Book Log – The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett (pseudonym of Mark Anthony)

A purported first novel, but actually a first novel of a pseudonym, this book is written sort-of in the style of Jane Austen. Sort of. It’s like someone trying to write in the style of Jane Austen but without quite the same sensibility (for lack of a better word).

It felt like a first book, but I guess this guy’s got a whole series of novels under his belt under the name The Last Rune.

Essentially, it seems like someone tried to breed Jane Austen and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and got something, but that thing is not likely to be able to breed itself. I’m straining a metaphor here, I see that. But “breeding” in this scenario would be a second book, which this author very much seems to want to write, leaving many unanswered (though not particularly interesting) questions hanging.

Regardless of whether it breeds or not, I shan’t be there to witness it. While this book isn’t terrible and kept me sufficiently interested throughout, there’s likely to be grander skies out there.

Book Log – How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World

How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
-Charles McKay, Preface, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)

“Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong, and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories of the unscientific. It is, therefore, rational to accept it hypothetically.”
-Bertrand Russell, 1959

There’s an interesting perspective put forth here, covering Reaganomics/Thatcherism, post-modernism, cults, quakery, etc., etc., essentially referring to it all as “Mumbo-Jumbo”. There’s a deluge of history related, presumably diffracted through the author’s lens.

The topics range so widely and in almost a stream-of-consciousness manner such that I can’t really give a general opinion. Some of this book rang true, some didn’t, some gave me stuff to think about.

I read with most interest the Reaganomics/Thatcherism part, largely because we are poised to try and solve this Second Great Depression issue, and there are some loud voices endorsing some trickle-down methods of stimulus (which the author puts in the Mumbo-Jumbo category). I’m becoming motivated to read more about the economic theory of Keynes and Friedman, which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting book, though not overwhelmingly clear in its presentation. It felt more like a description of a bunch of wacky stuff that happened, rather than an organized argument. Which is odd, since this is a book about a supposed decline of rational thought in modern times.

The U.S./Canada title of the book is Idiot Proof: A Short History of Modern Delusions, which calls to mind the 1841 Extraordinary Popular Delusions, a classic work that I’ve read about half of1. This book is not quite as scholarly as that work, but informative nevertheless.

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1 I got really bogged down in the chapters relating the Crusades in Volume II, and haven’t gotten back to it.

The Facebook 25

One Score and Five Random Things

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

Since my college buddy Julie O started my list for me…

1. From when I was 15 until I was 30 I wore tennis shoes with one red lace and one blue lace. I concocted many lofty and philosophical explanations for this after the fact, but the main reason was that I couldn’t make up my mind. I put one color on each shoe for comparison, and then just left them that way. By the turn of the century, I had trouble finding red and blue shoelaces, and started wearing hiking boots I bought for a trip to Ireland, so the habit faded away.

2. I reportedly had a “hilarious” (Julie’s word) midlife-style crisis upon turning 19. I only remember this vaguely, but it centered around not deriving any benefits from turning 19: You don’t earn the right to drink, or vote, or drive, or run for the senate, or anything. You just get older, and it represents the waning of one’s teen years. I really enjoyed my teen years and was sad to see them go, but it was all a tempest in a teacup because I enjoyed my 20’s and 30’s just as much.

3. I have a very selective memory. I don’t know if it’s any more or less selective than anyone else, but it feels disproportionately selective to me. Anything beyond a year or so old is a vague, fuzzy impression more than a memory, except for a few events that are as clear as an IMAX film. The upside to this is that I can usually re-read books and be just as surprised at the ending the second time.

4. I love “Joe Vs. The Volcano”, and if you don’t, I believe it’s because you just don’t get it. Or you were expecting another “Big”. My favorite line is Meg Ryan’s, responding to Tom Hanks’ fretting that they’re stuck in the middle of an ocean on a raft made out of suitcases: “It’s always gonna be something with you, isn’t it, Joe?” If I were to do my own cut of the film, it would end right there.

5. I have officiated 2 marriages, though only one of them was technically legal. The other was amidst llamas, which gives it an entirely different sort of validation in my mind.

6. I am the only member of my household who eats peanut butter. Though, to own the truth, one of the members has not yet had the opportunity to form an opinion.

7. I love the expression “to own the truth”.

8. I like soccer, basketball and hockey to watch, when invited, though I don’t on average initiate attending or tuning in a game on my own. Football and baseball are acceptable excuses to get out in the fresh air, eat soft pretzels and have conversations during the boring parts.

