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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

28 Books You Should Read If You Want To…

In Books on February 18, 2014 at 5:43 am

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From The Millions

Earlier this month Amazon released a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. It joins Esquire’s 80 Books Every Man Should Read, The Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read, Huffington Post’s more manageable 30 Books You Should Read Before You’re 30, and The Guardian’s ambitious and inflexible 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.

These lists serve a purpose if you’re Jay Gatsby furnishing a library or if you’ve, say, just arrived from Mars and have no knowledge of Earth books. What they miss is that one of the greatest rewards of a reading life is discovery. In my 10 years working at bookstores, no one ever came in and asked me what they should read before their death — they would ask me what my favorite book was, or if there were any great new books no one was talking about, or they would just want me to leave them alone so they could explore on their own.

I discovered one of my favorite books because the author called our store and charmed the living daylights out of me. I found another in a box of old books that my Russian literature professor left outside his office to give away. So while I do think that you should read the canon if it interests you, I think it’s more important that you read the books that find their own way into your hands. More…

Why Read the Classics?

In Books on February 4, 2014 at 7:36 am

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From New York Review of Books

Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh

Let us begin with a few suggested definitions.

1) The classics are the books of which we usually hear people say: “I am rereading…” and never “I am reading….”

This at least happens among those who consider themselves “very well read.” It does not hold good for young people at the age when they first encounter the world, and the classics as a part of that world.

The reiterative prefix before the verb “read” may be a small hypocrisy on the part of people ashamed to admit they have not read a famous book. To reassure them, we need only observe that, however vast any person’s basic reading may be, there still remain an enormous number of fundamental works that he has not read.

Hands up, anyone who has read the whole of Herodotus and the whole of Thucydides! And Saint-Simon? And Cardinal de Retz? More…

Book Review: After Oil — SciFi Visions Of A Post-Petroleum World…

In Books on January 23, 2014 at 8:56 am

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“Science fiction is a metaphor, but it is not for predicting the future.” These are the words of science fiction visionary James Cameron, the filmmaker behind such classics as 
TerminatorTitanic and Avatar.* When Cameron made this statement, he was trying to combat one of the most widely held misconceptions about science fiction, which is that it seeks to foretell the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is wrongheaded to fault science fiction storytellers for wrong predictions or credit them for right ones, when most see themselves not as envisioning the future at all, but rather as weaving imaginative tales set in possible futures.

Certainly the authors featured in the short story collection After Oil: SF Visions Of A Post-Petroleum World would resist being pegged as future-seers. Their sole ambition is to spin entertaining yarns set in plausible versions of the near future. These futures aren’t consistent with one another, as they would be in a shared-world anthology, whose authors deliberately set their stories in a common setting. Instead, they comprise a series of unrelated, self-contained “what-ifs.” Their authors all responded to a call for short story submissions on the blog site of scholar and futurist John Michael Greer in the fall of 2011. Greer had resolved to secure a publishing contract for the first-ever anthology of post-oil-age fiction. In the weeks that followed, Greer received many excellent stories, landed a publishing contract More…

You Must Read Kevin Barry…

In Books on October 2, 2013 at 4:25 am

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From BILL MORRIS
The Millions

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When I wrote an over-the-moon review of Kevin Barry’s debut novel, City of Bohane, here last year, I thought I was letting readers in on a well-kept secret.  I thought wrong. The book got acres of good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic – along with a growing army of devoted readers – and it went on to win the IMPAC Dublin Award, one of the world’s richest literary prizes, besting such brand-name authors as Michel Houellebecq and Haruki Murakami.

Now Barry is back with a new collection of stories called Dark Lies the Island, his second. It shares the virtues that made Bohane such an astonishment – prose that rollicks and judders and constantly delights; a keen ear for the spoken language of Barry’s native western Ireland; and above all, at least in the very best stories, a way of lassoing moments of mystery that have the power to transform the lives of Barry’s characters, a motley Irish medley of disturbed young women, devious old spinsters, blocked poets, thugs, boozers, exiles, and tortured civil servants. There is rich music, high humor, and deep blackness on every page.

 
I believe this collection of 13 stories can be divided into two roughly equal halves. Half of them are not so much fully formed stories as sketches, riffs, slices of life. If this sets them in a minor key, they are nonetheless uniformly compelling. In “Across the Rooftops,” for instance, two young people fail to connect with a first kiss. End of story. In “Wistful England,” a lovelorn Irishman lives in misery in East London with a bunch of alcoholic ruffians until, one boozy night, his old lover reappears, then promptly vanishes. End of story. In “The Mainland Campaign,” an I.R.A. bomber plants a bomb in a guitar case in a London bookstall, then boards a bus with a blonde German girl. End of story.

Doesn’t sound like much, but there are fully lived lives in all of these sketches, and the writing is a seamless marvel. More…

Book Review: ‘This Town’ by Mark Leibovich…

In Books on July 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

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 This Town

From CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY
NYT

Not to ruin it for you, but: if you already hate Washington, you’re going to hate it a whole lot more after reading Mark Leibovich’s takedown of the creatures who infest our nation’s capital and rule our destinies. And in case you are deluded enough as to think they care, you’ll learn that they already hate you. He quotes his former Washington Post colleague Henry ­Allen: ­“Washington feels like a conspiracy we’re all in together, and nobody else in America quite understands, even though they pay for it.”

Contrary to the subtitle, there are actually two funerals, which constitute the high — and low — points of the book: More…

There Will Always Be a Place for Great Bookstores…

In Books on July 25, 2013 at 9:08 am

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From PETER OSNOS
The Atlantic

The business of publishing and selling books will continue its radical change. But some things are eternal.

There have been many changes over the decades in the way books are sold. Today, we are clearly in the midst of a profound upheaval as the digital age shapes habits that will be an increasing part of the world of books for the foreseeable future. But whatever happens in the coming years, there will always be a place for incomparable booksellers of which Tattered Cover is the unquestioned model.

In the most basic sense, the purpose of our industry has remained the same for centuries: the telling of stories and the chronicling of events. Whether the medium was the symbols and images scrawled on the walls of caves, scrolls painstakingly drawn by hand, or the Gutenberg press which made books available More…

‘Bad Monkey’ is Vintage Hiaasen…

In Books on July 23, 2013 at 7:00 am

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From D. P. LYLE
New York Journal of Books

A quirky protagonist surrounded by even quirkier characters mired in oddball intrigue—all in South Florida, of course.

This story revolves around Florida Keys detective Andrew Yancy, newly busted to the role of restaurant inspector, aka “roach patrol,” for attacking one Dr. Clifford Witt, husband of a former Yancy lover, with a handheld Black & Decker vacuum cleaner—all videoed by cruise liner tourists with cell phones in hand.

