August 29, 2009

End User License Agreement

Stephen Fry has written a book about poetry. I remember reading a blurb about it when it first came out. For some reason, I thought it was just going to be a guide to poetry appreciation.

I am sorry, Mr. Fry, for misunderstanding your intent before cracking the cover of your book. But, now that I have, I know that it is something so much better than a book on poetry appreciation. It is a technical manual for writing poetry.

The book has a foreword followed immediately by a section entitled, "How to Read This Book", which contains three rules:

1. Take Your Time
2. Don't be Afraid
3. Always carry a notebook (Fry 2005: xxv)

Mr. Fry tells us that these rules are, in essence, the manual's end user license agreement. You have to agree in order to continue. He even gives you a place to check "Agree" or "Disagree". Beginning this book is my last fling with summer. And, I whole-heartedly agree.

June 10, 2009

What should I make for dinner?

Tyler Cowen has made me laugh with his book Discover Your Inner Economist. But, he has also made me think about markets, narratives, efficiency and the little things that I can do to improve my quality of life. I've already discussed his chapter on high culture. In a later chapter, he also makes some interesting observations about food. Some of his suggestions, I am going to implement and see how they work for me.

I usually operate under the notion that if I can make it at home, I don't want to eat it at a restaurant. I like this guideline for two reasons. First, I enjoy a challenge in the kitchen. Sure, there are other people out there that make a much nicer pumpkin curry. People with a proper background in the art of curry-making who learned from their Mother or Grandmother or Aunties instead of the internet, but my pumpkin curry is still pretty good and it is a lot of fun to hollow out a pumpkin and then to serve guests a meal in the pumpkin shell. The second reason is that I feel that eating out should be a celebration of exploration. I like my trips to restaurants to be interesting, challenging and fun and part of the fun for me is eating something I've never tried before, or something that I've never seen cooked that way before, or eating something that I always mess up at home.

Some of Dr. Cowen's suggestions are in line with my "eating out should be an adventure" guideline. He suggests that when you go to a fancy restaurant, you should order the most disgusting sounding thing on the menu. His idea? Anyone can roast a reasonably serviceable chicken. Not everyone can make Cow's brains taste like something of which you want to take a second bite.

Another suggestion he makes is that when you eat at home, you should eat healthfully. This makes perfect sense, at least for me. Since I am the one making a majority of my meals, I should focus on the skills the create healthy and tasty meals. An obvious bonus of this is that if I only eat healthy things at home, I should end up healthier in the long run. But, the other bonus is if you leave the junk food for outside the house, after you've had the awesome plate of cow's brains (after a started including some foie gras, of course) when someone offers you Baked Alaskan for dessert, you don't have to say no.

So, I look forward to implementing some of these suggestions, especially now that summer and CSA season is here.

June 01, 2009

That one, because its the least creepy in this room: Or, Metropolitan Museum of Art

So, I'm reading this book, Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. Chapter four is called "Possess All the Great Art Ever Made. I enjoyed the first three chapters, which talked about things like incentives and how to use them to control the world and, just in general what economists do. Chapter four, among other things, has some great suggestions for how to make museum going experiences more rewarding. (Also, it reminded me a little of How Proust Can Change Your Life, so the rest of the book could be awful, but I'm still going to say that I like it.)

One of Cowen's suggestions include letting go of any pretense you may have about how much you love high culture and how knowledgeable you are about it. This one was pretty easy. I like museum going, and have been known to drag loved ones through galeries of little interest to them but I still know very little about the things at which I like to look. I know that Cher was right in Clueless about Monet paintings up close, the Islamic art wonderfully geometrical, and that even if there is no rope around the sphynx, you are not allowed to touch its marble magnificence.

Another of the suggestions was to plan a robbery, (hypothetically speaking). In this museum game, in each room, you assess each painting and then decide, if you were to take one painting from this room, which one would you take and why. So, you are making sell-centered value judgments, but you are also working on assessing what is good about each painting and what you like. My sister and I decided that we would stroll the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had a pretty good afternoon.

Some of the our picks were just because they would be challenges (and, also, of course, because they were awesome.) The Sphynx and a column in the Egyptian room would be impossible to pull off. However, this is a good game because of the discussion that generates.

Beth really enjoyed a tapestry depicting Troy in the Medieval rooms. We had a nice chat about the crossbow because of this tapestry. In the 19th-early 20th rooms we had a discussion about how not every painting by a master can be a masterpiece. In that same room, I found a painting by Vuillard that I'm looking for a print of as it would be perfect over my couch. There was a painting in the European room (and, for once, we weren't taking notes) so we can't tell you who its by or even what its name was, of a woman in blue that had a look on her face that said, "Seriously? You're going to paint me now? Seriously."

