The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

A Cook's Tour
Anthony Bourdain

The author of Kitchen Confidential, a dashing behind-the-scenes look at the work life of a restaurant chef, embarks on a world journey in search of exotic and photogenic meals. This sometimes promises to become a foodish Travels With Charlie, a mad romp across a world of eateries with Food Channel camera crews struggling to keep up, but without the anchor of unveiling the mysteries of real life (and real people) back in the kitchen, Bourdain drifts from personal memoir to exotic food porn to The Worst Hotel In The World.

I read most of this book in the Food Court of the Worst Shopping Mall In New Jersey. (It's a long story) This is an unfair thing to ask of a book, and A Cook's Tour did survive, although it was doubtless scarred by the ordeal.

December 21, 2002 (permalink)

Kiln People
David Brin

A post-noir detective thriller, set in a world where you can download yourself into disposable golems every morning, send them to do whatever you like, and then upload their memories tomorrow. Vividly imagined, like all of Brin, but the deadpan anomie of noir doesn't really suit his style nearly as well as those wide-eyed, eager dolphins who made his reputation.

November 15, 2002 (permalink)

Buddha's Money
Martin Limón

A solid, atmospheric third outing from the author of the marvelous Jade Lady Burning. Limón's series stars two US Army MPs, stationed in Korea, who love the liquor, the business girls, and the constant tension their job imposes between violent abandon and steely discipline. A classic McGuffin chase for an ancient relic leads Bacomb and Sueño to meet the Lady Ahn, a stern and regal Korean whose ancestors were once China's Sung dynasty and who never, ever forgets this. An exceptional talent whose books deserve to be best-sellers.

December 8, 2002 (permalink)

The Goal
Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox

This didactic novel about business salvation through finite scheduling is both better and worse than first appears. Recommended by Joel Spolsky, this book does a nice job of explaining why schedule slips accumulate. If you have a multi-step production process, whether manufacturing widgets or developing software, the statistical fluctuations inherent in each step accumulate as work progresses. Since dependent steps can't start before the preceding step, it's hard to make up time. If things go well, we can only make up a little time, but if things go ill, there's nothing to prevent long delays from accumulating.

Goldratt casts the entire book as a case study, a strategy that is surprisingly effective. He has space to make his participants more than caricatures and business stereotypes. He has space to give you a real feel for the business. Unfortunately, the font of wisdom, Jonah, is a truly embarrassing self-portrait of the author as a business guru: pompous, self-important, preachy, and expensive. A subplot about the hero's job-induced marital difficulties hasn't aged well (the book first appeared in 1984). The closing cameo of the CEO who intuitively grasps the hero's inherent excellence, even though layers of middle management want to fire him, is politically offensive and artistically false. And the underlying notion -- that American managers cannot grasp a simple mathematical truth unless it's sugar-coated and spoon feed -- is as appalling today as it was when the book appeared.

Still, if mysterious but chronic scheduling problem arise in your organization, this book is easy to read and highly recommended.

November 29, 2002 (permalink)

At the conclusion of this brief, disarming monograph, aspects of the game seemed clear that had, for me, been vague and difficult. That's the point.

November 24, 2002 (permalink)

This introduction to "user experience design" and information architecture was apparently intended for managers. It seeks to offend no one, and succeeds. Garrett tries to focus on ideas rather than tools; the ideas are very broad, and Garrett is eager to qualify every assertion and to reconcile every professional faction.

November 15, 2002 (permalink)

The Bride's Kimono
Sujata Massey

A romantic mystery. Rei Shimura, young Japanese antiques dealer, returns to the country of her birth as a museum courier, accompanying a shipment of Edo period kimono to a Washington, D.C. museum. A priceless garment is stolen, an office lady bent on an uncharacteristic sex fling vanishes, and Rei needs to figure out her social life; surprisingly, the latter problem proves the most compelling and the hardest to solve. Sexy, unsophisticated, fun.

October 31, 2002 (permalink)

Under Fire
W.E. B. Grifiin

Griffin is my guilty secret. This is the latest installment of The Corps, a sprawling history of a cadre of US Marines that begins shortly before Pearl Harbor and that now reaches Korea. These books are marketed as "men's fiction" and claim to have lots of combat action; in fact, they have almost none, and most of what combat there is happens offstage. (O'Brian does this too, to equally fine effect) This is the story of men who fight (for the most part) sitting down -- from a desk, from a cockpit, from a training depot or a service facility. Most of their enemies wear the same uniform.

