Thoughts on the new version of Word for OS X: 2011

Microsoft just released Office for OS X 2011, and I’ve been using it for the last day. The upgrade is notable for three reasons:

1) Word 2011 is much, much faster than Word 2008. Vastly faster. Did I mention it was faster? Word opens files faster, becomes responsive faster, and randomly hangs less often. Scrolling is much smoother, especially on a 75,000-word novel. I don’t know what Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit did to achieve this, but kudos to them.

2) The “Elements” toolbar at the top of the screen is still there:

I can’t find a way to get rid of it. This is irritating because vertical space is at a premium relative to horizontal space on modern, widescreen monitors. My 24″ iMac has just enough space to fit two full pages side-by-side. Edit: Someone just sent me an e-mail saying that one can turn off this part of the “ribbon” in the ribbon preferences menu. Great news! There’

3) There’s now a Mellel-like full-screen view:

This is pretty nice. I haven’t found a hot key for full-screen view, although I think there should be a way to assign one, if I can find it. But the full-screen view is much slower than the normal views (three steps forward, one step back…). If I click into a file on my second monitor, the full-screen view goes (glacially) away.

No word (haha!) yet on whether the new version is as crash-prone as previous versions. Word crashes on me at least every couple weeks, usually in ways that are frustratingly random and not reproducible. Find/replace is an egregious cause of crashes.

I’m likely to keep using Mellel for first drafts and stuff that I primarily work on alone and Word for grant writing and stuff I’m likely to share.

The Pregnant Widow — Martin Amis

The Pregnant Widow doesn’t start with a bang, though it does start with talk of a bang that fails to happen. A bit disappointing, all this talk and no action. The sexual failure in question, however, is traumatic only to the guy who fails to sleep with the object of his affections—not to the rest of us. The novel is more compelling than this flat description makes it sound but less compelling than one would like. The sex farce is funny but sometimes feels older than the primary time period it takes place: 1970, when everyone knows everyone is getting laid and wants to know why they aren’t getting laid as much as everyone else. That sounds like the present, actually. I suppose such a sentence could stand for all time.

Still, The Pregnant Widow is upfront with its preoccupations: on page 9, we find out like a warning label that “Sexual intercourse, I should point out, has two unique characteristics. It is indescribable. And it people the world. We shouldn’t find it surprising, then, that it is much on everyone’s mind.” Unfortunately, some minds think about it more rigorously than others. Keith, the protagonist, has one of the less rigorous minds. His friends are more attractive and—more dangerously for a novel—interesting than he is. One, Whittaker points out a major theme of The Pregnant Widow regarding generational shifts when the English group gets to Italy, including the lissome Lily and and Scheherazade, who saunter nude or nearly so up to their resort:

These old guys have just come staggering out of the Middle Ages. Think. Imagine. You’re first-generation urban. With your wheelbarrow parked in the street. You’re having a little glass of something, trying to keep a grip. You look up and what do you get? Two nude blondes.

These days, the young are still shocking the old, but now it’s via the “sext,” a video camera in every iPhone, and Tucker Max. In 1970, it was the tame bikini or lack thereof. In 1900, it was Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. In 1800, it was a bit of ankle. As we go further back in time, the major sexual questions of the day become less interesting.

But the literary issues resonate even when the sexual ones have mostly been resolved. The other central question in The Pregnant Widow is one of self-interrogating literary criticism (this makes more sense than it sounds):

It sometimes seemed to Keith that the English novel, at least in its first two or three centuries, asked only one question. Will she fall? Will she fall, this woman? What’ll they write about, he wondered, when all women fall? Well, there’ll be new ways of falling . . .

Notice that The Pregnant Widow doesn’t assert that the central question of the novel is “will she fall:” only that it “sometimes seemed to Keith,” implying that other times the central question might seem otherwise. But it also asks whether we should care: if she “falls,” that means she’s a person who makes her own decisions, and if she doesn’t—then so what? What’s at stake is a question that doesn’t matter all that much except to the extent the woman involved makes it matter. This brings up an uncomfortable point alluded to by that ellipsis: if it doesn’t matter, then the novel doesn’t matter. And this novel doesn’t matter. So why should we read it?

I’m not the first to notice this. Katha Pollitt, writing in Slate, says that

The novel revolves around the question of whether Keith will be stuck sleeping with his okay-looking girlfriend, Lily, or whether he’ll get to sleep with a really hot chick named Scheherazade. Given that basic setup, one could imagine why women might not be all that interested, since most of them probably haven’t faced that dilemma, won’t face that dilemma, and no doubt appreciate being reminded of how often men will judge them solely based on looks. There’s also a scene involving the attempted drugging of Lily’s drink, which Keith thinks will enable his rendezvous with Scheherazade of the vast, pendulous (I think Amis manages to avoid the word “pendulous,” which is fortunate) breasts. Although this is an improvement over drugging a woman in order to have sex with her, it still retains a substantial ick factor that, although perhaps realistic, remains unpleasant.

A lot of the English literary corpus that Keith is going through revolves around whether particular characters in the novels will do it or not do it (or, sometimes, be forced to do it, as happens in Clarissa). Hence his thoughts about the English novel quoted above. In Pride and Prejudice, no one can even say what Lydia is doing when she runs off with Wickham, even though we all know that they’re fucking. These commentaries on English novels resonates with me because I read a lot of the early English novels over the course of the last year, most of which didn’t leave much of an impression because they feel tedious for the same reason The Pregnant Widow does at times: who cares? Let’s move on with the show. In the case of The Pregnant Widow, the women at the end find religion and close their legs, implying that the fin de siècle is harmful to them—another one of these jibes that I find it hard to believe most real women believe, Caitlin Flanagan’s essays about teenage girls aside.

The dilemma Pollitt identifies is real, and The Pregnant Widow does basically reduce its female characters to male accoutrements who sometimes happen to play games with their possessors. Keith is prevented from pursuing completely by a rather incomplete morality and a girlfriend he doesn’t entirely care about. Or, rather, he cares more about Scheherazade’s breasts, but he goes by the principle that one in the bag is worth two in the bush. But when one partner has that principle, the other is likely to adopt it, and by the novel’s end Keith says, understated, that “Italy was a mistake […] I wouldn’t have missed it, not for the world. But Italy was a mistake. In the end. Anyway Lily dumped me. On the plane […] I’m relieved. I’m delighted. I’m free.” I find myself saying, “That’s it?”, which is seldom the reaction one wants from either a novel or a sexual encounter, which is an apt comparison given the major concerns of The Pregnant Widow.

