Cover to cover (to cover to cover to cover…)

Tonight I finished a project I’ve been working on for years: reading all of the Harry Potter stories to my family, all seven volumes, all 4,167 pages. Correction: I read almost all of them. Jonah took over for one chapter a little while ago when my voice was too hoarse, like Sam to my Frodo.

I am so, so happy that I prohibited the boys from seeing any of the movies before reading the books; and I feel so, so sorry for anyone who’s only ever seen the movies and thinks they know the stories. Naturally there are a lot of great scenes and there is a lot of rich detail that never made it into the movies, but that is true with any novel adapted for the screen. Also as with any adaptation, some of the changes made by the filmmakers were improvements on those unavoidable parts of the books that were not great or rich.

But the films do worse than leave out scenes and detail — they get key characters wrong. (Or at least, numbers 1 through 6 do. None of us has yet seen parts 7a or 7b.) The film Dumbledore may be a powerful wizard, but he has none of the book Dumbledore’s warmth, deep wisdom, or mischief. And Harry Potter may stir himself to heroic action on film when the need arises, but there is no sense of the fierceness of purpose to which he is so often roused in the books.

I’m sure countless Harry Potter fan sites have debated these things endlessly so I won’t belabor them, but I can’t let it go before giving one example to illustrate my complaint. Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading “Cover to cover (to cover to cover to cover…)”

Counterintuitive counting

You know those greedy media companies who are so afraid of relaxing control over every aspect of a book’s/song’s/movie’s commercial life that they crush innovators trying to add value, sue the fans on whom their livelihood depends, subvert public policy, poison international treaties, and spend more money on lawyers and lobbyists than on, you know, actually producing more of the content they guard so jealously?

I have a data point for them.

Fourteen years ago I wrote a book called Writing GNU Emacs Extensions. It was a technical book on an obscure topic, with a decidedly limited audience. I had some modest income from it for a few years, then the royalties petered out to less than nothing — not surprising, since it had become very outdated with respect to the latest versions of Emacs, the technology it described.

Around that time, eBooks were starting to get big. My publisher, O’Reilly, asked whether I would consent to making my book available online, at a lower sale price, in a format that would all but ensure the spread of pirated copies. Why not, I thought, and agreed.

Sure enough, pirated copies of my book now exist on the web, but something else happened — sales began to increase again. My royalties went from a low point of negative $1.71 for 3q2006 to a whopping $78 in the check I received yesterday! …OK, $78 isn’t exactly whopping, but it’s positive — much more so than -1.71 — and represents a sales volume for my old, outdated, limited-appeal book that O’Reilly and I haven’t seen in probably ten years.

So greedy media companies, relax your intellectual property sphincters, let the content flow, and enjoy the multiplier effect that comes from making your titles more available instead of less. For as Princess Leia™ warned, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin,™ the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” (® and © 1977 Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century Fox.)

What brings you here, 2007 edition

Here are some of the top queries from various search engines that resulted in hits on my blog during the past year or so, reproduced verbatim from my server logs. (Last year’s results are here.) Each related family of queries is listed with a main variant in bold and selected other variants, plus the percentage of query-hits represented by that family.

I was at first surprised to see that hits for “James Bond villains” outnumbers hits for “vampire lesbian girl scouts” (etc.) and “sex” (etc.) combined, but then realized: the percentages are a function both of the popularity of that search and of the ranking of my site in the search results. In other words, if you’re looking for anything about vampires or lesbians or sex I regret to say there are a lot of likelier websites for you to visit before mine.

