Amy (old posts, page 7)

Early November Reading

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change , and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century by James Howard Kunstler

I've read Stephen King, I've read Dean Koontz, I've read Clive Barker, Lovecraft, Poe. I have read some scary shit, but this is the scariest book I have ever read. It's about all the bad stuff which is coming down the pipe: the inevitable flu pandemic, climate change, and the end of the fossil fuelled economy. Basically he says, if we get through all this without blowing ourselves up or dying of thirst, we will be back in a pre-industrial-type society (he doesn't think much of the alternative fuel options), along with a vastly curtailed population. He thinks cities are doomed, he hates suburbs with a vigor unrivalled since my office mate Rajko, and he thinks towns and small cities are where it's at. He also thinks you should work on a post-industrial trade. He plans to publish a newsletter.

The guy is deadly serious. I have to find out if he's a kook or not. The book has no bibliography or index, which is certainly a bad sign. On the other hand it's clear to me that our society relies on fossil fuels to an alarming and unneccessary extent. Do we really need mangoes in February? Holidays in Hawai'i? Hot showers every day? Well, maybe that last one.

The fact that the oil reserves and other fossil fuels are running out sheds an interesting light on the issue of global warming. We're going to use all the available fossil fuels sooner or later. Does it make any difference if we use them up in fifty years or two hundred? The process of climate change is so slow and gradual and complex that I don't think it would make a difference, although as always I could be wrong.

Bottom line, this was a thought-provoking and easy (and scary) read. Kunstler is a cranky old man -- he hates the suburbs and he has some rude things to say about Southerners -- and it's always fun to hang out with the cranky, for a little while at least.

Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time by David Prerau

My problem with daylight saving time has always been that I don't understand why people don't just get up early, if they're so keen to have more sunshine. It drives me nuts when they say "you get more daylight". No you don't! There is the same amount of light, idiot! And, despite the fact that people stare at me uncomprehendingly when I say that now, apparently that was one of the main objections to DST when it was first proposed. Apparently the deal is that, sure the individual could just wake up early, but it's really hard to get businesses to open earlier and close earlier, so just fake 'em out by changing the clock. Having read the book I am now a proponent of DST, or double-DST, or whatever it takes to fit clock-time to sun-time.

It was a pretty good read, although I got a little tired of daylight saving time by the end of it. There is only so much you can say about people arguing over the clock, I guess.

The Everything Potty Training Book by Linda Sonna

Everything it certainly is. This book covers plenty of different methods, including a hard-core one-weekend method which requires you to be a drill sergeant, and a potty-train-your-infant method which sounds intriguing.

Every other book mocks the grandmotherly claim that babies were trained before a year of age in the days of yore, but apparently it was done. Which, having read the Long Emergency book, makes sense. No-one is going to put up with handwashing shitty diapers every day for three years if there is any possible alternative. It seems the baby-training method is more like training a puppy, whereas the toddler training methods require more conscious effort on the part of the child. She recommends a couple of books on the infant training method, so I will read further.

The problem with this book is that it covers many different methods and they get all muddled in your head. With some methods, you get the kid to help clean up their accidents, with some you don't. With some methods you reward success on the potty, with some you don't. It's hard to keep track of which is which, let alone which one you are using.

Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy by Candace Havens

As you may guess from the title, this is pretty much a 162-page fellation of Joss Whedon. It's kind of cheap and tacky too, with a large font, lots of pull quotes and pictures, and some fairly bad writing. I think people would take Whedon more seriously if stuff about him and his work wasn't so Tiger Beat-ish.

Some More Books I have Read in October

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

This book lets the women of the world in on the French secret, how French women manage to stay slim in a culture which loves to eat butter and bread and meat and all those things which are forbidden to erstwhile skinnies here in North America.

Clearly it was the subtitle which appealed to me; I love to eat. I could stand to be slimmer, so I thought this book might give me some good ideas, and indeed it did. Mostly, though, it gave me a heartening impression of sanity. Guiliano loves to eat too; great swaths of the book are dedicated to discussion of her favourite foods and recipes, none of which contain sugar substitutes or applesauce instead of fat. In fact, you would be hard pressed to identify any of them as recipes from a diet book (with the exception of the dubious leek soup recipe which she recommends to kickstart your diet.)

One of the nice things about this book is that the author doesn't talk down from atop a lofty pinnacle of genetic and cultural superiority. She lives in the US and when she first moved here she gained a bunch of weight, which is why she had to consciously rediscover all the French secrets herself.

