Books by Friends
One about Berkeley, two about China, one more on the art and science of "information farming," and all worth checking out
I give the "by friends" disclosure just for the record. I mention these books because, whether or not I'd known their authors, I would think they deserved attention. And I'll mention each as tersely as I can, both so you can discover their virtues for yourself and because if I waited to do "real" writeups I'd probably never get around to it.
1) All Our Yesterdays, by Erik Tarloff. Erik and his wife Laura D'Andrea Tyson were friends of ours when my wife and I lived for a while in their home town of Berkeley, and when they lived for a while in our current home town of DC. Erik has been a successful screenwriter and novelist, plus a correspondent here. Two of my favorites from his oeuvre are Face-Time and The Man Who Wrote the Book.
His newest book is a love story, heartbreak story, mystery story, cultural portrait, and character study set in Berkeley from the late 1960s through the present. It is carried by its dialogue, which I mean as a compliment, and every few pages I marked a sharp observation or witticism I wanted to remember. You will enjoy it.
2) The Dog, by Jack Livings. I don't know this author, but I do have friends involved with the book at its publisher, FSG. The book is a collection of short stories set in contemporary China, featuring people very different from those who usually come to foreign attention. You can get an idea by reading the title short story as published in the Paris Review nine years ago.
I am wary of harping too often on the gulf between the varied, chaotic, contradictory, simultaneously horrible-and-uplifting, vividly human on-scene realities of China, and the simplified view of either an economic juggernaut or a buttoned-up central-control state that necessarily comes through many media filters. But I'll harp on it again, because one of the rewards of this book is the range of vividly human experience its presents. Plus, Jack Livings is a very gifted story-teller.
3) China's Super Consumers: What 1 Billion Customers Want and How to Sell It to Them, by Michael Zakkour. I do know and like Zakkour, whom I met with while in China. His book is worth reading alongside The Dog, because it depicts what seems to be an entirely different universe from the one of Jack Livings's stories, but which in fact coexists within the same national borders.
For all the problems the "Chinese model" is now encountering, for all of the doubt about when the supposedly reformist president Xi Jinping will switch from merely cracking down on dissenters and enemies and start loosening up, hundreds of millions of people inside China are moving onto a different economic plane. This is a business-minded book about some of the ramifications of that change.
4) The Tinderbox Way, by Mark Bernstein. This is an odd entry, in that the book is not new, and my occasion for mentioning is a podcast rather than a physical or electronic book.
Mark Bernstein is the creator of intriguing idea-organizing Mac software called Tinderbox, which I've mentioned over the years. I have never met him but have often corresponded; three years ago, he was a guest blogger here. This week, in a podcast interview for the Sources and Methods site, he talks not so much about his software but about the larger question of how thinking interacts with the tools of the electronic age. If you find the podcast provocative, you might well be interested in the book The Tinderbox Way, which is equal parts guide to Bernstein's Tinderbox program and meditation on the right and wrong approach to "information farming." As you'll gather from the podcast and see in the book, the kind of farming he has in mind is nothing like mega-scale factory farming and very much like an artisanal plot.
Bonus! 5) Also on the "works by friends" theme, please see John Tierney's latest American Futures dispatch, on the surprising new growth industry of, yes, meaderies in an industrial area of Pennsylvania.