where i’m writing from

March 22, 2014

Am I still a book blogger or simply on hiatus?

“Aren’t you due for another blog,” asks Kathy of mirabile dictu.

Yes and no.

Although I’m certainly not an active book blogger at the moment, I’m still reading, always reading.

The Righteous Mind by J. Haidt validates Hume’s famous thesis that reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions.

Where I’m Calling From by R. Carver, a bloke I’ve been wanting to read ever since I learned that he and I share many geographical locations in common, from Chico to Cupertino, and beyond.

Carver sits at the feet of the common. I like that, a lot. Blue collar gritty stuff.

Plus his prose is as addicting as Candy Crush.

Moral Tribes by J. Greene is a full-court press that smothers the idea of moral incommensurability and replaces it with a pragmatic understanding of utilitarianism.

His work is fascinating in that he combines first-rate philosophy with leading-edge neuroscience.

The result is a new appreciation of moral psychology. Highly recommend it.

J. Greene almost had the pleasure of meeting me in Berkeley. He doesn’t know this yet, but he and I will get along famously.

I’m confident that way.

Lastly, An Equal Music by V. Seth, a novel that roused me to enthusiasm early on with prose like “What I lost I have never come close to retrieving” and “I become the music of the scale. I mute my will, I free my self” but have since tired of the glacial plotting.

Beyond reading

Is there such a thing? No. Even when I’m on business travel, I read everything around me as though they were pages.

I recently boarded a plane early in the morning.


I landed in Honolulu and went for a glorious two-hour urban hike.


I saw signs…


…and tentacles and suckers. That, or “Aloha” in Braille.


Then I devoured the soft and juicy bits of things to sate my hunger.

4I looked out the window of my room.


I saw people lying in the sun near the pool.


I went for a swim and because decency requires that voyeurism not take the form of a clicking camera phone, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that I saw many beautiful people. The ugly young were pretty, and several of the old cougars were pretty, too. And even that pale German tourist wearing way too-tight James Bond swim trunks, even he was handsome after a fashion.

That is all.

The Nutritional Profile of Reading Books

January 18, 2014

Reading novels is like stuffing your face with mental veggies. It can lower stress levels, help you sleep better, keep your veggie pagebrain sharp, and stave off Alzheimer’s, all at the speed of a turning page. Before you whip out your laptop, however, consider this: “At least a few studies suggest that screens sometimes impair comprehension precisely because they distort people’s sense of place in a text.” For years I’ve been interested in the effects of reading, ranging from its impact on subjective experiences, i.e., moral and psychological, as well as on the underlying objective physiology. In a gorgeous bit of serendipity, I find myself working at HopeLab where we research the connection between mental states and the body so we can develop interventions to improve health and well-being. In the coming months, I hope to uncover and share fascinating tidbits in the realm of reading, psychology and biology.

“with my best thoughts”

January 13, 2014

Not that one.
The other: Schweitzer.
I read The Quest of the Historical Jesus in grad school.
It laid the groundwork for a whole new appreciation of the Bible for me.
A theologian, musician, philosopher, doctor, surgeon, and Nobel Peace Prize winner —
Albert Schweitzer is many things.
But today he’s a 90-year old gentleman,
Penning a thank you note to my aunt Kris in the last months of his life.
In September 1965,
Aunt Kris, 16, sent Albert a birthday wish;
Their birthdays were only a day apart,
Plus she was an admirer of his —
A fan of his anti-war stance and his reverence for life philosophy,
Minus the vegetarianism.
In a missive that’s partly templatized,
Albert wrote back in August.
Here’s the front side of the envelope.


And the back.

2The postcard shows the dock at Schweitzer’s hospital in Lambarene, Africa.

3Here’s the heart of the matter,
Where Albert thanks “Dear Miss Karlsten”
And signs off “With my best thoughts Albert Schweitzer”.


He died later that September.
I held the postcard today, thoughtfully, a lovely bit of minor history.
Here’s a press clipping from a local paper in Ontario, CA.



why mr. interpolations blogs at all

January 3, 2014

The highly gifted mirabile dictu posed a series of questions to me and others to source material for a feature on blogging. Because my blog has languished lately, I thought I’d share my answers here. Happy New Years, everyone!

