August Book Log

August 30, 2010

This month was a miracle. It was dominated by one really huge book around which I managed to squeeze several smaller ones, all while painting half the house and going back to school. If anyone wants to come by and help me whip the yard into shape, just say the word.

1. Eaarth by Bill McKibben (5/5) – This book feels very important. It also scared the living bejesus out of me. Apparently, what with all the global warming, we are not in for a fun time. I knew that, what I didn’t know is that the not fun time started a few years ago and is only going to get worse. Awesome. He does, however, do a good job of laying out a basic plan for survival with out being miserable. Honestly, it didn’t sound that bad. It will be nice if we can pull it off. Anyway, go read this book because it will be good for you.

2. Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo (4/5) – This was good, but not Russo’s best. It is an enormous book (550 pages of tiny print), and, frankly, he could have cut a fair bit without hurting it. When it’s hitting on all cylinders, it’s wonderful, but it does miss a fair bit, so it ends up just being the kind of good book that your relieved to finish.

3. Pandora’s Seed by Spencer Wells (4/5) – A neat little book that explains exactly what happened to us as a result of becoming farmers. I was pretty constantly interested by this book, but it lacked the over-arching narrative that makes the best science books so engaging. Still, it was really neat and filled with all kinds of interesting stuff.

4. Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson (3.5/5) – This was like a lot of the short story collections I’ve been reading lately. There were some stories that were really good, some that were pretty good and some that weren’t really much to look at. What really hurts her is a tendency toward cliche that pops up from time to time.

5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (5/5) – This is the best Bill Bryson I’ve read. He’s hilarious as usual and he makes the kind of pointed observations that he always does, but this book also has a really lovely story with nice little plot twists and an ending that I found oddly satisfying and powerful for its realism. This is one I’ll likely read again.

Time for a new queue, this one to be completed by (roughly) Christmas Break…

Fall Book Queue:

For Kings and Planets by Ethan Canin
The Prophet and the Astronomer by Marcelo Gleiser
Tess of D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood
Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

A Little Bit of Quiet

August 25, 2010

I am not in a great state of mind right now. We’re almost two weeks into the school year and I am exhausted. if the school year were four weeks long, it would be one thing, but there is still a long way to go. I’ve said several times, that this is the year that probably decides if I continue to be a teacher or not, and I think this will be true.

I am a good teacher. This year, I think I have been especially good (reportedly, year 4 is when you really figure it out if you’re a teacher), but Jesus, I am tired. Teaching takes so much from me – so much energy – and I can never help thinking that there are other places I would rather put that energy.

I am not a people person, but somehow, I have ended up with a job that is about 90% interacting with other people. I do not know how this happened. I think this, more than anything, is why I often find teaching so exhausting.

What I want more than anything right now, is a little bit of quiet in my day. An hour or two to clear my head and not have anything to worry about. With teaching, there is always so much to worry about.

Probably, I will feel better about all this tomorrow or the next day. But right now, I am tired.

Go into a bookstore. It can be your favorite local place or one of the big chains like Barnes & Noble or Borders. Walk around a little bit paying special attention to the sizes of different sections. Fiction will be the biggest. That makes sense, you figure. Literature is probably why bookstores exist in the first place. Others sections also have a bit of heft. History, for example. Religion. Cooking. But there’s one way back in the back somewhere. It will be small and sparsely stocked. You’ll have to try hard not to miss it. This is the science section.

The science section is the ugly step-child of the bookstore, and I find this very disturbing because it means that people are not reading about science. Whether we acknowledge it or not science plays a bigger daily role in our lives than almost anything else. Further, one has to try to be science literate. It’s not going to come from just watching the evening news or having conversations at cocktail parties. Consider the following “debates” currently taking place in our society that happen only because too many people stopped paying attention to science in the 3rd grade:

1. Should we vaccinate our children? (Yes)
2. Is evolution a real thing? (Yes)
3. Is global warming caused by humans? (Yes, again)
4. Will genetically modified food kill you? (No)

The answers provided in parenthesis aren’t debatable. Not really. I mean, sure, some crackpot will get on the news and scream about how there is no evidence of evolution right before they go home and set fire to the hundreds upon hundreds of books explaining how it works and showing the mountains of evidence for it. Same with the others. But we keep having the debate. Why? Because we are lazy.

See, we all remember what science words sound like. It’s about all we remember from middle school science. They end in -onomy and -ology and they have lots of syllables. The other thing we know is that those wacky scientists are always coming up with something new. The word discovery really resonates. So what happens? We believe everything as long as someone can spin enough bullshit.

Not that long ago, I read a book called Denialism. It was a good book, but it had some issues. It’s primary thrust was that people are too willing to dismiss science. This is true, but what it didn’t deal with is the way we are constantly being screwed with by corporations who use science for evil. Genetically modified food isn’t going to kill you, but that doesn’t mean Monsanto is your friend. This is the kind of thing we run into periodically. Big corporations use bad science or fudge numbers and we get burned.

So what happens? It seems to me that most people take one of two approaches: They either believe everything they are told or they believe none of it. Neither of these is the solution. The solution, instead, is to wander back into that dark hole in the bookstore. There is knowledge there. Some of it is practically new. Much of it is not. You can learn about how overwhelming the evidence is for global warming and vaccinations and if you want to get really into things, you can learn about the history of the entire universe. It’s neat stuff. But also, and I think this is most important, you can learn how to tell when someone is blowing smoke up your ass, and then when some slick-looking person with fancy words comes on the TV, you can know whether or not they are full of shit.

Science is real. I have mentioned lots of things in this post that could be expanded into whole blog posts on their own, but that’s not the point. The point is this: If you want to function as a reasonable person in modern society, you must be scientifically literate. Science is at the foundations of our climate, our food, our jobs, and nearly anything else you can think of. If you’re unwilling to learn about science, please don’t join the BS machine by having an uninformed opinion and please don’t vote in the next election. If you are willing, then start right now. Go. Hurry. Read a book and maybe they’ll start stocking that section a little better.