I aspire to Marginal Revolution author Tyler Cowen’s level of cultural openness. He seems to exercise it at all times, without exception. I know this from reading his blog, and I know this from interviewing him twice on The Marketplace of Ideas, and I received a reminder of this in a recent Businessweek article:
Tyler Cowen has read what's listed in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, though not, he concedes, every single last one of the Icelandic sagas. He rereads what you probably haven't heard of, like Anton Chekhov's Sakhalin Island. For the Brazil trip, in case he runs out of new books, he has also brought Neal Stephenson's 1,100-page Cryptonomicon, which he has already read. Fiction slows him down, he says, which makes packing easier. He carries a Kindle but reads paper when he can; he says he's invested too much time on the rhythm of how the eye tracks the page. Several people have told me the same story about Cowen: They have watched him read, and he scans a page as others might scan a headline.
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Since the late '90s much of Cowen's work has looked at the economics of culture. He consumes art and music at the rate he does books, but unlike most critics he doesn't sniff that markets have either ruined culture or brought it low.
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After Cowen gets back from Brazil, we meet at Eyo Restaurant & Sports Bar in Falls Church, Va., an Ethiopian place that sits in a strip mall underneath several housing towers. This is yet another of Cowen's enthusiasms: searching for food, and recording it on Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide, another blog. He's included rules on how to find a restaurant and how to order when you get there in a book, Discover Your Inner Economist. For one: Order the strangest thing on the menu—chances are the chef put the most work into it. And the best ethnic food, he writes, is prepared at strip malls. He orders for me, then asks whether I eat raw beef.
I didn’t used to care much about geography at all, although that term makes it sound academic — maybe I mean I didn’t used to care about place. Over the last decade, this changed with a vengeance; I now feel much more in line with the highly place-oriented way Tyler Cowen seems to think about culture. You can see this in my favorite series of posts he makes: “My Favorite Things”. To read these is to know how much culture you’ve missed — or, put more happily, how much culture you have yet to savor.
From "My Favorite Things Hungary": "Movies: Bela Tarr, Satantango. It’s over seven hours long, but don’t be put off. It has some of the best shots of grazing cows and angry peasants committed to reel, and I wanted it to be longer." From "My Favorite Things South Africa": "Music: Where to start? Malanthini, for one. As for mbqanga collections, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto series is consistently excellent. Singing in an Open Space, Zulu Rhythm and Harmony 1962-1982 is a favorite. Random gospel and jazz collections often repay the purchase price and in general random CD purchases in these areas bring high expected returns." From "My Favorite Things Egypt": "Philosopher: Must I say Plotinus? I don't find him especially readable." From "My Favorite Things Turkey": "Cynic: Diogenes, who in a few ways was an early version of Robin Hanson, though I am not suggesting Robin is a cynic in the lower case sense." From "My Favorite Things Grenada": "Short story writer: Paul Keens-Douglas. This pick is a no-brainer. Here is Keens-Douglas telling a story. Here is Keens-Douglas doing a comedy routine. I used to have some very good cassettes of him telling folk tales." From "My Favorite Things Mars": "Album about: David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Venus and Mars is not overall a good album; it is mostly dull and overproduced. So Bowie is a clear winner here."
I plan to “borrow” this format for a post about Mexico City (I find myself more city- than country-oriented) before I leave for there. We’ll see how it stacks up.