I should probably just stop apologizing for how late this always is, right? Asterisks mark re-reads. Here’s last year’s list, and here’s this year’s:
01 Mercury; Hope Larson - Parallel teen stories set in Nova Scotia. This occasionally felt too young for me, as the stories start to weave together. But a great YA read, for sure.
02 Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace; DT Max - This was a pretty straight-forward book about DFW’s life, which I think helped me to flesh out the feelings I already had about his work. It did start rushing headlong to the end of Wallace’s life towards the second half, but holds back from feeling exploitative.
03 Balloon Pop Outlaw Black; Patricia Lockwood - the only twitter-famous poet I am aware of? Vivid and strange and occasionally funny.
04 The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich - people have always been obsessed with the Good Old Days, since at least, oh, the 1850s.
05 To Be or Not To Be; Ryan North - I helped my pal Ryan edit his choose-your-own-adventure expansion of Hamlet. All in all, I got through the whole thing at least 3 times, including following every single path to its end. I hope all of his readers are as thorough!
06 * A Short History of Progress; Ronald Wright - I was impressed enough with this book to buy it after I read it the first time (and charmed by Wright’s obvious disregard of Jared Diamond, who I also hate for essentially no reason) so I thought I should give it a re-read. Just the thing to make you want to commit ritual suicide.
“Don’t criticize other people, it will come back to haunt you. These are small social groups and we need everyone’s support. Everything is fine, the power structures are fine. The stories being told are fine, the people with the money to fund the stories are fine. The cultural expressions pushed to the periphery are fine, the suffering people our cultures ignore are fine. Actively choosing privileged voices and perspectives to be told, repeated, and propagated, that’s fine. Manufacturing huge amounts of living matter into dead objects meant for the garbage dump are fine. That the voices in authority are still primarily male, affluent and light-skinned, that’s fine. They can tell us which non-males, which poor people, which dark-skinned people we should pay attention to, which deserve to be allowed into our social and economic groups, and that will be fine.”—advice, j. campbell
But in the past, greens — including me — have intuitively opposed all GMOs. Because those insect-resistant crops are part of an industrial complex that we dislike, it’s hard to get excited about the fact that they reduce insecticide applications. We oppose GMOs because we oppose the unsustainable agricultural system they serve.
I soured to this argument after realizing that it shares the same reasoning used by those opposed to contraception and sex ed. The argument supposes that you can throttle back an institution you dislike (monoculture, premarital sex) by denying it the technologies that reduce its risks (Bt corn, condoms). But, just as teens are going to keep having sex, our unsustainable food system is going to keep on chugging along whether we allow the use of mitigating technology or not. I think it makes sense to support the GMO uses that give us small environmental improvements. Insisting on abstinence-only farming is a non-starter.
Grist has a really long and impressively in-depth look at GMOs. This is a topic I’ve been going back and forth on for years, and Johnson’s six months of research is illuminating, if faintly depressing (cf the name of the first piece linked below).
The above quote is taken from his concluding article, but if you want to start somewhere, I’d suggest this one, which gives short versions of the pieces in the series, and links back to each one for more detail.
“Anyway, let’s do this! Here’s mine, delivered at a bar in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, in 2007: “I’d offer to buy you a drink, but I only have $10 and was going to get myself one. I would get your email though, I guess.” And that’s not even that good, I’m just getting the ball rolling. I’m rolling the ball to you. If you were a ball, I would roll you. Was your mother a ball because I want to be a-round you.”—This little gem on bad pick-up lines has stuck in my head for a good nearly-three years now, and it never gets less funny to me
“In the fall of 2012, a German food company surveyed 4,000 people in eight European countries, to find out how they understood the “natural” claim. Almost three-quarters said they thought that natural products were more healthful and that they’d pay a premium to get them. More than half argued that natural products have a better taste. But the respondents weren’t sure what degree or form of processing would be enough to strip a product of its natural status. Some drew a line between sea salt (natural) and table salt (artificial). Others did the same for dried pasta and powdered milk, though both are made by dehydration.”—From this article. I also just finished a book about processed food, which similarly left me wondering about what kinds of processing I find to be acceptable, and why that might be.
