What I Read, 2022 Edition

1. Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason by Julia Bainbridge. This 167 page recipe book was a gift from my mom after a stray remark about trying out non-alcohol mixed drinks. After a brief exploration of cocktails in the summer of 2020 and dismay over the amount of work required for even the simplest recipes in this book, I know myself a little better: I’m not any type of -ocktail person. (The recipes are rated on a a 4 point difficulty scale, but almost all the 1s still require fresh squeezing juice and making a simple syrup.) The pictures are pretty, descriptions clear, and 35 pages of front matter before the recipes are all great, but I wanted to know what non-alcoholic spirits to mix with what bases. I’m not interested in garnishing with fruit skins, drinking sugar water (that’s all simple syrups are, and sugar is a drug just like alcohol), or having 12 ingredients sitting around for the two times I week I may use them. There are a couple of recipes I will try and I learned what verjus is (juice from grapes desucked (removed from vines) before maturing), but what I really learned is that kombucha over crushed ice is good enough for me. Also, I thought cocktails use sugar to cover up the alcohol and preparation time to make people feel sophisticated and not alcohol chuggers, so when you remove the alcohol why do you need the sugar or the prep time?

  • Grade: B. If you like the ritual of drink prep, it’s probably an A.

2. Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong-and What you Really Need to Know by Emily Oster. It’s okay to write the review of this 275 page nonfiction literature review in January because by the time you will have read it in December, Baby JZ will have arrived (let’s hope!). What I remember: it’s okay to have a little alcohol and coffee, miscarriages are normal, and pregnancy is pretty safe, statistically, once you pass the first trimester. There are two real takeaways from the book though. First, our medical knowledge is only a couple of steps beyond the Middle Ages. If you try to find a study of X and pregnancy, you are lucky if you find several and if any of them involve even a couple hundred individuals; rarer still is a true experiment. This paucity is for an understandable reason – how many couples want to risk, however minutely, their pregnancy for strangers’ future benefit and an MD/PHD’s career? Most pregnancy knowledge is still folkloric and decisions mostly determined by the woman’s preference. Second, Jesse Shapiro, her husband and a famous economist in his own right, sounds like an asshole. When they decided to have a baby and Emily decided a third-floor walkup apartment was not baby safe, he was fine moving so long as she searched for the house. Woken 15 minutes before his alarm to be told of his wife’s pregnancy, he went back to sleep. He can only cook steak and refused to make his well-done out of solidarity with Emily or, you know, learn to cook something else. He refuses to change the cat litter, the danger of which is actually one of the few ways we have advanced since serf days, because Emily brought the cat into the marriage. I could insert a comment about the stereotypical male economist here, but I won’t because I do have economist friends who I’m pretty sure are nicer than this. Also, and something I already knew, medical doctors do not understand probability.

  • Grade: B+

3. Up From Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington. Reading this 207 page autobiography so soon after WEB DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk was a great idea. DuBois eviscerates Washington for being an Uncle Tom and too focused on industrial training. I did find the biography’s very minimal engagement with racism problematic – there is only a brief mention of the Klan and a racist hotel owner early in the book – but perhaps also Washington had different experiences or a different worldview than DuBois. Unlike DuBois, however, Washington was literally born a slave, gave himself his last name because he did not have one and could only think of the country’s first president when his first teacher asked for one, essentially begged his way into a trade school (Hampton Institute, now University) that he then had to work at to pay his way, and then built an institution from scratch in the Deep South; DuBois was born in 1868 to a free family in Massachusetts and was able to attend a four-year university, Fisk. Is it any wonder then that Washington has a different view of what progress looked like than DuBois, and could they not both have been right? One area Washington was clearly wrong though was his belief in the rapidity of progress of racial relations, and his optimism makes me wonder if his autobiography reflects his true experiences or he was fortunate to have had largely positive relations with White society. His Atlanta Exposition speech, the one that propelled him to national renown, is especially noxious: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential in mutual progress.” has not aged well, and it’s not surprising an elite establishment afraid of Black independence would embrace someone with such an easy, ambiguous belief. Still, I very much enjoyed the book and especially enjoyed hearing about his fundraising (inspiring for an academic who is 1 for 20 on applications), life of travel (he’d have the highest tiers of elite status these days), and vacation to Europe. The book was also very clearly written and an easy read.

