The Lit’ry Life: February 25, 2012

Here’s the first stab at a “reader’s digest” from the periodicals, dailies and slicks that crossed my gaze this week.

The first macro theme to catch up on is the rise of “big data” in driving business decisions. This meme has gathered steam lately as terms like “predictive analytics” gain traction with the business trendy and buzzwordy set. The New York Times captures the moment with Charles Duhigg’s piece about how Target knows you’re pregnant but conceals that knowledge from you. How Companies Know Your Secrets.

I’ll try to anthologize some other greatest hits about the rise of data, but having spent six months on the topic for a major, unnamed public relations firm, I can assure you, there is fewer places in the world that give more credence to Einstein’s observation that not everything that matters can be measured and not all that can be measured matters, than social media metrics and data analysis. Expect to see some trees die in as big think pieces emerge about social media data analysis replacing traditional political polls in the 2012 presidential election.

Going back to the greatest hits of 2012, and straying from the intent of only recommending long-form stuff that originated on paper, I commend the list on (a holy place for me as it should be for you) of last year’s (2011) best essays. One jumped out from Grantland, the multi-author sports blog that ESPN let Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy columnist, launch last year as his own vanity project. Good writing, sometimes achingly funny, and more indepth than the other off-piste sports blogs like Deadspin.  Longform nominated The Greatest Paper That Ever Died as one of its top ten picks of 2011. It’s an oral history of the launch and spectacular crash of the first national sports daily newspaper, The National Sports Daily. The format alone is worth checking out.

Current on the book list is a biography of the often-overlooked British mountaineer, Andrew “Sandy” Irving, who died at the age of 22 near the summit of Mount Everest. Fearless on Everest: The Search for Sandy Irvine,  is by his great niece, Julie Summers, and as such is largely written in an adoring tone that is lightened when she casually mentions she found his hickory cross-country skis from 1920 Spitsbergen expedition in a dis-used squash court on the family estate. Irvine died on the mountain in June, 1924 with the better known George Mallory, who uttered the famous “Because it is there” line when asked by a reporter to explain the drive to be the first to climb the world’s tallest peak. There’s some good mystery as to whether or not Irvine and Mallory actually made the summit before meeting their demise, as a Chinese climber some fifty years later reported seeing the corpse of an “old English” near the peak. Mallory’s body was found and identified only a few years ago, but Irvine remains a mystery. If you want to read about the quintessential British hero-figure in the tragic Scott tradition, then this book will entertain. Otherwise, spend your mountaineering literature time elsewhere.

In Woodenboat’s winter edition is a feature on Managing the Dream, which discusses the quixiotic drive by some people to build their own wooden boat in their backyard and then sail the seas aboard it. The sobering reality is they might be better off spending one-tenth the cash on a used Fiberglas boat and get sailing sooner than later. Tales of moving boats under construction from one backyard to another, the high price of lumber, and the years and years of work was enough to scare me out of the dream (which I’ve never had as I am an inveterate thumb hammerer of the first degree). Woodenboat is going to be a problem to link into. I can’t get into the online edition, even as a print subscriber, as I suspect the good publishers in Brooklin, Maine just punted the digital version to a third-party newsstand who doesn’t have the ability to let print buyers cross the electronic paywall. When motivated I will try to crack the code.

That’s it for this week. I am falling behind on the New Yorker and have to empty my Cape Cod mailbox this morning after a week in New York.



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