Category: books


posted by ben on 10.11.01 at 14:05, null, books, books, 1 comment Permalink

...shows up so many places:

The Once and Future King
Times Arrow
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Curious Case of Bejamin Button

...probably others I'm not thinking of right now. It's not exactly the hero with a thousand faces.

Comment from: Devin [Visitor]
We learned about Arthur-Merlin protocols in my complexity theory class today.
Permalink 11/04/10 @ 10:24

Almost Trout

posted by ben on 10.11.01 at 10:52, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

In the beginning was the Word. Then came the fucking word processor. Then came the thought processor. Then came the death of literature. And so it goes.

Dan Simmons, Hyperion, pg 175

Iain Sinclair

posted by graham on 09.09.17 at 15:59, books, Ideas, 2 comments Permalink

Incomprehensible hack or literary genius?

His writing in Downriver is so self-absorbed that borders on repulsive. His characters lack motivation. The syntax is at times unbearable.
I can't help comparing the book to London Fields (in fact he refers to Amis as a contemporary in his forword), and Sinclair just doesn't stack up to Amis in any way, shape, or form, so to speak.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
Did you read the Hackney one? I liked it. Havn't tried Downriver, but I did try the London one which was also a disaster. At least you didn't spend the day reading Charlie Stross... ick. ick.
Permalink 09/19/09 @ 08:44
Comment from: graham [Member] ·
Nope... i can't find Hackney Rose over here.
Permalink 10/01/09 @ 12:53

posted by ben on 09.08.01 at 07:58, null, books, Leave a comment Permalink

Like most things in the story the natural sciences can tell about the world, it’s all so beautiful, so gracefully simple, yet so rewardingly complex, so neatly connected - not to mention true - that I can’t even begin to imagine why anyone would ever want to believe some New Age ‘alternative’ nonsense instead. I would go so far as to say that even if we are all under the control of a benevolent God, and the whole of reality turns out to be down to some flaky spiritual ‘energy’ that only alternative therapists can truly harness, that’s still neither so interesting nor so graceful as the most basic stuff I was taught at school about how plants work.

-Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, Pg. 117

posted by ben on 09.08.01 at 07:57, null, books, Leave a comment Permalink

...imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in’an interesting hole I find myself in’fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

-Attributed to Douglas Adams
-Found here:

um, no.

posted by ben on 09.01.07 at 12:47, null, books, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

I’ve been reading When Genius Failed, and it seems to misrepresent a lot of the theory it summarizes. The most egregious is the notion of equilibrium:

"An efficient market is a less volatile one (it has no Black Mondays) and, from day to day a less risky one. "

-Roger Lowenstein, When Genius Failed, pg 76

Black initially thought noise and information traders played a balancing act. In 1986, Black wrote:

"People who trade on noise are willing to trade even though from an objective point of view they would be better off not trading. Perhaps they think the noise they are trading on is information. Or perhaps they just like to trade.

With a lot of noise traders in the markets, it now pays for those with information to trade….

The information traders will not take large enough positions to eliminate the noise…

The noise that noise traders put into stock prices will be cumulative, in the same sense that a drunk tends to wander farther and farther from his starting point. Offsetting this, though, will be the research and actions taken by information traders. The farther the price of a stock gets from its value, the more aggressive the information traders will become. More of them will come in, and they will take larger positions. "

-Fischer Black, Business Cycles and Equilibrium, Noise, pg 155.

According to Mehrling’s biography of Black, his position continued to evolve, eventually to the position that noise is an integral part of equilibrium markets:

"…people were adopting trading strategies that increased price volatility by increasing buying pressure when prices rose and increasing selling pressure when prices fell…. Essentially given the increased demand, the ‘cost’ of portfolio insurance had to rise in order to equilibrate markets, and that meant that equilibrium mean reversion of asset prices had to rise… but mean reversion is not something that investors can readily observe, so for a while their behavior continued to reflect the historical lower rate of mean reversion. The result was that, as prices rose, investors miscalculated the degree to which expected return was falling. By October 19, enough investors had become aware of the state of affairs to calculate correctly, and prices fell until expected return was high enough that investors were willing to hold the existing quantities of stock."

