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Milan Kundera- The Unbearable Lightness of Being

You may have seen the movie, but you won't understand the experience of The Unbearable Lightness of Being without reading the book. The book is filled with commentary on Prague Spring from a neo-marxist viewpoint. (He was kicked out of the party. He is another author who should have more movies made from his books. The book is far superior to the movie. Also check out: The Joke, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and Immortality.

Thank God IĎm an atheist.
Better living through Criticism ó (2016) ó Scott

I picked this up because I thought (mistakenly) this was going to be about film, itís not. The book turns out to be a touchy-feely screed about the need for a new and improved criticism in general about everything. Although there are a couple of fleeting film observations; he points out the Edwards family from The Searchers comically built their ranch in the middle of a fricking desert (Monument Valley) so they have no chance of survival; and he ends the book with John Wayneís catch phrase from that film.

This book lost me almost immediately when he equates the critique of a work of art as a genuine work of art in itself and each great artist must do a painful, public lip stand as a failed critic. Nureyev and Baryshnikov couldnít scribble articulately about dance so they become dancers instead? Complete nonsense. He suggests everything artistic should be thrown into the market place of ideas and let them fight it out in that noble arena. Again, complete nonsense; a functioning market place does the exact opposite; it guarantees monoculture and reduces choice to a single dominant cash cow with one or two inferior alternatives. In cinema, this would be the bi-weekly release of the super-hero comic book movie (SHCBM). The free market also establishes hidden monopoly control that rigs the system at the exclusion of all else for their exclusive financial benefitóif they donít sell it, we donít need it. Again in cinema, this would be the dumping of the new SHCBM in three/quarters of the available theaters the first week. Add the fact a functioning market place (one dollar one vote) is pathologically hostile towards real democracy (one person one vote) which intrinsically imposes public interest and social security before greed.

The book gains a little when he revisits some of his personal moments of great beauty. One thing I did like, because the work of art is a moving target; he admits that he (and other critics) get it wrong from time to time. Unfortunately, the book fails by not providing a simple template with which each work of art is supposed to be judged by other than: ďthis was so beautiful I was crying like a little school-girl.Ē Also the how-to portion in the subtitle is entirely missing from the book. In the end, this mainly seems to be some vague blather about justifying his cushy job as one of the last of the paid reviewers.

Better living through Criticism : how to think about art, pleasure, beauty, and truth ó Ĺ

Black Swan ó (2007) ó Taleb

The book is a little technical (with some math) and geared towards the spectre of financial meltdowns and it tries to show that chance rules everything. Our belief systems (and stories) are a merely a ways of projecting predictable patterns and outcomes onto random chaos. Taleb reveals actual studies of financial forecasts show they predict nothing and candid conversations with a few of the forecasters tell him they are aware this is tosh fobbed off on a gullible public, but itís part of their job description. He uses the example of the prize-winning, Thanksgiving turkey using a rear view mirror to go through life. Since every day was idyllic and wonderful in the past, therefore every day in the future will be the exactly same. Itís a great system right up until the last day when everything goes completely haywireóand why is Farmer Pete walking towards me gripping that axe?

I liked the tiny peeks at his personality; he travels incognito as a chauffeur to enjoy his book during long plane flights. When he was a Wall Street trader at the end of the evening he would take a short taxi ride back to his apartment and throw a hundred dollar bill over the seat, just to watch the cabbieís reaction. Begrudgingly he admires Ralph Nader but says his run at the Presidency was all wrong. Nader should have campaigned as a heroic life saver; millions (by now, tens of millions) of people owe their lives to him for shaming the auto industry into putting basic safety features into their death traps. Which is funny because in an earlier passage, he had pointed out the invention of a simple security widget that would have prevented 9/11 from happening would not have brought its creator instant fame and fortune. The technical innovation solves the problem then produces an endless series of non-events, Itís a bit like the invisible tote-board flashing beside your front door: since the installation of this Acme door lock your television and your priceless VHS collection of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies has not disappeared . . . 107 times.

Thereís a great in-joke about writing a book about catastrophes: black swans are by definition undetectable and unforeseeable; itís a bit like writing a pepper manual about what to do in the event of a meteor strike. But the book does remind the reader that chaos and infinite possibility are the bedrock of life, each decision in life contains no fewer than 360 different options. Theoretically, you could roll out of bed tomorrow morning and decide, Iíve always wanted to do X and begin to do it. Or youíve had a secret dream to live in Y for a year and by tomorrow night you could be half-way there or long gone.

Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable ó ★★Ĺ

Thank God IĎm an atheist.
Berlin Diary ó (1941) ó Shirer

This is the personal notebook that Shirer kept while he was a news correspondent in the Third Reich. The Naziís were pretty up front about what they wanted from foreign press; they could report what happened in Germany but they couldnít interpret anything and anyone routinely embellishing with a countervailing spin of reality simply had their press credentials yanked and was thrown out of the country. Shirer may have lasted a little longer than most because when he switched from newspaper to radio, all his on-air reports were censored. As the war progressed, it became almost impossible to report anything factual from within the country. At the end two native-born Americans would elide his text beforehand, plus a third would transcribe his actual on-air reading, noting every pause, intonation, and under-lining with a black marker every sarcastic inflection of his voice.

He has some funny anecdotes about stumbling through the dark trying to make his way across a blacked-out city. When France and England declared war against Germany, schools were outfitted with a special morning prayer: the teachers had to begin the day with: God will punish England! The children had to say: Yes, he will! When Britain began bombing Berlin, the State Radio switched to lip microphones so the bombing couldnít be heard in the background. Hitlerís all-time favorite movies were It Happened One Night and Gone With the Wind.

Shirer has a fantastic eye, keying on empiric downticks in reality. He notes the dwindling attendance at public rallies from the frenzied rock star excitement of Hitlerís public appearances his first week in country. When he first arrived, he would travel to the State Radio office by side streets so he wouldnít cross roving bands of Brown Shirts who would beat anyone to pulp who didnít return their Nazi salute (at the same time, one could walk past the Gestapo headquarters downtown and hear people screaming from inside.) He learns Hitlerís modus operandi to the point where he knows imminent invasion of a country is only days away when Hitler offers them a fantastic peace deal on a silver platter. He is always shocked by the insouciance of people unaware their country was sliding into madness. He remembers chatting with two young aristocratic women opening expressing their opinions at an official function, only to discover a couple weeks later they had been beheaded as traitors. This is a glimpse of a strange totalitarian world where the media was projecting complete fabrications of reality and most of the people were unaware they were living in a make-believe world.

Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent (1934-1941) ó ★★★

I recently read Grateful American by Gary Sinise. I loved it.

Movie Forums: There's Just No Accounting For Taste
The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham