Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Voyeurs
by Gabrielle Bell
-I really enjoyed reading this.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

1-800 Mice
by Matthew Thurber
- re-read.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dungeon Quest 3
by Joe Daly

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Building Stories
by Chris Ware

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down
by Christian McEwen
- Gave up on this after 150 or so pages. I certainly sympathize and identify with the subject of the book, but the writing and organization of the material wasn't working for me. Too straightforward, passionless, superficial...the examples too obvious -- kids don't go out enough, we don't write letters anymore, that Thoreau was something else, huh? etc. "Hey, maybe try meditating?" Check out this poem. Maybe I'm too familiar with the subject and the standard moves. This book might be more valuable to someone newer to dealing with "hurry sickness" or lack of inspiration.
Essays of E.B. White
-Nothing wrong with this. Really loved reading these, and sad to be finished. This and One Man's Meat may have given me the purest reading pleasure I've come across in my past couple of years of aimless reading. I'm not even interested in farm stuff or New York City! He could write.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

by Joe Sacco

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen
- yes
The Understanding Monster by Theo Ellsworth
- hmm

(my version of TheJMaqExperience's "One Word Or Less Comic Reviews")

Also, good comics from SPX:
White Clay by T. Herpich
Lose #4 by DeForge
Team Society League by
Pompeii by Santoro
White Mountain by Dakota McFadzean

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Athos in America
by Jason

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller
by Joseph Lambert

Prison Pit 3
by Johnny Ryan

After School Special
by Dave Kiersh

The Furry Trap
by Josh Simmons

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Citizens of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel
by Jimenaz Lai
-This is a collection of short speculative comics by an architecture professor about speculative architecture and urban planning. It's influenced by manga and, to my eyes, Dash Shaw, though he isn't mentioned, nor are all the other cartoonists who work in speculative architectural comics––Schuiten and Peeters, Ware's Building Stories, Katchor's Metropolis strips, Tom Kacznyski, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, etc. but instead the introduction talks about fucking Crisis on Infinite Earths. The packaging really tries to reach for profundity and significance, smh. I wanted to like the thing and I'm sympathetic to the aesthetic in spirit, and OK it's interesting at times, but it's all together too underdeveloped, and with the packaging and academic's not doing anyone any favors.

Monday, August 20, 2012

by David Collier

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Little Prince
by Joann Sfar
Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages
by Alex Wright

Friday, July 27, 2012

You Are Not So Smart
by David McRaney
-see here

Sure, I had issues with this book. Studies have shown, "science tells us," that kind of thing. OK...? So slow down, check your work, make sure you're not fooling yourself. And don't trust everything you read...says the popular science book. Be careful out there, everyone. I guess this was a more accessible Thinking Fast and Slow

Monday, July 16, 2012

Death Day, Part One
by Samuel Hiti

Friday, July 13, 2012

Best of Enemies
by Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B
-I did not like the form of comics storytelling this book takes. This is an approach to comics nonfiction that handicaps the powers of text on the one hand and images on the other. If I were drawing a comic right now using this approach, the previous sentence would be at the top of a panel written in a font made from my handwriting, and it would be accompanied by a cartoon drawing of a generic comics page with two large hands coming out of it, one hand holding the word "text" and the other some generic image, and both of these would also somehow have arms and hands and one arm of each of these would be tied behind it's back. The effect is silly and exhausting. And I think David B is one of the best illustrators in the world! There are many beautiful illustrations in this book. But at times all the whimsical compositions of people and weapons and machines seemed a weird way to put across a very serious story of geopolitics. I'm not qualified to comment on the actual content of that story. I didn't know a lot of it.

West Coast Blues
by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jacques Tardi

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer
by Peter Turchi
-enjoyed very much

Friday, July 06, 2012

Designing Universal Knowledge
by Gerlinde Schuller

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Are You My Mother?
by Alison Bechdel

Critical Questions: On Music and Letters, Culture and Biography, 1940−1980
by Jacques Barzun
ed. by Bea Friedland

-A weird book, with weird selections and a lot of typos. If you can make it through all the Berlioz in the front half of the book, (I couldn’t, but seeing such a deeply devoted fan is always heartwarming) and if you can forgive the ranting in the second half of “Liberalism and the Religion of Art,” where among other head-scratchers anti-fluoridation gets a cameo, there’s some stuff I found helpful.

