Books Are Things Unlike Other Things

190325_r33967.jpg

My father loved books ravenously, and his always had a devoured look to them. Illustration by Rose Wong

Kathryn Schulz came to my attention four years ago, and we immediately deemed her worthy of an invitation to Kerala. We linked to two more of her articles after that, but re-reading the first essay, it is easy to recall what “ignorance is bliss” means. The world was, as always, facing challenges. But I had no clue then what 2019 would look and feel like, so I enjoyed that essay differently then than I do now.

I am in need of more frequent diversions from the daily news, not to hide but to remember what matters. Times like these call for tangible reminders of what is good and healthy for us, much as comfort foods at certain other times are required to anchor us to better thinking. Food seems the most common thing to turn to for comfort, but books are a better one because ideas that come from books are not just to be remembered, but to renew inspiration, commitment, and determination related to values:

My Father’s Stack of Books

When he was a child, books were gifts. For his daughters, he made sure they were a given.

When I was a child, the grownup books in my house were arranged according to two principles. One of these, which governed the downstairs books, was instituted by my mother, and involved achieving a remarkable harmony—one that anyone who has ever tried to organize a home library would envy—among thematic, alphabetic, and aesthetic demands. The other, which governed the upstairs books, was instituted by my father, and was based on the conviction that it is very nice to have everything you’ve recently read near at hand, in case you get the urge to consult any of it again; and also that it is a pain in the neck to put those books away, especially when the shelves on which they belong are so exquisitely organized that returning one to its appropriate slot requires not only a card catalogue but a crowbar. Continue reading

The Power Of Panic

merlin_150201243_6e45f17e-9e07-4df5-96e6-a96f9afa878b-jumbo.jpg

Ms. Cohen favors vendors who don’t use plastic. Credit Adam Amengual for The New York Times

When I started my Saturday morning reading it was just prior to our weekly visit to the farmer’s market and there was visual resonance with our own experience eliminating, or trying to eliminate plastic:

You’re Addicted to Plastic. Can You Go Cold Turkey?

Going plastic free starts with cloth bags and straws. Suddenly, you’re … making your own toothpaste?

merlin_150201240_ff27ccbe-4e4a-4550-81e5-99cbc3e11a81-jumbo.jpg

Reusable cloth bags are a must. Credit Adam Amengual for The New York Times

Like most people, resonance is always welcome in my reading. But like a second cup of coffee to really get the day going, there is nothing like cognitive dissonance. I can think eliminating plastic from our lives is a big deal one moment, and then the next it is clear that it is not enough, that it is like tinkering. Or as the punchy cliche puts it, like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. David Wallace-Wells is a skilled dissonance artist in this vein. He can make your best efforts suddenly seem pathetic; not in a snarky way and if you listen to him explain his work you will realize resistance is futile; you cannot look away from what he is saying, even if you want to.

WellsBook.jpg

‘A profound book, which simultaneously makes me terrified and hopeful about the future’ Jonathan Safran Foer
A Times and FT Most Anticipated Book 2019

His book will not likely be damned by faint praise; its look at our future prospects will more likely draw extreme responses in favor of the intensity of his alarm, and claims of alarmism from the usual suspects. He is catching up to Elizabeth Kolbert in balancing our preference for optimism with extreme realism. His op-ed on Saturday tipped the balance for me quite like a second, maybe third cup of coffee:

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization. Continue reading

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

Books For Early 2019

collierbookI have a few more books, in addition to this history, on my reading list. Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review, provides this preview of the Oxford economist Paul Collier‘s new book:

You might expect that Paul Collier, a noted development economist at Oxford who has devoted most of his professional life to the uplift of the global poor, would see himself as a “citizen of the world.” But that’s not quite right. Collier grew up in Sheffield, a once-flourishing English steel town that provided working-class families like his own with a modicum of prosperity and stability, and that has since struggled in the face of import competition and the loss of many of its most ambitious citizens to London and other dynamic cities. He attributes his prodigious accomplishments in no small part to the cooperative character of the community, and the nation, in which he was raised.