  • Grade: A

4. cribsheet: a data-driven guide to better, more relaxed parenting, from birth to preschool by Emily Oster. I grabbed this 291 page literature review immediately after finishing Expecting Better. I suppose I was expecting better, but I do not regret having read it. The main lesson is that no one knows if any parenting choices affect childhood outcomes once an infant is a toddler, as the small size of any effect is buffeted by effects from a thousand other things to which the kid is exposed. (Within reason of course: violence, malnutrition, ignoring the kid, etc. are all obviously bad, which is why there are not randomized controlled trials testing their effects.) There were useful tips about what to look for in a daycare (that chapter should be in Expecting Better since daycare waitlists in large cities are so long that waiting until after birth means waiting too long), sleep training, allergies, and self care. Really, though, one can just consult those chapters when the time comes. The core message, or at least my core lesson, is not to worry so much. My biggest disappointment was only finding one incident of Jesse Shapiro being selfish (not sleeping in the primary bedroom with the infant and Emily) and the very last sentence of the acknowledgments singing his praise as a husband and father.

  • Grade: B-

5. Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. I remember this 360 page memoir becoming a sensation when it was published in 2012, so I was excited to remove it from my Amazon wish list. The book is sometimes repetitive and the writing is nothing special, but I am happy I read it. The main takeaways are that French parents establish clear limits on behavior, but within those limits children have freedom; this cadre gives children confidence to discover their autonomy and reduces stressful negotiation struggles within parents. For example, one’s kid could be required to go to their room for bed at a certain hour, but once in their room they have freedom on when to sleep, whether or not to play, what to wear, etc. Or the child can wear whatever the wants inside the outside but parents have veto when leaving. My favorite is to require the kid to taste everything on their plate for dinner, but they only have to finish what they like. Basically, once the kid is older than 3-4 months, treat the like a future adult and not a helpless blob requiring constant overwatch. Also, crèches – French daycare – are amazing: the staff go through rigorous, selective training, and meals are real food, four courses, and prepared from scratch. Reading about how supportive the French are of new parents was enough to get my blood boiling and inspire one verse of my future cover of This is America about how little support a supposedly pro-family country actually gives to families. Finally, the book made me realize that the most efficient way to learn parenting styles is to read what other countries believe in for raising kids; focusing just on US sources will just repeat the same few ideas with slightly different variations, while reading about other countries’ beliefs is much more likely to expose me to genuinely different ideas.

  • Grade: B-

6. The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl. This 148 page guide was great for convincing that my book grading suffers not from grade inflation but rather a selection effect: I have been lucky to generally read good books, a group to which this one does not belong. This collection of pop. science summaries and very little insight into Danish culture is the first non-fiction book in memory to have zero dog eared pages when I’m done. My collection of upfront notes of passages I like numbers two while the number of passages I strongly dislike is four. This book is the first time I have felt compelled to make the negative list. I do not feel like I understand childrearing in Denmark in 20% of the detail I got from Pamela Druckerman’s book about France. The only chapter I enjoyed was the last on hygge, and like her others it did not really feel about children. The book feels like the American author liked hygge and wanted to build a book around it.

  • Grade: D

7. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography by Henry Adams. This 505 page posthumous Pulitzer winning autobiography, a gift from my wife, was what I hoped Speak, Memory was going to be and is a defensible choice for the best nonfiction book of the Twentieth Century. I have a weakness for books that document society’s reaction to industrialization – The Communist Manifesto is the most prominent example in this genre – and this is the best I have read. While my two pages of notes at the front of the book is partly due to the book’s length, it is mainly due to Adams’ self-deprecating humor, wonderful turns of phrase, and behind the scenes accounts of several important political episodes, though I wish there was a bit more about Garibaldi and, later, Adams’ experience of the Panic of 1893. I found the book slow at first because it was not clear until around page 300 what is meant by the titular phrase, but that slow start was still a fun read. There are too many smart turns of phrase and witty insights to choose a favorite for here, so you will have to buy the book yourself. I did particularly enjoy his episode teaching at Harvard, which he got primarily for being well-connected and not having another job, because it sounded just like teaching today; the more things change etc.

