Saturday, February 23, 2008


Deathbird Stories - Harlan Ellison
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - Harlan Ellison
Collected Fictions - Jorge Luis Borges
Labyrinths - Jorge Luis Borges
Choke - Chuck Palahniuk
Survivor - Chuck Palahniuk
To a God Unknown - John Steinbeck
Ishmael - Daniel Quinn
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut
Poker Without Cards - Ben Mack
The Complete Saki - Saki
Driving Blind - Ray Bradbury
Veronika Decides to Die - Paulo Coelho
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides
The Cheese Monkeys - Chip Kidd
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick
Clans of the Alphane Moon - Philip K. Dick
Snowcrash - Neal Stephenson
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
the perks of being a wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
Very Far Away From Anywhere Else - Ursula K. LeGuin
Wag the Dog - Larry Beinhart
Job: A Comedy of Justice - Robert A. Heinlein
Picnic, Lightning - Billy Collins
Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
Lila: an Inquiry into Morals - Robert M. Pirsig
Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto - Anneli Rufus
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tsu
The True Believer - Eric Hoffer
The Wisdom of Insecurity - Alan W. Watts
I and Thou - Martin Buber
Code - Charles Petzold
The Pursuit of Attention - Charles Derber
Catch Me If You Can - Frank W. Abagnale
Class - Paul Fussell
The Meme Machine - Susan Blackmore
War is a Racket - Brig. Gen. Smedley D. Butler
Propaganda - Jacques Ellul
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - Robert B. Cialdini, PH.D.
The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis - Richards J. Heuer Jr.
The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making - Scott Plous
Fooled By Randomness - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Hagakure: Book of the Samurai
The Art of Living - Epictetus (less)


Ben Mack said...

I'm thrilled you are popularizing this amazing video.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He's the first best-selling author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:

Have a nice day!


Ben Mack said...

By Ben Mack

UCLA’s Clark Library is usually occupied with patrons who restrain themselves to whispering. Today is not a day for restraint. The silence vanishes with an loud, guttural gasp that can be heard in the stacks a floor below.

Molly’s anger destroys the silence, “What kind of a question is that?” Suddenly self-aware, she flushes. The embarrassment escalates as Howard replies in a solemn yet louder-than-library voice, “It’s the kind of question a sexually conflicted girl finds objectionable.”

Holy fuck. Who does this boy think he is? Bright red. Molly’s face is Beet RED. Mortified.

In a library-whisper Molly says, “You can’t know that about me.”


The neutrality of Howard’s reply felt sociopathic, pure ice. He was gazing at her but without intensity. No lust or desire, just a casual curiosity, a presence. Molly felt small, an awkwardness of crushing proportions. She had just thrown searing intensity into an emotional abyss and there was not the expected thud of defensiveness. Searing words don’t make a thud when they land on indifference. Without landing on anything her intensity did a weird reverberation inside her. Some would call this nerves, or anxiety. For molly it was a more kinesthetic experience. He entire innards were vibrating.

God Damn. How Molly hated these boys. He’s not good enough looking to be this sure of himself. Must be born rich she decided.

And why now, more than ever, more than yesterday, does she want this man’s attention? Validation. Ahhh crap. It is such bullshit the way the world works.

I don’t want to talk about sex, thought Molly. I can either walk away or this guy is going to lead the conversation around, and around, and around the sex pole.

“What if the system is broken?” interrupted Howard in a library whisper.

“What system?” she said louder than intended. She felt small again.

Standing up Howard says, “Who else feels like going to the book store?”

There’s an agitated silence while packing up and getting going… going outside. Howard’s leading and that doesn’t help.

The biggest question in Howard’s mind isn’t how to get in her pants. Rather, more like, at what point in conversation do you tell somebody you’re dating or trying to pick up that you were once labeled as a paranoid schizophrenic? He’s in a level of abstraction as he heads for the door, roughly following a plan he had envisioned the day before. It gets boring being able to so exactingly manifest physical events.

Schizophrenia. It’s not exactly what you put on the front page of your MySpace profile. Well, maybe you do. You can do whatever you want. However, having a conversation with somebody over whether or not humans make choices or if the concept of choice is another sub-vocalization illusion, that’s not foreplay.

In fact, try having that conversation with psychiatrist and they are likely to label you a paranoid schizophrenic. They did me.

