What I’ve been reading

by on March 5, 2010 at 6:10 am in Books | Permalink

1. The Weeping Goldsmith: Discoveries in the Land of Myanmar, by W. John Kress.  The subtitle sounds so intriguing and then you discover its about the search for rare plants.  But it turns out to be even better than you thought at first.  It's a wonderful introduction to Myanmar, the idea of a scientific quest, and some aspects of botany.  The photographs are beautiful too.  I very much like books which serve up surprising combinations, as this one does.

2. Umberto Eco, The Infinity of Lists.  The color plates are beautiful and favor artworks with large numbers of massed individuals.  The book itself is mostly excerpts of classic texts and it doesn't have much insight into…lists.

3. Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What To Do About It, by Randall O'Toole.  This Cato book is mostly an attack on transportation planning, including a critique of high-speed rail subsidies.

4. Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman.  Short but self-recommending.  It is part of the "(Why X Matters)" series.  Here is one good review.

5. No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33", by Kyle Gann.  There are over twenty-four recordings of this piece and skeptics can consider that an attempt at competitive rent exhaustion.  Yet probably none of those have come close to David Tudor's presentation of the work at its premiere.

6. Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity, by Sam Miller.  Bombay had its book, now Delhi has its.  Recommended, it captures the feel of the place.

roswitha March 5, 2010 at 7:30 am

For the sake of everyone interested in Delhi, I hope Miller’s book is better than ‘Maximum City,’ surely among the more spurious experiments in narrative journalism to make it to bestseller lists in recent years. I know you enjoyed the coterminous ‘Sacred Games,’ Tyler; I’d venture to say that its figurative representation of Bombay is far more truthful – judged by the standards of fiction – than Mehta’s non-fictional account.

Henry March 5, 2010 at 7:58 am

Don’t forget ‘City of Djinns’- historian William Darymple’s hackneyed but engrossing account of an expat’s year in India that matches seasons to eras in Delhi history.

David W. March 5, 2010 at 9:35 am

I recommend that you read this post. In this self-recommending post (see first sentence), I suggest that the book on 4:33 should have consisted of only blank pages.

Scoop March 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

Tyler — or other commentators who have read it — is Gridlock excellent analysis, annoying screed or what? The topic interests me, but it’s almost impossible to find an author who can actually conduct a dispassionate analysis. Everyone is to married to a priori views — usually either “mass transit is stupid” or “cars are evil” — to describe reality.

I tried to read Tom Vanderbilt’s book, but found it poorly organized and took offense to how he kept chastising drivers rather than just describing things. Actually, my main problem was that he seemed to take five pages to say what a better author could say in one.

Lisa March 5, 2010 at 10:50 am

I still say if it can be performed by my dog, it’s not music.

auntulna March 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Instead of reading Umberto Eco, read “Back to Bologna” by Michael Dibdin, which includes funny send-ups of Professore Eco.

k March 5, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Because if a book of list and not about lists. Like the Wallace┬┤s book

mulp March 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Americans are the most mobile society in history, yet our transportation system is on the verge of collapse. Traffic congestion today is five times worse than it was 25 years ago. Many of our bridges are in desperate need of replacement. Worst of all, many transportation planners believe their job is to make congestion worse in order to discourage mobility. Gridlock reveals how we got into this mess and how we can fix it.

So, Gridlock is a critique of Reaganomics?

A CATO book that comes out against subsidies? Shocking!

Not unless the book calls for selling every highway, road, street, alley, parking space, bridge, traffic light, motor vehicle registry, driver testing station, highway patrol barracks, car, and traffic cop, road maintenance garage, truck, plow, and employee to the highest bidders, and passes a law declaring all activity on roads is governed by contracts with the private owners of the transportation system.

Then cities and town can tax the road properties and the revenues generated by fees for use of the roads, just as is done for the railroads.

Road service to areas that don’t generate a profit will be abandoned, unless those served by those roads pay for the costs of keeping them opened, plus a return on investment.

If the same logic isn’t applied to the road transportation system as to railroads, the author is merely a big government technocrat picking the winner and taxing society to pay for his ideology. If you truly believe in “free market capitalism” and “small government” then all the roads and everything associated with them would be private property. Anything less is socialism.

Ilan Ben Menachem March 12, 2010 at 7:41 am

Had I know what it was when I ordered it, I would have been less disappointed… but probably wouldn’t have bothered to order it – especially since I ordered it along with On Literature, which was more scholarly and duplicated some content.

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