James Bond villains; The Villains of bond; deformed bond villains; “james bond” +villains +clothes 10.2%
William H. Macy; william h macy photos; face de William H. Macy 5.0%
Vampire lesbian girl scouts; lesbian vampires; naked lesbians; lesbian girl scouts; naked girl scouts; kissing lesbian girls; zombie girl scouts; evil girlscouts; girl scout decorated cake 4.5%
Sex etc.; horsey style sex; lesbian masturbation; “sex positions illustrated”; vampire sex; lesbians having hot lesbian sex; lesbian sex soundeffect; “San Francisco Masturbate-a-thon”; squat girl masturbate -cock -man -boy -blow; dildo attached to wall; sex positions kitty style; attach dildo to floor; How to convince my lady staf for sex?; sex positions in alphanumeric; “park and ride” “sex positions illustrated” 3.2%
Jaws ride; Jaws ride construction; jaws hitchcock 3.1%
e to the i pi plus one; pi relation to e; mathematical constant e Euler comic; relating pi, e, 1 and 0; “amazing relationship” e pi 2.3%
Don Fanucci; vito corleone fanucci 2.3%
Honeybee/Bees in chimney; humming sound when close glass fireplace doors; honeybees in chimney; bees in fireplace; bees chimney flying down 2.2%
Star Wars; 5th august 1977; star wars remake; hoth rebel base; “your tauntaun will freeze”; exegesis “empire strikes back”; star wars ben kenobi ghost; was obi wan strong enough to defeat palpatine; In Episode 5 what is the insult of Leia to Han Solo which Chewie laughed that Han called him “fuzzball” ?; lego star wars millennium falcon; star wars cassette tape 1977; “bob glickstein” “star wars”; mark hamill car crash empire strikes back monster; han solo slices open tauntaun quote; HOW DID THE FREAKIN EMPIRE BEGIN?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!; August+5th+1977; star wars novelization 1977; What does yoda say when luke comments that he is not afraid; why didn’t Luke kill the Wampa; “asteroid field”+”star wars”; star wars allegories; star wars 1970 nerd; “time magazine” 1977 “star wars” 2.1%
Pirates of the Caribbean; pirate medallion; does elizabeth swann love jack sparrow; elizabeth swann’s red dress; jack sparrow character motivation 2.1%
Widescreen viewing area; “what size tv to buy”; “square inches” diagonal widescreen chart; determine tv width given diagonal; 42″ 16:9 square inches; 16:9 4:3 screen equivalence OR correspondance; DIAGONAL ASPECT RATIO FORMULA; pythagoras 16:9 screen size 32″ 1.8%
Godfather; Godfather part II poster; Godfather Part 4: Fredo’s Revenge 1.8%
Susan Oliver/Orion Slave Girl; vina star trek; star trek green orion slave; nude Orion slave girl; orion slave girls makeup; orion slave girls color correction 1.7%
Cathy Lee Crosby/Wonder Woman; cathy lee crosby wonderwoman film download; cathy+lee+crosby+as+wonder+woman; wonder woman drag; WONDERWOMAN TV MOVIE 1.7%
Rogaine; scalp conditions; itchy scalp; rogaine results; scalp exercise; rogaine effectiveness 1.7%
Ursula sex; ursula undress; ursula dildo; ursula sex disney 1.6%
Comcast; comcast removes channels; comcast turn off service; comcast losing west coast feeds; complaints over comcast hbo; disable speed reduction comcast cable; compression artifacts comcast; how do i delete channels i do not watch in comcast; comcast crappy broadcast; comcast reduction in service; do i get a rate reduction when comcast removes channels; I want both west coast and east coast feeds 1.6%
Bob Glickstein; gee bobg; “bob glickstein” +yoga; bob glickstein andrea; bob glickstein imdb; growing up Glickstein 1.4%
Trophy; ugly trophy; dna trophy; bezos trophy 1.3%
Dog; how to draw dogs; “remington dog park”; dog pee drives away evil spirits; veterinary dogs and chocolate 1.3%
Lulav; lulav and etrog; big picture of a lulav and etrog; lulav by its self; lulav etrog chabad; sukkot lulav without etrog 1.3%
Star Trek/Enterprise/Kirk/etc.; spock uhura; Uhura uniform; 60 star trek uniform; bonk bonk on the head star trek; Captain Kirk’s Insignia; enterprise blueprints; happy birthday star trek; Klingons-Star Trek; Atheist Star Trek; 1.2%
Amy Linker; what happened to amy linker; amy linker and tv land awards 1.1%
