Wednesday, May 30, 2012

So Sexy So Soon

So Sexy So Soon:  the New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids
© 2008 Diane E. Levine, Jean Kilbourne
226 pages


For me, the filthiest show on television is Toddlers and Tiaras. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned: I'm generally repulsed by the stereotypical idea of 'sexiness' in western culture -- provocative clothes, made-up faces, and posed behavior. What attracts me to a woman is more an internal matter: I like character, strength, and self-respect. Perhaps I dislike the idea of sexiness because it's only about sex, missing the real substance of human relationships altogether. In any case, as objectionable as I find sexiness in general, to see children attempting to invoke it is outright horrifying. Although parents and guardians tend to be protective of their children and have always worried about the declining morality of the younger generation, since time began, surely today's problems are extreme enough to not be dismissed as the simple historical pessimism of the old.  We live in a world in which Victoria's Secret markets g-strings to little girls, where the toys are hookers, and top 40 stations play songs like "I'm Sexy and I Know It". This is a far cry from Aristotle kvetching about rebellious teenagers.  So Sexy So Soon is similar to Consuming Kids in that it examines the effects of advertising upon children. However, it is much more narrowly focused (on premature sexualization) and written with a greater emphasis on helping parents address the problem, primarily through communication.

The authors are not prudes: they acknowledge from the start that human beings are sexual creatures from the moment of our births. There is nothing the matter with sex or children being curious about the differences between men and women: has any generation of tykes not wondered where babies come from, or played the equivalent of "doctor"? The essential point of So Sexy so Soon is that advertisers are using sex to sell products. They're not interested in educating children about sex, let alone guiding them towards sexual responsibility. Their only concern is manipulating children into thinking sexy is a concept they should be concerned about, and to realize it they must buy these products or listen to this music or wear this makeup. So what if kids grow up with warped attitudes toward sex, gender roles, and their own self-worth?  So what if little  children, in the process of trying to emulate adults, start talking about oral sex and grinding against one another?  Sex sells -- even to kids.

Levine and Kilbourne both write with an eye toward helping parents. While moderating the home environment is crucial, they stress communication. At least one of the authors specializes in parent-child communication, and she advocates asking open-ended questions to find out what kids know, and letting them know that if they're confused about the barrage of messages they receive through television, music, and the Internet, that they can express that confusion with an adult without being judged. Children are the victims of premature sexuality, not its creators. Political action is also necessary: marketers and companies must take responsibility, because the tide of garbage they produce in their quest to maximize profits is overwhelming parents, setting their children against them. That tide has been building since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan  deregulated child-targeted advertising. The same agency which allowed the problem to transpire should be held accountable for fixing it.

So Sexy So Soon is of eminent interest to parents; both it and Consuming Kids are eye-opening works that detail the problems of childhood advertising. I would read them together.

Traffic


Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)
© 2008 Tom Vanderbilt
402 pages




 Take a brain adapted to move a bit over a hundred pounds of flesh at speeds under 20 miles per hour, and have it instead try to move several tons of metal through an environment which didn’t exist a hundred years ago, at speeds hitherto unimaginable. What happens? Well, we’ve only had a few decades to see, but so far the introduction of cars as the predominant form of transport has produced interesting results, like congestion and road rage. In Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do,  Tom Vanderbilt examines the psychology of driving, and learns some lessons about being human on the way.

Traffic is a dense book, more a survey than a piece with a specific point to make. There are nine chapters, each with a general theme -- "How Traffic Messes With Our Heads", "Why You're Not as Good a Driver As You Think You Are" -- and content spans the gamut from trivial to potent. Driving is such an expressly different experience than our brains evolved to take in that Vanderbilt believes  we find it difficult to be 'human' behind the wheel. Although driving seems like simply an act of moving around, we're detached from the experience and from each other; drivers can't communicate with one another beyond some simplistic forms of expression (the horn and the finger).  It's also a tremendously complicated procedure: road systems are complex physical objects even without factoring in interacting with hundreds of other drivers, and we are expected to be able to respond to more stimuli per minute than nature would have ever expected to throw our way. On the potent side, this work could help concerned citizens create more sensible transit policies:  there's an entire chapter on how the expansion of roads simply leads to the expansion of congestion. Traffic always swells to match the volume of roads available, so building more roads will only create more congestion. Creating a safer system can happen by making it appear more dangerous, by removing traffic lights, signs, and even road striping.  Humans seem to operate with a particular risk threshold, and when the environment becomes "safer" (thanks to lights, stripes, and so on), we drive more recklessly. This is why roundabouts are safer than four-way cross intersections regulated by traffic lights; when people are forced to take responsibility for themselves and use intelligence to navigate their environment, they pay more attention and accidents fall dramatically.  Counter-intuitive revelations abound in Traffic: bikers may be better off not wearing helmets, because cars take less care when passing a helmeted biker. Often we can arrive at a destination more quickly by slowing down and interrupting globs of congestion.

All told, an interesting book. While it may suffer from the generalized subject, there are some gems in here for  those interested in the subject.

Related:
Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Kay

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Consuming Kids

Consuming Kids: the Hostile Takeover of Childhood
© 2004 Susan Linn
288 pages





To some, children are the joy of our lives; a refreshing source of curiosity, energy, youth, and joy. To others, they are nothing but grist for the mill. In Consuming Kids, child psychologist Susan Linn reveals the scope and consequences of the increasing commercialization of childhood, which effects more than just parents. It is a profoundly disturbing book; were I a parent its revelations would horrify me. But it demands to be read.

Consuming Kids opens at a conference in which children are the focus -- or rather, the target, because this is a marketing conference, where the latest psychological insights into the minds of children are put to good use. "Teenagers are socially anxious; build on that." These marketeers are family scientists as well: they cite a study about the importance of the Nag Factor, wherein the 'pester power' of children is tapped to manipulate parents into taking the kids to a given restaurant or frequenting a particular store. (That same study featured in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, and provoked my interest in this subject.) Linn is a psychologist by profession: she cares for children and is sickened by the way that studies done with good intentions -- to understand children's motivations -- are being perverted to use by companies which essentially profit by targeting vulnerabilities, like the aforementioned anxiety of teenagers or the fact that children cannot tell the difference between an advertisement and a factual program, let alone think critically about the content of said ads.