If Keith and Lily’s relationship doesn’t much matter (and it doesn’t), and whether Keith gets Scheherazade doesn’t much matter, what does? The comedy, I suppose, and there’s some of that, but not more than 300 pages worth. One might notice that Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach is a merciful or wise novella, just the right length for exploring an excruciating dilemma but not so long that one tires of it. Books and house guests who overstay their welcome in the morning often aren’t welcomed back a second time. So, I fear, it is with The Pregnant Widow.

But there is some good self-interrogation beyond the literary:

The Italian summer—that was the only passage in his whole existence that ever felt like a novel. It had chronology and truth (it did happen). But it also boasted the unities of time, place, and action; it aspired to at least partial coherence; it had some shape, some pattern, with its echelons, its bestiaries. Once that was over, all he had was truth and chronology—and, oh yes, the inherently tragic shape (rise, crest, fall), like the mouth on a tragic mask [. . .]

If it “felt like a novel” to Keith, however, it felt like less of one to me (at least until it began interrogating the differences between life and art). The “inherently tragic shape” is mostly inherently tragic to its narrator (although that it could count as tragic is itself a joke).

And there is also some good practical advice or social commentary, this from Glory Beautyman, who shows up to tell Keith what he’s doing wrong, which is quite a bit: “Beyond a certain level of sexual failure [. . .] a part of the male mind gets to work on hating women. And women sense this. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophesy [. . .] And this he already knew.” Keith “already knew,” but he can’t turn what he knows into action. Not that summer, at least.

The novel’s gender stuff about whether or not girls can be boys grows somewhat tedious by the end, since the logical answer to such problems regarding sexuality is to do what you want, whether that means being celibate or nailing everyone within reach (which applies to both men and women). Once one comes to that conclusion—the one Keith is groping towards, like Scheherazade’s hot body, and never quite gets to—the whole issue of who sleeps with whom becomes significantly less interesting—and it becomes harder to fuel a novel with it, especially since the first two or three centuries of the English novel have spent so much time interrogating it.

This weakness, however, is not a new one for Amis. The Second Pass says that, “Even in his best fiction—Money, London Fields—he has relied on narrative gimmicks and trickery to support creaky storylines, and The Pregnant Widow is no exception.” Maybe so: but one man’s narrative gimmick is another’s innovation or puzzle, and The Pregnant Widow is frequently light on transitions and heavy on the assumption that the reader is paying very close attention to the text and what’s going on. In this respect, the novel reminds me of Tender is the Night, which also feels choppy in its jumps from scene to scene.

The question is whether The Pregnant Widow’s characteristic verbal fireworks overcome its material. Money’s do. For this novel, however, I’m thinking not. I suspect you just had to be there, man, and I wasn’t.

Tucker Max Interview — Assholes Finish First and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Tucker Max wrote I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and, most recently, Assholes Finish First , both of which chronicle his experiences drinking, hooking up, and behaving like a self-proclaimed asshole. Think of the stories your friends tell the morning after, except edited (to maximize hilarity) and in book form.

Here’s an example from “Fucked-Up Pillow Talk, Part 2,” which is like the famous Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine, except for the subject matter:

—With some random girl who was really annoying:

Girl “Why don’t you last longer during sex? Ten minutes is not long enough for me.”
Tucker “I don’t understand. I lasted long enough for me to cum. Why would I go any longer?”
Girl “I want to cum too. What about me?”
Tucker “Who?”
Girl “Me.”
Tucker “Who are we talking about here?”
Girl “ME!”
Tucker “Who?”
Girl “I HATE YOU!”
Tucker “Who hates me?”

You can read other stories at During the interview, Tucker’s friend, “Bunny” in Assholes Finish First, was present, along with Murph, his dog, and a bunch of law students from Arizona State University.

Jake Seliger: How’s your tour so far?

Tucker Max: Long and tiring but good.

JS: In another interview, you said that when you give speeches at colleges, you don’t tell stories and instead talk about what it is to live your dreams and take the path less traveled. So what is it to live your dreams, and what do you do, especially if you don’t know what your dreams are?

TM: Well you have to find out, don’t you? What I usually do in this speech—how old are you, dude?

JS: Twenty-six. I’m a grad student in English at the University of Arizona.

TM: All right, so—I need to get in interview mode.

JS: You don’t have to—it’s better to just do it like a conversation.

TM: I know, I’ve done this once or twice. So what I try to explain, when you’re an undergrad, generally you think you can do two things. You’re gonna have to get a job after you graduate or you gotta go do more school. Because everyone who’s giving you advice or telling you how to live your life are people who’ve done one of those two things. You don’t generally have anyone in your life who has gone out on their own and done something entrepreneurial or done something artistic or truly risky or truly taken the path less traveled, because those people—

JS: Aren’t in schools?

TM: —don’t work in academics. And don’t become cubicle monkeys. So what I try and explain in my speeches is that there’s a third way. Because a lot of people—I think most people—want to do something besides those two things. But they don’t really know how. They don’t know how to start, they don’t know how to get there, they don’t even know where to go. Unfortunately, there’s a map—if you want to stay in academia, it’s real fucking simple. There’s a map if you want to become a cubicle monkey. There’s no map for finding your dreams. There’s a process to it, and generally speaking, what you want to do, especially when you’re young, in college or right out of college when you have no debt, no responsibilities, no one relying on you, you’ve got all the freedom in the world. What you want to is experience as much as possible, see as much as possible, do as much as possible, hit as much as you can in the world. What you’re going to find are a whole list of things that you’re passionate about. And a whole list of things that you’re good at. And where those two circles overlap is where your life should fall. At least in terms of what you do for a living. And what you love and what creates value for other people. When you can find something that does both, that’s what you should focus on. That’s the sort of thing that people like me, people like Bunny, Tim Ferris, that’s what we did. We found a way to connect those two things. Taking that path is like a vision quest, so I can’t tell you, well, you need to be a surf coach in Brazil. What the fuck do I know, dude? I don’t know what your passion is, I don’t know what you’re good at, I don’t know what gets you up in the morning. I know generally how to approach that idea, and I know how hard it is, and I know the general things you’re going to have to overcome. But there is no map to that. And that’s what I try to explain in the speech.

