More books

I missed a few books during the main post a couple days ago. I noticed there was a huge gap in time from The Fountainhead, which I read in June out in Montana, and The Jungle, which I just finished last week. Here are the five missing books:
 
Lost Mountain: A Year In the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Applachia, Erik Reece. The only bad thing about this book (other than the mining it describes, I guess) is the pictures: small, black-and-white photos of a mountaintop make it hard to see the progressive removal of the mountain. Otherwise, excellent book. Worth reading, along with this next one.
 
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, Jeff Goodell. I bought both of these coal books because the good people at Border’s left them on those “new arrivals” racks just inside the door — no other reason. But they ended up being, together, an enlightening look at what our electricity consumption is doing to our country. Being in the alternative-fuel vehicle business for the past few years, I’ve seen plug-in hybrids and other electric cars as a good step forward, even preparing the way for the mythical hydrogen economy. However, we’re going to have to develop some significant new energy sources for that to become a good path. We cannot run our vehicles on electricity (whether we use the storage medium of batteries, hydrogen or something else) when we are running most of our power plants on coal.
 
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown. Nothing new — I was probably the last to read this. I did manage to read this before I, Kari and Shif saw the movie at the Brew and View — that’s better than other recent book/movie experiences.
 
Will You Die With Me?, Flores A. Forbes. This is the only book I’ve ever read about the Black Panther Party (another one courtesy of the Border’s “new arrivals” table). Good, engrossing read. Everyone should read histories of the Panthers, the Weathermen and other recent radical groups. Though they made have gone too far in the reader’s eyes (and usually in the author’s eyes by the time they get around to writing the books), they had good reasons for what they did. It’s important to see what our country has come through to avoid making the same mistakes again, forcing new generations to rise up against our government. That said, I don’t know much else about the Panthers, so I can’t comment on the author’s perspective.
 
Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich. This book is a good example of why anthropology is a formal study, because Ehrenreich screws that part of her research up royally. It’s still a good read, interesting and seemingly effective in highlighting the difficulties of making a living as a member of the US working poor class. Though the fieldwork should have been done by an anthropologist, it remains the only book I’ve read like this that attempts to show the plight of the working poor from someone working along with them.

Getting settled

Here’s a couple pics of the new place. These are from a couple weeks ago:

Dining room

Living Room

Kitchen

We’re starting to find our way around the neighorhood. So far, we have:

– A cafe, good breakfast and lunch sandwiches, very close to us.
– A good coffee shop about 3 blocks away.
– A Tastee Freeze about 2 blocks away.
– A breakfast place — pancakes and such — about 2 blocks away. Also serves lunch.
– A church similar to the one we used to attend in the suburbs about 3/4 of a mile away.
– A neighborhood bar about 3 blocks away — haven’t been there yet, but supposed to have decent food, too.
– A couple of 24-hour Mexican restaurants about 1/2 mile away. Good food and large horchatas.
– A UPS store a block away, which can receive packages for $5 each — necessary for the pesky people who ship things requiring a signature.
– A bunch of other restaurants (open later than the ones close to us), bars, etc., that are within long walk or train distance.

Buy this album

If you’re a Dylan fan and you haven’t heard Modern Times yet (maybe you’re a bad Dylan fan), go buy it. If you’re not even a fan, you still might like it. It’s really, really good. Time Out of Mind was good, “that September 11” album was fun and new, and everyone had their favorite funny line (bootleggers, Chicago, etc.) But this album is just good. Good writing, as always, and good music. I’m still partial to the NET band that was touring with Bob when I went to my first few shows (Larry who nodded at Kari and me once, Kemper and especially Charlie), but this current band is good, too.

There’s a link for the lazy.

Dylan almost goes protest-music on us again on this one. He’s been including a few songs in live sets over the past couple years that some construe to be anti-war, or anti-the-evils-of-war anyway. Other than “Masters of War” those have been covers, and they’ve been pretty tangential in typical style. But on this album, his “Workingman’s Blues #2” is an original Dylan song, and it starts off pretty head-on:

“The buyin’ power of the proletariat’s gone down
Money’s gettin’ shallow and weak

They say low wages are a reality
If we want to compete abroad”

And continues…

“I can’t save a dime
I got to be careful, I don’t want to be forced
Into a life of continual crime
I can see for myself that the sun is sinking
How I wish you were here to see
Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking
That you have forgotten me?”

