January 2016 Media Round-up (Books, Pt. 2)


Zen & the Art of the Macintosh: Discoveries on the Path to Computer Enlightenment, Michael Green


So this was a fucking trip.

Zen & the Art of the Macintosh announces in its first pages “This book was written, edited, designed, illustrated, typeset, laid out, and pasted-up entirely on a Macintosh computer.” in big, bold letters, next to a bitmap image of a heron. This book was published in 1986; the original Macintosh computer debuted in 1984. So from a historical perspective, this is already pretty fascinating as a genuine artifact of someone exploring his feelings about the Mac and testing the depths of its functionality as a creative tool. I don’t know, this book is a lot and it is all fabulous; it’s a memoir, a love story (between man and Mac), an attempt to link Zen and technology and the creative process, all beautifully illustrated in MacPaint. Some of it is totally dated, some of it is totally prescient, but all of it is charming as fuck.

(Also it quotes Marshall McLuhan at one point, so I suppose between this and the Douglas Coupland biography, I really should check out the dude’s work.)

I’m not necessarily saying that this book has anything super deep or mind-blowing to say1, but man, the fact that it exists just makes me so happy2. How did I even find out about this? Well, my parents are perhaps mild hoarders, and this book has just been sitting undisturbed in their study for the past 15+ years. If I ever noticed it growing up, I probably just assumed that it was some sort of manual and didn’t give it another thought; the approximately 400 books in that room are, at least at first glance, mostly Italian travel guides, Judaica, textbooks, and cookbooks, so one naturally assumes that anything stored there is going to be super boring. But while I was unemployed and living at home this summer I decided to start cataloguing and organizing all3 of the books in my parents’ house, so…some important discoveries4 were made.

Selected quote (kind of):


(This glorious tome deserves better than these weirdly angled iPhone pictures, but alas, I do not have a scanner.)

Arctic Summer, Damon Galgut


This is essentially E.M. Forster RPF, although I guess since it’s a published novel by an author who’s been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize twice, we must say that it’s…what? A fictionalized account of Forster’s life between publishing Howards End  and A Passage to India? Right.

The RPF aspect bothers me; I think it maybe even offends me on some level? Let me try to reason through that:

I wouldn’t be as bothered if this were a biopic, because even the most meticulous and well-researched biopic isn’t going to purport to show what’s going on in the head its subject, due to the limitations of film as a medium. Unless we’re talking about stylistically weirder biopics like Bronson, but I doubt those are claiming to be super accurate depictions. Part of the problem might be the idea that there’s a huge gulf between the way Brilliant Visionaries think and the way that ordinary people think, which should render the thought processes of Brilliant Visionaries inaccessible and thus unwritable, or at least, not writable with anything approaching accuracy. But I don’t know, there might just be something inherently off-putting (to me, at least) about the concept of anyone trying to capture in writing the innermost thoughts of any other non-fictional person, Brilliant Visionary or not. I get squicked out at the concept of making Sims based off of one’s real life acquaintances, and this discomfort might be rooted in the same thing, whatever that thing is. And maybe I have lower standards for the dimensionality in the characterization of fictional people versus real people, or maybe it’s just that I know from reading Forster’s letters from around the same time that Arctic Summer takes place that there was more to him than Galgut’s flattened depiction; I think I would accept this character as well-drawn enough if he were just Galgut’s invention, but I can’t accept him as a depiction of E.M. Forster.

Basically, it probably was not ideal to read this after reading through Forster’s actual letters, since Galgut seems to be drawing directly on those (and probably some supplemental primary sources that I have yet to read). Most of the events that take place in the story probably did take place in real life, and the fiction aspect is the actual thoughts that Galgut is projecting onto Forster. And these more or less reduce Forster to his sexual frustration5. Which, granted, is an important aspect of his existence and I’ll buy that it’s even the driving force in this particular period of his life, but the way it comes across in this book feels very impersonal, I guess, when you can see so much more dimensionality and specificity in his letters.

Also, a very specific complaint: the portrayal of Forster’s relationship with his mother—it’s cited as “complicated” a lot with little elaboration, which seems like lazy writing to me, but the gist of it is that he feels stifled and judged by her, I think?—feels like an oversimplification, at least based on his actual letters to his mother. Yeah, the relationship portrayed in this book certainly fits with genre conventions of, like, repressed gay self-discovery or whatever, but that is so, well, generic. Much more boring and expected than it had to be, given the actual evidence.

