Briefly Noted

Summer Reading
In the Summer Fiction Issue of The New Yorker, Yiyun Li writes about reading A Farewell to Arms, during a hot and humid summer in Beijing. She says,

“I would have given up the use of both my legs to be in Italy, drinking vermouth, watching horse races, and exchanging off-color jokes with my fellow-officers…” Later she continues, “All would be well if you lived in a novel; even when death crept up on you, the end would come in a few pages or a few lines.”

Aleksandar Hemon also describes the long summer reading holidays he used to spend alone in his parent’s cabin on a mountain about twenty miles from Sarajevo. He says he could read eight to ten hours a day. How I wish I could do that. He writes, “In the cabin, I would enter a kind of hypersensitive trance that allowed me to average found hundred pages a day.”

It took him less than a week to read War and Peaceand Bokonsky and Natasha showed up regularly in my dreams.”

He took a book with him on his hikes and reports that while reading The Magic Mountain he “…conducted conversations with imaginary partners not unlike the ones between Castorp and Settembrini in Thomas Mann’s novel.”

When the war in Croatia was in full swing and about to extend into Bosnia, his reading “was not primarily a means of thought protection, for once war gets inside your mind it burns and pillages it. Reading was a way not to think about all that could (and would) happen.”

What are you reading this summer? I invite you to tell me about a really good “summer read.” As for me, I’m going back and forth between Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi: A Novel by Geoff Dyer and Brothers: 26 Stories of Love and Rivalry, a collection of essays by various writers about their brother. I’m not greatly enamored by either and continue looking for that memorable book that I will remember reading in the summer of 2009.

New Yorker Summit
On May 5th of this year The New Yorker magazine held its annual Summit gathering that brought together influential figures from the worlds of finance, government, health care, and energy to discuss some of the major issues of the day.

Among this year’s speakers the activist and author Naomi Klein, Nassim N. Taleb, the author of the best-selling book "The Black Swan,” Elizabeth Edwards, who spoke about health care and Malcolm Gladwell who presented his take on the causes of the current economic meltdown.

All the presentations and a daily blog about the event can be viewed on the News Desk of the magazine. These are great video lecture-discussions if you have the time.

On his blog, The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer writes about the consequences of the enormous number of choices available to a consumer considering buying a product, almost any product from a car to a box of cereal. He describes it as the American obsession with choice. Imagine any situation in which we wish to purchase a product. He quotes Gail Collins, who describes it this way:

“…my corner drugstore offers, by my last count, 103 different kinds of body moisturizers. These are not, of course, to be confused with moisturizers for the face, hand, elbow or foot. We, the informed shoppers, are supposed to scan the crowded shelves and decide whether our needs will best be met by body oil, body butter or firming emulsion. We will, perhaps, mull the "udder cream" whose big selling point is that it was originally developed for use on dairy cows.”

We begin to wonder about all these choices. How can we ever decide? How does body butter differ from body oil and how does Avon’s body oil differ from Chanel’s? We are overwhelmed with too much information, too much uncertainty. Do we walk away utterly befuddled or worse? Do we respond with our pocketbook or simply decide randomly?