Some books

william zinsser writing well

On Writing Well

Oddly enough this got added to my reading list, because a developer/programmer recommended it. I’m surprised it was never required reading in any of my classes. It seems like a must read for any of us, seeing how we’re always communicating using the written word, and any one of us can be blogger or twitterer. We’re always writing but are we any good at it? The book is focused on writing books, but can apply to anything if you just follow his simple rules. Which can be boiled down to – edit, rewrite, rewrite. My favorite part was a re-print of an early version of the very chapter in the book I was reading, complete with all of his edits. This guy (William Zinsser) shows his work!

jennifer egan visit form goon squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Not sure what to think of this. Especially the format is a little hard to figure out. It reads like a collection fo short stories, with some of the characters intertwined. Don’t forget, Jennifer Egan also throws in a chapter in the form of a powerpoint presentation. I did enjoy her vision of the future, last chapter, which seems spot on and very likely to come true. Thought the picture it paints does not seem very pleasant, I’m sure the kids won’t mind it as they don’t in the book, just simply accept it as normal.

italo calvino invisible cities

Invisible Cities

Always wanted to read this, it’s been on my to read list for a while, people always recommend Italo Calvino, and this book in particular. I’m happy to check it off my list, but I’m not sure I loved it. A little too repetitive, but amazing to see all of the worlds he is able to conjure up. It was kind of like reading a painting.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

I was so glad to see this movie. I’ve been a fan of Ai Wei Wei, following all of his trials and tribulations. But I never knew much about his background, or weaved all of the separate stories I’ve known of him into a cohesive whole. This film did that excellently. Funny, poignant and just an excellent portrait of this man. Living and working in China, his artistic protests, coming from the heart, towards a better Chinese future, play out on the world’s stage.

Because of his fame, I was worried about pretentiousness or disingenuousness on his part and that his art was more about generating the fame, but quite the opposite was true. It felt like there were no pretenses in this film, just honesty. Ai Weiwei’s mom even makes an appearance.

Of course this is a political artist, and China is in the cross-hairs on the worlds stage, so filmmakers have a vested interest in making his plight look as real and genuine as possible. I’m not saying anything fishy is going on, but just as his art, this film is also political in nature. As such it may not be as critical or thoroughly in depth as it could be? just a thought.

I also hadn’t known this movie was a kickstarter project. I love kickstarter. About 10% of movies at sundance are kickstarter funded. so cool.

Queen of Versailles

As a portrait of one family’s struggles with money, family and relationships I think this is an excellent documentary. However I keep reading a lot about the schadenfreude people experience while watching the downfall of a super wealthy family, and on that point I almost feel like the film is a bit exploitative. A little too much glee in the subtext of the sudden turn of events. After all it started out as an honest documentation of very wealthy family, who happens to be building the largest personal residence in North America, and which happens to take its visual cues from the Palace of Versailles. A bit gaudy? yes. Perhaps they are bit too wealthy for their own good? perhaps. I’m sure the filmmakers could not contain their glee at their good fortune, when it all falls apart as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. What follows is often a very uncomfortable look at a family who for all intents and purposes, was premised upon wealth – husband with trophy wife, spoiled kids, ginormous house, tiny doggies pooping on everything, etc. What is uncomfortable to watch is the humanity that emerges, the real love and tenderness on display, all of it combined with a light touch of ditsy blonde/model/boobalicious ignorance.


“Science works with chunks and bits and pieces of things with the continuity presumed, and [the artist] works only with the continuities of things with the chunks and bits and pieces presumed.”

— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Voyeurs

I’m very picky about my graphic novels*. Drawing style is most important for me.  I usually flip through and soley based on the look of the panels make a decision.  Probably not the best way to choose reading materials but that’s the way it is for me when it comes to this genre. I wasn’t familiar with  Gabrielle Bell’s work before, and The Voyeurs almost made it to the discard pile. But I pressed on, I was thoroughly intrigued based soley on the first story, which at first I assumed is what the whole book was named after.

I am glad I pressed on, as Bell’s stories are thoroughly engaging, heartfelt and raw.  She gives a really great look into the life of a creative person, the life of someone who lives in new york, the life of someone brushing against personal fame and success, and the life of someone struggling with the daily minutia of life.  These are all one and and the same for her, and she has no qualms about laying out her insecurities and personal quirks for our inspection and perusal.

For example, she has an extreme ability to stay indoors and away from people, likewise she has an extreme ability to distance herself from those around her, no matter the situation.

In the end we are the voyeurs encroaching on Bell’s life and all of her personal moments and inner thoughts full of self-doubt, introspection, and awkwardness.

* Incidentally I learned form this book that among writers (drawerers? j/k) of this genre, Comics may be the preffered term, as “graphic novel” sounds too much like marketing speak and they really see themselves as comic artists.  I always thought graphic novels distinguishes it from the likes of marvel comics and other such things I would like to distance myself from, when I mention to people one of my favorite genres, but perhaps I’m just pretentious.  I still feel it is an important distinction but I’m open to discussion.