Linn devotes the bulk of the book to examining the consequences of child-targeting advertising: the promotion of consumerism among children, the idea that things will make them happy; the sinister way that they are conditioned to favor certain brands through cartoon figures and "role model" spokespersons like Ronald McDonald;  the rise of childhood obesity amid the expansion of advertising of candy and processed food to kids;  the use of violence and sex to capture attention; the rise of childhood addiction to alcohol and tobacco,  and the corruption of the public sphere, from PBS to the schoolroom. (The latter section makes this  work of interest to everyone, not just parents.)

I've read other works with a bone to pick with advertising of one kind or another, but I rarely enjoy them and never review them because prior reads have been so sloppily done; they consist mainly of one person idly complaining for paragraph after paragraph. This is certainly not the case with Linn, who tempers her passion with professionalism and focus. Her introduction immediately shares her sense of unease with the reader, and then she develops her many substantial criticisms. Hers is a convincing argument, not a rant, and it ends with impressive sections evaluating what our response should be. After examining advertising's relationship to free speech, she then points out that this is a particularly nonpartisan issue. It doesn't fit neatly into a party box: this kind of marketing has negative consequences for everyone save the firms targeting the kiddies. She then ends with a chapter detailing what we can do at home, in the community, in schools, in the marketplace, and as members of polities both large (the nation) and small (the city).

Consuming Kids is a magnificent piece of work; I would only fault it for being slightly dated with regards to references to advertising through the Internet and social media; most of Linn's concern is advertising through television and the schools. Otherwise, she's golden, offering a comprehensive criticism that is both passionate and moderate in tone. Highly recommended to parents and anyone concerned about the welfare of children and society.

Related:
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A History of the World in Six Glasses

A History of the World in Six Glasses
© 2006 Tom Standage
311 pages



A toast to human enterprise! Pick your poison -- beer, wine, rum, tea, coffee, or Coca-Cola. Three are alcoholic, three are caffienated: all were the stuff of empires, and the story of those empires is one Tom Standage is intent on telling. He begins with beer and wine in Mesopotamia and Egypt and moves to wine in Greece and Rome. The focus then shifts to Europe and the rum-fueled Age of Discovery that saw European nations expand across the world and remake it in their image. While distilled spirits ran the high seas, the intellectual minds of Europe stayed keen with coffee from Arabia. British and American imperialism are charted through Asian tea and Coca-Cola, respectively.

The result is light popular history that succeeds based on the author's lively tone and the perspective, which takes the lofty subject of World History and brings it down to the tavern table, supplying readers with both interesting tales about their beverage of choice as well as a greater appreciation for the role those drinks played in world history; some of the connections Standage reveals surprised even me. The importance of each drink varies; some are material, like the beer which was tied to agriculture, the basis of society, and the tea which drove British foreign policy and led to the opium wars. In the case of wine and coffee, the relevance is more ethereal: Standage champions wine-wet symposiums as an instrument of Greek excellence.  The section on Coca-Cola is an odd duck, the only one to mention a brand name. Perhaps this is because Coca-Cola succeeded like no other brand,  but it still sits oddly, and its chapters almost read like history with product placement. Standage is delightful to read, but his narrative isn't quite as thorough as I might have liked.There's no mention given to Coca-Cola's connection to the spread of fast food restaurants, for instance, though I had no idea how instrumental the Second World War was to its success.

Light, but fun; I'll probably be trying Standage's similar work, An Edible History of Humanity.


Related:
The Coffee Trader, David Liss
Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, Wayne Curtis

Five Years of Reading



This Week at the Library is now five years old!  On May 21st, 2007, I began writing about my weekly visits to the library as a way to keep my mind active while I waited to start university in the fall. At first I did it strictly to write and interact with my bookish friends in the real world, but as the years have passed the main audience consists of people I've never met! I never expected such a thing.  I've been looking forward to this post for a few months now, but the actual day caught me offguard. This Monday marked the five years in full, and I remember speaking with one of my coworkers at the library about our book blogs; I mentioned to her that I would be celebrating an anniversary of sorts "sometime this week".

I'm not altogether sure how to commemorate five years of blogging. Part of me -- the part that posts pie charts at the end of every year -- wants to go back and produce a full count of every single book I've read and break everything down into genres for my own amusement, but frankly I think that might be a little crazy on my part. Considering that I read at least over a hundred books a year, I assume the count is in the area of 600-800; the blog itself has over a thousand posts. I'd also venture to guess that nonfiction holds a slight edge over fiction.

The journey thus far has certainly been rewarding. Taking time to reflect on books in reviews or comments allows me to appreciate them all the more, especially as I read multiple books on the same subject and draw connections between titles. I've also made a few friends in the blogging community!  Of course, the blog has changed through the course of these five years -- first migrating from MySpace to Blogger, then changing from a weekly review to a series of individual posts. In the past couple of years I've also taken to participating in various little games like Top Ten Tuesdays, Teaser Tuesday, and Booking through Thursday. Also, in the beginning most of my books actually came from me wandering around in the library and looking for items on the shelves. These days I get a lot of reccommendations from bloggers commments or reviews,  and Amazon's "Related" section has been a boon.

To wrap things up, a list of the fifty books I remember most from this span. These are the books which have really stuck with me. For the sake of space, I'm not going to gab about all of them, but feel free to ask questions in the comments.

1. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. I never wanted to read this series! "It's too popular," I said, and fantasy wasn't a genre of much interest to me. But I had a half-dozen friends who insisted I try at least the first book, and so help me if succumbing to peer pressure wasn't one of the best things I did in this case.  I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for the first time in August 2007, and within a couple of months I had finished the series...only to re-read it again that Christmas. Harry's move to Hogwarts coincided with my move to university, a similar experience for both of us.