-Perry Mehrling, Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance, pg 273-274

The key point of this being that despite what numerous crap macro economics books might say, equilibrium and efficient markets can incorporate noise, and that noise can build in such a way to cause all manners of crashes. Given that Scholes and Merton were both at LTCM, I suspect this idea was well incorporated into their thought.

I like Black.

E.B. White

posted by ben on 07.09.18 at 19:32, null, books, Leave a comment Permalink

I see by the new Sears Roebuck catalogue that it is still possible to buy an axle for a 1909 Model T Ford, but I am not deceived. The great days have faded, and the end is in sight. Only one page in the current catalogue is devoted to parts and accessories for the Model T; yet everyone remembers springtimes when the Ford gadget section was larger than men's clothing, almost as large as household furnishings. The last Model T was built in 1927, and the car is fading from what scholars call the American scene - which is an understatement, because to a few million people who grew up with it, the old Ford practically was the American scene. It was the miracle that God had wrought. And it was patently the sort of thing that could only happen once. Mechanically uncanny, it was like nothing that had ever come to the world before. Flourishing industries rose and fell with it. As a vehicle, it was hard working, commonplace, heroic; and it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the person who rode in it. My own generation identifies it with Youth, with its gaudy, irretrievable excitements; before it fades into the mist, I would like to pay it the tribute of the sigh that is not a sob, and set down random entries in a shape somewhat less cumbersome than a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

The Model T was distinguished from all other makes of cars by the fact that its transmission was of a type known as planetary - which was half metaphysics, half sheer fiction. Engineers accepted the word 'planetary' in its epicyclic sense, but I was always conscious that it also meant 'wandering', 'erratic'. Because of the peculiar nature of this planetary element, there was always, in Model T, a certain dull rapport between engine and wheels, and even when the car was in a state known as neutral, it trembled with a deep imperative and tended to inch forward. There was never a moment when the bands were not faintly egging the machine on. In this respect it was like a horse, rolling the bit on its tongue, and country people brought to it the same technique they used with draft animals.

Its most remarkable quality was its rate of acceleration. In its palmy days the Model T could take off faster than anything on the road. The reason was simple. To get under way, you simply hooked the third finger of the right hand around a lever on the steering column, pulled down hard, and shoved your left foot forcibly against the low-speed pedal. These were simple, positive motions the car responded by lunging forward with a roar. After a few seconds of this turmoil, you took your toe off the pedal, eased up a mite on the throttle, and the car, possessed of only two forward speeds, catapulted directly into high with a series of ugly jerks and was off on its glorious errand. The abruptness of this departure was never equaled in other cars of the period. The human leg was (and still is) incapable of letting in the clutch with anything like the forthright abandon that used to send Model T on its way. Letting in a clutch is a negative, hesitant motion, depending on delicate nervous control; pushing down the Ford pedal was a simple, country motion - an expansive act, which came as natural as kicking an old door to make it budge.

The driver of the old Model T was a man enthroned. The car, with top up, stood seven feet high. The driver sat on top of the gas tank, brooding it with his own body. When he wanted gasoline, he alighted, together with everything else in the front seat; the seat was pulled off, the metal cap unscrewed, and a wooden stick thrust down to sound the liquid in the well. There was always a couple of these sounding sticks kicking around in the ratty sub-cushion regions of a flivver. Refueling was more of a social function then, because the driver had to unbend, whether he wanted to or not. Directly in front of the driver was the windshield - high, uncompromisingly erect. Nobody talked about air resistance, and the four cylinders pushed the car through the atmosphere with a simple disregard of physical law.

