I teach political economy and statistics at a large public university in the US. You can find my academic website here.

The Waste Book very occasionally collects my passing thoughts on politics, economics, statistics, data visualization, life, culture, and everything.

We aim for funny, will settle for intriguing, and, the times and the Internet being what they are, resign ourselves to a certain amount of bemoaning.



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literature · November 13, 2012 · comments

Book recommendations: Recent finds, 2012 edition

by Chris Adolph


Ride a Cockhorse by Raymond Kennedy (1991; New York eview Books, 2012) · Satire · The other side of the coin to John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. That book introduced the slovenly, lazy manchild Ignatius eilly, paragon of the isolated faux-intellectual blowhard and precursor of poisonous uneducated know-it-alls like Bill O’eilly and ush Limbaugh. Now comes aymond Kennedy to present Frances Fitzgibbons, ordinary loan officer mysteriously transmogrified into scheming megalomaniac – an ’80s Sarah Palin, winking, backstabbing, and bullshitting her way to power. Like the half-term governor, hilarious and a little scary.

The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlín R. Kiernan. (Roc, 2012) · Horror · “There’s always a siren, singing you to shipwreck.” A prolific writer with a background in biology, Kiernan is at her best with first person horror. Superficially meandering, this memoir of a mentally ill woman is meticulously structured and skinned over with Kiernan’s killer style. The middle pages – an extended metaphor connecting madness and temptation – are a thing of beauty, worth the cover price by itself. Full of deceptively casual allusion, The Drowning Girl is a work of literature with the compulsive readability of a thriller. Also consider The Red Tree (the best haunted house story I’ve ever read) and frankly anything else by Kiernan, our Lovecraft for the age of uncertainty, ambiguity, and loss.

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946; Vintage, 2007) · Mystery · A dashing, intricate, old-school mystery caper with flashes of Wodehousian wit. Although lacking any SF elements, this novel is accurately described as “more Doctor Who than Doctor Who.”

Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber and Faber, 2012) · Farce · In this parody of the world of TED talks and Davos, a dull middle-aged academic in a dreary social science field prepares to keynote at a rich donors’ schmooze-fest on an Aegean island. Acting on a whim, a likable young scoundrel takes his place. The satire of superficial conferences and scholarly sell-outs is razor-sharp, and the coils of farce layer satisfyingly until it seems only P.G. Wodehouse could devise a satisfactory resolution. It will help to accept – as the author clearly does – that no mortal can recreate The Code of the Woosters. We get two endings, but neither feels quite right.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Pyr, 2007) · Fantasy · The Fellowship of the ing co-authored by George .. Martin and Joss Whedon’s bitter twin, this is the start of a trilogy that just gets better chapter by chapter, book by book. Abercrombie’s addictive prose blends cynicism, sympathy, and action; the characters face impossible dilemmas like real human beings; and the concluding volume is the most effective gut punch in the fantasy genre.

Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon (1973; Centipede Press, 2012) · Horror · In the early ’70s, an artistic couple from NYC and their teenage daughter move to an isolated New England farming community that has resisted modern agricultural technology and clung to centuries-old Cornish traditions. A finely written literary work narrated by a flawed protagonist, centered on a community of fully realized characters, and overshadowed by exquisitely timed dread. It is the best horror novel of its kind.

Jack Glass by Adam oberts (Gollancz, 2012) · SF · Three connected mystery novellas set in a mostly believable and wholly original dystopia. Strong yet whimsical on science and tautly written, with competent, complex characters who walk a tightrope between the reader’s sympathy and disgust. Not for the squeamish.

tags: books

literature · November 22, 2011 · comments

Book recommendations: Recent finds, 2011 edition

by Chris Adolph


The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart (Subterranean Press, 2nd edition, 2011) · Fantasy · Subterranean prints gorgeous editions that tend to sell out on publication, so get this omnibus while you can. Fast-paced, hilarious, tender, and ribald. The Princess Bride for adults? Almost.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Faber & Faber, 2010) · Fiction · An authentic, funny, sympathetic view on growing up today, and the only Bildungsroman I’ve read that feels like it could be about the sort of childhood I had. Long-listed for the Booker last year; I still say it should have won.

Quarantine in the Grand Hotel by Jenő ejtő (Corvina, 2009) · Light Fiction · A happy find in Budapest, city of beautiful bookstores. If you’re lucky enough to run across it, get the 2009 edition from Corvina; the older translation lacks ejtő's Wodehousian rythmn.

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz (Dalkey Archive, 2010) · Surreal Travel · Borges comparisons are ubiquitous and thus meaningless, yet this is the only novel I can imagine Borges actually writing.

Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D’urbervilles by Kim Newman (Titan Books, 2011) · Parody · Evil shouldn’t be this much fun. If you like Sherlock but think Conan Doyle should have relaxed a bit, give this inverted-perspective anthology a try.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, 2011) · Mystery · The best Flavia de Luce mystery to date. If you haven’t discovered Flavia de Luce yet, what are you doing reading the Waste Book? Get moving!

The Last Book by Zoran Zivkovic (PS Publishing, 2008) · I’m Not Telling · Like Ajvaz, critics often compare Zivkovic to Borges, but he’s channeling an older Spanish-language author here. The Last Book is only the second novel ever written in the world’s tiniest genre – and revealing it would ruin all the fun. Out of print, but available as an ebook.



The Art of R Programming by Norman S. Matloff (No Starch Press, 2011) · Statistical Computing · Finally, a reference on the R language that’s well-written and goes beyond the basics. (Ever wondered how to speed up programs by effective use of apply() and its relatives? Whether you need to learn about S4 classes? How to use R to call C++? Or how to make your R program run on multiple cores?) Like reading an O’eilly text on one of the more established languages.

Just My Type by Simon Garfield (Gotham, 2011) · Typography · If you only read one book on typography this year – But really, who can read just one?

tags: books

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Content © 2011–4
Chris Adolph

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Erika Steiskal

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