Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Proposal of Modest Proportions: that time I wrote an essay in high school in the style of Jonathan Swift

I was talking to my cousin Will the other day and he mentioned that he took a course on humor in literature. I mentioned Jonathan Swift, known for his classic satirical piece A Modest Proposal, wherein "Swift suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies." (source) And I then recalled having not only read that essay in my English class in high school, but also having written a satire on that satire!

I do not remember the details of the assignment, or how I came to this idea, but I wrote an essay that both satirized and paid homage to Swift's writing style, while simultaneously putting forth several "suggestions" about how to improve the game of golf into a sport. As an avid golfer, this was all written with my tongue poking right out through my cheek. I enjoyed writing this very much and was ecstatic to later win an essay prize for it!

Here it is in its unedited entirety:

Brendan Sullivan
AP English Literature
May 3, 2003

A Proposal of Modest Proportions:

How to Make Golf a Real Sport

When one examines the physical and intellectual capabilities required of participants in many of today’s popular sports, one might observe that these characteristics encourage athletes to train and prepare to become both mentally and physically fit. For example, the sport of long-distance running, particularly the marathon, breeds contestants who are not only able-bodied, muscular, and healthy, but also mentally sound, for there is indeed an intense cerebral component to this sport. To complete the same motion, that is placing one foot in front of the other, for approximately 26 miles, occurring over a time period of anywhere from two to twelve hours, depending on the ability of the performer, is a mentally demanding task, and one that should not be taken lightly. Now, if one studies the professional sports that are popular with today’s television-viewing public, such as baseball, football, or wrestling, it is clear that a similar level of physical and mental aptitude is required of the players, who are sufficiently rewarded for their services, as seen in their moderately respectable salaries.

There is one sport, however, which has received some not undeserved criticism for its players’ lack of function of mind and body: golf. A majority of sports enthusiasts and aficionados have criticized this sport (the term “sport” being used loosely in this sense, as its status as such being similarly questioned) for producing overweight, weak, and I might add, simple-minded, players, who have apparently been relegated to the unfortunate rank of “professional golfer” due to their incompetence in other, more demanding and respectable, athletic endeavors. One must only look at past and present golfers, such as Craig Stadler, aptly nicknamed “The Walrus” for his tremendous girth, both in waist and in mustache, to be convinced that this game produces individuals who are extremely thick (to be interpreted in both senses). Even Jack Nicklaus, the game’s “greatest player,” at least in the twentieth century, was widely known for his practically pear-shaped torso, culminating at the brain in an almost metaphorically nonexistent stem.

Lest one has forgotten, as well, or in the same manner, due to proper ignorance of this game, has never learned of the various incidents of stupidity exhibited by professional golfers, I shall convey these stories. Most widely known among the measly 26.5 million golfers in this country is the story of Roberto de Vicenzo, who, in 1968, surrendered a place in a playoff for the title at the Masters Tournament after authorizing with his signature an incorrectly tallied scorecard kept by his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, who had marked de Vicenzo’s score for the 17th hole as a 4 instead of a 3. Surely, if these poor souls cannot even count to four, how can we expect them to serve as role models for our nation’s youth, a responsibility that, thankfully, has been adopted by the much nobler, law-abiding athletes of professional basketball and football.

Slightly lesser known, yet still a prime example of the very mental incompetence of which I speak, is the story of the aforementioned Craig Stadler incurring a two-stroke penalty for not comprehending one of the basic rules of the game. In a tournament in 1987, Stadler was forced to play a shot while kneeling, due to some low-hanging tree branches above his ball that prevented him from taking a normal swing. To preserve the untarnished condition of his trousers, Stadler placed a towel on the ground, which prompted a television-viewer at home to telephone the tournament officials and correctly inform them that Stadler had violated Rule 17-1, which unequivocally states that “a player shall not improve . . .the area of his intended swing.” Again, this is a strong deterrent from allowing our children to watch these golf events, as these players hardly even know their rules better than the average Joe sitting on his living room couch.