There was this about a Model T; the purchaser never regarded his purchase as a complete, finished product. When you bought a Ford, you figured you had a start - a vibrant, spirited framework to which could be screwed an almost limitless assortment of decorative and functional hardware. Driving away from the agency, hugging the new wheel between your knees, you were already full of creative worry. A Ford was born naked as a baby, and a flourishing industry grew up out of correcting its rare deficiencies and combating its fascinating diseases. Those were the great days of lily-painting. I have been looking at some old Sears Roebuck catalogues, and they bring everything back so clear.

First you bought a Ruby Safety Reflector for the rear, so that your posterior would glow in another car's brilliance. Then you invested thirty-nine cents in some radiator Moto Wings, a popular ornament which gave the Pegasus touch to the machine and did something godlike to the owner. For nine cents you bought a fan-belt guide to keep the belt from slipping off the pulley. You bought a radiator compound to stop leaks. This was as much a part of everybody's equipment as aspirin tablets are of a medicine cabinet. You bought special oil to stop chattering, a clamp-on dash light, a patching outfit, a tool box which you bolted on the running board, a sun visor, a steering-column brace to keep the column rigid, and a set of emergency containers for gas, oil and water - three thin, disc-like cans which reposed in a case on the running board during long, important journeys - red for gas, gray for water, green for oil. It was only a beginning. After the car was about a year old, steps were taken to check the alarming disintegration. (Model T was full of tumors, but they were benign.) A set of anti-rattlers (ninety-eight cents) was a popular panacea. You hooked them on to the gas and spark rods, to the brake pull rod, and to the steering-rod connections. Hood silencers, of black rubber, were applied to the fluttering hood. Shock absorbers and snubbers gave 'complete relaxation'. Some people bought rubber pedal pads, to fit over the standard metal pedals. (I didn't like these, I remember.) Persons of a suspicious or pugnacious turn of mind bought a rear-view mirror; but most Model T owners weren't worried by what was coming from behind because they would soon enough see it out in front. They rode in a state of cheerful catalepsy. Quite a large mutinous clique among Ford owners went over to a foot accelerator (you could buy one and screw it to the floor board), but there was a certain madness in these people, because the Model T, just as she stood, had a choice of three foot pedals to push, and there were plenty of moments when both feet were occupied in the routine performance of duty and when the only way to speed up the engine was with the hand throttle.

Gadget bred gadget. Owners not only bought ready-made gadgets, they invented gadgets to meet special needs. I myself drove my car directly from the agency to the blacksmith's, and had the smith affix two enormous iron brackets to the port running board to support an army trunk.

People who owned closed models builded along different lines: they bought ball grip handles for opening doors, window anti-rattlers, and de-luxe flower vases of the cut-glass anti-splash type. People with delicate sensibilities garnished their car with a device called the Donna Lee Automobile Disseminator - a porous vase guaranteed, according to Sears, to fill the car with la faint clean odor of lavender'. The gap between open cars and closed cars was not as great then as it is now: for $11.95, Sears Roebuck converted your touring car into a sedan and you went forth renewed. One agreeable quality of the old Fords was that they had no bumpers, and their fenders softened and wilted with the years and permitted the driver to squeeze in and out of tight places.

Tires were 30 x 3 1/2, cost about twelve dollars, and punctured readily. Everybody carried a ]iffy patching set, with a nutmeg grater to roughen the tube before the goo was spread on. Everybody was capable of putting on a patch, expected to have to, and did have to.

During my association with Model T's, self-starters were not a prevalent accessory. They were expensive and under suspicion. Your car came equipped with a serviceable crank, and the first thing you learned was how to Get Results. It was a special trick, and until you learned it (usually from another Ford owner, but sometimes by a period of appalling experimentation) you might as well have been winding up an awning. The trick was to leave the ignition switch off, proceed to the animal's head, pull the choke (which was a little wire protruding through the radiator) and give the crank two or three nonchalant upward lifts. Then, whistling as though thinking about something else, you would saunter back to the driver's cabin, turn the ignition on, return to the crank, and this time, catching it on the downstroke, give it a quick spin with plenty of That. If this procedure was followed, the engine almost always responded - first with a few scattered explosions, then with a tumultuous gunfire, which you checked by racing around to the driver's seat and retarding the throttle. Often, if the emergency brake hadn't been pulled all the way back, the car advanced on you the instant the first explosion occurred and you would hold it back by leaning your weight against it. I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket. In zero weather, ordinary cranking became an impossibility, except for giants. The oil thickened, and it became necessary to lack up the rear wheels, which for some planetary reason, eased the throw.