Yancy embarks on several hit and miss attempts to get his badge back. No easy proposition. Particularly since his boss, Sheriff Sonny Summers, opinion is that Yancy was lucky they didn’t “charge you with sodomy.” More…

Best Of The Summer: 6 Books The Critics Adore…

In Books on July 9, 2013 at 6:28 am

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From NPR

[Available from Mendocino Book Company]

There is no one definition of a summer book. It can be a 1,000 page biography, a critically acclaimed literary novel, a memoir everyone is talking about. Or it might be your favorite guilty pleasure: romance, crime, science fiction. Whatever you choose it should be able to sweep you away to another world. Because there is nothing like getting totally lost in a book on summer day. Here are a few books that swept away some of our favorite critics.

Ron Charles, Washington Post Book Critic

Colum McCann’s Radical Empathy…

In Books on July 9, 2013 at 6:00 am


From JOEL LOVELL
New York Times Magazine

In Colum McCann’s apartment, on the ninth floor of an elegant building just off Central Park, there’s a room where he writes that looks as if it were airlifted in from the woods. It’s all rough-hewed floorboards and shelves made of unvarnished pine and two-by-fours and a long, thick cedar slab for a desk. At one end of that desk there’s a space that used to be a closet, but at McCann’s request, the friend who built the office took off the door and put a platform in there, and this is where McCann writes, “in the cupboard,” as he put it. “It concentrates my vision. No windows, two very tight walls.” He sits on a couple of cushions with his computer on his lap. On the wall beside him are dozens of messages scrawled by friends and kids and fellow writers and some by McCann himself: “What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us.” “Keep yourself away from answers, but alive in the middle of the question.” “Stay rotten.” “Hi, Dad, I love you.”

The medal McCann received for winning the National Book Award in 2009 dangles from one of the shelves. Around the office are scattered various vintage photographs related to the subjects of his books — one of a group of sandhogs standing in the massive mouth of a subway tunnel (“This Side of Brightness,” 1988), another of the World Trade Center looming through the clouds over Lower Manhattan (“Let the Great World Spin,” 2009) — and there’s also a beautiful framed shot of a pair of grime-encrusted shoes. More…

Five Science Fiction novels for people who hate SciFi…

In Books on June 28, 2013 at 9:45 am

From The Guardian

The genre’s denser stories can seem rebarbative to ‘general readers’, but these books tell immediately relevant, compelling tales…

Science fiction is all around us, from clandestine electronic surveillance to robots taking our jobs, from death-dealing drones in the skies of Pakistan right through to the second industrial revolution unleashed by 3D printing. It’s more than a century since writers began charting the technological dream of human civilisation we now live in, but some readers are still put off by a writer who reaches into the future, a novel with a spaceship on the cover.

Like any enduring cultural experiment, science fiction has evolved its own codes, its own logic. Some of the genre’s most intense and visionary work talks in a shared language of concepts that can be hard for the uninitiated to penetrate More…

The Fallacy of Human Freedom…

In Books on June 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

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From ROBERT W. MERRY
The National Interest
Thanks to Ron Epstein

JEAN-JACQUES Rousseau famously lamented, “Man is born to be free—and is everywhere in chains!” To which Alexander Herzen, a nineteenth-century Russian journalist and thinker, replied, in a dialogue he concocted between a believer in human freedom and a skeptic, “Fish are born to fly—but everywhere they swim!” In Herzen’s dialogue, the skeptic offers plenty of evidence for his theory that fish are born to fly: fish skeletons, after all, show extremities with the potential to develop into legs and wings; and there are of course so-called flying fish, which proves a capacity to fly in certain circumstances. Having presented his evidence, the skeptic asks the believer why he doesn’t demand from Rousseau a similar justification for his statement that man must be free, given that he seems to be always in chains. “Why,” he asks, “does everything else exist as it ought to exist, whereas with man, it is the opposite?”

This intriguing exchange was pulled from Herzen’s writings by John Gray, the acclaimed British philosopher and academic, in his latest book, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths. As the title suggests, Gray doesn’t hold with that dialogue’s earnest believer in freedom—though he has nothing against freedom. He casts his lot with the skeptic because he doesn’t believe freedom represents the culmination of mankind’s earthly journey. More…

My Secret to Reading a Lot of Books…

In Books on June 25, 2013 at 9:11 am

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From DAN SHIPPER
Lifehacker

My girlfriend says I have a thing for books. I probably spend more money on books than any other expense, aside from food. Walking into a bookstore with a good selection makes me want to rent a truck and haul their entire stock away to pile in my house so that I can read every single one of them.

If your goal is to read a lot–like mine is–there are a few obstacles to overcome:

  • Keeping track of the books you want to read
  • Refining the list down to ones you’re going to read in the near feature
  • Actually reading them
  • Retaining the important parts

Keeping Track of What You Want to Read

Nothing is worse than wanting to get a new book and facing the empty Amazon search bar, their shallow recommendations staring back at you, KNOWING that there’s something better out there for you, but not being able to remember the 10+ books that you really wanted to read but never wrote down.

I have a two pronged solution for this:

1. Evernote
2. Pinboard.in

I have one Evernote note (started in 2010) with almost every book that has caught my eye in the last three years. It’s pretty huge. Evernote is great for this purpose because it also has a mobile version, so wherever you are you can pull out your phone and type the book in for later. More…

Nuclear Roulette…

In Books on June 18, 2013 at 7:56 am

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From RON JACOBS
The Rag BLog

Despite spending several days in detention facilities in the late 1970s and early 1980s because of my opposition to nuclear power and its consequent dangers and debris, I honestly never thought nuclear power would be gone by 2013. The setup for the industry was just too sweet of a deal.

However, I did have hope that nuclear power’s reputation would be so tainted that no new plants would ever be considered. Unfortunately, even those hopes were for naught. To make matters even worse, nuclear power — perhaps the most wasteful and most dangerous form of power generation — is actually being touted as a “green” source of power.

This support is not just coming from the industry, either. One-time opponents like Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand and former Greenpeace president Patrick Moore are now on record as supporters of a power source and industry they used to oppose vehemently. When considering these retreats, the phrase “two steps forward, one step back” comes to mind. More…

25 Signs You’re Addicted To Books…

In Around the web, Books on June 4, 2013 at 9:00 am

From Buzzfeed

The first step is admitting it. The second step is to keep right on reading. 1. When you were little, books were your best friends in the world.

2. When you’re reading a good book, you forget to eat or sleep.

When you're reading a good book, you forget to eat or sleep.

3. Your ups and downs are completely dictated by the book you’re reading.

Your ups and downs are completely dictated by the book you're reading.

More
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Working Class Literature…

In Books on April 22, 2013 at 7:28 am

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From LIBCOM.ORG

Libcom.org’s reading guide on literature with a focus on work and accurate representations of working class life, culture and resistance to power.

Charles Bukowski

Post Office – The job as a postal worker is a thankless one as Bukowski tries to keep his sanity delivering mail around Los Angeles.
Factotum – Bukowski recounts the conditions in 1944 having faced rejection from the draft, yo-yoing in and out of employment.
Ham on Rye – Semi-autobiographical ‘coming-of-age’ novel, telling the story of a young man growing up in Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

Ben Hamper

Rivethead – Down and out memoirs of an assembly line worker for GM Motors over the 1980s. In amongst co-workers going postal in the local bar, drinking on the job and witnessing mental breakdowns, Hamper wrote the book during his shifts on the shop floor.

Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms – Anti-militarist novel set against the backdrop of the Italian campaign during World War One More…

Does reading make you smarter?

In Books on April 17, 2013 at 8:07 am

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From PATRICIA VIEIRA
Assistant Professor, Georgetown University
Aljazeera

Reading has myriad effects, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how it influences each person and harder still to translate this impact in terms of quantifiable gains

In a meeting at the university where I teach, a colleague bemoaned that, after years of research in Writing Studies, no one had yet found a sure path to turn students into good writers. It may not be a magic solution but the answer to the problem is out there: it is reading! The correlation between an avid reader and a proficient writer is well known to parents who encourage their children to read from early on and to schoolteachers who strive to instill in their students a love for literature. But if the reading-writing connection appears to be a truism, it is trickier to assess the broader impact of literature in our lives. Does literature make us good and, conversely, is it good for us?

Are we happier after finally finishing The Magic Mountain? Will all murderers repent once they read the uplifting ending of Crime and Punishment? Will we become smarter by going through the Collected Poems of TS Eliot? More…

Cooked Books…

In Books on April 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm

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From THE GREENHORNS

A Natural History of Transformation

In Cooked (Available For Rent April 23 at Mulligan Books), Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth— to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture. Both realms are transformed by cooking, and so, in the process, is the cook. Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Cooking, above all, connects us. More…

Book Review: ‘The God Argument – The Case Against Religion and for Humanism’ By A.C. Grayling…

In Books, Freethought on April 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm

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From ANDREW DOYLE
HuffPost

According to Catherine Pepinster, A.C. Grayling’s new book The God Argument is a “stern, unrelenting and unforgiving” attack on faith, a “vilification of theists” written in the style of “an angry Old Testament prophet.” Grayling, we are told, is guilty of “railing at religionists” such as the theist philosopher Alvin Plantinga, whose version of the ontological argument for the existence of God causes Grayling “to see red.”

At this point, those of us familiar with Grayling’s work might begin to smell a rat. Typically so measured in his tone and tolerant in his outlook, what could have happened to transform him into this pugnacious, fire-breathing polemicist?

Well, nothing. Because The God Argument is about as far removed in tone from Pepinster’s account than it is possible to imagine. It is, in fact, one of the most dispassionate overviews of the atheistic stance yet to appear. Pepinster is of course entitled to her opinion, but readers should be aware that her review is of a book that does not exist outside of her imagination. More…

In ‘Life After Life,’ Caught In The Dangerous Machinery of History…

In Around the web, Books on April 5, 2013 at 7:40 am

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From MEG WOLITZER
NPR

[Available for rent $2 at Mulligan Books... DS]

Flannery O’Connor said short stories need to have a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order. But what about novels? Kate Atkinson seems to believe there can be a beginning, a middle and an end, and then another beginning, plus several more middles … and why not have a beginning again?

What she’s done in her masterful new book, Life After Life, is prove that what makes a long piece of fiction succeed might have very little to do with the progression of its story, and more to do with something hard to define and even harder to produce: a fully-realized world. Atkinson not only invites readers in but also asks them to give up their preconceptions of what a novel should be, and instead accept what a novel can be.

When I started Life After Life, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. I was disoriented, and I thought maybe the problem was me More…

Dr. Paul Lee: Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California…

In Around Mendo Island, Books on March 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

“It has taken me over thirty years to write this book. It tells the story of my starting the first organic garden at a university in the country, with Alan Chadwick, in 1967, who E. F. Schumacher called the world’s greatest gardener. I recount the gardens Alan developed after UC Santa Cruz; Saratoga; the Zen Center Farm at Green Gulch; Round Valley in Covelo, California; and Carmel in the Valley in West Virginia.

“I develop the philosophical background of Alan’s work and practice: the biodynamic and French Intensive systems he amalgamated. Biodynamics was developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early decades of the last century under the influence of Goethe who was Steiner’s great inspiration thanks to Goethe’s botanical studies. Goethe to Steiner to Chadwick represents the Vitalist tradition in defense of the integrity of organic nature as opposed to the Physicalist tradition of modern scientism reducing organic nature to matter.

“After we started the garden I had to find out why organic nature had been undermined by industrial society and why it had to be recovered and reaffirmed. Why did ‘organic’ have to become a buzz word? Why did industrialized and mechanized and commercialized food and flower production take over, supplanting natural and organic procedures? Why did they start calling factories plants? I tell you why. In my book! More…

A letter to the “New” Atheists…

In Books, Freethought on February 9, 2013 at 7:30 am

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From SUSAN JACOBY
Excerpted from The Great Agnostic (2012)
[Available at Mulligan Books & Seeds]

There is no such thing as a new atheist. You know this of course, and are usually careful to give ample credit to your predecessors. They made you possible, by waging the battle for reason and freedom of conscience at considerable risk to their own lives and liberty — whether by speaking out against the received opinion of their times or by the scientific investigation that led to a natural rather than a supernatural explanation of how our entire universe, including human beings, came to be. The names of Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Voltaire, Paine, Humboldt, and, of course, Darwin are frequently on your lips and in your books, as well they should be. Upon the shoulders of these giants rest the efforts of all whose aim is to make gentle the life of this world rather than to seek paradise in some hidden world beyond nature. So why is Robert Green Ingersoll usually absent from your honor role?

I would not expect you to mention Ingersoll if you were promoting the idea that America is, after all, a Christian nation founded by Christians who intended to establish a christian government. But you are all dedicated to the advancement of the same secular values More…

Book Excerpt: The problem of excessive scale…

In Books on February 7, 2013 at 6:50 am

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From DMITRY ORLOV
Club Orlov

This is an excerpt from The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit coming in May.

In his excellent book The Breakdown of Nations the maverick economist Leopold Kohr makes several stunning yet, upon reflection, commonsense observations. He points out that small states have tended to be far more culturally productive than large states, that all states go to war but that big states have disproportionately bigger wars that kill many times more people, and that by far the most stable and advantageous form of political organization is a loose confederation of states, each so small that none can dominate the rest. Kohr arrives at his conclusions by a process of reasoning by homology (viz. analogy) by analyzing many of the problems of modernity as different manifestations of the same underlying problem: the problem of excessive scale.

Most people can relate to the concept of optimal scale on an intuitive, visceral level; we know when something is abnormally big or abnormally small, and we tend to dislike abnormality. The exceptions, be they midgets or giants, are considered freaks. In living things More…

Books: Pot Goes to Florida, and Vice Versa…

In Books on January 19, 2013 at 8:09 am

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From JANET MASLIN
NYT

New Comic Novels From Dave Barry and Tim Dorsey

[More Carl Hiaasen below... DS]

Dave Barry has written a comic novel that features lost luggage, beaches, hapless tourists from Michigan, exotic animal life, drugs, wild mix-ups, laughable oldsters and the trademarked zaniness of Florida. Not at all coincidentally Tim Dorsey’s new comic novel features these same ingredients, although Mr. Dorsey’s hapless tourists come from Wisconsin.