JS: Your talk reminds me of Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, who observed that he’s not the funniest man in the world, and he’s not the best artist in the world, but he’s funnier than most people, and he’s a better artist than most people. And he combined those two things into Dilbert, and it worked really well for him.

TM: If I understand it correctly, it was a hard path. I don’t know his story real well, but if I remember correctly—I mean, here’s the problem. A lot of people who’ve succeeded either don’t remember or don’t understand how they got from where everyone else is to where they are.

JS: Or they make a narrative out of it, that takes out the ambiguity.

TM: They make the ex-post narrative, that simplifies it, and makes it look like it was inevitable. That’s not the way it works.

JS: Do you find that people who’re responding to your books create this kind of ex-post narrative?

TM: About me? Yeah, absolutely. Usually guys in their mid-twenties, 27 to 29, 30, whatever—

JS: That’s right where I am!

TM: Well, guys like that who read my stuff, there’s a certain type who—I’m not better looking, I’m not smarter, I’m not a better writer, but they’re stuck in a cubicle and I’m a star. And they get fuckin’ pissed off and can’t understand why—”Well, if I had a trust fund, I’d be able to do this.” I didn’t have a trust fund. I couldn’t eat for a couple years when I first started. I mean, you can ask [Bunny], who was my friend before anyone knew who I was in the world. There were times I was basically stealing food. And they’ll say—

JS: Hence the story about looking in the girl’s wallet?


TM: There were times, people are like, “Oh, well you already did it, if I had written my stories down—” dude, there is an unlimited market for funny stuff.

JS: It also helps to have a really strong sense of dialogue and pacing.

TM: My book agent, Byrd Leavell, estimates that he has seen 20,000 submissions since I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell came out in January of 2006. Twenty thousand submissions saying, “I’m the next Tucker Max, I’m the drunk Tucker Max, I’m the girl Tucker Max, I’m the monk Tucker Max, whatever.” Twenty thousand!

JS: Wait, I want to talk about the monk Tucker Max.

TM: But he hasn’t signed any of them, because they all suck as writers, or they’re not emotionally authentic, or it’s not funny, or whatever. People create all these narratives explaining away why they haven’t had the courage to take their personal path, or explaining away my success, or anyone else. Anyone who succeeds in anything, there’s always going to be people who don’t have the courage to do that. They get upset about it, either explain it away, or dismiss it away.

JS: It sounds like you almost found out by accident. In Assholes Finish First you say that when you and your friends graduated from law school, “We were slowly realizing that the ‘real life’ we’d chosen really fucking sucked. A lot.” Sounds like you’re trying to tell people how not to do that.

TM: As much as I’d like to sit here and be like, “Yeah, I had the courage to do all this stuff, and I had the vision to see where I was gonna go and I knew I would get there.” That’s fuckin’ bullshit. That’s not true. That’s the narrative I might tell when I’m 70, and I can’t remember all this stuff.

JS: Trying to inspire your grandkids?

TM: Right. The true, true story is it’s a combination of some determination and some talent on my part. Some talent, a lot of determination, a lot of luck, and a lot of serendipity. And a lot of failure. I was fired—

JS: There’s a section about failure in the book.

TM: I was fired from the legal profession, basically. I wasn’t just fired from Fenwick and West—you read the first book, the story’s in there. I got fired in such a public way that there was almost no way I was going to get back into law. I would have to go back and be a public defender or something if I wanted to be a lawyer. Seriously.

JS: Which these days, a lot of people would be happy with, because lawyers can’t find jobs—

TM: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But I was fired from the legal profession. I went to work for my father, he has a restaurant company in Florida. I went to work for him. A long, intricate story, it basically ends with me getting fired by my father.

JS: Didn’t you say the employees were more politically savvy than you were?

TM: My dad’s employees knew how to manipulate the situation better than I did. There was an internal battle, I wanted to take the company in one way, they wanted to maintain their job. They understood corporate politics, I didn’t. I thought because my name was on the door I was right, I would win. I was 25 years old, I was very naive, very naive. If either of those things had succeeded, I’m not sure I would have ever taken this path, because without that jolt of failure, you won’t ever stop and think. You know, if you’re on a train, you keep going on the train. You don’t stop to think, am I going to the right place. But failure forces you, failure crystalizes it. Failure forces you to think about it, about where you are, what your mistakes were, and where you’re going. And after those two failures, for me, it was like—I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, it’s this book—I don’t know if any of you read it—when it came out—

JS: Yeah.

TM: Well you’re an English major, I’m sure you’ve read it. When it came out, it was like—Eggers was like the hipster God. Everyone was like, “Oh, he’s the greatest writer of history, he’s funnier than Salinger, blah blah blah,” and I read this and I’m like, I can do better than this, I said it in a very arrogant, “I’m fuckin’ better than this” way. Now that I’ve done it, it sounds different. But at the time, it was totally posturing.

JS: Your friends were probably somewhat skeptical?

TM: Actually, my friends believed in me more than I did at the time. But that’s a different story. So instead of doing anything I just talked shit about them [the authors], whatever. And then I read Fight Club. I’d seen the movie, but I saw it when I was like 21, and I thought it was about fighting, I didn’t understand—like the way these 19-year-old idiots think my book is about drinking and fucking.

JS: Well, it is on one level. But it depends on how you wanna—

TM: Yeah, exactly. I read Fight Club, and it was like a slap in the face. The basic message of Fight Club is, “If you’re the man you think you are, then go out and be it. Go out and prove it.” And it was like, okay. All right. I’m going to go do this. At the same time—my buddy, who’s PWJ in the book. The first five stories or something like that of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell started as e-mails to my buddies. “Sushi Pants,” I drove from that parking lot to my office at the time. I was living in Florida. I wrote that e-mail to my buddies. Almost verbatim. And PWJ was like, “Dude, this is what you should be doing. This is really good. This is the funniest shit I’ve ever read. You need to put this stuff up on a website, write a book, whatever.”

JS: Get it out there?

TM: He’s like, “Clearly, you don’t have the personality to work in law, to work in business, you are too much of an anti-authoritarian ass.”

JS: You seem like the sort of person who might start his own firm, though, and eventually roll with it. I don’t know if you’d insult clients too often.

TM: You know, if I was the type—I’m definitely the type, “I want my own kingdom.” But I was so reckless, so outa control, so obstinate, even at 23, 24, and 25—

JS: It seems to work really well with women.

