play that was new to me. It has a wonderful structure -- taking place in two parallel timelines, one in the 1800's, and one in present day, and the timelines are interlocked in interesting ways. The theme is entropy, and curiously, how entropy is the sign that time can't run backwards, which makes the "travelling back in time" motif the play uses all the more ironic. Anyway, I love the fact that Tom Stoppard, unlike so many writers, seems to get greater mastery of his form over time.

One note, though, if you listen to this -- DO NOT listen to the interview they stick in the intermission! It is full of spoilers without warning! What kind of idiot puts spoilers about the end of a play in the middle of a play?! It's as bad as those people who put spoilers in the introduction to a book! Or maybe worse!

Huh... a specially produced audio version of a play... how do I classify that? I know... "books."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Never Check E-Mail in the Morning

I get approximately 300 emails a day, and I am always looking for ways to deal with them efficiently, so the title of this book caught my eye. I was disappointed to find that this is just a trendy new retitling of an old book with a clunky title: "Making Work Work".

Basically, this is a version of Getting Things Done that seems to be written for the ladies. It is not as pointed or draconian as GTD, but it does have a lot of generally useful tips for people who haven't spent any time engineering their work processes. The "Email" title is really just a single tip in the book, suggesting that before you get caught up in a torrent of emails, that you should take a little time to plan your day, so that it is as effective as possible. This is something that I'm learning to do myself. I'm trying a new thing where I try to kill off all my inboxes before I go to bed. Which is why I'm writing this at 12:40 AM. I didn't learn that from this book, I'm just mentioning it. We'll see how long I can keep it up. It continues to amaze me that there isn't more discussion in the world about how to deal with email efficiently and effectively... even in a book with a title like this.

One surprising chapter in this book is about working well with others. It has a very concrete idea in it, that whenever there is workplace frustration with a co-worker, it is about one of six things: Inaccessibility, Unreliability, Rigidity, Disrespectfulness, Vagueness, or Unfairness. This was a new list for me, and so far, I think it is spot on. So, conversely, avoid these six deadly sins, and people will like working with you. I think I'll use this in BVW next year...