2.  The  works of Francis and Joseph Gies (social histories set in the middle ages; most notable book for me was Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel about scientific and technological advance in the epoch.)

3. The Know-It All and The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs.
4. Universe on a T-Shirt, Dan Falk; Theories for Everything, various authors
5. Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade (anthropology)
6. The Earth's Children series, Jean M. Auel. Ice-age historical fiction about Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. Lots of details about life in those days, not to mention awkward passages consisting of caveman sex.
7. The Stand, Stephen King
8. A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut.  I've read Vonnegut every year since finding this first book.
9. Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan. I got into Sagan in 2006; his Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and Demon-Haunted World are favorites.
10. The Assault on Reason, Al Gore. Improbably, this book made me think criticially about the media for the first time.
11. The Influence of Air Power Upon History, Walter J. Boyne. I've never actually read this book in full, but most of my university papers cite it as a primary source. I can't very well not mention it: we spent many a weekend together, Boyne and I..
12. The Hundred Years War: England in France,  Desmond Seward. A primary source in a couple of papers, not to mention very enjoyable reading.
13. The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius. I remember reading this during Thanksgiving 2007. Those who know me know how  influential it has been on my life, igniting my interest in Stoicism.
14. Harry Turtledove. I'd read Turtledove before moving to university, but a neighbor had his entire Southern Victory set in his dorm room, and as we became friends he let me borrow them. I've been reading Turtledove's alternate histories ever since.
15. The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer. A novel about a boy who ages in reverse; haunting.
16. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
17. The Blood of Flowers, Anita Amirrezvani .
18. The Origin of Species | Darwin's Ghost | Evolution for Everyone.
19.  Building a Bridge to the 19th Century, Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death; Neil Postman.
20.  The Art of Living, Sharon Lebell. This built on my interest in Stoicism that started with The Meditations, and deepened it. I've since read other titles in the theme, like Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, and William Irvine's The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
21. A Life of Her Own, Emile Carles (related: Red Emma Speaks and The Communist Manifesto)
***22***.  Isaac Asimov.  2007 was the Year of Asimov for me:  I read his short story collections and novels obsessively. I've since moved on to his nonfiction, and have an entire bookcase devoted to nothing but Asimov's works. He has charmed me utterly.
23. Only Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen
24. Robert Harris (Fatherland, Pompeii, Cicero trilogy)
25. The Art of Happiness, Tenzin Gyatsao
26. The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton
27. God's Problem, Bart Ehrman
28. Howard Zinn
29. Erich Fromm
30. In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore
31. Steven Saylor's Roma sub Rosa series
31. Greg Iles' The Quiet Game
32. Max Barry (Syrup, Company, Jennifer Government)
33. The Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
34. Walden, Henry David Thoreau;  Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson
35. Lamb, Christopher Moore. Moore in general is deucedly funny.
36. The Iron Heel; The Sea-Wolf, Jack London.
37. The Horatio Hornblower series, C.S. Forester
38.  The Destiny Trilogy, David Mack
39. 1491: New Revelations about the Americas before Columbus, Charles C. Mann.  An absolute staggering read, revealing how complex native societies were before their populations were reduced so drastically -- 90% -- by diseases from Europe. Mann described the American wilderness as widowed, not virgin, and opened my eyes to how dramatically societies had changed the landscape of the Americas before their downfall.
40.  Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese
41. The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler
42. African Exodus,  Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie
43. Bernard Cornwell.  If 2007 was the Year of Asimov, 2011 was the Year of Cornwell.
44. Weapons of Satire, Mark Twain
45.  The Revolutionist,  Robert Littell
46. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee;  The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner
47. Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community,  Robert Putnam
48. The Story of Civilization series, Will Durant
49.  Asphalt Nation, Fast Food Nation, and Suburban Nation
50. ...the best is yet to come?

It pains me to leave so many other good books unlisted, but these are the fifty authors and titles which have made the deepest impact so far. Honorable mention goes to Tom Holland's history books, since I just remembered him and I don't know who to delete to make room for him. And Sudhir Venkatesh! How could I forget Gang Leader for a Day? Oh, and Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee --

...I'd better stop before I get carried away.  To those who have been with me these last five years, thanks for the conversations we've had both here and on your blogs. I anticipate more such conversations in the future:  I don't see wrapping this little hobby up any time soon, and I've got a great big list of interesting books to read in the future. Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Shallows

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing To Our Brains
© 2010 Nicholas Carr
276 pages


How many tabs do you have open right now? Neil Postman thought we were undoing ourselves with a distracting and busy fusion of information and entertainment back in the mid-1980s when he penned several works on technology and society. As Nicholas Carr demonstrates in this curious blend of science and cultural criticism, Postman's fears hadn't begun to be realized  At least since the 1990s, people have referred to the Internet as an information superhighway, but the metaphor is no longer apt; it is inadequate to describe the tide of information that sweeps over us any time we visit a website, and the idea of that tide being directed in a way comparable to a highway is simply false. Websites today brim with energy; they are positively alive with interactive features and an abundance of links to other sections of the site. We do not even need to sit down in front of a desktop computer to be touched by all this activity; it reaches out and grabs at our attention through cellphones, tablets, and now sunshades. We can praise the internet for allowing access to so much information at once, but how are our brains responding to it?  Carr argues that while we view the rise of the internet as progressive, in an important way we are reverting.

He builds his argument in three stages; first, introducing readers to the ways that technology can alter our thinking. He uses the rise of print culture as his primary example, demonstrating how it allowed for the growth of a rich intellectual tradition. As we became readers, we became thinkers, spending long hour processing the dense amount of information in a given text, mulling over it in our minds -- considering implications and incorporating the ideas into our very minds. Neil Postman covered the cultural aspects of this, but Carr complements it with neurology, catching readers up to speed on neuroplasticity.Our brains never stop changing: throughout our lives, our actions inform our brains where to invest its limited resources; as we practice new skills, like music or using computers, we become better at them. The catch is that those mental resources are limited: as we grow in one area, we will tend to shrink in another. Brainspace dedicated to older skills that we no longer use shrinks. That is the essential problem Carr is concerned with: as we grow accustomed to dealing with the internet's wealth of bite-sized chunks of information, we're losing that deep-reading ability. That ability was an anomaly in human history; it allowed us to concentrate and digest fully a given set of information; now, we are regressing, losing that refined focus. In addition, we are growing ever more dependent on the internet to store information, to memorize for us. In regards to trivia, esoteric, or other information which we only need occasionally, this is a bonus; it allows our brain to concentrate on more important matters. But we stand in danger of  not being able to rely on ourselves to retain working knowledge; how many of us know our friends' phone numbers anymore?