Jodie Foster; jodie foster bugsy malone; YOUNG JODIE FOSTER; +”give a little love and it all comes back to you” +foster 1.1%
Joseph Costanzo; joe costanzo restaurant; Joseph costanzo primadonna 1.1%
The end of Superman; superman reverse time; superman in the end; superman earth spinning; can superman go the speed of light; how many times can superman fly around earth in 1 second; +”it is forbidden for you to interfere in human history”; superman rewind time; how many times does superman fly around the earth in order to reverse its rotation 1.0%
Frank Pentangeli; frank pentangeli hit; roth corleone Frank Pentangeli assassination; frank pentangeli johnny ola 1.0%
Thai gem scam; thailand scam; majestic export jewelry thailand scam; gems profit thailand; thai sapphire scam; thailand conman; buying gemstones, thailand, blog; thai Export Center scam; selling thai gems; what to do if conned in thailand; david maurer thailand 1.0%
Evil cats 0.8%
Food photography; food stylist; food styling “pasta”; food stylists cereal; food stylist burger; tricks of a food stylist 0.8%
Each daughter has the same number…; In a certain family each daughter has the same number of brothers and sisters. Each son has twice as many sisters as brothers. How many sons and daughters are there in the family? Now there are two ways to do this obviously, you can do it the hard way or the easy way. 0.8%
Fizzies; what ever happened to fizzies drink tablets; how do fizzies work; fizzies that are new; Fizzie tablet sex aid; truckload of fizzies; FIZZIES FOUNTAIN 0.7%
James Bond; vintage james bond girls; james bond toys; the bond men; Live and Let Die Band James Bond 0.7%
Pez museum; pez incredibles violet; batman pez dispensers; pez guns; why didnt violet parr become a pez machine; headless PEZ dispensers 0.7%
Vincent Price; old photos of Vincent Price; Vincent Price gay; “the saint” vincent price; 0.5%
Candy; old time candy; “dylan’s candy bar”; Candy of yesteryear 0.5%
Entenmann’s; golden cake; entenmanns’ chocolate chip filled crumb cake recipe; entenmann fudge golden cake 0.5%
Adam Stoller; why i owe adam stoller an apology; fish adam stoller 0.5%
MoveOn; moveon.org bad; moveon.org founder; move away from moveon.org; moveon endorsements nov 2007 election 0.5%
Vertical speed indicator/Altimeter; static port; instrument dial Concorde speed; how does an altimeter work; pitot static instruments; ram air pressure pitot; how does the vsi work? flying 0.5%
Cigarettes/Camels/Still Life With Woodpecker; Joe Camel; tom robbins woodpecker; camel tom robbins 0.5%
Baron Munchausen; was baron munchausen an atheist 0.5%
Sharon Stone; sharon stone naked; sharon stone’ pictures, 1970; sharon stone en lingerie fine 0.5%
Computer; computers internet blog; “apple II home computer” 0.4%
xkcd; xkcd complex numbers; calculus xkcd; math xkcd 0.4%
Bob Falfa/Martin Stett; big bob falfa; purchase a bob falfa hat; falfa and milner 0.4%
Adrift/Open Water 2; “open water 2” true story tried everything; understand explain open water 2:adrift ending?; FORGOT TO LOWER LADDER ON YACHT 0.4%
Honda Fit; finding a honda fit; pre order “honda fit” bay area; vw rabbit or honda fit? 0.4%
Carl Sagan; “carl sagan” +billions; cosmos carl sagan vangelis heaven hell; “circumference of the earth” carl sagan; eratosthenes carl sagan; Carl Sagan and Star Trek 0.4%
Splashdown; splashdown lyrics meaning; i feel so elated would you please bring me joy lyrics; free splashdown downloads karma slave; lyrics so if your past approaches you pulled into a war you’ll lose; karma slave splashdown video; i feel so elated i do i do splashdown 0.4%
The Incredibles; Life Lessons The Incredibles; incredibles analogy of family togetherness 0.3%
Legobiggest lego city ever made; Cool lego creations; LEGO WORLD RECORD FOR MILLENIUM FALCON 0.3%
Birthday invitation; neverland invitation 0.3%
Mill Valley Pediatrics; what new rule causes pediatrician to close office; dr. Harris pediatrics mill valley 0.3%
BDSM; BDSM and rodent; hellium balloons bdsm; bdsm “trembling with fear”; professional bdsm pittsburgh; bdsm vanity plates 0.3%
Richard S. Castellano 0.3%
