2022 Book 6: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics of People in a Hurry

Nothing too earth-shattering here. I blew through it in a couple days last spring simply because it had been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for way too long.


Truth of the matter is, I didn’t learn much because I had recently read the way more in-depth Katie Mack book The End Of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) but it was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I was surprised by the quality of deGrasse Tyson’s writing, and his easy-going sense of humor belied his recent reputation as somewhat of a scold and curmudgeon of social media. I would certainly recommend this accessible book to anyone who still needed a basic understanding of cosmology.

Three Satellites for accessibility 🛰🛰🛰

2022 Book 5: Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung.

Book Cover

I’m sure I’ve read some of his pieces at some point in Rolling Stone… actually, I’m not sure. I have seen a lot of references to this book over the years, and how Bangs is considered the best Rock critic of all time. So, it took me almost 20 years to get around to it — but I’m going to assert it has aged well. At first I was a bit put off by his overly florid and bombastic (yet mellifluous) style, I think designed to either throw the reader off the scent or to challenge them to push through to the point (10,000 words about The Fugs?) but I found I was struggling through articles about artists I didn’t know, then suddenly paying rapt attention (10,000 words about Lou Reed or Iggy Pop, no problem) to the ones whose music I understood, and it all clicked.

Bangs loved music. And he loved the people who authentically created art, he loved getting deep inside those artist’s brains, spending an inordinate amount of time to develop an intimacy with his subject, and capturing every grain. Music moved him like nothing else, and he needed desperately to tell everyone how he felt about it. He dug deep and uncovered angles and truths that were deeper than just the songs. His essay on the Clash and the early London punk scene is the best I have ever read on the subject, and it hooked me.

Ultimately, His baroque embellishments of language are best understood as evidence of his passion. He loves his garage rock, hates him some over-produced radio pablum, had a thorough knowledge of the underground garage scene in the 60’s and 70’s, some amazing insights into Jazz, and I now have a to-be-listened-to list as long as my arm.

Cool factor 5 🕶 🕶 🕶 🕶 🕶

2022 Book 4: Eckhart Tolle, Practicing The Power Of Now

I Gathered, after having this re-homed by a friend, that this is essentially a pamphlet meant to be a guide to understanding the key points of the larger book, The Power of Now.

A very austere cover.

While his philosophy is enlightened, and presented in an easy-to-digest language here, I find it to be largely syncretic, borrowing widely from Buddhism, and especially Zen, without as much as saying so (and a couple bible verses thrown in to round things out). I’ve done some reading on Buddhism lately, as I’ve moved into a regular practice of meditation, so not much of this struck me as new thought, though I have to admit that it’s more easily digestible than parables, fables, and riddles, so I still marked some particularly poignant passages & will probably turn back to it from time to time for quotations.

I hit a couple sticking points that were off-putting — a couple passages about the duality of masculinity and femininity, and his larger thoughts on illness as a state of mind. I am a modernist who believes in medicine, and am admittedly a dinaosaur who is working hard to understand the nuances of gender, beyond their outward physical manifestations, so I will put those aside in the pile of things to leave behind.

I take away other points, particularly, the broad message of living in the present, and becoming aware of when your mind is dwelling in the past or future, and how that is unhealthy. I doubt I will make time for the larger volume, sine I’d prefer to go more directly to the source of these sorts of teachings, however arcane.

Inspirational in places, 3 of 5 rays of sunlight. ☀️☀️☀️🌩🌩

2022 Book 3: The End Of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), by Katie Mack

Cover of the hardbound US edition of Katie Mac's book, the End Of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)
At my desk at work, reading through lunch a lot of days this month.

I don’t read a lot of physics, because I really don’t do math. Fortunately, this book was short on equations, and much longer on very clear explanations of what the equations meant. The graphs and illustrations were well-presented. From sub-atomic particle quantum mechanics to cosmology, I never got lost or in over my head. This kind of material has always interested me, and previous attempts at “layman” level writing, like Hawking’s A Brief History of Time have left me giving up in frustration in 15 or 20 pages. The general understanding I got from Mack’s very clear and relatable writing may embolden me to try again.

I follow Katie Mack on Twitter (welcome to the 21st century) and my impression is that she works as much as a communicator and educator as a theoretical astrophysicist, and has the chops to talk to normal people about the extraordinary universe that some of her contemporaries lack as a result. I read this as the Webb space telescope was being unfurled and calibrated, and I can’t wait for some science from the edges of the observable universe to come down and expand on the things cosmologists like Mack are looking for. I get that it’s always an exciting time to be in astronomy or astrophysics, if you’re enthusiastic about knowledge, and Mack’s enthusiasm is one of the most fun, engaging things about this book. I hope she keeps writing!

✨✨✨✨✨ Five quasars up!

