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MONEYBALL AND THE IMPORTANCE OF FAILURE

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Here’s a mind map of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game:

MIND MAP OF MONEYBALL BY MICHAEL LEWIS

see it bigger

Something I didn’t explore in the map was the idea of gifted children vs. gifted adults.

The main character in Moneyball is Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s. Billy Beane started out as an unbelievably gifted young athlete–he could do anything on almost any playing field. He succeeded at everything. He was a scout’s wet dream, and ended up getting drafted right out of high school into the major leagues.

And then Billy’s troubles began.

If there was one thing Billy was not equipped for, it was failure….He didn’t know how to think of himself if he couldn’t think of himself as a success….The moment Billy failed, he went looking for something to break.

Despite his tremendous physical abilities, his inability to mentally deal with his failures is what separated him from the successful players he sat next to on the bench, like Lenny Dykstra:

Physically, Lenny didn’t belong in the same league with him. He was half Billy’s size and had a fraction of Billy’s promise – which is why the Mets hadn’t drafted him until the 13th round. Mentally, Lenny was superior, which was odd, considering Lenny wasn’t what you’d call a student of the game. Billy remembers sitting with Lenny in a Mets dugout watching the opposing pitcher warm up. ‘Lenny says, “So who’s that big dumb ass out there on the hill?” And I say, “Lenny, you’re kidding me, right? That’s Steve Carlton. He’s maybe the greatest left-hander in the history of the game.” Lenny says, “Oh, yeah! I knew that!” He sits there for a minute and says, “So, what’s he got?” And I say, “Lenny, come on. Steve Carlton. He’s got heat and also maybe the nastiest slider ever.” And Lenny sits there for a while longer as if he’s taking that in. Finally he just says, “Shit, I’ll stick him.” I’m sitting there thinking, that’s a magazine cover out there on the hill and all Lenny can think is that he’ll stick him.’”

The point about Lenny, at least to Billy, was clear: Lenny didn’t let his mind screw him up. The physical gifts required to play pro ball were, in some ways, less extraordinary than the mental ones. Only a psychological freak could approach a 100-mph fastball aimed not all that far from his head with total confidence. “Lenny was so perfectly designed, emotionally, to play the game of baseball,” said Billy. “He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success. He had no concept of failure. And he had no idea where he was. And I was the opposite.”

As J.K. Rowling said in her address to Harvard, the ability to overcome failure might be the important ingredient in successfully transitioning into adulthood.

Eventually, Beane went on to be one of the most successful managers in baseball. How? He learned from his failure, and started looking for young players the opposite of him!

So, as Sam Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Be unafraid!

(For real reviews of the book, see Mark Larson and Tim Walker. Tim also has a great post on the benefits of failure.)

RECOMMENDATIONS

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I don’t know what possessed me—I chronicle most of the stuff I’m reading / watching / looking at / listening to on my tumblelog and twitter and muxtape—but here’s a big bunch of stuff that I’ve dug in the past couple of months:

what it is by lynda barry

What It Is by Lynda Barry

What more can I say about this book?

It’s collage, it’s a writing textbook, it’s a memoir…it’s everything. It’s big. It’s hardcover. It’s awesome.

beach house devotion

Devotion music by Beach House

Quiet, soft, and beautiful. Lots of organ and reverb. Good hangover music.

and then there were none

And Then There Were None… by Agatha Christie

There was something magical about an island — the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world — an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.

Hmmm. A group of strangers stranded on a mysterious island, all with shady pasts that come back to haunt them…sound familiar?

My wife is an Agatha Christie nut. This was the first thing of hers I’ve ever read. 173 lightning fast pages. Fun read.

away from her

Away from Her a film by Sarah Polley

So sad, but so good. And the first time directing for Sarah Polley. She was quoted as saying the film was about

the opposite kind of love than we usually celebrate in films, which is new love without knowledge and without hardship.

It’s also a terrific example of how short stories fleshed out (as opposed to novels being compressed) make better films. (See also: In The Bedroom)

My favorite line (from the Alice Munro short story):

She said there ought to be one place you thought about and knew about and maybe longed for but never did get to see.

giant

Giant a film by George Stevens

PT Anderson was once asked to name 3 films that he loved but no one had ever heard of. He replied,

I like films that people HAVE heard of: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Giant, The Big Lebowski.

I recommend all three, too. Giant is a 3-hour epic set in West Texas. (Shot in Marfa.) James Dean. A gorgeous, young Elizabeth Taylor. What’s not to like?

knockemstiff by donald ray pollock

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

I first heard about this book last year when my parents sent me clips from their local newspapers.

This is the book I wanted to write as an undergrad: an updated Winesburg, Ohio set in the Southern part of the state. I grew up about 30 miles from the real Knockemstiff, but I never really belonged there, not the way Donald Ray Pollock belonged: he worked at the Mead paper plant in Chillicothe for 30 years before he started writing, and got his MFA at Ohio State. He knows his place and writes about it beautifully.