“I know some authors can be a little particular about movies based on their work (looking in your direction, SUZANNE NEVER-SHUTS-HER-GODDAMN-MOUTH COLLINS), but if you ask me, everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is 100 percent straight-up baller. To be honest, now that I’ve seen it, I’m a little embarrassed by my book! All I ever wanted to do was write a fairy story for children who had Asperger’s. I guess I did a pretty okay job! Ha! But after seeing what Peter Jackson did to my book, it’s just… man. Not even close. Dude nailed it!! And there’s so much stuff I don’t remember writing! Like that part when Gandalf went to a haunted house, or that part when the dwarves set up a Mouse Trap-style trap for that dragon, or that part when Legolas pulled out his bow and arrow and was all FWOOSH! FWOOSH! FWOOSH! and shot like a billion orcs! TWAANNGG! RIGHT IN THE KISSER! Seriously, though, real talk: I don’t even remember putting Legolas in the book.”—J.R.R.Tolkien just loves the new Hobbit movie
“I spent all my teenage years and much of my twenties thinking that if I wanted to be loved and valued, I had to be different, that “other girls” were boring and trite and I had to make people understand I was special if I was to have any hope of a fulfilling life. […] We need girls to be special because otherwise they’re just overwhelming, inscrutable, and potentially dangerous. A special girl is a legible girl, insofar as we’re steeped in a narrative tradition that values the hero, the individual, and the maverick, to the point where “free thinker” and “nonconformist” are just advertising terms. […] In any case, being caught between the quirked-out vintage-thrifted wardrobe of the Special Girl and the sticky watermelon-lip-balm polyester mall array of the Other Girl isn’t much of a choice, but it seems to be what we’re allowed.”—Anna Leventhal
“That brings us back to the more immediate question - if we accept intersectionality, which some people prefer to call basic equality, as a fundamental principle of making change - if we accept that sexism, misogny, homophobia and racism should not be overlooked in any figureheads who present themselves - then what are we to do with all the brocialists? Whither the manarchists and their rousing communiques against the Young Girl? Must they be taken out and shot behind the chemical sheds? Is ostracisation the only option, or can we envision alternative processes of justice and accountability?”—A Discourse on Brocialism, Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour
“What came to bother me about semiotic and linguistic idealism, about social constructivism, had to do with the observer that sees the world in terms of semiotic (in the Peircian sense) and linguistic constructions. Who sees the world in this way? It was hard for me to avoid the conclusion that it is the middle class, economically stable, academic that sees the world in these terms. This, for two reasons: First, as the old expression goes, for the cobbler, everything is a shoe. Naturally the humanities academic sees everything as a text because a) when you deal with texts day in and day out you tend to see texts (signs/signifiers) everywhere (in Uexkull’s terms we could call text the umwelt of the academic), and b) because it’s narcissistically gratifying for the humanities academic to think that the entire world is composed of texts. If that’s true, if the world is composed of texts, signs, signifiers, beliefs, concepts, and norms, then we are the most important people in the world because we’re the ones that hold the skeleton key to the truth about “reality” (which, in this context, signifies the human umwelt.)”—how have i never read this before?
“…the factory has given way to the corporation. The family, the
school, the army, the factory are no longer the distinct analogical spaces that converge towards an owner - state or private power - but coded figures - deformable and transformable - of a single corporation that now has only stockholders.”—haha i’m reading Deleuze and enjoying it, what is even happening to me, ha ha ha
"We think of malls in America as sites of bland conformity. In Africa, though, they can be sites of unexpected diversity. Much to my surprise, I soon came to prefer writing in the open-air cafés inside malls than in stand-alone coffee-shops. I saw a wider range of people there. Stand-alone restaurants in Africa often retain a rarefied, country-club atmosphere; their gates are protected by doormen; once, spying my beat-up car, the gatekeeper of a fancy South African restaurant kept insisting the establishment was closed, even though I could see people eating inside right over his shoulder. They reify the social divide between the upper and middle classes and the mass of poor: Despite the growth of the middle class, 70 percent of urban Africans still live in slums. The divide is visible in residential areas in the barbed wire and high, thick walls that surround fancy homes and apartments." (New Republic)
"Grau and Demarest go on to explain, indoor malls are already designed to manipulate human movement—“Planners design malls to move people slowly past a wide display of consumer goods while deterring theft," they write—so it is simply a question of accentuating or amplifying this tendency for tactical reasons, pushing certain users out like a splinter from skin or isolating them in tightly controlled dead ends. Here, the authors refer to the design of “circuitous paths," or routes of circulation that do everything but offer “a straight passage to the mall’s main area.” The mall, in this reading, is a labyrinth disguised as a retail space, filled with constrained halls and corridors that, if used aggressively, can confuse and strand potential adversaries.”(Geoff Manaugh, Gizmodo)
“We believe that Tiqqun has mistaken its object. The real enigma of our age is not the Young-Girl, who, we submit, has been punished enough already for how commodity culture exploits her. It is, rather, her boyish critic. Forms of crypto- and not-so-crypto misogyny have proved startlingly persistent not just within the radical left but also in the bourgeois-left spheres of cultural production: the publishing world, the museum, and the humanities departments of liberal-arts universities. We propose that a particular type is responsible for perpetuating such bad behavior. Call him the Man-Child.”—
ho ho ho, yes indeed: “The Man-Child wants you to know that you should not take him too seriously, except when you should. At any given moment, he wants to you to take him only as seriously as he wants to be taken. When he offends you, he was kidding. When he means it, he means it. What he says goes.”