What is it about journalism in Florida that helped Mr. Barry (The Miami Herald), Carl Hiaasen (also The Herald) and Mr. Dorsey (The Tampa Tribune) segue into writing such funny fiction? And what is it that makes their material so similar? Even if you know exactly which of them wrote “Hurricane Punch,” “Tricky Business” and “Tourist Season” (Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Barry and Mr. Hiaasen), it’s hard to miss the overlaps in their humor. It’s also hard to complain about too much of a good thing.

Mr. Hiaasen, who still writes an opinion column, understandably delivers the most barbed, issue-oriented humor. More…

How the rich and greedy stole the American dream all for themselves…

In Aw, ya selfish greedy bastards ya, Books on October 22, 2012 at 9:31 am

From DAN FROOMKIN

Who stole the American Dream? The short answer to the question in the title of Hedrick Smith’s new book is: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wal-Mart.

But the longer answer is one heck of a story, told by one of the great journalists of our time.

In his sweeping, authoritative examination of the last four decades of the American economic experience, Smith describes the long, relentless decline of the middle class — a decline that was not by accident, but by design.

He dates it back to a private memo — in effect, a political call to arms — issued to the nation’s business leaders in 1971 by Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a corporate attorney soon to become a Supreme Court justice. From that point forward, Smith writes, corporate America threw off any sense of restraint or social obligation and instead unstintingly leveraged its money and political power to pursue its own interests.

The result was nothing less than a shift in gravity. Starting in the early 1970s, every major economic trend — increased productivity, globalization, tax law overhauls, and the phasing out of pensions in favor of 401(k)s — produced the same result: The benefits fell upward.

Smith, a 1970 Nieman Fellow, is at his very best as he examines, one by one, the key economic shifts of the last 40 years and shows that in each case the money flowed to the very richest Americans, particularly those on Wall Street, while impoverishing the middle class.

Nowhere was that more blatantly the case than in the housing sector. We are all well aware of how the bursting of the housing bubble has left many middle-class Americans without the nest egg they were counting on for their retirement. More…

Planting Rebellion: Seed-saving as a subversive act…

In Books, Seeds on September 25, 2012 at 6:00 am

From TWILIGHT GREENAWAY
Grist

“In the course of getting a plate of food to our table, we’re paying a lot of attention to the farmer, the chef, the farmers market — all of that is as it should be, but we pay very little attention to the thing that starts it all, the seed.” That sentiment comes from Janisse Ray, farmer and author of the new book The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.

And it’s true; for many of us, seeds are a mysterious, invisible piece of the food puzzle. While we’re busy thinking about how to fix our food economies, seeds often slip through the cracks. And we’ve lost an almost unfathomable amount of genetic diversity as a result; depending on whom you ask, anywhere between 75 to 95 percent of our fruit and vegetable varieties have been lost for good. Highly functional, often bland, hybridized and genetically engineered varieties have taken over the commercial market — as opposed to the more delicate, complex heirloom varieties with stories and names attached, such as Dragon Tongue beans, Country Gentleman sweet corn, and May Queen lettuce — and Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta now own over half of the world’s seeds.

So, you might say Ray’s book has appeared just in time. In it, she makes a compelling argument for seed-saving as a subversive act that has the potential to undermine industrial agribusiness and takes readers to the farms and gardens of people around the country who are growing, collecting, and swapping seeds.

“Our grandparents and great-grandparents were caretakers of seeds. Now we rent them,” she told me in a recent interview. Eighty-eight percent of corn is genetically engineered, for instance, says Ray, and it has been engineered so that it’s impossible to save. More…

Transition: Manifesto for a post-growth economy…

In Books, Mendo Island Transition on September 25, 2012 at 5:45 am

America the Possible

From YES!
Transition Voice

Editor’s introduction: Gus Speth has been a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advisor to presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the head of the United Nations’ largest international assistance program, and Dean at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“Right at the time I should be settling into a rosy retirement,” Speth says, “I find I am instead quite alarmed about the appalling future we’re on track to leave our grandchildren.” His new book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, is about how transformative change can come to America, what life would be like in the attractive future that is still within our power to build, and what we need to do to realize it.

In this excerpt adapted from America the Possible, Speth takes on the tricky issue of post-growth prosperity. For more specific details about the policies under discussion here, check out the book.

We tend to see growth as an unalloyed good, but an expanding body of evidence is now telling us to think again. Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for most it is a god that is failing—underperforming for most of the world’s people, and creating more problems than it solves for those in affluent societies.

Americans are substituting growth and ever more consumption for doing the things that would truly make us and our country better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States rose sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction. More…

David Byrne on How Music and Creativity Work…

In Books on September 14, 2012 at 7:06 am

From MARIA POPOVA
Brainpickings

[How Music Works by David Byrne available at Mulligan Books. -DS]

“Presuming that there is such a thing as ‘progress’ when it comes to music is typical of the high self-regard of those who live in the present. It is a myth. Creativity doesn’t ‘improve.’”

Great times and tall deeds for David Byrne this week: First his fantastic collaborative album with St. Vincent (which made a cameo on Literary Jukebox), and now the release of How Music Works (public library) — a fascinating record of his lifetime of curiosity about and active immersion in music. But rather than an autobiographical work, a prescriptive guide to how to listen, or another neuropsychological account of music, what unfolds is a blend of social science, history, anthropology, and media theory, exploring how context shapes the experience and even the nature of music. Or, as Byrne puts it, “how music might be molded before it gets to us, what determines if it gets to us at all, and what factors external to the music itself can make it resonate for us. Is there a bar near the stage? Can you put it in your pocket? Do girls like it? Is it affordable?”

Among the book’s most fascinating insights is a counterintuitive model for how creativity works, from a chapter titled “Creation in Reverse” — a kind of reformulation of McLuhan’s famous aphorism “the medium is the message” into a somewhat less pedantic but no less purposeful “the medium shapes the message”:

I had an extremely slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually the opposite of conventional wisdom More…

Art, Independence and Spirit – Van Gogh, Brenda Ueland

In Books on August 30, 2012 at 7:00 am

From BRENDA UELAND
Excerpted from If You Want To Write (1939)
Still in print
[Repost]

If you read the letters of the painter Van Gogh you will see what his creative impulse was. It was just this: he loved something—the sky, say. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how beautiful the sky was. So he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it.

When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. He sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lampost, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: “It is so beautiful I must show you how it looks.” And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it.

When I read this letter of Van Gogh’s it comforted me very much More…

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy…

In Books on August 30, 2012 at 6:55 am


From DAVID STREITFELD
NYT

Todd Rutherford was 7 years old when he first understood the nature of supply and demand. He was with a bunch of other boys, one of whom showed off a copy of Playboy to giggles and intense interest. Todd bought the magazine for $5, tore out the racy pictures and resold them to his chums for a buck apiece. He made $20 before his father shut him down a few hours later.

A few years ago, Mr. Rutherford, then in his mid-30s, had another flash of illumination about how scarcity opens the door to opportunity.

