What I’ve been reading

1. Peter Doggett, CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  A good management study of a creative foursome doomed to split and splinter pretty much from the beginning.  Oddly, their best work still sounds good to me, even though I never hear much new in it with repeated listenings.  That is a rare combination.

2. David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.  David’s best book this century, it has many subtle points.  It is a “wisdom book,” noting that not everyone likes wisdom books.

3. Harold Bloom, Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism.  Bloom is now 89 I believe, but unlike in some of his recent shorter books this one seems as thoughtful as much of his best later work.  Yes, it is a bunch of largely separate, short, multi-page essays on topics of Bloom’s choosing, but at this point that is optimal.  It won’t convince the skeptic, but if you are on the fence I say yes, though try The Western Canon first.

4. Fuchsia Dunlop, The Food of Sichuan.  A much-expanded version of her earlier Land of Plenty.  No, I haven’t touched this one yet, but if the word self-recommending ever applied, it is here.  If you don’t already know it, here is my earlier CWT with Fuchsia Dunlop.

5. John Barton, A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths.  Anglican, British, highly reasonable, full of useful information, I read it all the way through.  Barton teaches you the Bible is not always easy to understand and why that is.  Already out for ordering on UK Amazon.

Daniel S. Milo, Good Enough: The Tolerance for Mediocrity in Nature and Society, on a quick browse seemed to have interesting points.


CSNY weren't doomed to split. They were a super group. A special purpose entity that served it's purpose and moved on.

You were short on Lebron and Wade in Miami, and wrong about it; they won a couple titles. I won't link it, but readers can Google it.

I think you underappreciate and misunderstand the super group as a concept.

David Brook just wrote The Road to Character in 2015 and now The Second Mountain. Does he really have 650 pages of wisdom in the past four years on how to lead a moral life?

'Does he really have 650 pages of wisdom in the past four years on how to lead a moral life?'

Well, he probably knows not to order lobster in a diner. 'I thought there was an unspoken rule, that lobster in a diner is never cool' - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj-D0jc17D0

The Wikipedia entry on him quotes some critics accusing him of distorting facts and he appears to be nonchalant about the criticism. If the entry is accurate he is far from being ethical as an academic.

No, but he might have 30 pages of wisdom about how to navigate divorce proceedings when your wife has grounds to soak you for everything you're worth.

> this second wife was more in sympathy with his (perhaps changed) ideological or moral commitments.

Yeah, it was probably her ideological commitments and not the fact that she was 23 years younger

Hey, I'm trying at least a little not to take the low road though it's more natural to me as a gossip and a woman!

Thanks for the Bloom recommendation.

I like Bloom's writings, despite his silly ivy-league gnosticism.... but I would not recommend the Western Canon as the place to start for most people.

Bloom is one of those writers with several books in almost every public library. If you wonder whether he, a "literary critic," is worth your time,
I suggest checking out a couple of his more wide-ranging books (How to Read and Why, Genius, the Western Canon, et cetera), searching the index for a writer you know and love, and reading what he has to say about said writer.

He is usually good on most of the celebrity poets and novelists from Shakespeare to Hart Crane, with the exceptions of the especially good ones who focus on the truths of the heart (Proverbs 8), like Christina Rossetti (in England), and the ones who write like angels sometimes, whether because they have had a taste of Heaven or because they imitate someone who did (Phantastes, La Joie, Eve).

I find Bloom's The Western Canon too heavy . Is there a simple exposition of his views?

'Is there a simple exposition of his views?'

Western Civilization über alles? In the sense that motivated those seeking to establish a democratic German state in the 1840s, obviously.

Yeah, check this interview Charlie Rose did with Bloom on the Western Canon. https://youtu.be/S9ieF7LVbyI

Super-groups and all-star bands are seldom as good as equivalent working units/teams. Just as with all-star sports teams. Same reason: too many stars, too many leaders. Too much incentive to stand-out on that one occasion at the cost of the benefits of ongoing cooperation. Also failures of implicit communication that comes with repeated interactions in a wide variety of situations. I've been a band-leader and a back-up musician (guest featured soloist). I speak from experience.

Actually, I was thinking more of Cream and the Al Kooper-Mike Bloomfield super-session LP (which Mike dropped out of half-way through, replaced by Steve Sills).
Mike Bloomfield once told me, the Paul Butterfield Band (not a super band) was a "much better band" before he joined (Elvin Bishop was the lone guitar player at that time). Mike was recruited as a guest "super-star" and his "excessive" presence, in his own opinion, made the band worse rather than better.

Compare Cream (three guys who all wanted to be the star), with a similar power trio, Jimi Hendrix with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell (one super star and two guys who were happy to have a paying job).
Musically, very different.
Personally (as an old-school guitarist) I would have a hard time putting Neil Young in the same sentence with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Nevertheless, my original point applies.

The funny thing is that Crosby, Stills & Nash were a huge success before they added Neil Young, who immediately became the dominant personality, because he's Neil Young.