  • Grade: A+

8. Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans by Michaeleen Doucleff, Phd. I bought this 310 page reportage hoping to learn about how other cultures parent. What I learned is that there is a reason Bringing up Bébé is the gold standard in this genre. While this book is better than the Danish book, it’s not by much. I have never seen a book so confusingly organized. The three middle sections (collections of chapters) are supposedly about each of the 3 “ancient cultures” profiled, but chapters consistently reference lessons from other cultures, some chapters have summaries but others do not, and there are “try it” subsections at the end of some chapters that just summarize what was just read, and sometimes there are summaries of multiple chapters at the end of a chapter. Other issues include saying “we will see this in chapters 9 and 10” at the end of Chapter 10, subsection headings as lists (ew), “TEAM” interludes that seem like an ad hoc structure randomly inserted at various points, and very little reporting from the Hadzabe. And while it’s fine to learn parenting lessons from other cultures, “ancient cultures” implies learning from history and archeology, not groups whose homes a few hours from Cancun you drive to on your own (the Maya) or people living in permanent houses (Inuit). The book also feels like an interesting NPR story that Michaeleen turned into two short visits to the Inuit and Hadzabe. If I learned something, it’s that Michaeleen yelled at her daughter too much, and I don’t think I needed 310 disorganized pages to tell me that. Also, the book would have been 300 pages if there were not so many illustrations in between paragraphs that simply repeated what I just read.

  • Grade: C-

9. The Sciences of the Artificial by Herbert A. Simon. I purchased this 229 page collection of lectures from Alias Books East in Atwater Village, the best used bookstore I know, for $10, a steal. Herbert Simon is an academic’s academic, a polymath who was one of the most influential postwar social scientists. A political science Ph.D. who won the “Nobel” Prize in economics in 1978, three years after receiving a Turing Award, I knew him as an organizational theorist most closely associated with the concepts of bounded rationality and satisficing. The “fugue” (pg. ix) is a collection of prominent academic talks he delivered over almost two decades; while they are thematically connected, the flow between them is not strong. They are also very dry, a positive or negative depending on my mood when reading. Chapters 2-4 were essentially literature review, the boredom of which caused me to put the book down to start and finish The Education of Henry Adams. Chapter 7, the final one, is about complex systems and was easily my favorite, though I did not have to have read the read of the book. The chapter was also too focused on the physical sciences, which I found surprising coming from someone I thought was a social scientist; the engagement with social science in that chapter was superficial. I am happy I read it, though I think I would next read his academic essays directly.

  • Grade: B.

10. Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender & Race in the Middle Ages by Roland Betancourt. I grabbed this 208 page academic book from the local hippie’s giveaway table. I learned a couple of interesting things: there were female born monks who passed as male, any lewd sexual comments we make now were made then, and there was medical knowledge about inducing abortions. Negatively, I learned I do not like art analysis: the book’s evidence is primarily old religious art or books, so Betancourt has to wring a lot out of a little, which to me comes across as over interpreting. Also, art then was very low quality – seriously, were artists satisfied with their representations? – so I am skeptical, for example, when the placement of a scroll is interpreted phallicly. Mostly, I learned that “intersectionality” is as much a buzzword as “data science” or “machine learning”: the book was more about queerness: each chapter examined the title’s three nouns separately, and passages about the importance of queerness were the most clearly written of the book. In fact, the book was quite obstrusely written and is my biggest complaint. While I expected academic writing (and appreciate the endnotes), I found many sentences to be excruciating, and the chapters jumped back and forth across artifacts, time, and geography so much that I often lost track of the argument of a section or chapter. Finally, the book spans from the early Christian church to around 1000, which is not a period I think of as the Middle Ages.

  • Grade: B-

11. The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy by Bill Simmons. This 701 page history tome is the longest book Malcolm Gladwell has read since college. I had wanted to buy it for years but kept forgetting until my wife and I flaneured into a Barnes & Noble a week before our baby’s due date. Figuring it would be easy hospital reading, it was an easy purchase, and I devoured it in 2 weeks. I learned a ton, such as the fact that Gary Payton II is the second eponymous son of Gary Payton (there is a GP Jr.), Wilt Chamberlain was a selfish player (hence only 2 rings), Bill Walton won a ring on the ’86 Celtics, Charles Barkley could have had a stronger career if he took care of his conditioning, and the Memphis Grizzlies have that name because they were first the Vancouver expansion team. The book is breezily written and Simmons must be one of the most knowledgable basketball figures in the world (and it helps to have inside access to NBA and ESPN video archives), and I have a much richer understanding of basketball now. The only thing keeping it from an A is the overuse of film and TV references and analogies using hypothetical hot women, which is too bro and Barstool for my tastes.