The lore and legend that governed the Ford were boundless. Owners had their own theories about everything; they discussed mutual problems in that wise, infinitely resourceful way old women discuss rheumatism. Exact knowledge was pretty scarce, and often proved less effective than superstition. Dropping a camphor ball into the gas tank was a popular expedient; it seemed to have a tonic effect both on man and machine. There wasn't much to base exact knowledge on. The Ford driver flew blind. He didn't know the temperature of his engine, the speed of his car, the amount of his fuel, or the pressure of his oil (the old Ford lubricated itself by what was amiably described as the 'splash system'). A speedometer cost money and was an extra, like a windshield-wiper. The dashboard of the early models was bare save for an ignition key; later models, grown effete, boasted an ammeter which pulsated alarmingly with the throbbing of the car. Under the dash was a box of coils, with vibrators which you adjusted, or thought you adjusted. Whatever the driver learned of his motor, he learned not through instruments but through sudden developments. I remember that the timer was one of the vital organs about which there was ample doctrine. When everything else had been checked, you had a look at the timer. It was an extravagantly odd little device, simple in construction, mysterious in function. It contained a roller, held by a spring, and there were four contact points on the inside of the case against which, many people believed, the roller rolled. I have had a timer apart on a sick Ford many times. But I never really knew what I was up to, I was just showing off before God. There were almost as many schools of thought as there were timers. Some people, when things went wrong, just clenched their teeth and gave the timer a smart crack with a wrench. Other people opened it up and blew on it. There was a school that held that the timer needed large amounts of oil; they fixed it by frequent baptism. And there was a school that was positive it was meant to run dry as a bone; these people were continually taking it off and wiping it. I remember once spitting into a timer; not in anger, but in a spirit of research. You see, the Model T driver moved in the realm of metaphysics. He believed his car could be hexed.

One reason the Ford anatomy was never reduced to an exact science was that, having 'fixed' it, the owner couldn't honestly claim that the treatment had brought about the cure. There were too many authenticated cases of Fords fixing themselves - restored naturally to health after a short rest. Farmers soon discovered this, and it fitted nicely with their draft-horse philosophy: 'Let 'er cool off and she'll snap into it again.'

A Ford owner had Number One Bearing constantly in mind. This bearing, being at the front end of the motor, was the one that always burned out, because the oil didn't reach it when the car was climbing hills. (That's what I was always told, anyway.) The oil used to recede and leave Number One dry as a clam flat; you had to watch that bearing like a hawk. It was like a weak heart - you could hear it start knocking, and that was when you stopped to let her cool off. Try as you would to keep the oil supply right, in the end Number One always went out. 'Number One Bearing burned out on me and I had to have her replaced,' you would say, wisely; and your companions always had a lot to tell about how to protect and pamper Number One to keep her alive.

Sprinkled not too liberally among the millions of amateur witch doctors who drove Fords and applied their own abominable cures were the heaven sent mechanics who could really make the car talk. These professionals turned up in undreamed-of spots. One time, on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington, I heard the rear end go out of my Model T when I was trying to whip it up a steep incline onto the deck of a ferry. Something snapped; the car slid backwards into the mud. It seemed to me like the end of the trail. But the captain of the ferry, observing the withered remnant, spoke up.

'What's got her?' he asked.

'I guess it's the rear end,' I replied listlessly. The captain leaned over the rail and stared. Then I saw that there was a hunger in his eyes that set him off from other men.

