This was written by my current employer, environmentalist and economist Dr. Eban Goodstein, at Lewis and Clark College. He founded the non-profit projThis was written by my current employer, environmentalist and economist Dr. Eban Goodstein, at Lewis and Clark College. He founded the non-profit project Focus the Nation, now called the National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions (http://nationalteachin.org). We're in the process of organizing a national educational project to raise awareness about the current climate crisis; our intention is to spark a coherent social movement that will both participate in direct actions and demand policy changes from the bottom up.
Reading about global warming is not fun. It's often redundant, pessimistic, relentlessly quantitative, and in general, difficult to relate to. All of these things combine with the overall silence of our media on the issue and our own senses of powerlessness, ultimately resulting in despair, which transmutes quickly into indifference or apathy.
What I like about Eban's book is that he clearly came to his own conviction regarding the need for action from a very personal place. He understands that it isn't always economics or fear that motivate people, although they are common tactics in the short term. People can also be moved by their senses of love, or experience, or even morality - and it is from this direction that he brings the reader to his own place of urgency. I think a lot of people that to this point remain unconvinced, or at the very least unmotivated to act on the issue of climate change, may find a voice here that they can relate to....more
Like so many others in these days since the controversial awarding of the Nobel prize to Doris Lessing, I am reading The Golden Notebook. I read anothLike so many others in these days since the controversial awarding of the Nobel prize to Doris Lessing, I am reading The Golden Notebook. I read another novel of hers last month, The Sweetest Dream, and I have to admit, I am not wild about her prose. I enjoy it – I smile bitterly along with thousands of others at the fact that apparently all one must do to receive such honors is to treat women as if they were important and worth thinking about with the same rigor we examine male motives and introspection. Yet she has habits that annoy me: she makes me wait for physical details – I learn twenty pages in to a conversation that this man is not the chiseled figure I’d wrought from her silence, but rather a stout one with a round face and obstinate brow. I struggle to situate the speakers in a physical plane. She moves them with their dialogue and not their space; is she still on the couch, or isn’t she? I long for setting. I know Lessing is remarkably diverse, writing everything from accidental feminism to science fiction, and yet to me I see the same 5 characters entering and exiting rooms with predictable comments. Perhaps this is what she intends – this may very well be the thrust of her point, these types, these thematic repetitions.
Nonetheless, she is doing something in this novel that I find exciting beyond words. I could feel it coming, knowing before sitting down to read that the novel was a simple story divided up between the private, topical, diary-like notebooks of a central character. I could feel the arrival of the shift in voice as if it had knocked on the door of a scene, waiting to be let in. I stopped at the page I was at and leafed forward, looking for it – there is was, three pages later. I read quickly to get there, relieved that the story as it was crafting itself was not so much a narrative thread as it was an excuse for something else, for something, for lack of a better word, more novel. As Lessing herself writes, “...the function of the novel seems to be changing; it has become an outpost of journalism; we read novels for information about areas of life we don’t know...One novel in five hundred or a thousand has the quality a novel should have to try to make it a novel – the quality of philosophy,” (p. 58-9). I could feel the ideas coming, in the form of their own self-conscious doubt.
There is a voice we all have and yet we save. We have public voices, professional voices, voices of lewdness and drunken uninhibited voices, confessional voices, voices used only in bed, quite unrecognizable from those used to direct a taxi or place an order over the phone. We have different voices for when we are resentful or swollen with the false humility of pride. We have voices for children and for the elderly, for the sick or the dangerous or the insane. And sooner or later, other people hear these voices of ours. But there is one that is rarely heard – the diary voice. Already this is disingenuous, because I believe and you well know that, deep down, most diarists write in the hopes that their words will somehow be read, that the things they lack the courage to say aloud will somehow become known, that their undiscovered genius will come to light. Sometimes we make bargains – we agree with Fate to allow our words to find their way to the readers’ eyes posthumously, if need be. Who doesn’t feel misunderstood in her time? Or we find peace in the terrifying ritual of putting words to paper; for the guilty or the tragically unclear, the very act of forming the letters can feel like a death sentence and a liberation. Paper can be crumpled or burnt, marks erased, but writing can never be undone. Once we have written a thing, it seals our commitment even sounder than a spoken vow, for it was once concrete, a solid thing, more than disturbances of air and ear drums. There is a reason why we sign documents as solemn promises of acceptance and disallow many verbal agreements as utterly binding contractual faith. And yet the private performance of journaling brings forth a voice in people that has a bald truth to it, a naked and shivering inability to take an audience into account. Even our diary lies have more meat to them than the most gut-wrenching professional prose, which is always calculated on a certain level for effect.
The shift in Lessing’s work from the novel to the notebook has left me quiet and weeping. In such weakness we reveal such bravery, such moments when something of value is finally uttered between the craft of escapist (and, ultimately, dull,) storytelling. “I am incapable of writing the only kind of novel which interests me:” she writes, as I cry. “- a book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life.” ...more
Linguistic evolution doesn't grab you? Then read it purely for the sections on animal cognition - crows and dolphins and apes...all mind-blowing. DidLinguistic evolution doesn't grab you? Then read it purely for the sections on animal cognition - crows and dolphins and apes...all mind-blowing. Did you know that some orangutans kiss each other goodnight?
Christine Kenneally does a good job of balancing a number of tricky things in this book: she takes concepts that are generally not accessible to lay readers and renders them fresh, exciting, and lucid; she clearly and coolly maps the human interest and petty (or not-so-petty) intellectual conflicts that so unscientifically go into shaping the collective knowledge of academia; she brings out the personal stories of individual researchers to lend depth and perspective to their work; and, she maps nicely both the path already traveled and the possible directions things can take in the future.
