Lasted less than an hour.
It’s that time of year again, when you try to buy a cute little Christmas tree-like plant for your apartment—to be festive-like—and the cat knocks it over within like 0.3 seconds, so you spend the evening vacuuming up dirt and the bits of Christmas-tree-like-plant tendrils instead of basking in the feeling of accomplishment slash self-pity that comes with buying Christmas decorations probably only you yourself will see, but so you go out and buy a new mini Christmas tree plant anyway, decorate it, and Instagram it to feel better.
Also known as the holidays.
Cat lady moments notwithstanding, the end of the year brings with it a flurry of “Best of 2012” lists, designed to inform you of all the great writing produced over the last 12 months, and guilt trip you for not having read enough of it. How I’ve gotten through a book every week, and yet somehow managed to avoid reading even one of the NYT’s’ 100 Notable Books, is beyond me. In a related query, how could they have snubbed Sookie Stackhouse No. 12??
But really, who has time to read all of those lists, what with our busy holiday schedule of eating and napping and contemplating eating again. This is why you guys have me. By combining 17 different BO2012 lists — from, here we go, Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, NPR again, The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin, Dwight Garner, Slate, Goodreads, Goodreads again, The Washington Post, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, Amazon, The New Yorker, Buzzfeed and Oprah’s Book Club — I have created the ÜBERLIST, the definitive, mathematically and scientifically verified Best Books of 2012. Continue reading
In March of this year, Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” in which he outlined his decision to end a 12-year tenure with one of the most successful investment banks in the world. In that declaration — which I wrote about back when I reviewed Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia — Smith put the fault on a shifting Goldman culture, where “the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.”
Critics called Smith’s op-ed naive, but I found it decently badass, and so was fairly excited for Why I Left Goldman Sachs, the book. It held the allure of additional juicy Goldman tidbits — like the Times essay’s disclosure that clients were often referred to as “muppets” — and other embarrassing examples of the kind of corporate greed and financial whimsy that lend credibility to the idea of the 99% versus the 1%. I didn’t expect Smith to divulge any massive illegal folly on Goldman’s part, so much as to remind us why we should be angry that these are the people who run the institutions we’ve deemed too big to fail.
Unfortunately, not only does WILGS fail to be particularly earth-shattering with respect to the financial sector, it for the most part fails to be particularly interesting as a book. Smith, a mediocre writer at best, gets lost in the story of his own humdrum advancement at Goldman, and appears to be confused about what does or doesn’t rate as memoir-worthy. While some degree of exposition is to be expected, it’s not until more than halfway through the book that Smith even begins to outline the subject on which its title is based. Nor does the first half feel particularly relevant, except as an overt ploy to qualify his ultimate disillusionment (“Before we get into why I left Goldman, let me explain that I am clearly a smart and awesome person.”) Listen, I don’t care that you took three years of Zulu, Greg. I don’t care that you visited the first-ever Wendy’s, or how good you were at using the trading desk’s time-stamping machine, or where you buy your shirts, unless it’s a shirt store fronting for a purveyor of diamond-encrusted toilets, or something I don’t know, a little more Goldman Sachs.
There are two primary types of book scandal—either you write something that isn’t true and say it is (James Frey, Margaret B. Jones, that “Holocaust survivor” who said she lived with wolves) or you say you wrote something that you definitely didn’t (Kaavya Viswanathan). A fairly epic example of the latter came out this week, when it was discovered that Q.R. Markham’s mystery book, Assassin of Secrets, was actually lifted from something like a dozen other books, forcing publisher Little, Brown to pull it from the shelves and Markham to conspicuously fall off the face of the planet.
The Assassin of Secrets story is extra interesting because, unlike some of his plagiarizing predecessors, Markham (the pen name for poet Quentin Rowan, who also happens to be a part-owner of Williamsburg bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown) made what seems like zero effort to hide his ripping. Here are two sample paragraphs (a comprehensive list is available here).
From Assassin of Secrets: “The boxy, sprawling Munitions Building which sat near the Washington Monument and quietly served as I-Division’s base of operations was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular work space.”
From Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency: “In June 1930, the boxy, sprawling Munitions Building, near the Washington Monument, was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular workspace.”
In the age of Google, I find it downright amazing that people still think they can get away with this kind of stuff. Which isn’t to say that I expect publishers to spend all their time googling various paragraphs from manuscripts they receive, but rather that authors, whose entire goal is to get their work distributed to as many people as possible, don’t realize (or choose to ignore) that someone somewhere is going to pick up on similarities as blatant as these. Continue reading
So if you’re anything like me—well, first of all, you’ve probably got a mild or even severe stomachache from a week of eating any and all holiday-related food. So to that I say, try some Tums.
But if you’re anything like me when it comes to books, you’ve spent the better part of the last 12 hours nerding out. This would be because Google has rather quietly released the first of what I imagine will be many byproducts of it’s multi-year book-scanning endeavor—a database that lets users search for a word or phrase to see its usage in some 5.2 million books dating back to the year 1800. There’s even a nifty little website.]
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I haven’t historically been a big fan of Google’s book project. In fact, four years ago I wrote a diatribe in my college newspaper railing against some of the perceived implications (I was the opinions editor and therefore free to reserve half-page spreads for my own unsolicited ranting). Now, I stand by many of those criticisms today—some of which are the same arguments levied against e-readers—and I remain wary of linking books to one-another the way we do content online. But I have to admit that Google’s latest endeavor is pretty freaking awesome, and outside the scope of what I myself would have imagined the project being used for. Continue reading
After a Saturday night spent killing brain cells one game of beer pong at a time, I went into this week feeling relatively ambitious on the book front: After all, what are the post-college years for if not to read all those enormous and intellectual books you never had time for in school? Well, that and sitting in your big-girl apartment eating takeout food you bought with a hard-earned paycheck.
So given my thirst for intelligence, I decided to finally get around to one of the mammoth hardcovers that’s been sitting on my shelf for the better part of a year: New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail, a nonfiction tome outlining in unprecedented detail the days surrounding the financial crisis of 2008, with a healthy dose of back story and context.
The book made headlines when it was released (in October of last year) because it leaves no stone unturned (also because a few irate Times reporters accused Sorkin of using material from their stories without credit). Having read the first few chapters, I can see why it made waves: Sorkin has more than 500 sources, and details include everything from Lehman Brothers’ CFO Erin Callan’s suit color of choice to Timothy Geithner’s predilection for the word “fuck.” It turns the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression into something of a page-turner.
Unfortunately, it’s also massive. The hardcover version, which I stupidly bought and am now forced to carry around—much to the dismay of my shoulders, back and wrists—comes in at 624 pages (with endnotes) and 2.2 pounds. Even after two solid commutes of reading, I still haven’t made it past page 75. This isn’t because the book is dull, far from it, but rather because it’s dense. Forgive me Warren Buffetts of the world, but when reading about complex financial instruments, I have to take my time.
So it’s TBD whether I’ll manage to finish this week, but I can’t say I’m optimistic. Just in case, I have a few light reads on standby, the kinds of books I could finish in a few hours on Sunday afternoon and thereby finagle my way into victory for the week. Because if I learn anything from Too Big to Fail, it’s that cheaters ….usually win.