I would be rightfully described as disrespectful and negligent if I were to merely identify this already-recognized situation. To prevent this criticism, I shall therefore propose a variety of schemes that will not only make the game more demanding, both physically and mentally, but also much more interesting to watch for the general public. These suggestions will attempt to incorporate the admirable characteristics of other professional sports into the game of golf, in an effort to make the game more like a true sport.

Firstly, the use of caddies, a tradition that undoubtedly developed from the game’s origins in 17th century Scotland when some foolish golfer probably indulged himself in an excessive amount of Scotch and consequently lost his ability to even carry his own bag, will be abolished. Since baseball players are forced to carry their bats from the dugout to the batter’s box, shouldn’t golfers be similarly required to carry their “bats?” In addition, the prohibition of caddies will compel the players to cogitate without external assistance, an aid that the players have come to rely on too heavily, as they can hardly even take a drink of water without asking their pathetic subordinate for help, thus necessitating a keen intellect.

Secondly, there has been much discussion today about the lengthening of golf courses, particularly to “Tiger-proof” them and prevent this dominant golfer, Tiger Woods, who for some reason was featured as the “Sportsman of the Year” in Sports Illustrated in 1996 and 2000 (evidently, the magazine editors were bribed or blackmailed into awarding such a prestigious title to an undeserving golfer). Not only is Tiger prompting this craze for distance, but the improving technology, as well, has yielded this onslaught of opinion in favor of increased yardage. It seems as though every day there is a new club, ball, glove, tee, shoe, or some other fancy contraption, that promises increased distance and accuracy. “Twenty yards longer, and thirty percent straighter” is an example of a claim that might be made by a golf equipment company. These assertions are partially true, as professional golfers are continually hitting their brand-new, high-tech, updated balls ever farther down the fairway and ever closer to the hole with their brand-new, high-tech, updated clubs.

This begs the question, how do other sports respond to such drastic improvements in technique, bordering on the edge of unfairness? In baseball, for example, officials have become more aware of corked bats and seek to prevent cheaters from hitting pitch after pitch out of the ballpark. Similarly, the Professional Golf Association should impose stricter limits on players’ equipment, thus putting an end to the current trend towards limitless distance and clubheads larger than one’s foot with spring-like properties at impact almost on the order of magnitude of particle accelerators. I humbly suggest that first of all, the current limit of 14 clubs should be reduced to a more reasonable number, such as two or three, in respect to equity, for basketball players are allowed but one ball on the court at a time. In addition, I feel that these two or three clubs should be restricted to a material such as wood or paper, which would serve to reduce the explosive power of the modern-day titanium, steel, or other metallic alloys that are being fashioned into drivers.

Now, particularly clever and studious patrons of baseball history might argue that Major League Baseball did not respond to such displays of power as Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 by greatly lengthening the distance between home plate and the outfield wall, or by moving the pitcher’s mound closer to home plate. In fact, this is exactly why I propose to lengthen golf courses by a significant amount; it would be unprecedented, a trend-setter, a paragon for other sports to follow. What could golfers possibly enjoy more than returning home from an 18 hole round on their local, 20,000 yard, par 54, public course and lounging in front of their big-screen television, on their oversize couch, with a two-gallon soda in one hand and a three-pound bag of potato chips in the other, to watch a football game played on a 250-yard field, or to see a batter hit a 500-foot pop fly that only reaches halfway to the bleachers, or to see another airball shot from behind the 60-foot three-point line, all because these sports decided to follow the example set by the PGA? Now that would be entertainment!

Thirdly, continuing on the theme of making golf more difficult, and subsequently more entertaining, I suggest that the so-called “hazards” should be more hazardous. One major aspect of sports in the modern age is injuries: broken wrists resulting from diving for a line drive, concussions from being tackled by a charging lineman, and skin lacerations from being scratched by an opponent’s eyebrow ring while battling for a rebound—all of these potential mishaps add to the excitement of sport. Where, I ask, is there a risk for injury in golf? Excluding the inconsequential heat strokes, pulling of muscles, food poisoning (which Tiger Woods himself suffered from after carelessly consuming his girlfriend’s poorly-cooked spaghetti), and the countless kinds of back injuries that result from years of twisting one’s body back and forth hundreds of times a day, there exists no major disease, affliction, or condition that could possibly plague a golfer any more than the average human, and therefore the excitement is lessened.