'Tell you what,' he said casually, trying to cover up his eagerness, 'let's pull the son of a bitch up onto the boat, and I'll help you fix her while we're going back and forth on the river.'

We did just this. All that day I plied between the towns of Pasco and Kenniwick, while the skipper (who had once worked in a Ford garage) directed the amazing work of resetting the bones of my car.

Springtime in the heyday of the Model T was a delirious season. Owning a car was still a major excitement, roads were still wonderful and bad. The Fords were obviously conceived in madness: any car which was capable of going from forward into reverse without any perceptible mechanical hiatus was bound to be a mighty challenging thing to the human imagination. Boys used to veer them off the highway into a level pasture and run wild with them, as though they were cutting up with a girl. Most everybody used the reverse pedal quite as much as the regular foot brake - it distributed the wear over the bands and wore them all down evenly. That was the big trick, to wear all the bands down evenly, so that the final chattering would be total and the whole unit scream for renewal.

The days were golden, the nights were dim and strange. I still recall with trembling those loud, nocturnal crises when you drew up to a signpost and raced the engine so the lights would be bright enough to read destinations by. I have never been really planetary since. I suppose it's time to say goodbye. Farewell, my lovely!

-E.B. White, Farewell my Lovely, The New Yorker, May 16, 1936

Not to be confused with Robert Irwin, the American.

posted by ben on 07.05.28 at 02:10, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink
O green parrot,
who discourses eternally of mysteries,
May thy beak never want water.
-Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nightmare, pg. 89


posted by ben on 07.05.15 at 15:45, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

I leered politely.

posted by ben on 07.03.23 at 16:01, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

Since our meeting again in Berlin, Waldemar and I had developed an intimate but casual relationship which was typical of that period of my life. I knew at least half a dozen young men in much the same way. We would not see each other for weeks or months at a time. Then the telephone would ring. “Christoph, can you lend me ten marks?” “Christoph, can I stay at your place tonight? My landlady is acting funny.” (“Acting funny” meant that the landlady got tired of asking for the rent.) It wasn’t that Waldemar and the others were just spongers. They simply though that friends should help each other; that the arrangement happened to be more or less one-sided was, from their point of view, merely an economic accident. Waldemar was a charming guest—one of the kind who feels it is his duty to entertain the host, not vice verse.

-Christopher Isherwood, Ambrose, pg 62.

they have camels

posted by ben on 07.01.28 at 15:39, null, null, books, books, 1 comment Permalink

When a man exalts one woman, and one woman only, "above all others," you can be pretty sure you are dealing with a misogynist. It frees him up for thinking the rest are shit.

-Martin Amis, House of Meetings, pg. 34
Comment from: collin [Member] ·
Bactrian, I'm assuming?
Permalink 01/30/07 @ 10:27

It's more profound than the quotable parts.

posted by ben on 06.12.20 at 03:00, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

I want to visit Spetsai.


It is (the age of 25), I think, the most difficult and irritating age of all. Both to be and to behold. One has the intelligence, one is in all ways treated as a grown man. But certain persons reduce one to adolescence, because only experience can understand and assimilate them.

-John Fowles, The Magus, pg. 179

I was too green to know that all cynicism masks a failure to cope - an impotence, in short; and that to despise all effort is the greatest effort of all.

-John Fowles, The Magus, pg. 17

I had got away from what I hated, but I hadn't found where I loved, and so I pretended that there was nowhere to love.

-John Fowles, The Magus, pg. 17

I believe that's called irony...

posted by collin on 06.12.13 at 16:55, null, math, nonsense, math, books, news, news, 1 comment Permalink

They were just lost in a bookstore. I'd like to think he would have laughed.

And some interesting heuristics.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·

“Good,” Wronoski recalled saying. “Now I don’t have to kill myself.”

Permalink 12/13/06 @ 17:23

posted by ben on 06.12.05 at 00:46, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

I have always, beyond belief, hoped to meet, at night and in a woods, a beautiful naked woman or rather, since such a wish once expressed means nothing, I regret, beyond belief, not having met her.

