Books

Art, Independence and Spirit – Van Gogh, Brenda Ueland


v

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

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy…



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

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


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…


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.

A Twenty-First Century American Sacrifice Zone…


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. 

Wendell Berry: Letter to Wes Jackson…


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:

Ebooks vs. Paper Books…


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…


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

How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb…


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

The Green Deserts of Western Civilization…


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

Books Set In California and the Pacific Northwest…


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.

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


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.

Doomsday Seed Banking…


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.

Being alive is by far your greatest achievement…


 

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

Books: Fermentation IS Culture…


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

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


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

The Art of Fermentation…


[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.

Book Review: Blue Nights — Joan Didion


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.

Book Review: Some Assembly Required — Anne Lamott


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

Book Review: Imagine — How Creativity Works — Jonah Lehrer


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.

Book Review: Farmers of Forty Centuries…


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

Buttermilk Biscuits and Tomato Gravy [Organic Version]…



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.

Best of Joe Bageant: Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball…


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

Sacred Economics…


The story of our separation from each other and from nature is becoming obsolete, is no longer true, is generating crises that are unsolvable… At each crisis moment we have a collective choice: do we give up the game and join the people, or do we hold on even tighter? It’s up to us to determine at what point this wakeup will happen…

You can visit the Sacred Economics homepage here.

Introduction

The purpose of this book is to make money and human economy as sacred as everything else in the universe.

Today we associate money with the profane, and for good reason. If anything is sacred in this world, it is surely not money. Money seems to be the enemy of our better instincts, as is clear every time the thought “I can’t afford to” blocks an impulse toward kindness or generosity. Money seems to be the enemy of beauty, as the disparaging term “a sellout” demonstrates. Money seems to be the enemy of every worthy social and political reform, as corporate power steers legislation toward the aggrandizement of its own profits. Money seems to be destroying the earth, as we pillage the oceans, the forests, the soil, and every species to feed a greed that knows no end.

From at least the time that Jesus threw the money changers from the temple, we have sensed that there is something unholy about money. When politicians seek money instead of the public good, we call them corrupt. Adjectives like “dirty” and “filthy” naturally describe money. Monks are supposed to have little to do with it: “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

At the same time, no one can deny that money has a mysterious, magical quality as well, the power to alter human behavior and coordinate human activity. From ancient times thinkers have marveled at the ability of a mere mark to confer this power upon a disk of metal or slip of paper. Unfortunately, looking at the world around us, it is hard to avoid concluding that the magic of money is an evil magic.

Obviously, if we are to make money into something sacred, nothing less than a wholesale revolution in money will suffice, a transformation of its essential nature. It is not merely our attitudes about money that must change, as some self-help gurus would have us believe; rather, we will create new kinds of money

Triumph of the Generalists…


From SHARON ASTYK
Casaubon’s Book

[As Peak Oil takes hold and energy prices rise, the many years of centralization, consolidation, and specialization will begin to reverse course and erode. The unfortunate “dumb farmer” phrase, blaspheming generalists, that I wrote about the other day, will be replaced with “just a specialist”. The generalists’ smarts and many skills required to garden, farm, survive and prosper in the future will once again take their rightful place of honor in our communities. Oh, yeah… and good luck referencing these books on your Kindle, punk… -DS]

I admit it, I’m a generalist in a world of specialists, and I always have been. Looking back on my career history, for example, I see the way I attempted to make the academic model of specialization adapt to my own taste for generalism – my doctoral project was a little bit insane, integrating demography, history, textual analysis and half a dozen other disciplines across a 250 year timeline – just the sort of thing advisers hate to see. The polite word was “ambitious” but “nuts” is probably more accurate. As you can probably guess from the title of this blog (for those who haven’t read George Eliiot, Casaubon is trying to write the ultimate unified theory of everything – and failing miserably), both the joys and dangers of generalism are something I try and keep in mind.

Having left academia behind, it is perhaps natural that I would find myself a career as a generalist- as a writer covering a wide range of subjects and as a farmer, the ultimate generalist. Agriculture requires a wide-ranging set of skills vaster than almost any field I can imagine, and while one becomes deeply expert in some parts of the work, it is still necessary, even imperative, to constantly be gaining some superficial understanding of a host of new things.