When and why did you decide to start a blog?

I started blogging in July, 2009 at Between the Lines, where I interviewed readers and documented some of their readerly tics and quirks. Bookish people love reading about other bookish people. It’s good fun, you see. But bookish people like me often tire of depending on others for content. So I shuttered Between the Lines about a year later and started blogging at Interpolations, mainly for selfish reasons. When I read a novel, especially a good one, I suffer it like an illness and have to retch up a few observations before returning to health. That, and I hope one or two readers find something useful in my writing.

How often do you blog?

Not nearly as much as I’d like. I’m busy with work, two kids, and other interests like hiking, vegetable gardening, and photography. In the long ago, I blogged twice a week, and if it were at all possible, I’d happily return to that cadence. But that’s not likely for some time. Fingers crossed for the future.

Do you consider your blog at all “political”?

No, my blog isn’t political despite the fact that I’ve called the Second Amendment tosh. In my opinion, the main political issue of our time is the rampant dysfunction in Washington and the massive disconnect between U.S. policies and public opinion. I spend zero time diagnosing this problem or advancing solutions to fix it. Nor do I present a point of view on other issues related to equality, justice and sustainability, even though I have very strong opinions in these areas. No, my blog isn’t political.

Are you also on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites?

In addition to WordPress, I haunt Twitter (here and here), Facebook, LinkedIn, Vine, and Instagram. I also blog at HopeLab in a professional capacity as a Curator of Creative Communications and help manage the foundation’s social channels, among other things.

What are the pros and cons of blogging?

Blogging helps me retch so I feel better. Relief is good that way. It’s also helped me meet other people who are passionate about books, from the U.S., Canada and the Philippines, to England, Australia and Iran. It’s helped refine my appreciation for works I didn’t like at first blush, as was the case with Foe and Vanity Fair. It’s uncovered some gems I wouldn’t have otherwise read like Embers and The Leopard. It provides a record of my thoughts and observations, and even a petty crime (1 and 2). And it’s encouraged me to experiment with different forms of writing. As for the cons, I can only think of one right now, and hopefully it’s particular to me. Good blog writing and reading/engagement has wrecked my appetite for long-form articles. I’m reluctant to touch them even though they’re very important for public discourse.

Do your family and friends support your blogging, or are you writing for a different audience?

Only a few of my friends and some of my family know I blog. I don’t write for them, and I don’t readily speak about my blogging unless prompted, and even then I might dissemble a bit. Again, I write mainly for myself and in the hope that someone finds it useful or entertaining, or challenges my observations or point of view.

Does the courtship of marketers affect you or not? Do you accept products (books for most of you) from PR people? Does it influence your reviews?

I receive lots of requests but always politely decline free books and ebooks. I’m just not interested in them. David Mitchell once kindly sent me an ARC of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, for which I was enormously grateful. It didn’t influence my review at all. I panned it.

Are you concerned when critics belittle blogs?

No, not at all. Their criticisms are either valid or not. If valid, they help improve the form. If not, they help improve our thinking as we defend and evolve the form. So it’s really a win-win and hence a non issue.

Are you more influenced by blogs or book review publications in your choice of reading? 

In general, my reading appetite is dictated by some mysterious source in my head. I submit to it when it tells me what to read next. But I suppose I’m slightly more influenced by blogs than by book reviews in newspaper or magazine pubs, when I’m influenced at all.

What blogs do you recommend?

Whenever I have a chance, I visit the sites on my blogroll. Each blogger does something different, unique, and interesting, so it’s easy to recommend them.

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Gone With The Dream

December 7, 2013

I awoke
Or thought I awoke
And looked into a mirror

Beneath my hat, near my hairline
A piece of folded skin like a postage stamp was affixed

I fiddled with it
And it unraveled in reverse origami

This fabric of skin
Was my face

It had retracted like a screen on a roller


I waited for the pain to start
Of exposed tissue on my nose, forehead, and cheeks
Worse than road rash or a thousand paper cuts


Stretching the skin taut into a sheet
I pressed it onto my cheeks
Fixing it to my chin

I looked into the mirror

I was beautiful beyond charismatic handsomeness
With dark eyes and lusty facial hair
Like Rhett Butler

Minus the jeering snarky contempt for everything