TM: It does. Being the bad boy helps. I couldn’t exist in the normal business / legal system, because it’s so conformist and so anti-contrarian. And I’m such a contrarian. I was like literally pushed out of the system. And I ended up turning it around and making it work for me. But there’s no doubt that had that not happened, had I not failed so catastrophically and so completely, I’m not sure I would have ever had the half courage and half necessity. It’s like, if you break your leg in the middle of the forest and you crawl out, how much of that is courage and how much of that is survival? It’s kind of the same thing.

JS: And how much of that is luck being near the edge of the forest.

TM: Right, right. That was kind of the thing for me. It was half determination and half necessity. What the fuck else was I going to do? For me, it was either go follow your path and find your destiny, or accept the fact—change your behavior and become a monk. Become a cubicle monkey. And I went the other way.

JS: It’s interesting that you mention Fight Club and materialism, because there’s that line, I think it’s in Assholes Finish First, where you say you’re at a friend’s place with 19-year-old twins, and he’s worried about the wood floor or something like that.

TM: She was there, man!

JS: Can you say more about that party?

Bunny: Oh, they sucked. It was such a bizarre night, because those twins were just so weird. And so young.

TM: I mean, they were 19, but they acted like—

Bunny: The one in the car, when we were listening to, what was it—The Little Mermaid, “Under the Sea.” Oh my God.

TM: And you were makin’ fun of me.

Bunny: Yeah, and they showed up and they were just wasted. Totally wasted. They could barely walk.

TM: Cause they were so nervous.

Bunny: They were really cute girls, but it was so weird to have twins come to you in that manner.

JS: If it was normal, I guess it wouldn’t make a good story.

TM: Right, right, exactly.

JS: The Fight Club and materialism thing, there’s this line in [Assholes Finish First] where you say he had all this stuff, and yet he’s not having any fun, so what’s the point of having the stuff? [Direct quote: “All that money, all that stuff, and no freedom to just have fun.”]

TM: Yeah.

JS: I’m trying to academic-ize the question, but is that part of your philosophy? It sounds like Fight Club contributed to that.

TM: Look dude, what does it matter? I don’t want to regurgitate Chuck Palahniuk’s book, but what does it matter if you have a perfect apartment but you hate your life? He said it better than I ever could. He’s a much better writer, and that book is so brilliant. I mean, I wish I could write like that. I can’t. But I figured out somewhere in my mid-twenties that what mattered to me were experiences and relationships and ultimately what mattered was this: “Do I wake up every morning and love my life? And am I excited to do what I have to do?” Or: Am I waking up and hating what I have to do? And if I’m hating it, why the fuck am I doing it? Why don’t I change?

JS: I think the best lawyers and the best academics, even the ones working within the system, still love what they do. Otherwise they wouldn’t be at the top of it.

TM: You can love being a lawyer. I don’t have some scathing indictment of the entire legal system.

JS: That’s good, because we’ve got a bunch of lawyers sitting here.

TM: It’s not that you can’t like being a lawyer. But almost every job in law is predicated ultimately on exploitation or stealing. And even the way you do it, you do this awful, mind-numbing, grinding work. You’re cleaning up other people’s messes. And it fuckin’ sucks. That’s just not who I am. I’m a creator. I want to make something. I don’t want to clean up someone else’s shit. I would be a fuckin’ garbage man if that’s what I wanted, because at least I’d get exercise. It’s just like, yeah, what’s the point?

JS: If you start asking, “What’s the point?”, you can go very deep.

TM: When I moved to Austin, I got a bunch of royalty checks right in a row and I got a ton of money. I was trying to figure out what car—I’m not a huge material guy, but I wanted a nice car. I thought about getting a Maserati, a whatever. But I’ve got her [points to Murph]. And she’s a dog. And she doesn’t give a fuck if I buy a $200,000 car, she’s going to treat it the same as if I buy a $2,000 car. So if I buy a Maserati, I drop $150,000 on it, and it’s got some ridiculously expensive interior. If I’m yelling at her to keep her paws off, or I can’t bring her along, what the fuck good is that car? So I just bought a basic Range Rover and she fucks up the back, and it’s like, “I don’t care.” It’s a $60,000 car. It’s nice enough that I like driving it around, but it’s not so nice that I can’t use it. I can’t live in it. There’s no point in life if you can’t live it.

JS: Another interviewer said that you’re “one of those 21st-century media figures who has been interviewed so often it’s impossible to learn anything new.” To which I say—

TM: Depends on how good of an interviewer you are. I had a girl—I was hanging out with a girl a few nights ago, in San Francisco, and she asked me a question that I’d never been asked before. Stumped me. I was like, “Wow. I don’t ever get interviews like this.” No. I don’t give a fuck how many times someone’s been interviewed. You can always have a great interview if you—I tell interviewers this all the time. Don’t talk about what you want to talk about. If you want a great interview, talked about what the interviewee wants to talk about. And then you’ll get life out of them. You’ll get substance out of them. You’ll get unrehearsed answers out of them. And you might not get what your editor wants, but it’ll be a good interviewer.

JS: Nice. What do you want to talk about, besides, following your dreams?

TM: I mean, I don’t know. That’s part of your job, isn’t it, is to figure that out?

JS: That’s true, but sometimes the meta questions yield interesting answers too. The other part of my question was, is there anything new I should be asking about, or that others should be asking about?

TM: I’ll tell you, the question she asked me, was “What do you like best about yourself.” Seems like a simple question, right. But then when you think about it—it kinda threw me for a loop. I stuttered for a while, gave a bunch of start and stop answers. I eventually settled on—the thing I ultimately like about myself the most—about myself, not like, “I wrote this book.” I mean, that’s cool but—

JS: For writers, though, I think that often is the thing they like best about themselves—their work.

TM: Then they’re shallow, idiot pieces of shit. If you like the experiences that led to the book, or you like what the book creates, that’s one thing, but if you like just the object, that seems weird. The thing I ultimately rested on is, what I like best about myself is the fact that everything I’ve been through in my life, good, bad, almost every mistake you can make I’ve made—I’ve done so much stupid shit. All this stuff.

JS: Which become your books.

TM: Right. I turn it around. Or I turn it into something good. One of my defining characteristics, I guess, is my refusal to live someone else’s life. To let someone else put their boot on my neck. And everything I’ve ever done in my life, conscious or unconscious, has always been with this underlying desire to create my own path. And forge my own place in the world. And sometimes it’s been bad. Sometimes that’s led to me being arrogant, having too much hubris. I’ve had to climb a much harder path than I might’ve had to if I wasn’t such an arrogant know-it-all asshole when I was in my early twenties. But at the end of the day, because I refused to get off that path and refused to live someone else’s reality, I was able to create something out of nothing. Something good and valuable. Something I value, something other people value.

