The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

brieflifeofoscarwao A wonderful gem of a book, in the tradition of 100 years of solitude…or any other novel where generations intertwine and the past has a great influence on the present without the knowledge of it’s current inhabitants. Destiny manifested in our parents’, grand-parents’, and even great grand-parents’ minute decisions all have a great hold on us. This is a great read.

You also learn, at least I did, a lot of previously unknown history of the Dominican Republic through long and sometimes multi-page, quite informative, footnotes. Oh yes, and not many books out there that are so un-self-conciously geeky (Sauron and Akira anyone?). What a wondrous mix!

The Design of Everyday Things

I am somewhat surprised that this book has so much traction in 2008. The design corners of the internet are always raving about this book. How can a book that was written more than 20 years ago, and refrences film and slide projectors as the high tech presentation tool of it’s day be so relevant and so often quoted in the age of the internet? Let’s not forget the interenet is the land of things that usually have negative half-lives, and are tired and over, before they even come to existance.

Well the sad fact is that we, our society, has learned very little about designing things in the past 20 years. Actually, it’s more apt to say, we’ve learned a great deal, but we still have a great long way to go to actually implement what we now know, and have know for some time (i.e. this book).

Everyday things are still being designed and manufactured very very badly. The biggest conundrum is why we as a society stand for it? Why are we taking it lying down? Why do we continually accept things that in their design are hindering us, wasting our time, and even in many cases endangering our lives? Norman touches on this in his book, partly it’s because we all understand the need to occasionally cut corners to save time or cost, but partly it’s our own psychology, when bad design happens to us and causes us to make mistakes we always seem to blame ourselves.

Well no more! I think the main reason the book is so revered is that it is a manifesto of sorts, it ends with a call to action. You! Consumers! Stop buying crap! Put your money into well designed, thought out objects that don’t suck! If we all did that our world would be that much better.

The Blank Slate

A somewhat lengthy diatribe on a difficult and controversial subject.  At times I felt like this guy really had an axe to grind, but overall I think his argument makes sense.  In a few years this book will probably seem more like common sense than controversy, but at times the arguments Pinker makes were more like the kind of dehumanized “factual” statements a geek is likely to make that are disconnected from the meaty, love filled, human reality of the everyday world.

Pinker made great pains to overcome this diconnect and in fact a lot of his argument comes from and speaks for this human-ness, but it’s hard to overcome the coldness that a purely scientific argument has to make.

I think I agreed with what was presented overall, but I’m sure it would be no suprise to Pinker that I had the most beef with him about the arguments he makes surrounding art.  Generally I agree with him, art can at times be about a  search for status or sometimes just serve as an example of conspicous consumption but I think he is wrong on one point.  Minimalism is much more than just a formal exercise.  To some people, myself included, there is real beaty in it.  The kind of beauty that Pinker is calling for a return to in art, not just the hypothetical beauty of concept, but actual physical beauty.