“[Esthetics] is at once too personal and too social for abstract thought to seize upon any regularities. If the example of history and the historians is invoked — for here too one faces a chaos of facts and beliefs — it is of no avail, for historians succeed in creating order through detachment, which the very nature of art forbids. A philosophy of art on these terms would be but a catalogue of techniques and devices, and even these would be misrepresented, for they have no independent meaning, only a functional one as triggers of meaning.  
Fortunately “philosophy” can be understood in at least two senses. It can denote a system, a theory strictly so-called, that is: the most complete and most general view of a subject. It can also mean philosophizing. Not being a philosopher in the first and strict sense, I have taken the liberty, all my life, to philosophize in the second sense — to try to think straight about the subjects that have interested me. What can philosophizing about the arts do for us? The answer I would propose here is not a series of conclusions, even tentative ones, but rather a series of topics or issues about which straight thinking might, in addition to the pleasure of the thing, do some good. What good? Well, such good as this: clearing up the confused vocabulary of criticism for educated minds, and gradually building up a set of commonsense maxims — guidelines — by which sincere people who wish to converse about art could avoid the fumbling and stumbling now caused by what they have been taught — the “ideas” or fashionable cant — thus inducing a wider tolerance through showing how the casual or formal creeds of art-lovers are linked to temperaments and visions of the world.  
These endeavors, if they were achieved, would liberate many good souls from the oppression of having to admire what they don’t admire and having to repudiate what they secretly love — a net increase in the freedom and happiness of mankind.”

I dunno that a “catalogue of techniques and devices” would necessarily be such a bad idea, though. Ever since I got into William James (thanks to Barzun), it always seemed to me that the “Varieties of ____” approach is a good one. And making distinctions among the varieties of a thing always seemed more practical as a way forward, intellectually, than taking a step back and saying, look, it's all connected.

But in another essay, on the topic of “Cultural History,” Barzun says:

“...the periods of culture have troublesome historical names — Renaissance, Baroque, Puritan, Classical Romantic, and the like — which cover multitudinous manifestations of spirit. In using these names to denote men or periods, one cannot avoid trying to disentangle appearance from reality and prejudice from fact. But there is danger to truth in wanting things too clear; in wanting to make the names cover absolutely homogeneous ideas or persons. I for one see no use and great harm in those refined distinctions that profess to sort out eighteen kinds of Romanticism, or Humanism, or Pragmatism. I doubt whether the maker of such distinctions could himself respect them in an extended narrative; and supposing that he could I fail to see what he would accomplish as a historian — unless it were to reduce the battle of ideas to a regulated ballet. To put intellectual order in place of the intelligible disorder of history is to apply the geometrical spirit to a subject that calls for the spirit of finesse.”
Maybe the problem for Barzun is that the catalogue-making tendency reminds him of the system-making tendency, and both remind him of his enemy, the mechanical (see "Toward a Fateful Serenity")? I have a lot of the "geometrical spirit" in me, I admit, but I'm not a mystic whacko about it or anything.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Delta Wedding
by Eudora Welty

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bizarre Books
by Rusell Ash and Brian Lake

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mindfulness in Plain English
by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
-2nd time through.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries
by Thomas Mallon
-bought this for 50 cents at a book sale because I thought it looked like a good bedtime put-me-to-sleep book. I was right. A steady rhythm of discussing a diarist for 3-4 paragraphs, then a segue, then another diarist, then another segue, and so on, and then at the end of a chapter there would be paragraph that would take us to the next chapter. At the end he declares WNP Barbellion the all-time champ.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teach Us to Sit Still
by Tim Parks
-Jacket copy: "Overwhelmed by a crippling condition which nobody could explain or relieve, Parks follows a fruitless journey through the conventional medical system only to find relief in the most unexpected place: a breathing exercise that eventually leads him to take up meditation. This was the very last place Parks anticipated finding answers; he was about as far from New Age as you can get. As everything that he once held true is called into question, Parks confronts the relationship between his mind and body, the hectic modern world that seems to demand all our focus, and his chosen life as an intellectual and writer."