JS: Are you talking about life experience? Or are you talking about the writing.

TM: Both. I’ve taken the life experiences and made them into something. I’ve taken the failures and struggles and the successes, and I’ve made them into something tangible. Something valuable. I’ve created value for other people.

JS: Otherwise they wouldn’t buy the book, if it wasn’t valuable to them. So why do you think people are afraid of having fun, which seems like an underlying theme?

TM: I think some people are. I think the people who are, are so worried about what other people think of them, are so worried about—they have so much guilt over whatever sort of shit their parents have dumped on them, or other people, or friends, that they are afraid. They are afraid to be who they are, because they think that’s not okay. I’ve had a lot of issues in my life, that’s never been one of mine. I’ve always been willing to say, “Fuck you guys, I’m going to do what I want to do.” And I think that’s ultimately why people connect emotionally to my stuff. Because I’m honest and because I’m not afraid. And that other stuff, the funny, the drinking, whatever, that’s fun and cool and that’s there. But the people who emotionally connect—I mean, some people read it and laugh and that’s it—but the people who emotionally connect to it, that’s I think what they’re connected to.

JS: Maybe regarding the people who’ve emotionally connected to your work, what do you think is the most interesting thing a male fan has ever done in response to your work?

TM: Oh dude. It just happened in Denver. I gotta show you the picture, because this is not believable shit.

JS: It must have been something more than tattoos, then—

TM: Oh no. It’s a tattoo. This guy comes to the line in Denver. And he’s like totally tatted out, flaming homosexual. A dude you would never think would be a fan of my stuff. Huge fan. You know, super nice guy, he’s like, I want you to sign my chest. I’m like, “Signing a dude’s skin is a little weird.” He’s like, no, no, this is a little different. So he takes his shirt off, and he has a tattoo of a bra. A brassiere. A lacy fucking bra tattooed on him. It was fucking crazy. Not a henna tattoo—a fuckin’ tattoo. I was speechless. I was shocked. I didn’t know what the fuck to say, or how to think about this. I was so shocked.

JS: How often do you find yourself speechless? I’m guess not very frequently.

TM: Not very frequently, dude. It happens, but not often. I mean, I was able to render fuckin’ Dr. Drew speechless. So my bar is pretty fuckin’ high. But this dude bolted over it. He skipped over it. I’d never signed a dude’s skin. That’s just weird. But this guy, that was just so out there that I was like, “You got to, right.” So I signed TM. He loves it, gets a picture. He sends me a picture three days later—he went to a tattoo shop that night, got the tattoo guy to fill in where I signed. A permanent tattoo. He now has my signature tattooed—it’s on his back, thank God, it’s not on his dick or ass or something weird. That fuckin’ rendered me pretty, I was like, wow dude.

JS: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing a female fan has ever done?

TM: In Portland, there was a guy who dressed as Jesus. There’s this. A note that a girl passed me last night. I get phone numbers and shit from girls all the time, but she drew me a little cartoon. [Shows a pictured depicting fornicating stick figures.]

JS: Did it work?

TM: No. I hooked up with a different girl. It’s got me saying “Yay!” And we’re all cheering. And my penis is about 18 times larger than it is real life.

[Someone else suggests a woman who brought a condom bouquet of flowers. Or a bag with “whore trinkets” in it.]

JS: If you used to think you were legitimately a hyper-genius, as you said, what do you think now?

TM: Being a genius is overrated. However smart I am or am not, the amount of shit that I don’t know is vastly, infinitely larger than the amount of shit I do know.

JS: Which is true of everyone, because there’s more knowledge than there is time to learn.

TM: Exactly. So, even if I’m the smartest motherfucker on earth, I still don’t know shit.

JS: How old were you when you realized that, or came to that conclusion?

TM: That I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was? It was college. There was a lot that sucked about the University of Chicago, one of the good things was, there’s a lot of smart motherfuckers there. You go in there, and I thought I was the smartest person on earth when I walked in there. And then I was like, maybe I’m not. I can compete, but I’m not an all star there.

JS: I see the same kind of things in my students, since I’m teaching English Comp at the University of Arizona.

TM: Yeah, you get a kid like I was—the smartest kid in my high school. They’re like, great.

JS: The University of Chicago has a reputation for being very good at beating that out of you.

TM: It does. No doubt. I think, my first class or second class was David Bevington teaching The History of the Peloponnesian War. Bevington’s like the world’s premier Shakespeare scholar. And he was teaching a book that wasn’t even in his specialty, but he knows Thucydides really well. The first fuckin’ day, I walked out of that class and my brain fuckin’ hurt. This dude, he was so nuanced and so brilliantly subtle, it was like, “Fuck this guy is smart. Fuck!” I could keep up, but I had to run at a dead sprint to keep up with him going backwards. So I’m like, “All right, maybe I’m not as smart as I think.”

JS: How often do you think the stuff you’ve learned in school has been useful in, say, picking up girls at bars and what not?

TM: Being smart never hurts, at least for me. I’m not the type that being smart’s ever gotten in my way. A lot of people over-think stuff, whatever. That’s never been my issue. I’ve always been able to sort of cut the Gordian knot, to go in when it’s time to go in. Being smart, though, never hurts.

JS: You also said somewhere that you have a 100% discount rate, which I find somewhat hard to believe. If you do—

TM: You understand what that means?

JS: Yeah, yeah. I think anyone who would proclaim that doesn’t have one by default.

TM: Of course, of course.

JS: You ever read Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd’s The Time Paradox?

TM: No, I know the book, but I’ve never read it.

JS: It might be useful for you because it sounds like you’re a very present-oriented person—

TM: Definitely my point.

JS: —which might be an artifact of your writing.

TM: It’s also an artifact of my emotionally stressful childhood. Anytime you go through stress like that, you discount the future. Because it’s uncertain.

JS: Do you have any stories involving the University of Arizona or ASU that you haven’t told before, or that you’d like to share?

TM: SlingBlade used to live in Tucson—

JS: My apologies.

TM: Yeah, right. He works for the government. And his first posting was in Tucson, so I’ve been there a couple times, but not really. Who hangs out in Arizona?

