Category Archives: Literature

Web I Read

If not technical references, I generally avoid reading lengthy non-fiction literature. Self help books from lifestyle gurus with horticultural certifications are not my cup of green tea. And for someone who professes to be as well read as myself, I also detest broadcast news; especially all news as breaking news, flashing lights, and theatrical diplomacy, that promote little more than depression, anxiety, and fear. For more positive segments, without the morning variety show spiel, then kudos to GOOD Magazine‘s impression of my ideal newscast. Because I’m a contrarian and appreciate alternative snarky perspectives, most news that I do find intriguing are discovered through New York Magazine, Vice, and the Onion. Enjoy my other categorical exceptions below.

Every young man should be gifted a subscription to Esquire magazine; I bought mine in High School while piecing together my own Weird Science inspired role model and mentor. Esquire’s web presence has nothing on their print, and while there’s a boat load of consumerist alternatives to online Esquire, including Valet and Uncrate, I drew my metro-sexual line just before anyone should expect their appearance to trump their achievements. After diligent research, I still haven’t found a newsstand female lifestyle magazine less ignorant than listing Love, Beauty, Life, and Career Advice under Horoscopes: I’m looking at you Marie Claire.

Supplanting years of terrible ESPN web design, the new Sports Center Feed is a boon to every self confessed sports addict. In my youth, as a growing athlete, and avid sports watcher and reader, Peter Vecsey’s articulation and shrewd judgment nurtured my early literary interests. To completely avoid the New York Daily News, I shifted to reading Bill Simmons, who remains my favorite sports author and leads Grantland, the ESPN offshoot, with awesome articles and B.S. Report podcasts.

Wired, Venture Beat, and The Verge satiate my general technologist needs; TechCrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo, and Mashable are now too popular to not be written for lay people, and Pete Cashmore’s smug face is an eye sore. Without delving into an endless list of web design and development references, I recreationally enjoy reading Smashing Magazine, A List Apart, and the Firefox Developer Blog.

Reddit/pics is a great distraction if you’d like to uncontrollably giggle to yourself in public. Reddit also provides a gateway to every interesting nook and cranny on the internet, most notably including science and medical journals; on that note, if anyone knows a doctor willing to prescribe me Adderall and Lithium treatments then email me their information, thanks. About people who mislead their humorous capabilities with reposts from Reddit, just know that you’re a huge disappointment in person.

For business and entrepreneurial news, the Harvard Business Review is an underappreciated gold mine. Special shout out to my good friend and industry consultant, Michael del Castillo of Upstart Business Journal, for his genuine enthusiasm about startups, and thought provoking content. I hope to continue this article with a nightly list of links I find worthy of sharing. Feel free to suggest any publications I may have missed. Best wishes and good reading everyone!

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The Great Gatsby Review

I have never consciously read a book and purposely watched the theatrical adaptation; my prerogative has been the exact opposite, whereby I actively avoid doing the two. I read Malcolm X and never saw the Denzel Washington performance, that I’m assured was robbed of an Oscar. I still rate Fight Club as the greatest movie I have personally ever seen, and I will never read the book; although, once I learned of the author, I have since read eight other Chuck Palahniuk novels. My first exposure to this phenomenon was Michael Crichton with the Jurassic Park series. I saw the original movie first, for which I was so thankful for Steven Spielberg. Then I read the follow up, The Lost World, before despising Steven Spielberg during the film release. So, if I think the story is worth its salt, then I read it; otherwise, I watch what I can of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potters, and Hunger Games of the world before saving my sensibilities.

I was originally sold on the Great Gatsby movie, because having assumed the Tom Hanks mantle without a word of praise, Leonardo DiCaprio is the most underrated actor of my generation. I must be one of the few American educated adults who wasn’t forced to read F. Scott Fitzgerald in grade school, except I knew of his reputation and decided the book should take precedence. Let me begin by saying, F. Scott’s wordplay is brilliant, as is the first half of The Great Gatsby. The characters are introduced, and their nature is well defined with background. We follow a young man, Nick Carraway, from the Midwest exposed to the surreal Eastern seaboard of riches, particularly where the legend of Jay Gatsby is in full bloom. Every character expresses a different recollection of Gatsby: is he a bootlegger? Did he kill a man? How illustrious can one soldier’s career have been? Where the grandiose questions are endless, everyone is interested in discussing him, while no one is interested in knowing him.

Without spoilers, once the Gatsby veil is lifted, we’re treated to a barely above average story. The momentum simply doesn’t carry through, and dully grasps at action sequences to distract you from waiting for the story to end. If those same action sequences are filmed right, the Great Gatsby movie has a rare opportunity to be better than a good book; and that’s exactly what the Great Gatsby is, a good book. Final rating: Bueno.