I read someone’s opinion (it was probably in Rolling Stone’s review) that the lines below are Bob’s way of toning down his defense of the worker, of balancing his support with an accusation that some poor workers are lazy and undeserving:

Some people never worked a day in their life
Don’t know what work even means

That’s how the song ends, and like the rest of the song it is in the narrator’s voice. Unlike the reviewer, though, I think in context Dylan is claiming that the worker/narrator is, in fact, a hard worker who’s being disadvantaged by falling wages and the system. Google it, read the entire thing and see what you think.

If I’m more correct than that other reviewer and Dylan really isn’t pulling any punches, this song becomes his most blatant “protest” song (though he doesn’t write those) in years.

Buy the album and hear it for yourself, or buy a ticket: Bob’s touring in October all over the US and Canada.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

I know my posts come in bunches divided by long silences, and for that I apologize. The energy required to sit down and write something comes and goes. Mostly, it doesn’t come at all, but sometimes I get a little bit.

So here’s my effort to keep the book list thing from getting out of control right from the start. I read a book last night, and I’m posting it now: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I have no idea who this guy is, if he’s any good, whether the title is supposed to be capitalized or not (there’s no LOC card data in the front of the book), or why MTV has a publishing arm. Before I buy most books, I read at least a few reviews on Amazon. It helps weed out the junk, but it also lets me know what everyone else thinks of a book before I even open it, which is not a good thing. But the only thing I’ve heard or read about this book is a vague comment about it being good or something. I didn’t even realize MTV was involved in it or I would probably not have read it… oh well.

The book is good. So good that I stayed up and read it in one night. Despite my misfortune in reading a copy that some annoying person had highlighted to death (I have no idea who did it, because it’s been passed around three or four times since) and desecrated with all of these stupid little comments about how that “really makes you think” or how this passage is “so sad… so beautiful,” I still enjoyed the book.

(The problem with this blog is simple: it’s not anonymous enough to post what I really think about some things, and but it’s so uninteresting that no one would read it if they didn’t already know me. So can I comment on how my high school life resembled the narrator’s? No, not really. Just understand that I think the book is is a caricature of real life apt enough to make some people consider their own experience.)

What is it about recalling memories — people, places, events — that is so painful but so attractive?

My favorite section of the book: “Do you always think this much, Charlie?” — “Is that bad?” — “No necessarily. It’s just that sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”

Just like that, the whole thing is pretty upfront, shallow writing; no rereading or trying to dig beneath the surface is necessary. To me, that’s just fine.

EDIT: This is the third time I’ve gotten in trouble for not attributing things on this blog and website to Amy Shiefer — our good friend, instrumental in getting us to move to the city, our city tour guide on the weekends (Friday it was aerial dance/acrobatics at the Aloft Loft), and the supplier of the aforementioned, annotated copy of this book.

Book list

For some time I’ve been meaning to start posting my reading list, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Here are the last couple of years’ books with brief reactions. I probably missed a few, and I’ll fill those in if I remember them.