Andre Breton, Nadja, pg. 39

posted by ben on 06.11.30 at 14:28, null, books, books, 2 comments Permalink

Elliot Bay has remaindered Vonnegut's latest book, Man Without a Country. I know it's in no way their fault that even Vonnegut's book can't find readers, but it still bothers me.

Comment from: graham [Member] ·
Was it any good?
Permalink 11/30/06 @ 16:28
Comment from: ben [Member] ·
It's nonfiction, basically a humanist rant. So, yes.
Permalink 11/30/06 @ 16:52

strangely predicable

posted by ben on 06.11.30 at 14:26, null, books, books, 3 comments Permalink

Me: "Do you know where the Isabel Allende reading is?"
Him: "The Town Hall, 8th and Seneca. It used to be a Christian Science church."

Comment from: graham [Member] ·
I love the description of the building on the Town Hall Website:
"It was built at the peak of the Christian Science movement when the church could afford generous spaces and fine finishes."
Permalink 11/30/06 @ 16:34
Comment from: ben [Member] ·
Now Christian Scientists live in cardboard boxes and eat rats.
Permalink 11/30/06 @ 16:50
Comment from: collin [Member] ·
Oh Ben, when you're in Chicago you should see if that CS church on 57th and Blackstone was ever turned into condos. And I think Henry Paulson only bathes in rat blood.
Permalink 12/01/06 @ 22:55

She has nice arms too.

posted by ben on 06.11.29 at 23:57, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

Isn’t it good to be alive?
No thank you, I don’t want to buy anything.
I’m not trying to sell you anything! It’s Leo. Listen. I was sitting here drinking a coffee in Starbucks and suddenly it hit me.
Who hit you?
Ach, listen! It hit me how good it is to be alive. Alive! And I wanted to tell you. Do you understand what I’m saying? I’m saying life is a thing of beauty, Bruno. A thing of beauty and joy forever.

There was a pause.
Sure, whatever you say Leo. Life is a beauty.
And a joy forever,
I said.
All right, Bruno said. And a joy.
I waited.
I was about to hang up when Bruno said, Leo?
Did you mean human life?

-Nicole Krauss, The History of Love, pg. 76-77

Possibly the wrong Gilbert

posted by ben on 06.11.04 at 23:52, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

Maybe She is Here

She might be here secretly.
On her hands and knees
with her head down a bit
tilted to peer around the doorjamb
in the morning, watching me
before I wake up.
Only her face showing
and her shoulders. In a slip,
her skin honey against the simple
white of two thin straps
and the worked edge of the bodice.
With her right hand a little visible.

-Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven, pg. 92

Rilke didn't like hipsters.

posted by ben on 06.10.20 at 20:33, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

It is true that many young people who love falsely, i.e., simply surrendering themselves and giving up their solitude (the average person will of course always go on doing that--), feel oppressed by their failure and want to make the situation they have landed in livable and fruitful in their own, personal way--. For their nature tells them that the questions of love, even more than everything else that is important, cannot be resolved publicly and according to this or that agreement; that they are question, intimate questions from one human being to another, which in any case require a new, special, wholly personal answer--. But, how can they, who have already flung themselves together, and can no longer tell whose outlines are whose, who thus no longer possess anything of their own, how can they find a way out of themselves, out of the depths of their already buried solitude?

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, pg. 72-73

...ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity...

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, pg. 6

...if you feel yourself becoming too familiar with it [irony], if you are afraid of this growing familiarity, then turn to great and serious objects, in front of which it becomes small and helpless.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, pg. 15

Read as little as possible of literary criticism--such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, pg. 23

posted by ben on 06.09.22 at 17:16, null, books, books, 1 comment Permalink

What language does Murakami read Dickens in?

Comment from: Other Graham [Visitor] ·
Definitely English.
Permalink 09/23/06 @ 14:56