National loyalty, far from being inimical to a more just and decent world in which all, including the world’s poorest, can flourish, is seen by Collier as a firmer foundation for global cooperation than abstract cosmopolitanism, which all too often serves as a mask for unenlightened self-interest. The question animating his small but wide-ranging book “The Future of Capitalism” is whether the sense of rootedness that so defined the Britain of his youth can be restored…

ValueBook.jpgRead the whole review here. My second encounter with Paul Collier was this panel discussion on Intelligence Squared. The way in which the world’s developing economies view capitalism is as important as the current changes in how mature developed economies view capitalism. For that reason I am also looking forward to Mariana Mazzucato’s most recent book, to the right. Surprisingly I had never heard of her before listening to her muse about various influences in her life that led to her distinct voice on how value is created by societies. Her self-introduction makes me wonder how she did not show up in our pages previously:

I’m a Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL), and Director of UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose . My work is focused on the economics of innovation; patient finance; economic growth and the role of the State in modern capitalism. I advise policy makers around the world on how to achieve economic growth that is more innovation-led, inclusive and sustainable. My 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths, looks at the ‘investor of first resort’ role that the State has played in the history of technological change — from the Internet, to biotech and clean-tech — and the implications for future innovation and for achieving public-private partnerships that are more symbiotic. In 2016 I co-edited a book called Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth focusing on the need for new economic thinking to drive more effective economic policies. My new book The Value of Everything, available in UK and US edition, looks at the need to revisit the difference between value creation and value extraction, and the problems that arise when one is confused with the other.

Thinking Forward While Looking Back

American_history.jpg

Jill Lepore is a New Yorker staff writer and a historian at Harvard University. She tells David Remnick that her new book is the result of a dare: to tell—or even to understand—the story of this country, from the Age of Discovery through the present day, in one volume. In “These Truths,” Lepore surveys six-hundred-odd years of American history, paying particular attention to themes of immigration, suffrage, and how the media has shaped our democracy. Above all, Lepore grapples with whether the United States has lived up to the promises of its founding. She finds an America alternately fearful of change and fearful of stagnation, trapped between idealizing the past and hoping for a better future. The journey toward progress, Leporesays, is less a march than a stumble.

LeporeBook.jpg

I have listened to several interviews that Jill Lepore has given during her promotional tour of her new book, such as the one above (click the top image to go to the source). Today I listened to this one, and it has convinced me that this is one of the books I should take the time to read to put the country of my birth, and the country that many people regardless of birthplace are currently confused by, back in some kind of perspective.

We mostly avoid political commentary on this platform but it is impossible to pretend that the USA or Brazil, or the world as a whole are moving forward or in a good direction. My point of view on the state of governance is mainly one of surprise and confusion–how did we get so reactionary so quickly, and where will that lead us?

092418-PoliticsandMore-CP.jpg

Photograph from Universal History Archive / UIG / Getty

I had already listened to this short discussion of the ideas in this book several months ago. It was interesting but had almost zero impact. On the best of days recently I tell myself that if such a shocking mess is possible, then it should also be possible to imagine and move toward a radically superior future. And that always feels Panglossian. But with a few hundred years of history in mind, Jill Lepore gets me thinking that maybe I can see these times for what they are–not good, nor headed anywhere good–but also see that the cycles of history have had us in at least equally trying times, many times in the past. Ezra Klein has one of the best podcasts out there, and this episode proves it to me:

Jill Lepore is a Harvard historian, a New Yorker contributor, and the author of These Truths, a dazzling one-volume synthesis of American history. She’s the kind of history teacher everyone wishes they’d had, able to effortlessly connect the events and themes of American history to make sense of our past and clarify our present.

“The American Revolution did not begin in 1775 and it didn’t end when the war was over,” Lepore writes. This is a conversation about those revolutions. But more than that, it’s a conversation about who we are as a country, and how that self-definition is always contested and constantly in flux. Continue reading

Animals In A New Light

023-greenberg.jpg

Jill Greenberg, Glare, Glare, 2005, Ultrachrome ink on hot press paper, 106.7 x 127 cm / 42 x 50 in, Private collection.

9780714876818-780-1.jpgIt has been a long year since our last links to Phaidon. Following yesterday’s essay this seems an appropriate moment to renew our attention to beautiful books, this one about animals (click the image of the book to go to the source).

Don’t look too closely at this Diana Monkey – you might unnerve yourself. Captured by photographer Jill Greenberg and appearing in our book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World, with its defiant yet nervous hazel-eyed gaze, today’s Astonishing Animal stirs an uncanny sense of self in the viewer.