2004

Useful Idiots, Mona Charen, Criticism of liberal responses to Communism, other 20th century events
I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe. This was the first of his books I read. Provocative, but over-the-top from someone too old to do more than hyperbolize and then criticize college culture.
Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe. Same vein, but he’s closer to his subject matter and less idiotic.
A Radical Line, Thai Jones, Story of his family’s involvement in 20th century radical movements, including the Weather Underground. I can’t remember the genesis of my interest in the Weather Underground during this year. I mean, it grew from my love of Dylan’s music from the late 60s, but other than that…
Chronicles: Vol I, Bob Dylan. Funny as heck, especially when he goes on about his sets-of-three guitar playing discovery.
All the President’s Men, Bernstein & Woodward, Watergate. Saw the movie first, then read this. Actually was more interested in Ellsberg (see below) and his story, but this dovetails with it.
Secrets, Daniel Ellsberg, Vietnam and Pentagon Papers. Saw a made-for-FX movie about his story first, then got interested in what happened there. The parallels between Nixon and our current King’s fascination with his own authority (“executive priviledge”) obviously enhanced my interest.
Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky, A sermon against America’s ill-fated quest for global hegemony. I agree with most of it, but he’s a bit over the top.
In Retrospect, Robert McNamara, Autobiography, mainly focusing on Vietnam years
Papers on the War, Daniel Ellsberg, Position papers on Vietnam topics. Dry and old news now, but must have been interesting when written.
Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey
The 9/11 Commission Report, US Gvt 9/11 Commission
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe, Entertaining read about the early days of LSD, Ken Kesey, the hippies, the Grateful Dead, etc. I started downloading Dead bootlegs just because everyone else was (after trading Dylan’s concert recordings for years), and this is part of how it all started. If you read it, download a recording of one of the Acid Tests first, and listen to it as you go along.
Fugitive Days, Bill Ayers, Autobiography, mainly surrounding Weather Underground years. He and his wife (Bernadine Dohrn, a leader of the WU), still live in Chicago. They are both interviewed heavily in a recent documentary called “The Weather Underground.” The WU took it too far, and they acknowledge that and discuss how it happened. I’d read this again. And again.
Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Keith B Miller, Ed., Essays on theistic evolution – includes a decent amount of material on the subject of evolution and original sin, my focus in reading the book
2005
Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman, Most of the book focuses on the story of the totalitarianism in the 20th century and endeavors to paint Islamism in the same colors as Nazism and fascism. Encourages liberals to view Islamism, though not Islam, as an evil that must be eradicated, though is critical of the approach of the Bush Administration in its “War on Terror”
The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Story of his motorcycle and hitchhiking trip around South America, partially focusing on his experience and empathy with the proletariat, how he came to support a united Latin America, and, to a lesser extent, the development of his anger about the influence of the US in Latin America. Again, saw the movie first, unfortunately.
Cubans: Voices of Change, Lynn Geldof, Good. Shows both sides of the debate about life in Cuba under Fidel. Had to look for a little perspective after reading Guevara and seeing our govt’s lame attempts to force change over the past decades in what could have been a friendly country.
Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller, Good critique of today’s Christianity and a hope for something better. The first half is the heart of it — after that he backs down and accepts status quo.
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, Russell Shorto. Kari and I listened to this on our way to and from Wyoming for the August 2005 backpacking trip. First book on tape (CD, actually) I’ve ever listened to all the way through, and it was great. Totally new subject to me, so I don’t know how it stacks up on the topic, but interesting topic, engaging details and very educational.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable, David Rakoff, Humorous biographical essays. Actually listened to this one — it’s read by the author himself, and it’s priceless when he mutters that Queen Mother Barbara Bush is a “stupid fucking cow” (after relating the story of her “beautiful mind” quote — Google it if you’re lost).

The Year the Dream Died (1968), Jules Witcover, Good review of the year, with focus on politics.
The 60s: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, Todd Gitlin, Good perspective on the 60s, from the perspective of a protester and an early leader of SDS but not a radical in the same vein as the Weather Underground. If you read Bill Ayers and Thai Jones (above), read this too to balance it out. He’s also interviewed in the WU documentary mentioned above.
A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan, Excellent history of the start and first decade of the Vietnam War, wrapped around the story of John Paul Vann’s time there. Highlights the futility of the war, and noble but misguided actions of Vann.
2006
Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller, Story of a cross-country VW van trip in a pseudo hippie tradition. Enjoyable reading.
Hiking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Bill Schneider, Guidebook, read because we were trying to decide where to go for the summer Montana trip, and brother Jimmy was going to do a solo trip in the A-B before we met up (he ended up skipping it).
The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears, Nick Jans, Excellent. Not as sensational as expected, given the topic. Good info on bears in general in addition to discussion of Treadwell. As usual lately, read this because I watched the movie on Discover Channel first — I really need to stop doing that.
The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowel, Essays. She is hilarious, especially on tv.
Off the Map, Hibickina and Kika (CrimethInc), Travels through Europe, originally published as a Zine. Laid back, squatting, hitchhiking.
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, I’m starting a little late in life on some essential reading. Insightful, extremely well written. Read it in the cabin in Montana.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Read this back in college, along with his other popular ones, but just listened to it on the way to Montana and back, so it’s fresh in my mind. I can see how it has inspired people for decades to pack up and drive off across the country.
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, More essential reading I should have done a long time ago. This was the “uncensored version”. A better term is “the first published version.” There’s some controversy about which one Sinclair preferred, though the extra text in this longer version seemed essential to me. Reading coincided with the move to Chicago and a desire to learn more about the City’s history.
My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Rebekah Nathan, Interesting for the same reason I was attracted to cultural anthropology in college: it makes you examine your own experiences and culture.
Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Trips, Dave Glowacz, Met the author at “Chicago Green Drinks” in August, which coincided with the move to the City. Not really the type of book you read straight through, though it is interesting and seemingly complete on urban biking, especially in Chicago.
And these are sitting on the shelf waiting for me, or waiting at the bookstore to be purchased, or being finished by Kari:
God’s Politics, Jim Wallis
Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller
Steal This Book, Abbie Hoffman
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail…, Jared Diamond
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Catch 22, Joseph Heller