This is an ambitious, fascinating book, and I am grateful for the opportunity to read about so many different kinds of language study - from paleoarchaeology and animal communication systems to neurocognition and genetics - in one place. It starts with an interesting question, and then proceeds to wrap together an insightful and honest intellectual history of the various ways people, past and present, have tried to answer it.
If nothing else, I'd like to invite Prof. Kenneally over for tea to talk, and I'd give anything to browse in her library....more
This was a charming two-day read, and a great example of what excellent history masquerading as children's fiction should look like: appealing charactThis was a charming two-day read, and a great example of what excellent history masquerading as children's fiction should look like: appealing characters, a gripping plot that is both engaging and easy to relate to, a wealth of information, and an underlying thread of mystery that is never fully resolved.
I appreciated Gilkerson's use of technical vocabulary - not once does he talk down to his audience or assume they are unable to handle new and unfamiliar words. He uses them naturally and in context, thus allowing readers to either absorb and wonder at fabulous terms like "mizzen," "bumpkin," "quay punt," and a dizzying litany of trivial cannon bits, or send them running to a dictionary and/or encyclopedia with labeled charts - both great options, in my mind.
He also manages to sneak in fascinating morsels of etymology, as with the rumored-excellent smoked pork produced by Tortuga's pig hunters, a delicacy which they called boucan, and the island hunters themselves, the original boucaniers, giving us, in English, both "bacon" and "buccaneer." The English word "jerky" is apparently also an adoption of the Spanish-American charqui, referring to the dried smoked meat that kept indefinitely without refrigeration and so was invaluable as a protein staple for ship-bound sailors. He also clarifies the origin of the phrase Jolly Roger, referring, of course, to the traditional skull and crossbones flag of pirate lore. Originally, pirate flags were often red to symbolize bloodshed and mercilessness, and thus were dubbed the jolie rouge. This slipped easily into a twisted English form, doubling its effect by echoing a folk reference to Old Roger, an alternate name for the Devil.
Lastly, the view of history taken in this text is in stark contrast to the traditional tales of the Dutch East India company and the pat glories of the Age of Exploration. It takes, instead, a critical look at the political power games involved in the onset of the colonial period, and draws into questioning light the rule of state over the realities of human organization. It uses the word "pirate" only carefully and often with irony, and shows great sympathy for anarchist principles, suggesting that the seafaring brotherhoods were, in fact, the first real democracies, as all decisions were based on collective discussions and equal votes, regardless of social standing. A great tidbit of history, and one that points the way for further reading in the author's note at the end.
This one took me several tries to get into. It was recommended by my friend Audrey, always an astute and credible source for good reads, but somethingThis one took me several tries to get into. It was recommended by my friend Audrey, always an astute and credible source for good reads, but something about the first 20 pages turned me off, and turned me off again, and again.
And then, one day, I stuck with it. It took several more to finish, but I was worthless until I did - I even carried it around in my bag to steal a paragraph here and there between innings at baseball games and minutes spent waiting in the car. Riveting, all of it, and beautiful in both form and content.
I went through some of the other readers' commentaries on here, and I can't help thinking that they missed the point. The threads are in the themes, not the minor details. The details (birthmarks, overlapping references, etc.) are there to simply point the way for those who are missing the real text here, the study of the abuse of power, and the ongoing struggle between hope and equality and the destructive forces of economics and hierarchies.
What Mitchell does particularly well is shift voices without leaving the reader to feel abandoned by her guide - in each story and style is the seed of the others, showing not only the author's literary flexibility, but also the universal applicability of his ideas.
In a stellar (and readable) example of interdisciplinary historical research, Davis lays bare the skeleton underlying many of the popular conceptionsIn a stellar (and readable) example of interdisciplinary historical research, Davis lays bare the skeleton underlying many of the popular conceptions regarding the nature of the "Third World" and its economies. Drawing from sources as diverse as scientific accounts of El Nino and La Nina cycles at the turn of the last century, missionary writings, accountancy notes, travelers' journals, newspaper clippings, and other exhaustive primary and secondary works, Davis describes how the British empire, along with other colonial forces, took advantage of periods of what would have been survivable drought in India, China, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Brazil, and used the circumstances of need to crush the local structures of governance and food-sharing networks and create a horror show of poverty, disease, and the starvation deaths of millions upon millions of people, while simultaneously setting the stage for a further century of economic privation and authoritarian control....more
I keep a copy of this around to use in the way some use tarot cards, or willow sticks or coins to throw the Yi Ching. I can open this book to any pageI keep a copy of this around to use in the way some use tarot cards, or willow sticks or coins to throw the Yi Ching. I can open this book to any page, in any mood, with a question or somtimes simply a hollow heart, and there will be the story I need. Each city, each description (whispered to Kublai Khan to tell him of the vastness of his empire, most of which he will neither ever see nor understand...) is like an answer unto itself, a little meditation on a possible life. Some are as long as three or four pages; most are not, covering only the page and a half that offers itself when the spine is cracked, stopping short on the right so you have a place for your thumb.
It never occurred to me to read it straight through, and so I never have. Perhaps it is different that way, although I somehow doubt it.
This is a gorgeous book, a mysterious book, a book full of so many images and ideas and little strange thoughts that it seems like too many truths for one brain to have crafted. It is a pocket jewel. It makes me want to be a better writer, a weirder human, a more beautiful thing. I am grateful that it has no illustrations, as the ones that your mind offers as companions will be far more haunting and correct....more