Carr is not a pessimist with regards to the internet, but he does believe we may be losing something vital in our zeal to be ever-connected. He closes by advocating for a more moderate approach: by all means, let us use the internet's interconnectivity to our advantage, but at the same time he urges us to strive to focus on maintaining old skills of memory and reflection.

Carr definitely offers food for thought. Barring some world-changing disaster, the Internet is here to stay. I do not see the trend toward interconnectivity tapering off, let alone stopping. It will continue to change our lives, and as we use it, it will continue to shape our minds and behavior. We should be mindful of the dynamic which exists between us and our tool use, conscience that our brains are being rewired with every use. Ultimately individuals will have to determine how comfortable they are relating to that network. The Shallows is important to consider, though I would recommend Postman's works for the media-mind connection. There are numerous other works about the role of the internet in our lives which I personally intend on reading, like Sherry Turkel's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, and Hamlet's Blackberry by William Powell.


Related:
Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
Technopoly, Neil Postman
The Shallows review at Technology Liberation Front

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Top Ten Places I Follow Outside of Books

This week the Broke and the Bookish are taking a pause from books and asking: what NON-book related sites do you most frequently visit?

1. Forums (CivFanatics, TrekBBS)

In my first year online, I quickly ditched chatrooms for forums. While I've joined too many to name in the years since, the two listed are the only ones I invariably visit. Though my initial motivation for joining CFC was to talk about Civilization III, its non-gaming forums attract a lot of intelligent conversation about various issues.

2. LiveScience | Science20

These are both science-news websites targeted toward the general reader. LiveScience's style is more 'hip' than thorough; over the years I've seen more lists and pictures and less content, hence my switching to Science 2.0.

3. EconTalk.org


This may be cheating; it's a podcast that features a lot of authors. I never expected to become a fan of an economics podcast, let alone one that's so staunchly free market, but so help me if I don't spend my Mondays thinking, "Ooh, yeah! EconTalk updates tonight!"  The lure, for me, is that the host and his guests have long, intelligent conversations, the kind I can learn from listening to even if I don't agree with the point one of them is trying to make. It's hard to find that kind of sensible approach these days -- and the books the podcast features are fantastically interesting.


4.StrongTowns.org & KunstlerCast

These are both about urban design: one is a nonprofit run by an engineer and urban planner, the other a podcast featuring a journalist who despises modern architecture and has a rich and colorful vocabulary for describing the many things wrong with it.  Although the KCast is more entertaining, I rather prefer StrongTowns. The root point of both is that America's current building pattern of suburban sprawl is uneconomical, unsustainable, and unfit for human habitation in general.  The author of StrongTowns updates the blog three times a week, and always provides something meaty to chew on.

5. News (BBC, NPR, The Economist, The Atlantic)

I don't go to any of these daily, but through a mix of radio/podcasts, online reading, and magazine reading, I hear from one of them at least once a day. The Economist is one I've only discovered in the past few months.

6. Comics (Frazz, QuestionableContent, XKCD, Unshelved)

All four of these are unique to the web: some I've been following for years (Unshelved, XKCD), and others I've only found recently.  Unshelved is set in a library;  QuestionableContent is about a group of twenty-somethings and their odd lives;  Frazz is set in a school, where an intellectual janitor and an extremely bright kid bounce off a tired teacher with humor and insight that remind me of Calvin and Hobbes; and XKCD pretty much speaks for itself.

7. Eleven Points

A blog of top ten eleven lists on ecclectic topics, rangng from the predictable (movies, games) to the odd ("11 Strangest Things on Amazon). Although I don't follow any sports, I've grown to like his NFL predictions; during football season he attempts to pick a random NFL game through eleven methods, most of them utterly off the wall. He'll have his dog choose between two treats, with each treat representing a game. He'll model the game on a twenty-year old NES platform, or call in a phone psyhic. Last season he tried it based on Handsomest Player -- and the season before that, on the cheerleaders.


8. The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe | StarTalk Radio

SGU is a panel podcast about science/technology news and general skepticism; the standard panel is a trio of brothers with medical degrees and a couple of their friends, often joined by a 'guest rogue'. Excellent show for those interested in critical thinking or concerned about the popularity of quacks and superstition.  StarTalk Radio is somewhat similar; hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, it's more of a discussion show with two hosts and a guest. The general theme is science and society. The most  recent episode is an interview with Mark Kurlansky, the author of Salt: A World History. I'm jazzed to have discovered it before Tyson!

9. TvTropes

TvTropes is a...aw, just look at this XKCD comic about it,

10. LameBook and People of WalMart

...guilty pleasures!


Friday, May 18, 2012

The Wal-Mart Effect

The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works, and How It's Transforming the American Economy
© 2006 Charles Fishman
352 pages

In only a little over fifty years, Wal-Mart has grown from a small five-and-dime store in rural Arkansas to an outright goliath, dominating the American, and increasingly, the global economy to an unprecedented degree. In The Wal-Mart Effect, Charles Fishman examines the secret of the corporation’s success, and explores how that success has altered the global marketplace.

Fishman does to Wal-Mart specifically what Eric Schlosser did for the fast food companies in general: probe into the details of their business, as far as the corporate obsession with secrecy will allow, and air out the laundry. But if Sclosser is a journalist looking for the ‘dark side’ of his subject, Fishman takes more of a neutral stance; however, a sense of awe pervades the text. He’s no less critical of Wal-Mart, but more honestly curious. It is the same attitude one might find in a history of Napoleon’s Grand Armee or the German Wehrmacht. The difference is that those legendary armies of old are now long gone: Wal-Mart is still very much alive: the changes it brings about are seen in the newspapers, not the history books.