To remedy this, bunkers, or sand traps, should be replaced with quicksand traps. Not only would this force players to be more accurate with their approach shots in an effort to avoid these hazards, but they would also force the golfer to hit the shot hastily. Due to the ever-present risk of becoming an eternal part of the hazard itself, any relatively sane golfer (my apologies for the blatant oxymoron) would be sure to spend a little less time settling his or her stance and taking a few practice swings, thereby shortening the abnormally and painfully long time period exhausted by a single round of golf.

Similarly, water hazards should be augmented, not only in size, but also in content. From now on, lakes, streams, creeks, burns, and ponds shall contain all varieties of poisonous insect, frog, fish, amphibian, and reptile, namely piranhas, alligators, poison-dart frogs, and an assortment of species of deadly flies and bees. Likewise, forests adjoining golf holes should be inhabited by all sorts of creatures, such as grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, and if possible, depending on the course’s location, savage cannibal warriors. These new and improved hazards would also quicken the pace of play while boosting the excitement factor at the same time, for who wouldn’t enjoy watching a frantic golfer sprint down the fairway with a menacing grizzly in hot pursuit and narrowly escape the bear to finish the hole in a record-breaking 6.2 seconds?

While I am considering the topic of time commitment, I shall introduce my next modest suggestion, which is the concept of a timed element of play in this getting-close-to-a-sport-now game of golf. Consider, for a brief moment, the impact of a clock on the outcome of football or basketball. Not only is there a game clock, there is also a shot clock or play clock. Each time-out is carefully timed by the referees. There are two-minute warnings, loud buzzers, and fans chanting the countdown from ten to zero. In fact, these sports enjoy the period-ending alerts so much that they play games in quarters, to allow this electrifying event to happen on four separate occasions throughout the game.

To allow for similar excitement to be instilled in the somewhat humdrum and tedious affairs of golf, I suggest that a game clock be utilized during a golf tournament. At the beginning of the tournament the clock should be set for ninety minutes, and upon commencement of the round, when all players tee off simultaneously on the first hole, the clock will count down. Any player who does not complete his or her eighteen hole round in the allotted time period, which is an entirely reasonable amount of time, will be immediately disqualified.

A correlated consequence of this decree would be the subsequent universal adoption of a new style of play. Golfers will no longer leisurely promenade between shots while idly gazing at their surroundings, signing autographs for fans, or pondering their next shot. Instead, players will hurriedly dash to their ball’s location and, within a matter of seconds, hit the ball, only to dash off once again. This would assist in enhancing the mental and physical properties of all players involved, a process which, as I have previously mentioned, has been lacking for quite some time. The exercise required for the actual running on these lengthened, hazard-filled courses, would surely improve the kinesthetic functioning of all players, and the required quick thinking and decision-making would make golfers slightly more intelligent, although certainly not up to par (no pun intended) by normal standards. All in all, the introduction of a game clock could do no wrong in bringing the game of golf out of its confines, and might possibly change it from a “good walk spoiled” (in the words of Mark Twain) to a good run spoiled.

While professional golfers are rushing from shot to shot, desperately trying to avoid each hazard on their quest to beat the clock as well as par, I believe that the players should encounter another obstacle: defense. Surely, this could not continue unobserved for too long. Baseball, basketball, football—all these sports present two teams on opposing sides of the field, with both trying to score and attempting to prevent the other team from scoring. Why is there no element of defense in golf? Besides the incredibly difficult courses, carefully designed and carved out of the landscape to present golfers with every imaginable obstacle, along with the forces of nature, such as wind, rain, and heat, there is no resistance offered by an opposing side.