Some of my favorite pieces were a stained glass column and a bronze statue that I believe was called "The Vine" in the American room. It amazes me how well motion can be captured in bronze. I also enjoyed the papyrus in the Egyptian rooms and the reconstruction of a chariot on the mezzanine of the Roman room.

There is an exhibition on the Model as a muse, which featured music by Nirvana. We had a moment of cognitive disonance, listening to grunge while looking at high fashion. And, we wondered, "Is Kurt Cobain rolling in his grave?"

Currently, there is also a retrospective of Francis Bacon. These rooms were well worth it, if only for comments of the other museum goers. I find it hard to look at a lot of Francis Bacon's work because its creepy. So, the entire room of paintings that were studies after Velasquez was pretty much my limit. Francis Bacon could have set dressed every Nine Inch Nails video made before the Fragile.

After Francis Bacon, we took in some other modern art. It was nice to end with a little Balthus and Mattisse. Although, the creepiness probably ended our Thomas Crown affair. There are no museums on the menu for the rest of the trip, but we will be seeing a taping of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This is a more-than-acceptable substitute.

May 06, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Freedom

I am finished with the coursework for this semester (I don't know if any of it was any good, but I'm done with it and that's what matters!) My second semester as a PhD student is done and dusted. Earlier today, I was feeling a little like a Rock Star. I'd finished everything. I'd printed the last of it out and was all ready to go hand it in. I'd showered and my hair was up in a twist with pencils sticking out of it. I put on some makeup. Really, a rock star. Or, at least as close to a Rock Star as a PhD student can get.

So, I pack everything up and head to campus, I go to submit the last of my final papers and as I'm reaching to put them into my Professor's mailbox I have this feeling I've done something terribly, terribly wrong. I stop. I think about it. I look over everything again and it hits me. I'm about it hand something in that doesn't have my name on it anywhere. A title. A date. No name. Great. So, I have to run back down to the library and hop on a computer so that I can print out a new title page so that the work can correctly be identified as mine. That pretty much killed the Rock Star vibe.

In celebration of being done, I'm going to a Lab Party tonight. It should be pretty fun.

But, the best news of all: Now that I'm done with the semester, I can reacquaint myself with Booklist '09. I started The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber in January. I have no good excuse for why I am just now getting back to it. Maybe all that Sookie Stackhouse nonsense I read? Or, maybe it was trying to keep up with the reading in three seminars and two labs? I don't know. What I do know is that it is really cleverly written in the first person and my bookmark indicates I only got about 31 pages into it. I think I'm just going to start over. I'm very excited about it.

Also, Happy Mercury Retrograde!

January 01, 2009

2009's Definitely Reading List

And, now I unveil my *definitely must-read* list for 2009:

(In No Particular Order)

  1. Silas Marner by George Eliot

  2. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

  3. Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend

  4. On the Wealth of Nations by P.J. O'Rourke

  5. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

  6. Break, Blow, Burn by Camille Paglia

  7. The Eight By Katherine Neville

  8. Begin Anywhere by Frank Gianpietro

  9. The Horse, The Wheel and Language by David Anthony

  10. Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen

  11. How Language Works by David Crystal

  12. The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry

  13. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

  14. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

  15. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Farber

I'm really excited about these books. It looks like its going to be an exciting year!

December 31, 2008

Booklist '09

This time last year, you may remember I compiled a list that I didn't think was all together unreasonable. It had fifty books on it. I thought, Surely I can read that many books in a year. And, I wasn't wrong. I can at least digest that written material.

The problem with the list was, however, that I kept adding things to it. And, then I would bypass the original fifty in order to read things further down on the list. Sure, I got a lot done. But, many things, good things no doubt, languished at the top because I didn't feel like reading something in that genre or because it seemed too high-brow for my mood, etc.

That was a mistake.

So, this year I'm trying something different. What I've previously called (and will probably still call because of how the categories work on this blog) Booklist '08 is now the master list. Booklist '09 will be much shorter: fifteen books. Slightly more than a book a month. And, I won't be adding things to it. The things on Booklist '09 are required reading for me.

The bonus of this for you, dear reader? Well, you're guaranteed fifteen book reviews (and probably mini-reviews and discussions along the way.)

I will post the list tomorrow, so be prepared!