  • Grade: A-

12. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann and tranlated by Michael Henry Heim. I grabbed this 142 page novel off my wife’s bookshelf because I’d never read Thomas Mann and its short length makes it great for reading with a baby present. I enjoyed the book because I learned a bit about travel in pre-war Europe, Thomas Mann’s career in Chapter 2 (the narrator is a famous author), and a lot of the prose is pontification about what it means to be an artist. However, the best way to describe the book is as a shorter, less mellifluous Lolita. The narrator ends up stalking (“falling in love” according to him) a 14 year noble boy who happens to stay at the same hotel, so the last half of the book is just following the two around from the stalker’s perspective. The book ends abruptly as a disease overtakes Venice and eventually the author. Overall, the book felt like Mann started a story that he decided not to finish, so the disease became his narrative device to end the novel.

  • Grade: B-

13. The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac (translated by Richard Howard). This 135 page (two) short story collection comes from my wife’s bookshelf. It fitted the theme of easy to read while holding a baby, old, by a famous author, and short. The first, eponymous short story is about a rich painter whose pursuit of perfection either makes him a genius or a madman; it is set in 1612. Picasso gave a back blurb about it, which was probably the main reason I decided to read the book. The second, longer story – Gambara – is about an Italian composer whose pursuit of perfection either makes him a genius or a madman, and imbibed alcohol is the main cause of his alternation between the two. Perhaps the best part is that Balzac is French, which means long passages are given to him pontificating. I was able to skim the monologues where Gambara, the composer, explains in musical detail the construction of his masterpiece. I also enjoyed the descriptions of old life. What most sticks out is the description of what art is in both stories, lack of light for Frenhofer, the wealthy painter, and the ambiance of a subterranean tavern.

  • Grade: B+.

14. Did Jew Know? A Handy Primer on the CUSTOMS, CULTURE & PRACTICE of the Chosen People by Emily Stone. My wife gifted this 251 page potpourri of a book to me, and I am glad I did not pay for it. As she pointed out when I complained about it after completion, it is best thought of as a bathroom book, not a serious introduction to facets of Jewish life. With that mindset, it is a good book, but it is not what I wanted. Its biggest fault is its lack of cohesion: chapters are unrelated to their neighbors, just like the paragraphs they contain. Each section and subsection of a chapter simply appear with little connective tissue to what appears before, making it very difficult for the reader to develop a more comprehensive understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people. Rather, the author seems to have spent her energy on developing as many puns as possible. I suppose some people will find the frequent insertion of “Jew” into dozens of words entertaining, but the only other time I have seen such a feat was at the receiving end of soft anti-semitism in Connecticut high school. I did learn some interesting things, such as the history of circumcision, that American fashion is dominated by more Jews than just Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lifschitz): Levi Strauss, Calvin Klein, Zac Posen, Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole, Marc Jacogs, Diane von Furstenberg, and Tommy Hilfiger are all Jewish apparently. I suppose that preponderance makes sense given Jews’ prevalence in the textile industry, but I never knew it extended so deep. It was also nice to learn about seedy forbears: Jews had their own mob and also helped start Las Vegas, and at one point 75% of NYC prostitutes were Jewish. Also, Jack Ruby and Marilyn Monroe (convert, still counts) were Jewish.

  • Grade: C+

15. Silent Spring: 40th Anniversary Edition by Rachel Carson. I do not remember where I acquired this 297 page nonfiction exposé. It took me three tries to get started, and the third was only successful once I learned it is number five on the Modern Library’s list of best nonfiction books. The book must have that ranking for its historical significance: its writing is fine but not remarkable, and it is pretty repetitive. Its style reminds me of The Feminine Mystique: lots of summary of research reports whose findings are repetitive of the point Carson makes at the beginning of the chapter. Speaking of chapters, they pretty much all said the same thing: insecticides destroy animals and vegetation indiscriminately, and scientists and chemical corporations were too shortsighted to think through second order effects. The repetition annoys, but at least it made for a quick read. The best part of the book is the words that are not really used anymore: forthwith, vivsectionist, ensiled, mimeograph, and Rhodesia are what I noticed.