Me: Mindfulness helps Parks get over crotch pain. It was easy and interesting to read and moving and didn't feel like bullshit. The stuff about how a life of writing and thinking affects one's body over the long term -- tensing muscles, stresses -- seemed true and important to keep in mind. As it ended, though, I would have liked to hear more about whether he was able to make peace with the conflict he experienced between mindfulness and the writing life. If at all. Obviously he wrote the book; how did mindfulness inform the sitting down to write? But maybe that's beyond the scope of this book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
- There seem to be several other books on similar topics, but is the first book I have read about biases and heuristics, so a lot of this was new to me. I really enjoyed reading it despite all the potentially boring discussion of studies and story problems. This seems like the book to read.

I've often thought that I'd love to write/read a "how to" book that talked about basic decision making and thinking, and the stuff in this book would be valuable for a book like that -- the easy errors to avoid, etc. I'm predicting that a lot of this book will stick with me for a long time, like the thing about how predictions are almost always wrong.

Incomplete list of things to remember: don't jump to conclusions from small sample sizes, don't jump to conclusions period, regression to the mean, What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI), halo effect, priming, question substitution, repetition=familiarity=positive feelings, System 2 is lazy, experiencing self vs. remembering self, experts in low-validity environments are worse than random chance, Wall Street is bullshit, get the outside view, formulas and checklists beat intuitions...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany and World War II by Stanley Payne

La conquista de Alhucemas, o En el Tercio está el amor by Juan Bautista Ros Andreu (for class on Fascism in Spain)

Madrid de corte a checa by Agustín de Foxá

Tras el aguila del Cesar: Elegia del tercio, 1921-1922 by Luys Santa Marina (class)

Ultra Violet: 10 Years of "Violet Days" by Chris Monroe (starred review!)
You Are Not a Gadget
by Jaron Lanier
-This should be read alongside What Technology Wants, because these guys are friends and seem to be thinking of each other when they write. In both books, I think the presentation of arguments could have been stronger. I was very sympathetic to the overall "humanism" in Gadget, versus the techno-mysticism of What Technology Wants, but Gadget was at times too disorganized, too undercooked. It was like, "...and another thing...and another thing..."-- rants with inchoate arguments. Kelly's book was better organized. But both are full of over-generalizing and hippy logic. (I wish arguments were like objects, and that you could easily lay them out in front of you and arrange things and put together a structure more to your liking. A mix of Minecraft and a word processor. I'm sure there's gotta be an app for that.) Here at is a good collection of responses to Lanier.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


^ loved reading
# did not like

The Great Gatsby ^
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Swann's Way
by Marcel Proust

Game of Thrones ^, Clash of Kings, Storm of Swords ^, 
Feast for Crows, Dance of Dragons #
by George R.R. Martin

The True Deceiver
by Tove Jansson

The Pale King ^
by David Foster Wallace

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives #
by David Eagleman

The Metamorphosis and other stories
by Franz Kafka
(Sammy Harkham edition)

The Looking Glass Book of Stories ^#
by Various, ed. Hart Day Leavitt
Also: New Yorker stories, and misc. short stories in collections which I didn’t finish.