JS: People who go to school in Arizona!

TM: Right, and I’m not at school in Arizona.

JS: You mentioned in Assholes Finish First, “I don’t have any legitimate excuse—”which is a funny phrase, because maybe you had an illegitimate excuse”—for what I did. I was stupid in my twenties, so what do you want from me?” Stories, evidently. But how about now? How do you think your 45-year-old self is going to look back on what you’re doing now?

TM: What I did at 25, or—

JS: What you’re doing now.

TM: Right now, dude, I think I’m kinda in a transitionary phase. When I was 25, five, six nights a week, I would’ve gone through a brick wall at the smell of pussy, I was an unguided missile of debauchery, dude. Now I’m much more measured. Also—it’s so easy for me now. It’s like, I’ve played this game, I’ve won it so well, it’s not even—it’s not fun anymore.

JS: Transcended the game?

TM: You played with GI Joes when you were 10, you play with yourself when you’re 20. GI Joes aren’t interesting anymore.

JS: Interesting comparing girls to GI Joes.

TM: I’m not comparing girls to GI Joes, I’m saying stages of life. This time, I’m on to other things. I’m still like one foot—I still like girls a lot, I still like hooking up, I still like drinking up, I like hanging out with my friends. I’m still coming out of one stage and coming into another, and I’m not fully out of one or fully into the other.

JS: I almost got to this earlier, but I’ll ask it to you explicitly because I ask it to every writer I interview: is there anything you wish interviewers would ask you that they don’t?

TM: The big thing with my interviewers, a lot of them, I think they take the wrong narrative from me. You get stupid questions, like “How long can you keep this up?” Do you ask that shit to Kid Rock? That motherfucker’s like 45, he’s drunk backstage at the CMTs last night, the afterparty started in eighth grade. Why doesn’t anyone ask him that?

JS: They probably do.

TM: They don’t.

JS: Really?

TM: They don’t. Because the narrative about rock stars is that they can do it. They can do all this stuff, it’s okay for them. But for some reason it’s not okay for me. I don’t know. It’s almost like—your interview is actually pretty good, if it sucked, I’d probably tell you, trust me.

JS: Thanks, I think.

TM: Most interviewers don’t get that there’s other stuff going on. And so they ask stupid questions like, “What do you think about inventing Fratire?” I don’t know, I didn’t even fuckin’ name it, go ask a literary critic. I get stupid questions like that, that don’t have anything to do with the substance. But this is actually not that type of interview, you covered most shit that I’d like to cover.

JS: Anything else you’d like to add or say?

TM: I think you got it man.



What Tucker said often resonated with what others said, but in very different contexts. For example, his comment about undergrad echoes Paul Graham’s third option mentioned in “A Student’s Guide to Startups:” “Till recently graduating seniors had two choices: get a job or go to grad school. I think there will increasingly be a third option: to start your own startup.” He’s also telling undergrads (and people in general) that there are more options than they imagine (“You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss” is also on point).

Tucker is discussing work and one’s life, but one can see the same idea underlying his stories about sex: your own sex life doesn’t have to do what your parents, teachers, or friends think it should be. If you’re strong enough, you can go your own way. And his own way is funnier than most people’s.

Tucker also said regarding Fight Club, “I’d seen the movie, but I saw it when I was like 21, and I thought it was about fighting, I didn’t understand—like the way these 19-year-old idiots think my book is about drinking and fucking.” I teach English composition. Each semester is divided into three major units: the first is called “Questioning Authority and Assumptions,” the second is on novels, and the third is called “Rereading Romance.” The first is nominally about what the title implies, but it’s really about understanding how school and cultural systems are set up to create beliefs. We read a few Paul Graham essays, a few short stories, and some poems. The third is nominally about romance and love stories, but it’s really about how people respond to incentives, structures, and social situations. Most students don’t pick those things up until, on the last day of the third unit, I give a little speech about what they’re really about versus what they’re supposedly about. I don’t think very many of my students get the deeper point, which is okay because they’re 18 and 19. Maybe they eventually will.

In addition, the Fight Club section—along with the comments about the friend with the nice stuff—reminds me of this New York Times article on “minimalism,” or the practice of not caring about having a lot of shit.

This advice for interviewers is good: “Don’t talk about what you want to talk about. If you want a great interview, talked about what the interviewee wants to talk about,” but harder to implement in practice than it sounds. A lot of interviewees don’t know what they want to talk about, or they want to give the standard party line, and it’s a challenge to find what they want to talk about beyond that. Dating is often the same way: getting substance out of someone is hard immediately after you meet them. Hard, but doable. Ditto for interviews, which is what Tucker says: “That’s part of your job, isn’t it, is to figure that out?”

One other note from me: this was an unusual experience because I mostly interview writers who aren’t sufficiently famous that if you walked into a room and asked 20 people who they are, most wouldn’t know. But Tucker was the opposite, and I’ve never been in an environment that was more like interviewing a celebrity: dozens of people milling around; long lines; nervous expectation; and an obvious interview script that I probably didn’t really knock him off.

The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies — Edward Jay Epstein

Edward Jay Epstein has perhaps the best, most consistent explanations of why a lot of movies are bad and how Hollywood actually works, which is quite different from how Hollywood is portrayed in the movies and media. The most recent excellent example of this isn’t in book form yet—it’s in an essential post called Role Reversal: Why TV Is Replacing Movies As Elite Entertainment, which explains why a lot of the better TV shows (The Sopranos, Rome, Entourage, True Blood—pretty much half of HBO’s output) are better than most movies: cable stations are now capable of targeting smaller, relatively discerning audiences, while movies, for the most part, aren’t. Until recently, the opposite was true. Read the post to learn why. See Alex Tarrabok’s post for an explanation that includes a nice demand curve graph.

Cable stations are, in essence, able to cater to adults. They’re not beholden to a censorship board that goes by the name MPAA. So they portray things like sex that many people are afraid of exposing teenagers to—better to let them see violence and explosions instead. As Epstein says in The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies, “We may live in an anything-goes age, but if a studio wants to make money, it has to limit how much of ‘anything’—at least anything sexually explicit—it shows on the big screen.” Virtually everyone has seen porn by the time they graduate from high school, if not middle school today, but movies that want “to make money” can’t show people in real relationships, which tend to include sex.