            The secret to Wal-Mart’s success lays in its near-maniacal obsession with finding the cheapest products and offering them as cheaply as possible.  This seems an obvious proposition: doesn’t every business use that as its model?  Wal-Mart’s distinction is a matter of degree: cutting expenses is an obsession in this corporation, at all levels. Fishman’s investigations find workaholic executives who meet in boardrooms filled with discarded lawn furniture, because Wal-Mart sees no reason in buying furnishing that hopeful clients provide for free. He finds managers who lock their employees in overnight and encourage people to work off the clock – and employees who exist in a perpetual limbo between partial and full employment,  working too few hours to qualify for the meager benefits, but too many to look for a second job. But one expects a chain store like Wal-Mart to prosper by keeping wages low;  the war it wages on its suppliers is more novel.

            Wal-Mart is a supermarket: it sells vast quantities of goods, and its original successes allowed it to expand to the point that 90% of Americans live within a fifteen-mile radius of one of its stores. A company that does business with Wal-Mart can expect to sell more volume than they ever anticipated producing through the stores, but Wal-Mart is no passive player in the marketplace. That obsession with finding the lowest prices means obtaining the lowest price from their suppliers – and Wal-Mart conducts its commanding volume into power, in effect dictating prices to its suppliers. This doesn’t happen at the outset; instead, prospective clients are lured into business, then hit with demands that they lower their price 5% every year. Companies which can’t afford this go out of business, and those who linger can only make the cut by producing ever-more shoddy merchandise, or finding a cheaper source of production…like China. Wal-Mart not only prospers from outsourcing; it engineers it.

            That Wal-Mart can dictate prices like this indicates that it has outgrown the restrictions normally present in the free market: indeed, Wal-mart is now so large that when it enters a market, that market becomes its own. It not only sets the prices in its own stores: other companies have to resort to the same tactics just to keep even. When Wal-Mart moves into a town, small businesses competing with it go out of business (creating a net job loss, for those ‘growth’-minded politicians who think the answer to a stagnant economy is big box stores). Those who try to compete with the giant of Bentonville face angry customers, because the Wal-Mart price has become the expected price – and it is, in fact, the lowest price that can possibly be offered. Wal-Mart's enormous income derives from volume sales, not a generous profit margin: Fishman elaborates that if Wal-Mart attempted to raise its standard wage from $10 to $12, the company would be operating at a net loss.

        Although its effect on local economies and wages is deleterious, Fishman's chief concern with Wal-Mart is that its size makes it unmanageable: it's too big to be reined in by the market, because it is the market. His account doesn't address how exactly what concerned people should do with Wal-Mart, although after finishing it I think people who can might give it a miss and shop elsewhere, even if the prices aren't rock bottom. Fishman believes people are starting to tire of the store, missing quality goods and service. Wal-Mart's obsession with providing cheap goods has made shopping there an experience bereft of value.

Definitely a book to consider for Americans.

Related:
WalMart Watch
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

Hollow Men

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Hollow Men
© 2005 Una McCormack
368 pages


            Deep Space Nine is notoriously the darkest of the six Star Trek series, repeatedly exploring corridors of the human experience that other series gave a wide berth. The horrors of war dominated the latter half of the series, and no character escaped the grim costs of war…especially not Captain Benjamin Sisko, who, in “In the Pale Moonlight” struck a Faustian bargain to save the Alpha Quadrant from outright conquest at the hands of the Dominion.  What began as a devious exercise in manipulation ended in murder, twice over, with a succession of increasingly dubious steps connecting the two.  Uma McCormack follows up on this most intriguing episode by exploring the consequences of Captain Sisko’s actions when he and his co-conspirator Garak are summoned to Starfleet Headquarters. Sisko, morally plagued, hopes for punishment and redemption; Garak anticipates savage treatment at the hands of Starfleet Intelligence, almost hopefully so – but neither man has any idea what is in store for them.

            Hollow Men is almost a creature from Trek literature’s previous generation in that it seems episodic; there’s a large A-story, and two smaller threads that connect together for a B story.  The primary action takes place on Earth, where Sisko explores his conscience, and Garak, paradise. On the action, Odo deals with a security crisis and his thawing relationship with Colonel Kira.  The two stories share a common theme, however; the cost of war.  When an old nemesis of Odo arrives on the station, the constable is absolutely positive the recently-released convict is there to commit a latinum heist. New Federation security measures give him a lot of leeway in times of war, but is his personal satisfaction worth using such extreme measures? On Earth, both Sisko and Garak confront a Starfleet captain turned peace activist – but for their own reasons, and Garak’s are not his own, for powers on Earth attempt to convert him into a pawn in their own game.

            Deep Space Nine stands apart from the rest of the franchise not only for its darker themes, but its reliance on long-running arcs and rich characters. McCormack’s narrative definitely keeps with DS9’s tradition there;  weaving the story’s threads seamlessly into Deep Space Nine’s sixth season – building on content from the show, or setting it up. All this she does and delivers two mysteries and a lot of room for thought. This is very much a keeper for Niners.
            

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reefer Madness


Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market
310 pages
© 2003 Eric Schlosser


What do pornography, marijuana, and migrant labor have in common? They're all factors in an underground economy, a vast web of cash-heavy transactions barred (or limited) by laws and social mores, but which generate substantial wealth for those willing to risk criminality.  Reefer Madness contains thre seperate exposes on these subjects by the author of Fast Food Nation, followed by a conclusion which attempts to tie them together and glean some general lessons about the black market. Although the three don't quite fit together as well as Schlosser might hope, each piece is well worth considering on its own, pointed as well as entertaining.