Obviously the list is short this year because George RR Martin dominated with 5 giant books. I’ll admit that I loved escaping into the unpredictable and empty plotlines, but I wish I had spent a lot of that reading time on better, meatier stuff. They’re candy. But it was easier to read these books while I was in the middle of Ganges #4 and in the hangover period after than to read more demanding books; it can be dangerous letting something rewire your brain in the middle of a big project. That’s what I told myself. Still, I wish I had read more Proust or Kafka instead. (Did not like the show.)

by Steven Johnson

Pulphead ^
by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Moonwalking with Einstein
by Joshua Foer

The Memory Chalet ^
by Tony Judt

Moby Duck
by Donovan Hohn

Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline ^
by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton

All of the books in the nonfiction category are more or less recommended. (Lousy abandoned books are not listed.) I learned a lot. I finally read Moonwalking after an article by Foer first introduced me to the idea of memory palaces in an article back in 2007. I've been obsessed with the idea and the meta-idea ever since. Memory palaces was a theme this year: Tony Judt used memory palaces to help him compose the essays in The Memory Chalet, which are wise and moving. This may be the first year in a while that I didn’t read anything about climate change — a conscious choice -- though Moby Duck was somewhat eco-apocalyptic. Cartographies of Time is great. I knew when I saw Saul Steinberg in the first few pages that it was going to be great. I can't recommend it highly enough, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

The Creative Habit
by Twyla Tharp

Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection ^
by John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick

Find Your Focus Zone #
by Lucy Jo Palladino

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey ^
by Jill Bolte Taylor

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware
by Andy Hunt

The self-help category is comprised of books I found at the library when I’d wander around on a break from writing or drawing. The self-help section at this library is huge, many times the size of, say, the painting section. I got a lot of help from Loneliness — one of the most significant books of the year for me. My Stroke of Insight taught me (finally) to understand and begin thinking in the right/left brain model. Creative Habit and Pragmatic Thinking also both have a lot of good stuff in them. There were some lousy books too, but those aren’t listed here because I barely read them. You can tell pretty quick with this type of book whether it's going to be good or not. Focus Zone is listed because I actually read it, and it was somewhat helpful, even though it wasn't very special. 

What Do Pictures Want? ^
by WJT Mitchell

On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion ^
by Gabriel Josipovici

The Book of God: A Response to the Bible ^
by Gabriel Josipovici

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? #
by Leszek Kolakowski

The Grand Design #
by Stephen Hawking and Leon Mlodinow

What Technology Wants
by Kevin Kelley

This blog post here got me to read two books by Gabriel Josipovici, for which I’m very grateful. They’ll be with me for a long time. I had read WJT Mitchell’s other books in college (I have re-read Iconology, though — 3 or 4 times!) and one day I was like, “oh yeah...what is he up to?” I really enjoyed the riffing and thinking in What Pictures Want (2004), and recommend his work to any intelligent comics reader who likes thinking about the nuts and bolts of these things, or really anyone who likes thinking and reading. What Technology Wants was a good sprint through a generally optimistic argument about technology, and humanity, but it was maybe too optimistic for me. A lot to chew on. I'm going to have to think more about it before I figure out what I think. The Grand Design didn't really grab me, and Why Is There Something was an unremarkable intro to philosophy.

* * *

In terms of pure reading enjoyment, for me The Great Gatsby was #1, followed by Josipovici, then WJT Mitchell. Proust and Kafka are in their own category of, I don’t know, “the sublime” or something. Other books, like Loneliness or My Stroke weren’t masterpieces but did teach me big ideas that will probably stick with me and improve my life (“technologies!”). I liked Cartographies and Book of God so much that I bought them after reading library copies.

Many of these books were found at the library, either on the book sale shelf, or just browsing around.

I started a few other books that I never finished -- you know how it is. Maybe next year. I'm not listing comics or graphic novels because they should get their own post, as should Internet reading. (Also, for the record, I'm not listing the research reading I did for various projects.)
UPDATE 1/1/12: It just occurred to me that the title What do Pictures Want? contains a play on the word "want" (desire/lack -- Mitchell points this out himself several times), but What Technology Wants does not contain this double meaning, and reading that book you can see how it couldn't. I'd love to see Mitchell review and play with the ideas and ideology of Kelley's book.

Also, I had somehow forgotten about Cartographies, so I added that.

(Cross posted to the Balloonist.)