My name is Howard Campbell. I will be your moderator. You probably think of me as your narrator. I am the person typing these words and presenting myself as the first-person narrator. I know, I know, some grammar-smart over-achieving know-it-all is making noises in their head that I started the dialogue in a 3rd-person-omniscient sort of way. Forgive me. I’m not a very good narrator. I’m new at this job. I used to be a consumer researcher, a focus group moderator, the kind of guy who turns human insights into great big fricken huge piles of cash for corporations with brands you use everyday to reinsurance companies so large most people don’t even know they exist.

This is the kinder, gentler Howard Campbell. The old me would have told that know-it-all in the previous paragraph where they can stick their knowledge.

Okay, Molly and I are walking down the front steps of Clark Library. I’m a few paces in front of her, so she can’t quite say what she’s building-up to. I say, “Let’s just go outside.” She’s really worked-up.

When she does mutter something it’s original material. When they start repeating themselves you’ve got a droid. Throw ‘em back or use them as you will. My religion says do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. I’m a psychological outlaw. Anybody that can’t see the value of a book based on lies what comprehend what I’m pointing out to my brethren. I wish I had my material when I was 14, I would be so much further along now in my study, in my research.

Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a repressed nymphomaniac. Your normal college boy will praise her, and immediately pull open doors for her and let her go first.

This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the repressed heart. Make the girl chase you. She will follow. She will be telling herself what a pompous ass you are. Okay. Her sub-vocalizations are none of your concern at this stage of the game. You may have to fabricate an elaborate ruse to get her to chase you.

There are two small flights of stairs before the double-doors to the outside. I say “We’re almost outside.” When I get to the bottom of the steps, I do hold the double doors open and I say, “We have arrived.”

She doesn't know what to make of my hospitality, my holding the final door for her, it signals that I’m serving her and that I’m calm cool and collected.

This is to let her know you're showing her a safe and proper place to talk.

It'll take her a moment to realize she's about to make a 180-degree turn, at down-stairs plowing speed. She’ll have to turn around because you don’t immediately exit. Hopefully you can be holding the door for at least one more person.

After you break through the doors to outside, she’s going to want to have the first words. Let her. She’s amped-up on adrenaline and righteousness. Let her have the first words. Let her speak until she’s run out of things to say. You want to listen very closely. Be taking mental notes. During the race outside she’s been working out some prime things to say to you right now.

We break through the front double-doors.

Some fast heel-toe work on her part and she’s turned around and waiting for me expectantly. NOW is her show. I honor her. I am listening attentively…

“Howard, I don’t know who you think you are to ask me if I’ve had a one-night-stand in the middle of the library. Why would you invite me to the library and…”

This is called time-shifting. By racing somebody ahead and keeping your tempo you appear calm-cool-and-collected.

“…and ask me something like that? I’ve never really noticed you before and you ask me to a study session and instead of talking about school you ask me if I’ve ever…” Molly catches herself before saying a one-night-stand. She looks around and sees people looking at her.

In poker, they call it putting somebody on tilt. As a pick-up artist we call it teasing. I just see it as technology.

“Come with me.” She grabs my arm and leads me to a bench. This is good. Physical contact is good. Heightened energy is good. If she calls me an asshole it will be more work than if she calls me a cock. She leads me to a bench and sits down quickly. I join her. I am present, open, no words in my head. I am here for whatever energy she cares to exchange.

Molly, “I don’t know who you are. I see you in my class and you make a good point and you ask me to go studying and then suddenly you are asking me about sex and we haven’t even been out on a date.”

She pauses.

I’m with her. I won’t speak until invited.

The pause becomes pregnant. A pregnant pause that becomes too pregnant for Molly...

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Thank you for asking.” Howard turns to Molly and crosses his legs on the bench. “I wanted to see you again and I asked you on a date.”

“This wasn’t a date. This was a library study session.”

“Molly, I’m not a student here.”

“What are you doing in my class?”

“You can stop me from coming by telling the teacher I’m not a student. I live nearby and when there an interesting class I just show up. The course schedule has all the classes and their times and what buildings. I just don’t pay the $20k a year and I don’t worry about studying or grades.”

“You’re an imposter.”

“I’ve been called worse.” Howard opens up his backpack and he has a Tupperware container with sliced cheeses, crackers and grapes and sliced apples.

“What’s this?”

“Cheese and crackers.”

“You always bring cheese and crackers to the library?”

“No. I was expecting to be on a date and I thought this would be fun.”

“I’m not having fun yet. I’m still sore you asked me if I’ve ever had a one-night-stand.”

Here’s a tricky move. It is so tempting to correct her. That’s not what I asked her. I asked her about the last time she had a one-night-stand. There’s a difference.

