Borders Raid

I finally made a foray to the local Borders store. I checked it out during the first week of bankruptcy, when prices were an amazing 20% off list. I felt bad that they were charging more in liquidation than Amazon was charging in regular operations.

But I was next door, picking up some measuring spoons at Bed, Bath & Beyond, so I walked in. “ONLY 7 DAYS LEFT!” the posters warned. Inside, prices were 80% off, with an additional 15% if you bought 20 or more books. Of course, there was scarcely more than 20 books in the joint.

I looked through the remaining comics — sorry, Graphic Novels — but that had been pretty well pillaged. I considered picking up Sophie Crumb’s book, but eh.

The fiction section was pretty sparse; the offerings were mainly contemporary fiction, which I have no use for. I meandered over to the biographies, and it was there that I made my score. There were at least 8 copies of Jules Feiffer’s memoir, Backing Into Forward, on a shelf, so I grabbed a copy of that. I remember wanting to buy it for the Kindle when it was first released, but it was listing (and still is) at $15.99, and there’s no way on earth I’d pay that much for an e-book, unless it had the answers in the back.

Then I noticed a copy of Pierre Assouline’s Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin. It was a hardcover, as was the Feiffer book. I know nothing about it, but at this price (80% off $24.95), I couldn’t go wrong.

I also came across paperbacks of two of Mary Karr’s memoirs, Liar’s Club and Cherry. I’ve never read her, but I enjoyed her recent Paris Review interview, so I thought I’d give her a chance.

On the way to the register, I noticed a “new books” shelf with a copy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes. I gave up on The Black Swan pretty early, on account of authorial arrogance, but one of my magazine’s readers recommended I pick up this book of aphorisms. I bought it for my Kindle this summer, but found that the aphoristic style didn’t work for an e-book; I found myself reading too quickly. I thought it would be better in printed format, so I could scribble notes in the margins and otherwise just look at a line on a page. So I grabbed that, too.

I have far too many books

The damage for all five books, including three hardcovers? Twenty-two dollars. Poor, doomed bookstores.

I did have a laugh on the way out, when I noticed that one of the employees set up the shelf by the entry so that customers would see the following:

Do the No Future

Taleb and Taliban

I enjoyed this profile of Nassim Nicholas Taleb by Bryan Appleyard. I haven’t read his books yet, but I’m sympathetic to his notion that the radically unpredictable will trump your bitch-ass plans no matter how farsighted you think you are:

Last May, Taleb published The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. It said, among many other things, that most economists, and almost all bankers, are subhuman and very, very dangerous. They live in a fantasy world in which the future can be controlled by sophisticated mathematical models and elaborate risk-management systems. Bankers and economists scorned and raged at Taleb. He didn’t understand, they said. A few months later, the full global implications of the sub-prime-driven credit crunch became clear. The world banking system still teeters on the edge of meltdown. Taleb had been vindicated. “It was my greatest vindication. But to me that wasn’t a black swan; it was a white swan. I knew it would happen and I said so. It was a black swan to Ben Bernanke [the chairman of the Federal Reserve]. I wouldn’t use him to drive my car. These guys are dangerous. They’re not qualified in their own field.”

Reading the profile reminded me of a post I wrote about Ahmed Rashid’s book Taliban. I wrote

The book is also a product of its time, of course. One of the “problems” with Taliban is that oil was priced around $13/barrel in the years leading up to its publication. That fact was a key to his understanding of Russian and Iranian policy, and it’s completely understandable; who would even entertain the notion that oil would someday trade for 5x that price?

Of course, the black swan that I missed was that oil would soon trade for TEN TIMES that price. The profile is filled with some pretty neat anecdotes about the way our sophisticated models — especially the financial ones — can’t stand up to reality. Or, as Mr. Appleyard puts it:

He doesn’t make predictions, he insults people paid to do so by telling them to get another job. All forecasts about the oil price, for example, are always wrong, though people keep doing it.


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