This is a strong first book — but it can tough to read all the dark stories (note: it’s full of sex, booze, foul language, and drug use) at once. I recommend spreading them out. Standout stories for me were “Real life” and “Discipline.”

no more heroes

No More Heroes a videogame by Suda51

This is a violent videogame for the Wii, in which you play a hipster assassin with a lightsaber. It’s basically a GTA ripoff, but the art is great, and the game is full of little side missions which really make it entertaining. A good buy for $30.

pilot g2 gel pens

PILOT G2 BOLD POINT GEL PEN

Holy crap these things are awesome. If you want to lay down a big fat line, these babies will do the trick. 1mm > .07mm.

some like it hot

Some Like It Hot A film by Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors: I especially love The Apartment, which also stars Jack Lemmon. And Marilyn Monroe is gorgeous, of course…

thoreau at walden by john porcellino

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino

John Porcellino is definitely in my top 5 favorite cartoonists, and his simple, zen lines are perfect for adapting Thoreau into comics.

lykkeli-youthnovels

Youth Novel music by Lykke Li

I can’t really describe her music. I always play it when I’m walking to the bus…

dan in real life

Dan in Real Life a film by Peter Hedges

If Eddie Campbell says something is good, you know it’s good. This really surprised me. It’s a story about nice people who get into a genuine conflict. Probably why it didn’t get very good reviews: no explosions or incest or whatever…

Phew. That was too much work. I think I’ll save this kind of thing for the next year-end lists.

What stuff are y’all into right now?

THE POWER OF MYTH AND JOSEPH CAMPBELL ON ART-MAKING

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

MINDMAP OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL'S THE POWER OF MYTH

Do ever feel like when you’re reading, you aren’t really learning anything, but you’re re-discovering what you already had inside you? That’s how it felt after reading The Power of Myth, a book companion to the PBS mini-series featuring Bill Moyers and mythologist Joseph Campbell in conversation. Having never read any Campbell (I’m starting on The Hero With A Thousand Faces next) I found it to be a great introduction to his worldview.

Campbell had a lot of wisdom for artists, but here are two of the more practical excerpts.

On having a “sacred place”:

[A sacred place] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen….

[O]ur life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station? You have to try to find it. Get a phonograph and put on the music that you really love, even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects.

On how to read:

Sit in a room and read—and read and read. And read the right books by the right people….When you find an author who really grabs you, read everything he has done. Don’t say, “Oh, I want to know what So-andso did”—and don’t bother at all with the best-seller list. Just read what this one author has to give you. And then you can go read what he had read. And the world opens up in a way that is consistent with a certain point of view. But when you go from one author to another, you may be able to tell us the date when each wrote such and such a poem—but he hasn’t said anything to you.

(This is something that both my friend Brandon and George Saunders have suggested.)

Great book. Highly recommended. Here are some other excerpts.

the power of myth

DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS BY JOE BAGEANT

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

mindmap of deer hunting with jesus by joe bageant

Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. Why describe it when dozens of reviewers already have:

Bageant mixes a reporter’s keen analysis, a storyteller’s color, and a native son’s love of his roots in this absorbing dissection of America’s working poor. Returning to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, after 30 years of life among the elite journalistic class, Bageant sought to answer the question of why the working poor vote for Republicans in apparent opposition to their own interests. (Booklist)

This is a great book. Like Drew Westen’s The Political Brain, it sets out to explain why democrats just can’t capture the hearts and votes of working class America.

There was a particular passage that I thought synced up nicely with Barack Obama’s recent “race” speech, where Obama said:

As imperfect as [Reverend Wright] may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

The passage from Bageant quote concerns religion, but it has the same theme—your people are your people, and they’re a part of you, no matter what:

Only another liberal raised in a fundamentalist clan can understand what a strange, sometimes downright hellish circumstance it is — how such a family can despise everything you believe in, see you as a humanist instrument of Satan, yet still love you and be right there for you when your back goes out or a divorce shatters your life. How they can never fail to invite you to the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

It must be plain that I do not find much conversational fat to chew around the Thanksgiving table. Politically and spiritually, my family and I may be said to be dire enemies. Love and loathing coexist. There is talk but no communication. At times it seems we are speaking to one another through an unearthly veil, wherein each party knows it is speaking to an alien. There is a sort of high, eerie, mental whine in the air. This is the sound of mutually incomprehensible worlds hurtling toward destiny, passing with great psychological friction, obvious to all yet acknowledged by none.

After a lifetime of identity conflict, I have come to accept that these are my people — by blood, even if not politically or spiritually. I have prayed with them, mourned with them, and celebrated their weddings. I share their rude tastes and humor, and I am marked by the same fundamentalist God-instilled self-loathing. No matter how much I may change or improve my condition, I cannot escape their pathos. I go forward, yet I remain. I wait anxiously and strive for change, for relief from what feels like an increased stifling of personal liberty, beauty, art, and self-realization in America. They wait in spooky calmness for Jesus.

