Entries in books (12)


Think THIS will work on my wife?

"The books are there not just because I esteem them and need to look things up, but also because they represent an external hard drive for my mind. That is, running my eye down the rows will refresh my memory, reframe my thoughts, alert me to counterexamples and lacunae in my lines of argument." Click.


Verlyn Klinkenborg on Elizabeth Kolbert

Nine things I underlined in what he wrote in the new New York Review of Books about The Sixth Extinction:

1. At least half the tortoises and turtles, a third of the amphibians, a quarter of the mammals, and an eighth of the birds on this planet face a risk of extinction in the near future.

2. The last time species died out as fast as they're doing now was 65 million years ago ...

3. There are many different immediate causes for the different extinctions occurring now -- deforestation, destruction and fragmentation of habitat, rising temperatures, increasing acidity in the oceans, the feverish global traffic that has helped spread chytrid fungi around the world, destroying amphibian populations wherever it's found. But all these causes can be resolved into one: the ordinary, daily, economic activity of our species at this point in its history.

4. "It doesn't much matter whether people care or don't care," she writes. "What matters is that people change the world."

5. "You don't understand how interdependent species are until it all unravels."

6. Every species that has ever existed on this planet is or was a successful experiment in living. Existence is the only measure of success, not pervasiveness or ubiquity or intelligence. Unsuccess would be nothingness. No species is more valuable or meaningful than another, except in the minds of humans, where the balls and strikes are called. The shorthand for one version of this argument is that all life is sacred. But there's something inadequate about that way of putting it. It seems to shift categories in midstream, because saying that life is sacred usually implies a sacred being to warrant the sacredness of all life. Humans love the idea of the sacredness of all life, as long as it applies chiefly to humans and as long as we ignore all the ways we've demonstrated, historically, that life -- even human life -- isn't sacred at all.

7. That is the measure of our failing, our biotic indecency. The general tendency of our species -- a tendency that seems to be intensifying all the time -- is to decrease biological diversity on this planet.

8. ... we're not only altering earthly existence now. We're also altering the very potential for earthly existence.

9. Near the end of her previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote, "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing."


Bernd Heinrich on death and life

14 things I underlined in Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death, which I read for a piece I'm working on for Charlotte magazine:

1. ... we do not come from dust, nor do we return to dust. We come from life, and we are the conduit into other life.

2. ... as always, some of the most surprising revelations from my observations had nothing to do with what I was originally looking for.

3. Flies smell (with their antennae) and can sense a carcass from about ten miles away.

4. Nicrophorus beetles are presumed to be able to smell a dead mouse from a half-mile away.

5. The use of tools such as rocks for throwing and poles for offense and defense generated a race for the evolution of intelligence in a self-reinforcing spiral, because undoubtedly what was crucial in the hunting game became currency in sexual selection, in the mating game. Early man's nakedness became his strength, and it unlocked the meat locker of ever swifter and larger prey. The larger the prey that he killed, the greater the social accolade. Then as now and as with the other predators, the thrill of the hunt was the proximate mechanism of success.

6. A brain is a huge energy sink: ours eats up an estimated twenty percent of our calories, and in most animals even a one percent energy saving is a selective advantage. Any extra energy cost would be quickly selected out unless it conferred a huge selective advantage; no species will develop a large brain unless it can afford to feed it reliably.

7. Nowhere in a natural ecosystem is the task of carcass creation and disposal more out in the open to human eyes than in the Serengeti region of East Africa, an intact ecosystem with a virtually Ice Age fauna. Six species of vultures live there. Some 12 million kilograms (the weight of about 200,000 men) of soft tissue (meat) per year is available for the vultures in the Serengeti ...

8. We are in a human-generated wave of animal extinctions, and animal undertakers are especially hard hit by it.

9. One of the most damaging practices affecting the undertakers' livelihood may be our deliberate removal of carcasses that have, throughout evolutionary history, been left to return to the earth.

10. Most parts of any domesticated livestock are now cycled only into human consumption, with scraps converted to pet food. Thus we and our pets are vulture stand-ins. But if an animal that is deemed not suitable as food for us dies, we also deem it unsuitable for availability to others. Even the road-killed deer and other animals that the highway department picks off the roads are disposed of by burying. Vultures would do the job better if we let them.

11. In the United States alone, the burials in our 22,500 active cemeteries annually eat up 30 million feet of hardwood lumber, more than 100,000 tons of steel, 1,600 tons of reinforced concrete, and nearly 1 million gallons of embalming fluid.

12. Modern creamation ... is not a ceremony, nor does it respect our home, the biosphere. It is more like a disposal. Vaporizing the body by fire creates emissions of toxic chemicals too numerous to list ...

13. The amount of fossil fuel required to cremate the North American crop of bodies each year has been estimated to equal what an automobile would use in more than eighty round trips to the moon.

14. We deny that we are animals and part of the wheel of life, part of the food chain. We deny that we are part of the feast and seek to remove ourselves from it, even though we kill and consume animals by the billions and permanently remove the life resources for many more. But not one animal is allowed to consume us, even after we are dead.


