book review: ego is the enemy

Ego is the Enemy is a self-help book by Ryan Holiday. He takes inspiration from stoicism and business-people and artists to show how the problems facing the reader are all about ego and thinking as people we deserve anything in this life.

I read it because I’m passingly interested in the Stoics, especially in how they’re being brought back today, but this book is kind of an illustration of what happens when un-deep thinkers get a hold of ancient thoughts. I didn’t disagree with a lot of what he said, but it was very obvious this is a writer who has only had well-off white dude problems. Just accepting things and taking your licks is fine for people who are supported by the system that wants them to succeed (eg well-off white dudes in capitalism) but terrible advice for people who are getting trampled by the status quo.

This is a book designed to stave off the revolution, not change the world.

Tetris by Conor Lawless CC-BY

book review: tetris

I enjoyed Tetris: The Games People Play even though it was essentially a business story. Box Brown is good at making characters out of real people, and the very analog style of art worked really well in contrast to the pixels of the game under discussion for most of the book. It laid everything out clearly with the convoluted selling of rights that some people didn’t have, and in the end it all works out for the Russian who invented the game (though his friend and sidekick through most of the story ends up um.. badly in a way that surprised me and could have been a frame for a very different style of book).

In the beginning of the book there was a bit about the importance of games and the cultural significance of them, which gets wrapped around back to by the end. I think that’s the best part, and what I’ll probably return to. It felt a little like reading Scott McCloud in its clarity and use of the comic format.

I’ve become less of a devotee of the power of games in the last year or two, mostly because I’m seeing more ways that adding game layers to things enhances certain political projects. Which is conflicting, because while I love games and I wish I could play them more, but I prefer it when games are kept in the realm of recreation and art, not business or the betterment/anaesthetizing of society or the efficiency of an organization.

So yes, the book about Tetris made me feel bad about the world. But it’s good.

book review: lint (the acme novelty library vol. 20)

Lint is a Chris Ware comic, that is a sad story about a sad man. It follows Jordan Wellington Lint from birth to death with lots of missed opportunity (especially in the various parent-child relationships he could be involved in) in between.

Chris Ware books are always interesting to read because of the way he lays out his stories, and how his drawings are so stripped down to be almost unrepresentational but they carry all this pain in them. It’s a great little book (a chapter in the ongoing Acme Novelty Library experiment), but not something to read if you want to feel wonderful about the possibilities in life.

book review: do the work

I am not getting as much writing done as I want. This is usually the case, though right now I feel kind of drained by the constant attention my social media class demands. But I found the time to finish Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work the other day. It’s a book about writing that’s not about craft but about the sheer bloody-mindedness you need to do something creative. It’s the kind of book that tells you to stop reading and start doing, which is the kind of thing that us prone-to-over-analyze folks get stuck in.

I get a little wary of books meant to inspire writers, but Pressfield knows what he’s talking about and I agree with the thesis of his manifesto. I agree with pretty much everything in the book, really, especially this Marianne Williamson quote:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people don’t feel insecure around you.

Agreeing with something doesn’t make me much better at following through, however. And the personification of Resistance as the universe actually conspiring against you making anything is a little over the top.

But hell, I want people to make things. I want to make things. If this helps people do it, I’ll take the risk of recommending a somewhat cheerleaderish “inspiring” book.

And of course, blogging about it is not my Work. Which I should go Do.

book review: makers

I read Cory Doctorow’s Makers on the plane to China and early in my bakery hanging out time. It was the ebook version I got for free from his website and loaded onto my ereader, so it’s DRM-free.

So Makers is about these inventors who create new things and then move on. It’s sf in that it is the future and there are new technologies they use and make use of, but it’s a very recognizable near future. Some of the interesting things in the story are fatkins, a way of dealing with obesity by basically ramping up your metabolism so you need to eat 10000 calories a day. There’s a bit more to it than that. So there are these inventors and the first part of the book is them getting into business making cool shit. Then the next part of the book is about after their new economy sort of collapses in on itself, they get into the theme-park business. It’s Cory Doctorow, what can you expect. I still don’t get theme-parks but whatever.

The first part of the book is very explainy. “Here’s this neat thing and how it works and isn’t that cool?” but it gradually does build into a story that works. It’s no Little Brother, but it’s inspiring in its own way. Actually making stuff and then moving on seems like the way to run a business. Not just having your hand in the next person’s pocket. But you need to be wildly creative to do that and not everyone is.

jobbing along despite the demoralization

At the desk yesterday there were two separate interesting questions. One was a woman who corralled a coworker into helping her at the computers. She’d already helped her find a computer that could do what she wanted, but the woman seemed needy of more help and dragged her away to the far computer bank. I could see them standing and talking and saw the occasional look back at the desk. When a phone call came for her it was perfectly timed so I could go rescue my coworker. I let the woman know I could help her if that wasn’t a problem.

The woman wanted to save a document to her new flash drive. Cool beans. She also wanted to talk about her theories of how the government didn’t like her and was trying to delete her work on applying for EI. I let her talk as she rooted through her belongings. I got scissors to open the flash drive packaging. We navigated to the government of Canada site and found the document she needed to fill out. Then the computer popped up a screen saying you couldn’t fill in the form and save it. You could fill it in and print it though. And thus began the explanation of how she’d filled the form out once and then it had all been wiped out so she came to the library. She was concerned that would happen again, peppering her speaking with “Woe is me” and “Isn’t that just the way it always is” kinds of statements.

So I explained how it would work on the computer she was at. She printed off a blank version of the form. She saved a blank version of the form. Then she started filling it in. I warned her that if she wasn’t done by the time the computer kicked her off to print it, otherwise all her work would disappear again.

I was on break when she came to the desk to get help printing it (which I’d hoped she wouldn’t need, as I’d showed her how to print the document when it was blank and said it would work exactly the same way). But she’d come with only 2 minutes left on her time and by the time they got back to the computer she’d been logged off and lost her data. But she would persevere. She had 30 minutes left of internet use on her card so she’d try again. This time it would be better! It wasn’t. She lost all her data again. But we’d tried our best to help her, and listened to her talk (about how her doctor was trying to kill her), so she thought us library folk were all right.

Later on in the evening a young woman came to the desk looking for videos about WalMart. One of my coworkers was helping her find the videos and said “Why are these in such different places? One’s in the 658s and the other in 382 (or whatever the specific numbers were)!” So I piped in, “The one in the 658s is about the business of WalMart, and the one in the 300s is about the social environmental whatever issues created by WalMart.” And the young woman said, “Wow, you are passionate about your job!”

“Nah, I just know a couple of things about WalMart. It comes from spending my opinion-formative years reading Adbusters.”

And it was really nice, while my coworker went off to find the actual videos this woman and I chatted about WalMart and how this business prof she has talks about the badness, and she’d never heard any of that before and was now up to researching it. Very pleasant interaction and it made me glad I work in a library, not a cheese factory.

It makes me sad how the administration’s bullshit (about what I can and can’t write on my blog on my own time, and whether I’m actually cut out to be a librarian) affects me. It shouldn’t. They’re just suits who want everyone to behave like them. But it gets to me. I hate thinking about them but I do. It saps my writing and my life in general. I wish I didn’t have to feel like shit all the time. I like being passionate about my job. I want to be, but people who’ve never worked with me think I’m a liar who shouldn’t continue in the job I’m pretty fucking good at. It sucks.