The generalist is jack of many trades, but master of few. That’s not a criticism. Being good enough at things is often sufficient for most of a life – particularly an agricultural life. I don’t need to be able to handle the most complex medical crises

A deep, complex garden book that is fun to read…


From SHARON ASTYK
casaubonsbook

There are a lot of gardening books out there, and whenever anyone asks me for my favorite ones, I find myself struggling to make a list. There are three rules about garden books to remember.

1. All garden books are local to one degree or another, unless they are very general. That is, all garden books are fundamentally about the experience of gardeners in particular places and in particular circumstances. Beyond basic books, the best garden books are by authors who remember this and try and connect what they have done with others, while also acknowledging the limits of their experience. Bad garden books become prescriptive “no one should use mulch” or “everyone should use mulch” or whatever because their experience with mulch is deemed to be universal.

2. There is a difficult middle-space gap in garden writing between books that are written for the absolute beginner (many) and speak in such general terms that after you’ve mastered the basics, you don’t really need to read more of them, and the technical research papers that often present new research or ideas. By this I mean that the experienced, engaged gardener who doesn’t need to read another basic explanation of how soil fertility works or how to start seeds leaves them with little truly new, exciting and creative to read. The papers can be useful and inspiring, but they are rarely readable or entertaining, the general books may be fond and familiar material, but one goes back to them as reference, and there are only a few dozens of good books written for the expert gardener who wants to learn something new.

Farmers talk about the books that inspire them…


From CYNTHIA SALAYSAY
Civil Eats

Scores of books depict farms as little slices of heaven on earth, where venison is smoked and butter is churned, and things seem perfect. But today’s farmers are far from unrealistic dreamers, longing for a Little House on the Prairie-esque pastoral ideal. They’re socially conscious doers. And when asked about books that inspire them, they cite writings that are practical, at times poetic, and that beckon them to rescue the land.

Here are some of the books that farmers are reading and getting inspiration from today.

The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry. “I had spent  seven or so years of my life as a ‘punk’ growing up in the the central NJ suburbs of NYC, disgruntled and disillusioned and looking for real meaning and ways to be in the world, and [Berry] was someone seemingly so disgruntled and disillusioned, yet incredibly intelligent and coherent, with a posited solution of sorts…. Challenges [were] laid forth to take full responsibility for our lives and to truly push against what our culture is feeding us, to move towards a society built around community, equality, a new free culture, and a cooperative economy in which we all work satisfying jobs in support of each other; ideals I cannot imagine any human being would deface. Farming could embrace these challenges and reconnect us with the land and each other like no other, I was convinced.” — Anthony Mecca, Great Song Farm

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. “I read The Good Earth when I was a child, I think I was ten or eleven. I read it again in my 20s, and again in my 30s…. It’s an inspiring novel about building a dream, perseverance. I think the best line is at the end of the novel when it says, ‘without land, you’re nothing.’ It’s a quote my father and mother used to repeat to us kids all the time. So that book always meant something for many reasons.” — Alexis Koefoed, Soul Food Farm

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. “I read it as a freshman in college. This was kind of a critical treatise

40 Inspiring Quotes About Reading


Mark Twain

From FLAVORWIRE

December is one of our favorite months to curl up and read. If you need a little extra inspiration in this most hectic of months, however, never fear. To spur you on, we’ve collected a few inspiring quotes about reading by some people who read quite a lot — the authors themselves. Click through to read forty of our favorite quotes from writers about books and reading, and let us know if we’ve missed any of your own favorite inspirational declarations in the comments!

“When I get a little money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” — Erasmus

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” — Philip Pullman

“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.” — Sherman Alexie

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

Book Review: The Town That Food Saved


the town that food saved book cover

From DAN SHAPLEY
The Daily Green 

A portrait of Hardwick, Vt., which may be unique in its efforts to develop a new kind of local food system.