So what are the secrets? Nothing earth shattering; eat good food with lots of flavours instead of crap -- if you eat crap, she says, you have to eat more of it to satisfy yourself. Prepare your own food -- most packaged food uses salt and fat to conceal the fact that it doesn't really taste good. Have meals with multiple courses -- a salad or soup, the main, and then a sensible dessert -- again to satiate yourself with variety and ceremony rather than quantity. Don't eat standing up, and don't eat while you are doing something else; set the table nicely and sit down with your family and enjoy the ritual of eating. And of course, control your portion sizes, probably the least fun and hardest of all her recommendations.

She also says don't go to the gym. The gym, she says (and I heartily agree) is a waste of time and money. Why pay to sweat on a machine when you can burn calories by walking to the store, biking to work, climbing stairs instead of taking the escalator, kneading your own bread instead of getting a machine to do it for you, and so on. There are countless opportunities to burn calories every day, if you watch out for them.

The bottom line is to put a lot more consideration into what you eat, respect the food and you will derive more value out of less of it.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I got this out of the library because I needed to get the Cordelia quote out of it, and because I hadn't read it for a while. I don't remember Anne being so annoying, although when I was younger I had less qualms about skipping over the annoying bits. The big difference this reading was how I related to Marilla now that I am a mother of girls. (There's an essay by Margaret Atwood at the end of the book which says that the book is really about Marilla's journey from being chilly and distant to being loving.)

It's funny, being a parent. You suddenly find yourself on the other side of a glass wall, seeing the world from a slightly new angle.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco

This is a book about how being super-efficient -- that is, cutting out all the spare time and spare people -- screws over companies. He argues that if every minute of a worker's day is spent doing "work", tangible, billable, write-it-in-your-weekly-log-for-your-pointy-headed-boss work, you don't have any time left to think about how you could be doing things better, nor do you have enough flexibility to respond when your co-workers need you. It's a pretty compelling book.

Unfortunately it doesn't argue well for my version of "slack", which is really just "screwing around".

Toilet Training without Tears or Trauma by Penny Warner and Paula Kelly, MD and Pee, Poop and Potty Training by Alison Mackonochie

Of these two books, Pee, Poop is the more useful, because it discusses all the issues relating to your child's rear end -- general information on how the digestive system works, diapering, potential problems -- not only potty training. It also details a few different approaches for potty training.

Toilet Training actually mocks books which provide several different approaches, and purports to be less confusing by describing only one method, presumably the definitive method. Anyone who has been parenting long enough to be potty training knows that there is no one method, for anything, which works for all children. So my bullshit detector went off on page 4; never a good sign.

I also like that the other book is colour with lots of pretty photographs.

Cutting Your Family's Hair by Gloria Handel

I got this out because I ballsed up Delphine's last haircut and wondered what I should do differently next time. I learned a few handy techniques from this book, but unfortunately it seems that executing a succesful haircut involves a subject who will sit still for more than, oh, twenty-four seconds. So Delphine is going to have to wait for her first decent haircut.

The haircuts in this book, as shown in the photographs, actually look kind of cheap and amateurish. They look like the kind of haircut you get at a ten dollar place out in the boonies. You would think they would try harder to get the pictures in the book to look good. The book is also badly edited. For example, she starts off by describing how you cut guides -- basically a fringe of hair around the head which you cut to the desired length and then use as a template for the rest of the hair. But the steps given for the first haircut in the book don't include cutting the guides -- are you just supposed to do them automatically? Is this a cut which doesn't require guides, and if so, how many other cuts don't require guides? I don't know -- she doesn't say. It's confusing.

100 Best Books For Children by Anita Silvey

One of the best things about having kids is getting to revisit children's literature. This book is a list of one hundred really good kids' books, sorted by age and type. The fun thing is that Silvey gives you lots of insider information about the authors and illustrators, and what the books go through before and after publishing. For example, did you know that Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day was greeted with controversy? Did you know Ezra Jack Keats wasn't black? I didn't know that.

I think I might buy a copy of this book for reference. The only issue I have with it is that it's American and so the books she recommends tend to be American, but it balances nicely with my favourite meta-book, Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books which is Australian and is satisfyingly Anglo-centric.

The Led Zeppelin of the Oughts?

The Toronto Marathon is on today, and it runs right by our place. This year for some reason the organizers have hired a band to play to amuse the marathoners.

The first thing they played when they set up? One. The second thing? Enter Sandman. It's good to know that the go-to guitar music hasn't changed IN FIFTEEN YEARS.

The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter

This book should be subtitled "Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong", especially if you are or have had any contact with "radicals" or "non-conformists" or "progressives", if you think everyone (else) is walking around in a corporate-induced stupor of materialism, or if you have ever read Adbusters and felt smug and superior to everyone who wasn't reading Adbusters.