Greenberg’s hyperrealist style – the monkey’s white and grey fur is lit so that each single strand appears in high definition – captures incredibly emotive images of animals showing emotions and involved in gestures previously thought to be the reserve solely of humans. This portrait is one of seventy-five Greenberg has published covering thirty different primates, including species such as apes, chimpanzees, macaques, mandrils and marmosets.

The Great Lakes And Unexpected Consequences Of Human Interventions

9780393355550_300.jpegI was not aware of this book until listening today to its author spend an hour talking about it. And that happened because of a radio program that I listened to during graduate school, which like most radio shows is now available as a podcast. The discussion was all about unintended ecological consequences of what seemed like smart decisions at the time, going back centuries and up to the present day.

It was interesting enough to search for more information about the book. In the process I found a book club that in turn led me to the book review that is just what I was looking for to complement the author interview:

In the oceanic depths of the Great Lakes, life and death swirl like coffee and cream. Growing up on the western shores of Lake Michigan, I knew this instinctively. The lake provided our drinking water and a place to cool off in the summer, but it also occasionally coughed up millions of small dead fish called alewives, which littered the shoreline, giving off an aquarial reek.

28Moor-articleLarge.jpg

Great Lakes vampires: Lampreys latch on to a brown trout.
 Credit James L. Amos/National Geographic, via Getty Images

As long as the town deemed the water’s bacteria count low enough, we kids would go swimming or fishing (though we weren’t allowed to eat what we caught). Our moms would sit on towels on the pebbled beach, misted with sweat, paging through magazines. “Do you go in?” they would ask one another, with widened eyes and a half-ironic cringe. Oh no, it was much too cold, or too polluted, they inevitably replied. Nevertheless, the lake served as the axis mundi of our little universe; when people gave directions, they were often oriented “toward the lake” or “away from the lake.” The name of our town had “lake” in it; the town next door did too. Both lay within Lake County. We were lake people. Continue reading

Natural History, Artists & Detectives

merlin_64424663_a3c20202-94cc-4113-8bde-d2d75ffa40c6-jumbo.jpg

This Tyrannosaurus bataar dinosaur was at the center of a lawsuit demanding its return to Mongolia. Credit U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

97803163825331.jpgMammoth-hunting is the closest anyone in our immediate circle has gotten to the kind of story that is on my mind today. Searching the word dinosaur on our platform I see that the story told in the book to the left has had a long trail that I have been following for years. If like me you had youthful dreams of becoming a hunter for pre-history’s wonders you might have thrown around phrases such as “whatever it takes.”

This cautionary tale by Paige Williams might be the antidote for any kid whose instincts are for this kind of sleuthing adventure, which requires rules just like any good game. Speaking of which, longform tale-telling is as much an interest of mine as natural history, and the way this book came to my attention was through an interview with its author.

The Bizarre Tale of the ‘Dinosaur Artist’ Who Trafficked in Stolen Fossils

merlin_143888991_5f8b55e5-6ce9-423f-b080-0cbe911996e3-jumbo

John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times

As far as case law goes, there are more consequential decisions than The United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar SkeletonFew, however, feature a more charismatic defendant.

In 2013, the United States literally arrested the skeleton of a giant apex predator dinosaur slumbering in a warehouse in Queens. But understanding how this came to be first requires a panoptic survey of everything from the world of the Late Cretaceous period to the 1990s rise of right-wing politics in Mongolia. This is the dizzying task that Paige Williams, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has set for herself in “The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy.”

What began for her as the tale of an unusual court case involving a rogue fossil hunter unspools in this book into a wide-ranging examination of the ways that commercialism, ambition, politics and science collide. (Just a glance at some of the index’s entries reveals the scope: Genghis Khan, Newt Gingrich, St. Augustine, Stegosaurus and Preet Bharara.) Continue reading

A Forager’s Guide To Making Natural Ink

Ink1Since 2011, foraging has been a favored topic here. We have occasionally featured stories with reference to natural colorants, mainly about their various possible uses, and even an exhibition where you could learn more; but not until now have we seen a book like this. It looks like it will be a perfect addition to any of our numerous coffee tables, suited to brighten up even the rainiest afternoon. Click on any image to go to the website for the book. Thanks to Jason Logan for its authorship, and to Amy Goldwasser for bringing it to our attention in the New Yorker:

Ink Foraging in Central Park

The founder of the Toronto Ink Company leads a group of pigment enthusiasts on a hunt for acorns, berries, beer caps, and other ingredients.