My theory on Neil Young is that basically he's a jock alpha male, who suffered a lot of ill health when young due to epilepsy. His health turned him away from sports (his dad was Canada's top hockey sportswriter and his mom was a country club ladies champion in various sports) and toward the arts, to which he still brought a jock sensibility (e.g., the kind of self-confidence that would make him a famous singer despite that voice). But whether Young was good for CS&N is another question.

You'll notice that Young's own back up band, Crazy Horse, were mediocre musicians dependent upon Young for work. Young was happy in that role as the Big Boss. He wasn't as happy or constructive in CSNY where the other three were each as talented as him.

Sometimes you read like you've been swigging Jack Daniels right from the bottle.

I wonder if they were annoyed he came up with a song called "Helpless" when they had recorded a song called "Helplessly Hoping" just the year before.

Some "supergroup" -- they even had to pay a fifth guy to play drums. I like Young but "super" might be stretching it with the other three.

Example of real supergroup: UK -- Bruford, Wetton, Jobson and Holdsworth. Acknowledged geniuses at every position. And yes, as you would expect they only lasted about two albums together.

But at least CSNY distracts me from the thought of David Brooks opining about anything -- much less "the moral life" -- for another 350 pages.

#6 Daniel S. Milo: the premise is quite interesting. But this one looks like a professor lecture that became popular and an editor that suggested "write a book". So, 320 pages? On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin is 140 pages.

Word count would be more precise to do a comparison between them. Anyway, what's going on here? Page inflation? There's no need for a quick browse when people edit the content until they reach less than 50 pages. I'd pay for it.....is there a market for shorter books (essays) or is it just me?

Raises hand. Just had that feeling with a recent book I admired despite its occasional turgidity (interspersed with passages that were "well-put" - perhaps from having been polished for a lecture?), and repetitiveness - sometimes literally, as in the editor (?) missed a sentence repeated whole cloth in a passage that was obviously in process of being reworked.

I thought, why can't this book - a "distillation" of the author's thought, not a work of fine-grained scholarship - be a long essay? Do you only get cachet with a book? Yet plenty of essays have become "canonical". It almost seems to me you have a better chance of being remembered, with an essay or a very slender book ...

"Now Gods stand up for Average People"

I have long felt that the emphasis on excellence and exceptionalism (aka "Ordinary is Over") is very risky because it lacks redundancy. Rome held onto a empire for centuries not because of the brilliance (?) of its emperors and generals but because of its bureaucracy and the post Marian army which could recruit and train large number of ordinary people into "good enough" soldiers. McDonald's is a more modern day example. In the long run efficient bureacracy with its enormous redundancy trumps fleeting brilliance every time.

#5: the review in the Telegraph was full of praise. But then reviews usually are, aren't they?

I asked a youngster: "I think he lectured me but I'm not sure."

I'll ask for it for Xmas.

I recently read Brooks' NYT column, The Moral Peril of Meritocracy. What a mess of a thinker he is. The short column is a quite a jumble of contradictory ideas. I can only imagine how maddening it would be for me to read a whole book of his wisdom.

It's not that I'm a great intellect and a respected source of wisdom, but I don't pretend to be. It astounds me that he can make a living doing what he does.

Every time i read Brooks im struck by what a mediocre thinker he is. Im like you, maybe not a tower of intellect, but i can recognize greatness or the lack thereof.

Are these just new titles and prereleases that publishers send to Tyler?

Can't we ask Mr. Trump? He must have twitted about that?

At this point mediocrity would be a blessing.

Should it be "their" instead of "there" in point #1?

CSNY. Great in their own minds, I think. Steve Stills was a great talent, and Neil Young is special. The other two, not so much. The contribution of this particular rock and roll configuration? meh.

Numberless #6 sounds interesting, and if the book is overturning teleological misconceptions/misuses of the theory of evolution, I'm in - but "Why does the avocado tree produce a million flowers and only a hundred fruits? Why, in short, is there so much waste in nature? ... Daniel Milo argues that we ask these questions because we’ve embraced a faulty conception of how evolution―and human society―really works."

I don't know why the avocado tree produces so many flowers but I would not be surprised if the answer has reference to its (original) role within a community of organisms.

Smart money is always on "we don't understand" versus "waste" - see the arrogant coinage of the phrase "junk DNA." Per blurb: "... 'Good Enough' suggests that the long tails of trait variation govern survival more than optimization, subsequently shaping the diversity of life." The diversity is the optimization, is the inescapable conclusion?

optimization is indeed the connective tissue. much intellectualism is formed from creative thinking. creative thinking is biased against repetition. but repetition invariably leads to creativity unless one is that disciplined. just take a sentence form: subject, description, modifier. The man went to the bathroom at the back of the bar. The man went; the bathroom at the end of the bar, coiled, displaced, missing. The man waited, had known about the bathroom, but couldn't find the moment, some too short, some too long, empty, full, then he leapt, as many turned to him, fumbling in his pockets, toward the bathroom.

This has clearly opened up a lane for the new Dick Wolf series "CSI CSNY".

I ordered the new Dunlop right away. Land of Plenty is great, but it is dated in that now, in light of easier access to ingredients, and the new style to have more photographs. Having a Dunlop cookbook on Sichuan updated to the style of Land of FIsh and Rice will be a real treat.

I wonder if she will do Yunnan or Northern China next?

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