News and Notes
All Too Human: A Political Education
Striking an entertaining balance between a trashy insider tell-all and the moving story of a bright young man coming of age in the national spotlight, All Too Human takes us from the excitement of the 1992 presidential campaign to the author's struggle for survival in a White House that often seemed clueless and foundering. A large part of the book's appeal is it's ability to mirror much of America's conflicted emotions about Bill Clinton. Stephanopoulos conveys deep awe and respect for Clinton the politician, while gaping in horror at each new revelation of dodgy morals and unfathomable personal judgment.
The Man Who Tasted Shapes
Part memoir, part science essay, The Man Who Tasted Shapes is a neurologist's account of his research into synesthesia, the experience of sensory crossover that occurs in maybe ten in a million people. The author's quest begins after meeting an artistic neighbor who "tastes" mint tea as cool columns of smooth white marble and cooks pointy chicken dishes crafted with a subtle sense of shape. Other synesthetes Cytowic studies hear sounds as shape and color, or have tactile impressions of extraordinary vividness and certainty while seeing or tasting. Cytowic is articulate and open to big ideas about the mysteries of the human mind. He believes that "synesthesia is actually a normal brain function in every one of us, but that its workings reach conscious awareness in only a handful... " Put that in your pipe and see what color the smoke sounds...
The Pixie Pit
Everyone knows Scrabble. But did you know that you can play Scrabble online? At the Pixie Pit, two to four players can match crossword wits using a unique web-and-email system. The site offers all the usual Scrabble fun -- triple word scores, 7-letter bingos, getting stuck with the Q. One of the best features is asynchronous play -- competitors don't have to be online at the same time, allowing everyone to move as quickly (or slowly) as they like. Plus you'll find a built-in Scrabble dictionary, which is a blessing, since you know you'd just end up bookmarking dictionary.com anyway. The site is an awesome feat of programming, it's free, and -- fair warning -- it's completely addictive. If you do play, and get hooked, think about donating some cash to keep the site going.
Memoir from Antproof Case
Memoir from Antproof Case made me crave a bottle of Pellegrino and a bar of bitter chocolate. It also made me stop drinking coffee (temporarily) -- a testament to the persuasive beauty of Helprin's prose. Inhabited by a multitude of eccentrics, such as Nestor B. Watoon, an inept English instructor to the Brazilian navy; a Scandinavian engineering genius named Smedjebakken; and a beautiful girl with a mortal fear of crickets, the novel also offers bank heists, trips to Italy, rigorous calisthenics, and plenty of rewarding digressions in between. Sometimes absurd, always hilarious, Antproof Case is, in the end, an old man's last words to his son -- the story of family, love, career and, of course, a lifelong crusade against coffee.