To fill this unfavorable gap in the game’s properties, I recommend that each competing golfer be allowed to hit not only his or her own ball, but also the ball of an opponent and, in doing so, place that adversary in a less manageable situation, such as in one of the new and improved quicksand traps. Such an act would incur no penalty on the player and would in fact be encouraged, as it would make the game more difficult, both by forcing players to incorporate new strategic measures and by intensifying the battle against the game clock, for hunting for a ball recently batted away by an opponent would waste precious seconds.

Finally, my last proposal to make the game of golf more exciting for the spectators, and more exhausting and demanding for the players, is to modify the concept of “sudden death.” When a golf tournament remains tied after regulation play, it is customary at some tournaments to complete a sudden death playoff, where the first player to beat his or her opponent on an extra hole is regarded as the winner. I advocate a new playoff system, one that would involve literal sudden death. Each player involved in the playoff should be given an opportunity to hit their shots, after which the player furthest from the hole would be subsequently shot for the poor quality of their shot. This process would continue until only one player remains, who would therefore be declared the champion. Obviously, if only two players are competing in the playoff, this procedure should not take too much time or effort on the part of the tournament committee, and the matter should be resolved rather quickly, after the first shot.

It goes without saying, which is why I am saying it, that these new rules and systems should only be adopted by the professional golfers, and not by amateurs. In other sports, amateurs and professionals play different games by different rules. For example, how many pickup basketball games provide three referees, an array of sportscasters, and cheerleaders and slam-dunking mascots at halftime? Accordingly, every effort should be made to ensure that the game played by amateur golfers remain at its current state. The aforesaid proposals are only intended to improve the quality of the game for the entertainment of the television-viewing public and, at the same time, counter the countless complaints of these obese, unintelligent wannabe athletes polluting the nation’s professional sports arena. In no way am I suggesting that something be done about the obese, unintelligent wannabe athletes polluting the nation’s amateur sports arena. That topic alone, my dear reader, would warrant its own modest proposal.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

52 Books - May update: 66/100

A previous post of mine said that I will be reading 52 books in this year's 52 weeks. I have already surpassed this goal and have updated it to be 100(!) books this year. Here is my progress:

As of my most recent post, recapping April's readings, I had tallied 46 books. Here I am now to not only share my progress in the month of May, but also to up the ante a bit. Seeing that I hit 52 books not quite halfway through the year, and looking forward to the summer months with fewer daily commitments, I've decided to update my goal to 100 books this year. I'm well on my way and looking forward to more!
Here's what I've managed to ingest since my last update::

47/52: Random Essays on Mathematics, Education and Computers, by David G. Kemeny
As I noted in my Goodreads review, I highly recommend this book on its "Mathematics" and "Education" essays alone. You can skip the "Computers" section and not miss anything, but if you find yourself intrigued by what a 1960s mathematician predicted about the future of technology and its implementation, read away. There are so many quotable passages in this book, and its essays really resonated with many of viewpoints on math and undergraduate education. It seems to be a bit of a rare book, too, having been published by the MAA back in the day and not available anywhere else. (Indeed, I had to add the book to Goodreads myself.)

48/52: Paperweight, by Stephen Fry
I love Stephen Fry. I bubble and burst with sickly sweet love for him. (I hope I'm doing his enthusiasm for wordsmithery veritable justice here.) This is a collection of various newspaper articles, radio scripts, and even a play he wrote, which you cannot find published elsewhere. If you're a Fry fan already, this is an absolute "must read" and is highly recommended. I admittedly skimmed through one small section that contained a bunch of reviews of books by British authors I'd never heard of. But I devoured thrice over some of his more penetrable essays, including a delightfully memorable one about the word "fuck" and its usage. I cannot imagine such a writeup appearing in a national American newspaper. God bless ye Britons.