Although "An Empire of the Obscene" is something of an oddity (pornography isn't illegal),  the preceding sections ("Reefer Madness" and "In the Strawberty Fields") address subject alive and well in American politics today. All three mix colorful history and contemporary exposition which reveal both fascinating trivia and lessons about the specific subjects and the black market in general. The underground economy is not marginal, and its size should concern us not because of potential tax revenues lost by corrupt porn kings like Reuben Sturman, but because they fundamentally alter the rules that everyone else plays by. The use of undocumented workers in California, for instance, keeps food prices artifically low and stifles innovation by allowing companies to be dependent on cheap labor, just as the American south stagnated based on its use of slave labor. Considering the conditions migrant workers are forced to live in, the comparison to slavery is most apt.  Despite the long-term consequences of allowing this behavior to go on -- tolerating it because it keeps food cheap -- the US government's attitude toward companies that seek out migrant labor is far too lenient. In other cases, the government is far too heavy-handed. This is the case with marijuana; Schlosser covers our bizaare obsession with it, which far exceed the concern the facts would merit we have. In what other nation can a person receive a lighter sentence for murder than selling a largely harmless drug?  Considering the US's economic woes, decriminalizing the drug would go a long way in freeing up police and prison resources that could be better used elsewhere.


Schlosser believes that a study of the black market can teach us about the market in general -- and namely, impart the lesson that Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' is not always one of providence. It is one, in fact, that can lead to great abuses (like exploitation of migrant labor). What they excel in providing us outside the bounds of the law tells us secrets about ourselves; that we have a 'deep psychosis' regarding marijuana, for instance, and that Puritanical rejection of sexuality is out of line with human nature. Reefer Madness is a call for sensibly-informed moderation, although it misses one point certainly worth mentioning, that foolish laws, or the lack of laws when they are crucially needed, saps the public's respect for law in general.

Choice quotations:

We have been told for years to bow down before 'the market'. We have placed our faith in the laws of supply and demand. What has been forgotten, or ignored, is that the market rewards only efficiency. Every other human value gets in its way. [...] No deity that man have ever worshiped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked. [...]  

p. 108

Black markets will always be with us. But they will recede in importance when our public morality is consistent with our private one. The underground is a good measure of the progress and health of nations. When much is wrong, much needs to be hidden.

p. 221

Related:
Off the Books: the Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir Venkatesh
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Teaser Tuesday (15 May)

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly book event in which we share excerpts from our current reads...or in today's case, two recently-completed reads. Play Along at Should Be Reading!

During the 1920s "stag nights" -- gatherings at which hard-core films were shown to an all-male audience -- became a familar, socially acceptable custom. In the United States, hard-core films were not exhibited at brothels or socialist meeting halls; they were shown at politically conservative institutions, at Kiwanis clubs, American Legion halls, and college fraternities.

p. 126, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor. Eric Schlosser.


Streets that once served vehicles and people equitably are now designed for the sole purpose of moving vehicles through them as quickly as possible. They have become, in effect, traffic sewers. No surprise, then, that they fail to sustain pedestrian life.

p. 64, Suburban Nation: the Rise of Sprawl and Decline of the American Dream, Andres Duany et. al.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Catching Fire


Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
 © 2009 Richard Wrangham
309 pages


Cooking has created a great many fantastic dish throughout the centuries, but Richard Wrangham holds that the culinary art's greatest triumph is us -- humanity, for the advent of cooking substantially altered our biological and cultural revolution. Not only did it give us smaller guts and smaller mouths, but Wrangham also believes the cooking process set the stage for the sexual division of labor and largely monogamous pair-bonds. Although the biological claim is safer,  both are fascinating to consider, for if they are true then a 'natural' diet for human beings is one which is cooked. Additionally, if this is the case then a cultural adaption has manipulated biology, and in a profound way.

The genius of cooking is that it allows us to maximize the potential calorie intake of a given foodproduct. Raw food is tough; herbivorous animals in particular spend their entire day grazing and chewing. Their intestines must work throughout the day, and often into the night, breaking down ingested food into the fuel the body so desperately needs. But all that work takes energy itself. Meat eaters have an easier time of it,  but muscle tissue is resilient; thick, tough, and tightly connected. At the outset, Wrangham establishes that the ease of digestion is fundamentally important, citing cases in which two sets of animals were given identical amounts of the same food; rats, for instance, given a set number of food pellets.  Each group's calorie count was identical, but one group had "soft" pellets, or pellets in which air had been inserted. The group eating soft pellets put on muscle mass far more quickly than the group chewing on hard pellets; in fact, the soft-pellet group became obese. In processing and cooking food -- grinding seeds, tenderizing meat by pounding it with rocks, and then heating items -- we greatly reduce the amount of work our bodies must do to digest them.  The more processed they are, the more efficiently we can take in the calories...and while easy calories have become a problem to us now, in the days prior to agriculture it was a godsend.

Cooking not only gave us a competitive edge, it altered our physiology. We no longer needed huge teeth for grinding raw muscle, nor expansive intestines for long-term digestion...and when those became smaller, we had more energy to invest in brains. Although Wrangham doesn't speculate on the result of increased intelligence and leisure time, one can assume the combination had a dramatic effect on human culture.  Fundamentally, the author contends that the division of labor roles could have never transpired without cooking. Raw food requires so much time to chew and digest that men wouldn't have been able to spend their days hunting (or lounging around, as the case might be) if they could not have come back to the tribe camp with a cooked meal waiting for them.  Since women, the gatherers, provided the economic foundation of the tribe -- supplying food if and when the men failed to deliver -- one might think this gave them the power. Instead, cooking became a liability. Women tending food at a fire needed to protect it, lest the food be stolen.  Wrangham believes that pair bonds arose for this reason: women provided the food, and men protected it.  Although this is more of a stretch than the biological claims, requiring more inference on our part,  it offers a count to the usual sex-driven conception of pair bonds. Time and again Wrangham documents tribes that don't seem to care if married women sleep with other men...but woe betide them if they cook for other men.

Wrangham ends by chastising nutritionists for missing the point about food, and particularly for believing every food delivers a set amount of calories or nutrients, when that amount greatly varies depending on how the food has been processed and cooked. Given the obesity epidemic, the relationship between processing and calories is certainly one worth our consideration...and Wrangham's work is wide open to lay readers, so dig in.