Since that describes pretty much everyone I know, including myself, I should say this book was a bit of an eye-opener. I have to admit that when I went around reading Adbusters and all that stuff, it didn't really ring true to me. I went along with it because it seemed like everyone else thought it was true, and I wasn't confident enough in my own good sense to go against the crowd.

This book, however, does ring true; it has the unmistakable stench of common sense about it. Heath and Potter argue that the counter-culture revolutionary types are basically screwing themselves (and the rest of us) because they refuse to accept incremental changes to our society (like, say, minimum wage laws); they think that our society is so profoundly screwed up that nothing short of a complete overhaul, a revolution, will fix it. Accepting incremental changes would imply that society is generally okay and just needs a few tweaks. Heath and Potter call bullshit and explain why in fairly convincing, and amusing, terms. Also they smack down Naomi Klein and Kalle Lasn pretty good, which is fun.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

In this book Diamond attempts to explain why Eurasians have so much cargo (you know, the stuff we're all brainwashed into wanting by evil corporations) and why they (we) basically stomp over every other culture we come into contact with. It's because we have the guns, the germs, and the steel. But why? Diamond knows.

This book ends up being a history of the world, and the most interesting one I have ever read. I am much smarter now that I have read this. You should read it too (except you probably already have; I am kind of behind the curve here.)

Two More Mysteries

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander MacCall Smith was nice but I am going to have to spread these books far apart, because I seem to get tired of them quickly. I'm not sure why.

Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt was really good. It's nice to read a book set in Canada, and this guy is a hell of a mystery writer. It was kind of gruesome, but I seem to be sensitive to that these days, so it was possibly no more gruesome than most murder mysteries. I will read more by this guy.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

I read this in high school as part of a Black culture and racism section. At the time I thought it was weird and stupid that we should study black culture and racism in a school in a town that was forty percent Native and very racist, but now I wonder if they were smart enough to know that studying Native culture and racism would be close enough to home that most kids would just shut down, defensively, and ignore any potential lessons, whereas studying Black culture would be distant enough for comfort but still make the brighter kids think about issues closer to home. I may be giving the school administration too much credit here.

Anyway, I thought it was time for a re-read because the book made a big impact on me when read it the first time, and indeed I am still very moved by it. I feel like I should have something more intelligent and cynical to say about it now, but I don't. I haven't really studied or considered race relations much in the intervening fifteen years so maybe that accounts for my lack of insight, or maybe it's just still a really good book.

The Great Betrayal: Fraud in Science by Horace Freeland Judson

I think I should have enjoyed this more than I did, but perhaps I am more interested in science itself than in when the processes that make up modern science go wrong. Still, the book is an examination of the current state of science: peer review, refereeing, and so on, and it was good to get an overview of that along with an analysis of how it's not really working, and what is going to change it. (Hint: the Internet is going to change it.) Also I can't be too annoyed with a book which spends a couple of paragraphs talking about TeX and LaTeX.

Judson is an impeccable writer and not afraid to put together really long (grammatically perfect) sentences, which means you can't read this book in a half-assed manner, when you are watching TV or half-asleep. I haven't read a book that required actual concentration and focusing on the words on the page for a while, so it was a bit of a shock. I need to read harder books more often.

Some Light Reading

I took a break for my brain and read these books:

  • Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs
  • Babes in the Woods by Ruth Rendell
  • The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith

Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America by Morgan Spurlock

This is pretty much a retread of the material in Spurlock's movie Supersize Me and in Fast Food Nation. There is some background information about the filming of the movie -- or rather Spurlock's health during the filming of the movie -- which is pretty interesting.

All in all I enjoyed the book; Spurlock is a funny and natural writer (by which I mean he writes in a conversational, easy style). He is a little hysterical about the subject matter, but I guess that's the point -- this isn't meant to be a science book.

Home Alone

I am home alone. I finished work last week and I'm now off on maternity leave, or I will be as soon as the company I worked for gets the Record of Employment forms I requested two weeks ago. Delphine is still in daycare, though; we are going to keep her in daycare even after the baby comes because she likes it and it will provide her with some nice stability and routine in what will otherwise be a bit of a shocking time for her.

So for the first time in two years, I am not beholden to anyone. I don't have to structure my days around naps and meals and diapers and activities, or work to someone else's list of things to do. I feel adrift and confused and a little guilty.

I have gotten a few things done today, and I have many many more things to do, but I am procrastinating pretty badly as evidenced by the very existence of this weblog entry. Today I still need to empty and load the dishwasher, put away the vegetables that were delivered, clean the tub and the toilet, and take out the recycling. I would also like to hang a tapestry of my dad's that has been sitting at the back of a closet, because now I have a really good spot for it in Delphine's room.

The good news is I am not due for another couple of weeks, so I have lots of time to get things done.