49/52: Attempting Normal, by Marc Maron
I started listening to this as an audiobook, at first. As a reasonably avid listener to Maron's WTF Podcast, I looked forward to hearing his voice read these words. A confluence of three factors led me to eventually read this in print form, after listening to only the first chapter: (1) my audiobook app's innate volume is set irrevocably low, and a passing car renders words completely out of earshot, despite an earbud set firmly in the requisite orifice; (2) I realized that I'm so accustomed to Maron's voice, tone, and cadences, that I can read his printed words "aloud" in my head effectively without his intervention; and (3) I stumbled on a hardcover copy of this in the library. So, I read it. It was good. If you are, as well, a Maron fan, then this is another "must read". Even if you're not, though, this is a well-written memoir of a life in comedy and … well, a life in life.

50/52: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami
I've only read one short novel by Murakami before. I'm admittedly daunted by the thickness of, say, IQ84. So I dabbled with After Dark, and now with this collection of short stories. But they're so damn great. I have to read more. Murakami finds a way to describe and make wholly interesting the inner workings of a character's mind, without literally writing about their thoughts or emotions. This is hard to describe, I'm realizing now. You just have to read him. I plan on delving into more of his oeuvre in the very near future.

51/52: Slaughterhouse-five, by Kurt Vonnegut
I bought a used copy of this book a few years ago but only just read it now. I'm glad I did. It was a quick read (two days or so) and totally worth it. I believe I need to reread this again to fully understand its satirical aspects and appreciate its place in the canon of American literature. But I'll be damned if I didn't laugh out loud at parts of this, while scratching my head at others. What else can you ask for from a novel?

52/52: Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks
I've found many interesting books while perusing the graphic novel section of the Boston Public Library. This is definitely one of those books. Everyone "knows" Jane Goodall, and maybe even Dian Fossey, but I'd argue that very few people really know what they did and why they did it and what it all means. This book addresses that. What's more, it does so in a wholly engaging manner and can even appeal to a variety of audiences. I was totally engrossed by this book, and I can imagine a 13-year-old, say, similarly engaged. That says a lot about the way that Ottaviani crafted the story and Wicks drew the panels, but it also says a lot about the reality interweaving these three tenacious scientists. Let alone that they're all females and they all studied primates; this is just a damn good story.

53/100: Moab Is My Washpot, by Stephen Fry
Ah yes, more of Mr. Fry. I knew absolutely none of this about the man. This is the story of his life from age 0ish to 18ish. It is incredibly forthright and arguably confrontational in how frank it is. But it wholly succeeded, for me, in describing and motivating who this man has become. I like to think I understand Mr. Fry a lot more, having read this; yet, having read this, I'm sure that he will continue to surprise me.

54/100: Alex, by Mark Kalesniko
A graphic novel about an "artist's" "struggle" in suburbia. I liked a lot of aspects of this book. The drawing style might be the selling point. It was both sparse and evocative; pure black and white with lots of shading and interesting vantage points. Considering the various scenes in the book took place in only a handful of places, I was actually quite impressed with the variety in rendering. The characters were well-developed and their interactions were rich. And the overt John Fante reference was a nice touch. (The action took place in Bandini, CA.) However, the story was a little trite, or at least frequently-enough-played-out-to-be-almost-unengaging. I dunno. I was just thinking, "Oh, a frustrated artist is a drunk still living in his hometown and thrashing against his adolescent influences? How original!" I fully enjoyed the read at the time, but it is what it is.

55/100: Ezra Pound: Early Poems, by Ezra Pound
(This was a short book of poetry, but I'm including it amongst the other books in the "Other readings that count" section below to register as a full "read" here.) I picked this out during April (poetry month) since Ezra Pound attended my undergraduate institution. (At the same time, I picked out a collection of poetry by Robert Lowell, who attended my high school. I'm still reading that one.)
I remember trying to dive into some of Pound's Cantos a few years back and getting nowhere rapidly. This collection was a bit more inviting. Some of these poems were wholly forgettable, while others were immediately engaging. Overall, I could sense and appreciate Pound's style. His ability to conjure images and make them profound is commendable. After this, I'd like to go back and read more of his poetry. I don't know what it will do for me, but this particular collection has certainly motivated those efforts.