Related:
ScienceFriday interview with Richard Wrangham regarding Catching Fire
Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond


Worlds of Ds9: The Dominion and Ferenginar

Star Trek Worlds of Deep Space Nine, Volume III: The Dominion and Ferenginar
© 2010 David R. George III, Keith R.A. DeCandido
(Trade Paperback) 352 pages


The Dominion and Ferenginar is the final volume in the Worlds of Deep Space Nine series, and the only one to focus on worlds completely outside the sphere of Federation influence. Like its predecessors, Andor and Cardassia and Bajor and Trill, D&F consists of two novellas. This volume is penned by two of modern Trek's most popular authors. DeCandido opens the collection with "Satisfaction is Not Guaranteed", a tale of business politics in which a cabal of angry Ferengi attempt to enlist Quark's support in a conspiracy aimed against his brother, Grand Nagus Rom, whose reforms (allowing women to wear clothes and earn profit, mandating an income tax) they despise. Quark is torn between his own contempt for the "New Ferenginar" and family loyalty, but the decision is made somewhat easier when he finds out the cabal is hoping to seat his old enemy Brunt as the new nagus.  This is a story interesting and sometimes funny, albiet not remarkable -- the standard for Ferengi stories has been set by The 34th Rule, and that's a book which won't be beat anytime soon.

David R. George follows this with a novella set in the Gamma Quadrant, "Olympus Descending". At the end of Deep Space Nine's series, Odo decided to stay with his people, becoming an exile from his friends in the hopes of teaching the Dominion more peaceful ways. Meanwhile, an elderly Jem'Hedar soldier who Odo sent to the Alpha Quadrant in hopes of reforming, is finding life increasingly difficult to bear. The Federation's vicious enemy has never been fully explored in novel. The length of George's story doesn't allow for a lot of expansion here, and George paints the Founders as largely detatched from the everyday affairs of empire. This is somewhat disappointing, but understandable. Odo's quest to understand his people and his own origins ends with a staggering turn of events, one I'm surprised no one has followed up on. The last great Borg War may have taken precendence, though.

These are both fine stories; "Olympus Descending" is the stronger of the two,  helped by its subject matter being more exotic.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Watching the Clock

Star Trek DTI: Watching the Clock
© 2011 Christopher L. Bennett
512 pages


Time travel! It's a staple of Star Trek. No crew among the show's five series has been able to resist gallavanting around in the timestream, not even in the movies. But for every temporal adventure, there's a mess left behind to clean up...and that ornerous task falls to the Department of Temporal Investigations. DS9's "Trials and Tribble-lations" introduced us to Agents Lucsly and Dulmur, two humorless grey-suited cosmic bureaucrats    whose are renoun for their skill at keeping the timeline pristine. The two are joined by a Deltan and a DTI newbie on two distinct cases that span the book, involve both the USS Titan and the USS Enterprise. The narrative is dense; Bennett somehow makes temporal mechanics seem sensible in the light of both current quantum theory and the time travel we've seen on screen. Frequent flashbacks ensure that a narrative rich in exposition is peppered too with action and humor, and no time-traveling incident in the entire Trek canon goes without being mentioned. Bennett even works in Deep Space Nine's Millenium series.

Bennett has given life two two stiffs, managed offer a view of time that makes all the myriad temporal incidents seem as though they could have occurred in the same universe, and initiated an altogether unique series in Trek literature. Its success has been followed by a sequel, Forgotten History, which establishes DTI's beginnings in the TOS era.

Related:
The End of Eternity, Isaac Asimov (which Bennett cites)

Top Ten Favorite Teases

Top ten all-time favorite quotations from books? Talk about an overwhelming subject! I've decided to narrow the field a bit. Since I participate in another Tuesday book-game, Teaser Tuesday, and since it involves quotations, I'm going to post my ten favorite teasers from the past two or three years since I've been participating. (Besides, I already have a Top Ten Quotations post.)  In no particular order...


1. "I did it! I did it! With my own hands, I did it!"


The Sea Wolf, Jack London. Context is key in fully appreciating this quote; a literary professor with no practical skills is rescued at sea and 'impressed' into service aboard a sealing vessel run by a brute, a man who thinks himself a Nietzschean  ├╝bermensch. Though he's lived a soft life, our hero must learn self-reliance and physical prowess to overcome the captain.

2. "They'll hang the fellow at Tyburn, and there will be an end to it."
"If he is found Guilty."
"Indeed. Your legal acuity never ceases to amaze me."
"I do not intend that he shall be found Guilty."
"A commendable position for the Counsel for the Defense. Bravissimo."

A Far Better Rest, Susan Alleyn, which is A Tale of Two Cities from Sidney's point of view. I find this particular quotation so amusing as delivered in my head that I sometimes recite it to amuse myself.

3.  I said to him, "What are you doing here, Isaac? Why aren't you home writing a book?"
[Asimov] groaned. "In a way that's what I'm doing here. Doubleday wants me to write a mystery novel entitled Murder at the ABA." 

Murder at the ABA, Isaac Asimov. (Naturally.)

4. "Neighborhoods like Georgetown or Beacon Hill are walking neighborhoods. It is not necessary to hop in the car to get an ice cream cone or a bottle of aspirin. You walk to  a store -- enjoying the felicities of the street as you go -- and you are able to see other people along the way. You may even have a conversation with a stranger. This is called meeting people, the quintessential urban pleasure. (Or else it is called a mugging, the quintessential urban calamity.).

The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler

5. In another Christmas story, Dale Pearson, evil developer, self-absorbed woman hater, and seemingly unredeemable curmudgeon, might by visited in the night by a series of ghosts who, by showing him bleak visions of Christmas future, past, and present, would bring about in him a change to generosity, kindness, and a general warmth toward his fellow man. But this is not that kind of Christmas story, so here, in not too many pages, someone is going to dispatch the miserable son of a bitch with a shovel. That's the spirit yet to come in these parts. Ho, ho, ho.

The Stupidest Angel, Christopher Moore.