He was part of the marketing department of a company that provided services to self-published writers — services that included persuading traditional media and blogs to review the books. It was uphill work. He could churn out press releases all day long, trying to be noticed, but there is only so much space for the umpteenth vampire novel or yet another self-improvement More…

What Happens While You Sleep and How It Affects Your Every Waking Moment…

In Books on August 26, 2012 at 9:00 am

From MARIA POPOVA
BrainPickings

“We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive.”

The Ancient Greeks believed that one fell asleep when the brain filled with blood and awakened once it drained back out. Nineteenth-century philosophers contended that sleep happened when the brain was emptied of ambitions and stimulating thoughts. “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made,” biologist Allan Rechtschaffen once remarked. Even today, sleep remains one of the most poorly understood human biological functions, despite some recent strides in understanding the “social jetlag” of our internal clocks and the relationship between dreaming and depression. In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, journalist David K. Randall — who stumbled upon the idea after crashing violently into a wall while sleepwalking — explores “the largest overlooked part of your life and how it affects you even if you don’t have a sleep problem.” From gender differences to how come some people snore and others don’t to why we dream, he dives deep into this mysterious third of human existence to illuminate what happens when night falls and how it impacts every aspect of our days.

Most of us will spend a full third of our lives asleep, and yet we don’t have the faintest idea of what it does for our bodies and our brains. Research labs offer surprisingly few answers. Sleep is one of the dirty little secrets of science. My neurologist wasn’t kidding when he said there was a lot that we don’t know about sleep, starting with the most obvious question of all — why we, and every other animal, need to sleep in the first place.

But before we get too anthropocentrically arrogant in our assumptions, it turns out the quantitative requirement of sleep isn’t correlated with how high up the evolutionary chain an organism is:

Lions and gerbils sleep about thirteen hours a day. Tigers and squirrels nod off for about fifteen hours. At the other end of the spectrum, elephants typically sleep three and a half hours at a time, which seems lavish compared to the hour and a half of shut-eye that the average giraffe gets each night. […]

Humans need roughly one hour of sleep for every two hours they are awake, and the body innately knows when this ratio becomes out of whack. Each hour of missed sleep one night will result in deeper sleep the next, until the body’s sleep debt is wiped clean.

What, then, happens as we doze off, exactly? Like all science, our understanding of sleep seems to be a constant “revision in progress”:

Complete article here
~~

Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community and Bringing Decision-Making Back Home…

In Books on August 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

From DAVID SWANSON
New. Clear. Vision.

Susan Clark and Woden Teachout’s new book, Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home (Chelsea Green, available Oct. 10, 2012), offers the civil equivalent to slow food. The goal of both is not slowness for its own sake, but quality, health, sustainability, and the pursuit of happiness.

We all know that the federal government ignores us most of the time, state governments nod in our direction once in a blue moon, and local governments listen to us quite often. So, there is an argument to be made for moving decision-making powers to the local level and engaging there.

The focus of Clark and Teachout’s book is on how to engage with local democracy, and toward what ends. Adversarial campaigning may not work. What gets you on television at a Congressional “town hall” could just alienate your neighbors at a real town hall. A deeper understanding of democracy than just the desire for Washington, D.C., to follow majority opinion once in a while involves the realization that we are all better off if all of our viewpoints are considered. We all know that in small discussions the result can be greater than the sum of its parts. The same is true in local politics. New ideas can arise through exchange and disagreement; a synthesis that considers the needs of more than one group can be better for all, longer-lasting, and strengthened by the depth of its public support.

Seeking to engage with others and involve those who disagree with us looks like a disastrous approach to those who work on political advocacy at the national level (except Democrats, to whom it looks like a brilliant innovation guaranteed to work on the very next attempt). Treating national officials like friends will usually get you sold down the river. When we were occupying Washington, D.C., last fall and holding consensus-based eternal dialogues in the shadow of the Capitol, we were excellent and improving at the skill of deciding which building we would shut down tomorrow or who was going to help make dinner. But saying just a few words out loud, no matter how politely, in a “public” hearing on Capitol Hill would only serve to get us thrown in jail, and often did.

Worse, however, than trying to take slow democracy national may be trying to take national politics local. A town hall in a small town in Vermont can be ruined by following the proper conduct to get yourself on Fox News or CNN. Shouting and name calling don’t usually advance discussions outside of politics. Why should they be helpful within it? Slow Democracy looks at numerous examples from around the country and outside of it in which local governments are finding ways to more deeply involve residents in deliberations and even decision making. The results are not just decisions that carry broader support, but also in many respects better decisions.

Why can this be done locally and not on a larger scale? The right wing fears big government and the left big corporations, the two of which have merged. Both fears are very well placed. More…

A Twenty-First Century American Sacrifice Zone…

In Books on August 21, 2012 at 7:43 am

From TOMDISPATCH
Excerpt

[Available for rent at Mulligan Books... -DS]

The book itself is a unique all-American road trip, part riveting text by Hedges, part comics by Sacco.  It takes the reader through the most extreme “sacrifice zones” in a country that is slowly hollowing itself out.  In this excerpt, the two road warriors have made it to an area of West Virginia where coal mines, dangerous as they were, once supported town life, but more recently have either mechanized or closed down.  This particular community, Gary, West Virginia, writes Hedges, has “fallen into terminal decay.  There are today 861 people in Gary. There were 98,887 in McDowell County in 1950.  Today there are fewer than 23,000.  The countywide per capita average income is $12,585.  The median home value is $30,500.  Gary’s rutted streets are lined by empty clapboard houses with sagging roofs.”

Hedges himself has written a TomDispatch introduction to the excerpt, which follows…

A World of Hillbilly Heroin
The Hollowing Out of America, Up Close and Personal

During the two years Joe Sacco and I reported from the poorest pockets of the United States, areas that have been sacrificed before the altar of unfettered and unregulated capitalism, we found not only decayed and impoverished communities but shattered lives. There comes a moment when the pain and despair of constantly running into a huge wall, of realizing that there is no way out of poverty, crush human beings. Those who best managed to resist and bring some order to their lives almost always turned to religion and in that faith many found the power to resist and even rebel.

On the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota, where our book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt opens, and where the average male has a life expectancy of 48 years, the lowest in the western hemisphere outside of Haiti, those who endured the long night of oppression found solace in traditional sweat lodge rituals, the Lakota language and cosmology, and the powerful four-day Sun Dance which I attended, where dancers fast and make small flesh offerings.

In Camden, New Jersey, it was the power and cohesiveness of the African-American Church.  More…

Wendell Berry: Letter to Wes Jackson…

In Books on August 3, 2012 at 6:44 am

From WENDELL BERRY
Home Economics (1982)

[This evening, August 3rd, will be our second First Friday of Neighbors Reading at Mulligan Books downtown Ukiah, 6-7pm. We share favorite passages from favorite books around topics of community, transition, resilience, or anything else, as part of the second semester of Mendo Free Skool. We video the readings for Community TV and invite your participation. I will be reading from one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry... passages from an essay The Family Farm, from his book Home Economics. What follows is the opening essay from that book... -DS]

Dear Wes,

I want to try to complete the thought about “randomness” that I was working on when we talked the other day.

