25 February 2008

What Are You Reading? (The Page 123, Line 5 Meme)


After an intense week on site with a client, my brain feels like flan. Cce offered this irresistible meme, a way to rally the brain cells back to the process of writing.

The meme is this: grab the book nearest to your left elbow, open to page 123, and then copy the sixth, seventh, and eighth sentences. As it turns out, this seemingly innocuous meme makes me look hopelessly nerdy. I would have so preferred to look hip to the jive.

First, this from Richard Bookstaber's A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation, a book I found myself drawn into on the flight out and back last week.

The most recently issued bond, termed the on-the-run bond, becomes the standard for trading. When traders enter orders to buy or sell the 30-year, the on-the-run bond is the bond they mean. This trading demand means the on-the-run bond enjoys a liquidity premium - that is, it trades at a slightly higher price than its less interesting older brothers which, though once on-the-run bonds themselves, are now beyond their six months of fame.

As I write this, two things become clear to me. One, why it is that when I first began this book months ago, I put it down. (And yet this week, his story about how our financial markets have become so volatile snapped through the definitional necessities to engage me.) Two, why I developed a sense of humor. Any young man who finds such ideas fascinating is sure to become a social pariah if he can't also tell a joke. I learned early in life that most people did not share my interest in the arcane world of underlying social constructs that give us the visible but that most everyone finds ill-timed bodily functions like farts or erections a great source of humor.

In an attempt to prove that I also read less dense fare, I tried the meme on another book, the second book taken on my recent trip. The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers, is full of whimsy. It includes the story that Hemingway wrote when challenged to write a complete story in six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never used." And yet, the meme brings me directly to yet another fascinating to me, yet almost intentionally dense, bit of prose - this one from futurist Ray Kurzweil, writing about longevity.


If we factor in the exponential advances in computation and communication (price-performance multiplying by a factor of a billion in twenty-five years, while at the same time shrinking in size by a factor of thousands), these scenarios are highly realistic.
The apparent dangers are not real, but unapparent dangers are real. The apparent dangers are that a dramatic reduction in the death rate will create overpopulation and thereby strain energy and other resources and exacerbate environmental degradation.

Now feeling self conscious about the kind of stuff I read, I turned to the next book piled on my left and find a dry excerpt from one of George Washington's speeches, elaborated upon by Gore Vidal in his book Inventing a Nation. One more time I try the meme, drawing from Marty Lefkoe's Re-create Your Life.


Now Frank described a pattern that bothered him: "I use sarcastic, flippant, glib humor to mask my insecurity. I use it to take the offensive. I use it to negate compliments. If I get loving, supportive comments, I do this to deal with the fear that it will be taken away."

Or perhaps Frank is just dealing with the fact that his interests are oddly esoteric and his acceptance into any group hangs by the thin thread of humor.

Life Hiker, Thomas, HRH, Dave, and jen, if you would like, try your hand at the meme. I'm curious about what you're reading.

12 comments:

cce said...

Thanks for obliging...it's fun isn't it? You look wickedly self-satisfied in that photo. I'm so glad it's not all liquidity premium prose on your desk. And nice tight ending to the post - glib humor the mask for insecurity. Does this Frank guy happen to be a blogger?

jennifer h said...

I hope there's room for the rest of us to hang on that thin thread of humor. God knows it's my only passport most of the time.

You definitely warmed up on the 3rd try.

Ron Davison said...

cce,
Yes, I do look satisfied - book in hand and my only daughter coming to take my picture. And yes, by this point I'm likely to oblige you cce but if there are too many memes that out me as a nerd, I'm likely to feign blindess, unable to see the invitation.

jennifer h,
I do have lighter fare lying around the house - I guess the probability of stumbling on is small. Plus, all the truly light fare is less than 123 pages, automatically disqualifying it from the meme.

Dave said...

I'll play; but, as I fired up the laptop, I'm horizontal on the couch, facing nominally south. The book closest to my left elbow is "The 47th" by Stephen Hunter, a novel about a sniper, Bobby Lee Swagger. I've not started it, and had no plan to do so soon.