Ink2.jpgOn a recent drizzly Tuesday morning, a small group of ink enthusiasts—already rain-slicked, under umbrellas and ponchos—stood on Gapstow Bridge, in Central Park, admiring a brilliant-pink pokeweed bush. The Park was the first stop on a five-hour foraging trip that would take them up to Hudson Heights, to collect foliage and trash, which they would cook, to make ink. Their guide, Jason Logan, the founder of the Toronto Ink Company, was in town for the launch of his book, “Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking.” At a reading in the West Village, he had asked the audience if anyone wanted to go foraging. The city offers some attractive ingredients: acorns, wild grapevines, beer caps, feathers, subway soot.

Ink3.jpgLogan, who is forty-six, became interested in ink about twenty years ago, when he was living in New York, working as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines. He’d burned through a bottle of black-walnut ink, which he’d bought at Pearl Paint, on Canal Street. When he returned for more, the ink was gone. “Then I found black walnuts on my way to work one morning and realized it was easy to make my own deep, rich, delicious ink,” he said.

On the bridge, Logan addressed the foragers, four women of varying ages. He has curly gray hair and was wearing a windbreaker in almost the same hue. “I’m kind of in love with gray,” he said. “It’s interesting for me, too, in terms of ink. Gray is ashes suspended in water.” Logan speaks like a laid-back chemist, using words like “petrichor,” the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. He carried a backpack filled with ink pots and collection bags.

Ink4

“That is so bright!” Julia Norton, an artist who teaches a pigment class, said, examining the pokeweed’s fuchsia stems.

“It’s so beautiful it’s hard to believe it just grows like this,” Logan said. “Pokeberry ink was most famously used by Civil War soldiers to write love notes.” Continue reading

Books In Need, People To The Rescue

01britain-bookstore1-jumbo

Hundreds of volunteers formed a human chain to help move October Books to its new location in Southampton, England. Credit October Books

It is probably not accurate to say books are in need. People are in need of books. And people who have been enlightened, educated, even saved by books are the kind of people we might expect to believe that the repositories of books, libraries and bookstores for example, need all the help we can give them. In the spirit of yesterday’s post, another today related to books and volunteers and the generosity of bookish people:

A Store Had to Move Thousands of Books. So a Human Chain Was Formed.

31britain-bookstore2-jumbo.jpg

“We wanted something that was accessible for the whole family, for children and people who were older who wouldn’t necessarily be able to paint or move heavy pieces, to help out,” a member of the October Books collective said.

LONDON — The plea went out a few weeks ago from the bookstore in a port city in southern England: “Care to lend a hand?”

Volunteers were needed for “heavy manual work” in shifts. It was “essential” that they be able to lift and carry boxes and office supplies.

Among the supplies: thousands upon thousands of books.

The appeal from October Books, a nonprofit that began 40 years ago as a “radical” bookshop, came after a rent increase forced it from its old home in Southampton, Jess Haynes, a member of the collective and one of the few paid employees, said on Wednesday.

The shop was looking to move lock, stock and barrel about 150 meters (just under 500 feet) to a three-story building that used to house a bank. Would anybody respond to the call for help? Continue reading

Consider The Little Free Library

 

merlin_145782510_153e132c-f7fb-49f0-a653-fb995e50eefb-jumbo.jpg

This Little Free Library in the McKinley neighborhood of Minneapolis appears to have a small reading loft, big enough for a city mouse.

merlin_145782399_fb9973eb-f313-455f-b5bd-bf309fe301e8-superJumbo

Father Time stands sentry at a Little Free Library in the rough-hewn Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul.

We made a decision early on, for reasons I do not recall clearly, to avoid linking out to obituaries–even for heroes whose lives have resonance in our pages. This one made me think twice about that decision.

In part it is because we have paid an enormous amount of attention to libraries over the years. Also, this man’s innovation (did we really never feature it in our pages before?) was clearly in the realm of what we call entrepreneurial conservation. And maybe, just a bit, I like the idea that the first little free library (the last one displayed below) was a tribute to the innovator’s mom.

Thanks to the New York Times for getting this story just right:

Libraries, Writ Small

merlin_145782294_bdbd9ee4-8a2e-44b1-bd0b-727c7302e59b-jumbo

This Little Free Library enjoys the open space of Triangle Park in Minneapolis.