Bugsy Malone/Scott Baio; coca cola jingle+you give a little love and all comes back to you 0.3%
Games magazine/Calculatrivia marathon; ken jennings calculatrivia; “games magazine” contest t-shirt 0.3%
Penis; Jonah Falcon penis; christmas penis drawing; penis peeing pictures; penis doodles; “draw a penis” 0.3%
Drawing/scribbling/doodling; kids scribbles 0.3%
Raiders of the Lost Ark; indiana jones medallion + raiders of the lost ark; indiana jones finds millenium falcon; indiana jones harrison ford sean connery 0.3%
I know it was you Fredo.; Johnny Ola Fredo; HOW DOES MICHAEL KNOW ABOUT FREDO; +”why” +michael +kill +fredo 0.3%
Federation Trading Post 0.2%
Funny epitaph; headstone humor; headstone for mom 0.2%
Batman; shark repellent spray; batman and the shark; batman robin “more toyetic” 0.2%
Handshadow; Hand-Shadow play 0.2%
Peter and the Starcatchers 0.2%
Watch neighbor undress; neighbor undress photo 0.2%
Lemon Ice King of Corona; queens ices 0.2%
Weight; weight graph; college freshman weight graph; jewish weight loss 0.2%
Marty Goldstein/Black Book; ‘marty goldstein’ ‘creative black book’; i remember going to the black book office zanetti 0.2%
Kinds of meat; meatballs three kinds of meat 0.2%
Fligth to Mars 0.2%
Supertanker; how much does a supertanker cost?; how many barrels of oil does a supertanker carry; how much money does a supertanker captain make; running costs for a supertanker; becoming a supertanker captain; supertankers are curved 0.2%
Jewish; jew obnoxious; jewish products; mormon jew; mountain jew; val kilmer sephardic jewish 0.2%
Cartelligent; Leigh Taylor, Cartelligent; cartelligent price for honda fit 0.2%
Sweetener; hooray sweetener; cyclamates popularity sodas; Is Cyclamates good for you; sodium bicarbonate sweetener cancer 0.2%
Captain Morgan rum 0.2%
Gerald Zanetti 0.2%
Bush smile 0.2%
Salt Lake flats; nevada open salt lake 0.2%
Disney; disney+AND+fingerprint; disney park hopper fingerprint; thumper disney 0.2%
Koyaanisqatsi 0.2%
Katharine Hepburn 0.2%
Incremental backup; jungledisk incremental backups; s3 backup incremental mirror linux; simple linux incremental backups; infinite backup 0.2%
Rhymes with Bethany; bethany accident utah; something that rhymes with bethany; poem for bethany 0.1%
Sci-fi spaceships; cool Scifi Spaceships; most beautiful spaceships 0.1%
I Dream of Jeannie; healey irresistible to when i dream of jeannie episode; i dream of jeanie colorization 0.1%
Laundry; how to get quarters laundry; cold undissolved laundry soap; monopolize laundry machines; laundry pile 0.1%
Anakin/Padme; How much do Anakin’s talent, pride and ambitions affect his decisions to turn to ‘the dark side’? 0.1%
Making Mr. Right; malkovich “making mr right” 0.1%
Pop-culture grid; “the pop culture grid”+last concert you saw 0.1%
Adventurer’s Inn; toboggan adventurer’s inn 0.1%
Clemenza; young clemenza; who killed clemenza 0.1%
Glenne Headley 0.1%
1776/“Yours Yours Yours” 0.1%
Nature of reality; 10 dimensions of reality; how to understand ten dimensional reality; three-dimensional pants 0.1%
Dunk tank; “spring carnival” dunk 0.1%
Misconstruction 0.1%
Sarah Jessica Parker; sarah jessica parker in square pegs 0.1%
Mr. Arrigo; Robert arrigo teacher 0.1%
Eli Attie 0.1%
Hog-calling time in Nebraska; What tune is hog calling time in nebraska sung to?; ORIGINS OF HOG CALLING; hog calling songs 0.1%
Eulogy for a friend 0.1%
Indiana University; indiana university hofstadter 0.1%
Cynthia Nixon; Cynthia Nixon manhattan project 0.1%
Pine Knoll Bungalow Colony; bungalow colonies in monticello 0.1%
Prison Break; prisoner 94941; michael scofield myer briggs; “prisoner number” scofield 0.1%
Winnemucca, NV; Winnemucca weekly pet friendly motels; reasons to love Winnemucca, NV 0.1%
Steve Volan 0.1%
P.S. 196; all teachers from p.s.196 0.1%
Knish Nosh; knish nosh health department 0.1%
Mucoshave 0.1%
Laser/Theodore Maiman; 1966 national geographic “the laser’s bright magic”; what kind of food does theodore maiman likes; did theodore maiman get alot of money for making the laser 0.1%
Jeff Bezos; BEZOS THE GREATEST 0.1%
Universal Hall Pass 0.1%