  • Grade: B

16. from Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States by Haiming Liu. I bought this 158 page history book after seeing the author discuss the San Gabriel Valley on a PBS show. Its nine chapters each cover a different episode in Chinese food history in the US, starting with the gold rush in San Francisco. I loved the first four chapters enough to recommend to a friend, and had I waited for the next five my enthusiasm would have been tempered. In the first four, I felt like I learned a lot of really interesting information. The first Chinese immigrants were businesspeople, not laborers, for example, and used yellow flags to identify their restaurants because the color was reserved for royalty and high government officials in the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty of China. Americans did not really eat out, so restaurants had expensive, low quality food; Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, by contrast, had tasty, cheap food, helped by the agricultural bounty of California. The advent of railroads and opening of America west of the Mississippi vastly lowered the price of beef, which was favored because of its association with British royalty; this development disfavored Chinese cuisine because of its reliance on pork. Those are the interesting facts I will remember. After that, I did not really learn anything deep about the affinity of Jews with Chinese food (Chapter 5), the San Gabriel Valley (Chapter 7), or Din Tai Fund (Chapter 9). I suppose I learned a little about the Nationalist diaspora in Taiwan (Chapter 6) and P.F. Changes and Panda Express (Chapter 8), but those chapters were also very repetitive and poorly written. In fact, the greatest flaw of the book is possibly its repetitive, disorganized paragraphs. It is not a language issue but an editing one. Overall, I am happy I read the book, but what started as a possible must recommend is instead just average.

  • Grade: B

17. The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles by Gary Krist. I purchased this 306 page history at the UCLA campus bookstore. It was exactly what I hoped it would be: a well-written, interesting read about Los Angeles from about 1900-1930. Even better are the 74 pages of references and notes: an academic level of research without an academic level of portentous writing. The book is ostensibly about three individuals who represent a core personality trait of Los Angeles — D.W. Griffith (Hollywood), William Mulholland (water), and Aimee Semple McPherson (spiritual eclecticism) — but they are really vehicles for writing a history of Los Angeles in its pre-WWII boom years. Facts I will remember include D.W. Griffith’s studio was located very near where I live in LA; part of the reason Jews gained prominence in film is because blue blood elites saw the new technology as crass and therefore avoidable; Aimee McPherson was not the first Pentecostalist like I had thought; Mulholland Parkway is named in honor of him but was not designed by him; Venice was seedy even 100 years ago; Rolls Royce was a leading car brand by the 1920s; and car drivers’ inconsiderate behavior often caused major delays on trolley lines, hastening their demise. Overall, I learned as much about LA from Krist as from any other book I’ve read about the city, and my only complaint is that the book is not 100 pages longer.

  • Grade: A

18. Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes. I borrowed this 231 page memoir from my wife. I am glad I read it and think most people would be, but it does not compel me enough to say one has to read it. The most interesting material was the early chapter explaining the placenta, which is way more complicated, invasive, and alien than I realized; some people also like to eat their dried placenta, which sounds like something I would be into if I were a woman. I appreciated the candor with which Angela discussed her experiences, and her frustrating experiences with the medical system resonated with me. The chapters are easy reads, and Angela is a clear, smooth writer. There was nothing bad about the book, just nothing resounding either, which is perfectly acceptable.

