August, 2004

Aug 04

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Your typical boy-meets-tiger story. This is a novel that describes an Indian boy’s trek from Pondicherry, India to Canada, with a pretty notable shipwreck in the middle. For most of the book, Pi Patel is stuck on a very small boat with a very large tiger — but it’s a pretty gripping read, nonetheless.

One of the judges who awarded the book the Booker Prize basically said that the book has a flawed beginning & end, but there’s a ton of great stuff in the middle, and that’s how I feel. I was reminded a lot of reading The Old Man and the Sea, by John Steinbeck, in high school — in particular, I was reminded how bored I was when reading that book, and how not-bored I was when reading Life of Pi. There’s something very compelling about the way that Martel writes the character — makes you both want to believe in the story and also makes you think a lot about what you’d do in similar, or analogous, situations, which I suppose is the whole point.

At the end of the day, I think this is a story that’s a little bit about perception, and a little bit about God, a little bit about culture — but mostly it’s a story about creating the type of world that you want to have, even in the direst of situations.

Definitely worth reading.

Aug 04

Candy Freak, by Steve Almond

This is a great book! It’s a short book, written by a frequent contributor to NPR, all about candy. He talks about his own candy addiction for a bit (always has between 3 and 8 pounds of candy in his house — actually gives a rundown of the candy in his house when he was writing the book). Talks a lot about the candy that he remembers from his youth, how it all evokes such strong memories. Lots of interesting history and stories about the candy industry. Did you know that Snickers Almond is basically rebranded Mars bars? Or that while Americans love milk chocolate, most of the world loves dark chocolate? And that that was an effect of Mr. Hershey introducing and marketing milk chocolate starting at the Colombian Exposition in Chicago in the late 19th century? [Aside: another book that I’ve read this year that’s relevant here is called The Devil and the White City — all about the Colombian Exposition — great book. Shredded Wheat was introduced at that fair, as was Alternating Current. Momentous.]

Anyway, in the really magical part of the book, Almond writes about taking tours of a number of regional candy makers — companies that are still straining to stay alive. Consider the Twin Bing — a cherry candy made in Iowa. Or the Idaho Spud, produced in its eponymous state. [When Kathy and I were in Montana, I was **thrilled** to find Idaho Spuds at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere. Until I took the first bite. Ugh. Some sort of marshmallow/nougat/coconut concoction. But you’ve got to give them credit for trying.]

Like I said, it’s a short book, easy to read. And it really will bring back all sorts of memories. Big tip: he mentions that the absolute best candy bars that he found during his trip are the Five Star Bars, by Lake Champlain Chocolates. You can get them at Whole Foods, or by writing away for them. Absolutely delicious.

The book’s only real flaws, in my opinion are these: (1) he has a real bigotry against white chocolate, and (2) he never once mentions the Zero Bar — a staple of my youth.

Aug 04

New Corollary: Flights Without Headphones are Painful

Well, I suppose it goes without saying, but the day after I do a post about
how great it is to have music for long plane rides, I’ve somehow lost my
fancy noise-canceling headphones. Not exactly roughing it, but flights
without them are a lot harder now…

Aug 04

nice clouds

well, i’m a little bit sick of being on airplanes lately, but every once in a while there are some nice perks. we’re getting pretty close to NYC now, and we’ve been racing away from the Sun all day, so it’s getting towards twilight. we’re still up high above the clouds, and there are a bunch of them — like a carpet made of fluffy white cotton candy. the sunset is lighting them bright pink right now. i’ll take a picture with my treo and see if i can attach it to this post.

anyway, it’s nice. better than frequent flier miles. 🙂

Aug 04

Obvious: Digital Music is Sublime

This goes into the obvious file, but I’ve just got to say that the
emergence of digital music is absolutely incredible. I’m currently on a 6
hour flight from SJC -> JFK, and I’ve been working on my laptop and
listening to music the whole way. [Quick aside: I’ve been flying a bunch of
different airlines this year, but have to say that American is hands down
my happiest situation — more leg room, power outlets in the seats, and
gold status will get me exit row seats, which helps a LOT.]

Anyway, so I’ve just put my whole music collection on shuffle and have been
listening to a bunch of different things. The idea that I could have every
song that I own with me all the time is just wacky. And it turns out that
between my laptop and my iPod, I’ve actually got **two** copies of every
song that I own (and a few that I don’t).

On every single trip I’ve been on with my iPod, I end up listening to songs
I haven’t heard in years — and always listen to one or two a few times,
because they really speak to me. For example, a couple of trips ago, I
ended up listening to British Band music by Holst & Vaughn Williams. The
last time that I really listened to that stuff was in high school, when our
band played a bunch of it — but it all came back to me. Actually, “came
back to me” isn’t quite the right way to phrase it — I think it’s all just
inside me somewhere. The melodies and rhythms and beats all just felt
super-natural to me — and it was pretty emotional to listen to, because it
all brought back memories of a different time for me — I guess it was
about 20 years ago now, in high school. The music hit me at a gut
emotional, no memories level, but it also was fun to think about what life
was like back then. How the complexities and responsibilities and joys were
so different. It’s a little bit like the occasions when I drive around
Austin late on summer nights — the hot, sticky air always reminds me of
driving after football games in high school. Nice memories.

And a lot of times I’ll end up really listening to a song for the first
time — the other day I listened to Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah about 10
times in a row. (You may remember it from The West Wing, from the season
finale of Season 3, when Mark Harmon’s character gets killed.) I had always
really liked the music, but for some reason on that day at that time, I
just really paid attention to what he was doing with his voice, and the
lyrics, and his guitar. I’m listening to a ton more music than I have in a
really long time.

Like I said. Sublime.