Had I opened this at work, the closest book to my left elbow would have been, without exacting measurements, one of a bunch of legal junk, which might have made for a more interesting response.

The truth, I'm not reading for other than work lately. The last book that that I'm currently working on is "Soul on Ice" by Eldridge Cleaver from back in the Sixties, and I'm only sixty or seventy pages into it. It was maybe six inches further away. It made a huge impression on me when I read it in '71 or '72.

Here are the required lines:

"Long before, I had become a student of Norman Mailer's 'The White Negro' which seemed to me to be prophetic and penetrating of its understanding of the psychology involved in the accelerating confrontation of black and white in America. I was therefore personally insulted by Baldwin's flippant, school marmish dismissal of 'The White Negro.' Baldwin committed a literary crime by is arrogant repudiation of one of the few gravely important expressions of our time."

There's a lot of anger, and era sensitive stuff in the book, the quote being part of it.

Here's seven lines from another chapter that I loved way back when and still resonate for me:

“Getting to know someone, entering that new world, is an ultimate, irretrievable step into the unknown. The prospect is terrifying. The stakes are high. The emotions are overwhelming. The two people are reluctant to really strip themselves naked in front of each other, because in doing so they make themselves vulnerable and give enormous power over themselves one to the other. How often they inflict pain and torment upon each other! Better to maintain shallow superficial affairs; that way the scars are not too deep. No blood is hacked from the soul.”

Cleaver, writing as an imprisoned black man talked in terms of white and black, male and female, the state versus the individual; but, if you parse him, he talked about our fears, just substitute what he was afraid of or angry about for the fear and anger you face.

And to end on a lighter note, here are the lines from the novel:

"'A jelly belly. You can see why.'

'Yes, of course.'"

Gypsy at Heart said...

I was going to say that you look like the Cheshire cat but Cce said it better. Wickedly self-satisfied. Yes, that's it. I was also going to say what Cce again beat me to - a good full circle ending that was. I agree. What Cce did not say but I will, is that you should have no fear that your passport to group acceptance is only your good humour. Your braininess wins hands down. Now the combination of both is the killer attraction of this, your blog.

slouching mom said...

Commenting after gypsy at heart leaves me uncharacteristically mute.

Well. What I am left with is this: Someone's got to be reading the drier fare. It might as well be you. ;)

So no Nader post? C'mon, Ron, I'm waiting for it!

HRH said...

I am sure the first two IN CONTEXT would be much more compelling? I am hoping they were bedside and sleep inducingly grand.

jen said...

dude, i'm notoriously suckassish at following orders, so in case i don't, i don't want it to be seen as rude but rather as latent authority issues (and yeah, i'm 12)

so disclaimer aside, i'm reading Barry and the Boys, the book about Barry Seals and the CIA and of course, drug smuggling.

exskindiver said...

i love reading the comments.

Ron Davison said...

Dave,
The jelly belly excerpt is perfect. And the bit about vulnerability is great as well. Actually, you're excerpts make you sound like a much more interesesting reader than me.

G@H,
thanks again (and again, and again). That is one of the beauties of blogging - one does find folks who are actually get us, no?

sm,
That's right. I'm reading the dry stuff so that you, my blog readers, don't have to. Ralph? I don't know. I did talk to him once. When I was a particular age, he was to me what I see Kucinich and Ron Paul are to some of the young'uns today. I have trouble believing that he's going to do much damage to the Dems this time.

hrh,
I actually did like the first two. If the thought of financial market volatility or living to 200 doesn't make you lose sleep, you just aren't thinking about it the right way.

jen,
I wish that I could get my authority issues to be latent.

xSD,
I'm not sure. Does a comment about comments technically qualify as a comment? I'm going to have to consult the blogging rule book on that one.

Norman said...

Ron,

I tried to play, really. But I found that the only book at hand (I'm out of town on a business trip) has such ridiculously long and complex sentences, and so many figures, that there are only four sentences on p.123

I even tried to cheat by using page 122 => six sentences.

No wonder it's taking me so long to finish this book!

Ron Davison said...

Norman,
See, one more reason to like you: by contrast, I don't even look like an idea nerd. :)