  • Grade: B

19. Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles by Rosecrans Baldwin. I impulse purchased this 254 page essay collection at the UCLA bookstore over the summer. The bookstore has a lot of Los Angeles books I have not seen elsewhere, including this one. Since I always love thinking about state sovereignty and usually love thinking about Los Angeles, the book seemed like an obvious read. Of course, once again, like always, I regret listening to my heart and not critically reading the jacket description. “Unexpected angles”, “his own voice with a chorus of others”, and “vastly more than its many, many parts” have nothing to do with a city-state, and that phrase is an apt way to describe this book. Each chapter is an essay about whatever strikes Baldwin’s fancy, with the connective glue being a noir-ish insistence on Los Angeles’ downtrodden and the too frequent invocation of the phrase “city-state”. I kept waiting for Baldwin’s subsection numbering to reveal a greater truth that my dense mind could not comprehend, but I finally broke after reading this sentence on page 153: “Writing a book such as this, about the city-state and its humans […] only in the city-state of Los Angeles could he have achieved it.” Frequent repetition of a phrase is a substitute for meaning, and that’s when I finally realized by “city-state” Baldwin means “rhetorical device to hold the book together.” On the plus side, the writing is good and some of the characters are interesting.

  • Grade: C

20. The Big Sea by Langston Hughes. I do not remember where or when I acquired this 385 page autobiography, but I am glad I found. This book has a lot to recommend it: lots of interesting anecdotes about the color line, especially in contrast to its lack during Hughes’ time in Mexico and Paris; travel when it was much more difficult, ,with time in Paris and Italy especially interesting; and, most notably, an insider’s perspective on the Harlem Renaissance. It was interesting to hear Hughes describe White New York and America’s fad-ish obsession with African-American culture. The tourists’ wanted to see African-American culture as their stereotypes taught them to expect it, and the resulting mixing has positive and negative affects for the residents of Harlem. Small pieces from the book I enjoyed are the opening vignette from a boat near Sandy Hook, CT (because of the sad significance of the town now); a small recurring role for Zora Neale Hurston; tales of Josephine Baker in Paris; the informality of college admissions (to Columbia); flyers for house parties; and inclusion of some of his poems. I suppose the writing style is plain, as advertised, but I found the comparison to Hemingway unfair to Hughes. Whereas Hemingway’s style is dry to the point of unfeeling, like it’s written with a bad hangover, Hughe’s simplicity never removes his personality.

  • Grade: A

21. The Stranger by Albert Camus (translated by Matthew Ward). I read this 123 page novel to read a book quickly, having seen how little time I have for reading as a new father. I also was not sure if I had read it, though I remember a French teacher explaining the use of “Maman” and the difficulty of translating it. I remembered a lot up to the trial, so I think I read the book before; I also thought Celeste played a bigger role, so maybe not. Anyway, the book was fine but not fine enough to be recognizable as a classic without knowing it is a classic. Basically, the writing style if Hemingwayesque, which is not a compliment on this blog. Like Hemingway, the narrator is cold, cannot explain his feelings, and seems to float through life without thought. Is that what existentialism is? Not caring about anything? This was revolutionary postwar? I did enjoy parts of book, like the satirical portrayal of lawyers, but overall I was disappointed. The only riveting scene was the closing one. It is the closest the book gets to philosophy.

  • Grade: B-

22. Ayoade on Top: A Voyage (through a Film) in a Book (about a Journey) by Richard Ayoade. My wife bought me this 219 page criticism cum satire for my birthday. I learned about Richard Ayoade via a YouTube recommendation for his show Travel Man, was immediately smitten with his hair and humor, and lusted after this book upon learning about it via an Ayoade appearance on the The Graham Norton Show, which as best I can tell is the inspiration for Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live. The book is a fulsome, satirical reappraisal of an otherwise forgetful Gwyneth Paltrow 2003 cabin crew romantic comedy, View From the Top. In fact, the movie is banal, and the book is a send-up of the directorial choices made to arrive there. Ayoade on Travel Man has a dry, literal wit, and the same persona comes through the page. For example, “The phrase ‘business is business’ will haunt us later. It’s a phrase that’s hard to refute, much like ‘genocide is genocide’.” Though I do not like Ayoade’s frequent use of abbreviations such as “w/r/t”, I did appreciate this: “the total effect on Kaci Battaglia would = nil”. It’s always a treat to see new syntax. Ayoade is also a masterful craftsman of alliteration, such as “After weeks of being surrounded by a physical wreck (John Witney) and the corrosive chromosomal conformity of her cohorts, this blast of […].” Overall, the book is stuffed with creativity and excellent writing. After tearing through the book, I am now binging Travel Man and will probably go through The I.T. Crowd after that before coming back to reread this.

  • Grade: A

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