"There are times..." – a short story in one paragraph by Renata Adler

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There are times when every act, no matter how private or unconscious, becomes political. Whom you live with, how you wear your hair, whether you marry, whether you insist that your child take piano lessons, what are the brand names on your shelf; all these become political decisions. At other times, no act – no campaign or tract, statement or rampage – has any political charge at all. People with the least sense of which times are, and which are not, political are usually most avid about politics. At six one morning, Will went out in jeans and frayed sweater to buy a quart of milk. A tourist bus went by. The megaphone was directed at him. "There's one," it said. That was in the 1960's. Ever since, he's wondered. There's one what?

– from Speedboat by Renata Adler (originally published 1976, republished in 2013 by NYRB Books). That's on page 18, BTW.

More, elsewhere:

Speedboat & Renata Adler at NYRB: web
NYRB: web | twitter | tumblr

Breaking: Jane Austen, Game Theorist starts to gather some serious momentum.

splashy & very complimentary review in the New York Times on Monday has drawn a lot of attention to Michael Chwe's new book from Princeton University Press: Jane Austen, Game Theorist:

It’s not every day that someone stumbles upon a major new strategic thinker during family movie night. But that’s what happened to Michael Chwe, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he sat down with his children some eight years ago to watch “Clueless,” the 1995 romantic comedy based on Jane Austen’s “Emma.”

...

Mr. Chwe set to doing his English homework, and now his assignment is in. “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” just published by Princeton University Press, is more than the larky scholarly equivalent of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” In 230 diagram-heavy pages, Mr. Chwe argues that Austen isn’t merely fodder for game-theoretical analysis, but an unacknowledged founderof the discipline itself: a kind of Empire-waisted version of the mathematician and cold war thinker John von Neumann, ruthlessly breaking down the stratagems of 18th-century social warfare.

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Jane Austen, Game Theorist
Michael Chwe
Princeton University Press | 9780691155760 | $35.00 | April 2013

More, elsewhere:
Michael Chwe: book page | twitter
Princeton University Press: book page | web | twitter

(Cross-posted at www.abrahamassociatesinc.com – 04/24/13)

Sunday morning reading: Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald

Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitgerald
by Tiziana Lo Porto
illustrated by Daniele Marotta
One Peace Books / SCB Distributors | 9781935548270 | $16.95 | March 2013

More, elsewhere:
One Peace: web | twitter | tumblr
Tiziana Lo Porto: twitter
Daniele Marotta: twitter
SCB Distributors: web | facebook | Spring 2013 catalog on iOS App Store

Watch This: The Secret Garden book trailer

One of my favorite books to talk about this past season with bookstore buyers has been The Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, which is just on sale as of last week. The AMAZING publisher Laurence King put it together with Johanna Basford.

As cool as it looks here on screen, you pretty much have to see the finished book to believe it. Great paper textures, foil details on the cover, lots of coloring and seek-and-find activities within.

The Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book
by Johanna Basford
Laurence King / Chronicle Books | 9781780671062 | $14.95 | March 2013

See some interior pages at the publisher's page for the book.

"Spooky action at a distance": Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being

For me, the final pieces of the puzzle came together in my head after reading a footnote to the second-to-last appendix of Ruth Ozeki's charming, painful, and incredibly moving new novel, A Tale For The Time Being.

Not to give too much of the story away, or reveal the twists in the tale, or even to hint at the fates of any of the cats who all have their roles to play, but you should know that one of the cats is named Schrodinger.

The appendix in question discusses the thought experiment of Schrodinger's Cat - the basics of this experiment are well-known. Imagine a cat sealed in a box with a device that can release a poisonous gas and cause the cat to die, but this only happens if atoms of a radioactive particle in the box decay. A Geiger counter will detect the decay of the particle and release the gas, killing the cat. There is an equal chance of the atom decaying and not decaying. There is an equal, and related, chance of the cat dying or not dying. The atom's fate and the cat's fate are described by Schrodinger as "entangled".

The footnote I mentioned says that Einstein later described "entanglement" as "spooky action at a distance."

In A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki is telling the stories of two women: Nao Yasutani, a Japanese schoolgirl dealing with her awkward re-entry into Japanese society after living abroad in the United States for many years with her parents, and a novelist named Ruth, living a pleasantly hermetic existence with her husband Oliver and their cat Schrodinger (more often called Pesto, because of his pesty nature) on an isolated British Columbia island, stymied by the lack of progress on her years-in-the-writing memoir.

Two years after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Ruth discovers a sealed freezer bag among the seaweed and clutter on the beach. Inside the freezer bag is a Hello Kitty lunchbox. Inside the lunchbox is a sort of time capsule - a packet of letters written in Japanese, a journal written in fresh paper mounted in the boards of an old edition of Proust, and an old wristwatch. The journal was written by Nao - her life story and stories about her great-grandmother Jiko, a 104 year-old Buddhist nun. The letters and the wristwatch came from Nao's family. 

How they ended up in a lunchbox in a freezer bag on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean is the mystery that starts the novel moving.

Ruth reads the story of Nao from the journal and tries to investigate - from a distance of time and space - how the journal came to be in her possession and what happened to Nao after the journal ends.  The story of Nao and the story of Ruth and the ways in which they are "entangled" is what winds up the clockwork of this novel.

The messy, complicated, overlapping nature of these entanglements – Nao's school life, her parent's grown-up dramas, her relationship with Jiko, her ancestor's fate, Ruth's home life with her husband, her fraught friendships with other islanders, the fate of Pesto the cat, the nature of external influence over an author's words – is all described in careful, patient prose that draws the reader into the widening gyre of the tale. 

It's a set of journeys and explorations well worth taking.

Watch The Book Trailer:

A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Viking | 9780670026630 | $28.95 | March 2013

More, elsewhere:
Ruth Ozeki: web | twitter
A profile of Ozeki and the story of the novel in the NYT.