Highly recommended. Thanks to Jessa Crispin for the tip.

deer hunting with jesus

Links:

A FEW GOOD READS

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Okay, I really hate reviewing books, but I also want to keep track of the good fiction and comics stuff I’ve read lately, so here:

shortcomings

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Not my kind of story, not my kind of style, but a really well-executed, 100-page story. I think Tomine’s a terrific artist, and I love his sketchbooks and illustration work (his New Yorker covers are always great). This book deserves the attention it’s getting.

cheese monkeys

The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd

Went to see Chip Kidd talk a couple of weeks ago, so I read his first novel. It’s very funny and a quick read, and anybody who’s been through an art-school critique would appreciate the great classroom scenes. (Kidd modeled the fictional Winter Sorbeck off his own professor at Penn State, the graphic designer Lammy Sommese.) And since so much of the action takes place in the classroom, it sort of functions as a wacky introduction to graphic design. I recommend it.

crickets2.jpg

Crickets #2 by Sammy Harkham

This is a comic book. For $5, you get a bunch of stories, all of them pretty wild and pretty great. Sammy is one of my favorite cartoonists, and I’d been looking forward to this for a while. It didn’t disappoint.

bigquestions_3.jpg

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

I’ve been following this series for a while. I found #3 last week in a bargain bin at my local Half Price books—it’s amazing how much Nilsen has grown as an artist. I buy everything he makes, and so should everyone else.

perry bible fellowship

The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch

This is bathroom reading: most of the strips are the equivalent of a good dick joke. A good and hilarious dick joke.

THINKING WITH TYPE BY ELLEN LUPTON

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Mindmap of THINKING WITH TYPE by Ellen Lupton

Thinking With Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students
by Ellen Lupton.

This is a really great book for folks wanting to get into typography. It not only teaches the basic principles (what’s an x-height? what’s a descender?), it also gives a good bit of the history and theory. I really dug it, and for $14, I’m thinking about adding it to my library.

Links:

IN DEFENSE OF FOOD: AN EATER’S MANIFESTO BY MICHAEL POLLAN

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

“To reclaim…control over one’s food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing: indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts.”—Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

MINDMAP OF IN DEFENSE OF FOOD BY MICHAEL POLLAN

This was an fantastic book that deserves a better map. Oh well.

Earlier today my friend Tim asked, “What is your most naïve question?”

Mine was, “Why do we live like this?” Which, of course, is also a way of asking, “How should we live?”

I loved this book because Michael Pollan answers my question in terms of food: “Why do we eat like this?” and “How should we eat?”

The answer to the latter: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. In an age where food has become nothing but a commodity, something packaged and sold, it’s time to treat it like a gift. “Shake the hand of the one who feeds you,” as Pollan says.

Speaking of great writing about food, I’d like to wish Maureen McHugh a happy birthday! Check out her blog and contributions to Eat Our Brains for some exquisite culinary lit.

MUSICOPHILIA BY OLIVER SACKS

Monday, February 11th, 2008

MUSICOPHILIA BY OLIVER SACKS

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain is okay. As a huge Oliver Sacks fan and a musician, I thought I was going to like it more than I did. But really, it’s a pretty scattered book. There’s not much of an overarching theme or thread — just 350 pages of Oliver Sacks writing about music and the brain. Which is very cool and all, but it doesn’t make for an engaging long narrative. It might be a good bathroom book: you just pick up a chapter here and there, rather than reading it straight through.

Here’s a big roundup of links related to the book:

DON’T MAKE ME THINK BY STEVE KRUG

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I don’t talk about web design all that much on this blog—probably because it’s what I do at work all day—but for anybody wanting to dip into the subject, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a simple, straightforward, and classic guide to web usability. I read it when I started my job. (Almost six months ago!) I found these illustrated notes in my desk today, so I thought I’d share…

DON'T MAKE ME THINK BY STEVE KRUG

THE GIFT BY LEWIS HYDE

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

THE GIFT BY LEWIS HYDE

There was a good article about this book in the LA Times:

Hyde’s 1983 book “The Gift,” subtitled “Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World,” argues that inspiration comes to its creator the same way a gift does. Because of this, both the artist and the resulting work itself become uneasy in a market economy. This gift is most comfortable, instead, when it is kept moving — offered or traded — instead of being hoarded or commodified….Over the years, “The Gift” has developed a cult following among writers and artists who rarely lend their names to anything as potentially sentimental as a book on “creativity” — David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and Geoff Dyer among them. To Jonathan Lethem, it’s “a life-changer”; video artist Bill Viola calls it “the best book I have read on what it means to to be an artist in today’s economic world.”

Mr. Hyde himself gives a good summary:

The main assumption of the book is that certain spheres of life, which we care about, are not well organized by the marketplace. That includes artistic practice, which is what the book is mostly about, but also pure science, spiritual life, healing and teaching….This book is about the alternative economy of artistic practice. For most artists, the actual working life of art does not fit well into a market economy, and this book explains why and builds out on the alternative, which is to imagine the commerce of art to be well described by gift exchange.

In other words, “Don’t quit your day job, dude.”

I’m not really sure what to say about this book. It just kind of re-affirmed a lot of what I’ve been thinking about making art: that it’s important for me to have a day job, so I can separate work from play, and that the more generous you are with your audience (through blogging, teaching, sharing, etc.) the better off you’ll be as an artist—spiritually and financially. Good companion reading would be Cory Doctorow’s article, “Giving It Away.”

Has anybody else read it? Thoughts?



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