Selected quote:

His own sterility was apparent to him and would soon, he felt sure, be visible to others. Curiously, he didn’t feel depressed at the prospect. He was almost intrigued by the idea of giving in to his oddness, turning into one of those remote, ineffectual creatures so warped by their solitude that they became distasteful to normal people.

The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh


This was a total pleasure, but I don’t have anything intelligent and/or interesting to say about it, I think. The subject matters of the satire in Vile Bodies and Scoop were perhaps too unfamiliar for me to fully enjoy those books, but I did spend spend most of 2015 living right across from a Los Angeles cemetery, so The Loved One hits somewhat closer to home. Not that I can claim to be super familiar with 1940s Hollywood and the LA funeral business, especially from a British perspective, but the stereotypes haven’t changed that much over time. According to Wikipedia, Evelyn Waugh was “was baffled and even angered by [The Loved One‘s] popularity in America” which, like, fuck you, man. I mean, thanks for writing this book, but fuck you (and double fuck you for the ending of Brideshead Revisited which I read before starting this blog and thus did not get to fully vent my feels about).

 Selected quote:

‘Here is the strangulated Loved One for the Orchid Room.’
Mr Joyboy was the perfection of high professional manners. Before he came there had been some decline of gentility in the ascent from show-room to workshop. There has been talk of ‘bodies’ and ‘cadavers’; one jaunty young embalmer from Texas had even spoken of ‘the meat’.

iWoz, Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith

Ugh, I think I kind of hate Steve Wozniak now? Throughout the entire book, he just comes off as not at all self-aware; I think I had a perception of him as this chill, humble guy who just happened to be quietly brilliant, and it seems like this is also how he perceives himself. But what also comes through in this book is this weird self-righteous streak and a lingering fixation on his giftedness6 as a child, and those are just: not very chill and not very flattering. Certainly, given Wozniak’s accomplishments, bragging is totally warranted, but either he or his ghostwriter lack the charisma to convey it in a way that’s not obnoxious as fuck? The fact that he seems to brag as much, if not more, about his childhood science fair projects as he does about the Apple I, is: ugh. Ugh.

Steve Wozniak: more likable as portrayed in the movie Steve Jobs than he is in his own autobiography. That is…something.


An example of why this book is so obnoxious:

I loved being able to excel at things, and having people recognize me for that. Not out of ego, really, just a drive to be the best.

I was good at swimming and football and made the All-Stars in Little League, where the other kids told me I was the best pitcher and runner and hitter on my teams. In fifth grade I was the smartest student in my class, according to my teachers at least, and I was elected school student body vice president. Do I sound like I’m bragging? I know I do, but I don’t mean to. I was just so proud of all that. All these activities built up my self-esteem, and that was an important part of my internal development.

But things changed in sixth grade. I wasn’t so popular anymore. In fact, suddenly it was like I was invisible. All of a sudden, other kids didn’t recognize me as much for my math and science skills, which really bothered me.

Dude. What the fuck do you think “ego” and “bragging” are?

1. In fact, I’m not even sure what I would even admit to considering deep or mind-blowing. But I am probably a bit prickly about the whole Zen thing; there have perhaps been multiple incidents of dudes trying to explain Zen to me as a solution to my existential angst, where I have just sat there like, “I feel like you probably don’t actually know what you’re talking about, but since I also don’t know shit about Zen, I can’t really call you out on that, so you’re just going to keep talking and reveling in your supposed ~worldliness or whatever. Fuuuuck.” ^
2. Very similar feelings about Phish’s cover of “Avinu Malkeinu.” I mean, right? That is a thing that exists, and I am delighted every time I remember that. ^
3. I got through about 700 and that’s almost definitely not even half. Jesus Christ. ^
4. Maurice was one of these, and without it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten deep into Forster, so. ^
5. Well, okay, also his frustration wrt not being able to finish A Passage to India, but I think this book is arguing that that is intrinsically linked to the sexual frustration. ^
6. Which, yo, I get, although I was obviously not nearly as gifted a child as Wozniak. But I would think that if you actually prove yourself to be a gifted adult, you no longer need to bask in your childhood superiority as well? Like, for some of us, those memories are all we’re going to have to assure us of our place in the world as adults, but come on, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. ^


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