I wanted to read The Town that Food Saved because I grew up and live in New York’s Hudson Valley, where small-scale farming has always been a part of the fabric of life…

The book tells the story of Hardwick, Vt., a small town that the modern U.S. economy basically forgot about after its days as a center of granite quarrying ended. An influx of Canadian farmers, followed by a wave of back-to-the-land countercultural types helped maintain a local farm economy while downtown decayed into a familiar rust belt shell of itself: a strip club, a liquor store, a supermarket and a lot of abandoned buildings. Then along comes, along with a wave of wealthy second-home owners seeking the bucolic country life, a fresh crop of farmers and “agripreneurs”: Young, educated and – in some key cases – as well-suited to the world of PR as to the world of farming. Buzz builds about how the town is redefining a local food system in opposition to the consolidated

Book Review: 1Q84 — Murakami’s Dreamy Return



From MALCOLM JONES
The Daily Beast

[…] Not all of his books are equally good, but they all flow unmistakably from the same pen. As a result, once you get hooked on him, you’ll willingly read whatever he produces. (I’ve dreamed of having something like a subscription to his work—he could just send them along when they’re ready and bill my account.) His vision is unique enough, and pure enough to propel you through even those books of his which do not quite work (South of the Border, West of the SunSputnik Sweetheart) and he is so good at several things that you forgive his few if not insignificant shortcomings. All of these qualities are showcased in his latest novel,  1Q84  (at 944 pages, how could it not include them all?). This the first really successful epic-sized novel Murakami has delivered since his dazzling The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in 1997, and it is worth the wait.

Murakami paces a story as well as any writer alive. He knows how to tell a love story without getting cute. He understands how to blend realism and fantasy (magical realism if you want to get all literary about it) in just the right proportions. And he has a knack for writing about everyday matters—fixing dinner, going for a walk—in such a way that the events at hand, no matter how mundane, are never boring. Indeed, there is something comforting, even reassuring, about watching a Murakami character dice vegetables for dinner.

Most impressive, he knows how to inject the logic and atmosphere of dreams into his fiction without becoming coy or vague. He’s Kafka-esque to the extent that he’s not interested in why or how a man may have turned into an insect overnight, but in how the man deals with his new situation. And like Beckett, he furnishes his dreamscapes with a mere handful of carefully chosen props—a tree, a streetlight

The first review of ‘The Transition Companion’


From TRANSITION CULTURE

Here is a review of ‘The Transition Companion’ by Maddy Harland from the new edition of Permaculture Magazine.  You can download a pdf of the page on which it appears here.

Transition is now a worldwide grassroots movement that looks climate change and peak oil squarely in the face and dismisses the utter impossibility of endless economic growth on a planet of finite resources. It offers community based solutions to help people in villages, towns and cities adapt to the inevitable challenges of the oncoming reality of profound economic and social change unflinchingly and with a good degree of humility and good cheer. It’s a collection of recipes for building community, environmental regeneration, relocalised economies and so much more.

Transition emerged from an energy descent plan process during an in-depth permaculture design course taught by Rob Hopkins at Kinsale Further Education College in the early 2000s and has since spread around the world. Rob’s first book, The Transition Handbook (2008), introduced the concept and explained how to set up Transition initiatives. It went down a storm. Other titles followed in the series – on local food, money, planning a Transition ‘timeline’, and how to influence local government with these ideas – by a variety of authors working with Rob and the other co-founders of the movement. Almost a decade of experimentation unfolded. This new volume offers stories of Transition initiatives from all over the world, plus practical Transition Tools for starting, and perhaps more critically, maintaining a Transition initiative. It’s an impressive collection of ideas and praxis.

I read so many books about peak oil, the state of the world, and environmental degradation that I often glaze over. This one is different. It has authority born from practical experience, a musculature that is immediately engaging, even reassuring. It feels mature. The book is not afraid to catalogue the limitations and failures, even celebrate them, as well as the successes. I like the way the book was crowd sourced. Rob blogged on each Transition Tool and invited feedback and ideas. The participatory aspect brings it alive: here is more than one visionary man’s voice but a whole chorus of voices. There’s a good degree of futurecasting within its pages: stories from a future that has embraced transition, some not without their humour. As computer scientist, Alan Kay said, “The best way to invent the future is to predict it.” That’s exactly what this book aims to do.