56/100: Dead Fish Museum, by Charles D'Ambrosio
More genuinely sad stories from a modern short story genius. Still though, it's difficult to characterize what makes these stories sad, let alone great. Nothing is overtly depressing. It's something about D'Ambrosio's ability to craft a character and, more importantly, a character's feeling of their environment. There's one story I have in mind where a guy just moved into a new house with his wife. I recall little about the scenery, save for a tree in the backyard and the house's isolation from the rest of the town. But I can vividly evince this man's emotional reactions to the house at night, to the creakings of its floors when family visited, to its view of the nearby trees and rivers. I can't think of anyone else's writing that has this effect on me. I'm glad I discovered this writer this year.

57/100: Sleepwalk With Me, by Mike Birbiglia
I'm already a fervent Birbiglia fan. (He also attended my high school, and even grew up in my hometown.) I also saw the film he created from this book already. But I spotted this on the library shelves and realized I had to read it. I knew many of the jokes, from Mike's standup and the film. But everything carries through so well. These are heartfelt and undeniably honest stories. Mike is a great storyteller. And you are a human being, not a robot. So you get drawn in. Right? RIGHT?

58/100: Mathematical Lives: Protagonists of the 20th Century, edited by Claudio Bartocci et al.
One of the few books by which I've been genuinely disappointed :-( The goal of this collection, I gathered, is to share essays about the most interesting/notable entities in 20th century mathematics. I love this goal. And any support I show towards this book is purely based on how much they attempted to advance this goal, not how much they actually achieved towards this goal. Here are my criticisms: (1) The diversity in this book is frighteningly nonexistent. There may have been one woman mentioned. I can't even recall. No other races mentioned. They're all white men from America or Western Europe/England, plus a handful of Russians and Hungarians. What gives? (2) Amongst those that are mentioned, the essays are poorly written. "Granted", these are mostly translated from Italian (I gather, based on the editors' names) but still … there are entire nonsensical paragraphs and piss-poor sentences/vocabulary. (3) The variability is confusing. Some entries merit an eight-page essay with interview excerpts, while others garner only two pages of curt discourse. I cannot ascertain any reason for the distinctions either.
I think this book could really succeed. I wish it was better at what it tried to do. But, ultimately, this book sucks.

59/100: Chess Story and Journey Into The Past, by Stefan Zweig
I stumbled into Zweig's writings after watching The Grand Budapest Hotel in the theatre recently. (By the by, that was a great film. I'm a Wes Anderson fan, and this is also already one of my favorites of his.) The end credits declare that the script was "inspired by" the writings of Stefan Zweig. Bien sur, I checked him out at the library. I read these two novellas in a two-week span and thoroughly enjoyed them both. Indeed, I can even see the influence they might have had on Mr. Anderson's film. "Chess Story" was certainly my favorite. The "story within a story" aspect evokes the Budapest plot, and the emotional ties of Past evoke some of the film's plot elements. But forget about Anderson. These are great writings, and I would find them wholly enjoyable without the backstory of my discovery of them.

60/100: The Journey To The East, by Hermann Hesse
Not as good as Siddhartha. I enjoyed this very much but "understand" much less about it than I did about Hesse's other novella. What am I missing? Am I being too critical? Did I miss out on much of the religious allegory? Both? I bet it's both.

61/100: The End Of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe
A recommended read from my mom. I sat down and read this over a two-day period while visiting my parents. I enjoyed reading this mostly for the emotional sway of the story (not so much the events), but equally as much for the recommended reading list that it generated. Indeed, the author included a multi-page list in an appendix containing all the books/authors mentioned in the text. I've already been using this as a recommendation engine, quite effectively!

62/100: Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick
I sought this out after reading the Primates book, also written (but not drawn) by Ottaviani. I knew a bit about Feynman's life, having studied physics and read a couple of his books, but this book introduced to much more of Feynman's life story than I thought imaginable in 200ish pages of comic panels. I got a sense of the man's life and personality, but I fear that this is partly because I already had an introduction to him. I wonder what a genuine Feynman n00b would get out of this. But, hey, I suppose that's not the intended audience.

