Friday, May 17, 2019

Pico Iyer in Menlo Park, CA

Oxford-born travel writer and Japan transplant Pico Iyer was at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, California tonight. 
Two quotes stood out: 1) There are "72 seasons in Japan and religion in Japan is the seasons, a religion without dogma." 2) "California is about possibility, Japan is about reality."

Iyer lit up when discussing his wife, clearly still in love after decades together. (In the book, he describes her voice as "made for singing" on the very first page.) Why did he settle down after so many years single? A seminal moment occurred when Hiroko explained he's impossible, so she just had to adapt to him. This non-Western philosophy of dating--accepting a person "as is" instead of forcing change--softened Iyer, causing him to adapt to his wife in turn. Out of this dance of reciprocity, and despite his limited Japanese and her average English, came relationship success, travels together, and a daughter. (I'm reminded of Pablo Neruda's lines in Love Sonnet 17: "I love you as one loves certain obscure things, secretly, between the shadow and the soul... I love you directly without problems or pride.")

Interestingly, before discussing his relationship with Hiroko, Iyer discussed playing ping pong at a community center, where everyone tries as hard as possible--but not to win. The idea is to challenge each other and oneself, to adapt to each other's styles, and to be joyful. It's difficult not to draw parallels between Iyer's description of dating and a ping pong match between two equals, playing as hard as they can, never wanting the game to end. If you are a fan of travel and/or Japan, you may enjoy one of Pico Iyer's books. I just bought The Lady and the Monk (1991) and hope to read it before his latest work. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

X-Men Day

Growing up, X-Men, Batman, and the Amazing Spiderman were my favorite comic book series. Today, X-Men is my clear favorite, and I have yet to read all of the new Jean Grey novels by Dennis Hopeless

From 1988

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

What If?

Francis Schoenberger: "How is it when you walk around in NY? I guess, you are not walking around with a bodyguard like a lot of other people?" 

John Lennon: "Are you kidding? It’s not 1965, it’s ’75. People just see me... I’m not in the prime of my career, or whatever they call it. I am not Elton [John]. He can get around, but it’s pretty hard."

Lennon was murdered in 1980. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Kwame Anthony Appiah at Berkeley Book Festival

I was very happy to meet Kwame Anthony Appiah at Berkeley's Bay Book Fest yesterday. Appiah, who prefers Anthony rather than Kwame, strikes a tall, formidable presence, especially among smaller literary figures (both figuratively and literally). Realizing his calm, British-educated poise might be considered standoffish by Americans, he will politely nod in agreement with his colleagues during conversations. 

If you haven't read Appiah, I suggest you start with either The Lies that Bind (2019) or Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006). If you are a philosophy student or professor, you may enjoy As If (2017). 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Bookstore Day

It's Independent Bookstore Day! I'm keen to support every bookstore I can, whether independent like S.F.'s Green Apple Books (Clement St. location) or my local Barnes and Noble. 

For browsing, my favorite physical bookstores in America are Powell's Books (Portland, OR) and the Strand (NYC). Online, I like, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Speaker Review: Rich Karlgaard and Late Bloomers

Rich Karlgaard is a good man. He's the kind of person who gently asks his emcee the time as a way of communicating the book event should have started one minute ago. His wealth of Silicon Valley business contacts provides factoids few others can access. 

At the same time, when you're so close to the C-suite, you can rely on your friends for interesting tidbits, which can result in schizophrenic mini-stories rather than in-depth work. As I get older, I want more depth and less surface-area involvement, even if the surface being examined is shiny and rich. 
When asked which cities he'd prefer to bloom into if he were 40 again, Karlgaard mentioned Silicon Valley (California); Austin, Texas; and Columbus, Ohio. He did not mention a single place outside North America. 

Another case in point: in the context of Palo Alto's intensely competitive and often miserable secondary schools, Karlgaard mentioned Israel, Singapore, and Sweden's mandatory military drafts as ways of exposing their citizens to more than just rote memorization in traditional schools. While that may or may not be true, a better analyst would include the fact that Israel and Singapore are American's only steadfast allies in their respective regions, making them unofficial NATO members. Such members, whether official or unofficial, are expected to contribute 2% of GDP towards military spending. Military conscription activities count towards the 2% goal, and smart politicians allocate as high a percentage as possible within the 2% to domestic development. In contrast, Sweden only made peacetime conscription mandatory in 2017 because it perceived a growing threat from nearby Russia and wanted to sociologically counter increasingly hostile anti-immigrant forces from within. Also, Singapore, unlike Sweden and Israel, only conscripts men. 

In any case, that's the kind of detailed analysis I like seeing. You won't find it in Karlgaard's book, which I admittedly skimmed. You will find great stories about VMware's founder and J.K. Rowling and lots of other inspirational late bloomers. To each, his or her own. 
Karlgaard getting ready to speak in Campbell, California.

Book Review: Dave Barry's Lessons from Lucy (2019)

I've been following Dave Barry since his nationally syndicated column in the Miami Herald as a teenager. (For those of you who don't want to research the timeline, that's about 20 years ago.) I wasn't expecting much from Barry's latest book--after all, it's marketed as "self-help," and Barry excels when he notices and mocks the ordinary. "Mocking" and "earnest self-help advice" don't mesh well, so I figured Barry was just cashing in on his name and reputation to pay for his daughter's college tuition. Boy, was I wrong. This book is one of Barry's best. 
First, if you are a dog lover, you have to get this book. Second, if you're not a dog lover, don't worry--Barry refers to Lucy after his usual storytelling, using her as a sort of canine muse. The book does get overly sentimental in places, but only three or four times total. (e.g., "Do not be afraid to say these words: I was wrong. I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I apologize.") 

More common are the following thoughts, such as when Barry participates in a corporate pro-diversity program: "Inside we were seething. We were ready to go out and join the [Ku Klux] Klan. Even the black employees." I'll end with one of Barry's best paragraphs: "So what I'm saying to you, especially if you're getting up in years, is: Don't settle for contentment. Don't just stand around grinning. Get out there. It's a wonderful world."