Todd Bol’s Little Free Library boxes, which blend the form of folk art with the function of a community water cooler, have popped up in all 50 states and in 88 countries.

By Katharine Q. Seelye Photographs by Ethan Jones

merlin_145782540_8b4f0381-47bd-470d-9cbc-c1b34745c787-jumbo.jpg

This Minneapolis library is a classic of the genre, with its Plexiglass front and gable roof, supported on a sturdy post.

Todd Bol was simply paying homage to his mother, a schoolteacher and lover of books. He built a doll-sized schoolhouse, filled it with his mother’s books and put it out for his neighbors in Hudson, Wis., as a book exchange.

Today, just nine years later, more than 75,000 such “Little Free Libraries” dot the globe, from San Diego to Minneapolis, and from Australia to Siberia.

merlin_145782390_b76569b1-e928-4a57-b546-1162ae75ae3f-superJumbo.jpgWhy did they catch on? For starters, they promote a friendly, sharing economy. No one tracks who took what. There’s no due date. No fines. You might never return a book. You might leave another instead. And, they are inherently cute. As Mr. Bol recalled, his neighbors “talked to it like it was a little puppy.”

This week, many bore a white ribbon in tribute to Mr. Bol, who died Oct. 18, in Minnesota at the age of 62. Here, a photo-essay of some of the little libraries near his hometown.

See all the other photos here.

Time As An Ingredient

MistMaize.jpg

Climate change has reared its big ugly head enough that I no longer count on seasonal consistency, but for now nine days in a row it has felt familiar, the greenest month of the green season in Costa Rica. And today, as of dawn, it looks like more of the same. “Some things never change” would be a real head in the sand cliché when thinking of seasons, but at least this October, so far, mornings have been sunny and by early afternoon the clouds roll in and the afternoons remind me of our 2010 to 2017 Kerala life, until dinner time. The photo above was from our second monsoon season there. Just up the hill from where I am writing at this moment, in Tarrazu–the Costa Rica equivalent of Munnar’s tea region–you might see something comparable, like this:

DCIM/100MEDIA/DJI_0482.JPG A few years ago Seth and James worked to restore a coffee plantation across the valley from the home where Seth grew up. The coffee they restored had been removed two decades earlier, a moment in time when coffee prices had crashed, even for the premium arabica that grows in Costa Rica. As it happens the same is true of the property where I am writing from, which had been a coffee plantation for most of the last century. In 2019 a restoration project will bring coffee back to this land, with tree shade for both the coffee and for the sake of restored bird habitat, and I look forward to sharing that progress here. And it is with this in mind that time, as an ingredient, is a theme for today. Work that Seth and James did demonstrated, with the passage of time, the fruitfulness of restoration and conservation. Now a replica project is ready to roll.

Time as an ingredient during green season is also a theme. Reading and cooking pass the time pleasantly during such afternoons, at least when the weekend schedule permits. Time for reading was on my mind a couple days ago, and the author featured in this podcast gets me thinking about time as an ingredient in the cooking I have been doing recently–almost all vegetarian and with the conscious effort to cook as minimally as possible to retain nutrients and flavor. As a bonus, this episode of a podcast we have been listening and linking to for two years shares the story behind espresso, so worth a listen:

EspWhiskey.jpg

One Week to Whiskey

A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.

9781468316384.jpgWhy does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whiskey in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whiskey time machine tucked away in a low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, a food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time! Continue reading

A Place And A Time For Learning To Read, And To Appreciate Books As Things

from-the-mixed-up-files-of-mrs-basil-e-frankweiler-9781416949756_hr.jpg

Just this moment, as I started today’s post, I learned I had missed a 50th birthday party. We tend to like round numbers, even if they do not mean much–why should the 50th be any more important than the 49th or 23rd? For whatever reason, a centenary or half-centenary, or bicentennial all seem to have a bigger ring. So, happy birthday to this book (last year) that I searched for after reading Susan Orlean’s essay on her personal history with libraries and books:

…My family was big on the library. We were very much a reading family, but we were more a borrow-a-book-from-the-library family than a bookshelves-full-of-books family. My parents valued books, but they had grown up in the Depression, aware of the quicksilver nature of money, and they had learned the hard way that you shouldn’t buy what you could borrow. Because of that frugality, or perhaps despite it, they also believed that you should read a book for the experience of reading it. You shouldn’t read it in order to have an object that had to be housed and looked after forever, a memento of the purpose for which it was obtained. The reading of the book was a journey. There was no need for souvenirs…

I have just recently finished unpacking from storage a lifetime’s worth of books–actually multiple lifetimes because in addition to my own family of four’s lifetimes there are also books from our parents’ and grandparents’ personal collections. And the essay got me thinking about whether I had a personal favorite book, and if so whether I have a “souvenir” of it.