The Hans Jenny paragraph that started me off is the last one on page twenty-one of The Soil Resource:

More…

Ebooks vs. Paper Books…

In Books on August 2, 2012 at 7:14 am

From greengeekgirl
Insatiable Booksluts

I have to admit that, when the Kindle first came out, I was one of those snooty assholes who did everything I could to antagonize the people I knew who owned them. (Me? Antagonize people? Surely not.) “I like books,” I sniffed, looking solidly down my nose. “I don’t want to read on a device. I want the feel of paper, blah blah blah.”

In my defense, the people I antagonized started scuffles just as often. “My Kindle is environmentally friendly. Look at those loads of paper you’re wasting! You’re helping deplete the ozone! And it’s so handy. I can take an entire library with me anywhere, blah blah blah.”

Several years passed, and I remained firmly in the treebook camp. Until I bought a Kindle. Stars help me, I love my Kindle. I love it so much. I even prefer to read on my Kindle; still, I do enjoy reading paper books, too. I got a really lovely copy of a book from Two Dollar Radio that’s deckle-edged and fairly swoon-worthy…

See complete article here
~~

Henry Miller on Reading, Influence, and What’s Wrong with Education…

In Books on August 2, 2012 at 6:50 am

From MARIA POPOVA
Brain Pickings

“Our whole theory of education is based on the absurd notion that we must learn to swim on land before tackling the water. It applies to the pursuit of the arts as well as to the pursuit of knowledge.”

 Henry Miller was a notoriously disciplined writer. It comes as no surprise, then — given the relationship between reading and writing, and the importance of learning the parallel skills of both — that he was also a voracious reader, unafraid to acknowledge the borrowing and repurposing of ideas. In The Books in My Life (public library; public domain), originally published in 1952, he offers a singular lens on his approach to reading, using that as a vehicle for a larger meditation on our culture’s relationship not just with books, but with knowledge itself.

Miller’s insights touch on modern concerns More…

How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb…

In Books on August 2, 2012 at 6:34 am

From A. J. JACOBS
NYT

My friend, the writer Andy Borowitz, sent me an e-mail that said: “I had the strangest experience today. I went into Barnes & Noble and saw a book that you didn’t blurb.”

I have a reputation.

I’ve blurbed so many books that they fill a bookcase in my apartment. The exact number? Hard to say, but certainly in the triple digits. I’ve given a workout to adverbs like “tremendously” and “incredibly,” and adjectives like “brilliant” and “fascinating.” I have blurbed memoirs, novels, comic books, children’s books and a half-dozen book proposals. I accidentally used the exact same blurb on two different books.

My blurbing problem got so bad that the New York Times book critic Dwight Garner tweeted, “Half the crap galleys More…

The Green Deserts of Western Civilization…

In Books on July 20, 2012 at 6:00 am

From MASANOBU FUKUOKA
Chelsea Green

[Available at Mulligan Books -DS]

The following commentary is adapted from the posthumously published Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka (Chelsea Green, 2012). Fukuoka was the author of the international bestseller One-Straw Revolution. He died in 2008. Given the recent news about the extended drought facing much of the United States, we thought our readers might want to read Mr. Fukuoka’s deep insight into how Western agricultural practices have helped to create vast deserts across the planet, while on the surface appearing very “green.” In fact, Mr. Fukuoka notes, below the grassy surface, soils are being depleted and drained — becoming deserts under our feet. As you read this, keep in mind that Sowing Seeds in the Desert first appeared in print – in Japanese – in the mid-1990s.

Although the surface of the ground in Europe and the United States appears to be covered with a lovely green, it is only the imitation green of a managed landscape. Beneath the surface, the soil is becoming depleted due to the mistaken agricultural practices of the last two thousand years.

Much of Africa is devoid of vegetation today, while just a few hundred years ago it was covered by deep forests. According to the Statistical Research Bureau in India, the vegetation there More…

Books Set In California and the Pacific Northwest…

In Books on July 19, 2012 at 5:30 am

From BOOK RIOT

From the Redwoods down to San Diego, California is an incredibly diverse state. Start at the coast to do some surfing, and then drive a couple of hours inland for a ski vacation. Don’t shave and live off the land up in Humbolt County before you cruise down the 5 towards the central coast for some wine tasting. Don’t forget to leave time to get stuck in a traffic jam in Los Angeles and max out your credit cards while running into a few celebrities (or getting trampled by paparazzi). Regardless of what you do, be sure to check out some of the books set in California…

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
The White Album by Joan Didion
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger

The region of the Pacific Northwest is not easy to define. Ask two people and you very well might get two answers. For the purpose of this bookish road trip (of the United States), I shaved it down to Washington and Oregon. Whether you’re a Portlandiafan, a Starbucks fanatic, or an REI frequent customer , we know good things come from the Pacific Northwest. In fact, what other region can boast such an eclectic range of achievement? With the ability to boast outdoor sports opportunities, foodie havens, and indie music’s birthplace; this gaming mecca is also home to some of the country’s Greenest cities. Check out some of the literature set in this vibrant corner of the country.

More…

10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them)…

In Books on July 19, 2012 at 5:00 am

From CHARLIE JANE ANDERS
io9

Science fiction and fantasy offer a rich legacy of great books — from Asimov to Pynchon, there are some fantastic, ambitious works of genre fiction out there. But they’re also daunting. So a lot of us just muddle through and pretend to have read these classics — which isn’t that hard, because they’re everywhere, and we’ve heard people talk about them so many times. We SF fans are good at pretending. But these books are classics for a reason — and they’re worth reading.

We asked some of our favorite writers, and they told us the 10 science fiction and fantasy books that everybody pretends to have read — and the reasons why you should read them for real. Here they are, in no particular order.

1) Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson’s 1999 novel features World War II code-breakers and 1997 geeks in a complex, interlocking storyline. More…

Doomsday Seed Banking…

In Books, Seeds on June 28, 2012 at 9:23 pm

20120628-215305.jpg

From JANISSE RAY
The Seed Underground:
A Growing Revolution to Save Food (2012)
Excerpt

When they want you to buy something, they will call you. When they want you to die for profit, they will let you know. So, friends, every day, do something that won’t compute. ~Wendell Berry

In 2008, Norway finished construction of a strange structure that reporters began to call the Doomsday Vault. Norwegians bored a tunnel into a solid-stone mountain in the permafrost on an island some seven hundred miles south of the North Pole and lined it with a meter’s width of reinforced concrete. They, essentially, built a structure to last forever. They built it to withstand just about anything.

Why would Norway and its global partners build such a thing? To answer this question, we have to imagine scenarios that might precipitate the need to replenish foodstuffs globally. Suppose genetic engineering goes wild. Suppose a comet hits the earth. Suppose climate change rearranges agriculture as we currently practice it. Suppose seas rise?