9. I really, really don’t understand the appeal of the J.R.R. Tolkien.

10. I like my job 90% of the time, which is an A in some schools.

11. Several years ago, I spent a lot of time researching and writing a business plan for a new type of fitness gym. I abandoned it after I couldn’t make the numbers work. When, in the coming years, I see someone else do it, I shall be very, very angry.

12. The first home I owned was 634 square feet. I miss that minimalism.

13. My wife thought I was gay when she first met me. She was wrong. I just had good hair, which is similar, but different.

14. I was an insignificant, unrecognizable extra in “The Babe” starring John Goodman. I have not seen it, though.

15. I have been paid to disassemble a department store, pull orders for wedding cake supplies, box frozen food in a freezer, assist in the making of television commercials, perform improv comedy, unload insulation from delivery trucks, write articles for the Department of Energy, administrate a computer network, make burgers and fries, design movie theater sound equipment, teach theater to high school students, watch television, and sit on a bag of horse feed.

16. My first aspiration was to be a stunt man, next a waiter.

17. In 8th grade, I won a national Apple-sponsored programming contest, which only goes to show how weak the competition was.

18. In low light, my pupils dilate to different sizes, just like David Bowie’s. He got it from a fist fight, I was just born that way. I enjoy the nervous, frightened look that optometrists get when they notice that.

19. I am extremely uncomfortable talking to people on the phone because I can’t see their face, but I <3 Instant Messaging. 20. I am extremely uncomfortable wearing anything other than jeans. My current job is the first one where I could not wear jeans every day, and that is one of the largest drawbacks in my mind. 21. I can waterski really well, but my brother is better. 22. My 8th grade math teacher told me I wouldn't be able to handle college-track math in high school. Four years later, I was one of five seniors (out of more than 600) to receive the math award, and today I am an engineer who lives and breathes numbers. Never let anyone tell you you can't do something. Granted, they may be right, but you should at least try. 23. My best friend in fourth grade once tried to convince me that we should go to comedy clubs, get up on stage, and just make up funny stuff off the top of our heads. I told him that was a stupid idea, and impossible besides. 2009 is my 22nd year of doing improv comedy. Never tell anyone they can't do something. Granted, you may be right, but they should at least try. 24. I attended the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting in Omaha, NE last year. I am that much of a geek. 25. Quiero aprender hablar español con soltura, y entonces viajaríamos a españa.

This Day In History

Two hundred seventy six years ago on February 12, 1733, James Oglethorpe founded the 13th United States colony of Georgia.

Two hundred years ago on February 12, 1809, both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born.

Eleven years ago on February 12, 1998, I went on a first date with steakums.

Ten years ago on February 12, 1999, I got engaged1 in Savannah next to a statue of James Oglethorpe.

In preparation for the proposal, I bought a Fodor’s Guidebook to Savannah. Using a map of the area and some online surfing for an appropriately picturesque spot, I identified a certain square that would be in a logical walking path from where we were staying.

Before leaving Atlanta, I attempted to engineer a trip to a bookstore to buy the same Fodor’s guide in steakums‘ presence. Unfortunately, the bookstore was closed.

When we arrived in Savannah and checked into our Bed n’ Breakfast, I was saved by the presence of a bundle of To-Do guides on the desk in our room. I surreptitiously slipped my Fodor’s guide into the pile. When we were ready to go out for a walk around the city, I pointed out our good luck that there was a guide here on the table for our use, given that the bookstore was closed.

We started going from square to square and I encouraged steakums to do interpretative readings aloud of each of the monuments from the Fodor’s guide, while I took pictures.

Finally, we got to Chippewa Square with the Oglethorpe statue. As in previous squares, she stood up on the statue’s base and began reading aloud about the monument a dramatic voice from the Fodor’s guide. In mid-sentence she stopped, got a confused look on her face and said, “Ryan, you’re in here… and I’M in here… wha–? and the book is talking about today…”

Halfway through the paragraph about Oglethorpe the guide read “In this spot on February 12, 1999, Ryan Jay Lucas proposed to Stacey Ann Colosa. Say yes!”

It is a true wonder of modern technology that one can exactly recreate a page of an existing book using only a word processing program, a laser printer and careful selection of paper stock.

I have a photo of steakums with a look of bewilderment, caught at the exact moment before realization hit her. I need to find and scan that.

February 12: Good day.

ETA: pictures under cut