I had taken a moment after emptying a box to leaf through this book that qualifies as a contender. I remember where I was when I purchased it, and where I first read it. But the essay I just read got me thinking about the importance of libraries to my own history with reading, so I focused my thought on the question what was my first favorite book. And the book above was that book, without question, in part because it was what got me to return to the library for more books. Not much more to say on that, but if you are a bibliophile or a libraryphile, if you consider librarians heroes, or any such thing, the essay may be for you.

Libraries As Palaces For The People

9781524761165We have had more stories in seven years about libraries, and librarians and books than most other topics, so we are pleased to pass along this reference to a book about libraries (among other essential elements of social infrastructure). In 20 minutes on this podcast the ideas in this book are discussed by the author:

Eric Klinenbergprofessor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and the author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown, 2018), argues that the future of democracy lies in shared spaces, like libraries and parks.

Author of Extreme Conservation, Interviewed

9780226366265.jpg

We recommend this interview in the Atlantic, with the author of the book above, a veteran conservationist reckoning with his career studying animals in the most extreme places on Earth:

In the winter of 2011, Joel Berger and his colleague Marci Johnson happened upon a ghostly Arctic death scene. Body parts and tufts of brown fur poked out of a frozen lagoon. This was all the biologists could find of a herd of 55 musk oxen they had been following.

The cause of mass mortality, they later determined, was an ice tsunami, the result of an unusual storm that slammed seawater and ice into the lagoon where the unfortunate musk oxen stood. Berger is a conservationist who works in some of the most hostile environments in the world, and he studies the enigmatic species, like musk oxen, that live there. His new book, Extreme Conservation, chronicles his career in Alaska, Siberia, Namibia, Tibet, Mongolia, and Bhutan. He is now a biologist at Colorado State University and a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Continue reading

Local Knowledge Aids Scientific Understanding

Brazilian_amazon_rainforest_web

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In a perfect dovetail with yesterday’s nod to one science writer, today we nod to the contributions of ancestral ways in helping scientists better understand the life cycles of forests. Thanks to Richard Schiffman for this interview:

Lessons Learned from Centuries of Indigenous Forest Management

CMPeters_web.jpgIn an interview with Yale Environment 360, botanist Charles M. Peters discusses how, in an era of runaway destruction of tropical forests, the centuries-old ecological understanding of indigenous woodland residents can help point the way to the restoration of damaged rainforests.

Over centuries, even millennia, indigenous communities have developed interdependent systems of agriculture and forestry that are uniquely suited to the ecological requirements of the land they inhabit. Yet even today, says Charles M. Peters, the Curator of Botany at the New York Botanical Gardens, that skill and knowledge often remain unacknowledged, with some government officials and conservationists arguing that indigenous communities should sometimes be excluded from protected lands that are part of their historical territory.

Field-crews.002_web

Members of the Kenyah Dayak indigenous group conducting forest surveys in Western Borneo in the early 1990s. CHARLES PETERS

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Peters — author of the recently published bookManaging the Wild: Stories of People and Plants and Tropical Forests — discusses what he has learned from 35 years of working with indigenous forest communities; explains how indigenous farming, even slash-and-burn agriculture, can actually improve forest health; and reflects on the need to enlist indigenous groups as allies in the struggle to preserve and restore tropical forests. Continue reading

Better Science Writing, Better Societal Decision-Making?

Zimmer Longform

9781509818532she has her mother-s laugh_11_jpg_262_400.jpgScience writing has been one of our favorite themes since we started this platform. The quality with which science is explained in clear language is good for the planet, we think. Carl Zimmer is probably the most cited science writer during these eight years, for good reason. The interview above from late 2016, if you are convinced about the importance of science writing, is about as good as it gets for hearing a master explain his craft in very personal terms. It was recorded just weeks after the most fateful (with regard to science) presidential election in recent USA history. Zimmer takes a “just the facts” approach to the interview, and neither punches, nor pulls punches, with regard to the environmental and other science policy mess-making that had just begun. He just shares his craft.