This fact of studio life is a fact of life despite the dearth of real data on the supposed danger of sex; as Judith Levine points out in Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex:

Evidence of the harm of exposure to sexually explicit images or words in childhood is inconclusive, even nonexistent. The 1970 U.S. Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, the ‘Lockhart commission,’ uncovered no link between adult exposure to pornography and bad behavior and called for dismantling legal restrictions on erotica. Not only did the panelists fail to find harm to children viewing erotic, moreover, they went so far as to suggest it could ‘facilitate much needed communication between parent and child over sexual matters.’

But is this a real change? Epstein says yes:

In the early days of Hollywood, nudity—or the illusion of it—was considered such an asset that director Cecil B. DeMille famously made bathing scenes an obligatory ingredient of his biblical epics. Nowadays, nudity may be a decided liability when it comes to the commercial success of a movie. The top twenty-five grossing films since 2000—including such franchises as Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Harry Potter, Batman, and The Incredibles, contained no sexually oriented nudity. In fact, this absence of sex—at least graphic sex—is often key to the success of Hollywood’s moneymaking movies since it increases the potential audience of children in both the domestic and foreign markets. To be sure, directors may consider a sex scene artistically integral to their movie, but studios almost always have the right to exercise the final cut, and, if they want to maximize the potential revenue, they have to consider three factors.

Those factors include the rating system, the power Wal-Mart exerts on DVD sales (the company’s sales “accounted for nearly one-quarter of” DVD sales in 1997, and television censorship through the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates what can be shown on most non-cable TV stations. Taken together, these factors mean that Hollywood studios are most profitable when they don’t include nudity. But when they are most profitable, they are not necessarily producing the most artistically interesting material.

Note that merely showing nudity doesn’t make a movie artistic, and it’s obviously possible to make masterpieces without showing nudity. But the fact that Hollywood means that large-scale commercial movies are cut off from an important aspect of most people’s lives. And Hollywood executives wonder why their industry is being completely trashed by the Internet: not only can people pirates movies, but they can see as many naked people as they want with a single Google search. Sure, those naked people usually lack stories and decent lighting, but at least they’re available. To judge from what the average multiplex shows, you’d never know this, or you’d only know through implication. It’s like The Apartment happened and, while we’ve moved somewhat forward, we’ve not moved as much as we’d like to imagine.

Unless, of course, you’re watching HBO.

Epstein lists the “Midas Formula” that movie executives use:

1. They are based on children’s fare stories, comic books, serials, cartoons, or, in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean, a theme park ride.

2. They feature a child or adolescent protagonist (at least in the establishing episode of the franchise).

3. They have a fairy-tale-like plot in which a weak or ineffectual youth is transformed into a powerful and purposeful hero.

4. They contain only chaste, if not strictly platonic, relationships between the sexes, with no suggestive nudity, sexual foreplay, provocative language, or even hints of consummated passion. (This ensures the movie gets the PG-13 or better rating necessary for merchandising tie-ins and for placing ads on children’s TV programming.)

5. They include characters for toy and game licensing.

6. They depict only stylized conflict—though it may be dazzling, large-scale, and noisy, in ways that are sufficiently nonrealistic and bloodless (again allowing for a rating no more restrictive PG-13).

7. They end happily, with the hero prevailing over powerful villains and supernatural forces (and thus lend themselves to sequels).

8. They use conventional or digital animation to artificially create action sequences, supernatural forces, and elaborate settings.

9. They cast actors who are not ranking stars—at least in the sense that they do not command dollar-one gross-revenue shares.

Now, none of these are wrong in and of themselves—but they result in movies that deal with only a relatively small part of the human experience. Some movies, of course, get made that go beyond this, but the focus on such movies is probably detrimental to movies that aspire to be art. And a vicious cycle gets started: people who have real taste watch fewer movies because the movies are worse.

As movies get worse, studio executives realize they need to pander to teenagers, who can be lured out (“The studios zero in on teens not because they necessarily like them, or even because the teens buy buckets of popcorn, but because they are the only demographic group that can be easily motivated to leave their home”). Even this might no longer be as true, since video games are claiming a steadily larger proportion of teenage time, and every hour spent playing Halo is an hour not spent on a movie. As studios focus on comic book movies for teenagers, people with taste stop going to see them as often. They make sure they have subscriptions to HBO, if they care about that sort of thing. People like write unread blog posts like “Why are so many movies awful?” And the cycle continues. But at least The Hollywood Economist explains, clearly, lucidly, and quickly, why so many weekends in a row can pass with me wondering, “When will a movie I actually want to see come out?”

Late October Links — I am Charlotte Simmons, Susie Bright, Lev Grossman on Writers, and more

* Easi singles (that is not a typo): an idea whose time has come. There’s a large gap between long-form magazine articles (5,000 – 10,000 words) and a short book (at least 50,000 words). Right now, basically nothing fills that gap, and as a result one gets a lot of books that are basically padded. Digital publishing should change this for the better.

* Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons versus Karen Owen’s PowerPoint. Hilarious. My problem with Wolfe’s novel wasn’t the verisimilitude of sexual practices—he got that mostly right—but the improbability of someone quite as “sheltered” as Charlotte not having any idea what college is like. Even if her family didn’t have TV, a neighbor’s family would’ve.

* Susie Bright and Kathryn Schulz on being wrong. This link is more interesting than it looks.

* Lev Grossman’s two kinds of writers: The soloist and the thief. The soloist refuses to read other people’s fiction while they write; the thief does the opposite. Like Grossman, I’m a thief. Completely, totally, unabashedly.

* Statistically speaking, my high school sucked. Yours probably did too—you just don’t know it.

* Kate Christensen On Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, quoted by Maud Newton: “[W]ithin the cage of this bloated, earnest would-be Great American Novel, there might be a leaner, funnier, better one beating its wings to get out.”

* The medium is the question, on the topic of the iPad and reading.

* James Fallows, who, if you’re not reading his blog, you should be:

Among the many things wrong with talking-head gab shows, which have proliferated/ metastasized in the past generation — they’re cheap to produce, they fill air time, they make journalists into celebrities, they suit the increasing political niche-ization of cable networks — is that they reward an affect of breezy confidence on all topics and penalize admissions of complexity, of ignorance on a specific topic, or of the need for time to think.

* Historians Admit To Inventing Ancient Greeks.

* Global aging: the problem the world faces, it turns out, is not overpopulation, but underpopulation.

* Dear 22 Year Old: Concerning your Future. And there’s probably no way to stop it, save voting en masse for a political party that doesn’t exist and can’t exist given electoral realities.