Book Review: Hell No! Fighting for Americans’ Right to Dissent


From MANDY VAN DEVEN
AlterNet

There is a certain circular logic of the hawkish variety that goes a little something like this: In order for Americans to protect our freedoms from terrorist threats to our security, we have to give up certain liberties until we reach a time of absolute safety. Well, I hate to break it to these folks, but there has never been a time in American history when citizens haven’t grappled with one security threat or another, and when the populous cedes power to elected leaders, history shows it’s not likely to be given back without a fight.

In Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America, Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) take the reader through a brief chronicle of American protest and the U.S. government’s (legal and illegal) disruption of dissent. They examine the detrimental impact that criminalizing lawful political activity has had on social movements and provide concrete guidance for activists who engage in acts of resistance. The authors make clear the need for Americans to reclaim their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and speak without fear of impediment or reprisal, and they reveal the myriad ways individuals are being punished for enacting the ideals of our democratic nation…

Full review here
~~

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides


From LAURA MILLER
Salon

[The Marriage Plot available for rent $2/week from Mulligan Books. -DS]

In an early chapter of Jeffrey Eugenides’ long-awaited third novel, The Marriage Plot, one of the three main characters, Brown University undergraduate Madeleine Hanna, seeks relief from the thorny cogitations of her semiotics class by reading Edith Wharton and George Eliot. It’s the early 1980s, and such indulgences are under attack. “Reading a novel after reading semiotic theory was like jogging empty-handed after jogging with hand weights,” Madeleine thinks. “How wonderful it was when one sentence followed logically from the sentence before! What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative!”

Exquisite guilt and wicked enjoyment are more or less what Eugenides intends the readers of The Marriage Plot to experience, too. Whether they actually feel guilty or wicked while reading the book will probably depend on how well-developed their intellectual superegos are. If they’ve convinced themselves

Michael Moore Bemoans 21st Century Capitalism



From AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Via The Raw Story

[Here Comes Trouble available for rent $2/week at Mulligan Books – DS]

Michael Moore, clad in customary baseball cap, a black T-shirt, baggy trousers and white sneakers, strolled into the neo-Gothic splendor of Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall and began to preach.

“We as Americans have allowed a very small group of people to be highly skilled practitioners of one of the seven deadly sins,” he told his youthful and multinational audience on Friday, “and that sin

Making Books and Bookmarks [Books]


Making Books video series here

I’ve been making books in schools, libraries, and with my family for twenty years. My primary goal is always to make it easy and fun. It is my pleasure and delight to share what I have learned and bring the joy of making books to you.

Includes:

· Bookmark Book
· Gingerbread House Accordian Book
· Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet
· Books Around The World
· Step Book
· Word-A-Day Journal
· Accordion Book
· Stick and Elastic Book
· Hot Dog Booklet
~~

The Flight From Reason


Susan Jacoby talks with Bill Moyer. Watch here. Here’s an excerpt:

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, why is it we’re so unwilling to give, as you say, a hearing to contradictory viewpoints? Or to imagine that we might learn something from someone who disagrees with us?

SUSAN JACOBY: Well, I think part of it is part of a larger thing that is making our culture dumber. We have, really, over the past 40 years, gotten shorter and shorter and shorter attention spans. One of the most important studies I’ve found, and I’ve put in this chapter, they call it Infantainment– on this book. It’s by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And they’ve found that children under six spend two hours a day watching television and video on average. But only 39 minutes a day being read to by their parents.

Well, you don’t need a scientific study to know that if you’re not read to by your parents, if most of your entertainment when you’re in those very formative years is looking at a screen, you value what you do. And I don’t see how people can learn to concentrate and read if they watch television when they’re very young as opposed to having their parents read to them. The fact is when you’re watching television, whether it’s an infant or you or I, or staring glazedly at a video screen, you’re not doing something else.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you, Susan, that half of American adults believe in ghosts? Now I take these from your book. One-third believe in astrology. Three quarters believe in angels. And four-fifths believe in miracles.