Brave New World

While I try to read a novel per month, the start to this year kept me in front of illuminated screens more often than my weary eyes appreciated. Having read Brave New World and The Great Gatsby so far in 2013, two more books this month and I’ll be caught up! Another bit of news that crossed by literary and technologist worlds: Amazon recently bought Good Reads. Barnes and Noble really dropped the ball on this one, their Nook is more of a play-thing than competitor to the Kindle; and relinquishing the future IMDB of books to Amazon may have been the final nail to their coffin. Remember Borders? Finally, let’s venture into a Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World with a Dystopian premise, contrary to George Orwell’s 1984 classic, because no one is paranoid or suspicious; and for good reason, there’s nothing to be paranoid or suspicious of. The setting isn’t Soylent Green, or a shady communist regime ruling with an iron fist. There isn’t any conflict by scientific design in this future. The citizens are brainwashed from birth to accept death, regulated drugs, promiscuous sex, and the absence of solitude in favor of socializing. Looking around today, it really isn’t different from the constant bombardment of broadcast influence we currently sustain; and if you somehow survive this desensitizing upbringing, then you’re free to leave with like minded individuals. Every citizen is a genetically modified test tube baby, which renders traditional birth and family structures extinct. Although there is a social caste system, work and play opportunities efficiently distract from transcendental thoughts. What’s yours is basically mine, unless I don’t want it.

The story specifically follows the actions and consequences of a man born to the highest social class; albeit, with less desirable characteristics, like his short height and obtuse facial features, which render him similar to a lesser social class. We’re treated to the rebellious thoughts of his genius, yet feeble mind, which are expressed and noticed by others around him, like outbursts of Napolean Syndrome. Attempts to make up for his shortcomings ultimately lead to encounters with people from the uncivilized world, where people do crude things, like work on farms, worship gods, and read Shakespeare; thereby introducing conflict to the monotony, which becomes monotonous in itself.

And oh the monotony! Woe is the reader if inventory lists and tallies don’t fancy them. I, for one, did not really need to know how much of everything presides in every scene; this tactic came across as filling filler. In theory, the daily repetition of easily productive work, sex, and drugs make for a great life; however, the book wears you down by constantly transcribing the equipment necessary to accomplish such a feat. I admittedly skipped a few paragraphs of fictional material accounting; then the conflict becomes the monotony, and seasons of Maury come to mind. Mustaph Mond, a character introduced in the final chapters, saves Brave New World by delivering the insight we bravely read towards. Through a series of question and answers, and speeches, he sums up the state of affairs, how it came to be so, and why it must remain this way; which I just so happen to agree with. Final rating: Bueno. The Great Gatsby is next!

As Told: Shrimp and Sex

This story is being retold at the behest of the original storyteller. All names, places, and dates have been omitted at my discretion. This story, this exercise in taking and editing dictation, is true, no matter how ridiculous it seems. This may become a series if I continue to receive enough submissions through jorenerene.com.

My wife invited her childhood friend over for dinner. She was adamant about preparing shrimp scampi, because shrimp was allegedly our guest’s favorite dish. On cue, our guest arrives and begins to boast about the seafood restaurants she allegedly frequents with her boyfriend. I repeat allegedly because our guest was an outright liar trying to save face before gnashing her gums on crustaceans. She would literally bite into the shelled shrimp, chew, then reach into her mouth and collect as many shell bits as possible before swallowing. It was the most bizarre thing, like watching a feral human being’s first attempt at civility. Before I could pardon myself to wretch in private, the conversation lead to her personal love life for dessert.

She fell in love with her first boyfriend; they lived together for quite a while, and she accepted his eventual proposal. One night, with her fiancé away on business, she decided to attend a party with some of her friends. There she met a suave man, who measured a tad taller and more muscular than she was accustomed to. She claims his aggressive nature, in direct contrast to her fiancé’s passiveness, drew her interest. That night she slept with the man. Her infidelity would have been the exclamation point to the story if not for her confession: having only been with her fiancé by that time, she was convinced that all men had small penises. She went on to describe how her fiancé’s penis would dully tickle her libido; against all appropriate suggestions, she continued to describe how her singular climaxes would take lots of time and effort on his part to achieve. Luck would have it that the man at the party was blessed with girth and experience. She broke off her engagement the next day, and never ate shrimp until the opportunity arose to embarrass herself and a man who could possibly love her.

Creative Memory Fiction

Jo-Ann and I went to the Brooklyn Museum for Target First Saturday. There we met staff members issuing cards to random museum goers for the artistic purpose of exchanging memories. Each card asked for a cardholder’s name, title of a memory, its date, and details of the memory to relay to a perfect stranger. We decided to make sure someone left with a deeply disturbing memory. For the name we quickly agreed to be ambiguous, and use the overlapping characters of our first name: Jo. Then we started brainstorming ideas. The first few ideas all sounded too contrived. Jo-Ann was all about someone being naked or embarrassed. She mentioned a retainer in one of her ideas. I wanted to describe an experience worthy of a Post Secret entry, something that makes you wonder if people like this truly exist. Like a post that virally re-blogs on Tumblr because it sounds cool, and reminds young people of the depressing life they’d like to live despite their middle upper class upbringing.