The global seed bank was built to withstand even climate change. The tunnel was positioned high on a mountainside, 430 feet above sea level—130 feet higher than seawater is expected to rise in global warming’s worst-case scenario, even if the polar icecaps melt. Tsunami waters won’t reach it. More…

Being alive is by far your greatest achievement…

In Books on June 21, 2012 at 5:25 am

 

From OLIVER BURKEMAN
The Guardian

For obvious reasons, it’s entirely appropriate that a book entitled The Underachiever’s Manifesto never really became a huge seller. Written by an American doctor named Ray Bennett – not the kind of doctor whom I’d necessarily want if I had a life-threatening illness – it vanished soon after its debut, in 2006. Now, though, its publishers have finally got it together to release it as an ebook in Britain, so you can download it. I mean, if you like. Don’t push yourself. After all, you’re already doing great. As Bennett himself points out, “Being alive is by far your greatest achievement.”

Subtitled The Guide To Accomplishing Little And Feeling Great, Bennett’s short treatise seems at first like another of those jokey-but-unfunny gift books they sold by the tills at Borders, back before Borders itself stopped achieving. But it soon becomes clear there’s more to it. “The achievement lobby is powerful,” he notes early on, “and underachievement is, surprisingly, not as easy as it should be. Our world is so full of unrelenting messages about being the best you can be that it may not even have occurred to you to try for anything less.” Yet “how many careers are coupled with disastrous marriages? How many talented, hard-working people smoke too much [and] exercise too little… How many fitness-crazed [people] tear up their knees running marathons?” Underachievement, the way Bennett uses the term, begins to seem less like an appealing option for the lazy-minded and more like a path to a superior kind of achievement.

Partly, that’s just because moderation’s often best. (Bennett’s “underachiever’s diet” involves avoiding bad fats and keeping treats occasional; his “underachiever’s workout” entails walking, doing something with your upper body and getting enough sleep.) But the deeper point is your life is an enormously complex web More…

Books: Fermentation IS Culture…

In Books on June 14, 2012 at 7:20 am

From CHELSEA GREEN

[An Excerpt from The Art of Fermentation, just out and available now at special discount from Mulligan Books & Seeds, a Chelsea Green bookshop partner... DS]

From Publisher Chelsea Green: Sandor Katz — the nation’s foremost fermentation expert — has written a bible-sized book about his craft. Beyond sauerkraut, bread, and beer, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World takes readers into the outer realms of the theory and practice behind this edgy, traditional approach to food preservation. What follows is an excerpt from Katz’ introduction, but it can also serve as a kind of manifesto More…

15 Thought-Provoking Discussion Questions Every Book Club Should Ask Themselves…

In Books on May 24, 2012 at 5:08 am

From JULIEANNE SMOLINSKI
jezebel.com

Book clubs can be a wonderful way for like-minded people to get together and share their love of literature. Maybe you’re long out of college and miss the academic pleasure of “talking out” a book, or maybe you’d like to get more insights than reading alone can provide. Or maybe you just want an excuse to drink wine and jabber with girlfriends.

Some people have suggested that book clubs are a silly, middle class diversion for the kinds of pretentious bourgie women who want to have high minded discussions about books you buy at an airport so you can read it “before you see the movie.” The ever-reliable Daily Mail has some pretty hairy horror stories about a dark underbelly of mutual trade-paperback enjoyment, one populated by “show offs, drunks, and fibbers.”

To keep your book club on task, and to avoid it devolving into some kind of sycophantic bacchanal of people who buy sweaters on GILT group, try using discussion topics. Many bestsellers come pre-equipped with reader’s guides and discussion questions just for book clubs.

Here are a few that can be adapted to your book club for its specific needs.

1. During the sex scenes in the book, did you picture the other people in the book group also having to read the sex scenes and feel sort of weird about it? Why do you think we have so much trouble acknowledging our friends as sexual beings?

2. Who here owns a TV? Why, or why not?

3. Several people have noted key differences in structure between More…

The Art of Fermentation…

In Books on May 17, 2012 at 5:17 am

[Just arrived at Mulligan Books & Seeds... -DS]

From SHARON ASTYK

Fermentation: To Infinity and Beyond!

I get a lot of books for review, and for the most part, they are wonderful surprises. Because I receive and read so many books, I rarely sit around saying “Hey, where’s my review copy of…X?” Generally I’ve got a giant pile of books that I need to get to anyway, so I’m much more likely to say “Oh, I didn’t realize X was out.” So let us first note that I was so anxious for my review copy of Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation that I actually sent emails to beg for a copy – only to find that UPS had stuffed this book and another in a really weird place and it had been waiting for me for weeks.

Katz’s Wild Fermentation has had pride of place on my (ridiculously extensive, remember i wrote a book about food preservation) shelves of books on food preservation and storage. Not only does it sit there, but I pull it out ALL the TIME (which honestly cannot be said about most of my cookbooks) and after years of looking at it, still find new ideas. So to say I was excited to receive The Art of Fermentation, three times the size, hardcover and unbelievably comprehensive was an understatement. More…

Book Review: Blue Nights — Joan Didion

In Books on May 9, 2012 at 6:05 am

From JOHN BANVILLE
NYT

Somewhere in his published diaries the playwright Alan Bennett observes that when misfortune befalls a writer the effect of it is in a small but significant measure ameliorated by the fact that the experience, no matter how dire, can be turned into material, into something to write about. Thus Joan Didion, after her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died suddenly of a heart attack on Dec. 30, 2003, made out of her bereavement a remarkable book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which became an international success, speaking directly as it must have not only to those who themselves had been recently bereaved, but to hundreds of thousands of readers wishing to know what it feels like to lose a loved one, and how they might themselves prepare for the inevitable losses that life sooner or later will cause us all to suffer.

Now Didion has written a companion piece to that book. “Blue Nights” is an account of the death, in 2005, of her and Dunne’s adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, and more specifically, of Didion’s struggle, as a mother and a writer, to cope with this second assault upon her emotional and, indeed, physical resources. The new book, no less than its predecessor, is honest, unflinching, necessarily solipsistic and, in the way of these things, self-lacerating: Did she do her duty by her daughter, did she nurture her, protect her, care for her, as a mother should? Did she, in a word, love her enough? These are the kinds of questions a survivor — the relict, as the old word has it — will put to herself, cannot avoid putting to herself; questions all the more terrible in that there is no possibility of finding an answer to them. As Didion says, “What is lost is already behind the locked doors.”

Throughout her career, in her novels and especially in her journalism, Didion has been a connoisseur of catastrophe. Early on she forged — ambiguous word — a style for dealing with the world’s dreads and disasters, a style that has been much admired and much imitated. Her tone, measured yet distraught, is that of a witness who has journeyed, consciously if not willingly, to the heart of private and, more momentously, public horror in order to bring us back the bad news. More…

Book Review: Some Assembly Required — Anne Lamott

In Books on May 9, 2012 at 6:00 am

From ALICE EVANS
OregonLive

As an about-to-be first-time grandmother myself, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Anne Lamott’s latest book, knowing I’d be treated to some great laughs delivered with warmth and authenticity by a quirky holy woman who likes to share her wild journey with the rest of us. I was not disappointed.