Yes please


Who wants to move to Iceland?

5 things I underlined in this piece out of from BBC News:

1. Public benches have barcodes so you listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit.

2. "Writers are respected here. They live well. Some even get a salary."

3. "We are a nation of storytellers. When it was dark and cold we had nothing else to do. Thanks to the poetic eddas and medieval sagas, we have always been surrounded by stories. After independence from Denmark in 1944, literature helped define our identity."

4. About now every household gets a book catalogue through the door. They pore over it like a furniture catalogue. Everyone receives books as Christmas presents -- hardback and shrink-wrapped.

5. ... a whole bokaflod of authors.


29 things I underlined ...

... in The Telling Room by Mike Paterniti:

1. ... sangria-colored pinpoints ...

2. A story is time itself, boxed and compressed.

3. "Do you think we could call the woman at the bar again?"

4. Had she said anymore? She'd said anymore! The cheese wasn't made by her husband anymore.

5. But then one night a man answered.

6. What did I want?

7. Perhaps what I'd seen in his cheese was the reflection of an artist who'd taken the rocky, eccentric path, and my slowly drowning self had been buoyed.

8. And then the storyteller adds a footnote like this one, to acknowledge his so-muchedness, to calm with self-consciousness, to create the smokescreen of restraint and perspicacity that really allows him to continue piling it on.

9. "We ate in an ancient way."

10. ... disks of chorizo ...

11. "Pigs need to eat beautiful acorns."

12. He talked about how the impersonal machinery of modernity had destroyed the values and sensitivities, the tenderness and powerful connection that came from living close to the earth.

13. Endurance was one part of being a farmer, as was hope.

14. There were no what ifs or let's sees, just that Iberian blast of confidence (the same that set Spanish galleons sailing to the New World): we will.

15. Before taking a bite, he'd ask the cheese, "Are you the one who'll remember us?"

16. I would soon find out that digression was a national pastime in Castile, that to get to the crux of any matter you had to listen for hours, weeks, months, years. Not a fan of annotations and footnotes, I realized I had no say in the matter. Every story here was littered with footnoes and asides. And even then, after the storyteller concluded his tale -- or, rather, after you'd gathered and assembled the shards of his story from a thousand other digressions -- well, you'd go to the bar and have it immediately undermined by someone else's digressive, heavily annotated account of the same thing.

17. "Consider the chicken," he said. "Today we have industrialized animals. A chicken needs to be cheap to be competitive in the marketplace. So the industrial chicken has a life that lasts forty-two days between its hatching and its sacrifice. They flood the chicken with twenty-three hours of light a day so that the chicken constantly feeds, and then they give it one hour of rest. They do this for six weeks, then the chickens are put on a conveyor belt and either gassed or have their heads chopped off and are immediately dumped in scalding water, after which the dead body is sent to market.

"On the other hand, the traditional chicken used to take one and a half years from hatching to sacrifice. You would see the chicken every day and speak to her, and you would share with her certain aspects of your own life. The chicken was your friend; she understood you. You loved each other. She knew she was going to have a happy life and tried to give you her best while you gave her yours. She knew her destiny, that eventually she would make a gift of her life to feed your family. But you honored each other. The chicken lived at home with you, and you ate her at home. It was divinity, not machines."

18. But add time, and the plot thickens.

19. "The real trouble," he said, "started with the new factory."

20. Yes -- it was a time traveler's cheese.

21. No, if you squinted a little bit, maybe what seemed like wasted time was, in fact, true happiness.

22. He was a conduit to the past in a digitized time when the past had become somewhat irrelevant.

23. ... a potpurri of expended things.

24. ... Tabasco dash of truth serum ...

25. ... fluttering in the muslin wings of his oblivious dreams.

26. Huh-huh-huh. Huh-huh-huh.

27. ... hobbledehoy.

28. It turned out that there was a very long list of these sorts of stories, and these often contained what Benjamin called "the nature of every real story," the inclusion, whether "openly or covertly," of "something useful," be it a moral or some shred of wisdom, assistance, or warmth. Some way of saying, "History repeats." And: "You're going to be all right."

29. The end, not unexpectedly, was another beginning.


Jonathan Galassi in NY Mag

Everything is different — except for publishing itself: getting hold of an amazing author, working to make his or her book the best and best-looking it can be, telling the world. In Kachka's version, publishing today is all about "marketing chutzpah." Hasn't it always been? Click.


E-book vs. P-book

James Surowiecki in the new New Yorker:

For many people, as a number of studies show, reading is a genuinely tactile experience—how a book feels and looks has a material impact on how we feel about reading. This isn’t necessarily Luddism or nostalgia. The truth is that the book is an exceptionally good piece of technology—easy to read, portable, durable, and inexpensive. Unlike the phase-change move toward digital that we saw in music, the transition to e-books is going to be slow; coexistence is more likely than conquest. The book isn’t obsolete.