We agreed Jo would do something terrible on their seventeenth birthday. A party was supposed to be involved, and the notion of drugs became a driving plotline. Trying to include most of those themes muddied our final product. Neither of us was as happy with the card we turned in, as the story we’d hoped to deliver.

The following is, in essence, the story we agreed upon:

My upper plastic retainer dislodged one evening. I meant to wash and re-apply it in the restroom. Upon opening the cabinet to retrieve the disinfectant, I found my twin sister’s retainer already soaking. Already lazy, I switched them in my curious state. To my initial disgust, my senses revealed her retainers had actually been soaking in water, grossly swimming in a Petri dish of her saliva. To my immediate surprise, I enjoyed her taste so much that I have intermittently switched our retainers ever since. Hopefully neither of our overbites ever recovers and I can continue drinking her.

We received and traded two stories in return, both of which were terribly bland. One was an interpretation of a painting at the museum, the other was nonsensically happy.

Plagiarism

After publishing the Open Times Hack Day post, I received a lot of love, and excitedly opened an email addressed from Marci Windsheimer of the New York Times! Her email started with an exclaimed Hello! And continued to express how much her organization loves external New York Times coverage, then she accused me of plagiarism and avoided threats through suggestive compliance language. The thing is, she was right; by the very definition of the word, I had lifted text and re-appropriated it for event background in my opening paragraph. I learned two important lessons in the hours that followed.

The first lesson was composure, disavowing my first instinct to explain a misguided shortcut, in favor of accepting my error. I quickly responded to request judgmental leniency, and confirmed my immediate resolve to correct the mistake. Edits were quickly made, each blog was updated shortly thereafter, and links were re-issued with explanations to affected outlets.

The second lesson was exposure, specifically to the cold reality of business. Allow me to reference the words of William Butler Yeats: But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. My responses to Marci included my possible desire to work at the New York Times pertaining to Journalism or Technology, that I deeply respected their organization, and felt fortunate to merely receive communication originating from within their walls. After completing a rewrite of the original paragraph and sending it off for her review, all I received was a two worded thank you, consisting of the words, “Thank you.” After addressing me like a fifteen year old girl with exclamation points and the word love, releasing dopamine and conveying feelings she quickly shattered, I felt something besides thanked. I felt as if she were a machine that erroneously labeled me something since it happened upon the exception instead of the rule, without getting to know me or any more of my work. In return, as much as I professionally appreciate the corporate policy correspondence, I personally look forward to an opportunity to leave Marci with two words that aren’t thank you – save the “you.”

Little Prejudice

I recently read Little Women immediately followed by Pride & Prejudice, each chronicles the lives of growing young women in a bygone era, so I thought I would review them in tandem for my first daily post. I will try to express my opinion of each book without spoiling the story for the uninitiated. Each review will receive one of these final ratings: No Bueno, Bueno, or Muy Bueno – because I’m random like that.

Little Women reads like a long winded fairy tale where you form a bond with the narrator who occasionally breaks the fourth wall, and the March family who we follow through adolescence and young adulthood. The main characters are the four young Marches, each seemingly embodying a distinct personality: Josephine the tough, Amy the lady, Beth the kind-hearted, and Meg the mature; their household is completed by their mother, affectionately called Marmee throughout, and a belligerent servant who speaks like a rapper writes. This book was meant for mothers to read to their daughters for lessons in patience, self-respect, self-esteem, and all the positive traits we wish upon them. Two problems, first, if we’re preaching life lessons including acceptance, then Josephine is clearly a lesbian, which shouldn’t bother anyone, and that opens the possibility that Beth is a special needs child. Second, the religious undertones and re-enforced gender roles: Josephine the lesbian is the only little woman interested in working, and none of these girls appear to be educated in any of the sciences, preferring inaudibly rousing speeches instead of intellectual debates. Alas, I am clearly not the target audience; and yet, I found the story endearing and the family likeable overall. Bueno.

Pride and Prejudice is a bit more grown up. My favorite quote opens the book:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

The scene continues with Mrs. Bennet begging her husband to marry her daughter off to the neighborhood’s newest rich young bachelor. Quick tangent, when did parents stop arranging their children’s future? The Bennets have four daughters, the son-less theme continues; we’re primarily concerned with the two eldest Bennet daughters: Elizabeth the protagonist and Jane the beautiful. Their hearts-for-swords fencing partners are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, each of whom are wildly rich and terribly sought after. I took a particular liking to Mr. Darcy, because much like myself, we have a prideful air about us that regularly leaves people with snobbish impressions despite our disassociation. The Prejudice arises due to the Pride, we’re treated to plot twists and loads of pensive thoughts; quite frankly, too much pensive thought, and for adult affairs, this drawn out mystery thriller is lacking sexual tension. If lust isn’t required with your love, then this is the book for you: adult problems and mea culpa solutions without any passion. At least Jane Austen painted better villainy and deception in the world than the terror of science, and a little woman’’s malaise. Bueno.