In her usual reverent but irreverent way, Lamott describes the trials, triumphs and joys of becoming a grandmother. This journal-style memoir includes interviews and emails from new father Sam Lamott, the 20-year-old son she raised alone as a single mother. Many of you may remember that Lamott wrote a rollicking memoir about the first year of Sam’s life, “Operating Instructions,” which became a best-seller in 1993.

Written in much the same tone, “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son” includes descriptions of grandson Jax that possess a slapstick quality.

But there’s frequently a self-deprecating bite to this humor, a reminder of where Lamott has been: “Jax drinks from his bottle like a wino with a bottle of Night Train. His tongue lolls out when he gets a good hit, and then he starts sucking fiercely again. According to Sam, he’s saying, ‘All I need is one more slug of that, baby. Just to take the edge off.’”

Lamott never seems reticent to admit her own struggles with alcohol and drugs. Sober now for two-and-a-half decades, she still has to work at it, and humor is one of her great tools. But so is faith. A kind of leftist radical born-again Christian, Lamott shares her faith in such a matter-of-fact way that really, I want to kiss her for it. She shows us how she lives in community, how she works at building and keeping the support of her tribal circle of friends, family, priests, advisers and church brethren. She freely expresses her More…

Book Review: Imagine — How Creativity Works — Jonah Lehrer

In Books on May 9, 2012 at 5:47 am

From MICHAEL S. ROTH
Washington Post

Not many writers can make plausible links among musicians Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma and David Byrne, animators at Pixar, neuroscientists at MIT, an amateur bartender in New York, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and Israeli army reservists. Not many reporters do research about an expert surfer who has Asperger’s, information theorists, industrial psychologists and artists. But Jonah Lehrer is such a writer-reporter, who weaves compelling and surprising connections based on detailed investigation and deep understanding. He says that working memory is an essential tool of the imagination, and his book is an excellent example of how a dynamic storehouse of captivating information feeds creative thinking and writing.

Lehrer begins with the story of a pop-culture breakthrough, the artistic reinvigoration that Dylan experienced when he wrote “Like a Rolling Stone.” Dylan was finishing a grueling tour schedule that had left him increasingly dissatisfied with making music. He decided to leave behind the madness of celebrity culture and the repetitive demands of pop performance. But once he was ensconced in Woodstock, N.Y., once he decided to stop trying to write songs, the great song came: “It’s like a ghost is writing a song,” he said. “It gives you the song and it goes away. You don’t know what it means.” Lehrer adds, “Once the ghost arrived, all Dylan wanted to do was get out of the way.”

Many of the stories that Lehrer recounts in the first few chapters stress the benefits of paying attention to internal mental processes that seem to come from out of the blue. We can learn to pay attention to our daydreams, to the thoughts or fantasies that seem nonsensical. Sometimes this attention must be very light, so that the stream of ideas and emotions flows, as when Ma feels his way into a new piece of music. Sometimes the attention must be very great, as when W.H. Auden (assisted by Benzedrine) focused on getting the words in a poem exactly right. More…

Book Review: Farmers of Forty Centuries…

In Around the web, Books on April 6, 2012 at 7:40 am

farmerscover

From STUART BRAMHALL
The Most Revolutionary Act

I don’t typically review (or read) 100 year old books. Farmers of Forty Centuries is an important exception. It has become a classic of the permaculture/sustainable economics movement for several reasons. First, it dispels the myth that fossil fuel-free agriculture will produce much lower yields than industrial farming. Without access to oil and natural-gas based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, agriculture will be much more labor-intensive. However with global population at more than seven billion (as of last October), the world seems to have no shortage of human labor. Second, Farmers of Forty Centuries paints a detailed picture of tried and true regional models of food, fuel, and construction materials production, as well as regional water and human waste management. Third, it provides detailed descriptions, almost in cookbook fashion, of a broad range of permaculture and terraquaculture* techniques. As a backyard organic gardener and member of the lawn liberation movement, I have found it really easy to incorporate a number of the techniques King describes into my routine. I was also intrigued to see Charles Eisenstein cite King’s book in Sacred Economics (2011 Evolver Editions), supporting his argument that more intensive production techniques could easily produce the same or better yields as current factory farms.

Briefly, Farmers of Forty Centuries describes the voyage agronomist and former US Department of Agriculture official Franklin Hiram King made to to China, Korea and Japan in the early 1900s. The purpose of his trip was to study how the extremely dense populations of the Far East could produce massive amounts of food century after century without depleting their soils. What he discovered was a highly sophisticated system More…

Buttermilk Biscuits and Tomato Gravy [Organic Version]…

In Around the web, Books, Food on April 5, 2012 at 6:34 am


jackskillet.jpg

From Jack’s Skillet

[My all-time favorite cookbook for the writing, not just for the recipes. Met the author years ago at a bookstore in Santa Fe. Make all ingredients from local, organic farmers when possible and use fresh tomatoes for the most wholesome meal - DS]

FIRST get your biscuits in the oven. You can make the gravy while they rise, and it will be hot and ready when they are. Biscuits are easy. Just remember the two-to-one rules:

You can make perfect, wonderful biscuits nearly every time if you remember three sets of two-to-one rations. Here they are:

Use 2 For every 1

Teaspoons of baking powder……. Cup of flour
Tablespoons of shortening……….. Cup of flour
Cups of flour……………………………. Cup of liquid

Biscuits are easy. Just remember the two-to-one rules:

You can make perfect, wonderful biscuits nearly every time if you remember three sets of two-to-one rations. Here they are:

Use 2 For every 1

Teaspoons of baking powder……. Cup of flour
Tablespoons of shortening……….. Cup of flour
Cups of flour……………………………. Cup of liquid

Two cups of flour will make six to nine fairly large biscuits, so let’s assume those are the proportions you’re working with. For that amount of flour, according to the rules, you’ll need four teaspoons baking powder. You’ll also need a pinch of salt and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, not powder–really, that’s all, a quarter teaspoon. More…

Best of Joe Bageant: Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball…

In Around the web, Books on April 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

From KEN SMITH
SmirkingChimp.com

[Joe's website still alive here. -DS]

This is the introduction to Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball: The Best of Joe Bageant. It includes 25 of Joe’s essays published online from 2004 through 2010.

 “I’m so damn average that what I write resonates with people”, Joe Bageant once told an interviewer in explaining how he had gained a global following for his essays published on the web. In 2004, at the age of 58, Joe sensed that the Internet could give him editorial freedom. Without gatekeepers, he began writing about what he was really thinking, and then submitted his essays to left-of-center websites.

Joe Bageant died in March 2011, having written two books, and 78 essays that were posted on his own website and also on many other sites. The 25 essays reproduced in this book were first published on the web. I’ve selected them based on many emails from readers, web traffic counts, and specific suggestions from his online colleagues. They appear here as Joe wrote them, apart from copyediting and light corrections agreed to between me and his book editor, Henry Rosenbloom, the publisher at Australia’s Scribe Publications.

Joe began writing for various publications in his twenties. He once told me how happy and proud he was when he sold his first article to the Colorado Daily, unashamedly recalling how he got tears in his eyes as he looked at a check for $5. It was only five dollars, but it was proof that he had become a professional writer. Joe freelanced articles for a dozen years More…

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