2022 Book 2: Rain After Midnight

Don Skiles was my dad’s best friend. He died suddenly of a stroke at age 81 last May, and the whole world grew a little dimmer. He was an English professor, and author of one novel, poetry and 4 collections of short stories. I have looked on line for an obituary, but there’s nothing much out there, so I’ll write my own idea of one from my perspective, the kid of his best friend.

Book cover of Rain After Midnight by Don Skiles, a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories.
Cover Illustration by Don’s wife Marian Schell, who preceded him in death by several years.

Don Moved to San Francisco for the final time, from Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1976, while I was living with my dad during the long school break. Don, his wife Marian and a friend of theirs named Tim who was also an aspiring writer, stayed at my dad’s house for a couple months that summer while they got settled. I must have been 13. That summer was a time of constant uproarious laughter. Don was a lover of words – not just for their meaning, but simply the way they sounded. A funny-sounding word would set him off & his laughter would infect the entire house. Once we were perusing a map of Europe, and he pointed out the town name of Smolensk, which his simply found to be hilarious to say. No reason, just a hilarious sounding word. It was not a surprise to me to see that place-name listed amongst others many years later, when i read this book.

Smolensk, still fascinating Don by the way it sounds, umpteen years later. I felt like I was part of this story.

I put on a Firesign theater album one day that he hadn’t head of before, & when they uttered the phrase “Trussrippers will be persecuted,” it put him on the floor gasping for air. I think we all ended up on the floor, laughing with him. I will always cherish this memory of a man who helped teach me to love words and language. Not only did he set an example for me as a writer, but he genuinely and uncritically encouraged me to write, and despite me being a kid, he never treated me like one. Inspired by him, I wrote some poems and character sketches, which he read with earnestness, and once said “I admire your writing.” His influence on me and my journey to create art is incalculable. I didn’t go on to write much, but everything I’ve ever put to paper has a bit of Don in it.

3 of his books are still in print at Peleikenisis: Rain After Midnight, the novel Football and Across The Street From The Ordinary. If you can find a used copy of Miss America or The James Dean Jacket Story, grab them.

This book is about places, and his memories of them. Don has a simple way of telling you how it was, and transporting you there within a couple of paragraphs. I recall him being a massive fan of the Beats back in the 70’s – City Lights is his Sistine Chapel, and is mentioned reverently in a story here. There are also stories about his time in the Air Force in England, visits to Paris, his childhood & college years in Pennsylvania but it’s the stories about San Francisco that transport me in particular, because I was there & he gets them right. There’s obviously a lot of Brautigan in here – in fact, he name-checks him in this book twice. Don is a bit more matter-of-fact, though he possesses the same ability to write an entire novel in 2 pages.
My dad turns up, too. He finishes off a story about his early job in SF in ’62 called On Foot with the final sentences Harry grinned, a grape posied between two fingers. “You fucking English Majors,” He said, and Popped The Grape into his mouth.

I may be biased here, but 5 of 5 thumbs up. 👍👍👍👍👍



I was browsing through my book shelf a while back, and opened up my copy of the long out-of-print Miss America, Don’s first book, and found that he had left me a nice inscription that I had entirely forgotten about. II’ve been meaning to post this here for a while, and was finally motivated to do so by this nice MetaFilter post about used book stores.

2022 Book 1: Blowback

The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson

The last couple years, I’ve been keeping a book log on Twitter, but 280 characters isn’t that many, and hey, I need blog content, so here we go.I read 12 books last year, not a great showing. My to-be-read pile is longer than my arm.

This was published in 2000, just before the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and Johnson accurately, if not specifically, predicts that in the first part of the book, where he lays out the underhanded dealings of the CIA, the coups, the propping up of puppet dictators, the training of foreign “elite” forces who then turned on their own populations… charges against America that politically astute people have understood for a while, though he puts some specifics to the problem and seeing them enumerated – Iran, Chile, El Salvador, is crazy-making. The American military & covert causes of blowback really stack up quick.

Interestingly though, the second half of the book pivots to Americas de-facto economic imperialism, specifically in the Pacific rim countries, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and others. The blowback he talks about here is the hollowing out of American industry by offshoring jobs first to Japan then the chase of chap labor and capital around East Asia, and a financial collapse the region suffered in 1997 I knew nothing about. It was a weird pivot for the book, but the larger point was well presented. This section is a warning, a harbinger of the trade war we now seem to be entrenched in with China. I doubt I’m going to go off on an economics tangent, as a lot of this stuff was thick enough that I could only manage 8 or 10 pages a day, but I am now aware of how much I don’t know about east Asia in general. Despite the breadth of knowledge dumped here, my streak as a functional dilettante continues unabated. NEXT!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I give it 4 stars because despite being dated, it utterly prescient.