The beginning of wisdom

[This post is participating in Strange Culture’s Film + Faith Blog-a-thon. Warning: spoilers follow for the book and film Contact. Update 16 Dec: this post is also participating in Joel Schlosberg’s second annual Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-thon.]

I read Carl Sagan‘s novel, Contact, soon after it was published in the late 1980’s, and enjoyed it greatly. It’s the story of a radio astronomer, Ellie Arroway, who is the first person on Earth to detect, verify, and begin deciphering a genuine extraterrestrial message.

A considerable part of the story is devoted to the societal implications of Arroway’s discovery, especially among various religious communities. As it’s depicted in the book, Ellie must suffer various crackpots, blowhards, and garden-variety religious leaders (well-meaning but deluded) spouting their superstitious blather in her quest to secure the resources needed to finish decoding the alien transmission and build the Great Machine.

For the transmission includes, among other things, construction plans for a tremendous and tremendously complicated machine. At its center is a capsule that seats five intrepid adventurers. No one knows what will happen when the machine is switched on. Will the capsule launch into space? Travel through time? Pop into a different dimension? Or is it a weapon that will obliterate the Earth?

The trials involved in achieving the goal of building and activating the Machine are portrayed very much as the power of pure reason overcoming the fetters of fear and ignorance. In the end, Ellie and her fellow travelers are propelled across vast distances and have a surprising encounter with a superior but benevolent race. When they return days later, they discover that no time has elapsed on Earth, leaving a diehard core of doubters free to insist that nothing at all happened, even though there is compelling evidence to support the stories told by Ellie and the others. Science is the clear winner, religion the loser, and it’s pure wish fulfillment: what atheist hasn’t dreamed of winning one of those unwinnable arguments about faith and science against a true believer?

In Robert Zemeckis’ film version of Contact, things are subtly different. Ellie is as much an empiricist as in the book, but man-of-God Palmer Joss is much less easy to dismiss out of hand. His interplay with Ellie on the subject of faith leaves her uncharacteristically at a loss, unable to turn him aside by articulating the bedrock principles of skeptical inquiry.

When the time comes to try the Machine, crucially there is room in it for only one person, so that when Ellie returns from her amazing journey there is no one to corroborate her account. There is also a total absence of physical evidence to support her story. Ellie ends up passionately, desperately trying to persuade people to believe what she is certain is true but cannot prove. Palmer Joss sympathetically points out that this is precisely the situation in which persons of faith find themselves.

It’s a marvelous storytelling contrivance, and the dialogue and performances drive the point home economically and convincingly. But I left the theater conflicted. On the one hand, the film had excellent performances and astonishing visuals, it was exhilarating to see an intelligent, uncliched portrayal of science and scientists in a mainstream Hollywood movie, and it was in many respects faithful to the novel. Where changes were made, by and large they were to add some emotional depth that had been missing from Sagan’s plot- and technology-heavy writing. On the other hand, the rebalancing of science and religion changed what the story was fundamentally about! It offended me that Carl Sagan, recently deceased after a lifetime of science advocacy (today would have been his 73rd birthday, by the way), should have his fantasy about the triumph of humanism and reason watered down for a mass audience!

Over time, though, the film version grew on me and I recognized it as something greater than the source novel: an adventure in which reason triumphs and an exploration of the tangled interrelationship between belief and skepticism. Where I had been hoping to see religious moviegoers get schooled in the virtues of rational thought, instead I had received a lesson about the nuances and complexities of the human experience. The science-beats-religion version of the story had become, to me, overly simplistic. (Sorry, Carl.)

After all, even Mr. Spock admits, near the end of a long career working with humans, that “logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”

Putty in her hands

That didn’t take long: I finished all 759 pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in barely five days.

It’s no spoiler to say that the book deals with some pretty heavy themes, as indeed the climax of a seven-part epic must. The action must rise and the emotional stakes must become almost too much to bear. The author, J.K. Rowling, does not disappoint. There is loss and sorrow and despair and other things too, both good and bad, and Rowling played me like a fiddle. All this week, my mood was good when Harry Potter was safe or happy, but miserable the majority of the time as the themes in the story had me dwelling on Alex, my mom, and various other well-loved things in my life that are ending, such as our sons’ attendance at the wonderfully offbeat preschool Little Arrows. Even finishing the audiobook of Moby-Dick, which I wasn’t particularly enjoying other than as an intellectual appreciation for its place in the annals of literature, was made more poignant by the feelings Rowling was making me have.

It is a further testament to Rowling’s mysteriously begotten powers that finally reaching the end of Harry’s story after spending most of a decade with him did not also fill me with a feeling of loss, but of fulfillment.

Now, back to my RSS feeds

Tuile-rula-rula

After finishing the free audiobook of Huck Finn recently (which was outstanding — better, I daresay, than trying to read Mark Twain’s written renditions of all those Southern dialects myself), I started on the Librivox audiobook of Moby-Dick. It’s no less dense than the first time I attempted it, but the reader, Stewart Wills, does a yeoman’s job of predigesting for me its turgid penetralia.

