Tuesday, June 19, 2007

one line reviews

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Earnest Hemingway: Oh my God, it's like everything I hate about Paul Auster condensed into twenty pages and then multiplied.

Lost in America by Sherwin Nuland: An exorcism - a memoir about a gifted surgeon's troubled relationship with his father.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Breath Palette

is my new favorite product. It's a Japanese brand of toothpaste that comes in forty different flavors, all of them bizarre: green tea, Japanese plum, bitter chocolate, Indian curry, pumpkin pudding, café au lait, fresh yogurt, etc. This is the kind of thing I find exciting on principle, and to test the quality I decided to sample one of the flavors I thought would be most difficult to achieve succesfully in toothpaste: darjeeling tea. I thought that if it was artificial or too pasty, the tea-scent would end up bitter or medicinal. Lo and behold, the toothpaste surpassed my wildest expectations: the flavor was subtle, pleasant, and sophisticated. Delightful, actually. Plus, brushing your teeth with tea-flavored toothpaste makes breakfast much more palatable.

Yesterday I bought three more tubes: caramel, honey, and café au lait. The tubes are pretty small, so they are great for sampling and for travel. I've tried the honey - which is a bit too mild, and not very striking, and the café au lait, which is delicious.

I'm sure that Breath Palette toothpaste is difficult to find in most places, but if you come across it anywhere, give it a whirl.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

no wonder the man was a drunk

"It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Monday, June 11, 2007

round up

- Last week I went to the "Voices from South Africa" reading at the Housing Works used book store/café - three South African writers giving short readings from their works, about twenty minutes each. I only thought one of them was any good, a poet whose first poem, called "True" was about a carpenter making true, straight lines while preparing to tile a bathroom. It really pulled a lot out of the pun - like the French type of puns, which are meaningful, rather than the American type, which are funny - in a very understated, sensitive way. As my major carpentry accomplishment is tiling the upstairs bathroom of the family farmhouse in Kentucky, I remembered all of the kneeling and slow labor that goes into it. Though, frankly, I doubt any of my lines were true. The other two readers were ok, but not extraordinary.

- Finished Paco Underhill's Why We Buy, an interesting guide to how retailers do, or should, try to get the most out of their customers - secrets to managing multiple target audiences, to encourage impulse buys, etc. An interesting primer for anyone who spends a lot of time in stores, and wonders how and why they are organized the way that they are.

- Finished Barbara Defoe Whitehead's Why Are There No Good Men Left?, the title of which is an utter misnomer. It doesn't even begin to answer the question of why there are no good men left; it does, however, do an utterly brilliant job of answering the question: Why Are So Many Wonderful Women Still Single? I picked it up because I was in the kind of mood to appreciate a bit of male-bashing, but I was pleasantly surprised: the book is positive and hopeful and straightforward, not cynical or bitter, and it cured my mood rather than indulging it. The author says that she got the idea for the book from the Chick Lit phenomenon, this whole genre of books about precocious, urban career women who are successful at the office but unlucky in love, and she takes it as being a sort of - emblematic crisis for this generation of young women. Then she goes back and tries to figure out how and why it occured, using census data and tracing it through the history of women's lib. Very interesting.

- Last night I watched The Godfather for the first time. As expected, I thought it was brilliant - through much of the movie I was stunned senseless by the perfect combination of pastoral bliss and utter brutality. I could go on for a long time, as many people have, about the various merits of The Godfather - probably the two things that linger the most, at the moment, are the scene where one man is assassinated while another is standing in a wheat field in Jersey somewhere, with the Statue of Liberty a little speck in the distance - I could almost feel the wind on the wheat, and it gave me chills. The other is when Marlon Brando says "A man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man," - I couldn't help but compare it to other crime-culture movies, like the new Oceans franchise and Smoking Aces and reflect on the extent to which those other movies are really, truly about boys. By the same token, I realized for the first time the extent to which Spielberg was paying homage to Coppola in Munich.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ariana Gives an Interview

I went to see Ariana read at the Kitchen last week, and she gives a rather impressive wrap-up interview about it here - although I disagree with her judgment of the other readers/performers there, whom I didn't think could really hold a candle to Ariana. I found Gary Lutz to be dull and whiny, and the guitarist's shreiking simply horrid. Kalup Linzy's performance struck me as inexplicably brilliant; but also a bit dubious. But the point here is, Ariana was fantastic and the interview is good.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dominion, by Matthew Scully

Dominion may be the best book about animal rights I've ever read - and I'm surprised to be writing that, since I'm not in its target demographic. Dominion is intended as an antidote to secular, left-wing, crunchy-granola, PETA/Greenpeace/Peter Singer type animal rights activism; the idea being, apparently, that a lot of people - and especially conservatives - find that sort of thing irrelevant and kinda crazy. The author is a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, an established neo-con, and also a long-standing vegetarian, and he decided to write a book about the ethical treatment of animals in a way that might appeal to his kind of people.

It starts with a re-appraisal of what God meant when he granted 'dominion' over animals to man, and the moral weight he brings to bear on his subject is distinctly Christian. Scully announces straight-up and points out consistently that he doesn't think man is just another animal; he doesn't try to level the playing field between the two but rather believes that it is precisely the superiority of the human species that gives us a greater responsibility where our treatment of animals is concerned.

First of all, the bulk of the book is about wild animals, not domestic ones - in particular whales, primates, and elephants. This is something I have not read very much about, so the in-depth discussion of the safari industry, game hunting, and plight of the whales was new to me...and very disturbing. For the general reader, I think it's important that he starts off and spends so much of his time on issues that most people can agree on; blood sports enthusiasts are a minority population, the average person wants to save the whales and the elephants, so knowing what's going on in the lives and populations of these creatures is interesting, pertinent, and non-offensive. In particular, he focuses on the new "hunting as wildlife conservation" philosophy that seems to be going around these days - which I've picked up on, and found a certain practical truth to be found in the notion that people will only work to preserve something if it stands a chance to make them a profit. The problem with this theory, as the author points out, is the utterly disastrous results of its application.

He does move on to the issue of factory farming and scientific research that uses animal subjects. Most of what he has to say is just a new spin on the old lament: the things that go on in these factory farms are ghastly. Animals are treated there in ways that no compassionate human being could approve of. But he speaks from a religious point of view. He believes the factory farms are a true betrayal of God's command to exercise dominion over the creatures of the earth. I got chills reading the chapter in which he responds to those who defend their pleasures and luxuries - their furs and gourmet meals - by naming them according to the seven deadly sins.

He emphasizes that scientific discoveries of recent years prove beyond a reasonable doubt that animals have feelings and memories - and that the higher animals, like monkies, dolphins, and elephants, can suffer psychologically as well as physically. Much of what Scully says in his book can be reduced to one simple injunction: do not cause unnecessary suffering.

I loved Dominion because it was comprehensive, and because there really is a sort of simple, direct, moral weight to it that I have never seen before in this kind of book. I recommend it highly, and especially to anyone who has ever had qualms about the plight of animals but had little taste for the obvious alternatives.

Read it.