6. "Are you in trouble again? Did you kidnap another world leader when I wasn't looking?"
"No, but the day's young yet," Picard said, pulling down on the front of his uniform.

Paths of Disharmony, Dayton Ward. This is actually the second of two casual kidnapping references by Dayton Ward in two different trek books. Both appeared as teasers.

7. "Feeling the words, and remembering how Billie could tell you her whole life story in the glide of a note, Frank began to sing the lyrics as if he really meant them, and something happened.
The girls, dancing with their dates, began to stop mid-step and stare at him."

Frank: the Voice, James Kaplan

8. "Before the evening was out she had seduced him into seducing her, a conquest that the young Tuohy lived to regret when he discovered, at roughly the same time as the dean, that his latest mistress was the dean's youngest daughter. Which is how Tuohy, despite his passing grades, came to be expelled from the Columbia University School of Mines."

The Revolutionist,  Robert Littell

9. "Consumed by flames, the torso crackled and the fat sputtered, and then as the skin burned away, the black, flat ribs of the skeleton were revealed, and then the whole torso turned, and suddenly the neck of the animal swung up, surrounded by flames, moving as the skin contracted. And inside the flames Levine saw a long pointed snout, and rows of sharp predatory teeth, and hollow eye sockets, the whole thing burning like some medieval dragon rising in flames up into the sky. "

The Lost World, Michael Crichton.

10. "'Repeat after me,' said the parson. 'I, Horatio, take thee, Maria Ellen --'
The thought came up in Hornblower's mind that these were the last few seconds in which he could withdraw from doing something which he knew to be ill-considered."

Hornblower and the Hotspur, C.S. Forester.




Teaser Tuesday (8 May)


"Under this system, an unmarried woman who offers food to a man is effectively flirting, if not offering betrothal. Male anthropologists have to be aware of this to avoid embarrassment."

p. 164, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, Robert Wrangham

Just ask Cap'n Mal of Serenity.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Early Asimov

The Early Asimov, or, Eleven Years of Trying
© 1972 Isaac Asimov
400-500 pages


Long-time readers know of my enormous affection for the good doctor Asimov; imagine my delight in finding this anthology of over two dozen of his earlier and previously uncollected works, from his first eleven years as an author. These were stories written in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s, when young Asimov worked in a candy store to pay for college, later doing civilian work for the army before being drafted. It's a splendid collection for an Asimov fan like myself. Although the stories are rougher than one would expect (judging by his usual standard), seeing him write outside the conventions established by his adult self is fascinating. Aliens abound, for one thing: it's a rare story in this collection which doesn't see Earthmen fighting against wicked Martians, or putting off Venusian rebellions. Asimov has maintained in other works that he disliked the antagonistic relationship editors demanded to exist between humans and aliens, so he established his own human-only universe. His generous use of alien life here hints at the stories' lack of scientific polish; although simple datedness is easy to understand, often Asimov should have known better. Even the science of his day ruled out the possibility of extant life on Mars, and he acknowledges this in his extensive commentary, which knits the book together and makes it semi-autobiographical. The collection also includes his legendary essay, "The Endochronic Properties of Sublimated Thiotimoline", which satirized the language of academic articles.

It is available in either a three-volume set, or this complete edition.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Astonishing




As if I needed another reason to love this guy. The above quotation is from Cosmos, "The Persistance of Memory". Here's another, from the book form of Cosmos

Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Coffee Trader

The Coffee Trader
© 2003 David Liss
386 pages


I never intended to return to David Liss so soon. No doubt, A Conspiracy of Paper was phenomenal -- but I have two Bernard Cornwell novels just awaiting to be read! There's something compelling about Liss' genre, though: I've never encountered a thriller set in the business world before, let alone one steeped in the exciting history of Age of Discovery-era Europe. The Coffee Trader is another contribution to that setting, though here Liss moves to Amsterdam, where young Miguel Lienzo -- the uncle of Conspiracy's main character Ben -- is facing bankruptcy. But a spirited, ambitious, and altogether attractive widow has an idea for waking Europe to the wonders of coffee...and if Miguel is fleet-footed enough, he may yet rise from ruins to riches.

Schemes carry the day here. Miguel is only one of five duplicitous characters playing the exchange, and each have their own private desires and hidden plans. Some, like Miguel and the woman, are allies; others, like Solomon Parido, a leader of the Jewish community, count themselves as Miguel's rivals. Their schemes all interact with one another, like wheels within wheels,  but no one can truly say in which direction the wheels are spinning..or what ends they may accomplish. Although The Coffee Trader isn't used by Liss to comment on an issue (unlike Conspiracy and Ethical Assassin), the mystery stands on its own. The setting is fascinating Lienzo is a Portuguese exile, a refugee from the Inquisition, and he and many other Jews have taken refuge in Amsterdam. Determined to avoid outside persecution, faithful Jews voluntarily submit to the authority of the Ma'amad, a somewhat heavy-handed council with the power to discipline members.  Among many other things, it forbids Jews from doing business with 'Gentiles'.  Parido sits on this council, and Miguel secretly defies it by allying himself with the widow. Parido has his own secrets to hide from the council, and the two of them play a kind of chess match throughout, attempting to out-maneuver the other both outwardly (using the threat of the Ma'amad's power) and subtly, through playing with the markets Eventually all comes to head in the Exchange itself, though by this point it's clear there's more going on than either man is aware of.

All in all, The Coffee Trader was quite well done, one to savor. My library doesn't have any more Liss books, other than a fantasy he's written, so I'll be looking for them online in the coming months.

Teaser Tuesday (1 May)

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly book-related event in which we share tidbits from our current reads. Play along at Should Be Reading!


"I admit only in seeing beauty where there is beauty and finding it a sad thing when it is neglected."
"Merciful Christ!" Alferonda shouted. "You're in love!"

p. 251, The Coffee Trader. David Liss.

"And after all, is death by nova so bad? It is instantaneous and clean. At 2:17 you're here. At 2:18 you are a mass of attenuated gas."

p. 332, The Early Asimov. Isaac Asimov