63/100: The Body Artist, by Don DeLillo
I cite DeLillo as one of my favorite modern writers, but this is the most recent work of his that I've read. I enjoyed this metaphysical novella about dance, emotional commitment, mourning, human compassion, and more … I was pushed and prodded and intrigued. But, ultimately, this makes me want to go back and reread White Noise.

64/100: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
This is one of those "recommended reads" from the book above, The End Of Your Life Book Club. I'm glad I listened to the recommendation! This was great. I still feel the ending is ambiguous; I know that's the point, but I also haven't been able to decide either way which one I believe/prefer/understand/advocate/blah. This was very well-executed and highly recommended to modern readers.

65/100: I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains, by Chuck Klosterman
Catching up on Klosterman. (I think Eating the Dinosaur is the only one I haven't read yet!) This is better than much of his recent non-fiction. I particularly enjoyed Chuck injecting himself, and his self-perception, into the text. I know that this could be purely sensational, but it worked. And I do believe it. I especially like thinking about him simultaneously working on The Visible Man. I was asked recently by a friend about my favorite book of this year, and I cited that novel< The Visible Man. I couldn't explain why, but after reading this non-fiction book about evil, and contemplating Klosterman's multi-year study of evil and covert observation, and considering him as an observer of human nature and culture, and … well, a whole bunch of stuff … Considering all that shit, I found this book fascinating. Disregarding all of that shit, I bet this would still be fascinating.

66/100: The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham
Genuinely one of the best fiction novels I've read this year! And yet, I've learned that this is "merely" a roman á clef, meant to describe the life and times of French painter Paul Gauguin. I stumbled into this by learning of the writer, W. Somerset Maugham, via the aforementioned book-club-vehicle, The End Of Your Life Book Club. I sought out the MAU fiction section in the library, read some dust-jackets, and chose this book. I made the right choice. This is brilliantly-written, is funny and poignant and emotionally-engaging, and serves to foster an interest in both Maugham and Gauguin. I look forward to going back to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see his painting, D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous ; I've already seen it a handful of times, but I look forward to viewing it with newfound appreciation, after learning about Gauguin's life and times.

Other readings that count:
Coffee With Isaac Newton, by Michael White:
I stumbled upon this in the "science" section at the library. It's a noble pursuit, but falls far short. I bet it's difficult to mimic Newton, of course, but this is not even an interesting quasi-mimicry. I don't want to argue that Newton is more combative but … I'm sure he is. This could be a completely different work without sacrificing accuracy.

2013: Best New Poets, edited by Brenda Shaughnessy:
I'm glad I picked this up and explored it. I don't think I got a good sense of where poetry is "going" currently, but I suppose that isn't the point. Some of these were engaging and wonderful, many were entirely forgettable, and a scant handful were downright awful. So it goes. I could do no better. I'll look for more from this series.

Long Live Man, by Gregory Corso:
More vestiges of "poetry month" from April. I explored Corso a lot, thinking of his eponym on the Sonic Youth song on their "final" (gasp!) album, The Eternal. This was all well and good, and made me want to explore more.

Up next:
In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall:
I even mentioned this last month, but have yet to act on it. Here I go! I want to learn more about Jane and her work with primates. Will do.

Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free, by Robert Samuels:
Admittedly, a sensational title, but that's exactly what caught my eye in the "current non-fiction" section at BPL. Working in higher education makes me even more apt to pick this up to read.

Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America, by Leslie Knope:
Found in the comedy/TV/film section at the library. I also recall seeing a YouTube video recently that is an interview of the cast/crew/writers of Parks & Rec wherein a writer admits that, after they wrote this book, they consult it regularly to make sure facts are consistent; they realize fans will call them out on shit, so they have to check!

Dad Is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan:
Listening to this on audiobook. About halfway done.

Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh:
Picked this up after watching a Stephen Fry "lecture" at Sydney Opera House wherein he mentions three Ws: Wilde, Waugh, Wodehouse. I've read much of Wodehouse, and just yesterday finished The Importance of Being Earnest, but I'm a Waugh virgin.