* A female character stereotype flowchart. Hilarious. And yet, given how many branches and nodes there are, on wonders if the word “stereotype” is still appropriate.

* I was anti-gun, until I got stalked.

* An interview with Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl.

* Desktop Linux: The dream is dead. And it has been since 2004, by which point Apple had stolen a lot of the anti-Microsoft / alternate OS nerds.

Reading Quiz

Jason Fisher tagged me in Facebook post for a reading quiz. I almost never use Facebook, so I decided to answer selected questions here.

1. Favorite childhood books? I’m not sure I have any—The Lord of the Rings, maybe, although that was more early adolescence. Where the Red Fern Grows stands out as a novel that can still be read by adults.

2. What are you reading right now? Tucker Max; Elaine Dundy; Ulysses; Elmore Leonard. My tastes are scattered.

3. What books do you have on request at the library? Not sure.

4. Bad book habit? They make it so easy.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? About 54 books, according to the University of Arizona. My eyes are bigger than my stomach…

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? Several at once. Sometimes a dozen.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? I have no idea what my comfort zone is. If my comfort zone is “good books,” the answer is “more often than I’d like.”

12. What is your reading comfort zone? Ha! I didn’t read ahead. My answer: good writing. Compelling subjects.

15. What is your policy on book lending? More promiscuous than I probably should be, which results in the loss of books (often coinciding with relationships), but knowledge is meant to be spread, like certain other substances.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? Constantly. I developed this habit around the time I started this blog.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? Probably Stumbling on Happiness, although I think I’ve read it before too, mostly because it offers a lot of material presented well in a small space that caused me to substantially revise a large number of my positions and opinions. Very few books accomplish this.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose? Spanish, probably, which is boring but practical.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time? Couple dozen. Grad students, man…

38. Favorite fictional character? Gandalf, probably, or at least he’s the most cited by me.

39. Favorite fictional villain? Jorge of Burgos from The Name of the Rose, mostly because he was also the most unexpected, the most brilliant, the most intelligently villainous. He has a reason for being the way he is, however twisted his reasoning may be.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading? A couple days, maybe?

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. I stop books constantly. Lately: Mistwood by Leah Cypress. I never got through an entire Jane Austen novel until I read James Wood’s How Fiction Works, which taught me how to read Austen.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?. About a hundred pounds, when I was studying abroad in England. I was depressed at the time. Some take it out in the pub, I take it out elsewhere…

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through? Bad writing; repetitive; blather; filling space; not being compelling; failing to be genuinely novel or interesting. Note that most of these reasons apply both to fiction and nonfiction.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? Keep, mostly, although this is becoming a problem over time.

Thoughts on Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network

1) The movie, especially the first 30 minutes, is very good: the dialog is astonishingly quick. The details are right (I’ve been to AEP parties and used Emacs). The movie isn’t boring, and this is especially surprising since most of it is guys talking to each other. The various narrative threads are a good example of Steven Berlin Johnson’s essay “Watching TV Makes You Smarter” in action.

2) I suspect The Social Network hears about the same relationship to reality that Braveheart does to early Scotland or War and Peace does to Napoleon, which is to say very little. “The Face of Facebook” in The New Yorker shows this.

3) Lawrence Lessig’s review is mostly negative and says that the movie misses the point. In fact, he moves in the same kind of direction I do:

[…] what’s important here is that Zuckerberg’s genius could be embraced by half-a-billion people within six years of its first being launched, without (and here is the critical bit) asking permission of anyone. The real story is not the invention. It is the platform that makes the invention sing. Zuckerberg didn’t invent that platform. He was a hacker (a term of praise) who built for it. And as much as Zuckerberg deserves endless respect from every decent soul for his success, the real hero in this story doesn’t even get a credit. It’s something Sorkin doesn’t even notice.

This is true, but it’s also a bit like criticizing Romeo and Juliet for failing to accurately depict the real political scene of Italy: that’s not the point. The point is the love story. But Lessig is probably right, although I’m not sure there’s a way to depict “the platform that makes the invention sing” and still tell a compelling story around human characters.

4) Compare Lessig’s review to those of Scott Adams (“It is the best movie I have ever seen”), David Denby (“This brilliantly entertaining and emotionally wrenching movie is built around a melancholy paradox”), and Fred Vogelstein. The latter is more about the reaction to the movie than the movie itself but is still worth reading.

5) The Social Network is that rare movie about the people who are doing the most to change the world in the shortest amount of time of any group ever: nerds and hackers, who’ve largely built the world we now inhabit. Very few movies bother depicting nerds at all, and when they do, those nerds are usually peripheral to the action or not really nerds or completely untrue to nerds in real life. This isn’t just true in movies—it’s also true in fiction. One nice thing about novels like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is that it incorporates hackers and a hacker’s mindset as few other novels I’ve read have. There are a zillion movies and books about love stories, bildungsroman, soldiers, criminals, cops, and lawyers. All these are lovely subjects for narrative art, but the incredibly dearth of such books about the hacker sub-culture is notable. I’m trying to fix this in my own small way; we’ll see if I’m successful.

Note that Gabriella Coleman wrote a piece for The Atlantic on The Anthropology of Hackers that’s good reading for anyone interested in the modern world.

6) Building off points 3 and 5, although The Social Network gets a lot of stuff right, especially the drama, I’m not convinced that it’s the best possible portrayal of nerds and nerd subcultures. I would also guess that Zuckerberg, more than anything else, cares about code, which I don’t think most people can or want to understand. Maybe artists can, because I think a lot of the best artists care about their art more than anything else, which can be frustrating to people around them.

7) The tech and hacking communities are well aware of how the legal system and patent law are out of control and, in many respects, stifling innovation. Although patents never come up in The Social Network, perhaps it will raise awareness of the problems posed by the legal system.

8) I feel like I’ve met Zuckerberg. Not the literal Zuckerberg, of course, but I’ve met plenty of hardcore engineer and hacker types whose lack of social graces is probably not a cause or effect of their technical prowess, but may be an ancillary byproduct of wanting to make art or write code more than be socially adept.

EDIT: I wrote this October 13; on October 15, the New York Times published “Hey, That’s Me Up On That Screen,” which says, “For the newest class of entrepreneurs developing the next generation of Web-based companies, “The Social Network” is the first time many have seen their startup culture splashed on the big screen.” Compare that to my sixth point.

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