5088.jpg

Carl Zimmer: ‘Heredity is central to our existence… but it’s not what we think it is.’ Photograph: Mistina Hanscom/Lotta Studio

He has a new book out, which we have not read, but we are glad that it has brought him out on book tour. In the interview below, from just a couple weeks ago, we get a quick read on what he is saying now:

Carl Zimmer is a rarity among professional science writers in being influential among the scientists on whose work he writes and comments – to the extent that he has been appointed as professor adjunct in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University. Zimmer has just published his 13th book, She Has Her Mother’s Laughsurvey of “the power, perversions and potential of heredity”. Continue reading

Sand Piracy Is A Thing. A Bad Thing.

9780399576423_custom-3813965e7ebb84b1f0032ce9298d929eceebe117-s500-c85.jpgBuilding hotels in Kerala, India from 2010 to 2017 we came to know about sand pirates from a very close up perspective. When their boats were speeding past the houseboats we operated, we detected the carefree sense with which they carried out their mission. Perhaps they did not know the damage they were doing? Not likely. The law was chasing them, and they knew that for sure. Thanks to Genevieve Valentine for this review titled A Day At The Beach Won’t Be The Same After ‘The World In A Grain’ about this book to the left:

The first time you see ‘sand piracy,’ it might sound surreal — a misguided Pixar villain whose lackeys race down the beach with empty buckets and sinister intent, doomed to fail in the face of a resource that spans the whole ocean.

Then you find out about someone stealing 1,300 feet of sand from a beach in Jamaica, or the many sand miners whose dredgers suck sand from the ocean floor by the ton and, suddenly, it doesn’t sound as funny — or as impossible — as it did before. Continue reading

Spying On Whales, For Our Sake As Well As Theirs

 

Brannen-Reckoning-with-the-Almost-Satanic-Prospect-of-Twentieth-Century-Whaling

Whales are a powerful oceanographic force in their own right, one that begets even more life; many ecosystems are still straining to equilibrate from the effects of twentieth-century whaling. Photograph by Francois Gohier / VWPics / Redux

x400.jpgIt may be too late, but this is too important to pretend it does not matter. It is not too late to learn from our mistakes. Peter Brannen, a science journalist and the author of “The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions” gets our thanks for this review in the New Yorker, titled We May Never Understand the Ocean-Wide Damage Done by Industrial Whaling:

A few months ago I learned that, as recently as 1972, General Motors was using sperm-whale oil in transmission fluid in its cars. I’m not sure why I was surprised to learn this. It took nearly another decade for much of the world to agree to ban commercial whaling, in 1982. (A handful of countries still ignore the ban.) But the detail about G.M. still struck me as anachronistic. The global pursuit of whales inescapably connotes the romance of nineteenth-century New Bedford and Nantucket: delicately embossed scrimshaw, Melville, oil paintings of stately twilit schooners setting out on the main. Not puke-green Chevy El Caminos. Continue reading

The Mystery of the Lorax: Solved

Dr. Seuss has held an important place in my life, stretching from my own childhood and into parenthood, and connecting the dots between the pure joy of reading and powerful messages keeps him at the top. So what fun to discover the story, species and science behind the inspiration for his most impactful books!

Who Was the Real Lorax? Seeking the Inspiration for Dr. Seuss

What inspired the creature who was “shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy?” The one who spoke in a voice that was “sharpish and bossy?” He spoke for the trees, yet he called them his own. All that he left “in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with the one word … ‘UNLESS.’”

In 1970, millions of people observed Earth Day for the first time, and the Environmental Protection Agency was born. Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” topped the charts.

And in La Jolla, Calif., Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was fighting to keep a suburban development project from clearing the Eucalyptus trees around his home. But when he tried to write a book about conservation for children that wasn’t preachy or boring, he got writer’s block.

At his wife’s suggestion to clear his mind, they traveled to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, an exclusive resort where guests watched animals along Kenya’s Laikipia plateau.

And if you haven’t guessed by now, it was there that “The Lorax” took shape — on the blank side of a laundry list, nearly all of its environmental message created in a single afternoon. Continue reading