Griffin has a lovely touch for capturing a time and place, and he manages to regard the recent past fondly. The Corps is closer to Tales of the South Pacific than to The Naked and The Dead. The closest parallel, perhaps, is Wouk's War and Remembrance, but Griffin has better focus. (Fussell, in The Boy Scout's Handbook, has a memorable essay on the importance of the historical narrative as the genre of the times, with Wouk's career as the central example of the damaging effects of misplaced reverence for the supposed mainstream.)

Michener, Mailer, Wouk: this isn't bad company.

December 6, 1999 (permalink)

Flash To The Core
Joshua Davis

An introduction to working with Flash by Praystation creator and Flash guru Joshua Davis, whose Praystation Hard Drive has been flying off the shelves at Eastgate.

Davis is a musician-turned-designer, and this book is refreshingly uninfluenced by the conventions of computer manuals and textbooks. Davis describes his work process, often veering sharply amongst radically different concerns. This might confuse rank beginners and is bound to annoy professors, but I find it both convincing and effective.

Davis earned his fame by finding ways to make primitive, early versions of Flash do things of which the programming environment seemed incapable. That's not the point here; the new Flash releases have a very adequate language, and his audience here includes students and casual users, not merely the cutting-edge of Flash hackers.

October 20, 2002 (permalink)

Justice Hall
Laurie R. King

This delightful, engaging mystery is among the best of Laurie King's series, which starts when a wealthy Jewish teenager, Mary Russell, stumbles across the retired Mr. Sherlock Holmes and the elderly Holmes realizes with alarm that he has -- at last -- met the woman who is his soul mate. Here, some years later, Russell and Holmes find themselves in the midst of a Country House mystery with all the trimmings.

A fine accompaniment to Gosford Park, and a worthy continuation of the best mystery series of the 90s.

October 6, 2002 (permalink)

A delightful play, frequently hilarious. A fashionable lesbian couple in 19th century Boston seek a rapprochment, a modus vivendi, or a nice pie. I am planning a seduction, I do not require a pattisiére!

October 1, 2002 (permalink)

It's 2036, and Vancouver is getting pretty empty because most people have upgraded themselves and moved to Frisco, the VR environment where everyone and everything is always on. This superior, self-published science fiction novel is written with grace and intelligence.

Nice production values, too. I can't imagine why Munro can't find a publisher, or whether his preference for self-publishing is entirely a political statement.

October 14, 2002 (permalink)

The Great Movies
Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert went to his boss at the Tribune and pitched a biweekly series of columns about Great Movies. I can't imagine how he got the Tribune to agree, but it makes a lovely book. Freed from the need to guide consumers away from dull garbage, and freed from rehearsing plots and actors, Ebert can sit down and talk about what matters in movies.

Even with a broad canvas -- the volume comprises the first 100 columns in the series -- Ebert makes tough choices. The best Hitchcock, the best Chaplin, the best Woody Allen. That alone is an interesting exercise; as any baseball fan can tell you, making lists sharpens the critical faculties.

I'm tempted to approach this book systematically and to endeavour, with the help of DVD and Netflix, to see all these films. It's a modest project; most of the films in this book are film's you'd be embarassed not to have seen. I've got some terrible holes to fill. (Potemkin, for example. Ouch) But, even watching one movie every Thursday, that's a two-year project. Hmmmm.

August 3, 2002 (permalink)

O Jerusalem
Laurie R. King

King's new novel, Justice Hall, is near the top of my book pile, and Linda suggests revisiting this delightful 1999 story in preparation.

Mary Russell is a great achievement, a completely convincing young counterpart to a aging but still-vital Sherlock Holmes. She's young, but wise for her years. She's rich -- but can't get at her money. She's the orphan daughter of an American Jew. This novel, presumably born by excising an overlong chapter from King's stunning The Beekeeper's Apprentice, revisits the earliest years of the Holmes-Russell partnership, and the old man and young student flee the perils of London for a few weeks of running errands for Mycroft and Her Majesty's government.

September 21, 2002 (permalink)