“I liked what you said about Burroughs.” She eyes me. She’s appraising whether I’m sincere or if I’m trying to get in her pants. This cynical side of her will require tolerance. In that moment of disengagement she feels my distancing and reaches for more…

“Tell me something I don’t know about William S. Burroughs. Wait, what was it that I said that you found interesting.”

“You talked about how his maternal uncle was Ivy Lee.” She nods. “Most kids in a Beat poetry class would know or care about the man who invented the press release. But you asked for something you don’t know about Burroughs.” Pausing for dramatic effect… “Hmmm. Did you know he created the myth, the legend around The Number 23?”

“You mean that stupid Jim Carey movie?”

“You mean that million-dollar-script Jim Carey movie?”

“That script sold for a million dollars?”

“Yup. The first million dollar screenplay was sold by a UCLA student, Shane Black. The first million dollar book by an unpublished author was Donna Tart. I study these things.”

“You study what things.”

“Breakthrough novels, million dollar ideas, what makes culture rumble.”

“So what are you telling me about William S. Burroughs?”

“Burroughs was a real cock.” Molly hadn’t broken the ‘fuck’ ice, meaning she hasn’t said the word fuck and if she and I are to fuck the chances become far more likely if I can steer the conversation sexual. That’s why I used the word cock. That would be a great name for a screenplay, Cock. Nix that idea. I get distracted. Easily bored. Molly can see me thinking. “Burroughs created a mythology around the number 23 when he was high on acid sitting in the park at Haight-Ashberry with Robert Anton Wilson, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and…”

“How do you know Burrows was on acid?”

“Timothy Leary was there. Anyway, this kid in a suit walks by, does a double take and starts rattling off quotes from all these cats’ books. It’s awkward and flattering. There’s this sense like, who the fuck is this stiff in a suit, but he’s read all their stuff. There a moment like, well shit, maybe this kid is cooler than all of us. He can where a suit and he can hang. Shit.”

“How do you know they were on acid.”

“I don’t. It’s a likely guess. So this kid is sitting with these soon to be legends. Back then they were trustafarians and drop outs, they weren’t famous yet. They just wrote.”

“This comes around to The Number 23?” At this moment I don’t know if I want to sleep with Molly.

“Yes. Have you ever seen a fnord?”

“A what?”

“You know, like somebody mentions Sigmond Freud’s nephew was Edward Bernays instead saying that Bernays created Freud.”


“Not what, who. Bernays. Edward Bernays.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“who that?”


“You said ‘who that.’”


“So, ‘that’ isn’t supposed to be used for a who.”

“Who says?”

“Says who.”


“Second base.” Yeah, this is getting boring. I can’t even tell my story. “So Burroughs gets the idea that this stiff suit isn’t really cool, that he really is a stiff, and they’re all tripping right and Burroughs blurts out… ‘The Number 23 is the open symbol of the illuminati.”

“Is it?”

“It is now. Wilson made it so, but only because of Burroughs. You see you brought up Ivy Lee. Burroughs spent family dinners and holidays with the man who created media consensus by inventing the press release. Burroughs and Wilson hung out together and Robert Anton Wilson is attacking modern media on a deeper level than most academic media theorists can grasp because he’s intermingling two languages that simply happen to use the same vocabulary.”

“I’m not following at all.”

“Burrough simply said the most absurd thing he could think of. That the Illuminati, a secret organization would have an open symbol. It’s like saying that Martians shake hands like Mork, like Robin Williams from Mork & Mindy. IT JUST DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE but the suit wearing stiff nods along like he already knew this and Burroughs keeps feeding him examples of 23 in society and why it is magical like how there are 23 human chromosomes. The Earth spins on its axis at 23 degrees. The Dog Days of Summer begin on July 23. Timothy Leary and Jack Kerouac start chiming in on other examples of the number 23 in culture and celestial coincidences and the dude goes about his way.”

“And so Burroughs created the legend that spawned a crappy Jim Carrey movie.”



“Actually it was Robert Anton Wilson who wrote a book about it that was largely viewed as indecipherable but Beat readers dug it and it was about how the number 23 was the open symbol of the Illuminati. Then he wrote another book and another. Eventually they were published as trilogy.”

“I need to go.”

“Yeah, ok.”

“I thought you were going to press me to stay.”


“Why not?”

“Because we don’t really have anything to talk about since you won’t tell me about the last time you had a one night stand…”

Redness. Molly is angry again.

“…Earlier I didn’t correct you, but my question wasn’t whether or not you’ve slept woth a guy on the first date. It was about the last time.”

“You can’t know that about me.”

Ben Mack said...

There's a new Poker Without Cards group getting going over here =>

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