Here’s the weird part: as I’ve remarked previously, both Huck Finn and Slaughterhouse-Five, which I was reading contemporaneously, mention a French place name I’d never heard before: Tuileries. Today I heard it again in Moby-Dick! (Chapter 104, to be precise.) What are the odds?

Here’s another interesting connection: both Moby-Dick and Slaughterhouse-Five are hyphenated titles, and they both have subtitles (“The Whale” and “The Children’s Crusade,” respectively).

Well, it’s a little interesting.

Signing off

Amazon will be delivering my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Saturday. But leaked copies are already floating around the Internet, and according to today’s headlines, spoilers are proliferating online. Having recently run up against another big spoiler despite my best efforts to avoid it, I am going to make an even better effort this time: I’m going to stay off the Web until I’ve read book 7.

I don’t expect abstaining from the Web to be as easy as abstaining from cable TV has been, so when that book comes on Saturday I’m going to read my little heart out.

And when I’ve finished the book and I’m back online you may be sure I won’t spoil it for anyone else.

Now to aim my wand at my web browser… “Expelliarmus!”

Tuiling around

These days my evening reading is Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, and my daytime “reading” is a free audiobook of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (read superbly by one Marc Devine).

In last night’s reading, Vonnegut’s hero, Billy Pilgrim, was wandering behind enemy lines near Tuileries in France. And on this morning’s drive to work, Huck Finn’s narration mentioned the flight of Louis XVI from Tuileries Palace.

Never heard the name Tuileries before; now twice in twelve hours from two sources with no particular connection to each other and no particular reason for me to be reading them both now other than random chance. Crazy.

The Baroque Cycle

[Now moblogging from a layover in Baltimore on the way back to California. Maryland temporarily has two Bob Glicksteins.]

On the way to New York the other day, I finally finished The System of the World, the third and final volume in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. I was immediately sorry it was over and want nothing more now than to begin reading it again from volume 1 (Quicksilver).

Stephenson has a reputation for writing great stories with weak, hurried endings. His seminal novel Snow Crash (a personal favorite) was one such, as was Cryptonomicon, which didn’t quite rise to the challenge of tying together its two plotlines, interwoven but separated by a half century.

One lament among pilots is that you can fly for hours smoothly, swiftly, and safely, but if you get a little bounce on landing, your passengers will judge you unaccomplished. The same thing goes for writers, great stories, and endings. I love Snow Crash — I even once based the name of a startup company on a passage from it — but its pat and hasty wrapup has always nagged at me.

Perhaps Stephenson took this criticism to heart, or perhaps he simply took greater care with this, his masterwork, because I’m happy to say that The Baroque Cycle ties its numerous threads together neatly (but not too neatly!) and very satisfyingly. This goes even for the character of Daniel Waterhouse, whose biography for most of the cycle troubled me insofar as it was not very interesting — except, like Forrest Gump, for the company he keeps (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton) and the historical events at which he’s accidentally present. I detested Forrest Gump for this, but I stuck with Waterhouse on the faith that the author was laying a lot of groundwork for Waterhouse finally to become interesting in his own right, and I was not disappointed.

In all, this Entertainment Weekly review perfectly captures Stephenson’s achievement: “he might just have created the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-pirate-comedy-punk love story.” Except I’d change “might just have” to “has.” Check it out.

Words to live by

When my dad was in his forties he loved a book by Jules Feiffer called Tantrum, about a middle-aged man named Leo having a mid-life crisis. His life has too much responsibility and too little fun and he throws a tantrum, willing himself back to age two! He spends most of the rest of the book looking for someone willing to pamper and baby him.

A new edition of that book was among the gifts from my dad when I turned forty myself recently. It’s witty and well-observed, if a bit depressing. You don’t have to be having a mid-life crisis to appreciate it.

In one scene, two-year-old Leo encounters an authentic two-year-old at an airport. Having by this point in the story suffered several rejections — everyone’s got their own problems (which is more or less the whole point of the book) — Leo bitterly tells the other boy, “If I knew at your age what I’ve learned with grief since… don’t thank me, just listen,” and then offers this advice:

  1. Get the grades, but don’t trust what they teach you.
  2. Don’t tell them what you’re thinking; they’ll use it against you.
  3. Never be rational if you want to have your way.
  4. Ignore logic; it’ll cripple your spirit.
  5. Look out for abandonment by your loved ones.
  6. Don’t be horny after marriage.

Then, as the other boy walks away to board a flight with his family,

  1. Don’t mature! Mature people do the shit work!